I remember several years ago, when I first started using an iPhone I was giving Siri a command. But before I did, I got distracted talking to my boyfriend at the time and said, “Oh, my God!” Siri heard me and immediately replied, “I am not a spiritual advisor. You must get a human being for that.” I looked down at my phone in shock and amazement. Did I hear correctly? Yes I did. Then I started to laugh loudly. My boyfriend asked me what was so funny and I shared with him what Siri said. Then he started laughing too. Siri can do all kinds of things; but that day she made it crystal clear that things related to religion was not one of them.
Since that day, I have become more skillful using my phone including Siri. Today I give her all kinds of commands. What is the weather for today? What is my doctor’s number? Set the timer for 10 minutes. Text this or that person. Spell the word Entrepreneur. Open Netflix or Overcast. These are some of the daily commands I give Siri and she doesn’t complain. This little personal assistant built into my iPhone has become so helpful over the years. I hate to admit it but I have become a little dependent on Siri to complete these tasks. When it comes time to cook in my kitchen or write a blog post I am hunting around for my phone so I can call up Siri for assistance.
This month is the 10-year anniversary of Siri. Some might say in all these years Siri should be doing more like other personal assistants on the market. Yet, for me I am happy with her performance. I am a low-tech person and the help I get is exactly what I need. So, Hey, Siri happy anniversary.
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
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.
This past week I read a motivating and encouraging book. It challenged and inspired me to take my career to the next level. The book is titled Your Next Level Life: 7 Rules of Power, Confidence, and Opportunity for Black Women in America by Karen Arrington. She is the founder of the Miss Black USA Pageant, creator of the Next Level Women’s Summit, winner of a 2020 NAACP Image Award, a global philanthropist and mentor to thousands of young Black women.
It addresses the question what is the next level life for you? While keeping in mind it is different things for different people. Arrington looks at how Black women can feel stuck or trapped by other people’s expectations of what can be achieved. She wants the reader to stop playing small and start redefining what success really means. As I read this short but powerful book, I was deeply moved by Arrington’s passionate words because she reinforced a lot of the thoughts and ideas I had as well. Yet I felt a little overwhelmed by all that I was challenged to do. I have accomplished a lot in my life and career. Still reading the book I realized I have more to do and wondered how to do it as a Black woman with a visual disability. I struggled a bit to see myself fully in this book. Very few business and career books address the intersectionality of race, gender and disability. This is something that many of my disabled working friends talk about often. However, I decided to take the gems in this book and apply them where needed.
The Seven Rules
Arrington gives seven rules for leveling up your life. They are presented as chapters with thought-provoking questions, tips and ideas to handle each one. Her seven rules are:
1. Identify Your Superpowers
2. Find Your Next Level Friends
3. Expand Your Horizons
4. Magnetize Money
5. Position Yourself Like a Star
6. Keep It Real
7. Give Back From Day One
Sometimes My Superpowers Need a Rest
AS I read these seven rules, I thought about the ones I needed to focus on the most. Which areas of my life needed the most improvement? I figured this was the best approach to the book. This way I could center myself on making small incremental changes. When it came to the first rule I was already there. I have a good self-awareness and know my strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the challenge for me is whether I want to stretch myself. Or whether I want to give myself a break because that superpower needs a rest. Sometimes you can be known for being good at a thing until you get tired and need a break. I think it is good to shift things around a bit to get some balance.
Challenged to Level Up Connections
Now, the second rule I really need to work on. Finding those level friends has been a challenge for me and it has not been for lack of trying. This year I began to work on this one more than previous years. I had joined two writers’ forums in hopes of building a community for my freelance work, but it went flat. Reading this chapter showed me I need to get back on the horse again. I also see that I need to reevaluate my current connections to see if they are in alignment with my life and goals. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?” I like what she said about how you are the sum of the five people you hang with. I had to really take a pause and think about that statement. My close connections are not bad, but they are not helping me to move forward and that needs to change. Fortunately, I am not around negative people, but it is more that the people I am around are not moving in the same direction as me.
rule four on Magnetize Money was spot on. She said that wealth is your birthright. As women we don’t get equal pay for equal work, even more so for Black women and even more so for disabled women. This is a hard one and I have mixed feelings about what she said. Yes, there are more opportunities to create income and wealth but people with disabilities still did with huge barriers to employment. I have been taking courses, as she suggested, to help advance my career. Today, I am working on improving my website you are reading this blog on right now. I am also working on my Microsoft skills because I just installed Office 365, and I plan on learning how to spruce up my LinkedIn profile for maximum appeal. Still at times I feel no matter how much education, training and work experience I acquire, opportunities still elude me.
Other Rules Reinforced My Own Thoughts
The rest of the book’s nuggets of wisdom were encouraging and again reinforced my own thoughts and ideas. I reflected on her words about how I should be confident and unapologetic about who I am. That I should always keep it real because what I do is who I become. And, of course giving back. I totally agree with that rule. I have been a firm believer in contributing to society and community. I have been a volunteer for many years and continue to do so with my writing. So, if you are looking for a great read to help level up your career. One that will encourage you to take it to the next stage. One that will inspire and motivate you without being judgmental, then this is the book for you.
The anthology Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong has been on my audio bookshelf to read for months now. I finally stopped procrastinating and red this remarkable collection of writings by disabled and chronically ill activists, artists, and authors. The topics are as diverse as the type of disability presented. The 30+ entries cover technology, incarceration, fashion, homophobia, medical issues, organizing strategies, psychotherapy, racism, relationships, sexism and so much more.
Purpose of the Anthology
Wong is a disabled activist, media creator and research consultant. She is also the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community supporting and amplifying disability media and culture. In the introduction, Wong shares about how story telling itself is an activity not an object. It is the closest we can come to a shared experience. She shares about how she didn’t grow up as part of the ADA generation. Rather it was her collection of stories about people with disabilities that helped grow her sense of community and connection. She wanted this book to reflect and contribute three things:
1. More stories about the disabled in the present while honoring the past.
2. More stories about every day disabled people verses highly profiled ones in the disability community.
3. Increase the diversity of the mainstream representation of disability which is mostly white and male.
The book is divided into four parts: Being, Becoming, Doing and Connecting. This anthology is not a disability 101 guidebook or the best of list. Wong makes it clear that these stories are not meant to explain disability and are not here to inspire, motivate or encourage the reader. Rather it is the disabled speaking in their own words about being disabled. The stories come in various forms such as: essays, speeches, an interview, a eulogy, statement and call to action. Content notes are provided for self-protection and access so the reader is given a heads up that the material might be difficult to read or triggering. This allows the reader to skip around and select the stories that are the most interesting or compelling. Unlike others, I read through the whole book from beginning to end. I wanted to hear about the lives of others with disabilities to feel a sense of connection and community. In this post I am featuring a few of the entries that resonated with me.
Part One Being
In part one, Being, the entry titled When You Are Waiting to be Healed hit a nerve with me because of its relatability. The author deals with a vision challenge called nystagmus where the eyes move around uncontrollably. She shares about her family and religious experience in looking to God to heal her vision problem. Boy, could I relate to this story! In the early days of my blindness, I was there too. Praying for healing and understanding because I was confused about what was happening to me. People around me praying and telling me to be faithful that God would heal me. But as my vision got worse, I had an aha moment. I realized this was going to be my life. Not that I stopped believing in God or prayer I just started focusing on learning how to live differently. The author shares that she was not a mistake waiting to be fixed and I totally agreed. I don’t look at my disability as something that I need to be healed from anymore. I don’t think that I need to be fixed or changed in anyway. I think this is exactly how I should be, and I embrace the beautiful life that I live.
Another similar story was I’m Tired of Chasing a Cure. Since my vision loss was due to an auto immune condition some people felt I should have spent more time researching cures and remedies. I just didn’t feel the need. The author brings up some powerful questions such as: how do we feel about ourselves? How do we feel when abled body people start advocating for cures which could eliminate our people entirely? These are some thought provoking questions and it is not that disabled people don’t desire a cure, but it would dominate their time. There would be no time to live. The author says the cost is too high because I miss living my life while chasing cures. This is so true. I have seen folks in the blind community spend a lot of time researching eye treatments, seeing various doctors, and having multiple surgeries to find a cure to their eye condition to the point they stop living. They also lack basic blind skills that could help them live a better life. Sometimes I think that maybe this is a part of the denial/acceptance phase of things. Yes, I know that being blind is not the sexiest thing in the world, but it is what you make it. It is about perspective and attitude.
Part Two Becoming
In part two, Becoming, Nurturing Black Disabled Joy was an insightful read because the author was so transparent about not always having joy. She said that “hope is my favorite word, but I didn’t always have it. My joy is my freedom.” We live in a world where we assume that joy is impossible for disabled people. That sadness, depression, loneliness, and shame are the only feelings. People wrongly assume the life of a disabled person must be miserable, But I tell folks all the time I have met many an unhappy, bitter, and pissed off sighted person. So, what does that say? We are all human beings and feel a range of emotions. The disabled are no different.
Part Three Doing
In part three, Doing, I absolutely loved the entry Why My Novel is Dedicated to My Disabled Friend Maddy. I felt a sense of connection because this author is a writer trying to get their book published. The author has a brain injury that makes using a computer screen hard. I appreciated the emphasis on interdependence where we rely on each other focusing on strengths. Too many times in society we have the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality but in reality, that doesn’t work. Maddy, a friend with a similar brain injury, helps the author edit the manuscript.
I could identify because in the blind community we do the same thing. One person might be totally blind and another low vision. We get in there and help each other with what needs to be done. As a writer, I could also relate because I have had to reach out to get additional support. I have had friends or paid assistance with reviewing my writing, taking pictures for my blog, or brainstorming writing ideas. Even this website and blog was not created by my efforts alone. I got help from others.
The author presses the need for more stories written by, about and for the disabled. I agree. Disabled success is not just about one person as portrayed in the media but many people behind the scenes helping to make the disabled person successful.
I don’t have the same exact disability as the author of Six Ways of Looking at Crip Time. Yet, I understood the need for extra time. I just never looked or thought about it as Crip time; that is time needed because of my disability. I find myself needing those extra moments in the morning to get up and get ready especially as I get older, and my body moves slower. I also need it in the afternoon. I find myself slow and sluggish around 3 p.m. and literally must lay down for a nap.
I have always noticed it in my writing. I have never been a fast-moving journalist. I knew back in college before I even became disabled those tight-type reporter deadlines were not for me. I preferred writing with a much longer lead time like for magazines or newsletters. Now, having a disability I see I am a slow writer. Pondering what I am going to say, listening closely to my screen reader, and monitoring my fingers snugged tight in a hand brace relieving my carpal tunnel
For many years I have advocated for better transportation. So, when I read the entry on the para-transit system in New York City I was nodding my head through the whole thing. I was like a parishioner in the amen corner at church, saying, “Yes, that is right.” Late pick-ups. Long ride around times. Drivers who don’t offer assistance. Poor route planning. Filing numerous complaints. Even being on TV and in the newspaper. Yes, I have done all those things too just like the author. However, at the end when she vividly described the driver using a cup to urinate in front of her on the bus that was it for me! The weird thing is I was not surprised because I had a similar experience. Not on PARA-transit but in an Uber car. I felt some of the same feelings as the author. Why did the driver wait until I was the only one left in the car to do this? Why didn’t he stop along the way to go to a bathroom? If I were a sighted white woman, would he have done the same thing? IF he would stoop this low, what other things would he do? And, no I do not want you to touch any of my belongings or take my hand. Unlike the author I was not too concerned for my safety. I think I was too mortified to think about that, but she brought up a good point about vulnerability because this person was exposing himself. Things can happen to women and specially to disabled women. Like the author I did file a complaint with Uber but not much came of it except an apology and that they would ensure I would not be matched up with that driver again.
Part Four Connecting
In part four, Connecting, I agreed with the entry titled The Beauty of Spaces Created for and by Disabled People also called crip space. This is a spot where you don’t have to justify or explain your existence. A place where disability is celebrated and embraced. Some think it is radical or tabu. The fact that we need our own space is disconcerting to people who can’t relate. The question becomes why you would want to associate with people like that. Perhaps for newly disabled people this kind of space would be overwhelming and uncomfortable. But for folks like me who are 20 plus years in the game being in a “crip space” can be quite reaffirming and enjoyable. It is because I feel comfortable in my skin and feel no shame around being blind. I have found my life as a disabled person fulfilling, happy and even adventurous.
As a matter of fact, I will be entering into my “crip space” next month when I attend the American Council for the Blind’s national convention. It will be my third year attending. This event is an opportunity for thousands of blind and visually impaired people to gather to talk, share, advocate and build bonds around blindness.
All the entries in this anthology communicate a wide array of experiences. Each an invaluable snapshot into what it is to live with a disability. The day-to-day struggles and joys of navigating the world through it. This collection of stories emphasizes the importance of sharing, writing, and documenting our own stories of life, love, joy, and pain.
After I went blind some 20 years ago, I needed tools to adjust to my new life. I knew that as a blind person I wasn’t going to be very successful without some kind of accommodation or modification to the way I was living and moving in the world. May is National Inventors Month and I am very appreciative of the things that were created to not only help me regain independence but have a fuller and richer life. For example, I love my white cane for traveling. My metal guides for signing documents and writing checks. My talking and braille watches and clocks for time management. However, the three inventions that changed my life the most are talking books, screen readers and braille. I use these tools daily and wouldn’t know how to function without them.
Invention of the Talking Book
Thomas Edison originally wanted his Phonograph to be a talking book device for the blind. So, in 1877, he applied for a patent. One of the ten potential uses he listed was “phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” Interestingly, this item was second in his list of ten; “reproduction of music” was fourth. It would take over 50 years before the Phonograph could be used for talking books. This was due to technology and economic challenges. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Later, Learning Ally and the American Printing House for the Blind also produced talking books. The first test recordings, in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller’s Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.
Since those early days of vinyl records, talking books have evolved. First with cassette tapes in the 1960s and 1970s. Then compact disks in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it is digital downloads from a computer. The options of reading materials have also expanded with a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, foreign languages and other selections to choose from. Additionally, the NLS National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled has become the dominant source for free reading materials. Today, audio books have gathered universal mass appeal with both sighted and blind people enjoying them. This is so true because I participate in two book discussion groups with sighted peers. Some of them enjoy reading books in audio verses print. I remember when I first joined the talking book library it kept my love of reading going. The ability to access books in audio format has kept the world accessible to me. I have been able to learn, grow and be entertained because I can read books in this format.
Invention of the Screen reader
In 1986 Jim Thatcher, IBM Researcher and Accessibility Pioneer, created the first screen reader at IBM. It was called the IBM Screen Reader for DOS. At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. Since it was created for DOS, which is a text-based Desktop Operating System he later created a Screen Reader 2. This one would be used for graphical interface PCs such as Windows 95 and IBM OS/2.
IBM wasn’t the only company developing screen readers. Freedom scientific produced JAWS, currently the world’s most popular screen reader. It was developed first for DOS and then Windows. I have been using JAWS since 1998 or so and it has revolutionized my life. First, it has allowed me to keep working. Second, it has allowed me to access personal information to maintain my quality of life. I can handle my finances, do internet searches, send emails, and even write this blog post.
in 2009, Apple announced a new feature called VoiceOver making their products more accessible to people with visual impairments using the touch interface of the iPhone beginning with the iPhone 3GS. VoiceOver is the screen reader built into Apple operating systems including macOS, iOS/iPadOS, and WatchOS. Initially I was not on board with the iPhone. It took some time because of its flat surface yet eventually I bit the apple. Now I use my iPhone daily and listen to the AppleVIS podcast to keep up with the latest trends.
Invention of Braille
Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code is a series of raised dots on paper. The braille code is made up of letters, numbers and symbols. It is not another language. The alphabet is based on a cell that is composed of 6 or 8 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the dots that are contained in the cell. Braille is usually found in a large book format on doubled sided paper to maximize space and can be read for math, science and music.
Born in 1809, Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. When it was apparent that he could not be educated by just listening, his family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, as a teenager Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution. Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system is used all over the world.
I use braille mostly to read labels created with my braille Dymo label machine. These labels are great for all kinds of things like my spices, file folders in my home office, music CDs, and even lipstick tubes. I also read braille on calendars, greeting cards and bathroom signs. Got to know which door is the lady’s room, you know!
Without these inventions I am not sure what my life would be or look like. I actually shutter at the thought. I am grateful for the people who designed and created these devices to help me have a better life as a blind person.
The first time I heard about Ever Lee Hairston was several years ago when I read the book The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Wiencek. In this depiction of two large families; the author wrote about an incident at a family reunion. Ever Lee called out the white Hairstons for how they mistreated her family who were sharecroppers on the land for many years. I remember thinking how bold this blind Black woman was to do this in this large crowded room full of people. However, she was spot on to say something because the white side of the family had profited for so long while her family lived in poverty. Second time her name popped up was while listening to a favorite podcast, called The Nod. She was being interviewed about her live. Then the third time was another podcast by Freedom Scientific sharing her life once again but this time including her published book. After running into this lady three times, I told myself this was no coincidence and that I needed to read her book to get the skinny on her life.
I found it in audio at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and finished it last week. The book is titled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. I was interested in her life story because I don’t come across many blind Black women who have documented their life. The only other time was when I read about Haban Girma. As I read her story, I pulled out four core areas Ever lee was ambitious about: her education, career, marriage/family and the National Federation of the Blind.
Ambitious about Education
Ever Lee grew up in the segregated south on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina. She is the third of seven children. Her days were filled with school and picking cotton. She realized from an early age that sharecropping was not the life she wanted to live. It was hard physical work. She was fearful of snakes and her family had little income. She had a desire to become a nurse because one of her sisters was constantly ill. She knew her parents had no money for college so being the ambitious person she was, Ever Lee came up with a plan. She heard about work opportunities up north and during the summer she worked as a live-in maid to save money for school. During this entire time Ever Lee struggled with her vision. She knew something was wrong but was not sure exactly what as she didn’t go to an eye doctor and never told anyone because she was ashamed. All through college, living with her aunt and uncle, and working as a live-in maid Ever Lee kept her vision problem a secret. This caused her to struggle through school because she couldn’t always see the chalkboard, her printed books or exams. When it was time to take the nursing exam, she failed the eye test portion. She was deeply disappointed but pressed on and got her teaching degree instead.
Ambitious About Career
Ever Lee was ambitious about her ability to be employed. She shared an incident where she applied for a position and got the interview. She dressed professionally, showed up on time with resume in hand but when she arrived it went downhill. The employer told her they had never hired a blind person before and she left disappointed. I also had a similar experience which happened shortly after I lost my vision. I went in for an interview and the first thing said to me was, “Oh, I didn’t know a blind person would apply for this job.” When that was said I knew, Like Ever Lee, I wasn’t going to get the job. That one statement spoke volumes about what that employer thought about the blind even though I was qualified for the job.
But like me Ever Lee pressed on and found a more opened-minded employer who not only gave her a job but helped her advance her career. She worked several years as a teacher and then later as a counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked for DHHS too when I was in high school and my first year of college. I was not blind at the time but I did have a blind co-worker, another one with cerebral palsy and a supervisor who used a wheelchair. Like Ever Lee this experience was rewarding, self-affirming and built my self-confidence. It also helped me when I went blind because I was able to pull from the experience to help me make it through.
Ambitious about Marriage and Family
Initially Ever Lee was hesitant about pursuing dating and romantic relationships because she was fearful her blindness would be exposed. She didn’t date in high school or college. She had been keeping it a secret the majority of her life. But she did ultimately let go and fall in love with a guy and marry him. The relationship didn’t last because he was gaslighting and cheating on her. She realized this and took her son and left. She figured out what to do, got her career together, purchased a home and eventually met another man she married. When that marriage ended from abandonment, she still kept going. I have to appreciate Ever Lee sharing these intimate details of her life. failed relationships are hard to deal with and being public about it takes courage. Also, I admire the fact she shows them as just relationships where blindness is not the center. Many times, I have had to address the question/concern about my disability in a relationship as if it is the most important thing when so many other factors make up a successful match.
Ambitious About National Federation of the Blind
After years of struggle and disappointment, Ever Lee finally got a proper diagnosis. She was told by an eye specialist that she had a genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). She was also told that it would probably get worse over time. Ever Lee’s vision did get worse and for a long time she relied on others to help. Or she “faked it to you make it.” While Ever Lee worked at DHHS she learned about more services for the blind. She got a call from the National Federation of the Blind inviting her to attend their convention. Her aha moment came when she was offered an agenda in braille/large print. By this time, she could no longer read print and she didn’t know braille. This is when Ever Lee knew she needed more blind skills. So, she took 6 months off from work for vision rehabilitation training. She had already been using a white cane but needed more education on how to live an independent life as a blind person. I could relate too. I also took off from work for about a year to go through a similar program for the same exact reasons. Attending the convention and emersion in her training was the beginning of Ever Lee’s full involvement in NFB. After that she became an active member, advocate, mentor and later joined the national board of directors. After losing my vision I also got deeply involved in the disability community. First, I became an advocate, then later public educator. Today, I am a writer and blogger on the topic of blindness.
When most people think of volunteering in the community it is something that you physically do such as feeding the homeless, building a house, tutoring/reading to children, registering people to vote, or running errands for seniors. All of those tasks are great volunteer opportunities and are well needed in the community but there are things that I have done as a volunteer sitting right at home. I have been volunteering all my life in a variety of projects. Even after I went blind, I still kept volunteering. I just had to shift the way I did it. I figured out a way to use my journalism skills to help my community and even during a pandemic. This week is National Volunteer Week; April 18-24. The Points of Light established it as an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world.
Started Virtual Volunteering
My first step into virtual volunteering was right after I went blind and lost my corporate job to downsizing, I was rethinking my career path and decided to volunteer at a non-profit. Since I was now a part of the disability community, I wanted to learn more and give back. I worked on a newsletter for a disability non-profit agency called disABILITY LINK. I collected articles and other content for the newsletter via email and phone. Wrote and edited the pieces, then submitted to my supervisor for publishing.
This was a good opportunity for me because it allowed me to give back, use my journalism skills in a professional way and learn about the disability community. It was a win-win all the way around. I began to realize that I could use my writing in a more meaningful way than just as a career.
Volunteering as a Radio Producer
The next opportunity came in 2006 where a friend recommended me for the position. I was asked to help produce the Eye on Blindness Show by the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Prior to this time, my experience had been in writing only. So, this stretched my journalism skills and I was up for the challenge. Each month I was directed to find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up show notes and promotion materials. All I did from home using my landline phone and computer. I also collaborated with the show’s host on topic ideas and future guests. I volunteered for about 3 years on the show. Later I was asked to come back and not only produce but host as well; which I gladly did for another 3 years.
Volunteering as a Blogger
One day I got an email request for bloggers/peer advisors for a website called VisionAware. The website was a resource for people new to vision loss and they were looking for people to talk about their lives and give advice and information. Well, that was right up my alley. So, I filled out the application form and signed on. That was back in 2012 and I am still volunteering with VisionAware to this day. We meet once a month via Zoom conference call to discuss topic ideas and themes for the site. We work to give true and honest information with a real-life experience. I write blog posts from home and submit via email. Volunteering at VisionAWare is rewarding because I can help others like myself and I get to work with a great group of people.
Virtual volunteering has been a wonderful experience for me. The things I have learned. The people I have met. The lives that have changed. This is all for the good and all from the comfort of my home. There are creative ways to volunteer. We are still in this pandemic and traditional methods may not be possible but you can still serve your community virtually. Check out the Points of Light database for virtual volunteer suggestions.
When I was taking courses in journalism in college, I learned about women in the news but they were more modern-day women verses historical. Since March is National Women’s History Month, I wanted to honor some women that impacted the industry from the past. Some of the women are not as well-known while others are famous. Regardless, they left a mark on American journalism that is noteworthy because of their courage, self-determination and strength.
Published Stories on Lynchings
The first woman, Ida B. Wells, was a journalist I knew because of her bravery and doggedness in publishing the stories of lynchings. She was born a slave in 1862 in Mississippi. When the Civil War ended, Ida’s parents became politically active setting an example of activism and advocacy she would use later in life. They also believed in the importance of education. She became a teacher and moved to Memphis after her parents and one sibling died from yellow fever. Ida’s activism kicked off when she filed a lawsuit against a train car company in 1885for unfair treatment. She had been thrown off a first-class train despite having a ticket. Although she won the case locally, the ruling was later overturned in federal court.
After losing her teaching job Ida turned to journalism. In 1892 when three friends had been lynched by a mob, she began an editorial campaign against lynching. She was doubtful about the reasons Black men were lynched and set out to investigate several cases. She published her findings in a pamphlet and wrote several columns. Her exposure enraged locals, who burned her press and drove her from Memphis. Ida was passionate about highlighting lynchings that she traveled internationally. Abroad, she openly challenged white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynching’s. Ida was often ridiculed and ostracized by women’s suffrage organizations in the United States because of her bold and fearless stance on the topic. Despite lack of support, Ida remained active in the women’s rights movement. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club which was created to address issues dealing with civil rights and women’s suffrage. Although she was in Niagara Falls for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), her name is not mentioned as an official founder; but she later became a member of the executive committee. Disenchanted with their white and elite Black leadership, she soon distanced herself from the organization. Late in her career Ida focused on urban reform in Chicago. She died in 1931.
Poet and Journalist
The second woman was born shortly after the Civil War in New Orleans and later was actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Her name is Alice Dunbar Nelson and she was a poet, journalist and political activist. Her first collection of stories, poems and essays, Violets, and Other Tales, was published in 1895. She was married to the famous poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar and during their marriage she published a short-story collection, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories. This collection was published as a companion piece to his Poems of Cabin and Field in 1899. The volume helped establish her as a clever portrayer of Creole culture. The marriage didn’t last owing to abuse and alcoholism from her husband yet Alice continued to move forward in her writings and romantic life.
Alice was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, even though she hadn’t lived in New York for many years since before her marriage to Paul and was still living in Delaware at the time. Her poetry, much of it written earlier, was rediscovered through its appearance in journals and collections like The Crisis, Opportunity, Ebony and Topaz. She was also a journalist and wrote a syndicated column, Une Femme Dit, and contributed a wealth of reviews and essays to newspapers and magazines. During the 1920s, she coedited the Wilmington Advocate, a progressive Black newspaper. She also published The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer, a literary anthology. Although a successful writer, Alice spoke about her challenges as a journalist in her diary. She discussed being denied pay for her articles and issues she had with receiving proper recognition for her work. Her diary was published in 1984 and remains one of the few diaries of a 19th-century African-American woman. Alice died in 1935.
First to Receive White House Media Credentials
Alice Allison Dunnigan was the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House, the Supreme Court, the State Department and Congress. Born in 1906 in Kentucky, Alice was a bright and smart student, and started writing for newspapers when she was only 13 years old. She began her career as a teacher, but wasn’t satisfied so took journalism classes and wrote fact sheets about information omitted in the school curriculum. Alice knew that to move forward she had to physically move so in 1935, she moved to Louisville. There she worked for Black-owned newspapers like the Louisville Defender. Next, she moved to the Capitol. Initially she worked for the federal government as a civil service worker but still had her eyes on journalism. In 1946 Alice’s ambitions were realized when she became a Washington, DC, correspondent for the Associated Negro Press (ANP), the first Black-owned wire service, supplying more than 100 newspapers nationwide. It was her ticket to covering national politics. She worked mightily on getting her press pass and was approved in 1947, and quickly acquired White House media credentials the following year.
Despite these major achievements Alice still dealt with racism and sexism in the work place. While covering President Truman and President Eisenhower, Alice experienced discrimination. She was one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps covering President Truman’s campaign. During her years of covering the White House, she frequently asked questions regarding the escalating civil rights movement. In 1953 Dunnigan was barred from covering a speech given by President Eisenhower in a whites-only theater and was forced to sit with the servants to cover Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral. It was not until President Kennedy that she was recognized as a member of the press when asking questions. Under his administration, Alice began a new career as a consultant. President Kennedy appointed her to his Committee on Equal Opportunity designed to level the playing field for Americans seeking federal government jobs. After retiring, Alice self-published her autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. She died in 1983, and in 2013, was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
First to Have Comics Syndicated Nationally
The next woman started off as a writer but was best known as a cartoonist. She was the first Black woman to have her comics syndicated nationally across America. Jackie Ormes, born in 1911, used her artistic talent to remark on political and social issues happening at the time. Her portrayal of positive Black folks went against long held stereotypical and negative images. Her first strip in the Pittsburg Courier, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, followed the adventures of Torchy Brown, a young ambitious Black teen who traveled from Mississippi to New York to pursue her dream of performing in the Big Apple. During the 1940s, Jackie worked as a columnist at the Chicago Defender and published her next cartoon strip, Candy, about a funny, hard-working and smart maid.
The Pittsburgh Courier published a new strip from Jackie after WWII called Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. It centered around two sisters, Ginger, the older, stylish sister, and Patty Jo, the wisecracking, insightful little sister. The strip was so successful it ran for 11 years with more than 500 cartoons. In partnership with the Terri Lee Doll Company, Jackie created the Patty-Jo doll in 1947. This was the first nationally distributed high class Black doll that had real child-like features and an extensive, fashionable wardrobe. The dolls were extremely popular and the wish of many Black and white children. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, Jackie’s comic section was cut. She retired from cartooning and switched to painting. but later, Jackie had to stop painting entirely after developing rheumatoid arthritis. Still, she stayed active in the artist community through her seat on the board of directors of the Usable Museum of African-American History and Art. Jackie died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1985. She was posthumously inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2014.
Newspaper Owner and integrationist
Daisy Bates is a name I quickly recognized but not for her journalism background. Whenever I would read about Daisy it was her affiliation with the NAACP and how she advocated for integration with the Little Rock 9 in Arkansas. But before she got heavily involved in school integration, she married a newspaper man and they both ran the Arkansas State Press which focused on the need for social and economic improvements for the Black community. This paper became known for its courageous reporting of acts of police brutality against Black soldiers from a local army camp. Their persistence and drive in spotlighting these abuses led many white business owners to cease placing advertisements in their paper. Regardless of the financial loss, they continued to produce their publication. In 1959 they were forced to close the Arkansas State Press due to threats of racial violence. But Daisy reopened it in 1984 and sold it several years later. For many years Daisy continued her advocacy in education and civil rights involvement. For her work, the state of Arkansas proclaimed the third Monday in February, Daisy Gatson Bates Day. She died in 1999 and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom the same year.
All of these women had incredible stories of tenacity, strength and power. As I researched each one there was so much rich history on their lives, I struggled with featuring just the highlights because there was so much more than what appears in this blog post. These women were wives, mothers, sisters, friends and held other roles in their community. These women battled racism, sexism and all kinds of challenges as they tried to do their work as journalists. They were excellent examples and believed deeply in the power of the written word and its impact on their community and society. Journalism was not just a routine 9-to-5 job but a way to evoke social and political change. I can definitely relate and is also a reason why I chose journalism and why I wanted to recognize them this month.
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.
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.
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.
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 believed 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
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.