Category Archives: Technology

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.

Should You Use Visual Description at Video Meetings? Yes, and Here’s Why.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Microsoft Receives Backlash

I was listening to a recent episode of Mosen at Large, one of my favorite podcasts, and the topic came up about describing yourself at video meetings. There has been some backlash on social media toward Microsoft. During their annual Ignite virtual conference Microsoft drew criticism in response to its corporate introduction, which described people’s race, hairstyle and gender. Also, during the introduction Microsoft acknowledged the indigenous land the company was built on in Washington State. As a result, Microsoft is being accused of being too woke     or rather ‘Woke capital incarnate.’ Now, I don’t know about all of that when it comes to wokeness. But I do know this. I like the fact Microsoft described the presenters. The goal was to include the blind and visually impaired.

Used Visual Description Myself

Like Jonathan shared on his podcast this is something that is becoming more and more a part of video conferencing calls. I have attended many Zoom calls were the host and panel presenters used visual descriptions to share about themselves even describing their Zoom background. I have recently done it myself during a webinar series I am hosting for my local library. In the session I said something like, “My name is Empish Thomas and I am a Black woman. I have shoulder length brown hair with grey streaks. I am wearing a royal blue top and silver jewelry.” Since I was doing a presentation for people with vision loss it was critical to describe myself. I wanted to be fair and equitable because sighted people in the room could see me but of course those that didn’t have sight could not.

Getting Equal Access

Has political correctness gone mad? Some say it is too much and to just get on with the meeting already. Who cares what people look like or what their gender is. As a blind person I want equal access. Giving a visual description in a meeting, conference or webinar is doing exactly that. Is it not? I think so.

Perhaps because I was sighted for 25 years and know what people and objects look like, I want to retain as much of that information as possible. Just because I am blind doesn’t mean that I am not interested in the appearance of others. Additionally, I can’t tell you the number of times I have embarrassed myself by calling out the wrong gender pronoun or wrongly assuming a person’s race or ethnic background. The thought would roll around in my head taunting me. If only I could see, the mistake could have been avoided.

Diversity and Representation Matters

Another reason for using visual description during a video meeting is to help determine diversity. Maybe this is where the wokeness comes into play? When people describe themselves you can learn about how many women or men are there. How many people of color and what age group they are in. Description sheds a light on who is in the room and who is not. Since I represent multiple groups this is important to me. I have attended numerous meetings as a blind person never knowing the demographics yet curious about representation.

When the person describes themselves the power and control of identity is in their hands not other people. They can describe themselves in a positive and meaningful way. Whether sighted or blind we can assume we know who and what people are along with what they represent. But when that individual speaks for themselves by stating their gender, race and other identifying characteristics the power is in their hands and won’t be disputed.

Visual Guidelines and Continuing the Conversation

I suppose this controversy or maybe conversation will continue as we all try to figure it out. I do think it is important to be sure to include the feedback from the groups you are trying to include. I have seen online a desire to hear from the blind community on this topic. And I am glad for that. Too many times people run off and do things for us and don’t include us. I have even read guidelines for visual descriptions at meetings. These procedures are remarkably similar to what I see in audio description for movies and TV. For example, keep it basic like gender, race, hair color. Keep it short and concise. Do it as a part of your introduction and write down what you will say in advance so you don’t ramble. Establishing some simple guidelines can provide the visual description without taking away from the purpose of the meeting.

I am a part of a large and diverse community which leaves me open to hearing different thoughts and opinions. So, say you. What do you think about this idea of giving visual descriptions at video meetings? Useful or a pure waste of time? Share your comments.

Becoming a LinkedIn Rock Star: Chris Reed Shows Me How  

Wall of Book Shelves

I can’t believe it! The month of October is almost over and so is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Well, actually for me disability employment is every month of the year. As a blind freelance writer and blogger, I am working all year long. I spend the majority of my writing on the disabled so this month is like many others. But don’t get me wrong I appreciate the national observation. The focus on how we disabled folks are working, want to work, can work and are still working is needed.

Audiobook on LinkedIn

Now, that being said I have to share about this great business audiobook I read   this month. It gave me tips to take my LinkedIn profile to the next level. As a blind person I have had a love hate relationship with LinkedIn. I love it for the ability to connect and engage professionally with people. Yet, I hate the layout of the

platform because I find it hard to navigate as a disabled person. Since LinkedIn is the top go to social media place for professional networking I soldier through and do the best I can. Finding and reading this book has helped me to do just that. So, are you ready for the name of the book? Want to know how it helped me? Have I left you in suspense? Probably not because my headline gave it away, right? The book is “How to Become a LinkedIn Rock Star” by Chris J Reed.

I stumbled on it while searching on my Hoopla app. And boy what a Jem of a find it has been! Let me share the things Reed showed me on how to become a LinkedIn Rock Star. The first thing he wanted to make clear is what LinkedIn is and isn’t. LinkedIn is the most underutilized social media platform compared to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tick Tock and etc. People wrongly assume that LinkedIn is just for job seekers only. This is not true because 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. This is true because I checked mine and next to my personal website my LinkedIn profile did come up first in a Google search. Hence, if it is not updated, no active engagements and few connections, then you are missing important opportunities and don’t even know it.

LinkedIn is More Than a Profile

So, how do I work this knowledge to my advantage? Reed told me to be sure my summary, about   and experience sections are written in first person. He compared Your LinkedIn profile to a in person networking function. If I were at a business mixer, I would talk to people in first person. I would use casual voice while being professional. I would share about my business, myself and how I could help the person I’m talking to. I found this way of thinking about LinkedIn immensely helpful because I had been approaching my profile as an online resume instead. I now realize that is not the same thing and I need to update my profile and make some changes.

My Personal Brand

Reed spent several chapters stressing the power and importance of your personal brand. He is widely known as the CEO with the mohawk. It is a part of his personal brand and makes him stand out over others. Reed says his Mohawk is the best icebreaker and he loves it because it starts the conversation and then we can get down to business.

Therefore, the question becomes what is my personal brand? What makes me unique? What am I an expert in? What makes me shine and stand out? Next is being sure the answer is clearly communicated on LinkedIn. Because Reed continuously stated throughout the book your LinkedIn profile is seen all the time. Additionally, having a compelling personal brand makes an impression, communicates confidence, helps with referrals and recommendations.

Cold Calling is Dead

After establishing my personal brand, it is time to set up social selling. It is the process of developing one-on-one relationships using social media. It is a soft sell. LinkedIn has the ability to give a broad reach and name drop without doing so. It is a digital networking platform and great for introverts like me. Reed says social selling unlike cold calling allows you to build relationships over time. This is the new way because cold calling is dead. People don’t pick up the phone when the number is unknown. When Reed talked about this I totally agreed. I screen my phone calls all the time. I truly dislike robocalls and don’t pick up the phone if I don’t recognize the number. The same goes for unsolicited emails. I am quick to unsubscribe when companies add me to their marketing emails without my permission. Whereas as on LinkedIn, people’s business profile is right there. You can see their photo. Check job history. Look at the number of connections. See if they have shared connections. You are not going into it blind, no pun intended.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

With social selling, you share content valuable to people who are interested. As you share and engage, you will establish yourself as an authority and strengthen your personal brand. As I read about social selling I noticed that I do share content on LinkedIn, but I don’t return the favor. I need to engage more with my connections. Liking, commenting and sharing on their content not just posting my own. I also need to thank my connections when they like, share or comment on my posts. This too will boost my engagement and not make the interaction one sided.

Leader or Follower  

The chapter on the One to Nine to Ninety was interesting. Reed says that 1% creates and leads. These are the people who are consistently providing content, blogging and engaging with others. The next 9% are active responders. This group likes, shares and comments on content that is posted. Sadly, the majority are 90% and they do nothing. This group is called the silent viewers because they watch but don’t respond to what they see.

He encourages you to engage, just don’t watch. Be a leader, influencer and shine as the expert you are. However, each group of people has value and play a vital role. We need people to lead the way. People to engage. People to watch and be influenced by what they see. But the critical question is what group will I be in? What role will I play? Will I be a follower or a leader?

High Quality Connections

LinkedIn is not just about sharing content but connecting with people as I mentioned before. Reed spent time explaining the importance of first-, second- and third-degree connections. He also stressed the importance of high-quality connections. Looking at how many people they are connected to because if their numbers are small that will limit your engagement. Also, looking at if they are active on LinkedIn. Do they share content, post blogs, comment, like or engage with others? Knowing this will impact your interaction with them as well. If they are active then their second- and third-degree connections will be familiar with them and more likely to be active too.

Whenever I have gotten a LinkedIn invite I would look at the profile first before accepting. I would look at current and past jobs. See if we had shared connections. See how many connections they had. But that was about it. I never really focused on the person’s engagement and activity on LinkedIn. I didn’t pay attention to second- and third-degree connections. Reading this book shows me I need to go deeper.

Conclusion

There was so much more in this audiobook, Comparisons with Facebook. Personal brans of the Joker and Godfather. How sales Navigator works. But I will stop here. I need to start improving my LinkedIn profile and engagement. You need to get and read the book. Reed is a pretty well-known man on LinkedIn and has thousands of connections. So, I trust his advice in helping me to become a LinkedIn rock star.

My Writing Toolkit: Three Essential Instruments for Successful Freelance Writing

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

Creating Website and Blog

It was this month 2 years ago when I decided to rebuild my website and launch my own blog. The desire to create a personal place to write my own thoughts and feelings about whatever was going on had been noodling around in my head for a long time. Prior to this time, I had been blogging and writing professionally for years but had not carved out a special place that reflected my own ideas and opinions.

Reassembling Writing Toolkit

Yet, I didn’t just want a place to document streams of consciousness or my views on the latest this or that. I wanted to maintain my online presence because I was moving back into freelance writing work. I had been a freelancer in the past and uderstood the importance and necessity of having a virtual home to showcase my written work. So, here I am two years later doing exactly this. Major goal accomplished.

In reestablishing myself as a freelance writer I had to reassemble my toolkit. I had to dust off some instruments. Throw out some old and rusty implements. Add some new and shiny gadgets. Today My writer toolkit is restored. But as I was cleaning and organizing some tools immediately grabbed my attention. Three I use frequently. Three I prefer over others.

First Writing Tool

I am a voracious reader as many of you already know. However, my reading is not just for leisure and entertainment. I also read for personal development and growth. Even more so to help with my work and career. Hence, reading is one of the tools in my toolkit. Part of my monthly reading is the Writer Magazine which I receive in audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. This publication   is a valuable part of my career. I have learned so much about the freelance writing world along with tips and tricks on how to be an overall better writer.

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

I also read audiobooks on the writing craft. Currently on my list is “Who Said What:  A Writer’s Guide to Finding, Evaluating, Quoting and Documenting Sources and Avoiding Plagiarism” by Kayla Meyers. I just started but already I am learning so much about how to do deeper and richer searches on the internet. I am confident as I continue reading more precious nuggets of wisdom will surface.

Another book I added to my virtual bookshelf is “African American Women in the News: Gender, Race and Class in Journalism” by Dr. Marian Meyers. Although I don’t work directly in the newsroom or for a media company this book was good to read. It helped me to stay abreast of the trends in the newsroom as it relates to Black women and also the impacts of social media and how it is transforming the way we digest news.

Second Writing Tool

Reading is not the only way I absorb information and learn about writing. Sometimes I will become a student and take a mini online course. I am currently in the midst of going back to J-school with a refresher course on journalism. I am learning how to write eye-catching headlines. Ones that will grab a reader’s attention and encourage them to click on my story. How many times have you passed over an email or story online because the headline was not compelling? Yeah, I know because I have done it too. With so much content hollering for your attention writing a headline that stands out is critical.

Before the J-school course, I went through a session of webinars to improve my website. It was chalked full of useful hints on improving my site to draw more freelance work. Once the course was completed I was given a critique of my site with suggestions for improvement. AS I implement those recommendations I know it will help lead me to more opportunities.

Third Writing Tool

I have to admit this third tool has been hard for me. I know the freelance writer life is a lonely and solitary one. I have made some meager attempts to build a writer community which have gone flat. I realize the problem is my approach and method is vastly different than what is popular. What I mean is the majority of communities now, especially with COVID, are online. They are on forums, chat rooms, social media, or similar places. Well, that way of interaction has never been my speed. Some of it has to do with accessibility. Some has to do with who I am as a person. It is not my flavor. But I am coming to some understanding that I got to get with the program. So, I have been slowly migrating to these virtual communities. I am currently a member of a writers’ forum where I engage from time to time. Recently I joined a writer’s collective for Black folks that looks very promising. I will attend my first meeting next week via Zoom.

Surely, if I root around in my toolkit I will find other helpful writing tools. Things like podcasts, newsletters, email blasts and list groups. But the three I have shared rise to the top and are essential to my freelance success.

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

Empish Using an iPhone

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

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

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

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

Empish Working in Home Office

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

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

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

Paying Bills Online

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

Empish Writing a Check

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

Reading Statements Online

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

Getting Paid Online

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

National Online Bank Day

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

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

Empish using iPhone

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

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

AppleVIS

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

Bold, Blind Beauty on AIR

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

Eyes on Success

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

Freedom Scientific Training and FS Cast

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

Hadley Presents

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

Mosen at Large

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

Picture This

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

Reid My Mind Radio

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

Talk Description to Me

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

Writing Works Wonders

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

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