Tag Archives: accessibility

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.

Listening in the Dark: My Favorite 10 Blind Podcast for 2021

Empish using iPhone

I am a huge podcast fan! I started listening to them as a great alternative to audiobooks on my long commute to work. Even after I started working from home my enjoyment didn’t diminish. I listen to them while I cook. While I eat. While I clean the house. While I relax on the sofa. And even while I take a shower. Yes, I love a good podcast. I noticed and increased when the pandemic struck last year and they are what’s hot right now. It seems like an explosion and everybody and their mamma is doing a podcast. Every time I open Overcast, my podcast app, and do a quick little search there are more new shows available. It has been amazing the volume of content to choose from.

I have tuned in to shows about a variety of topics from news and politics, finance, health and fitness, technology and entertainment. The range of subjects are as wide and vast as your imagination. Yet, as a blind person it wouldn’t be right to talk about podcasts and not share about the ones for the blind I love on my blog and of course on International Podcast Day. These ten shows about the blind address distinct aspects of our lives showing our diversity, humanity and love for life.

AppleVIS

1.  AppleVIS is an excellent resource for blind and low vision users of Apple products like the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Their podcast provides current and useful info for me on my iPhone. I learn about updates to iOS, tips and tricks on using my phone better, fixes on apps and so much more. And all from folks who are blind just like me.

Bold, Blind Beauty on AIR

2.  This is a fairly new podcast from the creator of Bold Blind Beauty, Stephanae McCoy. The focus is to “clear the air for more AIR”, meaning having Access, Inclusion and Representation because it’s essential for people with disabilities. We need these key elements to survive and thrive. The podcast reflects the content from her years of blogging where she interviews blind women and discusses health, beauty, fashion tips and so much more.

Eyes on Success

3.  Peter and Nancy Torpey host the Eyes on Success Podcast  and have been doing it for many years. They are truly dedicated to bringing useful and interesting content to the blind community. Each week they discuss products, services and daily living tips. They usually interview a special guest and have a segment called “The Tip of the Week,” which I find helpful.

Freedom Scientific Training and FS Cast

4.  Freedom Scientific is the company that makes my screen reader, JAWS. They produce two podcasts but I am lumping them together. The first one, called FS Cast, is a show discussing updates to the software, interviewing special guests and is also an archive of their open line chat, where people call in and ask questions. The other podcast is an archive of their training materials. This is a wonderful experience for me as I can keep my Windows skills up to date in a podcast format. For example, I just recently learn some new skills for Excel that will help me navigate spreadsheets better. I can listen on my phone while doing the steps on my computer. In the past I had to do both on the same device which was hard and cumbersome.

Hadley Presents

5.  I have taken remote courses from the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired and also listened to their podcast. This show brings on an expert in the field as it relates to blindness where specific topics are discussed. They have had mobility instructors, mental health professionals,,, a pharmaceutical company, a chef and many more. The topics are wide in range providing something for most everyone.

Mosen at Large

6.  I would dare to say John Mosen is a tech geek. As the host of Mosen at Large, Each episode he features something in the technology arena along with other topics of interest. The sound quality is exceptional and easy to listen to. Depending on the topic he will air listeners comments and views during the show. I particularly love this part because I get to hear the international perspectives of people with vision loss.

Picture This

7.  This podcast hosted by Carl Richardson and Brian Charlson explores audio description and accessible entertainment. The goal of Picture This is to bring awareness to this medium through interviews, demonstrations and sharing resources. Since I love a good audio described movie and TV show this podcast is right up my alley.

Reid My Mind Radio

8.  Thomas Reid hosts this podcast. It is from the perspective of a Black man adjusting to blindness as an adult. His content focuses on the typical things that most of us in the blind community deal with such as life, family, social stigmas and self-advocacy. On the Reid My Mind podcast, he will interview a special guest, discuss a thought-provoking topic, share a story or provide a useful resource along with his mindful and musical interjections.

Talk Description to Me

9.  When this podcast came out in 2020 I was so excited because of the type of content each episode examined. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Through the Talk Description to Me Podcast I have learned so much because it is more than just an audio description podcast but a conversation  about current events as it relates to visual images.

Writing Works Wonders

10. This is my final blind podcast and interestingly enough my newest one. I started listening to Writing Works Wonders about a month ago because I wanted to expand my content and include podcast related to my writing career. This one was an added bonus because the writers are blind and visually impaired. The podcast, hosted by Cheryl McNeil Fisher & Kathleen P. King, is a recording from their live writing meetings and workshops where they might have a special guest, work on writing prompts, or critique each other’s work.

There you have it! My 10 favorite podcasts for the blind. So, what about you? What are your favorites? Share yours as we celebrate International Podcast Day.

Library in Quarantine: My Book Clubs Are Virtual During the Pandemic

Two facemasks expressing love of libraries and African American authors

Book Club Before COVID

Before COVID came along and turn things upside down I physically attended two book clubs sponsored by my county library. One was bimonthly where we met at local restaurants. We would discuss some of the latest reads over appetizing cuisine and drinks. Occasionally, While being served, even the wait staff and management would chime in on our lively chatter. It was a great time to talk books, eat delicious food and socialize for about an hour.

My other book club met at the library in the activity room. AS we gathered once a month, we would have our discussion while munching on snacks of chips and salsa, slices of cake and various salads. We would laugh and share about our lives, work and family sometimes more than we talked about the book.

But that all came to a grinding halt and the library closed. No more book club meetings. No more discussions at local eateries. No more talking about life, work and family. Everything just stopped.

Using Zoom for Book Club

If you remember lots of people started working from home and kids were doing virtual learning. Everyone was trying to learn how to use Zoom. Slowly people started to use the videoconference platform for activities like family gatherings, medical appointments and exercise classes. Book club meetings were added to the list too. I was using Zoom before the pandemic. It started when I joined the Bookshare book discussion in the fall of 2019 and I participate to this day. Since this group is virtual members are from all over the place which is pretty cool. We are all blind or visually impaired because Bookshare provides digital books in text to speech. Each month we get together for a live chat to share our thoughts on reads we like, love or can’t stand.

Library Book Clubs Go Virtual

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

So, when my two library book clubs decided to go virtual I was good to go. It was not a huge transition for me because I was already a member of a virtual book club. I just added two more to the list and kept it moving! Now, you might be thinking, three book clubs are  a lot. That is a bunch of reading. That is a lot to keep up with. Well, I am an avid reader and although today is National Read a Book Day, I read constantly all the time. I read while cooking and cleaning. I read before bed. I read while in the shower. I read while commuting. I read while exercising.

Plus, I am a very organized person and keep a calendar of all my meetings and a book list so I don’t miss out. Being an introvert has been useful too. I still get the socialization and interaction I want without it being too much for my life and personality.

Actually, juggling three virtual book clubs has been easier than I thought for exactly all these reasons. If I had to do this in person, well that might be another conversation all together. So, I guess in a weird sort of way, the pandemic has helped keep me active and social. Attending virtual book clubs have been enjoyable for me. Yet, since I love reading I know when we finally get out of this pandemic, and we will, I will go back to the library and meet in person. It will be an adjustment but it will be a joy.

My Laundry isn’t Smart But I Am

Empish touching dials on washing machine

Washer Dies After 20 Years of Dedicated Service

Last month my faithful washing machine said goodbye to me. It had been a long-term member of my household. Spanning the years since I went blind back in the late 90s when I was living in an apartment with two housemates. To the Y2K and people thinking the world was ending. Remember the excitement over that? My machine was still washing clothes through all of it. Then moving to a smaller apartment and one housemate, my washer kept right on spinning along. Next, it was the purchase of my home, the first Black president and now the pandemic.

This machine has been with me through thick and thin. Through many ups and downs. Through a couple of boyfriends and jobs. So, excuse me if I get a little sentimental for a quick minute. It is just that not many things in life have that kind of longevity. When it died I was surprised I was not distressed or dismayed. It had been two decades. Instead, I took the rational approach and reasoned my washer had served me well. All good things must end. Nothing last forever. I took it in stride. Plus, it couldn’t have happened at a more auspicious time. The 4th of July was right around the corner. I knew that I could find a good sale on a new one. Shoot even a dryer too! And that is exactly what happened.

No Fancy Smart Appliance

I knew before going to the store I had no interest in purchasing one of those smart home appliances you connect to your phone. The fancy ones with all the bells and whistles. I had heard about them for the kitchen. Devices like rice cookers, crock pots, dishwashers and even refrigerators are all connected to your phone these days. Sorry, but those of you who read my blog and know me personally know that I am a bit old fashion. Heck, I still use a landline phone with an answering machine for all those robocalls! I don’t go run out the door and purchase the first new hot thing smoking

. I use an item until the wheels fall off. Until it is falling apart. Case in point my washing machine.

Need Knobs and Dials

So, I told the sales lady none of that smart home stuff for me. I want the old fashion washing machine and dryer with knobs and buttons. I want to be able to touch and feel my appliance. She showed me one on display that was perfect for my needs and I purchased it.

Now, you might be asking why I am so dead set against the new fancy smart home devices? Well, glad you asked because I got a couple of reasons and it is not just because I am blind. Although my disability is close to the top of the list. So, I will start there first.

As a blind person I want tactual appliances and devices. Knobs and buttons are what works best for me. I can feel them easily and mark them as well. I usually apply a product called Hi Mark that goes on wet but when dry puffs up. I use this product for all kinds of stuff like my measuring cups, microwave, thermostat, and dials on my air frier, dish washer and curling iron. I have been using it for years and it works beautifully. Plus, it comes in bright colors for the low vision folks.

Smart Machines Are Expensive

I mentioned earlier that I purchased my washer and dryer during the 4th of July. I got a good deal but not sure that would have been the case with a smart option. Typically, smart laundry units are more expensive to purchase. And even more expensive to repair says Angie’s List. The main issue for high-tech appliance malfunction is the control board, which is the computerized system that operates the appliance. Meaning an expert repair guy or gal must come and fix the machine and it won’t be cheap.

WIFI Connection and Firmware Updates

Smart appliances are called this because of their innovative technological advancements. Appliances are connected to WIFI via a smartphone. So, if the connection isn’t working neither are the machines. This is too high tech for me. I just want to keep it simple and wash my clothes whether I got an internet connection or not.

since these appliances are connected to the internet there might be data and privacy problems. Reliable internet security protocols might not be used which could lead to people hacking into your system and other devices. And we all know the more info people have about you and me online the more that data is vulnerable. Who wants people snooping around?

My last point, about why my laundry isn’t smart, is the firmware might not be updated regularly. Smart washers and dryers can experience a lot of glitches with their apps, home hubs and connectivity. Additionally, there is no guarantee a smart washer or dryer will get firmware updates. This means if there is a problem the app and machine won’t be talking to each other and your goanna have to call that repair guy I mentioned earlier.

Is Your Laundry Smart?

You see how smart I am. Now, don’t get me wrong I appreciate technology however when it comes to some things if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Old-fashion or what they call standard machines work just fine. The bottom line is to get the clothes clean and dry. To do it in the easiest and least complicated way available. That’s what I think. Tag, it’s your turn. Do you have a smart home appliance? If so, how’s it working for you? If not would you purchase one?

Old and New Technology Keeps Me Connected to Friends

Empish Using a Landline Phone

National Friendship Day

Helen Keller once said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light. Her statement reflects the importance of friendship. Close companionship is just as or even more critical than being sighted. I can relate. The friends that I have made over the years are so important to me. Friends who have helped me during those early days of my visual disability and are still around. Friends I made through work related situations. My book club friends. My blind friends. My writing friends. The list goes on and on. What would I do without the great and wonderful people in my life? Today, I give honor and appreciation for my friends. Today is National Friendship Day.

I tell you, dealing with this pandemic has made my friendships even more special. Even more precious. This virus has caused me to look closer at life and my own mortality. I remember when the pandemic first hit, I was calling and checking on friends. They were calling me too. It was so funny because I could hardly get any work done for my phone ringing and my email pinging. But I didn’t complain because I was grateful that someone cared about me. That someone was checking on me to see that I was okay and doing alright. And the thing is, we are still doing this over a year later. This pandemic is not over and we got to continue to stay close. To stay in each other’s lives.

Calling Friends on the Phone

So, how best to keep that connection going? Well, I use both old and new technology. I rely heavily on my handy dandy landline phone. Yes, I know, I am old-fashion and out of-date. But my landline phone works beautifully and I love it. It is so easy to pick up the phone and have a chat with a friend. Day or night. Weekday or weekend. It doesn’t matter. Hearing another person’s voice on the other end works wonders. It lifts the spirit. It puts me in a positive mood. It’s like a warm embrace or a tight hug-all through the phone.

But I also use my newer technology, my iPhone. Although mostly as an address book to store my friends contact information. I just ask Siri for their phone number and then dial it on my landline. I find it hard to talk on my iPhone because of its smooth flat surface. It slips too easily from under the crook of my chin. During conversations, my cheek gets warm and sweaty from the surface. This is not a good look or situation when I am trying to converse with a friend. Additionally, I haven’t found earbuds helpful yet. Maybe I should investigate that more.

Receiving Emails From Friends

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

When talking on the phone is not an option, emailing works well. Sending a quick note to check in or chat has been a great way for me to stay connected to my friends. Especially, those living away from me. I have friends I have maintained relationships with for years this way. We will send emails back and forth to see how things are going. How is work, the family, the weather, etc. It is so nice and heart-warming to get an email. It is nice to have electronic communication with another human being I have a close connection. Sometimes it takes time to type up the message, run spell check and read over for clarity. But it is well worth it because it is going to someone who is important in my life-my friend.

There are many other ways to stay connected to friends that I didn’t share. Text messages, social media, Zoom video calls, and even letters and greeting cards. But whatever method you use, I urge you to stay close.

My Musings on Being Heumann

Wall of Book Shelves

The ADA and Disability Activism

Today in the disability community, we recognize the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In honor of this landmark civil rights legislation, I read an audiobook “Being Heumann: An Unrepented Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” by Judie Heumann. She is a disability advocate and her actions played a vital role in the passing of this law. You might have heard of her more recently as she was featured in the 2021 Oscar nominated documentary Crip Camp that aired on Netflix. However, Judie is known much more than her role in a film. Penguin Random House summarized her story best, “One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance and inclusion in society.”

Being Heumann Overview

Judie starts her story at infancy where she describes being paralyzed from polio at eighteen months and how her struggles for equality began early. She was labeled as a “fire hazard “because of her wheelchair as she fought to attend grade school. Her battles with the school system continued when she won a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, where her actions set an example that ultimately improved rights for disabled people.

She continued to be a role model of activism and self-determination when she rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a prominent leader of the Section 504 Sit-In. It was the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Judie and a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies were able to successfully pressure the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled people’s rights, igniting a national movement and leading to the creation of the ADA.

Different Backgrounds but Many parallels

I left encouraged after reading this book about Judie’s life. Although I didn’t become disabled as a child, am not Jewish or from the north and our disabilities are different, I did see parallels. I have worked several years at an independent living center. I have dealt with the struggles for inclusion and acceptance. I have felt shame or confusion when someone calls out my disability or ask intrusive questions. I have had struggles with accessing the basic things I need to live and work.

Fine Line of inclusion and Exclusion

I understood her point about walking that fine line of inclusion and exclusion. Judie shared an example of this when at church her mother didn’t want the pastor to carry her up the stairs to participate in the activities with the other children. Her mother thought it was too much and it would be a burden even though the pastor was okay with it. I could relate with this situation so strongly. It is part of the stress of my disabled life and not wanting to be a burden. It is about picking and choosing your battles. It is about not wanting to wear out your welcome. If I ask to many times, people will get tired and annoyed so I pull back and either don’t ask much or don’t ask at all, neglecting my needs in the process. It is also being in that vulnerable and precarious position of depending on people to be nice. If a person is nice about it then I feel okay to ask and move forward; if I sense some resistance then I pull back and don’t ask.

Focus on the Barrier Not the Disabled

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer
https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-sweater-wearing-black-framed-eyeglasses-sitting-on-wheelchair-4063789/

One of the things I have learned about being a disability advocate and Judie also brings up in her book is the mindset we must have for the world to change. When she was pushing for Section 504 she and other activists had to help people understand it is not because you can’t walk that you can’t get into the building rather the building is not accessible. Changing the mindset and putting it on the barrier and not on the disabled person is the way of creating the change. For example, I wrote in a post about applying for jobs online and inaccessible sites. The answer is not for me to regain my sight or get a sighted person to help but to fix or create accessible websites that work with my screen reader.

Feelings of Being Ignored

Judie said when people ignore you, it is an intentional display of power. They act like you don’t exist and do it because they can. They believe that nothing will happen to them Ignoring people silences them. It avoids resolution or compromise. It opens feelings of unworthiness because it makes you feel that you deserve this treatment in the first place. In the end you are forced to choose whether to make a fuss or accept the silent treatment. If you stand up for yourself then you are viewed as aggressive because you break the norms of being nice and polite, which can make you feel worse.

OMG! When Judie said this, I was thunderstruck! What she said was so true and powerful. So many times, I have felt a loss of power as a Black disabled woman when I have been ignored by someone who didn’t want to deal with me. There would be times when I just didn’t have the energy or the resources to fight back. There have been times when I would regroup and try another approach but in the end being ignored really sucked! I would have to figure out other ways to reclaim my power and self-confidence.

It’s About Human Rights

Judie notes that people need to understand that Section 504 and the ADA was about civil and human rights for the disabled. Many people understand the fight for racial equality, or gender equality but when it comes to disability people don’t connect the dots. Many times, I have had to say substitute one of the other minority groups and replace with the word disability.  Then people began to understand the struggle for equality. Judie said the basic logic in society is that people with disabilities won’t benefit as much from X, or Y or Z as much as people without disabilities. Therefore, X or Y or Z is not essential. They should accept the idea of going without. The same goes for transportation and employment. But what kind of logic is that really? The underlined assumption is that people with disabilities have less potential to learn and contribute. That we are less capable and not equal.  Judie says the problem with this logic is that disability is part of the human condition. As we live longer more people will become disabled. What we should do is accept it, plan for it and build our society around it. Disability is coming whether we want it to or not. I totally agree and tell my temporary abled body friends this all the time.

I will end this blog on this profound point Judie made. We underappreciate our human rights in America. You won’t realize their importance until they are gone. These are such powerful words. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant because our rights are precious. We can lose them. They can be taken away at any time.