Tag Archives: accessibility

Wash, Rinse and Repeat I’m Back to the Polls Again in Georgia

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

Here I go again back to the polls to vote in Georgia. I have to say this past year was the year of the vote because I participated in 3 elections. First it was the primary in March  where I used the new paper ballot machines and right before the coronavirus really struck. Then another primary in June  where I voted absentee for the first time. Third time was early and in person for the Presidential election in November.  For me this is a lot of voting going on! All kind of candidates to learn about, amendments to get educated on, and various election rules and regulations to keep up with–this all in the midst of a pandemic. And here I am again–wash, rinse, repeat going back to the polls to vote in the runoffs. Can we say I am a little tired! But I know the stakes are high so I push through and do my civic duty.

“Why is there a runoff in Georgia in the first place?”  You might be asking. According to the Georgia election code  a candidate must win a majority of votes (50%+1) to be elected to office. If that doesn’t happen, a runoff election of the top two candidates is held. Additionally, here is a little history   from Voice of America to make things even more spicy. “The runoff system was instituted in 1964 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that found Georgia’s election system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because votes cast in small rural counties counted more heavily than votes cast in large urban jurisdictions. A 2007 U.S. Interior Department study said Georgia’s runoff system was proposed to “circumvent” the Black voting bloc.”

Row of Voting Booths

The results of the runoff will determine which party controls the US Senate. Currently, Republicans hold a 50-48 margin. If they win one of the two seats, they keep control. Democrats need to win both runoff elections to control the Senate because the US Vice President casts a vote in case of a tie; meaning that when Kamala Harris becomes vice president, she will hold that power.

Now, knowing all of this I understand how critical this runoff is to my state and to me as a Black woman. I put up with the numerous phone calls, text messages, mailbox flyers and the endless volume of TV commercials. Did I say the stakes are high? Also, the heat is on! Although the runoff election is today, I opted to vote early a few weeks ago. During that time, among all the voting phone calls I received was one for a free ride to the polls. I was pleasantly surprised and took up the offer only for it to be a major disappointment. The driver never showed up and the second one’s car broke down. So, I went back to old faithful-public transportation!

Asides from that, the actual voting experience was pretty uneventful and I didn’t have too many problems. Except with the audio quality of my headset again. I am beginning to believe this might just be the way it is going to be. One of the poll workers gave me a pair of earbuds and that worked a bit better. But something I found interesting was the format of the ballot had changed in a short amount of time since November.  The difference was at the end when you review your ballot instead of listing all the candidates and then emphasizing the one you selected, this time it just gave your selection only.  This new change allowed me to review my ballot a little faster since I didn’t have to listen to all the other candidates I didn’t select.

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

As of this writing and posting, I don’t know the outcome of this runoff election. Some say we won’t know by the end of the day, maybe the end of the week. Who knows, there might be multiple recounts like the Presidential election. But regardless I voted because I believe strongly in our democracy and the power of the vote.

Year 2020 is a Wrap!

Fireworks Display

Well, y’all the year 2020 is a wrap! And boy what a year it has been for all of us. Who what have known all the things that happened this year? Wild fires, hurricanes and floods, police brutality, racial tension, distressing elections and of course the big kahuna COVID-19.  I struggle sometimes just to remember what happened last week with so much going on! I am not going to sit here and write one of those top-10-year-in-review type blog posts because you can easily go online and read that already. But what I am going to do is make a meager effort to do a mini recap of some of the things I blogged about here on Triple E.

I started this blog in January of this year and I was able to successfully write a blog post on a regular basis. My goal was to write a post weekly. I didn’t quite make it but I came very close with 50 published posts and with 52 weeks in a year that is not bad! Actually, that is a major accomplishment with all the craziness going on, managing this blog on my own and having a visual disability. So, I am going to pat myself on the back for this one! Woohoo!

Empish and the Author, Noel Holston at Library Book Signing

One of my first post focused on reading and books. I attended a book signing at the library about a man who experience deafness. I was so taken by his story I not only went to the signing, chatted and took a photo with him afterward, but wrote a book review called Life After Deaf. This one post led me to write many more during the year on this topic of books and the devices I use to enjoy them.  I even connected Black History Month with a book I read on Haban Girma who was the first deafblind black woman to graduate From Harvard. One cool thing about blogging is that you can revise, revamp and reprint old post from the past. I did that a couple of times but noted it specifically when I reposted a review on the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis to honor him when he died this year.

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

Besides my love for books and reading, watching movies runs a close second. Before the coronavirus caused the theaters to shut down, I would go to the movies a couple of times a week. But all of that changed in mid-March and I settled for watching movies at home only. Even when my AMC theater reopened, I decided to not go back and I shared why in a post.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

I have been able to watch movies at home thanks to accessible technology. I wrote several posts this year on how important  this is from being my own tech support to the anniversaries of the ADA and GAAD.

 

The biggest technology change for me this year has been using Zoom videoconferencing. Prior to the coronavirus I used Zoom for one of my monthly book clubs but my usage increased tremendously. This year I started using Zoom for telemedical appointments, exercise classes, socializing and volunteering. I have been Zooming all over the place this year! Unfortunately, all my technology experiences were not positive and I hit some major road blocks. I struggled with depositing paper checks with my bank’s mobile app and my advocacy efforts didn’t provide any relief. I aired out my frustrations here on Triple E. Although I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from the bank, I was able to from the issuer of the checks.

I felt okay about that and I realized during this COVID-19 crisis that my mental and physical health were more important than ever before.  I wrote about managing my anxiety,  exercising and strengthening my body at home, maintaining good eyecare, wrestling with my lack of sleep, and grieving during a pandemic. Due to all that was happening I made more efforts to keep a positive attitude and pursue happiness in the small things.

Empish Working in Home Office

Now it is time to say goodbye to year 2020. To let go of all that transpired this year and look ahead to the new year. I am excited about the possibilities of what this next year will bring. I have set more goals for Triple E. Writing more interesting stories about blindness and visual impairment. More reviews on books that I have read.  More of my views on current topics, technology and much, much more. So, stay tuned! I look forward to the journey and you coming with me. Let us all have a Happy New Year!

Audio Description Podcast on Current Events and News Gives Me Visual Perspective

Empish Using an iPhone

I am sitting on my sofa watching the 6 p.m. evening news. The reporter stops the broadcast for a news break about a bombing, police shooting, natural disaster or terroristic attack. The reporter gives all the relative information, i.e. the when, what and why. But the scene is all visual and I can only speculate what is actually happening. Since I have some visual memory and imagination I can kind of piece things together but as the years go by and I spend more time on the blind side of things my memories are fading. Certain things I don’t remember anymore and are getting hard to recall. Sometimes when I ask friends and family, they are hesitant to describe the imagery because it is disturbing and painful to watch so I don’t ask often. Other times I refer to newspapers and magazine articles for assistance because this print medium must “show not tell” in its description.

Well, I don’t have to totally rely on any of those things anymore. I can listen on my iPhone to a weekly podcast called Talk Description to Me. 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. Their dialogue is lively, witty, colorful and enjoyable. J.J. is a sighted man and a professional audio describer while Christine is female, blind and curious about all-thins visual.

This podcast launched in July with an intense and sobering description of the killing of George Floyd. Prior to this listening I had not had anyone describe his death for obvious reasons. It was a hard one to hear but I wanted to get a full understanding of exactly what happened to him and the huge national and international reaction. It all began to make even more sense to me after listening to this episode. I went on to learn about the uniform of a current police officer. I realized how much things have changed since I went blind. That officers no longer look like they did when I was a child nor when I could see. Their uniforms have a more militarize look to them. This also helped me put the pieces together with the reactions and protesting that has been going on. Things became clearer and made more sense. I also realize that being blind has kept me somewhat ignorant too my surroundings even though I am not living in a cave with no WIFI. I watch the news, read the paper, books and magazines. The world is incredibly visual and images are so powerful.

Next were the vivid descriptions of the recent explosion in Beirut and the past attacks on September 11th. I remember my roommate at the time trying to describe to me the airplanes flying into those buildings. No matter how she tried I still couldn’t get a clear visual of what that totally looked like. I really struggled with it. But this podcast helped immensely not just with the actual attack but the aftermath and memorial.

Now, I know this podcast sounds like doom and gloom. You might think, “Why in the world would I want to listen to this sad and traumatic stuff?”  Well hold on. Not all descriptions on the podcast are disturbing or triggering. Other episodes focused on social media like Facebook and TikTok; or sport teams and consumer products like McDonalds and Uncle Ben’s rice. A recent episode was on Halloween which described the creative costumes like a Zoom call screen and the coronavirus. I thought how incredibly innovative people are in the midst of a pandemic. We are all trying to keep some level of normalcy in our lives.

Empish Holding Replica of the Capitol and Surrounding Buildings

Even though J.J. and Christine are based in Canada they have objective conversations on American issues and topics. They did a couple of episodes on our presidential election. One described this non-scalable fence around the White House. I knew about some kind of fence but I was taken aback when I heard about this one. Apparently new physical barriers were put up around election day. I remember when I took a vacation trip to DC and visited portions of the Mall. So much has changed since then. They also described one fence that was coated in protest signs. They. discussed current jerrymandering maps. Images of long lines to vote with social distancing. J.J. described photo essays of poll workers and voters. They read the headlines of national and international front pages with their images.

This podcast is so full of information yet richly entertaining. Presented in a respectful and unbiassed way. each time I listen I walk away learning something new. It brings a fresh perspective to current news trends and keeps me abreast. I look forward to each new episode where the “visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description-rich conversations.”

I Voted Early in Person for the 2020 Presidential Election

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

Today is the day that many people across the country are casting their ballot for our president and other government officials. In the past, I would have been doing the same thing at my local precinct.   But not this year! It is way, way too much going on and if you have been watching even a little bit of the news you know exactly what I am talking about. All kinds of problems real or imagined with our postal service. Extremely long lines and wait times to vote. All kinds of misinformation shared online and social media and the list goes on and on. So, this year I decided to bypass some of the stress and craziness and vote early in person. I am so glad I did because my experience was good. There were some problems with the audio quality of the machines which I will share in a moment but overall, I had a fairly pleasant time.

initially I was not sure which approach I was going to take; whether to vote absentee or vote in person. So, I requested my absentee ballot way in advance and had it weeks early; like back in the first of October. I wasn’t concerned about mailing it back because I knew that I would either carry it to a local drop box in my neighborhood or to my local precinct. But then I began to reflect on the lack of accessibility of the whole process to vote absentee. I would have to get a sighted person to fill out my ballot for me which also mint lack of privacy. I also thought about my signature matching with the one on my state ID. Well, I can’t see that and trying to write my signature exactly the same after 20 years of blindness is a bit much! I just didn’t want to run the risk of my ballot being considered spoiled and thrown out on a technicality.  Also, it was that issue during the primary when I voted absentee of the missing internal envelope. An explanation  was given by the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office but I know how important it is to follow instructions exactly as written or your ballot could be thrown out. So, to alleviate my stress and worry I just voted early and in person.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

Early voting in my area started on October 12th and lasted until the 30th. The first

few days, yes, the lines were long but I expected that. So, I waited about a week and went the following Monday on the 19th. I also wanted to do some more research on the candidates and amendments. Next, I made my transportation arrangements. I prepared for long lines by packing a snack and bottled water, brought my own folding chair and wore comfortable clothing and my Dr. Scholl’s tennis shoes.  And, yes, let’s not forget my facemask and gloves! I had even read up on the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for voting. I also brought my absentee ballot to return so they could know that I was not trying to vote twice.

Once I arrived, I got set up and a poll worker walked me over to the accessible voting machine. I began to vote and that is where the problems started. The audio quality was awful again. I have talked about this here on the blog. I have shared this problem with friends and family. When I participated in a research consulting project with Georgia Tech on accessible voting machines, I stressed this point. I have filed complaints with the Georgia Secretary of State Office on this. In other words, I am a broken record and will continue to be until this issue is resolved. I just don’t understand with our advanced technology in speech output that when I go to vote, which is one of the most important things I can do in life, the machine sounds like your grandaddy’s old transistor radio from back in the day. Not only was the audio quality bad but it kept fading in and out. The poll worker came over several times to adjust the cord. He was talking to me like a Metro PC commercial, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” I even thought that if I placed the keypad on the desk and didn’t move it that would help but when I got to the portion to review my ballot the whole thing went out again. The poll worker came back and got it talking. I was able to finish and print out my ballot. I just can’t believe that the state of Georgia spent thousands of dollars on these brand-new machines and they don’t work any better than the old ones the blind community complained about in the past. I did file yet another complaint with the Secretary of State Office for what it’s worth.

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

Next the poll worker escorted me to the other machine to cast my ballot. There I placed the print out on the machine and waited to hear it click. Afterward I went outside to take my photo that I had voted and waited on my transportation. As I sat and waited, I observed people coming in and out but no long lines. The poll worker told me that the precinct had about 30 machines and things were flowing fairly smoothly. He said there were long lines at the beginning and early in the morning but that was decreasing. It was even nice to see a couple of new voters because announcements were made and everyone clapped and cheered when they cast their ballot. As I listened, I reflected on the first time I voted for the President many years ago. I was a college student   and it was a good feeling for me too.

People Watching Movies at Home

Enjoyed Three Evenings of Diverse Shorts at the Virtual Superfest Disability Film Festival

The true story of a bi-polar American white woman who joins the circus in Vietnam. A young woman who has Cerebral Palsy and a sexworker share an unusual story of love which challenges social norms. An unemployed disabled actress takes a job advising a film star on how to be disabled for his latest role. An eager to please doll in a wheelchair is placed in the perfect world of the self-absorbed, and must find a way to fit in or be thrown away. A Black woman who uses a wheelchair and wants to be an actress learns that accessibility isn’t just about physical space. These are summaries of some of the short films I saw during the Superfest Disability Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. The 15 pictures featured were written, produced and/or directed by people with disabilities and included actors with disabilities as well.

I watched 1 feature and 14 short films in audio description virtually from the comfort of my home on my computer. In the past the festival was held in the San Francisco Bay area but because of the pandemic they opted to show everything via Zoom. So being the movie lover that I am I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by and especially over a weekend.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

According to their website, Superfest Disability Film Festival is the longest running disability film festival in the world. Since it first debuted in a small Los Angeles showcase in 1970 it has become an eagerly anticipated international event—hosted by San Francisco’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. For more than 30 years, Superfest has celebrated cutting-edge cinema that portrays disability through a diverse, complex, unabashed and engaging lens. Superfest is one of the few festivals worldwide that is accessible to disabled filmgoers of all kinds.

I enjoyed the variety of films because of its diversity not just in subject matter but because they were produced overseas. I have long been interested in foreign films but because of subtitles can’t always view and enjoy them. Yet this time I was able too; seeing films from Japan, France, Italy, Finland and England. I appreciated universal story lines, complex characters and dealing with relatable issues which shows that people with disabilities are exactly that-people. The films didn’t shy away from real topics such as race, relationships, sex, employment, connection and community, rejection, isolation, illness, joy and happiness. These are all things that people can identify with every day.

The other part of the festival was the round table discussion. During the 3-day event there was a panel of people discussing the films, the production and writing process. I also enjoyed this part of the festival because it gave me insight into the world of film making. I learned a little about what happens behind the scenes, what took place to bring these films to the festival and even more so during a pandemic.

As in any large event it takes a lot of work to put all the pieces in place. There were a few hiccups and glitches along the way but I was impressed with how the organizers got things quickly back in place and moving again. As they say in the bus, “The show must go on!” And it did. I will definitely attend this festival again if hosted virtually. It was an enjoyable experience.

Blindness and Disability are Popular Themes for October

The fall is my favorite season and time of the year. The weather is cooler. The autumn colors of brown, orange, golden yellow, dark red and green are on display. October is the month when all of this jumps off. But one other thing I recently noticed is the number of blind and disabled observations happening at this time too. Not sure why this is the case but I couldn’t let another day go by without pointing them out. Or at least the ones I know about.

Man Getting an Eye Exam

1.  World Sight Day is held on the second Thursday of October every year and aims to focus global attention on vision impairment and blindness. There is a different theme every year, with many of those who mark the Day taking the opportunity to both celebrate achievements to date and advocate for increasing attention towards eye care.  According to the World Health Organization 1 billion people around the world have a preventable vision impairment or one that has yet to be addressed.  Reduced or absent eyesight can have major and long-lasting effects on all aspects of life, including daily personal activities, interacting with the community, school and work opportunities and the ability to access public services.

2.  White Cane Safety Day is observed nationally on October 15th. It was a law passed to protect white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law in 1964.

3.  Blind Americans Equality Day. In 2011, White Cane Safety Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama. The mission is to celebrate the continuing achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and reaffirm the commitment to advancing their complete social and economic integration.

4.  Meet the Blind Month is hosted by the National Federation of the Blind every October. Throughout the month, members conduct a variety of outreach activities in their local communities. Many of these activities focus on White Cane Awareness Day, lived experiences with problem solving, self-confidence and intersectionality.

5.  National Disability Employment Awareness Month acknowledges the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces. Each October NDEAM celebrates America’s workers with disabilities and reminds employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices. In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to include individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988, and changed the commemoration to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

6.  Blind Awareness Month  was created by The Little Rock Foundation in Voorhees, New Jersey to promote improving blind and visually impaired children’s lives. The goal is to educate the public about good eye health, and treatment of eye disorders.  Inspire people with stories of the blind and their accomplishments. Advocate for research, resources and laws that benefit the blind community.

After doing my research I would dare to say that October is the month of the blind. I would encourage you to take some time and learn more, volunteer or donate to an organization serving the blind community.

Its a White Cane Not a Stick

The white cane has enabled me to travel safely and confidently by detecting stairs, sidewalk curbs, doorways and obstacles. It gives me the added security and protection I need so that I don’t stumble, fall or run into things. It identifies me as a person with a vision impairment. When people see my cane, they have a better understanding of my situation and can respond accordingly.  Or at least I think they should. I have found that people want to refer to my cane as a stick. I get responses like, “Where is your stick, Empish?”, “My relative who is blind uses one of those sticks too.”  Or my favorite is, “Where can I get one of those sticks?” My emotions range from frustration, annoyance to amusement.

So, why is my mobility aid a cane and not a stick? Have you ever wondered why the white cane is white and not some other color?  Who made the decision for the color white in the first place?  When did the blind start using white canes anyway? Well, since today is National White Cane Safety Day I thought it would be fitting to do a little digging into the history and the safety law around traveling with it.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

Prior to the use of the official white cane people who were blind and/or visually impaired used staffs, sticks and canes as instruments in their modes of travel.  These tools were use more to alert the blind person to obstacles in their path rather than for noting their blindness.  It was not until the 20th century that the “cane” was used for identification purposes.  During the times of the two World Wars canes began to be used by people with vision loss; first starting in Europe and then branching out into the United States. According to the American Council for the Blind, James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight, the artist had to readjust to his environment.  Worried by the increased motor vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists

The White Cane Becomes White

It was not until ten years later the white cane established its presence in society. A national white stick movement for people in France was launched. The campaign was duplicated in England and was sponsored by Rotary clubs throughout the United Kingdom. Yet, in the United States it was the Lion’s Clubs International that helped introduced the white cane to the blind community. In 1930, a Lion’s Club member watched as a blind man attempted to cross a busy street using a black cane. Realizing that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion’s Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility. In 1931, the Lion’s Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for persons who were blind.H-

A Tool for Mobility

Black Man Wearing Shades and Walking with White Cane

Up to this time, blind people were using their white canes primarily as symbols of blindness not as a mobility aid. But when the blind veterans of World War II returned, the form and the use of the white cane changed. This was an attempt to get veterans active and involved in society again. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the “long cane” or “Hoover” method of cane travel. These white canes were designed to be used as mobility aids and returned the cane to its original role as a tool for mobility, while maintaining   the symbolism of blindness. This also ushered in the concept of orientation and mobility training; where a person with vision loss learned about their surroundings and how to travel safely and confidently.

Today, the white cane is a visible identifier that the person has some form of visual impairment.  Much like the wheelchair symbolizes a mobility impairment. People with vision loss travel with their white canes directly in front of their body so that others can see it clearly. This is especially critical when approaching a street intersection. To a motorist driving down the street or hovering at a street light; the white cane stands out because of its color and the red strips help deflect a vehicle’s headlights.

White Cane Safety Day Passes

Two White Blind Teens Holding canes and Sign Saying Celebrate White Cane Safety Day

The white cane began to move into the political scene and state legislation began to pass. The first two states to past safety ordnances were Illinois and Michigan. The ordnances protected white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. In the early 1960’s, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving the blind and visually impaired encouraged Congress to proclaim October 15th of each year to be White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states. This event marked an exciting moment in the long campaign to gain state and national recognition for the white cane. National White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Its designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. Georgia went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

What the Law States

Here is a summary of the law:

1. Only people who are blind or visually impaired should travel with a white cane.

2. When a motorist comes in contact with a person traveling with a white cane at an intersection that driver should come to an immediate stop to avoid injury or harm to the white cane traveler.

3. Any person who is in violation of the above will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Now you have learned some history on the white cane. Why it is no longer called a stick. You now know why the white cane is white, do you think that motorists stop for it? Do you think that people see the white cane as a mobility aid and symbol of visual impairment?  For those using a white cane, do you have to explain its usage a lot or barely at all? What things do you think can be done to make people more aware? Share your comments.

I’ve Become My Own Tech Support When Working From Home

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Although I got a degree in journalism sometimes, I wish I had also gotten one in computer and informational science because I have had to become my own tech support over the years. This is partly due to my disability and using a screen reader on my computer. I have had to learn not only how it works but how it relates to the software and hardware that I use it on. I have had to learn how important it is to keep everything current and updated because that affects how smoothly things work. I have also had to learn how to troubleshoot because technology is not perfect and things happen. Initially there were few people I could reach out to for assistance. When I would call tech support and say I was blind and used a screen reader, I would get this sense of their eyes glazing over and there would be silence on the phone or sometimes it would go dead. People just didn’t know how to assist a blind person with computer problems. But today things have changed and I have a lot more tools available for me.

Staying Current with My Technology

The first thing I have learned about being my own tech support is keeping my hardware and software current and up-to-date. This can be challenging because of the cost. Yet I try and work into my budget and write it off my taxes as a work expense. When working from home it is essential for me to keep my computer, printer, smartphone and other devices running  flawlessly. When they are not it impacts my earning potential. Recently I had to purchase anew headset and computer monitor with a webcam for Zoom videoconferencing. I am doing a lot more meetings, webinars and conferences this way and needed to upgrade my equipment. Also, I purchased a mechanical keyboard with spring-type keys. This particular keyboard is a better fit for writers and heavy keyboard users.

I am not a tech geek but I do try and keep up with industry news by accessing Technology blogs, newsletters and podcasts.  This information is from a consumer angle and helps me learn about market and industry trends and available software training. For example, I have an iPhone and iOS 14 launched recently so I am downloading that and learning about all the new features through the AppleVIS podcast.

Empish using iPhone

Before Calling Tech Support

Before calling tech support I do some troubleshooting. I check that all wires, cords and plugs are securely in place. If it is software, I will check for the latest update. Sometimes doing a quick update to the latest version can solve a glitch. Other things I do are to reboot my computer and/or shutdown the running program. If it is my smartphone, I have occasionally turned it off to refresh it.

Using an app called Be My Eyes is a key strategy when being my own tech support. Through this app I can call up a sighted volunteer for free who accesses my camera and mike. I have them look at my computer monitor when my screen reader is not speaking and I need to figure out what is happening on the screen. Or when I am working on a quirky website that might not be accessible. They have really come in handy when replacing ink and paper in my printer. My printer has several color cartridges and they have helped me to decipher the colors and place them in the proper location.

Calling Tech Support

Now, when I call tech support, I know the type of operating system, version of software and assistive technology I am using. These three pieces of info are critical when trying to troubleshoot a problem. I usually lead the conversation this way and then move into my problem or question. I let tech support know what troubleshooting techniques I have already tried and if they worked or not. I call tech support on my landline phone and put them on speaker. This way I am hands free and they can listen to my screen reader keeping both hands on the keyboard. Depending on the situation, I will give tech support remote access to my computer. We can work on the problem together and they can see more clearly the issue and solve it quickly. The companies I call have disability customer service departments or have become more familiar with interacting with disabled customers. So, when I call with challenges, I have a much better response in getting the help I want. No more eyes glazed over or dial tones!

If worse comes to worse and all my methods don’t cure my computer blues, I do have a professional tech support person available. I learned years ago to build relationships with people who work in the industry. So, I have a tech guy that makes home visits and will come and work on major issues. He has helped me install a whole new computer system, set up my printer and assisted when my computer crashed.

Combining all of these things have helped me to be successful at being my own tech support. As a person who works from home problem solving and troubleshooting are skills sets, I have had to acquire to move my career  and life forward. So, if you are working from home how do you do tech support? What ways do you troubleshoot computer issues when they come up?

Census 2020

Thirty Days to Census 2020 Deadline

If you haven’t heard the news by now, the US Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on September  30, a month earlier than previously announced. So that means if you haven’t filled out your form time is ticking and the opportunity to be counted is quickly closing. I completed my census back in March and found the experience fairly easy, stress-free and very accessible so much so I am sharing my experience with you. If you have not filled out your census form, I encourage you to do so in the next 30 days.

2020 Census is Totally Accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadley Provides 100 Years of Remote Learning to the Blind Community

Empish Reading Braille

For a century the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired has provided remote learning to the blind community. This is an enormous accomplishment. Even more so in the midst of COVID-19 where distant learning, sheltering in place, social distancing and remote access are becoming the new normal. According to their website, the mission of Hadley is to create personalized learning opportunities that empower adults with vision loss or blindness to thrive at home, at work and in their communities. Well, I can attest to Hadley’s mission because I have personally benefited from their instruction. I am going to share my experience, but first let me give a little history on the organization because again 100 years is a long time to be in existence and knowing the back story is important.

History of the Hadley Institute

William Hadley, a former school teacher, lost his sight at 55 and loved reading. He wanted to learn braille but was frustrated with finding a teacher so he taught himself. Along with an ophthalmologist and neighbor, Hadley found a way to share his love of learning with others who had lost their vision too. So, in 1920, the Hadley Correspondence School and the “braille by mail” curriculum launched.  The very first student, a woman in Kansas, had also lost her sight later in life and wanted to continue reading. She mailed her lessons to Hadley, and he corrected and returned them along with encouraging notes. This was the beginning of the close instructor-learner relationship that is a trademark of Hadley learning today.

Ways I’ve Benefited from Hadley’s Instruction

I too was one of those who lost vision as an adult. I learned braille previously at a vision rehabilitation center but realized too late that I didn’t have a good solid game plan on how to implement it beyond the alphabetic code. I learned braille because that is what I was supposed to do and I saw some immediate benefits such as labels for my Music CDs, spices for cooking and metal labels for my clothing. I was not thinking about reading braille books or magazines. Outside of that braille was just a vague thought in the back of my mind. As a result, my reading and writing skills stayed on a rudimentary level; much like a kindergartner at school. So I contacted Hadley to take a braille course and began my journey back to braille. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t finish my course however I accessed other learning tools from Hadley.  The next course I took was on LinkedIn where I went through the modules online to complete my profile and then connected with my instructor. Once we connected, my instructor gave constructive criticism on my LinkedIn profile that was helpful. Another Hadley course was on the keyboard. Over the years my typing and keyboard skills had gotten slack and sloppy. I was making several key punch errors. This course helped me get reacquainted with the home row and other important keys, practice proper posture and slow down my typing for accuracy.

I love a good informative and entertaining podcast. Hadley offers Tech It Out is an hour long, monthly call-in discussion group; but I listen to it afterward as a podcast. There I have learned about all kinds of technology for home, work and entertainment. The very first one I attended we discussed grocery shopping and food delivery apps.  So many people joined in the conversation and that was long before the pandemic! Other podcast topics have been on accessible small kitchen appliances, using tablets, watching audio described movies and learning about streaming services. Their most recent topic is accessing tech support for your devices.

All of the remote learning I gained from Hadley was at no cost, at my own pace and from the comfort of my home. They are a non-profit organization and receive donations to provide these services. I applaud Hadley for the work they have done and have no doubt they will continue to be successful in educating the blind for many more years to come.