Tag Archives: Visual Impaired

Blindness and Disability are Popular Themes for October

The fall is my favorite season and time of the year. The weather is cooler. The autumn colors of brown, orange, golden yellow, dark red and green are on display. October is the month when all of this jumps off. But one other thing I recently noticed is the number of blind and disabled observations happening at this time too. Not sure why this is the case but I couldn’t let another day go by without pointing them out. Or at least the ones I know about.

Man Getting an Eye Exam

1.  World Sight Day is held on the second Thursday of October every year and aims to focus global attention on vision impairment and blindness. There is a different theme every year, with many of those who mark the Day taking the opportunity to both celebrate achievements to date and advocate for increasing attention towards eye care.  According to the World Health Organization 1 billion people around the world have a preventable vision impairment or one that has yet to be addressed.  Reduced or absent eyesight can have major and long-lasting effects on all aspects of life, including daily personal activities, interacting with the community, school and work opportunities and the ability to access public services.

2.  White Cane Safety Day is observed nationally on October 15th. It was a law passed to protect white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law in 1964.

3.  Blind Americans Equality Day. In 2011, White Cane Safety Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama. The mission is to celebrate the continuing achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and reaffirm the commitment to advancing their complete social and economic integration.

4.  Meet the Blind Month is hosted by the National Federation of the Blind every October. Throughout the month, members conduct a variety of outreach activities in their local communities. Many of these activities focus on White Cane Awareness Day, lived experiences with problem solving, self-confidence and intersectionality.

5.  National Disability Employment Awareness Month acknowledges the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces. Each October NDEAM celebrates America’s workers with disabilities and reminds employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices. In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to include individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988, and changed the commemoration to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

6.  Blind Awareness Month  was created by The Little Rock Foundation in Voorhees, New Jersey to promote improving blind and visually impaired children’s lives. The goal is to educate the public about good eye health, and treatment of eye disorders.  Inspire people with stories of the blind and their accomplishments. Advocate for research, resources and laws that benefit the blind community.

After doing my research I would dare to say that October is the month of the blind. I would encourage you to take some time and learn more, volunteer or donate to an organization serving the blind community.

Its a White Cane Not a Stick

The white cane has enabled me to travel safely and confidently by detecting stairs, sidewalk curbs, doorways and obstacles. It gives me the added security and protection I need so that I don’t stumble, fall or run into things. It identifies me as a person with a vision impairment. When people see my cane, they have a better understanding of my situation and can respond accordingly.  Or at least I think they should. I have found that people want to refer to my cane as a stick. I get responses like, “Where is your stick, Empish?”, “My relative who is blind uses one of those sticks too.”  Or my favorite is, “Where can I get one of those sticks?” My emotions range from frustration, annoyance to amusement.

So, why is my mobility aid a cane and not a stick? Have you ever wondered why the white cane is white and not some other color?  Who made the decision for the color white in the first place?  When did the blind start using white canes anyway? Well, since today is National White Cane Safety Day I thought it would be fitting to do a little digging into the history and the safety law around traveling with it.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

Prior to the use of the official white cane people who were blind and/or visually impaired used staffs, sticks and canes as instruments in their modes of travel.  These tools were use more to alert the blind person to obstacles in their path rather than for noting their blindness.  It was not until the 20th century that the “cane” was used for identification purposes.  During the times of the two World Wars canes began to be used by people with vision loss; first starting in Europe and then branching out into the United States. According to the American Council for the Blind, James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight, the artist had to readjust to his environment.  Worried by the increased motor vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists

The White Cane Becomes White

It was not until ten years later the white cane established its presence in society. A national white stick movement for people in France was launched. The campaign was duplicated in England and was sponsored by Rotary clubs throughout the United Kingdom. Yet, in the United States it was the Lion’s Clubs International that helped introduced the white cane to the blind community. In 1930, a Lion’s Club member watched as a blind man attempted to cross a busy street using a black cane. Realizing that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion’s Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility. In 1931, the Lion’s Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for persons who were blind.H-

A Tool for Mobility

Black Man Wearing Shades and Walking with White Cane

Up to this time, blind people were using their white canes primarily as symbols of blindness not as a mobility aid. But when the blind veterans of World War II returned, the form and the use of the white cane changed. This was an attempt to get veterans active and involved in society again. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the “long cane” or “Hoover” method of cane travel. These white canes were designed to be used as mobility aids and returned the cane to its original role as a tool for mobility, while maintaining   the symbolism of blindness. This also ushered in the concept of orientation and mobility training; where a person with vision loss learned about their surroundings and how to travel safely and confidently.

Today, the white cane is a visible identifier that the person has some form of visual impairment.  Much like the wheelchair symbolizes a mobility impairment. People with vision loss travel with their white canes directly in front of their body so that others can see it clearly. This is especially critical when approaching a street intersection. To a motorist driving down the street or hovering at a street light; the white cane stands out because of its color and the red strips help deflect a vehicle’s headlights.

White Cane Safety Day Passes

Two White Blind Teens Holding canes and Sign Saying Celebrate White Cane Safety Day

The white cane began to move into the political scene and state legislation began to pass. The first two states to past safety ordnances were Illinois and Michigan. The ordnances protected white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. In the early 1960’s, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving the blind and visually impaired encouraged Congress to proclaim October 15th of each year to be White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states. This event marked an exciting moment in the long campaign to gain state and national recognition for the white cane. National White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Its designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. Georgia went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

What the Law States

Here is a summary of the law:

1. Only people who are blind or visually impaired should travel with a white cane.

2. When a motorist comes in contact with a person traveling with a white cane at an intersection that driver should come to an immediate stop to avoid injury or harm to the white cane traveler.

3. Any person who is in violation of the above will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Now you have learned some history on the white cane. Why it is no longer called a stick. You now know why the white cane is white, do you think that motorists stop for it? Do you think that people see the white cane as a mobility aid and symbol of visual impairment?  For those using a white cane, do you have to explain its usage a lot or barely at all? What things do you think can be done to make people more aware? Share your comments.

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?

Why I Don’t Have a Guide Dog

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

image

As a blind person people ask me this question often, “Empish, why don’t you have a guide dog?” Followed up by more inquiries of, “wouldn’t a guide dog be better to use than a white cane?” and “Wouldn’t a guide dog provide companionship and protection?” These are fair and valid questions. I answer them by explaining that when considering a guide dog, a blind person needs to really think it through and be sure it is the very best option. There is time, energy and training to contemplate. Plus, one must look at their home and work environment to be sure that a guide dog would fit in that space. Another thing to consider is one’s overall physical and mental health. This is by no means a negative post on guide dog use but an honest and thoughtful approach to my reasons why; and in recognition of National Guide Dog Awareness Month.

The main reason I don’t have a guide dog is very basic-I don’t care for animals that much. Although I grew up with a dog as a pet when I was a child, having a guide dog is a totally different situation. I realized that after losing my vision I was no longer interested in animals. See, my hands are my eyes. Constantly touching something furry and living in addition to other surfaces was too much. Being mindful of my hands and keeping them clean was a lot to think about.

Additionally, I learned that a guide dog is a “working animal” and not a pet. Since that is the case, I knew that my lifestyle didn’t fit. Most of the day I am sitting in front of a computer working and not out and about. When I do get out, I am in a car or taking public transportation. So, this leaves little opportunity for a dog to get needed exercise and physical activity. This is important so that the dog’s weight is regulated. 

In order to get a guide dog, there are weeks of training involved. Following a special diet, feeding schedule and daily grooming that must be done. And of course, that all-time favorite activity-picking up the poop! 

Although guide dogs are covered under the ADA people that use them still struggle with their acceptance. I have had friends share about challenges entering buildings, restaurants, hotels, and Uber/Lyft cars. Listening to their stories I quickly understood that I would have to be a fierce advocate for using a guide dog too. since I am already advocating for so many other things, I just couldn’t see adding another thing to the list. The thought of it was overwhelming to me.

So, after doing my research on guide dogs, I decided this was not a feasible option for me. I knew the work involved and I was just not interested and didn’t want to do it. Still people around me would encourage me to reconsider. But it is about knowing who you are as a person and knowing what you can take on in your life. It is about not allowing yourself to be pressured into a decision that you don’t feel comfortable with even though society, friends or family says it is a good thing for you. At the end of the day you will be the one solely responsible. You really have to take all these factors into play and be sure it is really what you want and desire.

Now don’t get me wrong, a guide dog can be an excellent mobility aid.  My friends that have a dog share about the benefits of increase socialization, companionship, mobility and well-being. But using one is a personal decision not a requirement for blindness. I hope that my transparency has help you to understand more about why I don’t have a guide dog.

Strengthening My Body to Help Prevent Falls

Every since I lost my vision, I have become aware of my body and how it functions. When I went through my vision rehabilitation training program, I learned how to use my other senses to function and move in the world. As I have gotten older, I also recognized that the body breaks down and that I have to do more to stay healthy and strong. Adding to that a disability makes things even more interesting. So, with that in mind I work on myself all the time to improve and do better. Recently when I notice the arthritis in my right knee flaring up, I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. We had a telemedical appointment and discussed my daily activities, exercise regimen and scheduled an x-ray on that knee. A few weeks later we met again via another telemedical appointment and went over my x-rays. Yes, old Arthur was busy on my knee and causing all kind of trouble! That was nothing really new to me. But what my doctor suggested was-physical therapy.  I was pleasantly surprise at the thought and gladly accepted. We schedule for a therapist to come to my home twice a week to work specifically on strengthening my legs and reducing my arthritic pain. So, why am I sharing this? Why would you care about my knee hurting and what I am doing about it?  Well, September 21-25 is National Falls Prevention Awareness Week. I want to bring this to your attention for a couple of reasons using my life as an example.

First Reason is Fall Prevention is Not Just for Old People

 Whenever I am looking at articles, seminars, webinars or conferences on fall prevention they seem to always be geared toward seniors. They focus on those in the age group of 50 and up. But falls can happen to anyone at any age.  I know this to be true because I have had a couple of falls in the last few years and I am not a senior citizen. As a result, this has caused me to pay a little more attention to the way I live my life so that I can prevent more falls in my future. For example, I don’t talk on my cell phone while walking with my white cane. Talking on the phone while trying to navigate and use proper mobility can cause major distractions and possibly a nasty fall.

Second Reason Strength Training is Not Aerobic Exercise

When I started meeting with the physical therapists, she demonstrated several leg exercises she wanted me to perform. We worked on various leg lifts, hamstring curls, squats, and heel raises. Initially I was over confident because I do these all the time as part of my aerobic workout  for health and fall prevention. But she quickly informed me of the differences between  the two. Your focus is on strengthening   not sweating, fast movements or increasing your heart rate. You want slow and control movements. You want time for execution and recovery of the muscle group. It reminded me of when I took yoga classes. We would get into these poses and hold for a minute or two monitoring our breathing. When I worked on my leg lifts, I had to hold each leg for a count, alternating and only holding on to a surface with one hand. The point was to strengthen both legs and work on balancing. The ultimate goal is to stand and not hold onto anything while preforming these exercises or at least hold with two fingers.

I soon realized how weak my legs were and how much work I needed to do. But I was not discouraged; only determined because I wanted to get rid of my knee pain. I was amazed that in a short amount of time I began to feel results and that motivated me to keep going. So did my physical therapist. She started adding2 pound leg weights and having me ride my recumbent bike. I had been walking and doing floor exercises mostly; and had neglected my bike. Now I have started to ride it again adding resistance levels to making biking harder.

Empish on Recumbent Bike

In just a month’s time I have noticed a drastic improvement and virtually no knee pain. Sitting, standing, squatting, bending, and going up and down my stairs have all become easier to perform. I am so grateful and excited and my therapy is not even done yet! WooHoo! But I want to circle back to fall prevention. This is the thing. At some point in time we will probably all experience a fall or two. Let’s just be real about it. The question is how do you prepare and how do you recover? In the preparation you do the best you can by taking care of your body.  Exercise that includes strengthening and balancing. For the recovery, you educate yourself and learn the proper things to do. Here’s how to get up from a fall:

Third Reason is Learning How to Recover From a Fall

Empish Crawling to Chair

Note: don’t get up if you are in severe pain or unsure you can get up by yourself

1. Roll onto your side. Bend the leg on top and lift yourself onto your elbows or hands. Then on hands and knees crawl to a steady chair or table. If this is hard to do roll or crawl.

2. Hold onto the chair or table and move yourself onto both knees.

3.  Keep weaker knee or leg on the floor. Lift the foot of the stronger leg and put flat on the floor under you.

4.  Hold to the chair and lift your body up from the floor.

5.  Using your arms for support slowly turn your body moving your buttocks onto the chair.

6.  Once on the chair move back securely onto the seat. Sit there for a few minutes to assess whether you can get up.

There is a lot more info on fall prevention. Way too much for me to write and blog about here in this post because I will be here all day!  I encourage you to use this week to learn as much about it as you can. The more you know the better prepared you will be and the better your recovery will be if you fall.

Preparing and Planning for an Emergency During COVID-19

Empish Putting Battery in Flashlight

Every day When I turn on the news it seems that a natural disaster like a hurricane, flood or tornado is happening. The latest are the devastating wild fires in California. I remember when Hurricane Irma in 2017 hit and how I was caught a little unprepared. It wasn’t the hurricane itself but rather the after affects that caused major power outages in my community. I had to figure out how to maneuver without electricity for a couple of days. I even think back to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Again, I was not directly affected because I live in Atlanta but   I ended up working directly with disabled evacuees. As I took their phone calls for emergency assistance I had to reflect on my own situation and ask some hard questions about my preparedness. Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic, I have thought seriously about how to handle a medical emergency and do I have things in place if I get sick and need to be hospitalized. I know that preparing for any  emergency during COVID-19  will help me to stay save and survive. September is recognized as National Preparedness Month  to promote family and community disaster planning now and throughout the year. The 2020 NPM theme is: “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.”

Over the years I have put simple things in place such as keeping extra water and  batteries on hand for my flashlights. I also created an emergency contact list including family, friends, and medical information such as insurance companies and medical doctors. Initially I had it displayed on my kitchen corkboard but today it is stored in my smartphone.  I have my family labeled in my contacts and I have a medical app for this purpose so that medical personnel can reach out to my contacts if I am incapacitated.

Empish Touching Fire Extinguisher Mounted on Wall

‘When I purchased my home 17 years ago, one of the first things I did was go to a home improvement store and buy 2 fire extinguishers. I have one in the kitchen and the other is in the hallway upstairs. According to the National Fire Protection Association it is best to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, in the kitchen, the garage and near exit doors. You never know when you might need to put out a small fire and you will lose precious time running around the house to get an extinguisher. Two things to remember though–be sure to check the agent class. They come in A, B, C or a combination. I purchased one for all fires so I don’t have to worry about if the extinguisher will work properly. Also, I try to keep track of the agent levels in the extinguisher. Over time the agent strength level decreases and the worse thing is to have a fire, grab the extinguisher, aim and spray and nothing comes out!

To help ease my mind about COVID-19, medical emergencies,  and hospitalization I do  a little reading. Emory Healthcare sends out a routine newsletter with updates and details on COVID-19 Procedures. I have learned that emergency rooms and hospitals follow strict guidelines for protecting people during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following: universal masking, screening at all entrances, separate waiting areas for people who have or may have COVID-19, frequent cleaning and disinfecting,  and social distancing.

In case of a home emergency I have some supplies organized and ready. I can quickly grab a standard first aid kit, OTC medications, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls. I also have an ice pack in the freezer and a   talking thermometer . When the pandemic started, I realized that I need to stock food supplies for illness. So now I have chicken noodle soup, crackers, bottled water, Sprite and Gatorade.

Empish Taking Temperature with Talking Ear Thermometer

Remembering my time working with Katrina evacuees, a thing I noticed in particular was the lack of access to important documents such as social security cards, birth records and government IDs. So, what I did was purchase a waterproof and fire safe storage unit. Since those days I have moved a lot of my life online and need to do the same with these documents. I can scan them into my computer and store and save in Dropbox to   easily access later from the cloud.

Another task is writing an advance medical directive. This document states what to do medically if I become unable to direct my own care. It would give who to contact to make medical decisions on my behalf and whether I want to be resuscitated or not. This is something I have never done before but need to take seriously because the wrong medical care could be administered without my knowledge or approval. During this time of COVID-19 a medical directive is even more important than ever before.

If and when a medical emergency happens, I want to be ready.  I know that being clear headed and focused will help me get the best medical assistance during an emergency. I have done my best to plan and prepare for a crisis. I can have peace of mind that I have taken the initiative. So, are you prepared for an emergency? What things can you start putting in place today to prepare yourself?

Census 2020

Thirty Days to Census 2020 Deadline

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

2020 Census is Totally Accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hadley Provides 100 Years of Remote Learning to the Blind Community

Empish Reading Braille

For a century the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired has provided remote learning to the blind community. This is an enormous accomplishment. Even more so in the midst of COVID-19 where distant learning, sheltering in place, social distancing and remote access are becoming the new normal. According to their website, the mission of Hadley is to create personalized learning opportunities that empower adults with vision loss or blindness to thrive at home, at work and in their communities. Well, I can attest to Hadley’s mission because I have personally benefited from their instruction. I am going to share my experience, but first let me give a little history on the organization because again 100 years is a long time to be in existence and knowing the back story is important.

History of the Hadley Institute

William Hadley, a former school teacher, lost his sight at 55 and loved reading. He wanted to learn braille but was frustrated with finding a teacher so he taught himself. Along with an ophthalmologist and neighbor, Hadley found a way to share his love of learning with others who had lost their vision too. So, in 1920, the Hadley Correspondence School and the “braille by mail” curriculum launched.  The very first student, a woman in Kansas, had also lost her sight later in life and wanted to continue reading. She mailed her lessons to Hadley, and he corrected and returned them along with encouraging notes. This was the beginning of the close instructor-learner relationship that is a trademark of Hadley learning today.

Ways I’ve Benefited from Hadley’s Instruction

I too was one of those who lost vision as an adult. I learned braille previously at a vision rehabilitation center but realized too late that I didn’t have a good solid game plan on how to implement it beyond the alphabetic code. I learned braille because that is what I was supposed to do and I saw some immediate benefits such as labels for my Music CDs, spices for cooking and metal labels for my clothing. I was not thinking about reading braille books or magazines. Outside of that braille was just a vague thought in the back of my mind. As a result, my reading and writing skills stayed on a rudimentary level; much like a kindergartner at school. So I contacted Hadley to take a braille course and began my journey back to braille. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t finish my course however I accessed other learning tools from Hadley.  The next course I took was on LinkedIn where I went through the modules online to complete my profile and then connected with my instructor. Once we connected, my instructor gave constructive criticism on my LinkedIn profile that was helpful. Another Hadley course was on the keyboard. Over the years my typing and keyboard skills had gotten slack and sloppy. I was making several key punch errors. This course helped me get reacquainted with the home row and other important keys, practice proper posture and slow down my typing for accuracy.

I love a good informative and entertaining podcast. Hadley offers Tech It Out is an hour long, monthly call-in discussion group; but I listen to it afterward as a podcast. There I have learned about all kinds of technology for home, work and entertainment. The very first one I attended we discussed grocery shopping and food delivery apps.  So many people joined in the conversation and that was long before the pandemic! Other podcast topics have been on accessible small kitchen appliances, using tablets, watching audio described movies and learning about streaming services. Their most recent topic is accessing tech support for your devices.

All of the remote learning I gained from Hadley was at no cost, at my own pace and from the comfort of my home. They are a non-profit organization and receive donations to provide these services. I applaud Hadley for the work they have done and have no doubt they will continue to be successful in educating the blind for many more years to come.

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

AMC Movie Theaters Reopened During Pandemic but I’m Staying Home

On August 20th AMC Theaters finally reopened for movie goers. I got an email update about it explaining the process and how excited they were to offer both new releases and old classics to their customers. They also went into great detail to clarify their Clorox cleaning process, various concession changes,  facemask requirements and how they would operate at 40% seating capacity  or less for social distancing.  Additionally, When I swiped across my phone app, I noticed that they were offering me my belated birthday popcorn, soda and a $10 bonus gift card. I am a major movie lover and an AMC Stubs A-List member meaning that I get to watch 3 movies a week for a set monthly fee. While they were closed, my membership was placed on hold. Although all of these procedures and perks sounded great, wonderful and even somewhat enticing; I have decided for the time to not venture back inside of a movie theater.

The major reason is I just don’t feel that it is safe yet with the coronavirus still on the rampage especially with high numbers in Georgia. Our numbers of cases are not showing a major decrease yet and that deeply concerns me when going outside and socializing. Right now I have just been going out for those basic necessities of life like groceries, medical  and hair appointments. I have not been meeting with friends, dining out at restaurants or traveling to visit family.

Even though AMC is requiring a facemask, except when not eating, I wonder how they will enforce that. I have been to places like the grocery store and even on the bus were a facemask is required but people still don’t wear one. That too concerns me. I am thinking once people get into the actual theater room, the lights go down and the movie starts those facemasks are going to come off. I seriously doubt that the theater will have staff to patrol rooms looking for people who are not wearing a mask or even enforcing it.

The other piece of the facemask dilemma is wearing it for long periods of time. There are no AMC theaters close to my home on public transportation that I can easily get to; so, I have to travel a long distance. That means riding the bus for at least 90 minutes with a facemask. Then when I get to the theater watching a movie that typically is 2 hours long wearing a facemask. Then getting back on the bus to repeat the process. That is a lot of hours with something on my face just to watch a movie! It would be something different if I was going to work but this is entertainment and not essential.

So, I will just be patient. I will wait until the numbers go down. I will wait until there is solid medical treatment like a vaccine available. In the meantime, I will read my movie blogs, newsletters and emails to stay current. I will continue to watch films on Netflix, PBS Video, iTunes; and recently added to my list Disney+. Until things get better my well-vented, air conditioned home and comfy sofa will continue to be my movie theater. What’s your game plan? Now that the theaters are back open do you plan to visit or, like me, stay home?

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.