Tag Archives: accessibility

What Does a Shark, ABC and Audio Description Have in Common?

Empish Using Audio Described Headset

Did my title grab your attention? I sure hope so. Well, now that you are here reading my blog post let me explain what a shark, ABC and audio description have in common.

The Shark Tank

I am a huge, huge. Let me say it one more time. Huge fan of The Shark Tank. This one-hour show allows Entrepreneurs to pitch their small businesses to investors called sharks. The reason I am such a fan is I love the creativity and originality that is displayed on the show. There are such cool consumer products and all types of businesses. The ingenuity showcased is amazing! I also love the negotiating strategy used with the investors. They discuss why their business is worth what it is while the investors explain why they will give the money or not. Sometimes they haggle back and forth even getting a little heated but that is all a part of the show.

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

I tune in every Friday night at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. On what station? You guessed it. On ABC. Do not call me. Do not text me. Do not ring my doorbell. Do not email me. You will be ignored. Because I am glued to the TV watching my Shark Tank. ABC has been running The Shark Tank for about 11 seasons and I have been watching it faithfully for several years now.

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

Now you understand my love of Shar Tank and watching it on ABC. Now let me explain the audio description part and how that connects. Audio description provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in a TV program or film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. As of July 1, 2018, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Discovery, HGTV, History, TBS, and USA are each required to provide 87.5 hours of audio-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter. As part of those hours, ABC selected The Shar Tank as one of their shows to provide audio description. WhooHoo! So, when I first heard about this a couple of years ago, I was very excited and it just enhanced my viewing pleasure. Now, I am really, really ignoring you on Friday night! When the show first comes on a voice is describing the shark swimming. I would get descriptions of the people coming in to the tank like what they look like, their dress, hair and eye color. Facial expressions would also be described and there is a lot of that going on in the tank as the entrepreneurs react to the investors. Eyes rolling, eyebrows furring, mouth dropping, grim looks or smiling faces. Sometimes if they are doing a demonstration as part of their pitch that would be described as well. Then the money and negotiation amounts would also be described.

Well, several months ago my description fell off, got disconnected or something. Not sure what happen but because I am a huge Shark Tank fan I still kept watching. I knew in the back of my mind I needed to get the description fix. I reached out to my local ABC affiliate, WSB-Atlanta, via email. I got a reply that my concern was being sent over to one of the engineers to investigate. I had to reach out to the close captioning contact for the deaf because there is no direct contact for the blind. This is an issue we talk about in the blind community all the time.  But typically, the close captioning departments are familiar enough and can assist. In my case, I didn’t hear back. So, I tried again. Still no response. I called and left a message with no reply. So, a friend suggested to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that did the job.  I got a call from the chief engineer and we began to work on the problem.  Over several phone and email conversations it was determined that the audio description signal was not reaching my TV for ABC. I was getting it for all my other stations like NBC, CBS and FOX meaning that it is working properly on my end. I got a sighted friend to come over twice to work with the engineer via phone. But as of this writing we have not found a solution yet. It seems that my TV has a setting separately for each station. Although we set it up for audio description it is still not working.  The engineer and I are persevering and are hopeful that we will come to a resolution soon. But in the meantime, what am I going to do on Friday nights? You guessed it. Keep watching my Shark Tank!

The Audio Description Challenge

Here’s another challenge with audio description but this one is a cool and fun one I think you will enjoy. One of my fellow visually impaired blogging friends, Steph McCoy, loves audio description too. So much so, she helped launch Audio Description Awareness Day last year. She is promoting a challenge at her blog,  Bold Blind Beauty. Here are the details:  On April 16 2021 Bold Blind Beauty presents the Second Annual Audio Description Awareness Day and with it, kicks off the Audio Description Awareness Challenge, hashtag TADAChallenge. Here’s how it goes: Step one, find a friend to watch a TV episode or movie of your choice with audio description. Step two. At the end of the month, post your experience on social media and use the hashtag TADAChallenge which stands for The Audio Description Awareness Challenge.

Warning! A Job Recruiter Tried to Scam Me on LinkedIn

Inside a sign with a white background and red border are The words "SCAM ALERT" in bold red letters.
SCAM ALERT red Rubber Stamp over a white background.

Received Unsolicited Email From Recruiter

Yes, you read it correct. I almost got scammed on LinkedIn by a job recruiter.  In January I got an unsolicited email from a recruiter stating she had viewed my profile and I was a “great fit for an amazing opportunity.” She went on to say that they were looking for a person to fill a remote, work from home position as an administrative assistant.  If I was interested all I had to do is reply and send my resume. After reading this initial email nothing stood out to me that was off. But before replying I did go on LinkedIn and look at her profile and from what I could gather it looked legit. So, I did reply and send my resume.

She responded back with more details about the position, including the start date, that it was part-time and a detailed list of work duties. She also indicated no interview was required and gave the weekly salary amount. Since this was a remote virtual assistant position, she talked about the software program I would use and that training would be provided. She told me that if I was still interested to please send an acceptance letter.

Expressed Concerns About Accessibility

I replied with interest but with a concern. I disclosed my disability and said I needed to talk with the technology department to be sure that the virtual software I would be using would be accessible with my screen reader. In her reply she didn’t address this but just restated I would get training. That is when my eyebrow began to raise. I have been blind for about 20 years using adaptive technology the entire time. Meaning, if a computer software program doesn’t work with my screen reader then I can’t use that software. It is not something to take lightly or dismiss. Those of us in the blind community deal with this all the time. We come across inaccessible websites, apps and computer programs. There are work arounds but we have to talk about it and figure things out. Yet I didn’t pick that up from the recruiter. I got the impression she just wanted to move forward.

She sent me an email giving more details about testing and equipment for the job. This is when the red flag was raised and I knew clearly this was a scam. In the message she asked me for my mailing address so a nearly $3,000 check could be sent to me. This check was to cover the purchase of my equipment and first week’s pay. I had heard about scams like this from listening to the Clark Howard Show, a local consumer advocate.  I politely responded telling her I would have to decline the offer because I couldn’t get a clear answer on the accessibility of the software. I also went back to LinkedIn and her profile was mysteriously gone.

Reporting the Job Scam

Next, I went to LinkedIn to find a way to report the scam and had a hard time finding the info. Under the Help section, I came across this great article written by Biron Clark on how to spot and avoid job scams. After reading it I was looking for some kind of “report a scam” type button. I was disappointed that LinkedIn didn’t have it right there with the article. After discussing this issue with a friend, she helped me find the form to report the scam but it was in a location I wouldn’t have ever thought to look.  It was in the “safety center.” I filled out the form and a representative contacted me rather quickly asking for more details, which I supplied. But once I asked for the findings and resolution, I was told that due to privacy I wouldn’t be allowed to know. This of course was disappointing but there was not much I could do about it. I left feeling a little taken advantage of and deflated. So, I decided to write this post and share with you as a warning and to help me reclaim some of my power.

As I started researching to write this post, I came across lots of articles on line about this topic. There were even ones specifically about job scams on LinkedIn. Apparently, this is a hot button issue especially with the coronavirus causing people to look for jobs and work remotely.  Since I was already working from home beforehand, I was not paying close attention to all that was happening.  But now I am! There is all kinds of tips and tricks on how to avoid job scams. So, I encourage you to read up on this so you can be safe. When I think of a scam it is usually financial, some kind of email or someone trying to hack into my computer. Or some phone scam like the IRS or Social Security calling. I had not considered job scams like a recruiter reaching out to me about a job that didn’t exist and for that matter neither did they.

Let’s discuss job scams. Have you ever delt with a job scam? If so, how did you handle it? Waht advice would you give to others to avoid  scams like these?

Organizing Your Home Office in Four Manageable Steps

One thing that people who know me say all the time is, “Empish, you are so organized!” Some say it with awe. Others with annoyance, envy or pure astonishment. But regardless of the reaction I know the statement holds true. See, I was raised by parents that believed everything had a place and that when you finished using something you put it back were you found it. They also believed in cleaning up after yourself because there were no maids in the house. So, along with them instilling those principles and my Type A personality you can better understand why I am the organized person I am today. This is why I feel pretty confident telling you in this blog post how to be organized too. I also thought it was perfect timing to bring up the topic because today is Organize Your Home Office Day.

More and more people are working from home especially since COVID-19 struck. Therefore having a clean and clutter-free work space or office is critical to your productivity. If you got papers, trash, empty food containers and stuff all over the place it will make it hard for you to get any meaningful work accomplish. If your files are disorganized you will waste precious time hunting for important documents when it is time to look causing stress and frustration. Now who wants any of that? So, let me help you out a little bit. I got four manageable steps to whip your home office into tip top shape. By the time you are done applying these steps your office space will be nice and clean. You will be happier and who knows, you might even want to get some more work done.

Four Manageable Steps to Organize Your Home Office

Okay, so here is step #1. Clean off your work desk. Organize your work station. That means any papers, files, books, mail, etc. on your desk and put them in their proper place. Get a desk caddy for your pens, tape, stapler, and other office supplies if you don’t already have one. Wipe and dust off your desk and computer monitor. Also, clean your keyboard and/or mouse because they can hold germs. I have found it is good to do that from time to time because our fingers touch so many things during the day.

A standard home office file cabinet with two drawers. The top drawer is partially open to show files inside.

Next, move to your file cabinet. I have gotten in the habit of purging my paper files about once a year. I try and do it around the beginning of the year or tax time. I take out dated documents and papers I don’t need anymore. I also check my print and braille labels to see if they need a refresh because they become worn over time.

Something that I have been slowly doing over the years is migrating my paper to electronic. For example, bank and credit card statements, medical records, home repair invoices, I do electronically now to reduce my paper footprint. I also have found it a better approach since I am blind, I can access those documents with my screen reader verses trying to get a sighted person to read pieces of paper for me. 

A paper shredder and a clear bin with paper being shredded.

Once I gather all the old paper documents the third thing, I do is take them to my shredder. I invested in a little shredder to protect my identity when it comes to documents that have sensitive info like my birthday, SSA number or account numbers. I also shred any medical documents. Keep in mind, if you work from home like I do a shredder could be a tax write off. Just saying Because tax season is here.

The last thing to get organize is go through your electronic files and press that delete button. That could be Word documents, PDF files, old emails, Excel spreadsheets, etc. If you are not using these files anymore. Or like me can’t remember why you have it in the first place, then it is time to let it go. electronic clutter can be just as burdensome as physical. Mark my words. I have spent time deleting old computer files and felt so much better afterward. It was freeing in a way that I didn’t even realize until I actually did it.

Share Your  Home Office Organizing Tips

So, there you have it. My four manageable ways to get your home office organized. Yes, I told you I would help you out.  Even this blog post is clear, concise and clutter free in the approach. But I am always learning and open to suggestions. Are there other steps you know to get your office cleaned up and organized? Share them with me in the comments section.

Adding Some Spice to My Life with a Little Braille

A white plastic two-level spice rack with a variety of spices and containers.

January is Braille Literacy Month

I would be remiss to let this month go by and not talk about braille. Although I use it sparingly it is a part of my everyday life and this month is Braille Literacy Month. This is also the birthday month of its inventor, Louis Braille. In my very first post on Triple E I shared about Braille, how he created the code and how I use it daily. I won’t rehash it here but feel free to click on the link and read it.

Back in December or maybe November I ordered a set of no-salt spices from Amazon. I was getting bored with the three options I was cooking with:  black pepper, kosher salt and paprika. Sometimes I would include other seasonings but I needed to spice up my life a bit. So, I ordered this set of 24 spices and got excited about the possibilities. I know, 24 seems like a lot to get started but I can be ambitious and adventurous when I want. Once they came in the mail I had to sit and figure out how in the world I was going to keep track of all of them. I had a lot of spices to choose from and I didn’t want to make mistakes and pick up the wrong one to season my food.  I mean, adding extra black pepper is one thing, but adding extra ground cinnamon or cumin is totally another. Sometimes I would use my sense of smell to determine the differences like sniffing garlic or chili powder. But that is not always reliable especially if I am working with spices I am not accustom to using on a regular basis. This led me to an idea! I decided to use my little braille skills to solve the identification problem.

Creating Braille Labels and Spice List

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

First, I pulled out my brand-new handy dandy braille label gun. I bought that too in December and boy did I need a new one! The old one had problems releasing the Dymo tape, the printed alphabetic numbers and letters were rubbed off and the thing was just old as dirt. Second, I got a sighted friend to come over and help me out. The one cool thing about using a braille label gun is that a blind or sighted person can use it. It has braille and printed numbers and letters on the dial. We tagged teamed the project. We created the spice list in alphabetical order to make things easy. She created labels of 1-24 and I typed up a printed list on my laptop computer. She would tell me the name of each spice and I would type it on the list. Then I would give her the assigned number and she would create the braille label.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Need Additional Info on Unfamiliar Spices

photo of a variety of spices displayed in tubs on a shelf in a shop

Now my spices are ready to go. Each one has a braille number that corresponds to my electronic printed list that I have stored on Dropbox. Yet I still gotta little more work to do. As I mentioned I bought these spices to attempt something new and there are definitely some I haven’t tried or even heard of. “Anyone know how to cook with ground turmeric?”  “Has anyone heard of Provencal aromatics or seafood aromatics?” If you are scratching your head or furrowing your eyebrow, join the club because I am right there with you. This means back to my computer to do some research. Next, I will be going online and searching around the internet for info on the ones that are unfamiliar and learning how to cook with them. Watch me learn and get ready to burn in the kitchen! Intimidation is not in my vocabulary and I am up for the challenge. I am excited about this new phase; and how using a little braille has added some spice to my life.

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

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

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

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

Voting Booth Logo. An unfurled American flag above the word VOTE in blue lettering.

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

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

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

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

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

Year 2020 is a Wrap!

Fireworks Display

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

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

Empish and the Author, Noel Holston at Library Book Signing

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

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

 

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

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

Empish Working in Home Office

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

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

Empish Using an iPhone

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

Well, I don’t have to totally rely on any of those things anymore. I can listen on my iPhone to a weekly podcast called Talk Description to Me. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images, and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Their dialogue is lively, witty, colorful and enjoyable. J.J. is a sighted man and a professional audio describer while Christine is female, blind and curious about all-thins visual.

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

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

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

Empish Holding Replica of the Capitol and Surrounding Buildings

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

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

I Voted Early in Person for the 2020 Presidential Election

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

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

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

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

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

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

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

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

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

picture of a container of movie popcorn in a colorful cardboard container

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

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

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

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

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

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

Blindness and Disability are Popular Themes for October

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

Man Getting an Eye Exam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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