Tag Archives: Adaptive Technology

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

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

1. Paying bills  and managing finances

Empish Writing a Check

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

2. All kinds of shopping

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

3. Entertainment like watching movies

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

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

4. online learning

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

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

5. communication like zoom videoconferencing and web chats

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

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

6. Sending and receiving emails

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

7. Read news  stories, papers, magazines and journals

Stack of Newspapers

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

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

8. social media interaction

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

9. Job searching

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

Those of you who spend time surfing the web know full well advancements in computer technology have made it easier and better to search for employment online. As a job seeker, we no longer must go in person and fill out a paper application or physically fax a resume and cover letter. Today we can independently and on our own time go online to search for jobs.

With my screen reader, I can upload my resume and cover letter to a prospective employer’s website. Or I can create a username and password to log in to generate an online profile. Or I can fill out an electronic application and search for a job using an online recruiting job board. All these advancements are awesome because as a blind person I can apply for jobs from the convenience and comfort of my home.

10. research   and find info

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

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

How Online Learning is Advancing My Career

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Use Online Learning to Help Career

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

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

Online Learning Day

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

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

Enhance My Job Searching

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

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

Extensive  Online Learning

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

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

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

Sharpen My Writing and Blogging Skills

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

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

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

Improving Telemedicine for People with Disabilities

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

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

Telemedicine Increasing Among the Disabled

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

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

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

How is telemedicine helping the disabled population?

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

How can telemedicine be improved?

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

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

What additional ways can telemedicine be improved?

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

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

Do you use telemedicine?

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

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

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

Problems Applying for Jobs Online Still Exist

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

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

Help is on the Way

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

AIRA and CAPTCHA screens

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

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

AIRA and Job Assessments

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

Use AIRA After Hiring

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

AIRA Provides Me relief

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

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.

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.

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 Challenges Applying for Jobs Online

Empish Working in Home Office

Those of you who spend time surfing the web know full well advancements in computer technology have made it easier and better to search for employment online. As a job seeker, we no longer must go in person and fill out a paper application or physically fax a resume and cover letter. Today we can independently and on our own time go online to search for jobs.

With my screen reader, I can upload my resume and cover letter to a prospective employer’s website. Or I can create a username and password to log in to generate an online profile. Or I can fill out an electronic application and search for a job using an online recruiting job board. All these advancements are awesome because as a blind person I can apply for jobs from the convenience and comfort of my home. Yet, I have face challenges because these sites are not always accessible hindering me from applying for positions. Additionally, many employers miss out on qualified, talented applicants, like me, because they create external barriers with inaccessible online application tools.

This is why I was excited to share my job searching challenges with Inclusively, a professional network connecting candidates with disabilities, mental health conditions and chronic illnesses to jobs and inclusive employers. I gave several examples of how I struggled with inaccessible form fields, log in screens and online applications. Read all the details and learn more about Inclusively’s employment platform here.

My Favorite Podcast App Inducted into the AppleVIS iOS Hall of Fame

Empish using iPhone

Besides reading audio books and watching audio described movies I absolutely love listening to a good podcast. I got into them several years ago as a way to access news and entertainment on my long commutes to work. Now that I work from home delving into a rich podcast daily is still on my agenda. My   interest is vast. I listen to podcasts on news, technology, health and fitness, history; and arts and culture.

Overcast Inducted Into Hall of Fame

In order to really listen to all these great episodes, I needed a great app. One that is fully accessible and easy to use with a simple design. The one that fits the bill for me has been Overcast hands down. AppleVIS thought the same when they inducted them into their iOS Hall of Fame recently. AppleVIS created the iOS Hall of Fame in 2011 as an acknowledgement of the hard work that app developers put into making their apps fully accessible to Voiceover users.

Overcast Features

Overcast has some excellent features and benefits. Many of them I use often which AppleVIS highlighted on their site:

1.  Subscribe to a podcast, or just add an episode: try new shows without committing. I really like this feature because new podcasts come out all the time it seems. I can listen to an episode and determine if it is worth my wild or not without a full subscription.

2.  Search and browse for new podcasts, plus get personalized recommendations. Searching is easy breezy on Overcast. I can just dictate the name of the show and if it is available it will pop up in the results. Additionally, Overcast will let me know if shows are active or not which I really like. That way I know if I should subscribe or not.

3.  Voice Boost makes every podcast the same volume with a broadcast-quality remastering engine. Since I listen to so many podcasts each one is produced a little differently and the audio quality can be different as well. But this feature smooths things out a bit so there are not huge variations in sound quality.

4.  Download podcasts for playing anytime, even offline. Since the pandemic I have notice the WIFI in my area to be spotty at times. But I can still access my podcast regardless.

Additional Features

Other features I don’t use much but AppleVIS spotlighted are:

1.  Smart Speed saves time without distorting the audio or sounding unnatural.

2.  Create custom Playlists with smart filters and per-podcast priorities, and rearrange the list whenever you want.

3.  Receive optional notifications when new episodes arrive.

4.  Sleep timer automatically stops playback after any time interval you set.

5.  Apple Watch app with standalone playback and cellular streaming.

6.  CarPlay support.

Uncomplicated and Fully Accessible

AS long as podcasts are around, and I don’t see them going anywhere for a long time, Overcast will be my app of choice. I find it so simple to use and uncomplicated. When I am listening to a podcast, I don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring things out. I want to spend more time listening to the podcast itself than maneuvering around the app. I also appreciate their commitment to full accessibility to the blind community. Too many times I have downloaded apps from the App Store only to find they are partly accessible, like my bank app, or not accessible at all. I am left struggling and not sure how to proceed forward with what I need to do. Sometimes reaching out to the developer has been fruitful but sometimes it has not. So, thanks Overcast for creating an app that I can independently use. Your induction in the AppleVIS iOS Hall of Fame is well deserved.

Three Inventions for the Blind that Changed My Life

National Inventors Month

Empish Writing a Check

After I went blind some 20 years ago, I needed tools to adjust to my new life. I knew that as a blind person I wasn’t going to be very successful without some kind of accommodation or modification to the way I was living and moving in the world. May is National Inventors Month and I am very appreciative of the things that were created to not only help me regain independence but have a fuller and richer life. For example, I love my white cane for traveling. My metal guides for signing documents and writing checks. My talking and braille watches and clocks for time management. However, the three inventions that changed my life the most are talking books, screen readers and braille. I use these tools daily and wouldn’t know how to function without them.

Invention of the Talking Book

Thomas Edison originally wanted his Phonograph to be a talking book device for the blind. So, in 1877, he applied for a patent. One of the ten potential uses he listed was “phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” Interestingly, this item was second in his list of ten; “reproduction of music” was fourth. It would take over 50 years before the Phonograph could be used for   talking books. This was due to technology and economic challenges. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Later, Learning Ally and the American Printing House for the Blind also produced talking books. The first test recordings, in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller’s Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Since those early days of vinyl records, talking books have evolved. First with cassette tapes in the 1960s and 1970s. Then compact disks in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it is digital downloads from a computer. The options of reading materials have also expanded with a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, foreign languages and other selections to choose from. Additionally, the NLS National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled has become the dominant source for free reading materials. Today, audio books have gathered universal mass appeal with both sighted and blind people enjoying them. This is so true because I participate in two book discussion groups with sighted peers. Some of them enjoy reading books in audio verses print. I remember when I first joined the talking book library it kept my love of reading going. The ability to access books in audio format has kept the world accessible to me. I have been able to learn, grow and be entertained because I can read books in this format.

Invention of the Screen reader

In 1986 Jim Thatcher, IBM Researcher and Accessibility Pioneer, created the first screen reader at IBM. It was called the IBM Screen Reader for DOS. At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. Since it was created for DOS, which is a text-based Desktop Operating System he later created a Screen Reader 2. This one would be used for graphical interface PCs such as Windows 95 and IBM OS/2.

IBM wasn’t the only company developing screen readers. Freedom scientific produced JAWS, currently the world’s most popular screen reader. It was developed first for DOS and then Windows. I have been using JAWS since 1998 or so and it has revolutionized my life. First, it has allowed me to keep working. Second, it has allowed me to access personal information to maintain my quality of life. I can handle my finances, do internet searches, send emails, and even write this blog post.

Empish Using an iPhone

in 2009, Apple announced a new feature called VoiceOver making their products more accessible to people with visual impairments using the touch interface of the iPhone beginning with the iPhone 3GS. VoiceOver is the screen reader built into Apple operating systems including macOS, iOS/iPadOS, and WatchOS. Initially I was not on board with the iPhone. It took some time because of its flat surface yet eventually I bit the apple. Now I use my iPhone daily and listen to the AppleVIS podcast to keep up with the latest trends.

Invention of Braille

Empish Reading Braille

Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code is a series of raised dots on paper. The braille code is made up of letters, numbers and symbols. It is not another language. The alphabet is based on a cell that is composed of 6 or 8 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the dots that are contained in the cell. Braille is usually found in a large book format on doubled sided paper to maximize space and can be read for math, science and music.

Born in 1809, Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. When it was apparent that he could not be educated by just listening, his family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, as a teenager Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution.  Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system is used all over the world.

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

I use braille mostly to read labels created with my braille Dymo label machine. These labels are great for all kinds of things like my spices, file folders in my home office, music CDs, and even lipstick tubes. I also read braille on calendars, greeting cards and bathroom signs. Got to know which door is the lady’s room, you know!

Empish Reading Braill Bathroom Sign

Without these inventions I am not sure what my life would be or look like. I actually shutter at the thought. I am grateful for the people who designed and created these devices to help me have a better life as a blind person.