Tag Archives: accessibility

Audio Description Helps Me Keep a Thanksgiving Day Tradition

An orange background with the words “Happy Thanksgiving Day” in block script

This time of year we celebrate the holidays and  its traditions. Thanksgiving brings on lots of food, family and fun. One major Thanksgiving  tradition is watching the Macy’s Day parade.

A Thanksgiving Day Tradition From Childhood

Since I was a small child,  this TV event was a regular part of my Thanksgiving Day  celebration. .  I would get up early in the morning still in my pjs, grab a bowl of cereal  and park myself right in front of the TV. For the next few hours my eyes were glued to the screen  watching the huge helium balloons, colorful and beautiful floats  and listening to the many marching bands.

Each year  something new and exciting happened with the parade . It could be new helium balloon cartoon characters and a list of popular musicians  and entertainers. The marching bands held a special place for me. My mother was in a collegiate marching band and later I attended Florida A&M University, famous for the infamous Marching 100.

A marching band performing with conductor in a parade. The ban is wearing red with white stripes on their pants and caps playing instruments

While I was captivated by all the sights and sounds of the parade my parents were busy in the kitchen preparing our Thanksgiving meal. My dad would do the major cooking of smoked turkey, ham with pineapples, collard greens, mac and cheese and sweet potato pie. While my mother  cooked and prepared the cornbread dressing  with giblet gravy. Sometimes they would call me in to do a taste test  otherwise I was barred from the kitchen until they were done. Of course, I had no problem with that command because the Macy’s Day Parade was on and I didn’t want to miss a minute.

View of the inside of a basket filled with root vegetables like squash, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and onions

Tried to Continue After Blindness

Years later, as an adult I still continued this Thanksgiving day tradition. Dawning my pjs  and holding my cereal bowl I sat on my sofa and watched the proceedings again. It was just like old times. After vision loss I made attempts to watch it but after a couple of tries I knew it was not going to work.

The Macy’s Day Parade was too visual. Too many things to figure out.  Too many things I couldn’t enjoy anymore. So, for years I let this tradition go and just kept my memories.

What is Audio Description

But about 3 years ago I noticed audio description  became available for this parade. An audio described TV show or movie is when images, scenes, actions and descriptions of the actor’s appearance are described during natural pauses in the production. It allows the blind or visually impaired viewer to know what is happening and enjoy the film along with their sighted peers.

Audio description is available in a variety of mediums such as analog TV, streaming services, DVDs, cable, satellite and movie theaters. Additionally, you can find audio description available at live theatrical performances and museums. The Macy’s Day Parade was audio described live by Descriptive Video Works, Where I sit as an advisory  committee member.

Audio Description Brought Tradition Back

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

I was so excited to reintroduce this Thanksgiving Day tradition  into my life again. Even during the pandemic, The parade aired. Although condensed with a shorter route  and no live audience on the street, it was still great. I got to hear one of my favorite entertainers, Patti LaBelle, sing. Woohoo! This year  was the 96th anniversary. There was  a performance from the Lion King, more balloons, floats and several marching bands. Then a finale of Santa Claus and Mariah Carey singing her famous song, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Like the Thanksgiving meal, it just wouldn’t be the same without  watching this parade. I am just so glad and grateful audio description  lets me keep this Thanksgiving tradition. And hopefully for many more years to come.

Georgia Poll Worker Used SB 202 to Deny Me Voting Assistance

Voting Booth

Preform My Civic Duty

I take my civic duty to vote very seriously. I have been a registered voter in Georgia since about 1996. You can do the math and see we are talking about a lot of years . Even after I went blind I still continued to perform my civic duty and vote.

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

Additionally, I  am active with my local city government, attending city council meetings and having conversations with my local councilwoman. Lastly, I listen weekly to an educational podcast on government and politics called Civics 101  hosted by the New Hampshire Public Broadcast Service. I don’t profess to know everything when it comes to politics  but I  try to stay current, advocate and educate myself. This is why I feel so strongly and was compelled to share about my recent bad voting experience in the 2022 general election. I have shared many times about my struggles with voting here on this blog. But what I experienced in this recent election  takes the cake!

A pink birthday cake with a shiny gold #1 candle on top

Bus Driver Asked to Help

ON Monday, Oct. 24, I took the bus to early vote. This was not unusual because I do this on a regular basis. But what was weird was the poll worker  asking if the driver would assist me with my voting. I said no because a poll worker usually helps me and the driver  was just dropping me off. The poll worker told me to have a seat while she went off to find someone to assist.

I sat there and waited. I was confused because the precinct was not crowded. I continued to wait. Then finally I got up and walked toward  where I could here people talking and asked when someone was coming over to assist me. This  all seemed strange because I vote in every election  and never been told to go sit  at a table and wait, especially when it is not busy.

Poll Worker Said No to Assistance

I was then told that poll workers could no longer help me. They would have to get another voter to assist. I got very angry  at this news and said this couldn’t be true. They insisted and it had to do with SB 202. One of the poll workers said she called and spoke to the director to confirm  and verify. I pushed back more and shared about a blind friend who went to vote at my county headquarters   location. She  didn’t have this problem and voted the first day of early voting. I even shared about my  time voting in the midterm  and didn’t have this problem. However, they still insisted and refused to help me.

Type of Help I Needed

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

Now, let me stop my story for a minute to clarify what help I needed. Here are the specifics:

  • Filling out any paperwork. I give the poll worker my Georgia state ID and they fill out the form and then I sign it.
  • Escort to the accessible voting machine. They make sure I am seated and the machine is working properly before they walk away.
  • Escort  to the second machine to cast my ballot and turn in my plastic card
  • Escort out the precinct.

Another Voter Helped Me Instead

As I stated earlier I have been voting for a long time as a blind person. In every election I get this help. Except this time. Another voter not a poll worker did all of this. That is the problem. Although the other voter was nice and kind she was not familiar with what to do to help a blind voter. They had to give her instructions.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

After I voted and printed out my ballot she  started to grab it off the machine. I stopped her and told her she could not touch my ballot. She quickly apologized  and said she didn’t know. This is why I have a problem with this whole situation. She was not a poll worker and wouldn’t know the rules.

Confusion with Code on Ballot

Next, she escorted me to the other machine to  cast my ballot. I was asked by a poll worker to turn in my plastic card. After giving it to him, he asked to see my ballot to get some kind of QR code off it. I have no idea what this code was or why he needed it.

I  got upset and told him he was not supposed to see my ballot. I asked him what this QR code is because I don’t remember being asked that before. Another poll worker came over and began to explain, saying they needed to know my precinct. I  gave them the info. But was wondering why you didn’t just ask directly for it. This made no sense to me.

After  I gave my precinct info I was ready to cast my ballot. But before I could do so, someone  offered instead. Again, this was strange because I cast my own ballot each time I vote. I explained again that no one was supposed to touch it and I placed it on the machine myself. Then the other voter escorted me  outside  so I could wait on my ride.

Researched SB 202

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Once I got home I went online to research SB 202. The information I found said nothing about assisting or not assisting a blind voter. This law has to do with the following:

  • Changes in absentee voting.
  • Changes to vote counting.
  • Changes in early voting.
  • Changes effecting local voter offices.
  • Changes effecting the state election board.

ADA Addresses Blind Voting

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) specifically addresses accessible voting. Blind and visually impaired voters must receive accommodations when casting their ballot in a governmental election. State and local governments must help a blind person, whether it is to offer an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or have an accessible voting machine

Filing Complaint

So, the fact the poll worker told me I couldn’t get assistance  was wrong. I called the Georgia Secretary of State office to file a complaint. They referred me to my county Election Office. As of this writing,  I have attempted to file a complaint  but have not been totally successful. There seems to be confusion  about assisting a blind person  when voting  and no clear  voting complaint process. I have also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and they have documented my concerns. Because I know the power of my vote and have civic pride I will continue to press the issue. Although this experience was awful, I will not give up voting.

10 Ways I Take the Internet for Granted and You Probably Do Too

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

The World Wide Web  became available to the public back in the 90’s. I was hearing a lot about it but struggled with its concept. I couldn’t visualize  what a website actually looked like on a computer screen. So, I took a class with an assistive technology teacher and she did a good job describing it. She even took my hands and placed them on the computer monitor  moving them around  to help me visualize  the actual layout.

Today, I am on the internet  daily. This technology  that was so new, at one point in my life, is old, mundane  and ordinary. I mean I don’t even think about getting online. I just do it which shows me how much I take it for granted. Perhaps, you do too. Can you imagine  going through the day with no internet? I know I can’t because of all the tasks I preform on it. Not being able to read the news, email, podcast or an audiobook is unconceivable. And that is just a small list of things. So, in honor of National Internet Day, Saturday, Oct. 29, I am going to feature 10 things I take for granted  when using the internet. I am sure many of  these items will resonate with you as well. My hope is this list will help all of us be  more mindful and grateful  for this invention.

1. Paying bills  and managing finances

Empish Writing a Check

I use to do this task on paper. I remember a  statement  would come in the mail. I would read the bill, tear off the bottom  and place in an envelope  with a paper check. I paid my bills and managed my finances for years  this way. Even after I went blind, I got sighted help  until the internet  made this chore easier and accessible. Today, I do all my financial business online. Not just paying basic household bills but  managing online savings  and investment accounts.

2. All kinds of shopping

Online shopping intensified during the pandemic  because we all had to shelter in place. But I  would dare to say many of us are still doing a lot online. Yep, I know I am. In the past I would do simple little things  like purchasing household  items and toiletries  on Amazon. Or I would do a little clothes and shoe shopping. Now, I do almost all my shopping on the internet. Grocery, household, hair and beauty supplies, technology  and electronics and more I purchase via the internet.

3. Entertainment like watching movies

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

I love watching movies on Netflix. I remember when they launched. Prior  was the iconic Blockbuster’s  where you had to go in person and rent a movie  to play in a VCR. Do you remember those days? Netflix started with DVDs and then moved to streaming services. However, it is hard to stream a movie without a good internet connection. That WIFI  signal has got to be strong and working.

4. online learning

Want to learn something new? You can take Online courses  for almost anything. Courses online are the ticket to exploration. Learn basic home repairs, bake a cake , paint or garden. There is probably a course for that.

I lean toward career advancement  so my courses have mostly  been on ways to improve my writing or enhance my job searching. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

5. communication like zoom videoconferencing and web chats

A man with only his Torso visible. He is wearing a doctor’s coat and stethoscope around his neck. He is holding a cell phone in his hands.

The internet  allows for multiple communication methods. We can use videoconferencing  or web chats to not only connect with friends and family, but conduct business  and medical appointments. If you can’t meet in person, set up a quick Zoom call. I have personally enjoyed the ease and convenience using videoconferencing for my book club meetings  and community discussion groups.

6. Sending and receiving emails

Emails are as old as the internet itself. They are another way we communicate online. Emails are delivered extremely fast compared to traditional correspondence. Remember writing and mailing letters? We call it snail mail because of its slowness.  Emails are sent  and received all day and all year round. They are sent and received from any computer, anywhere in the world with an internet connection .

7. Read news  stories, papers, magazines and journals

Stack of Newspapers

Just about every print publication can now be read online. Think of your local, regional or national newspaper and more than likely  there is an online version. Same goes for magazines and journals.

I use to read my news in print. For years, I would grab a paper or magazine  and hold in my hands to read it. Although print publications  are sadly declining I appreciate  digital content because it is easier to read with my vision loss.

8. social media interaction

Want to engage wit friends, make a professional contact or create a TikTok video? It can all be done online. Social media has  provided opportunities  for us to connect electronically  and share our lives, interest and even be entertained.

9. Job searching

Woman sitting at table using a laptop to look for a job

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.

10. research   and find info

I am naturally curious and doing  internet research answers most of my probing questions. I can do  a quick Google search and look up and learn about  most anything. Have a question? Just “Google it” as they say. You will find all kinds of info. But use caution and  check multiple sources

I got my 10 ways but what about you? How do you take the internet for granted? How has using the internet improved your life?

Do You Know About the White Cane? Read These 10 Intriguing Facts

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

When I first started using my white cane I learned how to cross busy streets and intersections. I learned how important it was to have my white cane directly in front of my body so that motorist could see it clearly. To a motorist, driving down the street or hovering at a streetlight, the white cane stands out because of its color and the red strips help deflect a vehicle’s headlights.

National White Cane Safety Day

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Through my years of travel, I have learned how important it is to know and be aware of the laws that protect white cane travelers. The first national White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. My home state, Georgia, went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

In honor of White Cane Safety Day, I have listed some intriguing facts provided by the Perkins School for the Blind and Accessibility.com. Read them to see how much you learn.

10 Intriguing Facts

1. Did you know it’s legal to take a white cane through security at an airport? Yes, according to TSA. However, it has to go through the X-ray machine. So, when I travel through the airport I will fold my collapsible cane  and place in the bin to avoid damage.

2. Do you know  who was George A. Bonham? In 1930, Bonham, president of the Peoria Lions Club (Illinois), watched a man who was blind attempting to cross a street. The man’s cane was black and motorists couldn’t see it, so Bonham proposed painting the cane white with a red stripe to make it more noticeable. The idea quickly caught on around the country.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

3. Did you know  white canes are high tech? Inventors have equipped white canes with ultrasonic devices that detect obstacles up to nine feet away. Vibrations in the cane’s handle warn users of potential hazards in their path.

4. Did you know there is a standard technique for using a white cane? It was pioneered in 1944 by Richard E. Hoover, a World War II veteran rehabilitation specialist. His technique of holding a long cane in the center of the body and swinging it back and forth before each step to detect obstacles is still called the “Hoover Method.”

5. Did you know  most people who are visually impaired don’t use a white cane? In fact, only a small number do; about 5% or less. The rest rely on their useable vision, a guide dog or a sighted guide.

6. Did you know there is more than one kind of white cane? There are actually three different kinds of white canes. The standard mobility cane, used to navigate. The support cane, used by people with visual impairments who also have mobility challenges. And the ID cane, a small, foldable cane used by people with partial sight to let others know they have a visual impairment.

a blind woman wearing sunglasses and holding a white cane

7. Did you know certified Orientation & Mobility specialist  can’t get their certification unless they train under a blindfold  with a white cane? O&M specialists teach white cane technique but to become certified at least 120 hours must be spent blindfolded and traveling with a white cane.

8. Do you know what materials  make a white cane? Today’s modern, lightweight canes are usually made from aluminum, fiberglass or carbon fiber, and can weigh as little as seven ounces. Some white cane users prefer straight canes, which are more durable, while others prefer collapsible canes, which can be folded and stored more easily.

9.  Did you know  you can’t use a white cane if you are not visually impaired? In some states, it’s illegal for a person who is not legally blind to use a white cane to gain right of way while crossing a street. For example, in Florida you’ll face second-degree misdemeanor charges and up to 60 days in prison.

10. Did you know that not all canes are white? A cane with alternating red and white stripes signifies that the user is DeafBlind. A cane with red at the tip indicates the user has no vision. However, this is standard. Although a little controversial because the white cane is strongly recommended  for identification, some people will use other colors they like, or to make a fashion statement or to deflect from their blindness. Those who want to express individuality will choose a colored cane.  The colors range  from black to purple  or pink and more.

What Did You Learn?

After reading these 10 intriguing facts,  how much did you learn about the white cane? Are you familiar with the White Cane Safety law? Share your thoughts and comments and let’s discuss the use of the white cane.

Dressing in the Dark? Here’s My 5 Tips to Organize Fashion Accessories for the Blind

Empish selecting clothes in closet

Reading a recent article  about New York Fashion Week in the Daily Beast, got me thinking. The article  noted the increase in disabled models and designers. It stressed the importance of diversity and accessibility. How representation  matters in the fashion industry. Although, the event just ended on Sept. 14, it  reminded me of my early years of vision loss. I knew how  vital it was to look my best and be stylish. I wanted to represent my community in the best possible way.

Reorganizing After Vision Loss

This meant reorganizing  my accessories and wardrobe. Nothing was really accessible for me. I couldn’t just go in my closet and grab  an outfit without sighted help. I had to figure out a way.

Why is this important to me? I have always been an accessory conscious woman, matching shoes with handbag, lipstick with nail polish and necklace with earrings. I was trained by very fashion-savvy parents  and female relatives. They were always impeccably dressed in colorful-coordinated attire.

As a young adult, I perused fashion magazines constantly. I even pursued a fashion design and merchandising degree but lost too much vision to finish. Understanding that first impressions are critical, I accessorized my clothing purposefully.

When I went totally blind dressing and accessorizing became very challenging. At first I pondered how to keep up with new trends, fabric selections and eye-catching colors. Determined to not allow my blindness to be an excuse to be a fashion misfit, I learned valuable techniques on how to organize my accessories to complete any outfit in my closet. I don’t profess to be a traffic stopping fashion diva. Yet, I find that paying close attention to my accessories and wardrobe goes a long way in erasing stereotypes and commanding respect.

1. Organizing Scarfs

I began by organizing my scarves. Before my vision loss I had scarves all over the bedroom hung on outfits, stuffed in dresser drawers and tied to doorknobs. Scarves are a great accessory and can add flavor to an outfit. They make a simple, drab outfit look colorful and stylish.

With the help of a vision rehabilitation teacher, I found a hanging bag with multiple pouches perfect for storing scarves. I put one scarf in each pouch. On the front is a Braille label description for the color and design . To conserve space, I use abbreviations like “bk for black, “rd” for red or “pk” for pink. For scarves that matched specific outfits, I tied the scarf around the outfit’s hanger so it is ready to go.

2. Organizing Shoes

Empish selecting shoes in shoe boxes

In the past, I was a fancy foot wearing female. Shoes were such a vital part of my outfits. I had shoes in multiple colors for dress and casual wear. Pumps, sandals, stacked heels and mules – I had them all. I kept shoes in rows on the closet floor in no particular arrangement. Now because of my disability and working from home I have scaled back to a couple of pairs. Yes, I know I am not the typical female  but less is better. I keep track  with little worry about disorganization. I tell the difference by touch, feeling for shape, texture  and style.

3. Organize Jewelry in Small Boxes

It has been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. For me it is diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, and all kinds of costume jewelry. I love jewelry and always had it setting out on my dresser. Pearl necklaces, gold bracelets, lapel pins and colorful earrings were arranged randomly. I discovered a brilliant way to recycle mini jewelry boxes. I store earrings, necklaces and bracelets in sets. If this wasn’t feasible, I organized according to similar color and design. For example, all red earrings were placed in one box and all pearl jewelry in another. I use touch to distinguish between smooth round earrings and fabric-covered lapel pins. I store the boxes in a large plastic container, so all  my jewelry is in one place.

4. Organize Lipsticks with Braille Labeling

Five tubes of lipsticks standing up in a line with one tube laying down in front.

Once I had my accessories organized, my next challenge was establishing a similar system for lipsticks. I love lipsticks and don’t wear any other fascial cosmetic . Before learning Braille, I determined lipstick by touch. Manufacturers use different tube designs. Some  tubes are round with ridges while others are square and smooth. Today, since I know Braille, I placed a label on each tube. This helps me to know the differences in color.

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

5. Organizing Clothes in Closet

Accessories add flair  to an outfit completing  the  ensemble. But I needed to focus on my clothing too. In my closet I have my clothes organized in sections. Short sleeve tops, then long sleeve. Next is skirts and pants. Finally, is two-piece outfits  . They all have Braille color labels. This system makes it easy to find  what I want to wear.

These techniques have been very successful, resulting in numerous awe-inspiring compliments from friends, co-workers and even strangers. People always ask me how I do it, and it gives me the opportunity to share my creative fashion organizing tips. It has also been a big boost to my self confidence as a blind woman.

How Online Learning is Advancing My Career

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Use Online Learning to Help Career

I am naturally curious. I enjoy learning about all kinds of things. But mostly  skills to advance my career and writing. Online courses  have been my ticket to exploration and career advancement. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

I remember the first  freelance writing online course I took. It was several years ago. A small group of us wanted to learn better ways to write query letters. Our desire was to pitch  story ideas to printed publications (online pubs were not the norm back then) that would get the assignment. We had a weekly lesson  and later posted our homework for group critique. It was a great experience  and I learned a lot.

Online Learning Day

Although this was a long time ago, I have never stop being an online learner. Today, Sept. 15, is National Online Learning Day. This holiday focuses mostly on educational courses and classes for children and young adults but  the holiday can also apply to people like me. Those who are much older  and have an interest in learning  skills to help their careers.

Besides  just wanting to learn something new, why do I take courses online? Well, for a couple of reasons. Online courses enhance my job searching. They sharpen my skills in writing and blogging.

Enhance My Job Searching

Recently, I lost my latest freelance job and I have been more assertive about looking for work. It has been a long time since I actively searched for employment. I wasn’t current on the latest job hunting trends and techniques. LinkedIn has been a great resource for this exploration. I have learned about writing better cover letters, what hiring managers want, and the importance of digital networking.

LinkedIn sends me alerts  with  topics of interest  around  job seeking. I scroll through the list and take the ones I need the most. These courses are quick little videos  but are jammed pack with valuable and useful information. What I learn from these courses I can apply immediately to my job search.

Extensive  Online Learning

For a deeper dive, I have ventured into extensive  online learning. The latest example was on Google Analytics. I took the course directly from the Google Academy. Each lesson  was on some aspect of analyzing data  for your website. It was a self-pace  course and fairly accessible. You could opt for the video or read the transcript. I chose the transcript option so I could stop and easily take notes . There was a quiz after each lesson where I had to score 80% or better to get my certificate. After completion Google  sent me a certificate and provided ways to share my success on social media.

The only drawback was  the application examples. There were opportunities to directly apply what you were learning. I struggled in  finishing those sections  because they were inaccessible and hard to navigate. Besides this issue, I enjoyed the course, learned a lot and got my certificate.

I had a similar experience taking courses with Salesforce. In the spring of this year, I applied  to get training  with a technology organization. Once completed students would be connected to job opportunities. I had to complete  several sales badges  as  part of the application process. This experience took me through several learning modules and tracks  where I had to read the course materials and take a quiz afterward. Although, I wasn’t accepted into   the training program, I learned a lot about Salesforce and how it is trending right now.

Sharpen My Writing and Blogging Skills

I have also increased my knowledge of writing and blogging through courses with WordPress and my online writer’s group, The Freelance Writers Den. Both  offer  instruction in blogging, journalism, SEO and marketing.

The latest course I took was on a LinkedIn marketing bootcamp. The course  provided a weekly lesson  from constructing your profile, to increasing connections  to applying for jobs.  These were paid courses and well worth the cost. I have already noticed  and increase in my productivity  and online visibility because of the skills learned.

Online learning has been an excellent resource for me. I can learn what I want when I want. I would dare to say as technology advances and nontraditional ways of learning become more accepted, we will all see an increase  in the availability of online education and courses.

Improving Telemedicine for People with Disabilities

two women on a video conference. The view is over one woman's shoulder and you can see the other woman on the computer screen. The woman on the computer screen is a doctor wearing a surgical mask and doctor's white coat.

Editor’s Note: This is a post by Gracie Stephens a freelance writer and editor. She enjoys writing a variety of topics but is particularly keen on education and medical news. When she is not writing her next piece, she spends her time reading and spending time with her three children and husband.

Telemedicine Increasing Among the Disabled

In the wake of recent events, telemedicine has become vital for many basic clinical services. A Forbes’ report on telehealth outlines a survey from Applause, noting that nearly half of the 5,000 consumers they surveyed have used telehealth at least once, and 63% plan to keep using telehealth in the future.

With the rising interest in telehealth, healthcare providers have been expanding their usage to not only give information on health and services, but also arrange consistent telemedicine channels to treat patients. Over time, more areas and people have been serviced, including people with disabilities.

In fact, telemedicine has become almost necessary for people with disabilities to access healthcare. As mentioned in our post on “Can You Hear Me Now?”, landline phones and iPhones play an important part in keeping us in contact with the outside world. Nowadays, we can even set up doctor appointments and check-ups purely via phone calls. There are also other digital options like video conferencing and live chats, which allow professionals to provide diagnosis and treatment options — without us even stepping foot in their clinics.

How is telemedicine helping the disabled population?

Telemedicine has existed for a while now, but it was not long ago that greater innovation was pushed for in the field. This has resulted in greater outputs, with Ancor Foundation reporting that remote tech services can expand healthcare reach. In fact, 86% of providers believe that greater applications of technology can help address the current professional workforce crisis. Telemedicine allows providers to cater to traditionally disconnected populations, like the elderly and disabled, and administer specialized healthcare needed to treat routine medical needs. These also grant opportunities to avoid challenges of in-person care: arranging caregiver assistance, coordinating transportation, and even waiting at crowded clinics or hospitals. With the rise in tech, this virtual support has made it safer and more convenient for vulnerable populations.

How can telemedicine be improved?

When it comes to modern healthcare through telemedicine, there are still challenges in accessibility. Some people might not be digitally literate, so they may struggle with navigating certain websites and applications. There are also people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who can have a hard time describing their medical issues over the phone or through video calls. These struggles may lower the quality of healthcare that they receive. On the other hand, the convenience of being able to consult in a comfortable environment (such as their homes) may also be advantageous for this disabled population.

Although telemedicine still has its limitations, it’s undeniable that telehealth has become an essential, alternative avenue in easing the current burden of healthcare systems. Dr. Forrest, a physician serving on telehealth platform Wheel, expects telemedicine to become a standard component of health service. He predicts that all of the health data collected by the Internet of Things and smart peripherals will soon be utilized to improve healthcare and telemedicine. These computer systems will let doctors track, summarize, and share information with one another, which can be helpful for patients. Professionals can also easily look into medical treatments that have worked on previous disabled patients, and gain insights for their own patients.

What additional ways can telemedicine be improved?

Aside from driving advanced tech, there are other ways in how healthcare delivery through online platforms can be bridged for people with disabilities. As noted in a study by doctors and medical assistants in Texas, user interface issues should be addressed: text on a website or app should be readable by screen readers, captions present on videos, adjustable color and contrast, to name a few. In addition, customized visual interfaces should be made for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities to help with their communication. Having diverse service options is the best way to aid disabled people in accessing healthcare.

With more adjustments to telemedicine systems, the disabled can eventually maximize the benefits of online consultations. Although in-person interactions still remain important for a proper, full diagnosis of serious conditions, telemedicine can provide an opportunity for easier evaluation and improvement of patient care.

Do you use telemedicine?

If you are a person with a disability have you taken advantage of telemedicine? What was your experience? Would you recommend this option to others with disabilities? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Exhausted with Inaccessible Job Searching? Use AIRA  for a Rejuvenating Experience

The AIRA Logo. A turquoise circle with the white letter “a” in lower case

Problems Applying for Jobs Online Still Exist

About a year ago I talked about my challenges applying for jobs online. In a post  for  Inclusively I  gave details on the struggles with inaccessible websites  and online job portals.  Unfortunately, a year later the problems still exist.

As a freelance writer and blogger, I am regularly on the hunt for  new contract assignments and searching online is a primary part of that exploration. When I come across complex combo boxes  and inaccessible edit fields   my perseverance  wanes. My enthusiasm about landing that next writing gig quickly  diminishes.

Help is on the Way

Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I  started using a virtual paid personal  assistant called AIRA. When I initially heard  about AIRA some years ago, the focus was on getting visual assistance  to navigate the physical world around you.  The professional human assistant would use  the camera on your smartphone  or smart glasses  to give you  visual information live and in real time. It was a tool for travelers. Since I was  not in need of that kind of help I put AIRA on the back burner.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

They have expanded those services  and provide remote  assistance via your computer. This was great news for me as I continued to struggle with inaccessible websites. So, I downloaded the app, created my account and selected the paid membership level. I am able to call AIRA any day, anytime to get assistance  . AIRA has a  special feature called “Job Seekers.” This  free service is specifically for filling out job applications and updating cover letters and resumes.

AIRA and CAPTCHA screens

I have used AIRA to help with  frustrating  and inaccessible CAPTCHA screens. You know the ones that ask you are you a human being? Usually, I would check the box  and type  into the edit box what I hear. Unfortunately, many job sites don’t offer that option. Only type in what you see with several pictures popping up on the screen to identify. Of course, I can’t do that and  as a result can’t submit my job application. What I find so perplexing is the employer gives all this info about being an equal opportunity employer and understands diversity and inclusion. They say they will not discriminate  based on age, gender, race or disability  and feel free to disclose. Yet, they have this inaccessible screen  prohibiting me from applying. This experience questions how  much of an equal opportunity employer they really are. Or perhaps, they are just unaware of the importance of accessibility for all applicants.

When  I come across this situation, I no longer throw up my hands in annoyance. I no longer moan and groan. I  no longer walk away in pure exhaustion and don’t apply for the job. I  call up AIRA  and use remote access  with a human assistant. I explain the problem  and they  check off the appropriate boxes. I have even asked them to do a quick review of my application  before submission. It is always good to have a second  pair of eyes look things over  before pressing the submit button.

AIRA and Job Assessments

Another task AIRA has  helped me with is job assessments. Some applications require the completion of an assessment  along with submission. These assessments  rate me on my writing and editing abilities. Some will score me on my knowledge of particular skill sets like SEO and WordPress  . When I start the assessment the timer interferes with my screen reader. So, while trying hard to concentrate  the timer is verbally ticking off each minute I have remaining. This is incredibly distracting and stressful. So, instead of dealing with all of that headache, I call AIRA  and the assistant can read the questions to me while I give my responses. We can review the assessment  and then submit.

Use AIRA After Hiring

After landing a job, the assistance from AIRA doesn’t stop. Many of my friends  who are employed use AIRA to help with various work assignments. Some employers  are receptive to blind employees  using AIRA  on the job as a work accommodation and will pay  for the monthly subscription. AIRA is sensitive  to the employability of blind people  and supportive of removing barriers.

AIRA Provides Me relief

Job hunting has its own list of hang ups, adding inaccessibility  just increases irritation  and disappointment. I want my job exploration to be as stress free and pleasant as possible. AIRA  gives me relief. They rejuvenate my desire to keep searching. If you are visually impaired and a job seeker, like me, investigate  AIRA as a handy tool in your career toolbox.

Confused About Disability? Read This Demystifying Guide  and Become a True Ally

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I have read a lot of books about disability. Some were fiction while others  nonfiction. Some  were biographical, technical, historical  or medical in their approach. Others more laid back and conversational in tone. But the book, “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally” by Emily Ladau was one of the more real, true to life  and informative books I have read on disability so far.

In the audiobook read by Emily herself, she  provides an approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people. She gives real actionable steps for what to say, what to do and what not to do. Through her kind but candid tone, Emily shares how you can help make the world a more inclusive place. .

I was excited to read this book. Partly  because of my previous  interaction with the blog Rooted in Rights, where Emily formerly was an editor. But more importantly  because I am disabled  and wanted to hear her  strategies on how  people like me can learn and find the language to interact with people who are not disabled.

Definition of Disability

In the first chapter Emily gives her definition of disability along with other advocates  and the ADA’s official language. While reading, it dawned on me that I don’t have my own version of a disability definition. I have just gone with  the status quo and/or the legal definition. Yet, one size fits all doesn’t work in the disability community. We are as diverse and different as any other community. For so long society has used a broad paint stroke  however in reality that doesn’t work. It depends on the individual.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Additionally, there is no single way to talk or think about disability. Emily said the way we talk shapes how we think; and the way we think shapes how we talk. For example, some people don’t want to use the word disability because it has a negative connotation. We are socialized to think that way.

Terms and Labels

But it is unavoidable because we  are still disabled in the end. There are nondisabled people making up terms for our community. Terms like differently abled or  handy capable. Rather just ask for what the person wants to be called.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

In my world,  phrases like legally blind, low vision, sight loss, visually impaired, blind, and vision loss are the terms most often used. I prefer the word blind because it is clear, simple and to the point.

She cautions readers the usage of labels. A very popular label is high functioning verses low functioning. This kind of label pits one disability group against another. For the sake of this review, I am considered high functioning because I can read, write, manage my daily activities, work, etc. I need very little assistance from others to maintain my life. But viewing me this way can be harmful because it looks down on others who can’t do the same. At the end of the day,  we all have some kind of limitation.

Also, services have been denied me because I am too independent or high functioning leaving me to fend for myself. We have to take into consideration  over time this situation can change. As I get older I might need more assistance because of aging with a disability.

Remove Negative Words

Emily encourages us to  Work on removing negative words from our language. Harmful words like stupid, idiot , lame, crazy, midget, albino, insane, retarded,  crippled and dumb. A recent example  of this is when the music artist, Lizzo changed her song, “Grrrls” to remove the damaging word “spaz.”

She explains disability is not an insult. Phrases like quit being so OCD, what’s the problem are you blind, and falling on Deaf ears can enter our psyche without us realizing it but in the end  can be toxic. Now this can be confusing because some disabled people reclaim  these words, terms and phrases. So, it is best to use  safe words  and ask the disabled person what they want to use.

Disability Identity

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

Now with that being said, let’s look at disability identity. Emily describes disability identity as a pizza. The crust is  the foundation; it is who you are. The specific toppings  of meat and veggies make each pizza unique. No two slices are exactly a like, cut a pizza and one  slice might have more pepperoni   or olives on it than another.

Some people choose to identify  and make it known they are disabled. They might even fully immerse themselves in the disability community. Others might identify  only when it is necessary. Still others might not identify at all. Then we go even deeper and address intersectionality  where you have a disability  along with something else. I am blind, female and Black. That makes me a member of three different marginalized communities.

Disability History

Her chapter on disability history touched on the story of Judy Heumann, which I talked about in a previous post. She also highlighted the Ugly Laws, advancements in educating  disabled children  and of course the ADA. She noted several laws  before the ADA  which  amazingly  I was already familiar. As a high school senior, I worked  part-time for the Department of Health and Human Services/office for Civil rights. There I learned about  the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 504. I typed up lawsuits  based on discrimination  and assembled paperwork for voluntary compliance. Who knew in 10 years I would be recalling this work experience as I navigated my own disability.

an outline of a shield with the American flag in the center and the wheelchair icon on top of the flag. The letters ADA are to the right side and the words Americans with Disability Act underneath.

She presented a timeline featuring the closure of shelter workshops and the launch of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The Communication and Video Act opened up audio description  and more accessibility to the internet  and phone apps. She remarked on the Able Act  and how it  provides more financial control allowing disabled people to save money without penalty.

Avoid Ableism

She devoted a whole chapter to ableism. I liked the fact she owned up to her own missteps. As people with disabilities, we can be insensitive  to other disabled people too. Ableism can exclude us from larger  discussions of injustice. Since many of us carry multiple identities we must be included in other social justice movements too.

The Curb Cut Affect

When we think of the disabled the immediate thought is ramps and elevators. But accessibility is having full use and experience of the product or service. Accommodations are provided and come in many forms. Accessibility is not about special treatment but providing equality  so that all people  can  take full advantage. Everyone can play a role in making the world more accessible  and everyone can benefit.

Think about the curb cut affect. Initially  curb cuts were for people in wheelchairs only but today  all kinds of people use them. Parents with baby strollers, People rolling backpacks  or luggage on wheels. Another example is audio description. This  technology was  designed for people with vision loss to enjoy and understand  movies and TV but sighted people also use it  when multi-tasking and not actually watching the screen. To make the world more accessible and inclusive we need more figurative curb cuts.

Disability Etiquette 

What do I do when I meet a disabled person? This is the million dollar question. There are guidelines to disability etiquette  however don’t over think it. Ask questions  and be open to learning  and receiving instruction. Don’t make assumptions about what people can and can’t do. People that insist on helping cand cause more problems in the end.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Emily  warns abled body people to not assume we are faking our disability. I have come across this one  a lot. People assume I can see more than I can  or I’m not blind at all. I get the response, “Well, you don’t act like a blind person.” My reply is, “how does a blind person suppose to act like?” People are looking for  the stereotypical image  of what they have seen in the media  . But blindness doesn’t work that way.

Disability in the Media

Which leads me to disability in the media. We don’t have nearly enough true to life images  but plenty of media tropes. Such as inspiration porn which objectifies people with disabilities to help people feel good about themselves. It is those stories of people who overcome their disabilities  against all odds. We buy into inspirational porn because we have been told disability is a bad thing and living with a disability is exceptional. I have even fallen prey to it myself by being inspired by other disabled people , it is everywhere

Final Thoughts on Becoming an Ally

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a red sweater and black framed glasses. She is along side another woman working with her on a computer

Reading this book is just  one important step and not the conclusion to becoming an ally. None of us are experts on disability. Being an ally is a show don’t tell approach. But ask yourself why first. What is your motivation? Are you feeling guilty, pity or  wanting to be helpful? These reasons can be self serving. Help is a stereotype about the disabled community. We are not always helpless or in need of saving.

Being an ally is a commitment to change. It is a journey not a destination. Keep in mind to advocate with us  not for us. And as you do, read books, watch documentaries and listen to podcasts.

Deaf Culture Facts I Learned from Reading True Biz

Two people having a sign language conversation over the computer. One person is at a table and the other is on the computer.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I recently joined Book Nation for another virtual discussion about the book  True Biz by Sara Novic. The conversation with the author, who is deaf, was noteworthy because she shared about her life and the writing process for the book. But reading The audiobook was such an educational and intriguing read. First, she recorded the sound of ASL dialogue to differentiate from spoken dialogue. Before  this I had never read an audiobook  about deafness where I could hear the  sound of sign language. It made the experience more realistic.

Second, I learned so much about deaf culture  and the deaf community I didn’t know . Although, I am blind, I don’t take for granted I know everything about other types of disabilities. I took this reading as an opportunity to be entertained and learn.

Book Summary

True Biz focuses on three main characters. Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who wears cochlear implants and has never met another deaf person before. As a result, she struggles with communication with the limited sign language she knows. Next is Austin, the school’s most popular kid because of his family lineage  of deafness, but his world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing. Last is February, the hearing headmistress, a child of deaf  adults (CODA) who is struggling to keep her school open and her marriage intact, yet unsuccessful at both.

The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf are typical kids. They just want to hang out, pass their finals, and have adults stop telling them what to do with their bodies. True Biz is a  story about sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss. This is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.

Chapters were separated by the voices of the three main characters with sections on deafness inserted. These sections I found the most interesting as they educated me on deaf culture. Novic was initially resistant to adding these sections to a novel but later reasoned that the hearing community  would  likely have no working knowledge of deaf culture and without  information would lack understanding and empathy. She was right. Here are some of the facts I learned from reading this book:

Finger Spelling Doesn’t Count

1. Use finger spelling only for proper nouns and names. You should look at the shape of the word not the individual letters. This technique is very similar to learning braille. Although my braille skills are limited when I was learning it I was encouraged to not touch letter by letter but get the feel of  the whole word. This would increase my speed and reading comprehension.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Here’s a fascinating bonus fact I learned about myself. I was a sight speller before I went blind. If the word looked correct then it was correct. Over the years my visual memory  has decreased impacting my spelling. As I was reading this book, I struggled a bit with Charlie. Since she was a finger speller  and her sign language  skills were not sharp. She spelled out everything and I would sometimes get lost in what she was trying to communicate. I would have to rewind  portions to hear exactly what she said.

Meaning of True Biz

2. True Biz is an idiom in ASL. Meaning, in context it is something different than the denotation of the constructed signs and hand shapes. It means true business, seriously, literally, no kidding and real talk.

Deaf Cures

3. The variety of cures for deafness were just as broad  and creative as those I have heard for blindness. One was to insert olive oil, red led, bat wings  ant eggs and goat urine into the ear. Then you have faith healings like the time Jesus healed a deaf man in the Bible. Harsh chemicals like mercury were used. One particular healing technique was to fly the deaf person upside down to correct pressure on the ears. Lastly, we have hearing aids, cochlear implants and stem cells. Early models of cochlear implants actually destroyed residual hearing, and  success could vary  widely. When it comes to stem cells the questions of ethics   and consent arise. Who gets to decide if stem cells should be used or  not for deaf children?

ASL Influenced by France

4. The usage  of what would be later called American Sign Language  (ASL)  was greatly influenced by a sign language teacher named Laurent Clerc  from France. Deaf Schools there were using sign language and when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who later founded America’s first school for the deaf, came to learn and observe  he brought  those techniques back to the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because braille came from France too.

Manual Verses Oral Communication

5. Late 19th Century manual language verses oral communication for deaf children was a hot button topic. The thought was if a deaf person could learn how to speak they could better assimilate into  the dominant hearing society. Also, there were strong beliefs around eugenics, championed by Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother. It was used to forcefully sterilize disabled people. Bell was not a proponent of sterilization. Instead, he believed if deaf people talked  rather than sign they would be more likely to not marry each other and produce more deaf children.

Banning Sign Language

6. In 1880 educators gathered  in Italy to determine deaf education. It was decided to ban sign language worldwide. This ban would be in place for the next 80 years. Some schools like Gallaudet, pushed back and resisted but many others stop the usage of sign language. The history of braille has some striking similarities. Initially blind children  learned how to read by touching raised embossed letters. This process was painstakingly slow. When Louis Braille invented his code it was initially rejected partly because sighted people  couldn’t read and understand  the formation of the raised dots on the paper.

Interesting, how abled body people assume they know best when it comes to people with disabilities. This of course is ableism and can cause great harm.

Punishment for Deaf Children

7. Deaf children were forbidden to sign. If they did, there was severe punishment. Hands were tide, tapped with rulers  or slammed in desk drawers. This decision resulted in fewer deaf teachers, role models or professionals for deaf children to emulate. Further stigmatizing deafness in society.

Black Deaf People Communicated Better

8. I knew that Black deaf people had their own version  of sign language, called BASL. But  one fact I didn’t know  was during the oralist period  they were better communicators. White deaf people were forbidden to use sign language and to speak only. So, sign language teachers  went to segregated Black deaf schools and taught them sign. This resulted in them learning how to communicate better.

These are just a few of the facts I learned from reading True Biz. Learning something while being entertained   was enjoyable. If you are curious about deaf culture  and love a good story, I highly recommend  this read.