Real World Fitness 2: Michael Elliott – Muscles and Brains

Listen to Real World Fitness 2: Michael Elliott – Muscles and Brains

Michael Elliott began his life as a normal child with 20/20 vision and dreams of becoming a professional basketball player. As an adult he earned a masters degree in clinical social work and climbed the ladder of professional success to become the bureau chief for the Board of Education’s Division of Blind Services. He is a multi world record holding powerlifting champion and recently started his own IT business, soarconsultants.com,) all while being totally blind!

Interview highlights include:

  • Always a great athlete
  • How he got started in weight training
  • From Goalball to powerlifting
  • No adaptions needed
  • His DBS career
  • S.O.A.R consultants
  • Being a part of the USABA
  • Athletics support social interaction

Contact Bill!

To submit questions to Bill Kociaba, drop him a note at kociabafitness@gmail.com. You can also visit his site at kociaba-fitness.com. Or, feel free to leave your comment below. You may also use your iBlink Radio app to leave an iReport.

Posted in Interviews, Podcasts, Real World Fitness | Leave a comment

Opinion: why does Netflix exclude the blind?

When I was a little kid, I had an excessive vocabulary. I knew what the word ‘superficial’ meant, and also even bigger words, like ‘garrulous’. But even with these words and countless others in my head, there was one that wasn’t – and that word was Accessibility.

Back when I was seven, many things were accessible, and if they weren’t, my grandmother would help make them so.

Not being able to see, my primary way of learning was through reading, touching objects, and listening to explanations. Of course, all my other remaining senses came into play, but hearing and touch were, and are, my primary link to the world not constructed by books.

Even though I had never heard the word Accessibility, I was an early adopter of its concept.

One day, my grandmother took me to a museum that was new in town. It was different from the ones we frequented, and I was very eager to feel exotic artefacts under my fingertips, and experience paintings through verbal descriptions given to me via headset. I eagerly speed-walked with my grandmother into the museum, my stomach full with butterflies over the soon-to-be.

When the tour started, I could sense the body heat of a dozen people beside me. I waited for my grandmother to take me to the artefact so I could explore it. She didn’t. I began to tune into the many exclamations beside me describing how wonderful the artefact was. Why was it so wonderful? I wanted to know too! I wanted to feel it and see what people were talking about. I soon began to cry, and people’s feet shuffled as they turned and stared at me. With steely resolve, my grandmother picked me up and pushed her way to the front of the crowd with my white cane dangling in my grip. When she reached the front, she ducked under the rope and placed my hand on the elegant statue carved with dynamic symbols. People started complaining that a sign said ‘Don’t Touch’. Soon, a stern sounding man cleared his throat next to me.

Miss? I’m the manager here.”

I felt the air whoosh as my grandmother whipped around. With slicing syllables, she told the manager:

“If you tell my blind grandson to take his hands off this statue, I will take every ‘Don’t Touch’ sign down and burn them all. I will then tell the police what I did and sue you for lack of accessibility.”

nineteen years have passed since then, and I have heard and witnessed countless instances in which companies and people just don’t exert any will to include the blind and the visually impaired whatsoever, unless forced by law.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a huge breakthrough for our inclusion, but it didn’t merge us with the sighted world. People didn’t want to include us, so often we had to go to special groups, events, and even jobs for the blind. We also had to fight for education as well. Entertainment was, and still is an issue accompanying all the other accessibility barriers.

It took a law in 2010 to make Audio Description available on television. Before the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, we couldn’t watch movies, TV shows, or any visual media with audio description as frequently as today. Audio Description is as important to us as closed captioning is for the Deaf. It opens up a whole new mode of entertainment that we’ve never been able to experience before.

However, there are still a lot of companies that don’t want to offer it, and are not forced to by law. Many of these companies reside in the internet realm, a place the law hasn’t even scratched yet. Audio Description is available on TV, and more DVDs, and even more movie theatres. The law applies to the top 25 TV networks now but will increase.

But even with all this inclusion, no Video on Demand service, such as Netflix and Hulu, has Audio Description.

I’ve wondered why Netflix won’t provide Audio Description, or even accessible interfaces so that our adaptive software can interact with their website and web player fully. I’ve examined this through all different angles, even finding out for myself the cost of describers, and other production costs. It’s not all about cost however. The BBC has shown that cost doesn’t matter when it comes to Accessibility, offering an Audio Description On Demand service through the BBC iPlayer. Many other companies and organisations also show that having audio description on the web is not hard at all. All of these can be found on our audio description on demand page.

It wouldn’t be hard at all to include Audio Description on Netflix. Two methods could be done to achieve this. Closed Audio Description, where the viewers would need to select a language track, requiring less bandwidth and less server space on Netflix’s part. There would definitely be downsides to this as well, such as that Audio Description wouldn’t be able to be available on every Netflix compatible device, such as the Nintendo Wii, as the Wii even has a hard time with closed captions.

Another way is to have a separate blind version of the same movie or TV show, like iTunes has it. But this will require that the film or TV show be uploaded twice. From a technical point of view, this would be the easier thing to do, but who knows, the servers might buckle.

For years, the blind community has asked and even begged Netflix to make their site and service accessible, with accessible web design and Audio Description, but Netflix have said “No” repeatedly, and eventually the blindness advocacy groups just give up.

I refuse to give up though. Which is why I started the Accessible Netflix Project.

Our aim for the project:

Netflix is a popular internet streaming and rental service that streams TV shows as well as movies. It also allows subscribers to rent DVDs. The Netflix platform isn’t accessible and that’s what this project aims to change. With the help of the community we will make Netflix a truly accessible place for everyone to enjoy.

The Purpose (Mission)

  1. To provide accessible software and interface to Netflix users

Implement and ensure future accessibility practices and consideration

  1. Ensure that relatively all types of disability are taken into careful consideration at all times

These are the targets we want to meet

  1. Provide a screen reader friendly experience to all Netflix functions on the PC and mobile devices with all screen readers

Provide an easily navigable interface for the mobility impaired using adaptive technology.

  1. Provide easy access to audio described content for the blind and the visually impaired on streaming services as well as DVD selection currently and in the future.

Regardless if it’s inconvenient or costly, Netflix should provide Accessibility solutions. Many blind people pay for a service they can barely use, whether they are a novice or advanced Screen Reader user.

It has been a long 2 years since I began the project. So far, they have told us “No”, directly, nine times and counting.

Determined to have the freedom to enjoy Audio Description on the Internet, a place that has become a utility for my work and entertainment needs, I decided to ask them why they said no. The first time, they said that:

We don’t have control over the content that makes the Audio Description, so we’re not the people who you should be contacting.”

So, I started contacting studios for the next three months, often going through back door connections to get to producers, and explaining the situation. Seth MacFarlane, the producer of Family Guy, a show that has Audio Description on TV, was one of these connections. I wanted to make it as cheap as possible for Netflix, so I asked these producers if they would simply give the Audio Descriptions to Netflix at no charge. Many, including Seth, agreed to this.

I replied to Netflix with the fantastic news, and this was their response:

Hi Robert,

Thank you for being a Netflix fan and for being so passionate about making Netflix more accessible. At this point we have no immediate plans to add Audio Descriptions to our service. We continuously evaluate this and we will let you know if there’s a change, but don’t expect it to come in the near future.

I don’t understand why they’d say no. Even after contacting 56 different people in the company, they all said the same – don’t expect it anytime soon, even with the studio support.

It deeply disappoints and frustrates me that access to a service that’s so accessible to my wallet is impossible for me to use independently, simply because I require adaptive technology. I can’t even manage the site independently, no matter how many advanced keystrokes I learn or new Screen Reader tricks. Blind and visually impaired people shouldn’t be banished to outside sources to get described content. We are millions and millions strong, and our revenue would help grow Netflix. And, small aside, they’d surely be given excellent publicity for being the first mainstream company to do this.

The accessible Netflix project has grown and, with it, we have dedicated team members who will ensure equal access to entertainment simply because it should have been done a very long time ago. There isn’t an excuse anymore as to why this can’t happen. My team and I are here for entertainment equality and we will continue to be for years ahead.

The ADA was meant to include and not divide. Blind people should have reasons to spend their income. We should be able to laugh with glee with our family, enjoying an Audio-Described comedy. We should be able to proudly call ourselves a Netflix customer. My team and I will do whatever we can to ensure everybody gets past the unnecessary velvet rope and touch an accessible Video on Demand service that is accessible to everybody else. I don’t understand why Netflix doesn’t want to give us that inclusion, and I possibly never will, but I do understand one thing for certain – it should happen. It will happen, with our leadership.

Posted in Assistive Technology, Blindness and Low Vision, User Submissions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SeroTalk 224: Red World Z

Listen to SeroTalk 224: Red World Z

The new team is back for its round 2 of the SeroTalk Podcast!

This episode was brought to you by the good folks over at Audible. Want to get your free audiobook download? Laine recommends The Escape by David Baldacci. Download it or your own choice of audiobook at AudiblePodcast.com/SeroTalk.

PC Talk

We discuss Lenovo’s Superfish security snafu. It’s hard to tell whose fault it is what with all the finger pointing. For some helpful tips on cleaning your new laptop, and not just Lenovo, check out this helpful article from Wall Street Journal.

Thankfully, not all is gloom and doom in PC land. Microsoft is making Windows 10 free to Windows 7, 8.1, and Windows Mobile 8.1 users. Are you on the fence about upgrading to Windows 10 when it finally releases? You might be enticed with the New TTS voices. Check out more improvements to Cortana at the Windows Weekly podcast.

Also check out Cool Blind Tech for more on breaking in Windows from an accessibility perspective.

Even if you choose not to enjoy the new OS in its native environment, you may find certain popular Microsoft apps in the Samsung S6 as part of a joint effort, of sorts. Not so much into Android? Okay, here’s info on the preview for your Windows phone.

A Bite of Apple

In Apple news, the Cupertino giant is fighting iOS bugs with their first-ever iOS Public Betas. Jonathan Mosen says this is great start, but only part of the solution.

You know what does make for a wonderful solution, on the iPad? Microsoft Word! Check out this article on Accessibility in Word for iPad.

And if you want to read a little more about other Apple app goodness, tricks and tips, check out this helpful website.

The Internet Debate of Things

Even though there has been an FCC ruling on the subject of net neutrality since we recorded this episode, you can read about that ruling here, it’s unlikely the matter has been entirely settled. Read Robert Kingett’s take on how the issue affects persons with disabilities.

How long have you told yourself you are finally going to cut your cable and save yourself a lot of money? This diary Of A cord cutter just might lay out some compelling reasons why it might be time to give it serious consideration. Don’t forget to read parts 1 and 2 in what is so far a 3-part series.

Accessibility Talk

We like doing what we can to save you money. Hence, it was perfect timing for Jeff Young to offer this piece on keeping pace with modern adaptive technology on a very low budget.

Of course, one thing that will not cost you any money unless you donate, and you should, is the latest release candidate of NVDA 15.1.

So, think of this for a moment: Will tech put an end to disability? Some in the disability community disagree with leaps in that kind of human engineering. Others wish they could obtain it but find the process too bureaucratic and/or expensive. In the case of one mother, she defied the status quo and created a Groundbreaking Tool for People With Visual Impairments.

Speaking of low vision, our very own Laine Amoureux was featured in a Women’s Health article discussing what it’s like living With low vision.

CSUN 15 will be in full swing by the time you probably read this. Sendero will be in attendance with special deals for attendees.

Human Interest

Did you hear about the new study that says it’s okay to skip the gym and go straight to the pub? This item quickly imploded at recording time, but rather than edit, we offer it in most of its raw goodness.

On a more serious note, what would you do if you knew you only had a few months to live? This gentleman says it’s “my own life and gives us lots to put into perspective.

On the other hand, Mars One, a dutch company, says We’re all going to die, but it’s important what you do before you die.

Mailbag

The mailbag comes bearing feedback from Episode 223! In addition to an iReport from Ben and an audio response from Hartgen Consultancy in response to our coverage of J-Say, the mailbag brings this:

From Twitter, this comes to us via Adrian, who tweets: I was just listening to the newest @serotalk podcast.I really enjoyed the newest epasode of it.

kaveinthran tweets: @SeroTalk new voices,new shape and new host, makes serotalk, appealing

Eden Kizer tweets: @SeroTalk Good job, but as for Be My Eyes, some people don’t have a lot of family or friends they can just facetime.

Finally, Rachel Keyte tweets: I decided to have a bit of a listen to the Serotalk podcast and even though the prev team sounded great, I like this new sound a lot. :)

Tony and Tina Sohl, via SAMNet, write:

Hi we would like to express our appreciation for the hard work the staff has been doing in this time of transitioning. First, the content team has worked very hard in updating described movies and TV shows. In the past several weeks, we have noticed a lot of material has been added such as TV shows and movies. Second, the SPN (Serotek Pod cast Network.) We like the new shows including Triple Click home and the most recent pod cast. Third, the Customer Portal is very easy to work with. In Conclusion, everyone at Serotek is doing a wonderful job and keep up the good work!

Also via SAMNet, Scott V writes:

podcast 223 I thought it was wonderful. The content was good, and also the audio quality was fabulous. Not to loud, just right. Thank you. Scott

Get in Touch!

Want to connect with our new hosts? Tweet us! Katie @holnan, Laine @laine_amoureux, Steve @steveofmaine, and Joe @ScribblingJoe.

For comments, questions and criticisms of the show, please e-mail them to resources (at) SeroTalk (dot) com, tweet them @SeroTalk, or use your iBlink Radio app to send us an iReport!

Posted in Podcasts | Leave a comment

One Essential Belief of the Entrepreneur

There is an absolute essential principle every entrepreneur must adopt. If they don’t, they’ll fail.

I’ll share that little nugget with you, plus give you a link to something worth listening to which describes the life of an entrepreneur quite well.

First, let me invest in a few sentences to set the scene.

Its 2005 and I’m in Nashville for a week, sitting in a room full of serious songwriters at a writer’s camp which was put on by the top songwriting organization in the country.

At the front of the room are hit writers whose tunes were on every station program directors playlist across the country at one time or another. And … There I was, a corn-fed, do-it-yourself musician from the Midwest expecting these folks to take time to show me how to write songs.

Granted, I was in a room full of peers who were looking for the same information, and the instructors were getting paid handsomely to teach, but that’s not how I felt sitting there. It was pretty intimidating. I wondered if my music and I even belonged there.

Opening the week’s event, one instructor walked up to the front of the room, put his foot up on a chair, leaned on his forearm resting across his perched knee, looked at all the people sitting there anticipating his words, and said:

“There’s one thing you need to know about your music. There will be times when you are the only one who will believe in it. Publishers, industry pros, … No one else will get it. You will be left alone with your music, but, if you don’t believe in it? No one else ever will, and it won’t go anywhere!”

What he said really stood out to me. First of all, it was addressing the doubt I was feeling sitting in the front row. Secondly, I realized that principle is huge for any entrepreneurial endeavor we chase.

We often hear the romantic side of working for yourself. And it is true; there is that side of it. I have the good fortune of working with my sweetie each and every work day. We don’t have to ask permission from anyone to have an extra cup of coffee in the morning, to take an extra-long lunch, to run personal errands as long as we’re out and about, or to say, “You know what? Let’s skip work today and go play a bit.”

Ever been in a job where you only get so many days off, sick or not, and if you surpass it, you’re fired? I don’t worry about it. As I type this I was scheduled to be a work, but my wife and I are a bit sick, so we stayed home. No calling anyone, no pretending to sound sicker than you are on the phone so the boss doesn’t raise a judgmental eyebrow.

Those decisions don’t require much belief though do they? They are rewards.

There is however, another side to the time card. When it comes to problems at work and there seems to be no solution, and I’m in a real pinch, there ain’t a boss to hang the problem onto while I go home for the night either. There are times when it’s literally midnight and creative solutions need to be made, and there is no one there to say it will work or it won’t. It’s my call, and I had better believe in it.

There are times when you must believe what you are doing is right, watch for evidence of that, and where things need to be adjusted, adjust them and move on.

In other words, one has to have the confidence and strength to get through the tough times, or just like that songwriter said, if you don’t believe in it, it all stops right there.

Plus, like anyone, I make wrong decisions. Do you think that has an effect on the next time I’m forced to make a call on something? It can if I let it, but it’s a good idea to adopt the notion that tomorrow starts a new day, the slate is clean, and any mistakes we’ve made is strictly for purposes of learning, not creating debilitating fear in the decision at hand. The past does not have to equal the future.

So, if you are contemplating entrepreneurship or just now entering it and are having some doubts, first know that we all experience frustration and overwhelm. There are times I wonder why I just don’t go get a job and work for someone else so I can come home at 5:00 p.m. and leave the day’s worries behind me. There are times of vehicle breakdowns, overbooking my time, unforeseen snags cropping up, and we better not leave out technical problems like a computer crashing.

But, I can look back on past challenges where it appeared there was no way through it without loss, and see somehow we made it through. And not only did we make it through, but confidence gets a boost in the process. Once again, I’m so glad to be a free spirited entrepreneur, and really, I could do it no other way. I believe in what I am doing.

A 9-to-5 person asked an entrepreneur, “How can you go to work and not know how much money you are going to make that day?”

To which the entrepreneur said, “How can you go to work every day knowing the most you can possibly make that day?”

For us entrepreneurs it is the freedom, the challenge, the unknown that is thrilling. It’s a strange balance of taking risk and realizing our potential. Without the belief in our ideas or plans however, especially in the rough and challenging times, we will fold. Give yourself some credit, realize you’ll make mistakes. It’s not that we’ve made them that matters, it’s what we do with them. It’s about not letting our confidence be shaken, but to forge ahead because we know what we want in life.

I don’t know if you ever heard the below monologue. I believe it is meant for high-school or college graduates, but if you listen to the words it clearly defines the life of the entrepreneur. I listen to it every so often. I love it. There is so much truth to it.

Have a listen to, Oh The Places You’ll Go.

Live like you’ll never get hurt, dream like nobody is watching, and above all… Try-try-try until you succeed!

Posted in Entrepreneurship | 1 Comment

Real World Fitness: England’s First Blind Fitness Trainer

Listen to Real World Fitness: England’s First Blind Fitness Trainer

The SeroTalk Podcast Network proudly introduces a new member to the SPN family. Here is Bill Kociaba’s debut on the Network:

An Interview With Jaina Mistry

I recently interviewed an extraordinary young lady from the UK. Jaina Mistery began her life as a typical young girl growing up in England. Her life was pretty average until tragedy struck when she was only 17. How she bounced back from that tragedy and what she has accomplished since then makes for one of the most inspirational stories you will ever hear!

Interview highlights:

  • A typical teenager

    • Poor body image

      • How an allergic reaction to penicillin changed her life

        • Steven’s Johnson Disease

          • Her 3 month hospital stay

            • RNIB

              • Complimentary therapies

                • Finding out who her real friends were

                  • 2009, back to the hospital 3 times

                    • Finding a trainer

                      • Not the most cooperative client

                        • Achieving her first fitness goal

                          • Her best birthday present ever

                            • A new friend and new found confidence

                              • National fitness award

                                • Jaina’s Journey

                                  • UK’s first blind female fitness instructor

                                    • Where to next

                                    To learn more about her, stop by her Facebook page, Facebook.com/jainasjourney.

                                    Also, to learn more about me check out SeroTalk episode 220 or go directly to my website, Kociaba-Fitness.com.

                                    If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at kociabafitness (at) Gmail (dot) com

Posted in Real World Fitness | Leave a comment

The Argument for Becoming Multi Access Tech-Savvy

There is a lot of discussion out there regarding which screen reader and operating system combination is best. Each camp has their arguments, and honestly I can’t disagree, to adimently, with any of them.

The thing is, in my experience, those who are fluent with as many tools as possible are the most successful in employment. What matters more, your convictions for the tool of choice, or having a job that pays the bills, and allows you to live the quality of life you desire? I thought so! So, it is time to become multi-tech-savvy.

The Employment Environment

I am exposed to a variety of potential employment environments as an AT specialist, with an emphasis in communicating with employers and job site accommodation,. Most employers take advantage of networking to distribute information to employees. More recently a trend toward web-based applications has been observed. The web-based applications tend to be written for one web browser or another. Often the companies web app can only be displayed in Internet Explorer, or in Mozilla Firefox, and the screen must be set to a specific resolution to display the contents.

Hardware Decisions

Businesses have to make decisions regarding what hardware and software to purchase, deploy and maintain. The decision is often based on matching the technology to the environment and nature of the business. In retail business owners have multiple choices. They can purchase a Windows, or Mac based Point of Sale system, or a mobile point of sale system that utilizes either IPad, Windows tablet or Android tablet hardware. If one chooses to learn only how to use an IPad, with VoiceOver or Zoom, they may be limiting employment opportunities.

Browser Decisions

It seems unthinkable that a business could operate, in today’s market, without an internet connection. Web browsers are designed to be the gateway to the Internet. Business owners again have many choices. The decision regarding which is best for the companies type of work, need for security are likely to outweigh their desire to accommodate an individual users preference.

Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox are reviewed as having superior security and privacy features. This may be one of the reasons that they are common among business information infrastructure. A web search reveals that from year to year, and version of browser to version of browser, one or the other will boast greater security or faster speeds than the other.

Access Technology Decisions

In recent experience, and simply stated, NVDA works better in Firefox than it does in Internet Explorer 11 and later. JAWS works better in Internet Explorer 11 and later than it does in Firefox. Some web pages display better in Firefox than they do in Internet Explorer and vice-versa. Toss Apple products into the mix, and you will likely see the same thing.

There are also differences between how one screen magnifier will display a page verses another, and this is compounded by the diversity in how browsers display text. Screen magnification users may have to learn to configure how the text is displayed in the browser, as well as how to enhance the text with the magnifier, to identify the optimal viewing experience.

Training Decisions

Q:Which screen reader, or magnifier, and browser combination do I need to learn?

A: As many as possible!

In Conclusion

At one point it was safe to say that Microsoft Windows was the business standard, and that if one wanted to be successful in an employment environment they needed to be proficient with Windows, Internet Explorer and a Windows-based access technology. This is no longer the case, as business owners/operators have a variety of choices available to them, and select the hardware, software and web browsers that best meet the business needs as far a security, data sharing and other factors. Great news, many of the options available to employers are accessible to consumers of access technology! Bad news, this can make it difficult to know which access technology one should learn to use effectively.

If one limits him/herself to the use of a specific access technology, employment options could become limited. Title I of the ADA uses the term “reasonable accommodation” to allow employers and employees some leeway in job site accommodation. Is it reasonable to ask an employer to risk their companies security or, potentially, rebuild their communications and data sharing infrastructure to accommodate a single users preference in access technology when access is available through other access technology tools?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Posted in Assistive Technology | 4 Comments

SeroTalk Extra: Policy Talk Around the Hill – Winter 2015

Listen to SeroTalk Extra: Policy Talk Around the Hill – Winter 2015

A big thank you to Audible for their continuing support. Download your free audiobook at AudiblePodcast.com/SeroTalk.

Stay tuned. The full team returns next week for SeroTalk 224. We also hear the Triple Click Home team is headed for the studio soon to record Episode 36!

Meanwhile, the legislative season has kicked into gear for blind consumer groups in the United States, but even if you do not live in the U.S., there is at least one item of interest for blind listeners abroad.

Joe and Laine bring you interviews with Rose Sloan from the National Federation of the Blind and Eric Bridges from the American Council of the Blind, spotlighting issues that could have an impact on you or someone you know.

First, the National Federation of the Blind held its Washington Seminar the week of January 26. Their legislative priorities include:

Next, the American Council of the Blind holds its Legislative Seminar the week of February 23. Their two imperatives this year include: 1) The Medicare Demonstration of Low Vision Devices Coverage Act; and 2) Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act. The ACB is also tackling the Marrakesh Treaty. Learn more about these and other advocacy campaigns at the ACB’s Washington Connection page.

Though a bit off our usual tech news coverage, we believe the issues discussed could have profound impacts on technology in daily use. We sincerely hope you will find the issues that resonate with you and add your support.

Your comments are very important. Feel free to leave yours here, e-mail them to Resources (at) serotalk.com, tweet them @SeroTalk, or use your handy iBlink Radio app to send us an iReport.

Posted in Interviews, Podcasts, SPN Special | Leave a comment

One Thing Worry and Success Have in Common

I’ve got a question for you.

Have you ever worried about something?

Okay, dumb question, let me rephrase.

Have you worried about something to excess?

Maybe you heard someone in your department was getting the ax. Then you suddenly realize:

“Uh. Oh. People in the office have been overly nice to me all week! That can’t be good.”

And it kept you punching your pillow all night long.

Can you think of any such worrisome time in life? Take a second and conjure up a goodie. A real doozey.

Got one?

Do you remember what was going through your head at the peak of the worry?

It might be something totally different. For you maybe it was fear of not making a deadline, a relationship challenge, or a lost pet. Maybe it was fear of flunking a class, getting lost in a city with a new guide dog, or maybe it really was that fear of getting fired.

If so, I bet you were visualizing something like a box filled with all your personal stuff sitting on your desk chair one morning.

Were you hearing a very sincere tone in your boss’s voice apologizing for having to let you go?

Maybe you could feel the grip on both your elbows as security escorted you off company property as they do these days.

Did you feel that rush of blood to your face at night when you were alone with your thoughts and the reality of what it all meant flooded in?

Can’t’ make the house payment.

Eating rice and beans instead of your favorite foods.

Credit score plummeting to the depths.

Your spouse’s quivering voice asking, “Honey, what are we going to do? We just got our credit card bill for the month.”

Can you feel your face pulsing with every heartbeat?

Okay, enough pain. Shake it off.

Now, did any of that stuff actually happen?

My guess is no, it never happened. Or if it did, it wasn’t nearly as bad as all those horrible sound bites and images your imagination whipped up in your mind, and you overcame in spite of it all.

If you are in mid-battle now, you will overcome! You really will.

There’s a quote by Shakespeare of all people which I really love.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Now, before you think I’m calling you a coward, I’m not. Trust me; I’ve learned from worrying to excess in the past, as well reminding myself here. This quote says to me we can allow ourselves to experience our worst fears over and over and over and over and over and over in our minds; when in reality they’ll never come in the first place.

It’s telling me to be courageous, to be valiant. And even if it is going to happen, chest out, chin up, and let it happen just the once. I’ll deal with it once, not a thousand horrible different times in my mind.

If you have teenagers and they’ve ever been two-hours late for curfew, and you can’t reach them on their cell; you know what I’m getting at here.

The real point I want to make here is, as much as visualizing can cause us to live out something terribly worrisome in our mind which never comes true, success shares that technique only in the opposite direction, but with tangible positive results.

It’s pretty awesome really.

What if instead of worrying about getting the axe and picturing all that negative imagery and sound bites, instead you visualize your boss shaking your hand saying…

“Congratulations, I’m so happy for you to get the promotion.”

Maybe a co-worker smiling at you saying, “Yeah, we all thought it was you that would wind up with the promotion, you deserve it. Awesome, congrats!”

Or if you are a business person, how about we hear a phone conversation with a client who is so impressed by your professionalism and work that he or she awards you the contract over the phone.

Maybe you picture yourself standing upright, chest out, breathing deep and confidently saying,

“Tell you what, besides the 4-hour consultation and review of your marketing program, I’ll toss in a 5 piece e-mail campaign to kick off my ideas at half the normal rate, because I really believe in this project.” And in return they say, “Awesome, when can you get started?”

Are you getting the idea? Visualize and hear yourself being successful and getting the contracts, or whatever it is you are going for.

Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it?

Well, mental visualization has proven to have measurable results in sports such as basketball and high jumping for instance. It improved both the form and results of the sportspersons.

It has proven to work. Is it metaphysical or just preparation meeting up with opportunity? Who cares, if it works, it works, that’s all we need to know.

Your body language and mental disposition from doing these exercises is worth the price of admission.

Here, try this little exercise.

Point your nose to the ceiling, and put the biggest, widest, crappiest grin on your face.

Come on, do it. Ah just try it this once, go ahead. Put the biggest ear-to-ear smile on that mug. Hold it there for ten-minutes. Five-minutes? Even two-minutes.

Go ahead, I’ll be here when you get done. Stop reading and come back when you’re finished.

Okay. Are you still smiling now because you just are and not having to force it?

Did you wind up smiling just because the very act caused you to? Do you feel better from just that one simple little exercise?

You might be interested to know this little exercise was successfully used as therapy for patients with depression.

Similar happens with mental visualization techniques to put us in optimum position to succeed at our goals. We’ll feel better and do better, because we visualize it and our physiology lines up with when we do our best, and we’ll get the best results.

Try living your life by daily visualizing success, joy, and peace of mind.

I’ve got a feeling you’ll be just like those sportspersons, you’ll increase your successes markedly.

Hey, we really do have a choice, we have control over our minds, is there any reason why you’d choose to think the worst will happen? Why not imagine the best, and expect positive results?

Until next time…

Live like you’ll never get hurt, dream like nobody is watching, and above all… try-try-try until you succeed!

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Keeping pace with modern adaptive technology on a very low budget

There are a lot of things happening with technology in today’s world, and as most of us are aware adaptive technology is no exception. We all want to have access to the latest and greatest. I have personally drooled over the iPhone 6 on several occasions, ok, not really, but it’s a sexy device, and, come on, who wouldn’t want one.

The problem is, we have an astronomical unemployment rate among the blind, and the fact of the matter is a lot of us are not in a position to take advantage of the latest tech trends. This is why I am writing this overview of how to stay reasonably up to date without breaking the bank.

A few quick notes.

Note one: This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to every single blindness related low-budget item on the market.

Note two: I am not employed by, or in anyway compensated by any of the companies linked to in this post.

Note three: This article is meant for blind people spending their own hard-earned cash. If you are receiving services from vocational rehabilitation then you may have other options.

Low budget computers.

The Apple Macintosh has been taking the blind community by storm over the last several years. Many are sold by a screen-reader built in to the operating system. I have personally used a mac as my primary platform for the last half-decade. However, if you are someone who is not in a position to fork over at least $900.00 then you may feel left out of the loop. For a low-budget individual even a $500 computer is akin to flying to the moon.

There are options though, and some surprisingly good ones. This article is an excellent overview of computers for the blind They offer windows 7 desktops and laptops for well under $200. The machines come with clean versions of windows 7 (IE no crapware) and with several apps pre-installed. It is worth noting that some of the desktops come with a 17-21 inch monitor which may be beneficial to a low-vision user. Note: customers are only aloud to purchase one PC from Computers for the Blind at this time, so it is prudent to have a good idea of whether a desktop or laptop better meets your needs.

Another option for those who are mobile minded is the HP Stream. This laptop (available in an eleven or thirteen inch model) is in the $200 price range. It also comes with one free year of Office 365 personal, and a $25 gift card: effectively giving you an extra $95 in value with your purchase. These units are not meant as primary PC’s, but used in conjunction with a desktop from computers for the blind, the Stream can be an effective mobile option The HP Stream can be purchased from amazon and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. If you are wondering about the quality of a device such as the HP Stream check out the review from Paul Thurrott

Warning I highly recommend purchasing the signature addition of the HP Stream or any windows machine. These are available mainly from the Microsoft store, although some can be found on Amazon. Signature addition PC’s do not have all the extra garbage programs typically found on the average windows computer. Not having to deal with such pre-installed trash dramatically speeds up ones computer. More importantly, it drastically reduces the amount of cursing and death threats most of us make toward our new PC’s wile wasting hours upon hours of uninstalling junk software.

Other great low-budget PC deals can be found on Amazon, and others. Blind Bargains is a great place to find deals on PC’s and many other items.

Now that I have this new computer, how do I make it accessible?

The units from Computers for the Blind come with Non-visual Desktop Access, NVDA already installed, along with demo software of other screen-readers and screen-magnifiers. “But I didn’t get one of those, I got a good deal on a computer from Amazon, now what do I do?”

Well, my friend you have plenty of options. You can install the aforementioned NVDA. You can check out the many options offered by Serotek. They have choices to fit almost any situation. You can also investigate Window Eyes which is free if you own an addition of Microsoft Office 2010 or 2013, or if you have a subscription to Office 365. All of these are great options, and the serotek solution can even include an OCR scanning program, which paired with a low cost flat-bed scanner, can provide access to one’s daily mail as well as many other forms of paper documents.

“what about us low-budget low vision users?” I didn’t forget about you guys, but I am not a low vision user, I do not feel qualified to write on that topic.

Mobile Gadgets.

I’ve chosen to lump phones, tablets, and other hand-held devices together in this section.

The aforementioned iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the hottest new devices on the market, however they are rather pricy–especially for those of us who use prepaid wireless service. Prepaid services often offer the same amount of coverage as the big-name carriers, but with much cheaper monthly plans. THe drawback is that the consumer must purchase a device without the option of financing or contract subsidizing. This means the latest iPhone is out of reach of most of us low-budget users, but like the PC options listed above their are still great choices.

Talking MP3 Players offer several low cost IOS and android smartphones as well as some accessible basic flip phones. The Android devices come with Talkback already set up and ready to use. While the devices offered are a couple of years old; they still offer access to the majority of the modern applications popular in the blind community.

If you choose to go the Android rout I recommend Android 4.4 KitCat or higher. If you opt for IOS make sure the device in question will run the apps you want and need. For example: the new Voice Dream Writer program only runs on IOS 8 and above. The oldest iPhone that supports iOS 8 is the iPhone 4S and running this version of the software is rather buggy.

If you are hoping to use the Voice Dream apps, or the KNFB Reader, Android isn’t necessarily a bad option as both companies have stated they plan to create Android versions of their applications. If you want a device with BARD support then you should probably stick with the iPhone. I think humans will establish a colony on Mars before NLS creates an Android application.

Much of what has been said about phones can be applied to tablets. There are numerous low cost tablets running Android and Windows. The same Android advice applies here, and if you are looking at a Windows unit I give you two items to remember.

  1. Go with the signature addition. You’ll thank me later.

  2. Make sure your screen-reader of choice supports touch navigation, otherwise you’re stuck with having your tablet constantly paired with a keyboard.

On the IOS front you may have some luck. There are several iPad models currently on the market, and with some diligence you may find one in your price range. You can also pick up an iPod touch, but it is worth noting that the iPod Touch hasn’t seen a hardware refresh in a long while.

If you are looking for a device that will just play music and Audible books then you have many cheap options. You can pick up an iPod Nano, or check out the selection from Talking MP3 Players

Even portable Daisy players can be had for a bargain if you are willing to skip out on some of the more modern features. The 1st generation Victor Stream and the original BookSense still fulfill their intended purpose quite admirably. They are commonly sold through various classified sections throughout the AT community.

Lastly, their are tuns of affordable accessories for all of the products mentioned. Many can be found through Talking MP3 Players, AT Guys and through Amazon and others. . It is worth mentioning that the customer service offered by Talking MP3 Players, AT Guys and others is well worth the occasional higher prices as opposed to sites like Amazon.

Closing Thoughts

I recognize that not every piece of advice offered here will fit every situation, but I hope the references mentioned will help those who are in a similar situation as my own.

Some might be saying, “well, these devices will be slow, and you can’t run everything on them.” Wile that may be true in some cases, I believe the solutions discussed can help a lot of blind people be more productive, and ultimately find meaningful employment.

You may also be wondering if I take any of the advice offered. I hope to purchase a machine from Computers for the Blind, (I had to sell my macbook) as well as a new phone. Furthermore, in case anyone doesn’t think work can be accomplished on the hardware just take note of the fact that I’ve written this article on my iPhone 4S with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.

If you have questions or feedback feel free to contact me on twitter. @Jeffyoung_

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It’s time to meet your content team!

Serotek has seen several changes over the last few months. Podcasts such as serotalk and triple click home have taken on a new format and a new sound, in order to fill a niche, we feel, exists in the community. Who is this “we,” you may ask?
Its the new Serotek content team who wants to introduce themselves to you, and who wants to get to know the community as well. Thursday at 7:00 PM eastern, a meet and greet will be held in the “Welcome Lobby,” found within Samnets socializer. IF you haven’t tried Samnet for yourself, consider doing so by downloading a trial copy of our software and signing up. However, if you want to get started quickly, have a look at System Access To Go.

The content team is looking forward to seeing you there!

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