Tag Archives: Self-employment

Today I’m Relaxing Instead of Working

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

It’s Time to Relax

You are sitting in a comfortable position. The room temperature is just right. There is relaxing music playing in the background. Someone with a soft and gentle voice is giving these instructions:  Relax. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Release with a slow awl. Sit back and close your eyes and gradually release the tension. Start with your toes. Working up your legs and hips. Moving slowly up your arms. To your shoulders, neck fingertips and head. Now slowly open your eyes and read my soothing blog post on relaxation. Well, maybe not the last part but you get the point.

I am relaxing today. Taking some time off. Maybe sleep in late for a change. Watch a movie or two. Read an audiobook. Or just do nothing. The last couple of Sundays I have been working. Writing blog post. Doing research. Taking courses to update this website. The list goes on and on.

It is good to take a breather from time to time. To rest, relax and release stress. To recharge my battery. I am an overachiever and Type A personality so I can get laser focused and I am in the zone. Then I am off to the races and not much else matters. The problem is I feel it later when my body is stiff, sore and aches all over. Making me exhausted and not good for much of anything else.

Blindness and Stress

also, because I am blind sometimes I feel the pressure to perform. To show the world and society blind people are smart. We are successful. We can contribute. We can do things. So many people have had little to no interaction with a blind person therefore all kinds of ideas and misinformation gets out there. Then people like me spend a lot of time pushing back on that and it is stressful.

When I saw on my calendar that Today is National Relaxation Day I knew I would definitely pause and take a break. And no guilt too because I have a legitimate reason. It is Sunday first of all and second a national observance. I got to do it, right? Yes, I do. So, I wrote this post in advance and when you read it I will be relaxing and not writing. I will not be working.

Relaxing Music Helps Me Sleep

Empish Sleeping

Now the other thing is this. I don’t just plan to relax today but relax on the regular. It is important to make relaxation a part of my lifestyle and not just a one off. So, what I have been doing is listening to relaxation, or maybe the better word is meditation, CDs. I started borrowing them from my county library through the Hoopla app. OMG! This app is wonderful because it is free and fairly accessible. Not only can I download audiobooks but movies and music too. So, one day I decided to try one of the meditation CDs to help with my sleeping problem. I found it extremely helpful as it soothed me and cleared my mind so I could sleep. I have made it a part of my nighttime routine or when I want to take an afternoon nap.

Now, I am done. No more talking about relaxation because it is time to actually do it. I am going to go and relax and I encourage you to do the same. But before you do, let me know ways you relax best in the comment section.

My Challenges Applying for Jobs Online

Empish Working in Home Office

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

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

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

Organizing Your Home Office in Four Manageable Steps

photo of a messy desktop

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.

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?

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

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

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

Staying Current with My Technology

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

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

Empish using iPhone

Before Calling Tech Support

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

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

Calling Tech Support

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

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

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

Empish Working in Home Office

Working and Writing in the Disability Non-Profit World

If someone told me in college while pursuing a journalism degree that 6 months after graduation, I would be visually impaired and later have a career in the disability non-profit world I would have said they were crazy. But that is exactly what happened! During that time, I was laser focused and incredibly ambitious; obtaining a public relations internship each semester. I was determined to work in Corporate America, make lots of money, own a home and a fancy car. However only one of those things happened! I got the home but the rest went out the window. Obviously, God had other plans for my life. I ended up working and writing in the disability non-profit world as a direct result of my disability.  It has been about 20 years and I have no regrets. So, why am I sharing all of this? Well, today is National Nonprofit Day.  This day recognizes the goals and positive impacts nonprofits have on communities and the world. Through nonprofits, awareness, research, and aid reach the people who need it most.

Working at Disabled Non-Profits

This above statement holds true because after losing my vision I needed to understand how to advocate for myself as a disabled person. My career plans for Corporate America didn’t pan out. Plus, I wanted to find a way to use the well-earned journalism degree I had just recently obtained. So, for 7 years I worked at disABILITY LINK, an independent living center that focused on advocacy, peer support and self-determination for people with disabilities. There I learned about ways to speak for myself, advocate for others and the self-confidence to start writing.  My next job was at the vision rehab center that provided the training I needed to be more independent as a blind person. At the Center for the Visually Impaired I worked as their public education and outreach person. I gave speeches, conducted tours, managed volunteer speakers, wrote for the community bulletin and started their blog, SightSeeing. Also, I was side hustling working for two other nonprofits. At Disability Resource Group I was contracted to do public education and community outreach on their breast cancer project. I reached out to disabled women encouraging them to get annual mammograms and supporting them in self-advocacy.

Writing at Disabled Non-Profits

The other nonprofit was Blind Skills, Inc who published Dialogue Magazine. For 17 years I wrote a career column where I interviewed blind and visually impaired people about the types of jobs and careers they pursued. Over the years I met chefs, small business owners, travel agents, property owners, musicians, artists, app developers, school teachers and more. Using my blogging experience and interest in web coding landed me a contract position with VisionAware where I coded and edited blog posts from our visually impaired peer group. Today, I  work from home  as a freelance writer. I have a contract assignment with Outlook Business Solutions, another agency that focuses on helping those with vision loss. There I write and edit blog posts and have written stories for their annual report.

Volunteering at Disabled Non-Profits

Empish with Guest Roderick Parker at GaRRS Studio

While working and writing at nonprofits I developed a sincere passion for the nonprofit world and the mission they have to help those in need. I used my journalism skills in a new meaningful way through a volunteer opportunity at the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Instead of writing I was on the radio in the broadcast world. I hosted and produced a show called Eye on Blindness for about 3 years. I interviewed guest in the blind community on a variety of topics. I no longer volunteer at the radio station but write Occasional blog post for VisionAware and recently wrote a post for one of my favorite libraries and another non-profit, Bookshare about the ADA.

Who would have ever known this would be the direction my life and career would take me? But I have embraced it and am grateful for this wonderful journey; that is still not over. I encourage you to learn about non-profits, support them either as a volunteer or by monetary donation. We need them in our community, society and the world.

Empish Working in Home Office

Working from Home Has Been My New Normal

In the last few months many people have had to transition from working in an office to working from home because of the pandemic.  Folks have had to make major adjustments to home and work life. They Have had to share space with family, increase WIFI bandwidth, find ways to stay active and deal with boredom. These are some of the dilemmas I have been reading about. But for me working from home has been my new normal for the last couple of years. Well, actually to be honest, I worked from home before around 2005 or so when I first started freelance writing.

so, when the virus came and businesses had to shut down and we had to shelter in place, staying at home was not entirely new to me. It was not a major adjustment. But I did empathize with the challenges that people were dealing with because I remember when I made that same transition too. I remember the first couple of months of walking around in a fog trying to figure out my next plan of action. I had quit my job without a new position to immediately jump into. It was a little scary but I was determined to make my new life work and I have done so.

First thing I did was give myself time to breathe and get my Barings. I remembered that first month or two I was running around like a chicken with the head cut off. Before I knew it, I was exhausted. I quickly realized that this type of schedule was not going to work in the long term. I needed to pace myself. I used this time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. For the last 10 years I had been working very hard, sometimes 2 jobs, and making long commutes to work, about 3-4 hours daily, and I was tired. I knew I needed time to just pause before starting my next venture.

Second thing I did was get on a schedule. So, each day I woke up at a set time, did my morning routine of shower, breakfast and exercise. then I hit the computer to do my daily work. I would stop at about 3 p.m. and do something fun that I enjoyed for the rest of the day. This became my new normal and it really started to work well for me.

Third thing I did was stop feeling guilty for making this change in the first place. I had felt a little torn when I resigned but ultimately knew it was the best decision for my life. As time passed, I began to feel happier, whole and more complete. My sleeping got a bit better and my outlook on life got brighter. Before I knew it, the writing work I desired flowed in.

Today, I am doing the work I love from my home office. I learn something new every day and do work that stretches my skills and abilities. I no longer have long commutes to a stuffy office. I no longer perform task that didn’t maximize all my talents and skills. Today working from home is my new normal and I have no plans to change it for anything.

Empish Writing a Check

Annoyance Leads to Advocacy in Accessing Mobile Banking Apps

in January I decided to start depositing my checks from my freelance work through mobile banking. Up to this point I was going into my local branch and making those deposits bimonthly. But it was time for change, to stretch myself and learn something new. In the past I did very little financial transactions on my smartphone and was not familiar with mobile banking. Flicking, swiping and tapping on apps is just not my thing especially when it comes to dealing with money. But after downloading the bank’s app, I found it rather simple and straightforward. I got excited thinking this was going to be easy and that I should have done this a long time ago but I soon realized I was wrong.

After logging in, I went to my account and selected the “deposit a check” option. I had already written that information on the back of the check and got it ready for the camera. This is when the challenges began. The first problem was that the part where you type in the deposit amount did not speak with Voiceover Command. Voiceover is the accessible feature in my iPhone that allows me to use my phone since I am blind. As a result, I had no idea of what amount I was typing in the box until I went to the next screen only to discover that I typed the amount in wrong. I went back to the screen and typed in the correct amount. This is a major problem because you need to know if you are depositing one dollar or multiple dollars. Once I got that corrected, I tapped the button to take a picture of the front of my check and tried to position the camera. But I kept getting errors telling me to place the check on a dark background and/or add light.

Feeling very annoyed and frustrated  with this I called the bank on my landline and worked with a representative in the mobile banking department. She gave some tips for the scanning of the check which I followed but it still didn’t work. I told her I would have a sighted friend to assist me and follow up. When my sighted friend came to help, she saw the issues that I was having and agreed with me that the app had some accessibility problems. She told me that there was enough light and the check was laying on a dark background so she was perplexed about the errors. We both finally gave up and I turned off Voiceover and let her deposit the check on my behalf.

 

 

Empish Using an iPhone

 

The next time I got paid I tried again and got the same error messages. But this time we are deep in the midst of the coronavirus and my bank has closed the lobby except for appointments only and drive thru.  So, I made an appointment and saw the branch manager who watched me try yet again to deposit this check. He observed the inability to hear the dollar amount and agreed with me. He also saw how the error messages kept popping up about the dark background and lack of light. He reassured me that there was plenty of light in his office and that his desk was dark. so, he was puzzled why the app was giving that kind of message. After several attempts I gave up and had him deposit my check.

When this problem occurred in January, I filed a complaint immediately with the mobile banking department. They responded too fast to tell me that the app was accessible. I was very annoyed and irritated because I knew that was not true. After 20 years of blindness I have gotten replies like this before where people quickly tell me that things are accessible to the blind when they are not. I have learned to push back and use my advocacy skills. I explained to the mobile banking department that I couldn’t hear the dollar amount and there were problems with scanning the check. I also shared that there are buttons on the scanning screen that don’t respond when Voiceover is turned on. I told them that I even went into a branch and worked with a bank employee who saw me try and use the app and saw that it wasn’t working properly. I even went as far to ask did they ever have blind or visually impaired people help test the app before they launched it?

Not to be outdone, I even tried my credit union’s mobile app and had similar problems too. I was able to hear the dollar amount but again the scanning process for the check didn’t work. After all of this you might be thinking, “Maybe something is wrong with your iPhone?” Well, I thought that too. But my iPhone is only a year old. It is a fairly new model and has the latest software downloaded on it. I also reached out to Apple disability tech support and did a screen share to look at my camera settings. I explained to them the problems I was having with mobile banking and they reassured me that the issue was not with my phone.

So, what happens now? Good question. It is the end of April and I am still working on my complaint with the bank but in the meantime, I am using Lyft to ride and go through the drive thru. Just this week I left my home wearing a facemask and gloves riding in a Lyft car to the bank.  I am also continuing to talk with my freelance client about electronic payment alternatives. As a contract employee I have shared my struggles with getting to the bank and my concerns especially that we are in the midst of a pandemic. They have heard me and other freelancers and are working on a better solution.

I believe in advocacy and speaking up for myself. Even if I don’t get an immediate resolution to my problem my voice has been heard. It can be frustrating, annoying and exhausting but there is power in speaking up and speaking out.