Category Archives: Work Life

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.

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.

Today I’m Relaxing Instead of Working

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

It’s Time to Relax

You are sitting in a comfortable position. The room temperature is just right. There is relaxing music playing in the background. Someone with a soft and gentle voice is giving these instructions:  Relax. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Release with a slow awl. Sit back and close your eyes and gradually release the tension. Start with your toes. Working up your legs and hips. Moving slowly up your arms. To your shoulders, neck fingertips and head. Now slowly open your eyes and read my soothing blog post on relaxation. Well, maybe not the last part but you get the point.

I am relaxing today. Taking some time off. Maybe sleep in late for a change. Watch a movie or two. Read an audiobook. Or just do nothing. The last couple of Sundays I have been working. Writing blog post. Doing research. Taking courses to update this website. The list goes on and on.

It is good to take a breather from time to time. To rest, relax and release stress. To recharge my battery. I am an overachiever and Type A personality so I can get laser focused and I am in the zone. Then I am off to the races and not much else matters. The problem is I feel it later when my body is stiff, sore and aches all over. Making me exhausted and not good for much of anything else.

Blindness and Stress

also, because I am blind sometimes I feel the pressure to perform. To show the world and society blind people are smart. We are successful. We can contribute. We can do things. So many people have had little to no interaction with a blind person therefore all kinds of ideas and misinformation gets out there. Then people like me spend a lot of time pushing back on that and it is stressful.

When I saw on my calendar that Today is National Relaxation Day I knew I would definitely pause and take a break. And no guilt too because I have a legitimate reason. It is Sunday first of all and second a national observance. I got to do it, right? Yes, I do. So, I wrote this post in advance and when you read it I will be relaxing and not writing. I will not be working.

Relaxing Music Helps Me Sleep

Empish Sleeping

Now the other thing is this. I don’t just plan to relax today but relax on the regular. It is important to make relaxation a part of my lifestyle and not just a one off. So, what I have been doing is listening to relaxation, or maybe the better word is meditation, CDs. I started borrowing them from my county library through the Hoopla app. OMG! This app is wonderful because it is free and fairly accessible. Not only can I download audiobooks but movies and music too. So, one day I decided to try one of the meditation CDs to help with my sleeping problem. I found it extremely helpful as it soothed me and cleared my mind so I could sleep. I have made it a part of my nighttime routine or when I want to take an afternoon nap.

Now, I am done. No more talking about relaxation because it is time to actually do it. I am going to go and relax and I encourage you to do the same. But before you do, let me know ways you relax best in the comment section.

My Challenges Applying for Jobs Online

Empish Working in Home Office

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

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

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

The Book Your Next Level Life Reinforced and Challenged My Career Goals

Your Next Level Life Book Cover

This past week I read a motivating and encouraging book. It challenged and inspired me to take my career to the next level. The book is titled Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America by Karen Arrington. She is the founder of the Miss Black USA Pageant, creator of the Next Level Women’s Summit, winner of a 2020 NAACP Image Award, a global philanthropist and mentor to thousands of young Black women.

It addresses the question what is the next level life for you? While keeping in mind it is different things for different people. Arrington looks at how Black women can feel stuck or trapped by other people’s expectations of what can be achieved. She wants the reader to stop playing small and start redefining what success really means. As I read this short but powerful book, I was deeply moved by Arrington’s passionate words because she reinforced a lot of the thoughts and ideas I had as well. Yet I felt a little overwhelmed by all that I was challenged to do. I have accomplished a lot in my life and career. Still reading the book I realized I have more to do and wondered how to do it as a Black woman with a visual disability. I struggled a bit to see myself fully in this book. Very few business and career books address the intersectionality of race, gender and disability. This is something that many of my disabled working friends talk about often. However, I decided to take the gems in this book and apply them where needed.

The Seven Rules

Arrington gives seven rules for leveling up your life. They are presented as chapters with thought-provoking questions, tips and ideas to handle each one. Her seven rules are:

1.  Identify Your Superpowers

2.  Find Your Next Level Friends

3.  Expand Your Horizons

4.  Magnetize Money

5.  Position Yourself Like a Star

6.  Keep It Real

7.  Give Back From Day One

Sometimes My Superpowers Need a Rest

AS I read these seven rules, I thought about the ones I needed to focus on the most. Which areas of my life needed the most improvement? I figured this was the best approach to the book. This way I could center myself on making small incremental changes. When it came to the first rule I was already there. I have a good self-awareness and know my strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the challenge for me is whether I want to stretch myself. Or whether I want to give myself a break because that superpower needs a rest. Sometimes you can be known for being good at a thing until you get tired and need a break. I think it is good to shift things around a bit to get some balance.

Challenged to Level Up Connections

Now, the second rule I really need to work on. Finding those level friends has been a challenge for me and it has not been for lack of trying. This year I began to work on this one more than previous years. I had joined two writers’ forums in hopes of building a community for my freelance work, but it went flat. Reading this chapter showed me I need to get back on the horse again. I also see that I need to reevaluate my current connections to see if they are in alignment with my life and goals. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” I like what she said about how you are the sum of the five people you hang with. I had to really take a pause and think about that statement. My close connections are not bad, but they are not helping me to move forward and that needs to change. Fortunately, I am not around negative people, but it is more that the people I am around are not moving in the same direction as me.

Headshot of Karen Arrington

rule four on Magnetize Money was spot on. She said that wealth is your birthright. As women we don’t get equal pay for equal work, even more so for Black women and even more so for disabled women. This is a hard one and I have mixed feelings about what she said. Yes, there are more opportunities to create income and wealth but people with disabilities still did with huge barriers to employment. I have been taking courses, as she suggested, to help advance my career. Today, I am working on improving my website you are reading this blog on right now. I am also working on my Microsoft skills because I just installed Office 365, and I plan on learning how to spruce up my LinkedIn profile for maximum appeal. Still at times I feel no matter how much education, training and work experience I acquire, opportunities still elude me.

Other Rules Reinforced My Own Thoughts

The rest of the book’s nuggets of wisdom were encouraging and again reinforced my own thoughts and ideas. I reflected on her words about how I should be confident and unapologetic about who I am. That I should always keep it real because what I do is who I become. And, of course giving back. I totally agree with that rule. I have been a firm believer in contributing to society and community. I have been a volunteer for many years and continue to do so with my writing. So, if you are looking for a great read to help level up your career. One that will encourage you to take it to the next stage. One that will inspire and motivate you without being judgmental, then this is the book for you.

Purchase this influencing quick read online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. You can learn more about  Arrington at her website KarenArrington.com, follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Three Inventions for the Blind that Changed My Life

National Inventors Month

Empish Writing a Check

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

Invention of the Talking Book

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

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

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

Invention of the Screen reader

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

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

Empish Using an iPhone

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

Invention of Braille

Empish Reading Braille

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

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

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

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

Empish Reading Braill Bathroom Sign

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

Got Zoom Fatigue? Go Audio Like Me.

Zoom Logo

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

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

2.  Seeing your face on screen while talking.

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

4.  Challenge of communicating via body language.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

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

2.  disable the selfie window.

3.  Reduce the size of the call window.

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

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

Empish Using a Landline Phone

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

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