Tag Archives: Adaptive Technology

People Watching Movies at Home

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.

I’ve Become My Own Tech Support When Working From Home

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Although I got a degree in journalism sometimes, I wish I had also gotten one in computer and informational science because I have had to become my own tech support over the years. This is partly due to my disability and using a screen reader on my computer. I have had to learn not only how it works but how it relates to the software and hardware that I use it on. I have had to learn how important it is to keep everything current and updated because that affects how smoothly things work. I have also had to learn how to troubleshoot because technology is not perfect and things happen. Initially there were few people I could reach out to for assistance. When I would call tech support and say I was blind and used a screen reader, I would get this sense of their eyes glazing over and there would be silence on the phone or sometimes it would go dead. People just didn’t know how to assist a blind person with computer problems. But today things have changed and I have a lot more tools available for me.

Staying Current with My Technology

The first thing I have learned about being my own tech support is keeping my hardware and software current and up-to-date. This can be challenging because of the cost. Yet I try and work into my budget and write it off my taxes as a work expense. When working from home it is essential for me to keep my computer, printer, smartphone and other devices running  flawlessly. When they are not it impacts my earning potential. Recently I had to purchase anew headset and computer monitor with a webcam for Zoom videoconferencing. I am doing a lot more meetings, webinars and conferences this way and needed to upgrade my equipment. Also, I purchased a mechanical keyboard with spring-type keys. This particular keyboard is a better fit for writers and heavy keyboard users.

I am not a tech geek but I do try and keep up with industry news by accessing Technology blogs, newsletters and podcasts.  This information is from a consumer angle and helps me learn about market and industry trends and available software training. For example, I have an iPhone and iOS 14 launched recently so I am downloading that and learning about all the new features through the AppleVIS podcast.

Empish using iPhone

Before Calling Tech Support

Before calling tech support I do some troubleshooting. I check that all wires, cords and plugs are securely in place. If it is software, I will check for the latest update. Sometimes doing a quick update to the latest version can solve a glitch. Other things I do are to reboot my computer and/or shutdown the running program. If it is my smartphone, I have occasionally turned it off to refresh it.

Using an app called Be My Eyes is a key strategy when being my own tech support. Through this app I can call up a sighted volunteer for free who accesses my camera and mike. I have them look at my computer monitor when my screen reader is not speaking and I need to figure out what is happening on the screen. Or when I am working on a quirky website that might not be accessible. They have really come in handy when replacing ink and paper in my printer. My printer has several color cartridges and they have helped me to decipher the colors and place them in the proper location.

Calling Tech Support

Now, when I call tech support, I know the type of operating system, version of software and assistive technology I am using. These three pieces of info are critical when trying to troubleshoot a problem. I usually lead the conversation this way and then move into my problem or question. I let tech support know what troubleshooting techniques I have already tried and if they worked or not. I call tech support on my landline phone and put them on speaker. This way I am hands free and they can listen to my screen reader keeping both hands on the keyboard. Depending on the situation, I will give tech support remote access to my computer. We can work on the problem together and they can see more clearly the issue and solve it quickly. The companies I call have disability customer service departments or have become more familiar with interacting with disabled customers. So, when I call with challenges, I have a much better response in getting the help I want. No more eyes glazed over or dial tones!

If worse comes to worse and all my methods don’t cure my computer blues, I do have a professional tech support person available. I learned years ago to build relationships with people who work in the industry. So, I have a tech guy that makes home visits and will come and work on major issues. He has helped me install a whole new computer system, set up my printer and assisted when my computer crashed.

Combining all of these things have helped me to be successful at being my own tech support. As a person who works from home problem solving and troubleshooting are skills sets, I have had to acquire to move my career  and life forward. So, if you are working from home how do you do tech support? What ways do you troubleshoot computer issues when they come up?

Census 2020

Thirty Days to Census 2020 Deadline

If you haven’t heard the news by now, the US Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on September  30, a month earlier than previously announced. So that means if you haven’t filled out your form time is ticking and the opportunity to be counted is quickly closing. I completed my census back in March and found the experience fairly easy, stress-free and very accessible so much so I am sharing my experience with you. If you have not filled out your census form, I encourage you to do so in the next 30 days.

2020 Census is Totally Accessible

I found the 2020 Census totally accessible. In the past I would have to get a sighted person to read the questions and fill out the forms for me; but this time around I was able to handle the whole process independently. Historically people with disabilities have been under represented and so this year strong efforts are being made to make the census inclusive and accessible to everyone. A downloadable and printable Census Bureau fact sheet on accessibility is available to learn more about these efforts.

Once I got my census documents in the mail, I went on line to the census website. I use a screen reader called JAWS which stands for Job Access with Speech. This screen reader allows me to access the Windows operating system such as Word, Excel and Outlook. I can also access things like PDF files and get online with Google. I am even able to write this blog and manage this website in WordPress! It has allowed me to work, live and play as a blind person.

But back to the census. So, I went to the site and logged in with my census ID number. There was a series of questions I had to answer and it took me about 15-20 minutes or so. At the end they had the option to review your answers before submission. Strangely, for some reason that screen didn’t pop up and I could only press the submission button. Next, I got a confirmation screen with a confirmation number and the option to save and print; which I did. I called the census toll free number to alert them to the small hiccup I had with the verification screen and was told that others had had the same problem. They apologized and said they were working on that issue. Aside from that small glitch I found completing the 2020 census to be totally accessible. Additionally, I could have opted to call verses doing the census online. Now, that I am done I want to encourage you to do the same. If you haven’t already here are some reasons why.

Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities annually. That’s billions with a B! The results also determine how many seats in Congress each state receives. Community leaders and elected officials rely on accurate census data to make funding decisions about education, senior citizen and veteran supports, along with other community allocations. Therefore, it is important to have accurate numbers. Everyone must be counted including people with disabilities! The Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) says nearly 1 in 4    people in the United States has a disability with nearly 5% having a visual impairment. This means that having some kind of a disability impacts all of us.

Census data plays a vital role in people’s everyday life Even though the census comes around once a decade. Specifically, census data determines allocations for real-life necessities like health care, public transportation, special education grants, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits. In addition, the census helps advocates, community leaders and politicians address inequalities in housing, health care, employment and education.

Valid census data also helps ensure fair voting representation and enforcement of voting rights laws. Federal tax dollars cannot be distributed fairly and effectively without an accurate accounting of the population.

Lastly, when completing your census form you can feel confident that your information will be private. Your answers are kept anonymous. They are used only to produce statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. The law ensures that your private information is never published and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Additionally, no identifiable information about you, your home or business, even to law enforcement agencies can be released.

So, when you get your census form complete it. Go online, call the toll-free number (1-844-330-2020) or get a sighted person to assist you. This year the 2020 census is accessible so there is no excuse to not do your part and be counted.

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Every Day is Book Lover’s Day for Me

Today is National Book Lover’s Day but every day is book lover’s day in my world. If you have been reading my blog or know me personally you know full well how much I enjoy reading and I couldn’t let this day pass without saying something, right? Of course not. And it being the weekend makes it even sweeter because I can truly relax and get into a good book or two. Honestly, I usually am reading at least one or two at the same time. One on my NLS talking book player and the other on my iPhone.

I have loved reading books since I was a child. My enjoyment began with my parents reading to me bedtime stories from the Golden Book series, which were short stories printed in a hard-bound book with gold trim on the binding. During my middle school years, it was Classics by Charles Dickens and contemporary fiction by Judy Blume. Once in high school and college I was introduced to African-American novels by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. Even after losing my vision I didn’t quit reading. I did try reading braille for a while but found the process stressful and laborious. So, I stopped with just the rudimentary skills learning my numbers and letters. Today I dig into a good read in audio format.

The ability to escape to another place or time, learn something new or improve my life comes from reading books. Another benefit is the soothing effect and stress relief I gain from reading. Life can get busy and there is lots to do and many things to distract but sitting still and reading a good book slows me down, gives me some peace and helps me to be calm. I encourage you reading this blog to take time today and every day to read a book.

Empish Using an iPhone

AppleVis is My Go-To Resource for the iPhone

I have been an iPhone user for the past 6 years. And to tell you the truth, I came into it kicking and screaming! Back in the day I used either an accessible cell phone specifically for the blind or an old fashion flip phone. Remember those? I had always known about iPhones and how great  and accessible they were but was uninterested. I had no use for the fancy bells and whistles which are the norm today like downloading books, reading financial info, listening to music or playing video games. I just wanted to make a simple phone call and hang up. I finally bit the apple when Uber and Lyft came to town and I was desperate for alternative transportation. That sold the deal for me!

Today, I use my iPhone for a myriad of tasks that are too numerous to list in this blog post. this transformation was a slow but steady process and I got lots of help from friends that used an iPhone. However, when they were not available, I sought assistance from AppleVis, which recently celebrated a ten year anniversary launching a redesign and upgrade. According to their website, appleVis is a community powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple’s range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. AppleVis has been my go to resource for their app directory, podcast and monthly newsletter.

Empish Holding Flip Phone

1.  App Directory-The app directory was my first interaction with AppleVis. This section of the website gives suggestions of accessible apps that work well with Apple products. You can search by name or category. When you search for the app there is a nice review that gives its functionality, its accessibility, price, developer info, etc. This section is helpful when trying to figure out not only whether I want to spend the money but also my time and energy because the work has already been done. Reading the info in the directory has helped me to make better overall decisions about app purchases.

2.  AppleVis Podcast-This is the place where I interact with AppleVis the most. I am a podcast lover! Every day I am listening to some kind of podcast and AppleVis is on the list. Usually they have great ones on how to do a particular function on my iPhone. For example, I have learned how to check my battery health, how to delete Siri history, how to send robocalls to voice mail, and change phone contact labels. All of these tasks and more help me use my phone better and have given me confidence in using this technology.

3.  Monthly Newsletter-I enjoy reading because it is chalked full of information. Additionally, The format and layout make it easy to navigate with my screen reader. I can move from section to section with little problem. I also like the app update section for the latest news. I can check this section for apps that I personally use to see if updates or bug fixes have been made. This section lists new apps to checkout too.

I appreciate the team at AppleVis for all the work and effort they have put into this resource for the blind community. They have lived up to their mission of encouraging, supporting and exploring ways Apple products can offer opportunities to the visually impaired for personal enrichment, independence and empowerment.

ADA 30th Anniversary Logo

Four Reasons I’m Thankful for the ADA

July 26th will mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was in 1990 when I was a freshman in college that Former President George H. W. Bush signed this powerful piece of civil rights legislation into law. On that day, with  disability advocates and policy makers present, the door was  opened wider to more opportunities and access. People with disabilities have struggled with full inclusion into mainstream society for many years and the ADA was passed to help remedy this problem. The ADA has four principals: equality of opportunity, full participation in society, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. Additionally, there are five titles:  employment, transportation, state and local government, public accommodations and telecommunications. I lost my vision many years after the ADA was passed so didn’t know much about this law or feel its full impact. It wasn’t until the late-90s when I was dealing with employment and transportation that I began to completely understand its authority and be grateful for its existence.

First Reason is Employment

When I went blind, I was young and entering the workforce. My employer was familiar with the ADA and provided work accommodations. I was given magnification devices, low vision aids and later when my vision worsen screen reading software for my computer. Since that time at every job I have received the necessary work accommodations. using these tools have not only helped me to work, but continue working, boost my self-esteem and enhance my quality of life.

Second Reason is Voting

I have been voting since I was eligible, but when I went blind the process changed. Thanks to the ADA I can now vote with accommodations. State and local governments must provide assistance to a blind person whether it is to offer an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or have an accessible voting machine. I have shared about my recent challenges voting in Georgia’s primary elections but it is because of the ADA that I can speak up and advocate for myself.

Third Reason is Website Accessibility

Since I work from home and use the internet constantly, I interact with inaccessible websites daily. Graphics with no alt text, edit boxes that don’t work, check boxes that don’t check and on and on. I also struggle with inaccessible mobile apps on my iPhone. But the ADA says that websites must be made accessible to people with visual impairments. Some folks say that the ADA does not specifically address the internet and was written prior its creation but the world wide web is considered a public accommodation and is covered by this law. A recent lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza demonstrates this point.

Fourth Reason is Entertainment

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

One of my favorite forms of entertainment is watching a movie. A fast-pace action, suspense thriller, a funny comedy, a classic animation, a gory horror or a sappy romcom—I love them all! But the funny thing is that I didn’t really get into movies until I went blind and couldn’t see the screen! Go figure?! Then I really, really didn’t get into movies until audio description became readily available. The ADA requires that movie theaters provide audio description to blind and visually impaired people so now I can watch the latest blockbuster.

If you are a person with a disability or know someone who is what ways are you thankful for the ADA? There are a lot of things we still have to work on when it comes to equal access and full inclusion. As I shared before, I still struggle daily with website accessibility and mobile apps. I also have challenges with attitudinal barriers because of the intersectionality of my disability, race and gender that I contend with often. However I celebrate the numerous achievements we have made in these past 30 years and look forward to more success.

March Trilogy Book Cover

Review of NLS Graphic Novel the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis

Editor’s note:  Civil Rights icon, Congressman John Lewis passed away on Friday, July 17th from pancreatic cancer. Many news reports, articles, blogs, podcast and conversations are happening right now about this incredible man and the major accomplishments he made to push the needle forward for equality for everyone. As a resident of Atlanta, I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak on more than one occasion at disability and/or social justice events. A couple of years ago I wrote a book review for VisionAware on his graphic novel titled The March Trilogy.  In celebration of his life I am reprinting it here.

The March Trilogy as a Graphic Novel

I don’t typically read graphic novels, as a matter of fact this book that I am reviewing is my very first one. For those that are not familiar a graphic novel is a written story presented with cartoon-type drawings in a panel format. They are similar to a comic book but much longer and with more text. I have been told they are very popular and many people love to read them.  Well, the Library of Congress/NLS record their first one titled The March Trilogy by John Lewis. Although Lewis has published an autobiography in the past, the idea to make his story a graphic novel came from the time he was 15 years old when he first learned about Martin Luther King through reading a comic book on his life.

I was excited to read this book because it was about the life of US Congressman John Lewis.  He is not only an icon in the civil rights movement, more popularly known for his beating while trying to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the March to Montgomery in 1965; but he is an outspoken politician in my hometown of Atlanta. These reasons made me even more interested in reading this book.

The overall story of Lewis’ life was educational and fascinating.  Without giving too much away, I learned so much about his life that I didn’t know and was inspired by his passion and zeal to create change despite some incredible difficulties.  His childhood growing up with parents who were sharecroppers gave him firsthand exposure to racial inequality. He attended college while participating in sit ins at lunch counters and bus boycotts.  Then he later extended his civil rights activities into a career in politics.

Challenges Reading a Graphic Novel

 Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

But after I downloaded the book and started to play it on my NLS talking book player that is when the challenges and some disappointment began. The first thing I noticed is that my mind began to wonder from the story and I had to rewind my player. I realized that I was doing this not because the story itself was not interesting or that I was tired, sleepy or distracted but because I was having a hard time figuring out when the description of the graphic started and stopped. Terminology and phrasing such as “zoom in”, “zoom out”, “next panel”, “we see”, “in the frame”, “the next three panels show” give you an indication that the reader is describing what is in the panel and then going back to the text but if you are not listening carefully you can miss it. It is done very seamlessly. This is not necessarily a bad thing but just an observation. For years I have tuned my ears and my brain to read an audio book and thought that I had become quite proficient but reading this graphic novel challenged my audio reading ability. I had to really pay attention in order to visualize the scene and pictures in order to keep them separate from the actual text. There were times when I thought maybe I am trying too hard and should just let the story flow and not be concerned about it. Perhaps that is the way to read an audio format of a graphic novel?

The second challenge I had with reading this book was the detailed audio description. I love audio description and have written about it many times here on the VisionAware site but in this book, I found it to be a little overwhelming. The description of the illustrations was very detailed and lengthy. I shared my thoughts with a sighted friend who had a printed copy of this book. She listened to the NLS version and we reviewed it together. She understood my concerns and thought that in some ways the descriptions could have been shorten. But perhaps that is just personal preference. Some people like a lot of information when it comes to audio description and some like less. 

On a positive note. I did appreciate the sound effects of the reader that were made within the audio description. That did bring the book to life more and made the story even more interesting. For example, when John was a child, he had to feed the chickens on the farm. The reader actually makes clucking sounds as John is doing this task. Some other sounds are phones ringing and an alarm clock buzzing. The reader also changed the inflections in his voice which I also enjoyed.

But despite these enhancements I have to conclude that a graphic novel is probably not my type of book to read. I found the story itself to be a good one however the illustrations to be a distraction. It was just too much for me to digest in an audio format and it took away from the overall story I was trying to read and enjoy. But perhaps you will read this book and have a totally different experience.

People Watching Movies at Home

Watching 2020 Oscar Winner Parasite with Subtitles in Audio Description

Last week I finally got to see the 2020 Oscar winner Parasite. The Audio Description Project streamed a copy of it during the American Council of the Blind’s annual convention. This film is about the wealthy Park family as their lives are slowly infiltrated by the poor Kim family. They deceive their gullible counterparts into giving them jobs in their home but it has disastrous results for both families. I was very excited about it because when the movie came out last year it caused quite a stir. I had tried to see it then but couldn’t because I don’t understand the Korean language. The movie was available with English sub titles but I couldn’t see them at the bottom of the screen so that didn’t work either. When I went to the theater and couldn’t watch it, I was pretty bummed out. Then when it won an Oscar in multiple categories my feelings were mixed; and I shared about it in a previous post.

Challenges Watching Parasite in Audio Description

So, now here we are and I have seen the film and understand all the hype and buzz. It was an excellent movie and I enjoyed it.  But I did have some challenges when it came to the audio description I want to talk about.   This is not the first movie I have watched where sub titles and audio description come together and I will share more about that in a minute. But I think what was hard for me in this particular movie were a couple of things:

1.  audio description is used to give info between the dialogue of a movie. It is used to share visual elements but when you are using audio description to read the sub titles some of that is lost. So, there were times in this movie where I got lost trying to figure out the scene and what was happening because the describer was speaking the dialogue of the characters the majority of the time.

2. This type of audio description caused me to also get the characters a little confused. I noticed that especially with the male characters. there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t figure out who was who. There was not enough distinction in their voices for me to know the differences.

3.  Since the audio description was talking on top of the dialogue instead of between the dialogue, I had to work harder to not get distracted and to focus and pay closer attention. Again, audio description is when information is spoken between the dialogue but since this was a foreign film with sub titles the audio description was speaking that too.

Other Movies with Sub Titles in Audio Description

Now with that last point being said this is not the first film I have seen this way. I have actually seen about 4 films with audio described sub titles. Two were at the movie theater and two were at home. I liked all of them. But I think the differences were that there were sprinklings of English and more spacing out between dialogue so making more room to describe scenes and other things. Here are those movies with a brief summary from Netflix.

1.  The Farewell– After learning that her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi returns to Changchun to find that her family has decided to keep the news from Nai Nai. While the family gathers under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, Billi rediscovers the country she left as a child, and is forever changed by her grandmother’s wondrous spirit.

2.  The Warrior: Queen of Jhansi– Lakshmibai, the legendary Queen of Jhansi, gets her due in this moving docudrama. Leading her people into battle against the British East India Company — and by extension, colonial rule — in 1857, she becomes known as the Joan of Arc of the East.

3.  Never Look Away– In this absorbing drama based loosely on the life of visual artist Gerhard Richter, an art student trying to get past the trauma of growing up in Nazi Germany falls for a fellow student. But her father — an ex-Nazi — is bent on keeping them apart.

4.  Everybody Knows– Laura and her children travel from Buenos Aires to the small Spanish village where she was born to attend her sister’s wedding. Unexpected events soon lead to a crisis that exposes the family’s hidden past. Suspicions mount, loved ones begin to turn on one another, and dark secrets long hidden threaten to come to light, revealing shocking truths.

One major thing I have had to do to enhance my enjoyment of these films is do my homework. completing some simple research online beforehand and especially afterward has helped me to enjoy and understand these films. My hope is that as time goes on more and more foreign films will offer sub titles with audio description in English. That the description that is provided will progress so that all of us can have a pleasurable movie experience.

Row of Voting Booths

Multiple Problems I Had Voting in Georgia’s Primary

As you may well know there were multiple problems with Georgia’s primary on Tuesday, June 9th. So much so that it gathered not only local attention but national as well. There were problems not only with voting in person but the mail in process. People are still talking about it as we all try to figure out what in the world happen! And more importantly try to keep this from happening again during the upcoming Presidential election in November.

I had talked about the lack of accessibility being a major hindrance for me in a previous post so I won’t rehash that here but rather share about the multiple problems I had voting absentee. I am typically not a procrastinator but after a lot of thought I ultimately did decide to mail in my ballot verses going to the polls. I figured it would be the best thing to do with the coronavirus and all that was happening. But as I read the news coverage of people who voted in person it seemed that it really didn’t matter because there were problems either way you voted. If you went in person there were people standing in long lines in the heat. Poll workers unfamiliar with the new machines. People trying to keep social distancing. Poll locations that had moved. People who didn’t get their ballot in the mail in the first place and on and on. So, I am scratching my head at the whole voting process and wondering what in the heck happened?! All I know is that things have got to change and quick. Now, I am taking a minute and reflecting on the problems I personally had voting.

First problem was the application process to get an absentee ballot. I got an application for my ballot in the mail and got a sighted friend to assist me. Although I had to get sighted help the real tricky thing was how you had to complete the application to mail it back. It had to be folded in a particular way, which meant cutting off part of the bottom, Scotch taping it back just right and placing a stamp. I found this process a bit strange as it was described to me. I also knew that it was something that I could not handle as a blind person. Why all the fuss for the application for an absentee ballot? Why make the process so complicated? Could there not have been an easier way?

Second problem was confusion about the candidates on the ballot. Since the primary had been moved from May to June there was confusion about what candidates would appear on the ballot. I had voted early in March for the Presidential primary so that part was not on my ballot but would  have been along with other candidates. This made the ballot very long. When my sighted friend tried to print out the online sample ballot it was several pages. My actual ballot was a long page both front and back. Also, I noticed a duplication. One candidate I had voted for in March also appeared on this ballot in June.

Third problem was trying to read the online sample ballot. I found the sample ballot in a PDF file somewhat accessible. I could read the information but because of the number of candidates for this election some of them would bleed into the wrong section/column. This led to my confusion and disorientation as to who was running for what. It took me several hours to decipher the candidates and clarify the information.

Fourth problem was the instruction for the absentee ballot. It indicated that you were supposed to place your ballot inside of an envelope then place in a larger envelope to mail. Well, my package contained no small envelope for me to place my ballot in. So, I called the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office and was told that I could still mail my ballot anyway. I had also participated in a voting conference call that talked about a sleeve to place your ballot in but I don’t remember seeing a sleeve in my package either.

Fifth problem was  difficulty verifying information about when to mail the ballot. I got a text message on Sunday, two days before voting day, asking me questions about whether I was going to vote or not. I responded saying that I was voting absentee and would mail my ballot. I was told not to do that but take to a drop box. Well, I had no transportation to a drop box due to my disability. I tried to look online to learn about the policy on when an absentee ballot should be received but had no luck. On Monday morning, I called the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office again and was told as long as it was postmarked by election day I was good. I later checked the Georgia My Voter Page website to track my absentee ballot and saw it was received.

The sixth problem was the inaccessibility of the absentee voting process; but of course, I already knew that. fortunately, I was able to get a sighted friend that I trusted to come over, mark my ballot and mail it for me. This whole process  was stressful and taxing. But because I believe in our democracy and the power of the vote I did and will continue to persevere.

So now next steps. November is right around the corner. What is my game plan to avoid all these problems for the next election; and in my opinion, the most important one, voting for the President of the United States. The medical experts say the coronavirus will still be with us and might be worse as November will be in the fall and right during the flu season. So absentee voting will probably be my best option again. I have definitely learned some powerful lessons about this process. I am going to arm myself with more knowledge about absentee voting, share that info with friends and family, and continue to rely on trustworthy people. So, what’s your game plan for November? Do you plan on voting in person or by mail? Share your thoughts on the voting process with me as we prepare for the Presidential election.

celebrating -gaad-2020 Logo

GAAD and My Daily Access to the Internet

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). According to their website, every person that accesses the Internet deserves a first-rate digital experience. Someone with a disability must be able to experience web-based services, content and other digital products with the same successful outcome as those without disabilities. This awareness and commitment to inclusion is the goal of GAAD.  This event was launched 9 years ago based on a single blog post that challenged web developers and designers to dig deeper on the accessibility of their web content. Unfortunately, equal access to the Internet is not always available.   This year one million webpages were analyzed for accessibility and came up lacking.  Some of the issues were low contrast, no alt text for images, empty links, and missing form input labels. These issues and more all impact the ability  of those with disabilities to access information on the Internet.

Every day I spend the bulk of my time online. As a result, I come across inaccessible websites on a regular basis.  Just this week I was trying to register my all in one printer with the manufacturer and portions of that process were not accessible with my screen reader. When I called customer service, I was told that they could not assist me and that I had to complete the process on my own; but yet the website is not accessible. I have heard this all the time for many years. I have used sighted friends to help me from time to time. Yet it has been somewhat frustrating and annoying when there are probably simple fixes in the web coding that could be done to remedy the problem.  Additionally, I bump up on accessibility with mobile apps. I hear all the time about wonderful apps that can do this or that. But my question is, “Is it accessible?” If not, I don’t even bother with downloading it because it’s not going to work for me no matter how wonderful.

I have learned that I have to continue being an advocate and speak up about this issue. Many people still don’t realize that people that are blind and visually impaired are actively online. That we use adaptive technology to access the internet. Not only do I use the internet to post this blog I am writing but I live my life like everyone else. Here are some examples:

1.  Download books to read for my book club.

2.  Stream movies to watch on Netflix.

3.  Participate in Zoom videoconferencing meetings on my desktop computer.

4.  Completed my 2020 census online.

5.  order groceries  and other goods online.

Now we are in the midst of a global pandemic and it is even more critical that everyone have access to the internet. More and more people are working from home. Shopping, banking and other daily activities have increased online. School students are taking classes on their computers or tablets. Various entertainment venues are looking at moving some of their content online. So, web designers and developers need to know and understand that people with disabilities, which add up to about a billion worldwide, are online too and need equal access.