Tag Archives: accessibility

Making Accessible Origamis: How Folding Paper Stimulated My Brain

White origami crane

Accessible Origami Class Offered

For some years now I have been interested in taking an origami class. I would see them advertised  all the time at my local library. But thinking they were probably not accessible I didn’t  pursue it until recently. The American Printing House for the Blind offered a virtual weekend origami class  via Zoom. When I saw this opportunity I knew it was time  to satisfy my curiosity and learn something new.

Surprise by Mental Benefits

Well, I was not disappointed. Not only  did I learn how to make origamis but how to stimulate my brain in the process. And what a surprise! I had no idea that taking an art class  would do so much to energize my cerebrum. It has been documented, tasks that challenge our minds strengthen our brains. Now, before I get to all the wonderful mental benefits I acquired let me pause  and explain  what an origami is  and how things work.

What is an Origami

An origami is the Japanese art form of folding paper. When the paper is folded it creates either one- or two-dimensional objects. These  objects can go from simple to the most complex depending on the numbers of folds. Typical origami objects are cranes, flowers, boxes,  airplanes, boats, fish, rabbits and dogs.

Woman folding colorful paper with her hands to make an origami object

Since I was taking a beginner class the instructor kept it simple. In other words, no complicated  animals or other objects. During the 90-minute class I made two origamis. The first was a corner bookmark and second was a snack cup/pocket similar to the containers for fries at fast food restaurants. As I was creasing and folding my square piece of printer paper, it  slowly dawned on me the mental benefits I was gaining from this class.

1. Mental Concentration

First was mental concentration. As I listened to the instructor, I had to pay close attention  and focus on what I was doing. Making origamis are  not to be done while multi-tasking. You have to focus on the direction of your fold, when to tuck or pull,  when to crease or rip. You can’t be checking your social media or email, talking on the phone, or doing some other mind-numbing task. You need all hands-on deck. Literally and figuratively.

2. Persistence and Patience

Second was persistence and patience. Like two peas in a pod,  these two traits  are needed for successful  origami creation. I quickly noticed the need to pace myself  and breathe. I could feel some slight frustration creeping in as I was making my corner bookmark. I struggled with visualizing  what the instructor was saying causing me to not understand her instructions. Then I fell behind  and needed her to repeat the directions. fortunately, she was very encouraging, stopping to be sure everyone  was understanding and not wanting anyone left behind. I  was comforted by  that gesture and it motivated me to keep going.

3. Problem Solving

Third was problem solving. Making origamis are similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. You got to figure out where the pieces go. As you fold and tuck  the paper; the  pieces slowly slide together producing  recognizable artwork.

4. Perfectionist by Nature

Forth was the wild card. I am a perfectionist by nature and this class exposed it. Yet it supported my creativity. It  challenged me to aim for excellence not perfection. See, I wanted my design to be exact. I wanted it to be perfect but it wasn’t. The instructor told us to crease the paper and bend it back and forth  to make it easy to rip off. This was excess paper we didn’t need. I followed her directions but when I ripped off the extra paper it was not smooth. The edge was jagged, not perfect.

I realized what was happening. This was my first attempt at making origamis. I needed to relax and just enjoy the process. I told myself this is an art class and remember to have fun.

Ready for a Brain Boost?

Need  a brain boost? Looking for a mental challenge? Want to learn a new  artistic craft? Consider creating origamis. It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month  and why not explore this historical and cultural activity. You can learn more about accessible origamis  by reading this blog post written by my instructor. Also , if you are a Facebook fan  check out the group called Accessible Origami Project.

Can You Hear Me Now? Why I Like Landlines and Smartphones

Empish using iPhone

Telephone Memories

Today, Apr. 25,  is National Telephone Day and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic. I am reflecting on my usage of this important communication device  invented by Alexander Graham Bell. I remember my first telephone. It was a white Princess model purchased from Bellsouth. It sat on my nightstand next to my bed. I remember my parents  and I going to our  local shopping center where there was a Bellsouth store. In the store were a variety of makes and models of phones much like  the cell phone stores of today.

In my hone, there was one in my parents’ bedroom  and one more in the kitchen. The kitchen phone was a wall mounted version with a rotary dial. For those too young to  remember  or those who have forgotten a rotary dial was a type of phone where you had to place your finger in an open metal circle and turn to the corresponding number you wanted. You had to do this one digit at a time and it was a slow process but that is how we dial numbers back then. Also, there  wasn’t a need for area codes unless you were calling long distance.

Now getting back  to my Princess model. I can’t remember if it was a rotary dial or push button because it was so long ago. All I remember is that as a teenager I had my own phone and that is what counted.

But having my own phone quickly ended when I started college and lived in the dorms. It was the phone in the hall mounted on the wall  . Someone would yell loudly, “Empish, you got a phone call!” Then later it was housemates in an apartment. Depending on the situation maybe I had a phone in my room or not.

Blindness and Using a Landline

When I went blind the importance of the telephone  and my ability to use it really  became critical. I  didn’t realize  how vital vision was until I couldn’t dial a number on my landline phone. Back then cell phones were not really happening quite yet. This was back in the mid-90s. People were still using landlines. But my vision loss kept me from seeing the small numbers on the keypad. Initially I got a large print phone with high contrast. The numbers were big and pronounced. The colors were black on white for better visibility. But as I lost more vision  those features were not as helpful anymore. I began to totally rely on the small, raised dot on the number 5, slowly navigating around the keypad. I started memorizing the sequence  and order of the numbers  to know which one to press. I also began to be more  particular about my phone purchases. Touching carefully  the display models in the store before walking out with one. I duplicated this same method when cell phones became popular. Carefully touching the display models to be sure I could  access the buttons.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Today I am a master at my landline phone. Yes, I still use one . It has a large size keypad. A dot on the number 5. I can quickly dial numbers without even thinking much about it. I also have several cordless phones throughout my hone. All with  distinctive keypads for easy dialing. I have these phones in case of an emergency because you never know when you need to quickly grab  your phone. If you have a cell phone it could be anywhere in the house while you are someplace else.

Also Using a Smartphone

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone too. Unlike older cell phone models my iPhone is totally accessible with voiceover command. I just don’t make calls much on it. The shape and design is  not made for holding up to my ear. Yes, I know I can get earbuds  but for some reason I have been slow to get on that train. So, I use my smartphone  for other things like reading my audiobooks, listening to podcasts and watching movies. I do some text messaging  and store my contacts  as a digital address book. I also find it helpful as a quick and handy dictionary and spellchecker.

The evolution of the telephone has come a long way. Who would have known that our phones would  become minicomputers in our pockets or purses? The advancement of technology  and what we can do with it is amazing. I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would  say if he could see how far his invention has come. I know he would say more to Mr. Watson than, “can you hear me now?”

Fun Telephone Facts

Looking for some fun facts  about the telephone? Read these provided by National Days Today:

  • Alexander Graham Bell and his helper, Thomas Watson, made the first phone call.
  • The first phone book only had 20 pages.
  • Mark Twain was the first person to own a phone.
  • In the United States, telephones expanded rapidly, from one phone in 1876 to 11 million phones countrywide by 1915.
  • By 1910, New York Telephone had 6,000 female telephone operators.
  • When Bell handed Watson the phone and said, “here, hold this,” the phrase “to put someone on hold” was named after them.
  • When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, all telephones were silenced for one minute with respect to the inventor.
  • In 1956, the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. A telephone cable was laid across the ocean floor, reaching depths of 12,000 feet. The cable connects Canada and Scotland across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • There are around 150 million telephone lines in the world, with the number growing by thousands every day.

Suggestions for Celebrating National Telephone Day

Whether you still use a landline phone or only use a smartphone, or like me use both, celebrate National Telephone Day  with these suggestions:

1.  Call someone today you either rarely speak to or normally communicate with via text.

2.  Who is your favorite person to talk on the phone with? Give them a call today and check-in to see how they are doing.

3.  Feeling nostalgic? Inquire with your grandparents about the amount of energy required to “dial” a phone — and why they disliked numbers with a lot of zeroes.

4.  And if you are really feeling musically inspired  and bold call a friend or loved one and sing Stevie Wonder’s  iconic song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”

Feeling Anxious About Tax Filing? Stay Calm with My  Stress-Free Organizing Tips

Woman holding up two tax forms in front of her face

Although this year’s tax filing deadline is right around the corner on April 18, I traditionally file my taxes in February or March. I figure the sooner the better and to just get the whole maddening business out of the way quickly. But more importantly I file early  because things get pretty busy and hectic. This way I avoid the stress and anxiety as much as possible.

Before losing my vision I prepared my taxes myself. It was fairly simple  and straightforward. But afterward, I lacked the confidence to do it on my own and some tax preparation  products and tools were not very accessible or complicated. Even though tax filing has become more accessible over the years I  still prefer to have a professional handle the paperwork. So, when I was recently in my tax guy’s office he was telling me once again how organized my paperwork  was and how easy it was to file for me. He tells me this year after  year,  marveling at how I do this with vision loss. I just smile and say, “Thank you for the compliment.” But it got me thinking  and led me to share some of my tax filing tips. The things that keep me stress-free  and organized each tax year. Hopefully, you will feel the same after reading.

Make Excel Your Friend

The biggest tool I use to stay calm  during tax filing is Excel. This software program  is my friend. I use it daily for all kinds of things. To track my grocery spending. To track my Uber/Lyft  ride amounts. To track my credit card payments. To track my out-of-pocket medical  cost. Do you get my drift? Excel is a great way to track numbers for nearly anything you want. So, each year I track my freelance income and expenses. For example, on my freelance expense spreadsheet I create  rows and columns for the date, company, expense description and amount. On a spreadsheet everything is laid out and easy to read. You can also sort and reorganize the columns and rows to crunch the numbers in different ways which my accountant loves.

Each year I create new spreadsheets with the year in the title so I know the difference. I usually  will do a save as in Excel and just update  the new one. I find this easier  because the formula I use to calculate my totals  stays the same each time. Then when I meet with my accountant I just hand him the thumb drive  and he can clearly read and review the spreadsheets  he needs for tax filing.

Create Email Receipt Folders

Now, how to deal with all those paper receipts. And no, I am not talking about stuffing them in a folder or shoebox. I have noticed nowadays   most receipts are provided electronically. I can even get my grocery receipts  sent via email. Now what I do is create folders in my email provider for receipts. I label the folder in accordance with what is in the folder. I use Outlook for this process. I have a folder for all my Amazon orders. Another one for house-related  things. Another for medical. I refer back to these receipts  for taxes when I need to. I can simply punch all the info into  my spreadsheets  and/or print out the receipt for verification if needed.

For receipts that are not electronic I store in a paper file folder for tax filing only. I have a dedicated folder strictly for this purpose. Throughout the year, as I get receipts, donation  letters, home ownership tax statements and other documents, I place in this folder. Although the amount is minimal this step keeps me from getting stressed out later because everything is in one place  and ready to go during tax time.

Empish using water and fireproof safe

These paper receipts I store with a copy of my tax return and place in my water and fireproof safe. There I keep copies of previous tax returns  for the future just in case the IRS comes calling.

There you go. My two biggest organizing tips for  stress free  tax filing. Some might be looking for a long laundry list of tips and tricks but for me it is really this simple. I have been doing this for years and it actually works. Hopefully, if tax season is stressing you out, my tips helped you feel better. With some organization and preparation this year’s filing could be your calmest ever.

Max Cleland Has the Heart of a Patriot While Surviving His War Wounds

A man sitting in a wheelchair with one missing arm and missing legs. He is being fitted with a prosthetic arm by a medical technician.

Day Remembering Vietnam War Veterans

When I think of veterans November  comes immediately to mind because of Veteran’s Day. Or Memorial Day coming up soon in May. But I was surprised to see a national observation for veterans on my calendar. March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

After I saw this commemoration pop up, it immediately made me think of two things. First was my father who  was a Vietnam War veteran. He was not a fan of this war and rarely spoke  about it. He passed away some years ago  and I wonder  his thoughts on such an observation. Second Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam War veteran and Georgia politician. He died in Nov. 2021. His book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,” has been on my list to read. I thought there is no time like the present. This national day of observance  was the push I needed to read and review  his book.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

In the forward Cleland speaks directly to brothers and sisters of war. Those who are trapped in the memories. To those overwhelmed, coping on their own and struggling with what we have done and what has happened to us. To those left hopeless  and confused about our lives. He says, “It does not make us victims, it makes us veterans.”

Cleland was born and raised in Georgia. He lived  in the same town I reside in today. There is even a street named after him in the downtown district of the city. His father was in the navy during WW2 and he had other family members who served in the military. He was a  captain during the war. He   signed up for more time in the war because he felt he had to do his part.

War Injury and Rehabilitation

The day he was wounded by a grenade explosion was April 8, 1968. Eight days after President Johnson called for an end to the war. He came back from Vietnam missing three limbs (right arm and both legs)  and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors were not optimistic  about his future, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own self-determination, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair.

As I read about his rehabilitation journey, I learned some new things about amputation such as the importance of knees. When he first tried to get artificial legs  there was resistance because he had no knees  and you need them to bend   for walking and climbing stairs. They are the key to balance  and mobility. During that time, they were made of wood and very heavy.

The doctors told him he would need crutches to use the wooden legs. But with one arm that would be nearly impossible. Yet, Cleland was determined to walk again and did everything required to do so. He did walk with those wooden legs until he was upgraded to plastic ones with knee support. Later on, the stress and exhaustion, especially  during the beginning of his political career,   caused him to go back to using a wheelchair.

He shares openly and honestly about his rehabilitation. For example, trying to get dressed using only one arm. He struggled with buttons on his shirt  and putting on pants. It made me think about a recent episode of The Shark Tank where a contestant pitched her business of accessible clothing for  people with disabilities, specifically amputees.

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

He shared about the differences in treatment between Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital. He was released from Walter Reed and had to  continue at the VA Hospital. At that time, they were not prepared to deal with Vietnam veterans  as most patients were  from the Korean War or WW2. Additionally,  he says that 80% of patients were there for health problems unrelated to war  . As a result,  he felt lonely  because he couldn’t connect to the other men  as many of them were veterans from a different generation and also heavily medicated.

Reading his story, I could relate to the feeling of loss. Cleland talked about how  his feelings of safety, security  and sense of self were gone in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t become disabled because of war it did happen pretty quickly  and traumatically. My life was turned upside down.

Leads VA and PSD Revealed

Cleland  takes his artificial legs  and goes home to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Next, President Jimmy Carter appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. He believed his mission was “to care for those who have born the battle.”

He recognized the lack of funding for veterans  yet always plenty for war. Nine million served in Vietnam,  from Aug. 4, 1964, to May 1975, with millions of them wounded and injured. There was a push to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PSD) not just physical injuries. Living on hyper alert takes a toll, seeing death firsthand takes a toll, and killing takes a toll. In 1978VA psychiatrists finally admitted that PSD existed. and became an official psychiatric diagnosis. Meaning that veterans could get treatment and financial benefits. Years later he would benefit from this decision as he too delt with PSD.

At 40, he became Georgia’s youngest secretary of state. During his time in office, he appointed the first Black assistant secretary of state. He opened the process and registered 1 million voters. He was secretary of state for 12 years  but was not fulfilled politically.

It wasn’t until he became U.S. Senator. that he accomplished his dream. Battling a smear tactic  causing him to lose his seat and 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, Cleland was pushed to the edge. Depression and PSD surfaced during this time. He was dealing with deep depression  and seeking  therapy and better medications. He went back to Walter Reed  for help.

Seeks Therapist and Help for Depression

At Walter Reed he was thrown back into Vietnam as he saw wounded veterans  coming back from the battlefield. He was deeply distressed and moved by what he was seeing  as the signs were so similar to what he had also experienced many years before.

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer

Despite all of that, he was able to get help for his depression and PSD. He found a great therapist  and medication that actually worked effectively. He learned how to reconcile  his past with his present. To remember who and what he was before he went to Vietnam and became disabled. Reclaiming that part of himself was a big part of his healing. He learned to find a new sense of himself at last.

I got quite emotional as I read Cleland’s memoir. I thought about all he went through. All  Vietnam veterans went through and probably still do. All my dad went through. Even in some ways how much things haven’t change since then. But also, how much  it has changed. I realize the goal is to keep going. To not forget the past but to look forward to the future.

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

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

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall  with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix  some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Popcorn in a red bowl and a mug of a warm beverage on the table with a fireplace in the background.

Representation Really Does Matter

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.

Hoopla: My Favorite App for Reading Commercial Audiobooks

Empish using iPhone

Discovered Hoopla App

I have shared off and on about an audiobook reader app I discovered this year called Hoopla. Well, to be perfectly honest a librarian told me about it. We were preparing for our virtual book club and I couldn’t find the selection in audio format. So, she suggested using Hoopla. And why did she do that? OMG! This app has been so wonderful since that day. So much so that I have almost abandoned my other book reading app, Voice Dream. In honor of National App Day, Dec 11th, I am going to share a bit more about this fantastic app and how it has enhanced my enjoyment of reading.

As many of you know the word app is short for application. It is a computer program or software and has grown rapidly over the years. Today there are apps for virtually everything imaginable. Every day I learn about an app that can help me do this or that. Some apps are free and some come with a cost. Some are simple to use and some are complicated. Some have raving reviews and some are pitiful. Regardless apps are here to stay and there are folks out there developing ones all the time.

App Accessibility

Now with that being said when I look for an app to use accessibility is numero uno. If I can’t access it as a blind person what is the point? The majority of apps I use are on my iPhone so that means they have to work with Voiceover, which is the accessibility feature build into Apple products for the blind and visually impaired. Things like edit boxes and radio buttons must work properly. AppleVIS does a great job reviewing apps for accessibility. I have gone to their website to research an app before downloading and especially before purchasing it. When it came to the Hoopla app I was already aware that it was fairly accessible and I wouldn’t have too many problems.

Hoopla Connects with Library

After downloading the app and creating a username and password I got to searching for the book for our discussion. The process was straightforward and took little time. The Hoopla app is free and who doesn’t like free? It connects directly with your local library. So, you need to be a current patron of the library and have a library card to use the app. Your library card number will be required as part of the set-up process. Since I’m active at my local library that was no problem.

Hoopla Offers More Than Books

Hoopla offers so much more than reading commercial audiobooks. They have a large music catalog. I have accessed all kinds of music. This has allowed me to expand my music library and listen to artist old and new. Recently I listened to Alicia Keys read her audiobook, “More Myself” and then listen to her music directly afterward. It was a wonderful experience to hear her story about her music career and then listen to her sing too. And all on the same app at no cost to me. You can’t beat that!

But wait, there’s more. Hoopla has   movies and TV shows too. Now, I have to say, I haven’t accessed this part of the app yet because there is no indication these films are available in audio description. But I have heard the catalog is plentiful. So, you will have to check that out and get back to me.

The last thing I want to point out on Hoopla you can access is eBooks. When you do a search for a book Hoopla will display the results in either audiobook, eBook or both. So, you have some options of how you want to read your selection. Personally, I like commercial audiobooks because eBooks are in a text format   and when read are with a synthesized voice not a human.

Other Cool Things

Other cool things about the app I like is I can borrow books immediately. They call it instant borrows. With other library apps you might have to take a number and wait in line but not on Hoopla. I can borrow and download right away. Then I have 21 days to read it and I can manually return it or it will be done automatically. No fines or fees. Again, you can’t beat that!

I can also borrow 10 selections per month. Hoopla displays the total and counts down as I borrow. When I exhaust the number I can’t borrow anymore until the next month and the number starts fresh. Since I have a limited number I reserve my commercial audiobooks for Hoopla and all other books I read someplace else. I find the quality of the audiobook readers to be excellent which can make or break a book for me.

Share Your Favorite App

For the book lovers reading this post, do you have a favorite book reading app? Have you heard of or use Hoopla? Share your experience as we continue to celebrate National App Day.

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Microsoft Receives Backlash

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

Used Visual Description Myself

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

Getting Equal Access

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

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

Diversity and Representation Matters

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

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

Visual Guidelines and Continuing the Conversation

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

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

Justice Department sues Uber Over Wait Fee Disability Discrimination and I’m Not Surprised

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

Last week I heard on my news podcast and it was confirmed in my ADA email newsletter that the US Department of Justice was suing Uber for disability discrimination over its wait fee policy. AS I listened to the news I was elated. It was about time but as they say, “the wheels of justice roll slow.” I was not surprised at this news because for years Uber had been charging me wait fees. It has become part of the reason I moved away from using their service and started relying more heavily on their competitor, Lyft.

Lawsuit Against Uber Explained

According to the suit, Uber was discriminating against the disabled by not giving amble time to board the vehicle upon arrival. Uber charges a wait fee two minutes after a driver arrives, and the customer is charged until the car begins its trip. This policy was added back in 2016. Now, these fees are charged to everyone as a way to compensate drivers but were never intended for riders who are ready at their designated pickup location and/or need more time to get into the car. But fees were charged even when Uber was aware the wait time was disability related. For example, a person folding up a wheelchair or a blind person with a mobility aid navigating to the car.

My Experience with Wait Fees

This is what I find so interesting and why I felt the need to say something on my blog. I don’t typically speak on lawsuits but I will today. Uber says that wait fees were not intended to be charged to customers who are ready to go or who need extra time due to a disability. But I beg to differ because of my personal experience. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I was already standing at the curb of my location when the Uber driver pulled up and I was still charged a wait fee. The number of times I had called the driver in advance letting them know I was blind, using a white cane and how I was dressed so they could easily find me and yet still charged a wait fee. The number of times I was standing with a store representative who helped load my shopping bags in the Uber car as I got in the back and was still charged a wait fee. The one time the driver asked my permission to go inside to the bathroom before we left and I said okay. Only later to be charged a wait fee.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

So, my eyebrow is raised with a smirk on my face when Uber says the following, “We fundamentally disagree that our policies violate the ADA and will keep improving our products to support everyone’s ability to easily move around their communities.”

To add insult to injury, when I would alert Uber to the wait fee charges initially they would keep quoting the policy like I didn’t know what it said. As if I didn’t know that already. At first they would refund me the difference but would never explain why I was charged in the first place after I took the time to give details. Then after a while they stop the refunds altogether stating I had requested too many adjustments to my account. The wait fee amounts would be typically under a dollar, which is not much, but it was the principle of the thing that would get my blood boiling. I would do everything in my power to be ready when the driver showed up but it didn’t matter I would get charged anyway. So, now you understand why I finally left? I even asked around to other blind friends and they shared the same story. So, I knew it wasn’t personal but a bigger problem.

Transportation is Critical

Transportation is one of the most critical issues for those of us in the disability community, especially the blind and visually impaired. We need reliable and affordable transportation. Accessing our own transportation helps us maintain our self-confidence, independence and quality of life. I remember when Uber came to my town I was so excited and happy. The ability to get up and go like my sighted peers was absolutely wonderful. To not have to wait hours on public transportation was great. When things like this happen it really is hurtful and harmful to a community that is a bit vulnerable. It diminishes trust and respect for us as disabled folks. I am passionate about this topic and plan to give my comments to the US Department of Justice. They are asking for people with disabilities to share their experiences and I will do so. If you are disabled and have had problems with Uber’s wait fees I encourage you to do the same. You can contact the Justice Department at 833-591-0425 (toll-free), 202-305-6786, or send an email to Uber.Fee@usdoj.gov.

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

Empish Using an iPhone

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

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

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

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

Empish Working in Home Office

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

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

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

Paying Bills Online

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

Empish Writing a Check

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

Reading Statements Online

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

Getting Paid Online

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

National Online Bank Day

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