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 Yes, I know, I am old-fashion and out of-date.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
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.
When the pandemic struck and we were encouraged to wear facemasks I stopped wearing lipsticks. I wear mostly cloth ones and I thought wearing lipstick would be difficult to nearly impossible to do successfully. Wearing lipstick is my only facial cosmetic adornment. I had stop wearing eye makeup years ago and I never wore face powders, concealers or blushes. So, lipsticks became my jam.
I braille labeled each tube with the corresponding color to keep track. I have various bold bright colors in variations of reds, pinks, bronzy golds and browns. These colors look the best on my skin tone and I was proud to wear them often.
When my Mary Kay consultant sent me a complimentary tube of bold red lipstick, with my regular order, I was so excited to wear it. But before I could run that smooth bright color across my lips the world shutdown and I had to wear a facemask. I was so disappointed as I sighed, put my favorite lipstick color back in its box and stored away hoping soon the pandemic would be over.
Well, it is a year later and I still haven’t worn that lipstick! LOL! Okay, not exactly, I have pulled it out for a Zoom video call or two but you know that is not the same as wearing it out in public. So, when I heard it was National Lipstick Day I wanted to find out if it was possible to wear lipstick and a facemask too. I quickly discovered the answer is yes. Initially when I started reading online articles about wearing lipstick under a facemask, I thought it was a waste because first, no one would see it. I mean why wear a beautiful color of lipstick to only cover it up. In my mind that is the whole reason. Second, what would be the point because my lips would get smudged and stain my mask.
Wearing Lipstick and a Facemask
Nowadays with the pandemic, I only go out for small errands like grocery shopping. Everything else I mostly do from home. However, the pandemic is not over and I will probably be wearing a mask for a lot longer. So, it got me to rethink this whole lipstick mask situation. Maybe it is possible for me to pull this off after all?
If you are like me and missing wearing your lipstick, tired of wearing Chapstick or nothing at all, let me share a pointer or two. I read some tips in Harper’s Bazaar from Michelle Obama’s make-up artist, Carl Ray. First is to exfoliate & moisturize your lips. Our lips don’t naturally stay soft and smooth. Second use a lip primer or a concealer followed by lip liner applied all over your lips. Afterward apply your color. Keep in mind that matte finishes are preferrable over shiny ones that can stick to the mask. Also, you can blot off extra lipstick with facial tissue.
Focused on Pandemic and not Lipstick
As I read that article it dawned on me that this advice was nothing new. Even as I continued to read more articles online I found similar advice and helpful tips. This all made sense and I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before now? Then I had an aha moment. Since dealing with this pandemic wearing lipstick has not been the priority. It has been trying to live, work and do the best I can. Wearing lipstick was one of those little rituals I did to prep before leaving the house. To feel pretty. To dress up. It was a part of my normal. Things have settled down a bit and now I can concentrate on life’s little pleasures again.
Today in the disability community, we recognize the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In honor of this landmark civil rights legislation, I read an audiobook “Being Heumann: An Unrepented Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist” by Judie Heumann. She is a disability advocate and her actions played a vital role in the passing of this law. You might have heard of her more recently as she was featured in the 2021 Oscar nominated documentary Crip Camp that aired on Netflix. However, Judie is known much more than her role in a film. Penguin Random House summarized her story best, “One of the most influential disability rights activists in US history tells her personal story of fighting for the right to receive an education, have a job and just be human. A story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance and inclusion in society.”
Being Heumann Overview
Judie starts her story at infancy where she describes being paralyzed from polio at eighteen months and how her struggles for equality began early. She was labeled as a “fire hazard “because of her wheelchair as she fought to attend grade school. Her battles with the school system continued when she won a lawsuit against the New York City school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her paralysis, where her actions set an example that ultimately improved rights for disabled people.
She continued to be a role model of activism and self-determination when she rolled her wheelchair through the doors of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco as a prominent leader of the Section 504 Sit-In. It was the longest takeover of a governmental building in US history. Judie and a community of over 150 disabled activists and allies were able to successfully pressure the Carter administration to implement protections for disabled people’s rights, igniting a national movement and leading to the creation of the ADA.
Different Backgrounds but Many parallels
I left encouraged after reading this book about Judie’s life. Although I didn’t become disabled as a child, am not Jewish or from the north and our disabilities are different, I did see parallels. I have worked several years at an independent living center. I have dealt with the struggles for inclusion and acceptance. I have felt shame or confusion when someone calls out my disability or ask intrusive questions. I have had struggles with accessing the basic things I need to live and work.
Fine Line of inclusion and Exclusion
I understood her point about walking that fine line of inclusion and exclusion. Judie shared an example of this when at church her mother didn’t want the pastor to carry her up the stairs to participate in the activities with the other children. Her mother thought it was too much and it would be a burden even though the pastor was okay with it. I could relate with this situation so strongly. It is part of the stress of my disabled life and not wanting to be a burden. It is about picking and choosing your battles. It is about not wanting to wear out your welcome. If I ask to many times, people will get tired and annoyed so I pull back and either don’t ask much or don’t ask at all, neglecting my needs in the process. It is also being in that vulnerable and precarious position of depending on people to be nice. If a person is nice about it then I feel okay to ask and move forward; if I sense some resistance then I pull back and don’t ask.
Focus on the Barrier Not the Disabled
One of the things I have learned about being a disability advocate and Judie also brings up in her book is the mindset we must have for the world to change. When she was pushing for Section 504 she and other activists had to help people understand it is not because you can’t walk that you can’t get into the building rather the building is not accessible. Changing the mindset and putting it on the barrier and not on the disabled person is the way of creating the change. For example, I wrote in a post about applying for jobs online and inaccessible sites. The answer is not for me to regain my sight or get a sighted person to help but to fix or create accessible websites that work with my screen reader.
Feelings of Being Ignored
Judie said when people ignore you, it is an intentional display of power. They act like you don’t exist and do it because they can. They believe that nothing will happen to them Ignoring people silences them. It avoids resolution or compromise. It opens feelings of unworthiness because it makes you feel that you deserve this treatment in the first place. In the end you are forced to choose whether to make a fuss or accept the silent treatment. If you stand up for yourself then you are viewed as aggressive because you break the norms of being nice and polite, which can make you feel worse.
OMG! When Judie said this, I was thunderstruck! What she said was so true and powerful. So many times, I have felt a loss of power as a Black disabled woman when I have been ignored by someone who didn’t want to deal with me. There would be times when I just didn’t have the energy or the resources to fight back. There have been times when I would regroup and try another approach but in the end being ignored really sucked! I would have to figure out other ways to reclaim my power and self-confidence.
It’s About Human Rights
Judie notes that people need to understand that Section 504 and the ADA was about civil and human rights for the disabled. Many people understand the fight for racial equality, or gender equality but when it comes to disability people don’t connect the dots. Many times, I have had to say substitute one of the other minority groups and replace with the word disability. Then people began to understand the struggle for equality. Judie said the basic logic in society is that people with disabilities won’t benefit as much from X, or Y or Z as much as people without disabilities. Therefore, X or Y or Z is not essential. They should accept the idea of going without. The same goes for transportation and employment. But what kind of logic is that really? The underlined assumption is that people with disabilities have less potential to learn and contribute. That we are less capable and not equal. Judie says the problem with this logic is that disability is part of the human condition. As we live longer more people will become disabled. What we should do is accept it, plan for it and build our society around it. Disability is coming whether we want it to or not. I totally agree and tell my temporary abled body friends this all the time.
I will end this blog on this profound point Judie made. We underappreciate our human rights in America. You won’t realize their importance until they are gone. These are such powerful words. Therefore, we must be constantly vigilant because our rights are precious. We can lose them. They can be taken away at any time.
The first time I had a migraine was also the first sign that something was wrong with my eyes. It was back in the mid-90s and my head was hurting like someone was banging it with a hammer. The slightest movement would send throbbing pain through my head. These headaches would come and go with no warning. When they did, I would go and lay in the bed being perfectly still, turn off all the lights and place a cold washcloth over my face and just ride it out. Regular over the counter meds didn’t help much. Before that time, I rarely dealt with headaches except if dealing with typical stress, tiredness or hunger. I would hear people talk about migraines but I barely understood what they were dealing with. I was clueless about their pain. It wasn’t until I started to go blind that I fully got it. That I understood the ramifications of a migraine. Once I got into a doctor to see what was happening with my eyes the migraines decreased and then totally disappeared.
Migraines and Sleeping Disorder
Fast ford several years later and I was diagnosed with non-24 sleep wake disorder also connected to my blindness. This disorder causes my sleep clock to be off track. I take meds to help but it is not a cure and you can read the details in a previous post here on Triple E. As the years progressed, I would wake up around 3 a.m. with a mind-blowing headache that was out of this world. I began to flashback to when I first went blind and thinking how similar the headaches were except, they only came in the early morning. It was happening often and I started taking OTC meds frequently. After taking the meds my head no longer hurt but I would be physically exhausted like I had been in the boxing ring with a heavy weight champion and got the living crap beaten out of me! Sometimes I would be too tired to get up for work; calling out for a sick day. I was grateful that I had an understanding employer and not a too hectic work schedule. Since this was in the early hours of the morning the migraines disrupted my sleep making it hard to go back to sleep or if I did the alarm was ringing as soon as I got a good rhythm going. Needless to say, I was miserable but putting up with it. It wasn’t until a guy I was dating at the time pushed me to seek medical attention. So, I finally went in to see a neurologist and was diagnosed with migraines. The doctor took my blindness and sleeping disorder into consideration but was not able to give a clear reason for the migraines. I was put on a prescription and noticed a decrease in the number of times I had a full-blown migraine in the morning. Things changed for the better and what I realized is that I needed to do more self-care.
National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month
This month is National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month. The theme is “A New Era of Care,” reflecting the wave of innovation in treatments and approaches to managing headache and migraine disease. CHAMP, the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients created this awareness month and is comprised of organizations sending a unified message about headache and migraine diseases. Every June they dedicate the month to spreading awareness and education through various campaigns and initiatives.
World Migraine Summit
I got into a steady routine with my migraine meds and doctor appointments. Things moved along okay until this year. In March I attended the World Migraine Summit remotely and learned so much. It was a free 9-day event and addressed various aspects of how migraines impact your life. I learned about migraines and race. Migraines and gender. Migraines and food/nutrition. Migraines and exercise. Migraines and medical treatment. Migraines and sleep. The list goes on and on. I walked away understanding that I needed to take it up a notch with my self-care. I had gotten lax because I had stop writing in my headache journal and was taking OTC meds with my prescription. I realized that I needed to take the bull by the horns and get more assertive with the care of my migraines. So, I made four major changes.
Four Life Changes
1. I purchased an Ice Beanie and Migraine Cold Pack, which I learned about from my favorite Friday night show-The Shar Tank. This little soft cap has slots for ice packs and you wear it on your head to help with migraines. I know it might sound strange or a bit silly. But it actually works! Cross my heart, it really does.
2. Since my migraines come during my sleep, I made changes in my sleep routine. I have always known that a cooler room temperature helps in sleeping. My thermostat was already turned down low, but I purchase two cooling pillows. I also changed my sleeping attire to cotton tank tops and pajama shorts. I get hot at night and I knew if I could stay cool while sleeping that would not only help me sleep better but help reduce my migraines.
3. I changed my diet. I have been slowly moving to a plant-based approach. So, eating more veggies, fruits, and even tofu is a part of my meals now. Drinking more homemade protein shakes for needed protein. I have also switched to taking liquid multi vitamins for better absorption and digestion.
4. The last new change I am making is to see a new neurologist. Not that my current doctor is bad, but I need to shake things up a bit and get some new eyes on my chart. Sometimes it is good to get a new prospective when you have been dealing with something for a long time. Things change and there are new developments. So, I want to see what is out there and explore my options.
Implementing these changes have already produced positive results. I barely take OTC drugs anymore yet still take my prescription med regularly. Although I still wake up at 3 a.m. I seldom have a headache. I am cautiously optimistic because I don’t know if my blindness or sleeping disorder is the cause of my migraines. I don’t know how long these positive changes will last. I don’t know if making more changes or seeing a new doctor will give me the answer. But one thing I do know is that taking better care of myself will help me to be healthier and happier.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
When most people think of volunteering in the community it is something that you physically do such as feeding the homeless, building a house, tutoring/reading to children, registering people to vote, or running errands for seniors. All of those tasks are great volunteer opportunities and are well needed in the community but there are things that I have done as a volunteer sitting right at home. I have been volunteering all my life in a variety of projects. Even after I went blind, I still kept volunteering. I just had to shift the way I did it. I figured out a way to use my journalism skills to help my community and even during a pandemic. This week is National Volunteer Week; April 18-24. The Points of Light established it as an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world.
Started Virtual Volunteering
My first step into virtual volunteering was right after I went blind and lost my corporate job to downsizing, I was rethinking my career path and decided to volunteer at a non-profit. Since I was now a part of the disability community, I wanted to learn more and give back. I worked on a newsletter for a disability non-profit agency called disABILITY LINK. I collected articles and other content for the newsletter via email and phone. Wrote and edited the pieces, then submitted to my supervisor for publishing.
This was a good opportunity for me because it allowed me to give back, use my journalism skills in a professional way and learn about the disability community. It was a win-win all the way around. I began to realize that I could use my writing in a more meaningful way than just as a career.
Volunteering as a Radio Producer
The next opportunity came in 2006 where a friend recommended me for the position. I was asked to help produce the Eye on Blindness Show by the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Prior to this time, my experience had been in writing only. So, this stretched my journalism skills and I was up for the challenge. Each month I was directed to find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up show notes and promotion materials. All I did from home using my landline phone and computer. I also collaborated with the show’s host on topic ideas and future guests. I volunteered for about 3 years on the show. Later I was asked to come back and not only produce but host as well; which I gladly did for another 3 years.
Volunteering as a Blogger
One day I got an email request for bloggers/peer advisors for a website called VisionAware. The website was a resource for people new to vision loss and they were looking for people to talk about their lives and give advice and information. Well, that was right up my alley. So, I filled out the application form and signed on. That was back in 2012 and I am still volunteering with VisionAware to this day. We meet once a month via Zoom conference call to discuss topic ideas and themes for the site. We work to give true and honest information with a real-life experience. I write blog posts from home and submit via email. Volunteering at VisionAWare is rewarding because I can help others like myself and I get to work with a great group of people.
Virtual volunteering has been a wonderful experience for me. The things I have learned. The people I have met. The lives that have changed. This is all for the good and all from the comfort of my home. There are creative ways to volunteer. We are still in this pandemic and traditional methods may not be possible but you can still serve your community virtually. Check out the Points of Light database for virtual volunteer suggestions.
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.
Before losing my sight, I was on the path of a new career in the fashion industry. Yes, I know you are probably in shock because all I have ever talked about is my writing and non-profit work. But yes, I had other career ambitions. Back in the late 1990s I was taking night classes in fashion design and merchandising at a local art college after work. As part of the course curriculum, I had to take art classes that included painting and drawing. I was working with watercolor and acrylic paints and drawing with charcoal and pencils. But as my vision decreased and it became harder and harder to see my canvas, colors and still models; I withdrew from school. I gave away all my art supplies to an artsy friend and moved on from that career path.
Fast-forward to 2014 I decided to try a little art again, partly to challenge myself, boost my self-esteem and explore my creativity. These are some of the reasons that the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP) created World Art Day. They chose April 15th because it coincided with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Known as one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci has become a symbol of peace, freedom of expression and tolerance and brotherhood. World Art Day, established in 2012, celebrates the fine arts and promotes awareness of creativity worldwide. Although I took these two art classes some years ago, I learned art produces a love for learning and creativity. It also strengthens my focus and problem-solving skills.
Painting Wine Glass
The glass painting class provided one-on-one instruction, all painting materials and a wine glass. Since I hadn’t done anything artistic in so long, I wanted more hand-holding and accommodation than others. I shared with my instructor that I was blind and that I needed more verbal engagement than her sighted students. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to discover she had worked with a visually impaired student before and felt very comfortable working with me. The mission was to paint a wine glass and decorate it with a variety of stencils of your choosing.
After donning my painting apron, I washed the wine glass with rubbing alcohol and a cloth to remove all dirt and grime. Next, I made my paint color selections and learned which bowls held which colors. I also touched and felt my brushes for the variations in the bristles. I chose my self-adhesive stencils. There were several pages to choose from and the instructor described each one. Some were phrases and words; others were flowers and butterflies. Some were small and others were big. I carefully handled the stencils because they were paper thin and had adhesive on the back. I chose a large butterfly for the top and flowers for the base of the wine glass.
Once I got my materials organized, the next step was to paint the whole base of the wine glass with a water brush. This was challenging because it was hard determining how much paint was on the tip of the brush and when more paint needed reapplying. My instructor assisted me with this part. After the base paint dried, I placed the small stencils on top for the flowers, which were in a different color. I used a sponge type brush using the corner of the brush and gently dabbed the paint on the stencil. Once the paint dried, I repeated the same steps with the large butterfly on the upper round part of the wine glass. Since this stencil was a lot larger than the ones, I used on the base it was a little tricky. The stencil was fragile so I was very careful in placing it down on the glass so it wouldn’t easily rip. I cautiously placed it down by sections going from one part to the other and laid down the edges last.
During the whole painting process I used my visual memories and my fingers on my left hand as a guide to determine where to place the paint. I also used my fingers on my left hand and place them around the boarder of the stencil. This helped me to determine the perimeter and how far to move around on the stencil. Once everything dried, I admired my work before my instructor placed it in a decorative gift bag.
Painting Ceramic Pottery
My other class was painting ceramic pottery. This project was a little easier since I had already handled ceramics before. But instead of working with an instructor I brought a sighted friend to assist. We went to a ceramic pottery store in the mall where you select unfinished pieces for decoration. Again, I picked out my colors and the paint brushes. I chose bright bold colors and a round jewelry box for my pottery piece. This time instead of using self-adhesive stencils I used a rubber stamp. I chose letters, flowers and butterflies. Yes, I love flowers and butterflies! I first painted the entire jewelry box; both inside and out. Then my sighted friend assisted with drying by using a hair dryer to speed up the process. Next, she assisted with applying the paint on the rubber stamp. We worked together to determine the distance between letters and the other objects. Once completed, we left the jewelry box on the table to dry. Later the instructor would glaze and fire. About a week later I was called to come by and pick up my finished piece.
Lessons Learned and Resources
Both of these painting projects were a lot of fun for me. But more importantly they showed me that I could do it. It did require some mental concentration and sighted help but I was glad that I stretched myself and exercised my creative muscle. I know that we are still living under COVID and social distancing so taking an in-person art class may not be feasible. Still, you can explore art virtually. The IAA/AIAP has suggestions on their website or take a Zoom online class. For my blind and visually impaired readers, check out this encouraging podcast about a blind painter ; and the American Printing House for the Blind provides accessible art supplies and a Building Your Fine Arts Toolkit Blog. You might not be Leonardo da Vinci but all these resources can support that creative inner artist in you!
One day I was having my treadmill serviced and the maintenance guy told me, “I can tell you actually use this treadmill. It is not a clothes hanger like my other customers.” I had to chuckle when he said that because he was right. Although that compliment was said some years ago, it still holds true. I walk on my treadmill as a form of staying healthy and exercise. Even more so with COVID as it helps with my mental well-being as I continue to shelter in place. I walk a couple of times a week and plan on walking today to honor National Walking Day, started by the American Heart Association as a way to encourage and educate people on the health benefits of walking.
I started walking as a form of exercise in college. Many sunny days in Florida I would lase up my tennis shoes, pop in a cassette tape into my Walkman, and start walking through my neighborhood. Other times I would walk to campus, work, visit friends or to run errands. Ah, those were the days. Walking in the warm weather with the wind blowing softly in my face, and bobbing my head to the latest hit song. When I graduated and moved to Georgia, my walking outdoors abruptly stopped because there was little to no sidewalks and even less respect to pedestrians. I remember when I first arrived reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the number of pedestrian fatalities. Yes, that is correct. People dyeing while walking around Atlanta. Well, that wasn’t going to be me. So, I had to figure out other ways to workout. It was a struggle because shortly after I moved, I began to go blind and the traditional methods of exercise were lost to me. Yet, at the end of the day walking was still a possibility. I just had to move it indoors onto a treadmill. So, that is what I did. I purchased my first treadmill in 2003. You won’t believe it but old faithful is still going strong after all these years! I walk for about 30 minutes a couple of times a week. I have long since let go of the cassette tapes and Walkman and now listen to music on my stereo with handheld remote control. Or sometimes I will watch TV, listen to an audiobook or podcast. Here are ten benefits of why I use my treadmill for walking not a clothes hanger.
Benefits of Walking on a Treadmill
1. Treadmills are designed to be easier on your joints, which is great for me and the arthritis in my knee.
2. The weather doesn’t stop me from walking.
3. I can walk anytime of the day or night.
4. As I said before I have watched TV, listened to an audiobook, music or podcast while walking on a treadmill.
5. Treadmills have cup holders for your water bottles, smartphone, and other items so you don’t have to carry them.
6. Treadmills allow you to walk at a constant speed and rhythm, which can be helpful if you tend to walk too fast or have problems pacing yourself.
7. You can hold on to the handrails for stability if you have balance problems.
8. If you have allergies, outdoor pollution or poor walking conditions in your community walking on a treadmill is a better option than walking outside.
9. Treadmills can keep track of heart rate, speed, time and calories burned.
10. You can program the treadmill to set the speed, incline, and difficulty of your walk and change this whenever you want.
I have been able to take advantage of just about all of these benefits of walking on a treadmill. Additionally, my blindness doesn’t impede me from its usage, with some simple braille labeling my treadmill is fairly accessible. As a result, my mental and physical health has improved. The ability to have a stable and consistent form of exercise at my fingertips is critically important to me. That is why my clothes stay in my closet and not hanging on my treadmill. I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself, if you haven’t already, to get some form of physical activity going. Use this day of observance as your jumping off point and get out there and walk.
When I was taking courses in journalism in college, I learned about women in the news but they were more modern-day women verses historical. Since March is National Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor some women that impacted the industry from the past. Some of the women are not as well-known while others are famous. Regardless, they left a mark on American journalism that is noteworthy because of their courage, self-determination and strength.
Published Stories on Lynchings
The first woman, Ida B. Wells, was a journalist I knew because of her bravery and doggedness in publishing the stories of lynchings. She was born a slave in 1862 in Mississippi. When the Civil War ended, Ida’s parents became politically active setting an example of activism and advocacy she would use later in life. They also believed in the importance of education. She became a teacher and moved to Memphis after her parents and one sibling died from yellow fever. Ida’s activism kicked off when she filed a lawsuit against a train car company in 1885for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train despite having a ticket. Although she won the case locally, the ruling was later overturned in federal court.
After losing her teaching job Ida turned to journalism. In 1892 when three friends had been lynched by a mob, she began an editorial campaign against lynching. She was doubtful about the reasons Black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns. Her exposure enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. Ida was passionate about highlighting lynchings that she traveled internationally. Abroad, she openly challenged white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching’s. Ida was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States because of her bold and fearless stance on the topic. Despite lack of support, Ida remained active in the women’s rights movement. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder; but she later became a member of the executive committee. Disenchanted with their white and elite Black leadership, she soon distanced herself from the organization. Late in her career Ida focused on urban reform in Chicago. She died in 1931.
Poet and Journalist
The second woman was born shortly after the Civil War in New Orleans and later was actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Her name is Alice Dunbar Nelson and she was a poet, journalist and political activist. Her first collection of stories, poems and essays, Violets, and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She was married to the famous poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar and during their marriage she published a short-story collection, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories. This collection was published as a companion piece to his Poems of Cabin and Field in 1899. The volume helped establish her as a clever portrayer of Creole culture. The marriage didn’t last owing to abuse and alcoholism from her husband yet Alice continued to move forward in her writings and romantic life.
Alice was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, even though she hadn’t lived in New York for many years since before her marriage to Paul and was still living in Delaware at the time. Her poetry, much of it written earlier, was rediscovered through its appearance in journals and collections like The Crisis, Opportunity, Ebony and Topaz. She was also a journalist and wrote a syndicated column, Une Femme Dit, and contributed a wealth of reviews and essays to newspapers and magazines. During the 1920s, she coedited the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive Black newspaper. She also published The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, a literary anthology. Although a successful writer, Alice spoke about her challenges as a journalist in her diary. She discussed being denied pay for her articles and issues she had with receiving proper recognition for her work. Her diary was published in 1984 and remains one of the few diaries of a 19th-century African-American woman. Alice died in 1935.
First to Receive White House Media Credentials
Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House, the Supreme Court, the State Department and Congress. Born in 1906 in Kentucky, Alice was a bright and smart student, and started writing for newspapers when she was only 13 years old. She began her career as a teacher, but wasn’t satisfied so took journalism classes and wrote fact sheets about information omitted in the school curriculum. Alice knew that to move forward she had to physically move so in 1935, she moved to Louisville. There she worked for Black-owned newspapers like the Louisville Defender. Next, she moved to the Capitol. Initially she worked for the federal government as a civil service worker but still had her eyes on journalism. In 1946 Alice’s ambitions were realized when she became a Washington, DC, correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (ANP), the first Black-owned wire service, supplying more than 100 newspapers nationwide. It was her ticket to covering national politics. She worked mightily on getting her press pass and was approved in 1947, and quickly acquired White House media credentials the following year.
Despite these major achievements Alice still dealt with racism and sexism in the work place. While covering President Truman and President Eisenhower, Alice experienced discrimination. She was one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps covering President Truman’s campaign. During her years of covering the White House, she frequently asked questions regarding the escalating civil rights movement. In 1953 Dunnigan was barred from covering a speech given by President Eisenhower in a whites-only theater and was forced to sit with the servants to cover Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral. It was not until President Kennedy that she was recognized as a member of the press when asking questions. Under his administration, Alice began a new career as a consultant. President Kennedy appointed her to his Committee on Equal Opportunity designed to level the playing field for Americans seeking federal government jobs. After retiring, Alice self-published her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. She died in 1983, and in 2013, was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
First to Have Comics Syndicated Nationally
The next woman started off as a writer but was best known as a cartoonist. She was the first Black woman to have her comics syndicated nationally across America. Jackie Ormes, born in 1911, used her artistic talent to remark on political and social issues happening at the time. Her portrayal of positive Black folks went against long held stereotypical and negative images. Her first strip in the Pittsburg Courier, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, followed the adventures of Torchy Brown, a young ambitious Black teen who traveled from Mississippi to New York to pursue her dream of performing in the Big Apple. During the 1940s, Jackie worked as a columnist at the Chicago Defender and published her next cartoon strip, Candy, about a funny, hard-working and smart maid.
The Pittsburgh Courier published a new strip from Jackie after WWII called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. It centered around two sisters, Ginger, the older, stylish sister, and Patty Jo, the wisecracking, insightful little sister. The strip was so successful it ran for 11 years with more than 500 cartoons. In partnership with the Terri Lee Doll Company, Jackie created the Patty-Jo doll in 1947. This was the first nationally distributed high class Black doll that had real child-like features and an extensive, fashionable wardrobe. The dolls were extremely popular and the wish of many Black and white children. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Jackie’s comic section was cut. She retired from cartooning and switched to painting. but later, Jackie had to stop painting entirely after developing rheumatoid arthritis. Still, she stayed active in the artist community through her seat on the board of directors of the Usable Museum of African-American History and Art. Jackie died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1985. She was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014.
Newspaper Owner and integrationist
Daisy Bates is a name I quickly recognized but not for her journalism background. Whenever I would read about Daisy it was her affiliation with the NAACP and how she advocated for integration with the Little Rock 9 in Arkansas. But before she got heavily involved in school integration, she married a newspaper man and they both ran the Arkansas State Press which focused on the need for social and economic improvements for the Black community. This paper became known for its courageous reporting of acts of police brutality against Black soldiers from a local army camp. Their persistence and drive in spotlighting these abuses led many white business owners to cease placing advertisements in their paper. Regardless of the financial loss, they continued to produce their publication. In 1959 they were forced to close the Arkansas State Press due to threats of racial violence. But Daisy reopened it in 1984 and sold it several years later. For many years Daisy continued her advocacy in education and civil rights involvement. For her work, the state of Arkansas proclaimed the third Monday in February, Daisy Gatson Bates Day. She died in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom the same year.
All of these women had incredible stories of tenacity, strength and power. As I researched each one there was so much rich history on their lives, I struggled with featuring just the highlights because there was so much more than what appears in this blog post. These women were wives, mothers, sisters, friends and held other roles in their community. These women battled racism, sexism and all kinds of challenges as they tried to do their work as journalists. They were excellent examples and believed deeply in the power of the written word and its impact on their community and society. Journalism was not just a routine 9-to-5 job but a way to evoke social and political change. I can definitely relate and is also a reason why I chose journalism and why I wanted to recognize them this month.