Category Archives: Work Life

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.

Empish Working in Home Office

Working from Home Has Been My New Normal

In the last few months many people have had to transition from working in an office to working from home because of the pandemic.  Folks have had to make major adjustments to home and work life. They Have had to share space with family, increase WIFI bandwidth, find ways to stay active and deal with boredom. These are some of the dilemmas I have been reading about. But for me working from home has been my new normal for the last couple of years. Well, actually to be honest, I worked from home before around 2005 or so when I first started freelance writing.

so, when the virus came and businesses had to shut down and we had to shelter in place, staying at home was not entirely new to me. It was not a major adjustment. But I did empathize with the challenges that people were dealing with because I remember when I made that same transition too. I remember the first couple of months of walking around in a fog trying to figure out my next plan of action. I had quit my job without a new position to immediately jump into. It was a little scary but I was determined to make my new life work and I have done so.

First thing I did was give myself time to breathe and get my Barings. I remembered that first month or two I was running around like a chicken with the head cut off. Before I knew it, I was exhausted. I quickly realized that this type of schedule was not going to work in the long term. I needed to pace myself. I used this time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. For the last 10 years I had been working very hard, sometimes 2 jobs, and making long commutes to work, about 3-4 hours daily, and I was tired. I knew I needed time to just pause before starting my next venture.

Second thing I did was get on a schedule. So, each day I woke up at a set time, did my morning routine of shower, breakfast and exercise. then I hit the computer to do my daily work. I would stop at about 3 p.m. and do something fun that I enjoyed for the rest of the day. This became my new normal and it really started to work well for me.

Third thing I did was stop feeling guilty for making this change in the first place. I had felt a little torn when I resigned but ultimately knew it was the best decision for my life. As time passed, I began to feel happier, whole and more complete. My sleeping got a bit better and my outlook on life got brighter. Before I knew it, the writing work I desired flowed in.

Today, I am doing the work I love from my home office. I learn something new every day and do work that stretches my skills and abilities. I no longer have long commutes to a stuffy office. I no longer perform task that didn’t maximize all my talents and skills. Today working from home is my new normal and I have no plans to change it for anything.

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 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.

 

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.

Ten Ways I Use Braille Everyday

Bra
Braille women restroom sign

Happy New Year everybody! I am kicking off the year on the Triple E Blog with a post about braille and how I use it every day.  January is the month that those of us in the blind and visually impaired community observe Braille Literacy Month. Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code, which is a series of raised dots on paper, has revolutionized the lives of people with vision loss because it has opened doors of literacy, education, employment, and independence.

But before I get to how I use braille let me give you some background. Louis Braille was born this month in 1809, and was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. His family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there and as a teenager, Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution.  Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system of raised dots is used all over the world.

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

Now that you got that little history lesson and some background info; back to me and my daily usage. I have to be honest in saying I am not a proficient user of braille. Don’t bring a braille book or magazine and expect me to quickly move my fingers across those raised dots and tell you what it says because it ain’t gonna happen! But I do use braille in a small way every day. So, let me share with you the ways I read Braille which still benefit me greatly.

  1.  braille calendar
  2.  public bathroom signs
  3.  the door number at dentist’ office
  4.  braille labels on my credit cards, library card, insurance card, and expiration date on my state ID
  5.  braille labels on file folders in my home office
  6.  braille on elevator panels
  7.  braille labels on my music CDs
  8.  braille labels on my lipstick tubes
  9.  braille labels on spices in my kitchen
  10.  braille labels on my exercise equipment

So, there you have it! A list of the multiple ways I read braille every day. I have found braille to be very useful and greatly appreciate the contribution that Louis Braille has made to my life. Share with me in the comment section about your personal usage of braille. Are you a braille reader? How has braille impacted your life every day?