Category Archives: Technology

Row of Voting Booths

Multiple Problems I Had Voting in Georgia’s Primary

As you may well know there were multiple problems with Georgia’s primary on Tuesday, June 9th. So much so that it gathered not only local attention but national as well. There were problems not only with voting in person but the mail in process. People are still talking about it as we all try to figure out what in the world happen! And more importantly try to keep this from happening again during the upcoming Presidential election in November.

I had talked about the lack of accessibility being a major hindrance for me in a previous post so I won’t rehash that here but rather share about the multiple problems I had voting absentee. I am typically not a procrastinator but after a lot of thought I ultimately did decide to mail in my ballot verses going to the polls. I figured it would be the best thing to do with the Coronavirus virus and all that was happening. But as I read the news coverage of people who voted in person it seemed that it really didn’t matter because there were problems either way you voted. If you went in person there were people standing in long lines in the heat. Poll workers unfamiliar with the new machines. People trying to keep social distancing. Poll locations that had moved. People who didn’t get their ballot in the mail in the first place and on and on. So, I am scratching my head at the whole voting process and wondering what in the heck happened?! All I know is that things have got to change and quick. Now, I am taking a minute and reflecting on the problems I personally had voting.

First problem was the application process to get an absentee ballot. I got an application for my ballot in the mail and got a sighted friend to assist me. Although I had to get sighted help the real tricky thing was how you had to complete the application to mail it back. It had to be folded in a particular way, which meant cutting off part of the bottom, Scotch taping it back just right and placing a stamp. I found this process a bit strange as it was described to me. I also knew that it was something that I could not handle as a blind person. Why all the fuss for the application for an absentee ballot? Why make the process so complicated? Could there not have been an easier way?

Second problem was confusion about the candidates on the ballot. Since the primary had been moved from May to June there was confusion about what candidates would appear on the ballot. I had voted early in March for the Presidential primary so that part was not on my ballot but would  have been along with other candidates. This made the ballot very long. When my sighted friend tried to print out the online sample ballot it was several pages. My actual ballot was a long page both front and back. Also, I noticed a duplication. One candidate I had voted for in March also appeared on this ballot in June.

Third problem was trying to read the online sample ballot. I found the sample ballot in a PDF file somewhat accessible. I could read the information but because of the number of candidates for this election some of them would bleed into the wrong section/column. This led to my confusion and disorientation as to who was running for what. It took me several hours to decipher the candidates and clarify the information.

Fourth problem was the instruction for the absentee ballot. It indicated that you were supposed to place your ballot inside of an envelope then place in a larger envelope to mail. Well, my package contained no small envelope for me to place my ballot in. So, I called the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office and was told that I could still mail my ballot anyway. I had also participated in a voting conference call that talked about a sleeve to place your ballot in but I don’t remember seeing a sleeve in my package either.

Fifth problem was  difficulty verifying information about when to mail the ballot. I got a text message on Sunday, two days before voting day, asking me questions about whether I was going to vote or not. I responded saying that I was voting absentee and would mail my ballot. I was told not to do that but take to a drop box. Well, I had no transportation to a drop box due to my disability. I tried to look online to learn about the policy on when an absentee ballot should be received but had no luck. On Monday morning, I called the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office again and was told as long as it was postmarked by election day I was good. I later checked the Georgia My Voter Page website to track my absentee ballot and saw it was received.

The sixth problem was the inaccessibility of the absentee voting process; but of course, I already knew that. fortunately, I was able to get a sighted friend that I trusted to come over, mark my ballot and mail it for me. This whole process  was stressful and taxing. But because I believe in our democracy and the power of the vote I did and will continue to persevere.

So now next steps. November is right around the corner. What is my game plan to avoid all these problems for the next election; and in my opinion, the most important one, voting for the President of the United States. The medical experts say the Coronavirus virus will still be with us and might be worse as November will be in the fall and right during the flu season. So absentee voting will probably be my best option again. I have definitely learned some powerful lessons about this process. I am going to arm myself with more knowledge about absentee voting, share that info with friends and family, and continue to rely on trustworthy people. So, what’s your game plan for November? Do you plan on voting in person or by mail? Share your thoughts on the voting process with me as we prepare for the Presidential election.

iPhone Displaying Screen with Unfamiliar Number

Thank the Coronavirus Virus for a Drop in Robocalls

I never realized the magnitude of robocalls I got until I started working from home a couple of years ago. I would be sitting in my home office and the landline phone would ring constantly during the day announcing area codes I had never heard of. Even late in the evening and early on weekend mornings I would get these harassing robocalls. I would listen to my talking caller ID  announce strange and unfamiliar numbers. Or my answering machine would leave messages about credit card offers, vacation packages for sale, computer viruses, or my personal favorite the IRS and Social Security needs me to contact them immediately.

At first not understanding how scammy the whole process worked, I would pick up the phone and tell the person to stop calling and take my name and number off their call list.  When that didn’t work, I would press the number that offered a don’t call back option. I later learned that doing those things just made them call you more. The goal of robocalls was to find live numbers of real human beings. By engaging or pressing an option to don’t call me I was signaling that me and my number were real further increasing the opportunity for more calls and more harassment. Now I have stopped doing that but of course, like most people the calls still continued but not at the high volume as before.

I have noticed lately an even deeper decrease in volume of calls. And I can thank the Coronavirus Virus. According to YouMail, a technology company that tracks robocalls, during the month of March  there was a drop in calls with 4.1 billion compared to February’s number of 4.8 billion calls. Robocalls typically come from overseas call centers and they have had to close down due to the virus. A lot of these centers lack the infrastructure to protect their workers and practice social distancing. But like here in America, those companies will figure out work from home strategies and we might see an uptick in robocalls again.  If and when the onslaught resumes the calls will center around Coronavirus virus scams and debt collection as millions of Americans are out of work and unable to pay their bills.

The government has been paying attention and making stronger efforts to put things in place to combat the robocall problem. The TRACED  Act was passed last year  allowing people to identify calls to avoid  answering them. Also, in March the FCC said it was abandoning plans for US telecom companies to voluntarily implement methods for reducing robocalls and making it mandatory. They are giving the industry until June 30, 2021, to roll out “Shaken/Stir,” a system that allows companies to verify that a call is from who it says it’s from. This addresses the problem of “spoofing,” which is when a call appears to be legitimate when it isn’t.

The FCC also created a dedicated website  with consumer warnings and safety tips around the Coronavirus virus including info on robocall scams.

I know that these efforts will not completely rid all robocalls but I think it is a step in the right direction. I also know that responding to callers whose numbers you recognize is a good best practice. I am not sure if we will ever be fully rid of robocalls but I do appreciate the fact that my time at home during this pandemic has been a much quieter one.

celebrating -gaad-2020 Logo

GAAD and My Daily Access to the Internet

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). According to their website, every person that accesses the Internet deserves a first-rate digital experience. Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities. This awareness and commitment to inclusion is the goal of GAAD.  This event was launched 9 years ago based on a single blog post that challenged web developers and designers to dig deeper on the accessibility of their web content. Unfortunately, equal access to the Internet is not always available.   This year one million webpages were analyzed for accessibility and came up lacking.  Some of the issues were low contrast, no alt text for images, empty links, and missing form input labels. These issues and more all impact the ability  of those with disabilities to access information on the Internet.

Every day I spend the bulk of my time online. As a result, I come across inaccessible websites on a regular basis.  Just this week I was trying to register my all in one printer with the manufacturer and portions of that process were not accessible with my screen reader. When I called customer service, I was told that they could not assist me and that I had to complete the process on my own; but yet the website is not accessible. I have heard this all the time for many years. I have used sighted friends to help me from time to time. Yet it has been somewhat frustrating and annoying when there are probably simple fixes in the web coding that could be done to remedy the problem.  Additionally, I bump up on accessibility with mobile apps. I hear all the time about wonderful apps that can do this or that. But my question is, “Is it accessible?” If not, I don’t even bother with downloading it because it’s not going to work for me no matter how wonderful.

I have learned that I have to continue being an advocate and speak up about this issue. Many people still don’t realize that people that are blind and visually impaired are actively online. That we use adaptive technology to access the internet. Not only do I use the internet to post this blog I am writing but I live my life like everyone else. Here are some examples:

1.  Download books to read for my book club.

2.  Stream movies to watch on Netflix.

3.  Participate in Zoom videoconferencing meetings on my desktop computer.

4.  Completed my 2020 census online.

5.  order groceries  and other goods online.

Now we are in the midst of a global pandemic and it is even more critical that everyone have access to the internet. More and more people are working from home. Shopping, banking and other daily activities have increased online. School students are taking classes on their computers or tablets. Various entertainment venues are looking at moving some of their content online. So, web designers and developers need to know and understand that people with disabilities, which add up to about a billion worldwide, are online too and need equal access.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

Voting with the New Paper Ballot Machine Inaccessible

Editor’s Note:  the picture used for this post is from a voting machine demo not an actual election.

This year the process to vote changed in Georgia. For years I have voted independently by physically going into my local precinct and casting my ballot. I accomplished this by using the accessible voting machine. While sitting at the machine, I would use a headset and listen to my ballot and select my candidate with a large raised button keypad. I would confirm those selections and then give the plastic voter card to a poll worker and leave. I perform this task year after year at each election. But decisions were made that said this method of our voting system was not safe and secure because there was no paper ballot to track our votes. We needed a better system to ensure our democracy. Efforts began  and a contract was signed to select new machines; ones that would print out a paper ballot.

Research Consulting on Accessible Paper Ballot Machines

Last year in May I participated in a research project at Georgia Tech on accessible paper voting machines. I tested two different models and gave feedback on the audio quality, keypad functionality and overall ease and use of the machine. Additionally, I was told that these paper ballot machines would print the ballot but store inside for safety and security.

Now fast forward to this year. Unfortunately, the machine that I recommended along with other disabled consultants was not selected.  The new paper ballot machine that we are using to vote is not completely accessible. I am feeling some distress because my ability to remain independent and keep my vote private have been removed.

Attended New Paper Ballot Machine Demo

In February I attended a voting machine demo to educate myself on how to use this new machine. I was glad because there are a couple of steps that are different than before. The representative explained the steps one by one and then allowed us to come up and practice with a dummy ballot. The first step was having to get help with the touch screen to sign in. In the past I would give my Georgia ID to a poll worker who would fill out a paper form for me to sign. Next, I sat in front of the machine, which was much larger in size, and began to vote. The keypad was very different and it took a few minutes for my fingers to get adjusted to the buttons. The audio quality, which I have complained about to the Secretary of State’s office before, was somewhat better. But I was annoyed and distracted by the constant reminder of the color of the buttons. For example, “press the green left arrow or press the blue down arrow, etc. I was confused by the insistence of telling me the color of the buttons when I am blind and can’t see them. I just found this very distracting and, in some ways, it hindered my ability to vote. But I pushed through and continued on with the process.

Once I got to the end, I confirmed my selections and press the option to print my ballot. Now this is where the accessibility issue crops up. The machine printed out a large piece of heavy stock paper that I couldn’t see. I was not able to confirm that this paper had the candidate that I selected. All the other people in the room were sighted and could stand there and confirm their selection on their paper ballot but I was not able to do so. I was told by a poll worker that they could do it for me or I could bring someone with me on election day. I inwardly frowned and bristled at both of those options because for years I have always voted independently. Also, my privacy is now gone if I allow another person to see and read my marked ballot. Those of us in the blind community have fought for so long on this issue and now it seems we are right back where we started. Yet I wasn’t finished voting. The poll worker walked me over to another machine where we placed my ballot face down and inserted it inside. Once we heard the click sound my ballot was truly cast. I left this demo with mixed feelings. On one hand I was glad for the instruction but on the other I now realized some of my independence was gone.

The Actual Voting Day

During the March presidential primary, I decided to early vote. I was anticipating all kinds of issues with the new voting machine and I wanted to avoid them as much as possible. The Coronavirus virus was just hitting Georgia and we had not started sheltering in place or practicing social distancing yet. No facemask or gloves either. I walked in, got set up and started the voting process. I told the poll worker I was already familiar with the new machine and knew what to do. Once I finished voting the paper ballot printed out and the poll worker came over to ask if I needed help. I had been told that I could use accessible scanning apps on my smartphone but declined that option. I barely use those apps on a regular basis and would be fumbling around trying to do that. Since the ballot was a short one with few candidates, I opted for the poll worker to confirm my selections. She did and walked me over to the other machine to actually cast my ballot.

Now it’s time to vote again. The Coronavirus virus has caused the elections for the general primary and presidential preference primary that was to be in May to now be moved to June. I am wondering do I go to the polls again or do an absentee ballot. Both options look rather bleak and inaccessible for me.  If I go to the polls, I will have to wear a facemask and gloves and risk possible exposure to the virus. Also, I will have to deal with the inaccessible paper ballot machine situation. If I do absentee ballot, I can stay at home but have to get a sighted person to read my ballot; losing my privacy and independence there as well. It seems either way I really don’t win completely when it comes to voting and accessibility.

Continue reading Voting with the New Paper Ballot Machine Inaccessible
Empish Writing a Check

Annoyance Leads to Advocacy in Accessing Mobile Banking Apps

in January I decided to start depositing my checks from my freelance work through mobile banking. Up to this point I was going into my local branch and making those deposits bimonthly. But it was time for change, to stretch myself and learn something new. In the past I did very little financial transactions on my smartphone and was not familiar with mobile banking. Flicking, swiping and tapping on apps is just not my thing especially when it comes to dealing with money. But after downloading the bank’s app, I found it rather simple and straightforward. I got excited thinking this was going to be easy and that I should have done this a long time ago but I soon realized I was wrong.

After logging in, I went to my account and selected the “deposit a check” option. I had already written that information on the back of the check and got it ready for the camera. This is when the challenges began. The first problem was that the part where you type in the deposit amount did not speak with Voiceover Command. Voiceover is the accessible feature in my iPhone that allows me to use my phone since I am blind. As a result, I had no idea of what amount I was typing in the box until I went to the next screen only to discover that I typed the amount in wrong. I went back to the screen and typed in the correct amount. This is a major problem because you need to know if you are depositing one dollar or multiple dollars. Once I got that corrected, I tapped the button to take a picture of the front of my check and tried to position the camera. But I kept getting errors telling me to place the check on a dark background and/or add light.

Feeling very annoyed and frustrated  with this I called the bank on my landline and worked with a representative in the mobile banking department. She gave some tips for the scanning of the check which I followed but it still didn’t work. I told her I would have a sighted friend to assist me and follow up. When my sighted friend came to help, she saw the issues that I was having and agreed with me that the app had some accessibility problems. She told me that there was enough light and the check was laying on a dark background so she was perplexed about the errors. We both finally gave up and I turned off Voiceover and let her deposit the check on my behalf.

 

 

Empish Using an iPhone

 

The next time I got paid I tried again and got the same error messages. But this time we are deep in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and my bank has closed the lobby except for appointments only and drive thru.  So, I made an appointment and saw the branch manager who watched me try yet again to deposit this check. He observed the inability to hear the dollar amount and agreed with me. He also saw how the error messages kept popping up about the dark background and lack of light. He reassured me that there was plenty of light in his office and that his desk was dark. so, he was puzzled why the app was giving that kind of message. After several attempts I gave up and had him deposit my check.

When this problem occurred in January, I filed a complaint immediately with the mobile banking department. They responded too fast to tell me that the app was accessible. I was very annoyed and irritated because I knew that was not true. After 20 years of blindness I have gotten replies like this before where people quickly tell me that things are accessible to the blind when they are not. I have learned to push back and use my advocacy skills. I explained to the mobile banking department that I couldn’t hear the dollar amount and there were problems with scanning the check. I also shared that there are buttons on the scanning screen that don’t respond when Voiceover is turned on. I told them that I even went into a branch and worked with a bank employee who saw me try and use the app and saw that it wasn’t working properly. I even went as far to ask did they ever have blind or visually impaired people help test the app before they launched it?

Not to be outdone, I even tried my credit union’s mobile app and had similar problems too. I was able to hear the dollar amount but again the scanning process for the check didn’t work. After all of this you might be thinking, “Maybe something is wrong with your iPhone?” Well, I thought that too. But my iPhone is only a year old. It is a fairly new model and has the latest software downloaded on it. I also reached out to Apple disability tech support and did a screen share to look at my camera settings. I explained to them the problems I was having with mobile banking and they reassured me that the issue was not with my phone.

So, what happens now? Good question. It is the end of April and I am still working on my complaint with the bank but in the meantime, I am using Lyft to ride and go through the drive thru. Just this week I left my home wearing a facemask and gloves riding in a Lyft car to the bank.  I am also continuing to talk with my freelance client about electronic payment alternatives. As a contract employee I have shared my struggles with getting to the bank and my concerns especially that we are in the midst of a pandemic. They have heard me and other freelancers and are working on a better solution.

I believe in advocacy and speaking up for myself. Even if I don’t get an immediate resolution to my problem my voice has been heard. It can be frustrating, annoying and exhausting but there is power in speaking up and speaking out.

 

Empish Holding Shopping Cart

Online Grocery Shopping Difficult During Covid-19 Pandemic

The Covid-19 virus has  hampered my ability to do online grocery shopping. It has virtually come to a standstill. I have been purchasing my groceries this way for the last couple of years and loving the ease and convenience. Plus, as a person with a disability it has been a God sent. No more dealing with public transportation or trying to get a ride or paying for an Uber. No more waiting patiently for a store representative to take me up and down the aisles to help me find items.           I even had same day delivery so I could order in the morning and my groceries be at my home by late afternoon or early evening. What a breeze!

But now my favorite grocery store app is no longer working because of the high demand. Each time I tried the app an alert would say items are no longer available and pick a substitute but sometimes the substitute is not available either. Or the item appears to be available but when I tap on it for some strange reason it won’t go into my cart.  I have to have a $30 minimum to checkout and I can’t get enough in the cart to make the purchase. I had even signed up for their annual subscription for delivery thinking with Covid-19 happening this would be a wise thing to do. But during the 15-day trial period I cancelled it without penalty.

I am back in the store again. But this time feeling a little stressed because we are dealing with a pandemic and I should be at home sheltering in place and practicing social distancing. It is kind of hard to do that in the grocery store as a blind person because you need assistance. A friend took me and we both dawned our gloves and homemade scarf masks. We got there first thing in the morning when the store opened in hopes of avoiding large crowds. I held on to the shopping cart while she pulled it from the other end. This would give some distance although it was not completely 6 feet. As we went down the aisles, I began to get hot. I had worn a sweater because it was a cool day. I took the sweater off thinking that would help. But I remained hot and began to sweat. I realized the scarf mask was the problem. While taking a tissue to wipe my face; I am thinking that people are going to see me and think I got the virus! Then I really began to sweat! LOL! I finally had to take my scarf mask off because I was just getting too hot and feeling agitated. I needed to calm down and breathe. Relax and clear my mind. Tell myself that everything was going to be okay and that I would get through this. My friend was encouraging as she told me to do what made me comfortable.

We were amazed at the lack of body soap on the shelf in the health and beauty section. there literally was little to no soap! What was up with that? Of course, we had to hunt around for toilet tissue. We finally found some no-name brand. But who can be picky? We grabbed 3 packets and asked at the checkout how many because we didn’t want to hog. All the food items I needed I was able to find and I was grateful for that. At the checkout my friend explained the 6 feet distance markers on the floor. I had heard about that. I also had heard several ways to keep my credit card clean–from wiping it down with sanitizer to using a tissue to wearing gloves. I opted to just clean my hands with sanitizer and go from there. I brought my own cloth earth bags I had washed beforehand and we loaded up my groceries in them and headed out of the store. Once I got home, I changed my clothes, ate breakfast and then began the process to sanitize my groceries before putting them away.

Beside dealing with my Scarfe mask situation the experience was not too bad. It was more mentally exhausting than I realized. Perhaps just because of everything going on and trying to keep social distancing and being blind and touching things too. But what else could I do? This is all new, different and challenging. How are you grocery shopping now? Are you shopping online or physically going into the store? What has the experience been like for you?

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Still Using a Landline Phone in 2020

Yes, you read the title correctly. Your eyes didn’t deceive you. I am still using a landline phone in the year 2020. Even though I am in my late-forties, I am a bit old fashion and thoroughly enjoy my landline phone. You would think that with the advancements in technology I would have cut the cord a long time ago and got rid of my landline phone. In 2017 the Centers for Disease Control, CDC did a survey showing that over 50% of people use a cell phone   only and I would think those numbers are even higher today. So, why continue to have a landline? Well, I can give you at least eight reasons.

1.  I can get to my landline quickly and easily. In each room of my town house I have a landline phone. Two are cordless and two are connected to a phone wall jack. One in the kitchen, one in the bedroom, one in my home office, and one in the living room. No matter where I am in my home I can quickly and easily get to a phone. Whereas with my cell phone I can’t do the same., If I leave it upstairs in the bedroom, I have to run back up the steps to get it when it starts ringing. Or I would have to wear my cell phone on my body while moving around the house in order to keep it close. Neither option is very feasible or convenient.

2.  In case of an emergency, I can get to a landline phone a lot faster than my cell. If there is some small emergency and I am downstairs I can quickly grab one of my landline phones if my cell phone is upstairs. Every minute counts when dealing with a crisis.

3.  My landline phone is more comfortable to actually talk on. Especially now with the Covid-19 virus I am talking on the phone even more to friends and family  checking on their well- being. Trying to hold these conversations on a smartphone is very challenging. the shape and design of a smartphone is not practical to fit snuggly between my ear and shoulder like a traditional landline. While talking, my smartphone slips off my ear onto my cheek or shoulder. Also, the phone gets hot and damp then I have to shift it from ear to ear to keep dry. I don’t have these problems on my land line phone.

4.  My landline phones have easy to press buttons. All the phones in my home, especially in my home office have easy to press buttons on the keypad. I don’t have to figure out with flicks, taps or swipes where the numbers are. I don’t have to figure out how to maneuver call waiting.  I have an answering machine option built into my landline phone. And yes, I have an answering machine! It works well for those pesky robo calls because I can listen to the actual caller and decide if I want to pick up or not. Whereas with voice mail my talking caller ID would announce the number leaving me to wonder who was calling.

5.  My landlines have lasted for years and don’t need to be upgraded.  Unlike my smartphone that I have had to upgrade a couple of times to stay on top of the latest advancements, my landlines require none of this. They have lasted for several years with little to no maintenance.

6.  I don’t want to be available constantly. If I had just a cell phone then my personal and business calls would come to the same phone and it would be ringing too often. I don’t want to constantly be on call all the time. I want to be able to separate home from work life. The fact that I have a home number and cell number helps to keep the two separated and my life more balanced.

7.  If my cell phone is lost, stolen or damaged I might be up the creek. Fortunately, I have a landline so I don’t have to worry. If something were to happen to my cell phone, I have another phone to make my calls and handle my affairs. If my cell phone were damaged and I needed to ship it off for repairs what would I do in the meantime? What would be the backup plan to make calls and connect with people?

8.  The last reason why I still have a landline phone is because of my home security alarm system. I know that alarm systems can be connected to your cell phones but they are more expensive. I called my security company and they gave me a higher quote for monitoring service than my current plan. In addition, they would have to come out to my home and install a receiver box that would pick up the signal with the cell tower in my area. This too is an extra expense. I politely said “Thanks but no thanks” and hung up the phone-my landline phone that is.

My reasons for keeping my landline phone are not to persuade you but just to share my personal experience. You decide what works best for your home and family. I have looked and weighed the pros and cons and will keep my landline. Do you have a landline phone? If so why or why not. Share your thoughts and comments below.

Watching Movies at Home During Covid-19

People Watching Movies at Home

People Watching Movies at Home

This weekend I would normally be out of the house watching a movie at my local movie theater. I would have already checked the listing of new releases earlier in the week and started making plans. I would have gone online reading the reviews and ratings on the films I wanted to see. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic I am at home.    The theaters are closed until further notice and I am watching more movies at home than ever before.

Prior to Covid-19 I would watch movies occasionally through streaming and mostly on DVD. My primary place to do this is Netflix. I have been a subscriber for many years and used it as a backup to going to the actual movie theater. If I missed a movie or wanted to watch it again, I would rent the DVD and catch it at home. In the last year or so I upgraded my subscription and added streaming.  On my iPhone I can watch all kinds of movies from miniseries, classics, blockbusters and Netflix’s own original content. the thing I love the most is that a lot of Netflix content is accessible to the blind and a large amount of their movies are available in audio description.

Let me explain what I mean by that. When it comes to the DVD’s I can go to the Netflix website and check for audio description. Movies are usually labeled under the details section with the verbiage “video description English” or descriptive audio” or some similar terminology. Not all movies on Netflix are available in audio description. If it is something I still want to see I will do some research beforehand so when I do watch it, I understand what is happening.  Now, the tricky part of watching a movie on DVD in audio description is that I have to get sighted help.  The audio description track is inside of the menu options and is displayed on the TV monitor which of course I can’t see. To remedy this, I use an app called Be my Eyes that uses sighted volunteers via my iPhone’s camera. The volunteer will see my TV monitor and direct me through the menus to turn on the audio description for the movie. So, what I do is hold my phone in one hand with the camera facing the TV while in the other hand I hold my DVD remote to press the buttons for the menu options. You might be saying, “That seems like a lot of work just to watch a movie!” And I would say, “You are right!” But I love movies and so I do the work. I am also sharing this with you so that you understand what the blind community has to deal with just to do things that sighted people take for granted every day.

Now, streaming is a bit easier to manage. Through my iPhone I have audio speech settings turned on and when I launch the Netflix app audio description will automatically play if that is available for that particular movie. Again, Netflix will indicate on their website if the movie is available in audio description. Additionally, I can get a listing of  audio described titles from the Audio Description Project. each week the site provides an updated list of titles along with a listing in alphebetical order of movies available. I place those movies on my play list and watch when I get ready.

because of these two options I have the ease of curling up on my sofa, laying in my bed or relaxing in my recliner to watch a movie at home whenever I want. But today it seems that having Netflix is not just a luxury but a necessity to keep me entertained since I can’t go out.

Zoom Videoconferencing Helps Me Live Work and Play During Covid-19

Zoom Logo
Zoom Logo

I don’t know about you but I have seen an increase in the request to join a meeting through Zoom videoconferencing.  I would dare to say that almost daily if not weekly I get an email invite to a webinar, meeting, seminar, townhall or chat. If you have not gotten an invite for Zoom in your in box just wait it is coming! But for those who are not familiar with Zoom let me fill you in.  According to their website, Zoom brings teams together to get more done in a frictionless video environment. Our easy, reliable, and innovative video-first unified communications platform provides video meetings, voice, webinars, and chat across desktops, phones, mobile devices and conference room systems.

I have been using Zoom since last year but my usage has really ramped up with the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been a great tool for those of us in the blind and visually impaired community because we can easily connect with each other without the stresses of transportation. The Zoom platform is also very accessible with our adaptive technology that we need to use on our computers, smartphones and tablets. So, when I saw this increase in Zoom invites, I had to smile and chuckle a little. As we shelter in place, practice social distancing and work from home the Zoom platform has become even more essential. As a result, I have found some ways that Zoom helps me live, work and play during Covid-19.

  1. Socialization-As I shared before I was using Zoom last year. It started when I joined the Bookshare book discussion. I talked about Bookshare in a previous post here on Triple E and how much I love reading their books on Voice Dream. Well, last summer I decided to join their Zoom book discussion and I have been participating ever since. Each month we get together for a live chat to share our thoughts on reads we like, love or can’t stand.
  1. Education and Technology-To keep up with my adaptive technology I listen to webinars and seminars through Zoom. Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Freedom Scientific offer a large volume of educational opportunities for me to learn about the latest technology advances for blind people. Recently I attended a webinar about Microsoft Teams as it related to a current blogging contract.
  1. Volunteering-For years I have been a peer advisor with VisionAware, a website that provides resources to the blind community. As peers we meet once a month via conference call to discuss ways we can enhance the website, contribute blog posts and respond to inquiries from the community. We recently switched to Zoom for our calls so that our international peers can participate easier and more often.
  1. Medical-Just last week I participated in my very first telemedicine Zoom call. One of my doctors opted to meet with me this way verses a face-to-face visit because of the Covid-19 virus. A link was sent to me and we talked during our pre-scheduled appointment time. Things went very well except for the video portion Since in my previous meetings I don’t use it. After a couple of tries I was not able to turn it on. I am currently reading a tutorial so I can correct this problem.
  1. Physical Fitness-I exercise on a regular basis in my home using a treadmill, recumbent bike, mat and weights. But I get bored and have been looking for a change. I came across Angel Eyes Fitness, which is a non-profit program that helps blind people stay in shape. They offer Zoom workout classes because of the challenges with transportation. So, this past weekend I went to the website and took advantage of the free Pilates class.

Zoom has become a great way for me to live, work and play while dealing with the Covid-19 virus. As I shelter in place and work from home, I anticipate I will be using Zoom more and more. I see Zoom as a way for all of us to stay connected and live as we move through this challenging time.

The 2020 Census is Totally Accessible

Census 2020
Census 2020

I found the 2020 Census totally accessible. In the past I would have to get a sighted person to read the questions and fill out the forms for me; but this time around I was able to handle the whole process independently. Historically people with disabilities have been under represented and so this year strong efforts are being made to make the census inclusive and accessible to everyone. A downloadable and printable Census Bureau fact sheet on accessibility is available to learn more about these efforts.

Once I got my census documents in the mail last week, I went on line to the census website. I use a screen reader called JAWS which stands for Job Access with Speech. This screen reader allows me to access the Windows operating system such as Word, Excel and Outlook. I can also access things like PDF files and get online with Google. I am even able to write this blog and manage this website in WordPress! It has allowed me to work, live and play as a blind person.

But back to the census. So, I went to the site and logged in with my census ID number. There was a series of questions I had to answer and it took me about 15-20 minutes or so. At the end they had the option to review your answers before submission. Strangely, for some reason that screen didn’t pop up and I could only press the submission button. Next, I got a confirmation screen with a confirmation number and the option to save and print; which I did. I called the census toll free number to alert them to the small hiccup I had with the verification screen and was told that others had had the same problem. They apologized and said they were working on that issue. Aside from that small glitch I found completing the 2020 census to be totally accessible. Additionally, I could have opted to call verses doing the census online. Now, that I am done I want to encourage you to do the same. If you haven’t already here are some reasons why.

Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities annually. That’s billions with a B! The results also determine how many seats in Congress each state receives. Community leaders and elected officials rely on accurate census data to make funding decisions about education, senior citizen and veteran supports, along with other community allocations. Therefore, it is important to have accurate numbers. Everyone must be counted including people with disabilities! The Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) says nearly 1 in 4    people in the United States has a disability with nearly 5% having a visual impairment. This means that having some kind of a disability impacts all of us.

Census data plays a vital role in people’s everyday life Even though the census comes around once a decade. Specifically, census data determines allocations for real-life necessities like health care, public transportation, special education grants, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits. In addition, the census helps advocates, community leaders and politicians address inequalities in housing, health care, employment and education.

Valid census data also helps ensure fair voting representation and enforcement of voting rights laws. Federal tax dollars cannot be distributed fairly and effectively without an accurate accounting of the population.

Lastly, when completing your census form you can feel confident that your information will be private. Your answers are kept anonymous. They are used only to produce statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. The law ensures that your private information is never published and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Additionally, no identifiable information about you, your home or business, even to law enforcement agencies can be released.

So, when you get your census form complete it. Go online, call the toll-free number (1-844-330-2020) or get a sighted person to assist you. This year the 2020 census is accessible so there is no excuse to not do your part and be counted.