Category Archives: Technology

Hey Siri, What Special Occasion is It? It’s Your 10 Year Anniversary

Empish Using an iPhone

I remember several years ago, when I first started using an iPhone I was giving Siri a command. But before I did, I got distracted talking to my boyfriend at the time and said, “Oh, my God!” Siri heard me and immediately replied, “I am not a spiritual advisor. You must get a human being for that.” I looked down at my phone in shock and amazement. Did I hear correctly? Yes I did. Then I started to laugh loudly. My boyfriend asked me what was so funny and I shared with him what Siri said. Then he started laughing too. Siri can do all kinds of things; but that day she made it crystal clear that things related to religion was not one of them.

Since that day, I have become more skillful using my phone including Siri. Today I give her all kinds of commands. What is the weather for today? What is my doctor’s number? Set the timer for 10 minutes. Text this or that person. Spell the word Entrepreneur. Open Netflix or Overcast. These are some of the daily commands I give Siri and she doesn’t complain. This little personal assistant built into my iPhone has become so helpful over the years. I hate to admit it but I have become a little dependent on Siri to complete these tasks. When it comes time to cook in my kitchen or write a blog post I am hunting around for my phone so I can call up Siri for assistance.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of Siri. Some might say in all these years Siri should be doing more like other personal assistants on the market. Yet, for me I am happy with her performance. I am a low-tech person and the help I get is exactly what I need. So, Hey, Siri happy anniversary.

Making Smart Money Moves: How Accessible Online Banking Benefits My Life

Empish Working in Home Office

For the last several years I have enjoyed the independence and convenience of online banking. But there was a time when that wasn’t the case. I remember getting on the bus to make that commute to the bank. Rushing after work to get there before they closed. Or getting up at the crack of dawn to get there right when they open so I could be the first in line before work. Or locating a branch that was open on the weekend in a local grocery store letting me do double duty. Filling out deposit slips and getting paper statements in the mail. Well, those days are over for me. Online banking has become such a regular part of my daily life it is second nature. I just get online and log in to my account. It is just that fast. Just that simple. Just that accessible.

Yet, that is the thing. Accessible. If online banking were not accessible then I would be up the creek without a paddle. My independence would be gone. My privacy would be gone. I would be susceptible to fraud and identity theft, which happen to me in my early years of blindness. I would have to depend on sighted folks to help me with my financial management. So, let me really break it down. How valuable and how critical accessible online banking is to my life as a blind person. Why it should be accessible to anyone with a visual impairment.

All of my financial institutions I have accounts with are accessible. This means checking, saving, investments and credit cards. All of these accounts I can access online with my internet connection and my screen reader. I can perform the same functions as my sighted peers such as checking balances, pay bills and read statements. And, of course, the most important thing, getting paid!

Paying Bills Online

Initially I started using online banking for its easy and convenient bill pay feature. The endless drudgery and challenges of paying bills the old fashion way was difficult as I lost more vision. It was too much paper to keep track. You know how that goes when it is bill paying time. You got to write numerous checks, note them in the check register and then file away the bill invoice. I had to do all of that as a blind person. Then I had to get sighted help to address envelopes for mailing. Whew, that is a lot of work! So, online bill pay became one of my smart money moves. My billers are located in one place and when I log in I just input the amounts for payment and press the send button. Done. No more writing checks. No more check register. No addressing envelopes. It is all done online.

Empish Writing a Check

In fact, online banking for bill pay is a God sent because I can track my payments to my biller. I had to incidents where a biller told me they didn’t get my payment. At first I was stressed out. Then I remembered I paid through online bill pay and those payments could be tracked. After a sigh of relief, I went back to my bank and sent a confirmation of payment. It was just that simple. My bank backed me up on both situations and showed that I indeed paid the bill. Both billers accepted it and the situation was resolved. Now, if I had mailed it the old fashion way I might still be disputing that bill months later. You just can’t track those checks in the mail to well. We have all heard that story, right? The check is in the mail. But with online bill pay I don’t have to deal with that.

Reading Statements Online

Reading my statements online is another feature of online banking that is accessible for me. In the past I would have to scan my paper statements to read with an accessible scanning software. Or get a sighted person to read them, or not read them at all. None of these options were ideal. Scanning the statement would result in columns and rows sometimes being off track leading me to read facts and figures incorrectly. A sighted person left me vulnerable even though they were trustworthy. Not reading them at all left me ignorant of important financial information. Today, I can make smart money moves by going online and reading my statements. I can read them from the actual website or in an PDF file. Either way the process is fairly accessible.

Getting Paid Online

Lastly, online banking is accessible with my freelance writing income. Last year I shared about trying to deposit my blogging checks on my bank’s mobile app. It was a stressful and frustrating situation because the app was not accessible. I advocated for myself but hit a brick wall. So, I pivoted and encouraged my client to do electronic payments and they did. Most recently I had a client that sent me directions to connect to their payment system for direct deposit. It was completely accessible and I got my check in about a week’s time. No more paper checks in the mail. No more getting a ride to the bank to make a deposit. Getting access to my freelance income is another smart money move for me. On a side note, I work with folks that use Quickbooks and this software is accessible. I can easily make electronic payments to them for services rendered.

National Online Bank Day

Today, October 11th, is National Online Bank Day. Ally Bank founded this day in 2015 to honor its 1 millionth customer. But this day has expanded into an awareness campaign educating people about the topic. You can easily scroll the internet and find tons of info about online banks. Since traditional banks are closed today because of the federal holiday of Columbus Day and Indigenous People Day, this might be a good time to look at online banking and make some smart money moves yourself.

Listening in the Dark: My Favorite 10 Blind Podcast for 2021

Empish using iPhone

I am a huge podcast fan! I started listening to them as a great alternative to audiobooks on my long commute to work. Even after I started working from home my enjoyment didn’t diminish. I listen to them while I cook. While I eat. While I clean the house. While I relax on the sofa. And even while I take a shower. Yes, I love a good podcast. I noticed and increased when the pandemic struck last year and they are what’s hot right now. It seems like an explosion and everybody and their mamma is doing a podcast. Every time I open Overcast, my podcast app, and do a quick little search there are more new shows available. It has been amazing the volume of content to choose from.

I have tuned in to shows about a variety of topics from news and politics, finance, health and fitness, technology and entertainment. The range of subjects are as wide and vast as your imagination. Yet, as a blind person it wouldn’t be right to talk about podcasts and not share about the ones for the blind I love on my blog and of course on International Podcast Day. These ten shows about the blind address distinct aspects of our lives showing our diversity, humanity and love for life.

AppleVIS

1.  AppleVIS is an excellent resource for blind and low vision users of Apple products like the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Their podcast provides current and useful info for me on my iPhone. I learn about updates to iOS, tips and tricks on using my phone better, fixes on apps and so much more. And all from folks who are blind just like me.

Bold, Blind Beauty on AIR

2.  This is a fairly new podcast from the creator of Bold Blind Beauty, Stephanae McCoy. The focus is to “clear the air for more AIR”, meaning having Access, Inclusion and Representation because it’s essential for people with disabilities. We need these key elements to survive and thrive. The podcast reflects the content from her years of blogging where she interviews blind women and discusses health, beauty, fashion tips and so much more.

Eyes on Success

3.  Peter and Nancy Torpey host the Eyes on Success Podcast  and have been doing it for many years. They are truly dedicated to bringing useful and interesting content to the blind community. Each week they discuss products, services and daily living tips. They usually interview a special guest and have a segment called “The Tip of the Week,” which I find helpful.

Freedom Scientific Training and FS Cast

4.  Freedom Scientific is the company that makes my screen reader, JAWS. They produce two podcasts but I am lumping them together. The first one, called FS Cast, is a show discussing updates to the software, interviewing special guests and is also an archive of their open line chat, where people call in and ask questions. The other podcast is an archive of their training materials. This is a wonderful experience for me as I can keep my Windows skills up to date in a podcast format. For example, I just recently learn some new skills for Excel that will help me navigate spreadsheets better. I can listen on my phone while doing the steps on my computer. In the past I had to do both on the same device which was hard and cumbersome.

Hadley Presents

5.  I have taken remote courses from the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and also listened to their podcast. This show brings on an expert in the field as it relates to blindness where specific topics are discussed. They have had mobility instructors, mental health professionals,,, a pharmaceutical company, a chef and many more. The topics are wide in range providing something for most everyone.

Mosen at Large

6.  I would dare to say John Mosen is a tech geek. As the host of Mosen at Large, Each episode he features something in the technology arena along with other topics of interest. The sound quality is exceptional and easy to listen to. Depending on the topic he will air listeners comments and views during the show. I particularly love this part because I get to hear the international perspectives of people with vision loss.

Picture This

7.  This podcast hosted by Carl Richardson and Brian Charlson explores audio description and accessible entertainment. The goal of Picture This is to bring awareness to this medium through interviews, demonstrations and sharing resources. Since I love a good audio described movie and TV show this podcast is right up my alley.

Reid My Mind Radio

8.  Thomas Reid hosts this podcast. It is from the perspective of a Black man adjusting to blindness as an adult. His content focuses on the typical things that most of us in the blind community deal with such as life, family, social stigmas and self-advocacy. On the Reid My Mind podcast, he will interview a special guest, discuss a thought-provoking topic, share a story or provide a useful resource along with his mindful and musical interjections.

Talk Description to Me

9.  When this podcast came out in 2020 I was so excited because of the type of content each episode examined. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Through the Talk Description to Me Podcast I have learned so much because it is more than just an audio description podcast but a conversation  about current events as it relates to visual images.

Writing Works Wonders

10. This is my final blind podcast and interestingly enough my newest one. I started listening to Writing Works Wonders about a month ago because I wanted to expand my content and include podcast related to my writing career. This one was an added bonus because the writers are blind and visually impaired. The podcast, hosted by Cheryl McNeil Fisher & Kathleen P. King, is a recording from their live writing meetings and workshops where they might have a special guest, work on writing prompts, or critique each other’s work.

There you have it! My 10 favorite podcasts for the blind. So, what about you? What are your favorites? Share yours as we celebrate International Podcast Day.

Library in Quarantine: My Book Clubs Are Virtual During the Pandemic

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

Book Club Before COVID

Before COVID came along and turn things upside down I physically attended two book clubs sponsored by my county library. One was bimonthly where we met at local restaurants. We would discuss some of the latest reads over appetizing cuisine and drinks. Occasionally, While being served, even the wait staff and management would chime in on our lively chatter. It was a great time to talk books, eat delicious food and socialize for about an hour.

My other book club met at the library in the activity room. AS we gathered once a month, we would have our discussion while munching on snacks of chips and salsa, slices of cake and various salads. We would laugh and share about our lives, work and family sometimes more than we talked about the book.

But that all came to a grinding halt and the library closed. No more book club meetings. No more discussions at local eateries. No more talking about life, work and family. Everything just stopped.

Using Zoom for Book Club

If you remember lots of people started working from home and kids were doing virtual learning. Everyone was trying to learn how to use Zoom. Slowly people started to use the videoconference platform for activities like family gatherings, medical appointments and exercise classes. Book club meetings were added to the list too. I was using Zoom before the pandemic. It started when I joined the Bookshare book discussion in the fall of 2019 and I participate to this day. Since this group is virtual members are from all over the place which is pretty cool. We are all blind or visually impaired because Bookshare provides digital books in text to speech. Each month we get together for a live chat to share our thoughts on reads we like, love or can’t stand.

Library Book Clubs Go Virtual

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

So, when my two library book clubs decided to go virtual I was good to go. It was not a huge transition for me because I was already a member of a virtual book club. I just added two more to the list and kept it moving! Now, you might be thinking, three book clubs are  a lot. That is a bunch of reading. That is a lot to keep up with. Well, I am an avid reader and although today is National Read a Book Day, I read constantly all the time. I read while cooking and cleaning. I read before bed. I read while in the shower. I read while commuting. I read while exercising.

Plus, I am a very organized person and keep a calendar of all my meetings and a book list so I don’t miss out. Being an introvert has been useful too. I still get the socialization and interaction I want without it being too much for my life and personality.

Actually, juggling three virtual book clubs has been easier than I thought for exactly all these reasons. If I had to do this in person, well that might be another conversation all together. So, I guess in a weird sort of way, the pandemic has helped keep me active and social. Attending virtual book clubs have been enjoyable for me. Yet, since I love reading I know when we finally get out of this pandemic, and we will, I will go back to the library and meet in person. It will be an adjustment but it will be a joy.

My Laundry isn’t Smart But I Am

Empish touching dials on washing machine

Washer Dies After 20 Years of Dedicated Service

Last month my faithful washing machine said goodbye to me. It had been a long-term member of my household. Spanning the years since I went blind back in the late 90s when I was living in an apartment with two housemates. To the Y2K and people thinking the world was ending. Remember the excitement over that? My machine was still washing clothes through all of it. Then moving to a smaller apartment and one housemate, my washer kept right on spinning along. Next, it was the purchase of my home, the first Black president and now the pandemic.

This machine has been with me through thick and thin. Through many ups and downs. Through a couple of boyfriends and jobs. So, excuse me if I get a little sentimental for a quick minute. It is just that not many things in life have that kind of longevity. When it died I was surprised I was not distressed or dismayed. It had been two decades. Instead, I took the rational approach and reasoned my washer had served me well. All good things must end. Nothing last forever. I took it in stride. Plus, it couldn’t have happened at a more auspicious time. The 4th of July was right around the corner. I knew that I could find a good sale on a new one. Shoot even a dryer too! And that is exactly what happened.

No Fancy Smart Appliance

I knew before going to the store I had no interest in purchasing one of those smart home appliances you connect to your phone. The fancy ones with all the bells and whistles. I had heard about them for the kitchen. Devices like rice cookers, crock pots, dishwashers and even refrigerators are all connected to your phone these days. Sorry, but those of you who read my blog and know me personally know that I am a bit old fashion. Heck, I still use a landline phone with an answering machine for all those robocalls! I don’t go run out the door and purchase the first new hot thing smoking

. I use an item until the wheels fall off. Until it is falling apart. Case in point my washing machine.

Need Knobs and Dials

So, I told the sales lady none of that smart home stuff for me. I want the old fashion washing machine and dryer with knobs and buttons. I want to be able to touch and feel my appliance. She showed me one on display that was perfect for my needs and I purchased it.

Now, you might be asking why I am so dead set against the new fancy smart home devices? Well, glad you asked because I got a couple of reasons and it is not just because I am blind. Although my disability is close to the top of the list. So, I will start there first.

As a blind person I want tactual appliances and devices. Knobs and buttons are what works best for me. I can feel them easily and mark them as well. I usually apply a product called Hi Mark that goes on wet but when dry puffs up. I use this product for all kinds of stuff like my measuring cups, microwave, thermostat, and dials on my air frier, dish washer and curling iron. I have been using it for years and it works beautifully. Plus, it comes in bright colors for the low vision folks.

Smart Machines Are Expensive

I mentioned earlier that I purchased my washer and dryer during the 4th of July. I got a good deal but not sure that would have been the case with a smart option. Typically, smart laundry units are more expensive to purchase. And even more expensive to repair says Angie’s List. The main issue for high-tech appliance malfunction is the control board, which is the computerized system that operates the appliance. Meaning an expert repair guy or gal must come and fix the machine and it won’t be cheap.

WIFI Connection and Firmware Updates

Smart appliances are called this because of their innovative technological advancements. Appliances are connected to WIFI via a smartphone. So, if the connection isn’t working neither are the machines. This is too high tech for me. I just want to keep it simple and wash my clothes whether I got an internet connection or not.

since these appliances are connected to the internet there might be data and privacy problems. Reliable internet security protocols might not be used which could lead to people hacking into your system and other devices. And we all know the more info people have about you and me online the more that data is vulnerable. Who wants people snooping around?

My last point, about why my laundry isn’t smart, is the firmware might not be updated regularly. Smart washers and dryers can experience a lot of glitches with their apps, home hubs and connectivity. Additionally, there is no guarantee a smart washer or dryer will get firmware updates. This means if there is a problem the app and machine won’t be talking to each other and your goanna have to call that repair guy I mentioned earlier.

Is Your Laundry Smart?

You see how smart I am. Now, don’t get me wrong I appreciate technology however when it comes to some things if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Old-fashion or what they call standard machines work just fine. The bottom line is to get the clothes clean and dry. To do it in the easiest and least complicated way available. That’s what I think. Tag, it’s your turn. Do you have a smart home appliance? If so, how’s it working for you? If not would you purchase one?

Old and New Technology Keeps Me Connected to Friends

Empish Using a Landline Phone

National Friendship Day

Helen Keller once said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light. Her statement reflects the importance of friendship. Close companionship is just as or even more critical than being sighted. I can relate. The friends that I have made over the years are so important to me. Friends who have helped me during those early days of my visual disability and are still around. Friends I made through work related situations. My book club friends. My blind friends. My writing friends. The list goes on and on. What would I do without the great and wonderful people in my life? Today, I give honor and appreciation for my friends. Today is National Friendship Day.

I tell you, dealing with this pandemic has made my friendships even more special. Even more precious. This virus has caused me to look closer at life and my own mortality. I remember when the pandemic first hit, I was calling and checking on friends. They were calling me too. It was so funny because I could hardly get any work done for my phone ringing and my email pinging. But I didn’t complain because I was grateful that someone cared about me. That someone was checking on me to see that I was okay and doing alright. And the thing is, we are still doing this over a year later. This pandemic is not over and we got to continue to stay close. To stay in each other’s lives.

Calling Friends on the Phone

So, how best to keep that connection going? Well, I use both old and new technology. I rely heavily on my handy dandy landline phone. Yes, I know, I am old-fashion and out of-date. But my landline phone works beautifully and I love it. It is so easy to pick up the phone and have a chat with a friend. Day or night. Weekday or weekend. It doesn’t matter. Hearing another person’s voice on the other end works wonders. It lifts the spirit. It puts me in a positive mood. It’s like a warm embrace or a tight hug-all through the phone.

But I also use my newer technology, my iPhone. Although mostly as an address book to store my friends contact information. I just ask Siri for their phone number and then dial it on my landline. I find it hard to talk on my iPhone because of its smooth flat surface. It slips too easily from under the crook of my chin. During conversations, my cheek gets warm and sweaty from the surface. This is not a good look or situation when I am trying to converse with a friend. Additionally, I haven’t found earbuds helpful yet. Maybe I should investigate that more.

Receiving Emails From Friends

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

When talking on the phone is not an option, emailing works well. Sending a quick note to check in or chat has been a great way for me to stay connected to my friends. Especially, those living away from me. I have friends I have maintained relationships with for years this way. We will send emails back and forth to see how things are going. How is work, the family, the weather, etc. It is so nice and heart-warming to get an email. It is nice to have electronic communication with another human being I have a close connection. Sometimes it takes time to type up the message, run spell check and read over for clarity. But it is well worth it because it is going to someone who is important in my life-my friend.

There are many other ways to stay connected to friends that I didn’t share. Text messages, social media, Zoom video calls, and even letters and greeting cards. But whatever method you use, I urge you to stay close.

My Challenges Applying for Jobs Online

Empish Working in Home Office

Those of you who spend time surfing the web know full well advancements in computer technology have made it easier and better to search for employment online. As a job seeker, we no longer must go in person and fill out a paper application or physically fax a resume and cover letter. Today we can independently and on our own time go online to search for jobs.

With my screen reader, I can upload my resume and cover letter to a prospective employer’s website. Or I can create a username and password to log in to generate an online profile. Or I can fill out an electronic application and search for a job using an online recruiting job board. All these advancements are awesome because as a blind person I can apply for jobs from the convenience and comfort of my home. Yet, I have face challenges because these sites are not always accessible hindering me from applying for positions. Additionally, many employers miss out on qualified, talented applicants, like me, because they create external barriers with inaccessible online application tools.

This is why I was excited to share my job searching challenges with Inclusively, a professional network connecting candidates with disabilities, mental health conditions and chronic illnesses to jobs and inclusive employers. I gave several examples of how I struggled with inaccessible form fields, log in screens and online applications. Read all the details and learn more about Inclusively’s employment platform here.

My Favorite Podcast App Inducted into the AppleVIS iOS Hall of Fame

Empish using iPhone

Besides reading audio books and watching audio described movies I absolutely love listening to a good podcast. I got into them several years ago as a way to access news and entertainment on my long commutes to work. Now that I work from home delving into a rich podcast daily is still on my agenda. My   interest is vast. I listen to podcasts on news, technology, health and fitness, history; and arts and culture.

Overcast Inducted Into Hall of Fame

In order to really listen to all these great episodes, I needed a great app. One that is fully accessible and easy to use with a simple design. The one that fits the bill for me has been Overcast hands down. AppleVIS thought the same when they inducted them into their iOS Hall of Fame recently. AppleVIS created the iOS Hall of Fame in 2011 as an acknowledgement of the hard work that app developers put into making their apps fully accessible to Voiceover users.

Overcast Features

Overcast has some excellent features and benefits. Many of them I use often which AppleVIS highlighted on their site:

1.  Subscribe to a podcast, or just add an episode: try new shows without committing. I really like this feature because new podcasts come out all the time it seems. I can listen to an episode and determine if it is worth my wild or not without a full subscription.

2.  Search and browse for new podcasts, plus get personalized recommendations. Searching is easy breezy on Overcast. I can just dictate the name of the show and if it is available it will pop up in the results. Additionally, Overcast will let me know if shows are active or not which I really like. That way I know if I should subscribe or not.

3.  Voice Boost makes every podcast the same volume with a broadcast-quality remastering engine. Since I listen to so many podcasts each one is produced a little differently and the audio quality can be different as well. But this feature smooths things out a bit so there are not huge variations in sound quality.

4.  Download podcasts for playing anytime, even offline. Since the pandemic I have notice the WIFI in my area to be spotty at times. But I can still access my podcast regardless.

Additional Features

Other features I don’t use much but AppleVIS spotlighted are:

1.  Smart Speed saves time without distorting the audio or sounding unnatural.

2.  Create custom Playlists with smart filters and per-podcast priorities, and rearrange the list whenever you want.

3.  Receive optional notifications when new episodes arrive.

4.  Sleep timer automatically stops playback after any time interval you set.

5.  Apple Watch app with standalone playback and cellular streaming.

6.  CarPlay support.

Uncomplicated and Fully Accessible

AS long as podcasts are around, and I don’t see them going anywhere for a long time, Overcast will be my app of choice. I find it so simple to use and uncomplicated. When I am listening to a podcast, I don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring things out. I want to spend more time listening to the podcast itself than maneuvering around the app. I also appreciate their commitment to full accessibility to the blind community. Too many times I have downloaded apps from the App Store only to find they are partly accessible, like my bank app, or not accessible at all. I am left struggling and not sure how to proceed forward with what I need to do. Sometimes reaching out to the developer has been fruitful but sometimes it has not. So, thanks Overcast for creating an app that I can independently use. Your induction in the AppleVIS iOS Hall of Fame is well deserved.

Three Inventions for the Blind that Changed My Life

National Inventors Month

Empish Writing a Check

After I went blind some 20 years ago, I needed tools to adjust to my new life. I knew that as a blind person I wasn’t going to be very successful without some kind of accommodation or modification to the way I was living and moving in the world. May is National Inventors Month and I am very appreciative of the things that were created to not only help me regain independence but have a fuller and richer life. For example, I love my white cane for traveling. My metal guides for signing documents and writing checks. My talking and braille watches and clocks for time management. However, the three inventions that changed my life the most are talking books, screen readers and braille. I use these tools daily and wouldn’t know how to function without them.

Invention of the Talking Book

Thomas Edison originally wanted his Phonograph to be a talking book device for the blind. So, in 1877, he applied for a patent. One of the ten potential uses he listed was “phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” Interestingly, this item was second in his list of ten; “reproduction of music” was fourth. It would take over 50 years before the Phonograph could be used for   talking books. This was due to technology and economic challenges. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Later, Learning Ally and the American Printing House for the Blind also produced talking books. The first test recordings, in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller’s Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Since those early days of vinyl records, talking books have evolved. First with cassette tapes in the 1960s and 1970s. Then compact disks in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it is digital downloads from a computer. The options of reading materials have also expanded with a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, foreign languages and other selections to choose from. Additionally, the NLS National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled has become the dominant source for free reading materials. Today, audio books have gathered universal mass appeal with both sighted and blind people enjoying them. This is so true because I participate in two book discussion groups with sighted peers. Some of them enjoy reading books in audio verses print. I remember when I first joined the talking book library it kept my love of reading going. The ability to access books in audio format has kept the world accessible to me. I have been able to learn, grow and be entertained because I can read books in this format.

Invention of the Screen reader

In 1986 Jim Thatcher, IBM Researcher and Accessibility Pioneer, created the first screen reader at IBM. It was called the IBM Screen Reader for DOS. At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. Since it was created for DOS, which is a text-based Desktop Operating System he later created a Screen Reader 2. This one would be used for graphical interface PCs such as Windows 95 and IBM OS/2.

IBM wasn’t the only company developing screen readers. Freedom scientific produced JAWS, currently the world’s most popular screen reader. It was developed first for DOS and then Windows. I have been using JAWS since 1998 or so and it has revolutionized my life. First, it has allowed me to keep working. Second, it has allowed me to access personal information to maintain my quality of life. I can handle my finances, do internet searches, send emails, and even write this blog post.

Empish Using an iPhone

in 2009, Apple announced a new feature called VoiceOver making their products more accessible to people with visual impairments using the touch interface of the iPhone beginning with the iPhone 3GS. VoiceOver is the screen reader built into Apple operating systems including macOS, iOS/iPadOS, and WatchOS. Initially I was not on board with the iPhone. It took some time because of its flat surface yet eventually I bit the apple. Now I use my iPhone daily and listen to the AppleVIS podcast to keep up with the latest trends.

Invention of Braille

Empish Reading Braille

Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code is a series of raised dots on paper. The braille code is made up of letters, numbers and symbols. It is not another language. The alphabet is based on a cell that is composed of 6 or 8 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the dots that are contained in the cell. Braille is usually found in a large book format on doubled sided paper to maximize space and can be read for math, science and music.

Born in 1809, Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. When it was apparent that he could not be educated by just listening, his family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, as a teenager Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution.  Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system is used all over the world.

A black and white braille label gun with turn dial displaying both braille and print letters and numbers.

I use braille mostly to read labels created with my braille Dymo label machine. These labels are great for all kinds of things like my spices, file folders in my home office, music CDs, and even lipstick tubes. I also read braille on calendars, greeting cards and bathroom signs. Got to know which door is the lady’s room, you know!

Empish Reading Braill Bathroom Sign

Without these inventions I am not sure what my life would be or look like. I actually shutter at the thought. I am grateful for the people who designed and created these devices to help me have a better life as a blind person.

Got Zoom Fatigue? Go Audio Like Me.

Zoom Logo

A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting newspaper article about people struggling with Zoom calls. In the article it referred to a Stanford University research study that revealed what people like me, who work from home, already know-Zoom fatigue is real. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time while staring at a computer screen and trying to keep your mind from wandering off can be exhausting. Yes, I know because you are preaching to the choir and I am not even on Zoom calls every day! In the study they highlighted 4 factors causing the problem:

1. A need for constant eye-to-eye contact.

2.  Seeing your face on screen while talking.

3.  Having to sit still for long periods of time.

4.  Challenge of communicating via body language.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Now, the suggested solutions offered I found quite intriguing because as a blind person I do them already for my calls. I began to think perhaps this is why my fatigue is not so bad? Perhaps being blind has some benefit when it comes to Zoom-type videoconferencing? There were three main remedies to help with exhaustion:

1.  Turn off the video camera and do audio calls only.

2.  disable the selfie window.

3.  Reduce the size of the call window.

Yep, its confirmed. I do these suggestions already. The majority of the time I do audio Zoom calls. I only turn on video when it is mandatory like a job interview. Or when the person has to see me like a telemedical appointment. Otherwise, the video is off. For example, my book club meeting on Bookshare is done via Zoom and the administrator turns the video off making the entire meeting audio only.

I also pick using the phone option when available. If I get a Zoom invite with a phone number included, I will sometimes call on my landline instead. This helps me to stay alert and engaged. I can get up from in front of my computer and move around, stretch my legs or go into another room. A change of scenery can help boost energy and maintain participation.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

The bottom line when it comes to Zoom fatigue is that as a blind person, I don’t have the vision to be as tired like sighted folks. I can’t physically stare at a screen or try and interpret body language. I am not trying to see my selfie in a little box so I don’t have that kind of stress. I also don’t have to be concerned with keeping constant eye contact because I can’t do it anyway. So, a lot of this stuff goes out the window for me. Two real challenges I have is the long amounts of time sitting in a chair and keeping my mind focused on the topic.

But asides from those two things, who knew being blind would have this kind of advantage? Those Stanford University researchers should have come and talked to blind folks like me. I would have gotten them hipped to the situation and knocked off some time and energy on that research. Minus my consulting fee. HaHa! Perhaps using my tips or the ones at Stanford will help you too with Zoom fatigue.