Category Archives: Technology

Georgia Poll Worker Used SB 202 to Deny Me Voting Assistance

Voting Booth

Preform My Civic Duty

I take my civic duty to vote very seriously. I have been a registered voter in Georgia since about 1996. You can do the math and see we are talking about a lot of years . Even after I went blind I still continued to perform my civic duty and vote.

Empish Wearing Facemask and Gloves Standing Outside Voter Precinct After Voting in 2020 Presidential Election

Additionally, I  am active with my local city government, attending city council meetings and having conversations with my local councilwoman. Lastly, I listen weekly to an educational podcast on government and politics called Civics 101  hosted by the New Hampshire Public Broadcast Service. I don’t profess to know everything when it comes to politics  but I  try to stay current, advocate and educate myself. This is why I feel so strongly and was compelled to share about my recent bad voting experience in the 2022 general election. I have shared many times about my struggles with voting here on this blog. But what I experienced in this recent election  takes the cake!

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

Bus Driver Asked to Help

ON Monday, Oct. 24, I took the bus to early vote. This was not unusual because I do this on a regular basis. But what was weird was the poll worker  asking if the driver would assist me with my voting. I said no because a poll worker usually helps me and the driver  was just dropping me off. The poll worker told me to have a seat while she went off to find someone to assist.

I sat there and waited. I was confused because the precinct was not crowded. I continued to wait. Then finally I got up and walked toward  where I could here people talking and asked when someone was coming over to assist me. This  all seemed strange because I vote in every election  and never been told to go sit  at a table and wait, especially when it is not busy.

Poll Worker Said No to Assistance

I was then told that poll workers could no longer help me. They would have to get another voter to assist. I got very angry  at this news and said this couldn’t be true. They insisted and it had to do with SB 202. One of the poll workers said she called and spoke to the director to confirm  and verify. I pushed back more and shared about a blind friend who went to vote at my county headquarters   location. She  didn’t have this problem and voted the first day of early voting. I even shared about my  time voting in the midterm  and didn’t have this problem. However, they still insisted and refused to help me.

Type of Help I Needed

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

Now, let me stop my story for a minute to clarify what help I needed. Here are the specifics:

  • Filling out any paperwork. I give the poll worker my Georgia state ID and they fill out the form and then I sign it.
  • Escort to the accessible voting machine. They make sure I am seated and the machine is working properly before they walk away.
  • Escort  to the second machine to cast my ballot and turn in my plastic card
  • Escort out the precinct.

Another Voter Helped Me Instead

As I stated earlier I have been voting for a long time as a blind person. In every election I get this help. Except this time. Another voter not a poll worker did all of this. That is the problem. Although the other voter was nice and kind she was not familiar with what to do to help a blind voter. They had to give her instructions.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

After I voted and printed out my ballot she  started to grab it off the machine. I stopped her and told her she could not touch my ballot. She quickly apologized  and said she didn’t know. This is why I have a problem with this whole situation. She was not a poll worker and wouldn’t know the rules.

Confusion with Code on Ballot

Next, she escorted me to the other machine to  cast my ballot. I was asked by a poll worker to turn in my plastic card. After giving it to him, he asked to see my ballot to get some kind of QR code off it. I have no idea what this code was or why he needed it.

I  got upset and told him he was not supposed to see my ballot. I asked him what this QR code is because I don’t remember being asked that before. Another poll worker came over and began to explain, saying they needed to know my precinct. I  gave them the info. But was wondering why you didn’t just ask directly for it. This made no sense to me.

After  I gave my precinct info I was ready to cast my ballot. But before I could do so, someone  offered instead. Again, this was strange because I cast my own ballot each time I vote. I explained again that no one was supposed to touch it and I placed it on the machine myself. Then the other voter escorted me  outside  so I could wait on my ride.

Researched SB 202

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Once I got home I went online to research SB 202. The information I found said nothing about assisting or not assisting a blind voter. This law has to do with the following:

  • Changes in absentee voting.
  • Changes to vote counting.
  • Changes in early voting.
  • Changes effecting local voter offices.
  • Changes effecting the state election board.

ADA Addresses Blind Voting

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) specifically addresses accessible voting. Blind and visually impaired voters must receive accommodations when casting their ballot in a governmental election. State and local governments must help a blind person, whether it is to offer an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or have an accessible voting machine

Filing Complaint

So, the fact the poll worker told me I couldn’t get assistance  was wrong. I called the Georgia Secretary of State office to file a complaint. They referred me to my county Election Office. As of this writing,  I have attempted to file a complaint  but have not been totally successful. There seems to be confusion  about assisting a blind person  when voting  and no clear  voting complaint process. I have also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and they have documented my concerns. Because I know the power of my vote and have civic pride I will continue to press the issue. Although this experience was awful, I will not give up voting.

10 Ways I Take the Internet for Granted and You Probably Do Too

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

The World Wide Web  became available to the public back in the 90’s. I was hearing a lot about it but struggled with its concept. I couldn’t visualize  what a website actually looked like on a computer screen. So, I took a class with an assistive technology teacher and she did a good job describing it. She even took my hands and placed them on the computer monitor  moving them around  to help me visualize  the actual layout.

Today, I am on the internet  daily. This technology  that was so new, at one point in my life, is old, mundane  and ordinary. I mean I don’t even think about getting online. I just do it which shows me how much I take it for granted. Perhaps, you do too. Can you imagine  going through the day with no internet? I know I can’t because of all the tasks I preform on it. Not being able to read the news, email, podcast or an audiobook is unconceivable. And that is just a small list of things. So, in honor of National Internet Day, Saturday, Oct. 29, I am going to feature 10 things I take for granted  when using the internet. I am sure many of  these items will resonate with you as well. My hope is this list will help all of us be  more mindful and grateful  for this invention.

1. Paying bills  and managing finances

Empish Writing a Check

I use to do this task on paper. I remember a  statement  would come in the mail. I would read the bill, tear off the bottom  and place in an envelope  with a paper check. I paid my bills and managed my finances for years  this way. Even after I went blind, I got sighted help  until the internet  made this chore easier and accessible. Today, I do all my financial business online. Not just paying basic household bills but  managing online savings  and investment accounts.

2. All kinds of shopping

Online shopping intensified during the pandemic  because we all had to shelter in place. But I  would dare to say many of us are still doing a lot online. Yep, I know I am. In the past I would do simple little things  like purchasing household  items and toiletries  on Amazon. Or I would do a little clothes and shoe shopping. Now, I do almost all my shopping on the internet. Grocery, household, hair and beauty supplies, technology  and electronics and more I purchase via the internet.

3. Entertainment like watching movies

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

I love watching movies on Netflix. I remember when they launched. Prior  was the iconic Blockbuster’s  where you had to go in person and rent a movie  to play in a VCR. Do you remember those days? Netflix started with DVDs and then moved to streaming services. However, it is hard to stream a movie without a good internet connection. That WIFI  signal has got to be strong and working.

4. online learning

Want to learn something new? You can take Online courses  for almost anything. Courses online are the ticket to exploration. Learn basic home repairs, bake a cake , paint or garden. There is probably a course for that.

I lean toward career advancement  so my courses have mostly  been on ways to improve my writing or enhance my job searching. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

5. communication like zoom videoconferencing and web chats

A man with only his Torso visible. He is wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope around his neck. He is holding a cell phone in his hands.

The internet  allows for multiple communication methods. We can use videoconferencing  or web chats to not only connect with friends and family, but conduct business  and medical appointments. If you can’t meet in person, set up a quick Zoom call. I have personally enjoyed the ease and convenience using videoconferencing for my book club meetings  and community discussion groups.

6. Sending and receiving emails

Emails are as old as the internet itself. They are another way we communicate online. Emails are delivered extremely fast compared to traditional correspondence. Remember writing and mailing letters? We call it snail mail because of its slowness.  Emails are sent  and received all day and all year round. They are sent and received from any computer, anywhere in the world with an internet connection .

7. Read news  stories, papers, magazines and journals

Stack of Newspapers

Just about every print publication can now be read online. Think of your local, regional or national newspaper and more than likely  there is an online version. Same goes for magazines and journals.

I use to read my news in print. For years, I would grab a paper or magazine  and hold in my hands to read it. Although print publications  are sadly declining I appreciate  digital content because it is easier to read with my vision loss.

8. social media interaction

Want to engage wit friends, make a professional contact or create a TikTok video? It can all be done online. Social media has  provided opportunities  for us to connect electronically  and share our lives, interest and even be entertained.

9. Job searching

Woman sitting at table using a laptop to look for a job

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.

10. research   and find info

I am naturally curious and doing  internet research answers most of my probing questions. I can do  a quick Google search and look up and learn about  most anything. Have a question? Just “Google it” as they say. You will find all kinds of info. But use caution and  check multiple sources

I got my 10 ways but what about you? How do you take the internet for granted? How has using the internet improved your life?

Need to Level Up Your Career? Listen to My LinkedIn Webinar on Creating an Eye Catching Profile

Woman sitting at table using a laptop to look for a job

What’s  LinkedIn and Why You Should Care

Did you know LinkedIn is the most underutilized social media platform compared to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok? It is the best search engine  businesses, corporations and companies use daily. People wrongly assume that LinkedIn is only for job seekers.  However, it provides a rich opportunity to make professional connections. As a result of this myth people assume they don’t have to develop and manage their profile as long as it’s there and the job info is accurate.

But when someone searches for you online your LinkedIn profile comes up first the majority of the time. If it is not updated, no active engagements and few connections, then you are missing important opportunities and don’t even know it.

Hosted LinkedIn Webinar

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

This is why I was excited to host a webinar titled “Level Up Your Career with an Eye Catching Profile on LinkedIn.  It was held  earlier this month  to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It was sponsored  by Bold, Blind Beauty, a platform to demystify blindness through rich storytelling.  The presentation focused on 6 sections of your LinkedIn profile: the Header, photo, contact info, summary, work experience and education. Although, there are more sections of your LinkedIn profile, I decided to spotlight  these 6 because they are the most important for visibility and connection.

Webinar Mission and Focus

During the webinar  I explained what LinkedIn is compared to other social media. Next, I discussed the 6 profile sections.   And last I gave challenges to move you to the next level.

To learn more, listen to my presentation  at this YouTube link.

How Online Learning is Advancing My Career

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Use Online Learning to Help Career

I am naturally curious. I enjoy learning about all kinds of things. But mostly  skills to advance my career and writing. Online courses  have been my ticket to exploration and career advancement. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

I remember the first  freelance writing online course I took. It was several years ago. A small group of us wanted to learn better ways to write query letters. Our desire was to pitch  story ideas to printed publications (online pubs were not the norm back then) that would get the assignment. We had a weekly lesson  and later posted our homework for group critique. It was a great experience  and I learned a lot.

Online Learning Day

Although this was a long time ago, I have never stop being an online learner. Today, Sept. 15, is National Online Learning Day. This holiday focuses mostly on educational courses and classes for children and young adults but  the holiday can also apply to people like me. Those who are much older  and have an interest in learning  skills to help their careers.

Besides  just wanting to learn something new, why do I take courses online? Well, for a couple of reasons. Online courses enhance my job searching. They sharpen my skills in writing and blogging.

Enhance My Job Searching

Recently, I lost my latest freelance job and I have been more assertive about looking for work. It has been a long time since I actively searched for employment. I wasn’t current on the latest job hunting trends and techniques. LinkedIn has been a great resource for this exploration. I have learned about writing better cover letters, what hiring managers want, and the importance of digital networking.

LinkedIn sends me alerts  with  topics of interest  around  job seeking. I scroll through the list and take the ones I need the most. These courses are quick little videos  but are jammed pack with valuable and useful information. What I learn from these courses I can apply immediately to my job search.

Extensive  Online Learning

For a deeper dive, I have ventured into extensive  online learning. The latest example was on Google Analytics. I took the course directly from the Google Academy. Each lesson  was on some aspect of analyzing data  for your website. It was a self-pace  course and fairly accessible. You could opt for the video or read the transcript. I chose the transcript option so I could stop and easily take notes . There was a quiz after each lesson where I had to score 80% or better to get my certificate. After completion Google  sent me a certificate and provided ways to share my success on social media.

The only drawback was  the application examples. There were opportunities to directly apply what you were learning. I struggled in  finishing those sections  because they were inaccessible and hard to navigate. Besides this issue, I enjoyed the course, learned a lot and got my certificate.

I had a similar experience taking courses with Salesforce. In the spring of this year, I applied  to get training  with a technology organization. Once completed students would be connected to job opportunities. I had to complete  several sales badges  as  part of the application process. This experience took me through several learning modules and tracks  where I had to read the course materials and take a quiz afterward. Although, I wasn’t accepted into   the training program, I learned a lot about Salesforce and how it is trending right now.

Sharpen My Writing and Blogging Skills

I have also increased my knowledge of writing and blogging through courses with WordPress and my online writer’s group, The Freelance Writers Den. Both  offer  instruction in blogging, journalism, SEO and marketing.

The latest course I took was on a LinkedIn marketing bootcamp. The course  provided a weekly lesson  from constructing your profile, to increasing connections  to applying for jobs.  These were paid courses and well worth the cost. I have already noticed  and increase in my productivity  and online visibility because of the skills learned.

Online learning has been an excellent resource for me. I can learn what I want when I want. I would dare to say as technology advances and nontraditional ways of learning become more accepted, we will all see an increase  in the availability of online education and courses.

Improving Telemedicine for People with Disabilities

two women on a video conference. The view is over one woman's shoulder and you can see the other woman on the computer screen. The woman on the computer screen is a doctor wearing a surgical mask and doctor's white coat.

Editor’s Note: This is a post by Gracie Stephens a freelance writer and editor. She enjoys writing a variety of topics but is particularly keen on education and medical news. When she is not writing her next piece, she spends her time reading and spending time with her three children and husband.

Telemedicine Increasing Among the Disabled

In the wake of recent events, telemedicine has become vital for many basic clinical services. A Forbes’ report on telehealth outlines a survey from Applause, noting that nearly half of the 5,000 consumers they surveyed have used telehealth at least once, and 63% plan to keep using telehealth in the future.

With the rising interest in telehealth, healthcare providers have been expanding their usage to not only give information on health and services, but also arrange consistent telemedicine channels to treat patients. Over time, more areas and people have been serviced, including people with disabilities.

In fact, telemedicine has become almost necessary for people with disabilities to access healthcare. As mentioned in our post on “Can You Hear Me Now?”, landline phones and iPhones play an important part in keeping us in contact with the outside world. Nowadays, we can even set up doctor appointments and check-ups purely via phone calls. There are also other digital options like video conferencing and live chats, which allow professionals to provide diagnosis and treatment options — without us even stepping foot in their clinics.

How is telemedicine helping the disabled population?

Telemedicine has existed for a while now, but it was not long ago that greater innovation was pushed for in the field. This has resulted in greater outputs, with Ancor Foundation reporting that remote tech services can expand healthcare reach. In fact, 86% of providers believe that greater applications of technology can help address the current professional workforce crisis. Telemedicine allows providers to cater to traditionally disconnected populations, like the elderly and disabled, and administer specialized healthcare needed to treat routine medical needs. These also grant opportunities to avoid challenges of in-person care: arranging caregiver assistance, coordinating transportation, and even waiting at crowded clinics or hospitals. With the rise in tech, this virtual support has made it safer and more convenient for vulnerable populations.

How can telemedicine be improved?

When it comes to modern healthcare through telemedicine, there are still challenges in accessibility. Some people might not be digitally literate, so they may struggle with navigating certain websites and applications. There are also people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who can have a hard time describing their medical issues over the phone or through video calls. These struggles may lower the quality of healthcare that they receive. On the other hand, the convenience of being able to consult in a comfortable environment (such as their homes) may also be advantageous for this disabled population.

Although telemedicine still has its limitations, it’s undeniable that telehealth has become an essential, alternative avenue in easing the current burden of healthcare systems. Dr. Forrest, a physician serving on telehealth platform Wheel, expects telemedicine to become a standard component of health service. He predicts that all of the health data collected by the Internet of Things and smart peripherals will soon be utilized to improve healthcare and telemedicine. These computer systems will let doctors track, summarize, and share information with one another, which can be helpful for patients. Professionals can also easily look into medical treatments that have worked on previous disabled patients, and gain insights for their own patients.

What additional ways can telemedicine be improved?

Aside from driving advanced tech, there are other ways in how healthcare delivery through online platforms can be bridged for people with disabilities. As noted in a study by doctors and medical assistants in Texas, user interface issues should be addressed: text on a website or app should be readable by screen readers, captions present on videos, adjustable color and contrast, to name a few. In addition, customized visual interfaces should be made for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities to help with their communication. Having diverse service options is the best way to aid disabled people in accessing healthcare.

With more adjustments to telemedicine systems, the disabled can eventually maximize the benefits of online consultations. Although in-person interactions still remain important for a proper, full diagnosis of serious conditions, telemedicine can provide an opportunity for easier evaluation and improvement of patient care.

Do you use telemedicine?

If you are a person with a disability have you taken advantage of telemedicine? What was your experience? Would you recommend this option to others with disabilities? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Exhausted with Inaccessible Job Searching? Use AIRA  for a Rejuvenating Experience

The AIRA Logo. A turquoise circle with the white letter “a” in lower case

Problems Applying for Jobs Online Still Exist

About a year ago I talked about my challenges applying for jobs online. In a post  for  Inclusively I  gave details on the struggles with inaccessible websites  and online job portals.  Unfortunately, a year later the problems still exist.

As a freelance writer and blogger, I am regularly on the hunt for  new contract assignments and searching online is a primary part of that exploration. When I come across complex combo boxes  and inaccessible edit fields   my perseverance  wanes. My enthusiasm about landing that next writing gig quickly  diminishes.

Help is on the Way

Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I  started using a virtual paid personal  assistant called AIRA. When I initially heard  about AIRA some years ago, the focus was on getting visual assistance  to navigate the physical world around you.  The professional human assistant would use  the camera on your smartphone  or smart glasses  to give you  visual information live and in real time. It was a tool for travelers. Since I was  not in need of that kind of help I put AIRA on the back burner.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

They have expanded those services  and provide remote  assistance via your computer. This was great news for me as I continued to struggle with inaccessible websites. So, I downloaded the app, created my account and selected the paid membership level. I am able to call AIRA any day, anytime to get assistance  . AIRA has a  special feature called “Job Seekers.” This  free service is specifically for filling out job applications and updating cover letters and resumes.

AIRA and CAPTCHA screens

I have used AIRA to help with  frustrating  and inaccessible CAPTCHA screens. You know the ones that ask you are you a human being? Usually, I would check the box  and type  into the edit box what I hear. Unfortunately, many job sites don’t offer that option. Only type in what you see with several pictures popping up on the screen to identify. Of course, I can’t do that and  as a result can’t submit my job application. What I find so perplexing is the employer gives all this info about being an equal opportunity employer and understands diversity and inclusion. They say they will not discriminate  based on age, gender, race or disability  and feel free to disclose. Yet, they have this inaccessible screen  prohibiting me from applying. This experience questions how  much of an equal opportunity employer they really are. Or perhaps, they are just unaware of the importance of accessibility for all applicants.

When  I come across this situation, I no longer throw up my hands in annoyance. I no longer moan and groan. I  no longer walk away in pure exhaustion and don’t apply for the job. I  call up AIRA  and use remote access  with a human assistant. I explain the problem  and they  check off the appropriate boxes. I have even asked them to do a quick review of my application  before submission. It is always good to have a second  pair of eyes look things over  before pressing the submit button.

AIRA and Job Assessments

Another task AIRA has  helped me with is job assessments. Some applications require the completion of an assessment  along with submission. These assessments  rate me on my writing and editing abilities. Some will score me on my knowledge of particular skill sets like SEO and WordPress  . When I start the assessment the timer interferes with my screen reader. So, while trying hard to concentrate  the timer is verbally ticking off each minute I have remaining. This is incredibly distracting and stressful. So, instead of dealing with all of that headache, I call AIRA  and the assistant can read the questions to me while I give my responses. We can review the assessment  and then submit.

Use AIRA After Hiring

After landing a job, the assistance from AIRA doesn’t stop. Many of my friends  who are employed use AIRA to help with various work assignments. Some employers  are receptive to blind employees  using AIRA  on the job as a work accommodation and will pay  for the monthly subscription. AIRA is sensitive  to the employability of blind people  and supportive of removing barriers.

AIRA Provides Me relief

Job hunting has its own list of hang ups, adding inaccessibility  just increases irritation  and disappointment. I want my job exploration to be as stress free and pleasant as possible. AIRA  gives me relief. They rejuvenate my desire to keep searching. If you are visually impaired and a job seeker, like me, investigate  AIRA as a handy tool in your career toolbox.

Can You Hear Me Now? Why I Like Landlines and Smartphones

Empish using iPhone

Telephone Memories

Today, Apr. 25,  is National Telephone Day and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic. I am reflecting on my usage of this important communication device  invented by Alexander Graham Bell. I remember my first telephone. It was a white Princess model purchased from Bellsouth. It sat on my nightstand next to my bed. I remember my parents  and I going to our  local shopping center where there was a Bellsouth store. In the store were a variety of makes and models of phones much like  the cell phone stores of today.

In my hone, there was one in my parents’ bedroom  and one more in the kitchen. The kitchen phone was a wall mounted version with a rotary dial. For those too young to  remember  or those who have forgotten a rotary dial was a type of phone where you had to place your finger in an open metal circle and turn to the corresponding number you wanted. You had to do this one digit at a time and it was a slow process but that is how we dial numbers back then. Also, there  wasn’t a need for area codes unless you were calling long distance.

Now getting back  to my Princess model. I can’t remember if it was a rotary dial or push button because it was so long ago. All I remember is that as a teenager I had my own phone and that is what counted.

But having my own phone quickly ended when I started college and lived in the dorms. It was the phone in the hall mounted on the wall  . Someone would yell loudly, “Empish, you got a phone call!” Then later it was housemates in an apartment. Depending on the situation maybe I had a phone in my room or not.

Blindness and Using a Landline

When I went blind the importance of the telephone  and my ability to use it really  became critical. I  didn’t realize  how vital vision was until I couldn’t dial a number on my landline phone. Back then cell phones were not really happening quite yet. This was back in the mid-90s. People were still using landlines. But my vision loss kept me from seeing the small numbers on the keypad. Initially I got a large print phone with high contrast. The numbers were big and pronounced. The colors were black on white for better visibility. But as I lost more vision  those features were not as helpful anymore. I began to totally rely on the small, raised dot on the number 5, slowly navigating around the keypad. I started memorizing the sequence  and order of the numbers  to know which one to press. I also began to be more  particular about my phone purchases. Touching carefully  the display models in the store before walking out with one. I duplicated this same method when cell phones became popular. Carefully touching the display models to be sure I could  access the buttons.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Today I am a master at my landline phone. Yes, I still use one . It has a large size keypad. A dot on the number 5. I can quickly dial numbers without even thinking much about it. I also have several cordless phones throughout my hone. All with  distinctive keypads for easy dialing. I have these phones in case of an emergency because you never know when you need to quickly grab  your phone. If you have a cell phone it could be anywhere in the house while you are someplace else.

Also Using a Smartphone

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone too. Unlike older cell phone models my iPhone is totally accessible with voiceover command. I just don’t make calls much on it. The shape and design is  not made for holding up to my ear. Yes, I know I can get earbuds  but for some reason I have been slow to get on that train. So, I use my smartphone  for other things like reading my audiobooks, listening to podcasts and watching movies. I do some text messaging  and store my contacts  as a digital address book. I also find it helpful as a quick and handy dictionary and spellchecker.

The evolution of the telephone has come a long way. Who would have known that our phones would  become minicomputers in our pockets or purses? The advancement of technology  and what we can do with it is amazing. I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would  say if he could see how far his invention has come. I know he would say more to Mr. Watson than, “can you hear me now?”

Fun Telephone Facts

Looking for some fun facts  about the telephone? Read these provided by National Days Today:

  • Alexander Graham Bell and his helper, Thomas Watson, made the first phone call.
  • The first phone book only had 20 pages.
  • Mark Twain was the first person to own a phone.
  • In the United States, telephones expanded rapidly, from one phone in 1876 to 11 million phones countrywide by 1915.
  • By 1910, New York Telephone had 6,000 female telephone operators.
  • When Bell handed Watson the phone and said, “here, hold this,” the phrase “to put someone on hold” was named after them.
  • When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, all telephones were silenced for one minute with respect to the inventor.
  • In 1956, the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. A telephone cable was laid across the ocean floor, reaching depths of 12,000 feet. The cable connects Canada and Scotland across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • There are around 150 million telephone lines in the world, with the number growing by thousands every day.

Suggestions for Celebrating National Telephone Day

Whether you still use a landline phone or only use a smartphone, or like me use both, celebrate National Telephone Day  with these suggestions:

1.  Call someone today you either rarely speak to or normally communicate with via text.

2.  Who is your favorite person to talk on the phone with? Give them a call today and check-in to see how they are doing.

3.  Feeling nostalgic? Inquire with your grandparents about the amount of energy required to “dial” a phone — and why they disliked numbers with a lot of zeroes.

4.  And if you are really feeling musically inspired  and bold call a friend or loved one and sing Stevie Wonder’s  iconic song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”

Feeling Anxious About Tax Filing? Stay Calm with My  Stress-Free Organizing Tips

Woman holding up two tax forms in front of her face

Although this year’s tax filing deadline is right around the corner on April 18, I traditionally file my taxes in February or March. I figure the sooner the better and to just get the whole maddening business out of the way quickly. But more importantly I file early  because things get pretty busy and hectic. This way I avoid the stress and anxiety as much as possible.

Before losing my vision I prepared my taxes myself. It was fairly simple  and straightforward. But afterward, I lacked the confidence to do it on my own and some tax preparation  products and tools were not very accessible or complicated. Even though tax filing has become more accessible over the years I  still prefer to have a professional handle the paperwork. So, when I was recently in my tax guy’s office he was telling me once again how organized my paperwork  was and how easy it was to file for me. He tells me this year after  year,  marveling at how I do this with vision loss. I just smile and say, “Thank you for the compliment.” But it got me thinking  and led me to share some of my tax filing tips. The things that keep me stress-free  and organized each tax year. Hopefully, you will feel the same after reading.

Make Excel Your Friend

The biggest tool I use to stay calm  during tax filing is Excel. This software program  is my friend. I use it daily for all kinds of things. To track my grocery spending. To track my Uber/Lyft  ride amounts. To track my credit card payments. To track my out-of-pocket medical  cost. Do you get my drift? Excel is a great way to track numbers for nearly anything you want. So, each year I track my freelance income and expenses. For example, on my freelance expense spreadsheet I create  rows and columns for the date, company, expense description and amount. On a spreadsheet everything is laid out and easy to read. You can also sort and reorganize the columns and rows to crunch the numbers in different ways which my accountant loves.

Each year I create new spreadsheets with the year in the title so I know the difference. I usually  will do a save as in Excel and just update  the new one. I find this easier  because the formula I use to calculate my totals  stays the same each time. Then when I meet with my accountant I just hand him the thumb drive  and he can clearly read and review the spreadsheets  he needs for tax filing.

Create Email Receipt Folders

Now, how to deal with all those paper receipts. And no, I am not talking about stuffing them in a folder or shoebox. I have noticed nowadays   most receipts are provided electronically. I can even get my grocery receipts  sent via email. Now what I do is create folders in my email provider for receipts. I label the folder in accordance with what is in the folder. I use Outlook for this process. I have a folder for all my Amazon orders. Another one for house-related  things. Another for medical. I refer back to these receipts  for taxes when I need to. I can simply punch all the info into  my spreadsheets  and/or print out the receipt for verification if needed.

For receipts that are not electronic I store in a paper file folder for tax filing only. I have a dedicated folder strictly for this purpose. Throughout the year, as I get receipts, donation  letters, home ownership tax statements and other documents, I place in this folder. Although the amount is minimal this step keeps me from getting stressed out later because everything is in one place  and ready to go during tax time.

Empish using water and fireproof safe

These paper receipts I store with a copy of my tax return and place in my water and fireproof safe. There I keep copies of previous tax returns  for the future just in case the IRS comes calling.

There you go. My two biggest organizing tips for  stress free  tax filing. Some might be looking for a long laundry list of tips and tricks but for me it is really this simple. I have been doing this for years and it actually works. Hopefully, if tax season is stressing you out, my tips helped you feel better. With some organization and preparation this year’s filing could be your calmest ever.

Working From Home? Here’s 5 Safety and Security Tips.

Empish Touching Fire Extinguisher Mounted on Wall

Home Office Safety and Security Week

As this pandemic continues on so does the attractiveness and ability to work from home. According to Findstack, 16% of companies in the world are 100% remote and 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when working from home. With that being said it is important   to make your home office environment safe and secure. This week is Home Office Safety and Security Week. Observed every second week in January, people use this time to reevaluate their home office space. Check fire and smoke alarm systems. Clean clutter from office space. Back up files, use password protection and antivirus software.

When I read about this special week I had to take a pause. Is my home office safe and secure? After doing my own inventory, I am now ready to share with you what I learned. If you work from home this post will help you look at your office environment too.

1. Security Alarm and Fire Safety

The first thing I think about when it comes to home safety is my alarm system, smoke detector and fire extinguisher. A home security system is not just ideal for protecting your personal possessions but for work as well. Now that more people are working from home it is important to keep office equipment, computers, and other devices secure. Additionally, don’t forget to engage your alarm system during the day while you are working. Many folks tend to turn it on at nighttime only or not at all.

When I purchased my home some 20 years ago, one of the first things I did was go to a home improvement store and buy 2 fire extinguishers. I have one in the kitchen and the other is in the hallway upstairs near my office. According to the National Fire Protection Association it is best to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, in the kitchen, the garage and near exit doors. You never know when you might need to put out a small fire and you will lose precious time running around the house to get an extinguisher. Two things to remember though check the agent class. They come in A, B, C or a combination. I purchased one for all fires so I don’t have to worry about if the extinguisher will work properly. Also, I try to keep track of the agent levels in the extinguisher. Over time the agent strength level decreases and the worse thing is to have a fire, grab the extinguisher, aim and spray and nothing comes out!

2. Office Clean Up  

Next, I work hard at keeping my office free from physical clutter. That is papers, folders and boxes. It is so easy to plop things down on the desk or floor and before you know it piles of stuff are everywhere. So, I stop from time to time to organize and clean things up. Not just because it needs to be done but because it is a physical hazard. I can easily stumble and fall. And because I am self-employed there is no workers comp pay for me! HaHa! Got to pay my own medical bills.

A paper shredder and a clear bin with paper being shredded.

3.  Shred Sensitive Documents

Along with that is shredding sensitive documents. Your job might require this so investing in a good quality shredder is key. One of my goals last year was to empty my overflowing shredder box. I was all geeked up to do it. Then my shredder died. So, this is on my list to do this year. I have got to clean out all these old papers and dump them in the trash.

4.  Secure Your Technology

Another essential part of working from home is securing your technology. Whether that is a desktop, laptop, tablet or other device is it secure? Do you use a good antivirus software? What about password protection? Are you running the latest software programs to do your job? Depending on your line of work this is critical. Also, backing up your files. I do this constantly. I use a combo of Dropbox and One Drive. They both work well for my writing and photo storage.

5. Protect Your WIFI and Router

My last tip is to protect your internet connection. Make sure your Wi-Fi is appropriately encrypted with a password. Make sure your internet provider gives you the newest version of available routers and that it has basic security to keep your data protected with a firewall. Or you can set up your own wireless modem rather than use the one that comes from your internet service.

It takes some time to evaluate your home office so use this week to get started. Once done it can be simple to maintain. Checking your office safety and security on a regular basis will help ensure your peace of mind and work productivity.

Hoopla: My Favorite App for Reading Commercial Audiobooks

Empish using iPhone

Discovered Hoopla App

I have shared off and on about an audiobook reader app I discovered this year called Hoopla. Well, to be perfectly honest a librarian told me about it. We were preparing for our virtual book club and I couldn’t find the selection in audio format. So, she suggested using Hoopla. And why did she do that? OMG! This app has been so wonderful since that day. So much so that I have almost abandoned my other book reading app, Voice Dream. In honor of National App Day, Dec 11th, I am going to share a bit more about this fantastic app and how it has enhanced my enjoyment of reading.

As many of you know the word app is short for application. It is a computer program or software and has grown rapidly over the years. Today there are apps for virtually everything imaginable. Every day I learn about an app that can help me do this or that. Some apps are free and some come with a cost. Some are simple to use and some are complicated. Some have raving reviews and some are pitiful. Regardless apps are here to stay and there are folks out there developing ones all the time.

App Accessibility

Now with that being said when I look for an app to use accessibility is numero uno. If I can’t access it as a blind person what is the point? The majority of apps I use are on my iPhone so that means they have to work with Voiceover, which is the accessibility feature build into Apple products for the blind and visually impaired. Things like edit boxes and radio buttons must work properly. AppleVIS does a great job reviewing apps for accessibility. I have gone to their website to research an app before downloading and especially before purchasing it. When it came to the Hoopla app I was already aware that it was fairly accessible and I wouldn’t have too many problems.

Hoopla Connects with Library

After downloading the app and creating a username and password I got to searching for the book for our discussion. The process was straightforward and took little time. The Hoopla app is free and who doesn’t like free? It connects directly with your local library. So, you need to be a current patron of the library and have a library card to use the app. Your library card number will be required as part of the set-up process. Since I’m active at my local library that was no problem.

Hoopla Offers More Than Books

Hoopla offers so much more than reading commercial audiobooks. They have a large music catalog. I have accessed all kinds of music. This has allowed me to expand my music library and listen to artist old and new. Recently I listened to Alicia Keys read her audiobook, “More Myself” and then listen to her music directly afterward. It was a wonderful experience to hear her story about her music career and then listen to her sing too. And all on the same app at no cost to me. You can’t beat that!

But wait, there’s more. Hoopla has   movies and TV shows too. Now, I have to say, I haven’t accessed this part of the app yet because there is no indication these films are available in audio description. But I have heard the catalog is plentiful. So, you will have to check that out and get back to me.

The last thing I want to point out on Hoopla you can access is eBooks. When you do a search for a book Hoopla will display the results in either audiobook, eBook or both. So, you have some options of how you want to read your selection. Personally, I like commercial audiobooks because eBooks are in a text format   and when read are with a synthesized voice not a human.

Other Cool Things

Other cool things about the app I like is I can borrow books immediately. They call it instant borrows. With other library apps you might have to take a number and wait in line but not on Hoopla. I can borrow and download right away. Then I have 21 days to read it and I can manually return it or it will be done automatically. No fines or fees. Again, you can’t beat that!

I can also borrow 10 selections per month. Hoopla displays the total and counts down as I borrow. When I exhaust the number I can’t borrow anymore until the next month and the number starts fresh. Since I have a limited number I reserve my commercial audiobooks for Hoopla and all other books I read someplace else. I find the quality of the audiobook readers to be excellent which can make or break a book for me.

Share Your Favorite App

For the book lovers reading this post, do you have a favorite book reading app? Have you heard of or use Hoopla? Share your experience as we continue to celebrate National App Day.