Tag Archives: Holiday

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

Empish Using Audio Described Headset

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

The Shark Tank

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

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

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

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

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

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

The Audio Description Challenge

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

Painting Glass and Ceramic Pottery in the Dark

Empish and instructor smiling and proudly displaying finished painted wine glass

Today is World Art Day

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.

Empish leaning over and focused on painting wine glass

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!

My Treadmill is Used for Walking Not a Clothes Hanger

Empish on Treadmill

National Walking Day

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.

Recognizing 5 Black Women in Journalism During Women’s History Month

Stack of Newspapers

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.

Vintage typewriter on a wooden desk

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

Two pressmen are working in an old fashion pressroom with an old stop-the-presses type press.

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.

Maintaining Happiness During a Pandemic

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

Today people are celebrating the International Day of Happiness. Is it possible to be happy or to maintain happiness during a pandemic? Yes, I think so. First let’s look at the definition. According to Merriam-Webster the word happiness means “a state of wellbeing and contentment.” Now, I take this to mean that it is a mindset or a decision you make. I can determine to be happy or not even in the middle of a crazy situation. In thinking about the decision to be happy, this year’s theme is “Keep Calm, Stay Wise and Be Kind.” I reflect on how relevant this theme is to the coronavirus and its one-year anniversary also this month.

Keep Calm. One of the biggest things that has exposed my resilience and maintained my happiness has been my ability to keep calm. It is not to say that there have not been days during this past year that I didn’t feel anxious, worried or stressed out. I remember last year dealing with my inaccessible mobile banking app and struggling with online grocery shopping. Both situations had me pulling my hair out and gritting my teeth! I ended up having to step back, regroup and figure out another solution. My mental health was not worth it in the end. I was determined to focus on the things I could control. To breathe. To remember the things to be thankful for in my life. I also stayed away from things that would cause me extra stress like watching too much news, scrolling social media and talking to people with negative energy.

Empish Holding Shopping Cart

Stay Wise. You don’t have to be old as dirt to be wise. I have learned over the years   to seek wisdom in multiple ways. Asking for help from God, people and even a frog. I also like to watch and pay attention to people around me. You can learn a lot from other people’s life experiences and mistakes. Things you can do or avoid. Lastly, seeking information from reputable sources. This I did especially when the virus struck. Checking out multiple sources of information and doing some research has helped me maintain my happiness during this pandemic. It has relieved my stress and worry. Helping me to stay focus and centered.

Be Kind. I have always been told it doesn’t take much to be kind to someone. It can be in your speech or in your actions. During this past year and even now, the coronavirus has got people on edge. Folks got a short fuse and it don’t take much these days to set someone off. Even this cancel culture where the slightest thing said or done goes viral and a person can get shutdown.  I have to remind myself that people got a lot going on. To not make the wrong assumptions and to give the benefit of the doubt. To slow down and to be kind.

Kindness can come out in being considerate and showing compassion. Many people are grieving. Whether it has been the loss of a love one or friend to COVID-19. The loss of employment or a business. The loss of experiences like proms, parties, graduations, and special celebrations. The loss of meeting with others on a regular basis. People are grieving so being kind can go a long way in showing that you care.

Empish on Recumbent Bike

I have also been able to maintain my happiness during this pandemic by indulging in things I love like reading books and watching movies. I have kept a daily work schedule and exercise routine. Having some kind of normalcy has made me happy and given me a feeling of control over my life. Realizing this too shall pass has helped me too. Of course, I have no idea how long we will continue to be in this shut down but I know it will not be forever. I know that perseverance is in order. Staying focus on the end goal of keeping safe. Practicing the 3 W’s: Wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance.  Lastly, knowing that the vaccine is here and we are turning a corner has given me some peace and joy.

Organizing Your Home Office in Four Manageable Steps

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

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

Four Manageable Steps to Organize Your Home Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share Your  Home Office Organizing Tips

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

Blind Woman Dives Horses in Wild West Show

Color photo of Sonora Webster Carver posing with her horse

March is Women’s History Month

This month is Women’s History Month and I discovered an interesting woman that fits nicely in this category. She is truly a historical figure and did incredible things during her lifetime that not many women were doing.  She was also visually impaired   and later became an advocate for the blind. I first learned about her while watching a documentary on PBS. It was a short clip that I viewed on my smartphone. After that I was sold! I had to go and do my research to find out more on Sonora Webster Carver.  Then of course, I had to share on Triple E because you know that is how I roll! HaHa! So, get ready to read and learn about this fascinating blind woman who literally dived horses successfully in tanks of water.

Now, let’s start at the beginning. Sonora was born in 1904 right here in Georgia. She grew up with a restless mother who moved the family around a lot. Sonora had a lifelong love affair with horses, cutting high school classes to ride, even though her family never had their own horses. In 1923 she answered an ad placed by William “Doc” Carver for a diving girl and soon earned a place in circus history. It was her mother who first encouraged her to consider diving for Carver’s act, which was in search of a new “Girl-in-Red,” when she was 19.

She was a good rider, but nothing in her experience prepared her for diving. Her assignment was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty or 60-foot tower and sail down on its back as the horse plunged into a pool of water below. After rigorous training She became an immediate hit and soon was the lead diving girl for Doc’s act as they traveled the country. Later, Sonora fell in love and married Doc’s son, Albert (Al) Floyd Carver in 1928. Al had taken over the show the year before after his dad passed. Sonora’s sister, Arnette Webster French, followed in her footsteps. She became a horse diver and joined the show but left in the 1930s.

Female Divers and Wild West Shows

Black and white photo of Sonora Webster Carver diving on her horse

 Now let me pause in the story to give some context on female divers and wild west shows. For their courage, horse diving women were compensated better than women in most other professions at the time which might be part of the reason Sonora took her mother’s advice. When she signed on to Carver’s show in 1924, she earned $125 per week. She would perform her diving routine up to five times a day, making   more than eight times what she had been as a department store bookkeeper. Another reason, was that female horse diving was among the most popular performances at Wild West Attractions. The stunt successfully combined attractive women, danger, and the magnetism of the “Wild West.” While women had been appearing as a novelty in Wild West shows since the early Buffalo Bill Cody days, female and male sharpshooters and trick riders were often interchangeable. Horse-diving acts, though, always used women riders, partly because Carver’s horses could support riders up to 135 pounds.

Of course, there was great risk in diving into a pool from heights of up to 60 feet on the back of a 1,000-pound wingless animal into a pool of water, yet Sonora survived her diving career in tack for about 8 years until 1931. While hitting the water off balance, face first and her eyes open; Sonora lost her vision from retinal detachment. She was diving her horse, Red Lips, on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. In less than a year she came back and continued to dive horses. Although she was now blind, she kept diving for 11 more years until 1942.

Retirement and Protests against Diving Horses

After her retirement from diving, Sonora and her husband moved to New Orleans where she worked as a typist at the Lighthouse for the Blind and engaged in activism for the visually impaired. The act of diving horses remained a popular attraction at the Atlantic City boardwalk before being discontinued in the 1970s. An attempt to revive the act in the 1990s was short-lived, because of the protests from animal-rights activists concerned about horse safety. It was noted that when the show traveled the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would investigate if there was any harmful treatment being done. They never found anything in all the years of the act. there was never a horse that was injured.

She wrote a book about her life titled, A Girl and Five Brave Horses. I was able to find an audio copy at the National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled. There is also a 1991 film of her life portrayed in Disney’s fictionalized movie, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. Sonora died at 99  years old on September 20, 2003, in Pleasantville, New Jersey.

African American Slavery and Disability in the American South

African American Slavery and Disability Book Cover

Reading with My Ears Book Review

For many years I have been curious about the life of the disabled slave. My first exploration was learning about Blind Tom, the Georgia slave who was never emancipated. But that was not good enough and I wanted to learn more. Through digging a little deeper, I found a book at one of my favorite libraries, Bookshare.   The book is titled, African American Slavery and Disability: Bodies, Property, and Power in the Antebellum South, 1800–1860 by Dea H. Boster. The summary says that, disability is often mentioned in discussions of slave health, mistreatment and abuse, but constructs of how “able’ and “disabled” bodies influenced the institution of slavery has gone largely overlooked. This volume uncovers a history of disability in African American slavery from the primary record, analyzing how concepts of race, disability, and power converged in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The book was different than others I have read on slavery because it seemed more academic in tone but I thoroughly loved the historical context and the numerous real examples of disabled slaves. The book is broken down into three parts: Bodies, Property and Power.

Part I Bodies

This book shows slavery as a disability in and of itself. I never saw slavery in that light before but as I read the book the more, I saw what the author was saying. When you think of the word disability it means lack of control of a particular bodily function and the slavery of African Americans reflected that. One side said that slavery was best suited for African Americans because of their mental and physical state but then the institution of slavery debilitated them as well. Normal was viewed as controlled, healthy, moral, male and strong whereas disabled was viewed as the total opposite. Disability was considered a mark of dishonor except from war wounds.

Disabled slaves were used as the poster children to help eradicate slavery because many of the slaves became disabled from cruelty not from birth. Abolitionist used the testimonies of disabled slaves as part of their programs against slavery. Slaves would share about floggings, attacks by blood hounds and other bodily harms that caused them to become disabled. They would display their bodies during presentations or testimonies.

Another point under the part about bodies is that disabled slaves didn’t look at themselves as others did. Disability could come from mental, physical and sexual abuse. It could also come from unsafe work conditions, meager food and clothing, repetitive stress and punishments for infractions. They didn’t see themselves as week or useless. Much like today people with disabilities don’t see themselves the way society does. We view ourselves in a positive light and feel we have much to contribute. Disabled slaves would exhibit endurance and transcendence which was displayed in animal folktales. These stories displayed a weaker or powerless animal using their mental wit to overcome the more physically stronger one, like in Br’er Rabbit.

Soundness of a Disabled Slave

masters evaluated the soundness of a slave by three things: ability to perform manual labor, face value as a commodity and individual health. A slave’s overall health was low on the list and disease didn’t factor in on soundness, but things like epilepsy could because of its unpredictability. Poor diet, lack of suitable clothing and shelter caused disability. Rheumatism and blindness were mention often as debilitating conditions. Whippings were a form of punishment and didn’t render the slave physically disabled but it did have psychological affects whereas a branding was to totally humiliate the slave. Proper medical attention was hard because of lack of knowledge by owners, lack of compassion, or lack of medical doctors to provide care. As a result, slaves relied on each other or a conjurer or root worker for natural healing remedies.  This was a part of the slave’s identity and resistance.

Part II Property

Disabled slaves were sometimes labeled useless because of their inability to perform at peak levels. Their monetary value was decreased, or not able to be fully controlled or disciplined by their masters. Disabled slaves performed duties such as cooking and other house duties, nursing, child care, gardening and watching livestock. Owners wanted to get the most out of their slaves as humanely possible but slaves could negotiate as to how much of that labor, they could actually perform. You might think that duties of disabled slaves were light and less strenuous than an abled bodied slave but that is not true. For instance, the work of a cook was one of the most laborious because they had to rise early and stay late, prepare lots of meals, grind meal and gather firewood. Watching small children was also hard work for a disabled or elderly slave. Children ranged from small infants to 5 years old and a slave could be responsible for many children at one time.

Some disabled slaves were hired out and also learned specialized skills or trades because it made it easier on the body. If a disabled slave worked as a tailor or shoemaker, they could find some relief and still be found useful. The contributions that disabled slaves made on the plantation were important but owners viewed them as useless. This was evident in their printed records, journals, insurance policies and other documents. Unfortunately, this perspective still holds true today. People with disabilities add value and contribute greatly but mainstream society doesn’t always see, acknowledge or reward it. We are seen as less than and devalued solely based on our disability and therefore treated as such.

It was documented that some owners showed benevolence to their old and disabled slaves by allowing them to stay with their families as they aged and debilitated. But according to the author these examples are rare.   Disabled slaves received abuse and punishment just like abled bodied slaves. The most common was not completing an assigned task or duty. The idea of reasonable accommodation in the workplace was not a concept in the arena of American slavery.  Owners didn’t always take into account that a disabled slave would perform at a slower rate or that the task might be more difficult or complicated to do.  So, if a task was not done, regardless of disability punishment would be delivered. Depending on the degree of punishment some slaves died as a result. One would consider this murder although owners did not. Besides punishment disabled slaves suffered neglect. Many would get reduced food rations, no new clothes or poor shelter. Some slaves were even abandoned to fend for themselves getting no assistance from family or the slave community.

Disabled slaves were also used as part of medical experimentation.  According to the author the most well-known procedures that were done were on slave women. It was understood back then and even today that African-Americans feel less pain making them better candidates for medical experimentation. Doctors would perform surgery without anesthesia, test remedies and use disabled slaves in medical hospitals and schools for educational purposes. These were ways that an owner could recoup the cost of a disabled slave since the slave couldn’t perform hard manual labor.

Documenting Disability  for Estate Planning and Sale

A stack of four books on a table with one book closed next to a cup of coffee and saucer.

Since disabled slaves were property it was important for owners to document their disability for estate planning and sale. Owners had to walk a fine line with being honest about a slaves mental and physical condition but not sharing too much or the slave might not be saleable.  They were documented in slave records with their particular kind of disability or if they were aged. Records would show slaves labeled as “gets fits”, “blind in one eye”, “hand injured”, “old Betty” or Old John”. They also gave them names of endearment such as “uncle” and “auntie” to indicate that the particular slave was aged. At the time of sale slaves were thoroughly examined to help determine retail value. Tests for hearing, eyesight and physical movement were performed. Slaves were required to disrobe to inspect their bodies for burns, scars and injuries. Scars from whippings were scrutinize more severely as a sign of a difficult or unruly slave. Bad teeth were a sign of poor health. Slaves were asked questions about their overall health and disability along with the examination. Owners would give a guarantee or warranty of health during the sale but, of course, there was no true absolute guarantee that a slave was totally healthy or sound.

To prepare a disabled or older slave for sale many owners would go through great lengths of disguise. Grey and white hair would either be plucked out or colored black to create youthful appearance. Scars, urns and injuries were greased over. Slaves were strongly encouraged and/or threaten to answer questions quickly, cheerfully and with a smile on their face. Some slaves were given large portions of food prior to sale and/or better clothing to wear. Slaves were aware of the transaction taking place in their sale and sometimes would hide or embellish their disability if it would help prevent their purchase, punishment or separation from family. One thing I found interesting    about this whole thing is that disabled slaves saw the lower value placed on them as a benefit because if ever it came time to purchasing their freedom, they knew the price would be more obtainable than an able-bodied slave.

Part III Power

Many times disabled slaves would use their disability to negotiate or manipulate their bondage. They were not totally powerless. By over exaggerating their condition the slave could get out of hard or uncomfortable work duties while still being in good favor with their owner. Many owners relied on medical doctors to help treat their disabled slaves. They did not rely or trust their slaves with the diagnosis of their medical condition. This feeling was mutual as slaves would sometimes hide their physical ailments and seek treatment among themselves. . .  Regardless doctors treating disabled slaves on a plantation was quite a lucrative business. Doctors could make multiple visits and administer various remedies, surgeries or treatments.

Some owners decided to forgo medical attention for their disabled slaves and allowed the condition to linger for months and even years.  It was directly connected to the financial value of the slave. The relationship between the owner, doctor and slave was a complicated one. Owners wanted their slaves cured and back to work. Doctors wanted financial compensation, good reputation and remedies that worked. Slaves wanted relief from pain and suffering. Yet many times these outcomes didn’t always happen in the way that was satisfying for everyone.

Another aspect of disabled slaves’ power on the plantation was faking or malingering their disability. A slave could embellish their pain or discomfort, tipping the scale to their advantage. Female slaves were more likely to fain their medical condition because it was directly connected to their reproductive ability. As a result, owners and doctors took their pleas of pain more seriously. Female slaves might complain of menstrual pain. She might fain repeated miscarriages to gain sympathy, lighter work load or more food rations. Additionally, a female slave’s ability to reproduce was directly connected to the soundness of the plantation and its owner. If a female slave was treated well by her owners then there would be no reason for multiple miscarriages or abortions. In some extreme cases a slave would intentionally injure or mutilate themselves to become disabled to get out of work, prevent a sale or removal from family. All of this was an important method of resistance however small.

This Was an Emotional Read

This was an incredible book and it took me a minute to read through it. I got quite emotional as I read the various examples of disabled slaves. My feelings ranged from distressed to anger to amazement. Slavery is a difficult topic already but reading about disabled slaves was even more trying. But I have no regrets because I took this journey willingly and am glad for it. I am grateful  for their examples of strength, endurance and resistance.

Black Female Research Scientist and Inventor Advocates for Better Eyecare and Treatment of Blindness

A black and white photo of a young Patricia E. Bath

Patricia E. Bath

This month is Black History Month and I am so excited to share about this phenomenal woman I learned about from the podcast called Encyclopedia Womannica. I have been a listener and subscriber for a long time now, at least 2 years, and every day I learn about some incredible woman and what she has done in the world. Well, this time the woman was Patricia E. Bath. Much like our US Vice President, Kamala Harris, Bath, was the first in many categories. Let me list them for you:

1.  The first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology

2.  the first Black woman to receive a medical patent 

3.  The first American woman to be named a chair of ophthalmology.

Bath’s Early Years

Obviously, being the first to open the door is no joke and I can imagine that it took a lot of courage, strength and tenacity to get there. But Bath also got her grit from her parents as well. She was born in Harlem in 1942. Her father was the first Black motorman for the New York City subway system; and her mother was a domestic worker.  Both of her parents supported her curiosity about the world and interest in science. Her dad was a world traveler during his days as a merchant marine, which gave him colorful stories to share with his family. Bath was particularly intrigued with the story of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a medical missionary, who dedicated his life to treating leprosy in the Congo.  Her mother’s contribution was using the earnings from her job to purchase Bath’s first chemistry set.

In high school she was one of a few students selected to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The head of the workshop was so impressed, he included her findings in a paper he presented at a conference. Bath completed high school in two years, and went straight to Hunter College where she graduated in 1964. Next, she attended Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C.

Bath Notices Differences in Care Between Blacks and Whites

Finished with her degrees, Bath accepted an internship back home, at Harlem Hospital. The succeeding year, she also began pursuing a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University. While traveling between the hospital and the university, Bath noticed a stark difference in the number of blind or visually impaired patients at Harlem’s eye clinic compared to Columbia’s despite how close the two facilities were located to each other. The one notable difference was that Harlem’s patients were largely Black while Columbia’s were mainly white.

Man Getting an Eye Exam

Drawing from her childhood curiosity, Bath led a retrospective epidemiological study. She found that blindness among the Black community was double that of whites. She concluded that high rates of blindness among African-Americans was largely due to the lack of access to care. She convinced physicians to offer surgeries at the Harlem clinic. And she proposed a new discipline called community ophthalmology. This new discipline combines elements of public health, community medicine and clinical ophthalmology to support underserved communities. Screenings were done for eye threatening conditions like glaucoma and cataracts. Volunteers were sent to senior centers and daycare facilities in the community. Children in need of glasses were identified early, giving them a better chance at school success. This discipline is still practiced worldwide today.

Bath Breaks Race and Gender Barriers

Bath began the final stage of her training at New York University In 1970. She broke a racial barrier by becoming the first African-American ophthalmology resident in American history. Shortly afterward she married a fellow physician and they had a daughter. A couple of years later Bath and her family relocated out west to California where she broke another barrier by becoming the first woman faculty member in UCLA’s Ophthalmology department. When she was hired, she was offered an office in the basement next to the lab animals. Instead of accusing her employer of discrimination Bath worked on getting more appropriate office space. By 1983, Bath was the chair of the department, and breaking yet another barrier by becoming the first woman in the US to hold that position.

Bath Invents Device to Remove cataracts

Bath believed that eyesight was a human right so in 1977, she and several colleagues created the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. They traveled around the world training volunteers, teaching, speaking and experiencing different cultures. During her travels, the most common cause of blindness she saw was cataracts. So, she decided to do something about it and in 1981 she invented a new device and method for treatment called the  laserphaco probe. The probe is a fiber optic laser surrounded by irrigation and suction tubes. It lets surgeons to remove cataracts in a matter of minutes. Not only was the process quickly sped up, but it minimized the patient’s pain.

A color photo of an older Patricia E. Bath

During this time, Bath’s concept outpaced current technology. She spent almost five years conducting research, trials and development work. In 1988, Bath broke another barrier becoming the first Black woman doctor to receive a patent. Today, the probe is frequently used around the world, and revolutionized the way cataracts are treated. Bath used her device personally restoring vision to several people who’d been blind for over 30 years. But in 1993, she retired from her position at UCLA to focus on telemedicine. She held positions in telemedicine at her alma mater, Howard University, and at St. George’s University in Grenada. In 2001, she was appointed to the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame. Bath died on May 30, 2019, from complications with cancer. She was 76 years old.

I’m Networking From Home During COVID-19

Empish Working in Home Office

This is International Networking Week

After working many years in the disability non-profit sector, I have learned a lot of professional skills that have elevated my career. I am sure you have heard of a couple of them like:  Don’t send an email out when you are feeling stressed, angry or frustrated because the outcome could be damaging. Or arrive at work and meetings 15 minutes early so that you are ready to go on time. Or keep clear of office gossip and politics. Yet one of the biggest tools in my career toolbox is networking. In today’s workforce, who you know is just as important as what you know. I feel that for people like me who are visually impaired, it is even more essential to network and build strong working relationships that can help lead to career success. As a result, I have been able to maintain my employment over the years primarily through my connections.

this week is International Networking Week and the perfect opportunity to reach out to current contacts and make new ones. You might be wondering how a person with vision loss networks and meets people? The answer is something I had to figure out through a lot of trial and error. Typical networking advice does not always work for those of us who cannot see so I had to add my own little twist to the experience. Now back in the days of BC (Before COVID) When I attended new events, I would contact the coordinator in advance and let them know I had a disability. This gave them a heads up and allowed time to explain I might need some extra help like a sighted guide as an escort to meet people. Other times I would just come to the function, sit down and converse with people who are sitting nearby. I have learned to not be stressed, put a smile on my face and allow the conversation and interaction to flow naturally. I know that some people might feel uncomfortable with interacting with a blind person so I don’t let that ruffle my feathers and I just take things as they come.

Current Methods to Network From Home

Now with the coronavirus still in high numbers, I am continuing to practice social distancing and work from home.  Gone are the days, at least temporarily, when the typical in-person networking included:  small talk, giving elevator pitches, and exchanging numerous business cards. Usually, networking involved attending large events where shaking hands and meeting face-to-face meant you could form a meaningful connection with another person. I have learned this can be accomplished through networking from home and fits perfectly with the fact I am an introvert . The possibilities of learning about a job opening, getting career advice, finding a mentor, meeting a future co-worker or colleague can all be done from the comfort of my house with my internet connection, computer, landline phone  and  adaptive technology . This is all a part of the new normal; yet the key to successful networking is to get to know people, have genuine conversations and add value.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

The bulk of my home networking has been on LinkedIn. Since COVID I have ramped up my interaction a bit more. I have been trying to have more meaningful conversations and not just reply with the standard auto fill responses. I have also been making more comments on the pages of other fellow bloggers that are disabled or who write. Engaging with others that do the same kind of work I do helps build a connection. Lastly, I started attending my college alumni chapter virtual meeting each month. I have only been to a meeting or two but I am hopeful that being consistent will be fruitful and I will meet people there too.

New Methods to Network From Home

Also, I have been putting my network chops to the test in a new way. I signed up for two online courses related to my work. One is a blogging course and the other is for freelance writers. Both of the courses have forums which are new platforms for me and have challenge me in the way I engage with people. I decided to do it because I wanted to meet new people in my field and build relationships. I am optimistic that out of these courses I will meet some folks I can forge a long-lasting connection beyond the lessons so we can get together and talk shop about the writing life. additionally, because of COVID many writer conferences are going virtual this year which is a perfect opportunity for networking. I have never really attended a writer’s conference because of distance and cost yet this year I might do it.

A Network Challenge for You

My challenge to you is this. What one or two things can you do to move your networking forward this week? How will you engage more with your current connections? How will you make new ones in this time of COVID?