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June 2021 Update
Daniel’s Tips & Stories
Using your Amazon Echo Alexa to join Zoom meetings
One thing I have learned with training those who are Blind how to use accessible products, joining Zoom meeting may be a bit much for some skill levels. So, one option for those who are unable to use the Zoom app on PC, iPhone, Android or even use the phone to dial in, may use their Amazon -Echo using Alexa. If it is setup correctly, one can just say “Alexa, Join Zoom Meeting”. That’s it. Alexa will do everything else! Read on to learn how to setup this and have your friends and family join with you on Zoom!
First you will need to have Alexa setup. There are plenty of directions on how to setup Alexa on your Echo device. However, in this setup you will need to make sure you enable phone calling and Calendar lookup. Both of these must be enabled for this to work. Alexa will look at the calendar and see there is a Zoom meeting. Then she will then call using the registered phone number and automatically enter the code for Zoom meetings.
Setup Calling and Messaging on Amazon Echo – this link is the how to guide to setup calling on your Echo. I would strongly suggest to allow Alexa to view your contacts so you can call anyone on your contacts on your Alexa.
Adding Calendars to Alexa – Here is the how to on linking up your Calendars to your Echo device. For me, Google services seem to work best for me.
Now, once everything is setup, I strongly encourage you to do a test run to see if Alexa can do a test phone call or view a calendar. If she can then you are all set!
Now. This is for the person who is planning on the Zoom event. It does not have to be the Host of Zoom meeting, but someone who can create a Calendar event and share it to the person with the Alexa device. All the person has to do is create a new Calendar event in their phone, tablet, computer and name it. Next, they need to copy and paste the full Zoom Invite into the Notes area. Don’t put anything else in the notes area. The Full Zoom invite will need to have the link, Zoom ID and phone numbers in it. Not the Zoom link only. Next in that Calendar invite, you will add an invite of the person with the Alexa. Add the email that is registered with Alexa. Then, save it!
Whoever have scheduled the Calendar invite will need to schedule the Zoom meeting. The person with Alexa cannot join before the Calendar set time. So, who schedules may want to set an earlier time if they want people to join early.
The Zoom meeting cannot have passcode or Host ID enabled for telephone calling. If these are enabled, Alexa is not smart enough to dial in. She will just hang waiting for the next command.
When the person with Alexa joins the Zoom meeting, they are responsible in muting themselves. They can do this by pressing the mute button on the left side of the Alexa device. If the Zoom host is forced to mute you, you will be able to unmute yourself with Alexa, unless you hang-up and rejoin.
It is a good idea to sit closer to Alexa, her microphone is not the best. Lastly, when you are all done with Alexa, just say, “Alexa, hang up”.
Jen’s Twist to Everyday Moments
So, let’s start off with my living space. How do I find my way through the house and find what I need when I need it? Layout of the home and organization is key.
And let’s start with… Drum roll please … The kitchen! Because, hey, how does one live without good food? I don’t.
So. You come into my apartment and turn left immediately. Spread both arms straight out at your sides and you can easily touch both sides of my kitchen. The right side is just counters on both sides of a sink, with below-counter cabinets. There is a wall at either end, but the back area behind the sink and counters is open – you could aim spit-wads at your brother sitting on the futon if you wanted to! Not that I’d recommend it!
On the right-side wall above the counter is a paper towel holder. Below it is a bit of counter space where I pile all my dirty dishes. I also keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol here, right under the paper towels. Most handy there for wiping down door handles and keys regularly, especially with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The drawer below the “dirty dishes counter” is where I keep all my dish drying towels, dishwashing cloths, scrubbing sponges and brushes, bottle brush and toothpicks (as these are used mostly for cleaning out nooks and crannies in blender blades where my knobby fingers won’t go). Below that is a cabinet where I store all my spare glass jars, packed lunch containers / water bottles and pitchers. My vase for cut flowers, when I happen to have some, is here also. Basically, things I do use but not very often are here.
Go left and there’s the sink. A bottle of Dawn dish soap on right side of faucet, the scrubber cloth on left side of faucet, and the dish cloth draped over the faucet itself. The scrubber cloth was one of the best buys I ever made. It is a mesh you use like a dish cloth, but it is waaay better at scrubbing pots and pans, stove drip trays, and stove tops and getting that crust of dried and possibly burnt-on food off. It also does not soak up much water and dries quickly so it does not stink like a dish cloth or sponge can. It does not really replace a cloth because it’s not very absorbent, so it’s not the best for wiping off the dining table or counters and won’t clean up spills, but it does complement dish cloths. And you can throw it in the laundry and reuse for a long time. It does a far better job than any Brillo pad ever did for me. Here’s a link to where I got it on Amazon: Scrubber Cloth
Below the sink is open, as my apartment is setup to be mobility accessible. Since I don’t use a wheelchair though, I use this space to store my garbage where it’s out of the way of where I walk. A tall kitchen trash can with a lid (this is important, to ensure my guide dog stays out of it!) is on the right side. When I open a new box of kitchen trash bags, I always put it in the bottom of this can. Then when I take out the present bag full of trash, the roll of new ones is conveniently right there underneath. After putting the new bag in, I always fold the rim of the bag over the top rim of the can and tie off excess so that the top of the bag fits snugly around the can. This helps prevent the bag falling down as it fills and keeps the inside of the can clean. To the left of this space I have a small recycle bin where I toss cans and cartons for recycling. As this bin fills, my apartment building has a big recycling bin I empty it into, next to the garbage chute where I discard the trash. I also have a cushy mat in front of my sink for my comfort as I stand washing dishes. More on that in another article…
Go left of the sink and in the back half of this counter space is my dish drainer where all the clean dishes go to dry. On the far left against the wall is my water dispensing jug. My tap water tastes gross to me, especially as it’s treated with salt to soften it, so I personally prefer to fill 5 3-gallon jugs with water from a reverse osmosis machine at a nearby car wash or grocery store. I like to keep one handy here for whenever I want a drink; the other 4 are stored in my pantry. The rectangular-shaped type jugs fit nicely on a pantry shelf. If you like cold water, they fit well in the refrigerator too, though I personally prefer my water at room temperature. Here is a link to the type of jug I like: BlueWave Water Jug. As the reverse osmosis filtration process removes everything from the water, including good trace minerals naturally present in water, I always add trace amounts of Himalayan pink salt (1/4 teaspoon per gallon…And no, you do NOT taste the salt!) to each new jug of water to replenish the minerals. So, my salt is kept here, behind the water jug between the wall and dish drainer. I also usually have a glass here convenient for whenever I want a drink.
Above this area on the left-side wall are two pictures. One is of me loving on my now late first guide dog, Farley, a very special male golden retriever/yellow Labrador trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind whom I had the privilege of sharing my life with. The second is a cool picture of stars at night with the Little Dipper visible through the branches of a tree that a friend shared with me.
Below this counter is a drawer where I store all my medications. In the drawer I use either small open boxes or dowel rods to separate groups. For example, my dog’s medicines are in one group; as-needed “first-aid” medicines like Tylenol are in another group; my own everyday prescriptions in a third group and everyday supplements in the last group. I recognize them by the type of bottle and shape of the pills. For example, one medicine is tiny round tablets in a square bottle in the prescriptions group, while the other square bottle of similar size is in the supplements group and the pills inside are large caplets. Two prescriptions with similarly sized caplets are easily recognized by the bottle caps; one has a regular round cap while the other has a wavy-edge cap similar to some pickle jar lids. Since I have a few different things to take throughout the day, I personally like to use a weekly pill organizer. This one has 7 sections in a nice case. You can take individual sections out to put in your pocket or purse to keep your medications with you when you spend a few hours away from home, or pack the whole case to have a week’s worth with you for a trip. Each section has 5 compartments so you can divide up everything for each day into 5 doses according to your schedule. I organize mine every Sunday evening and it makes it that much easier to be consistent throughout the week. Here’s a link to the one I like: 5x 7 Day Pil Organizer
I used Braille labels to label the lids on these with the days of the week (M,T,W,T,F,S,S) and dose numbers (1,2,3,4,5). More on Braille labeling in another post.
Below this drawer is my appliances cabinet. My blender – both a big 5-cup one and a small 20-ounce personal one are at the front as these are the ones I use most. Behind them is a George Foreman grill and a juicer. In the back I have a toaster and an electric handheld mixer.
As the counter becomes a solid wall, about head height there is a metal sheet with 9 jars with magnetic bottoms arranged on it. These are my jars for storing spice blends. I personally prefer to mix up my own seasoning blends. For example, Italian seasoning I just mix basil, rosemary, and thyme together into a jar, label the lid with Braille and print label as “Italian”, and it’s ready to use. I make my own pizza seasoning, taco seasoning, pumpkin pie spice, Lawry’s seasoned salt, and poultry and steak seasoning too.
Continue on left and you come to the doorway to the pantry at the other end of my kitchen opposite from the entrance next to my front door.
We’ll go into the pantry another day, as it is its own walk-in room. The door itself holds much, though. It folds back like an accordion, like some homes have for the bedroom closet. It is all metal, so I stick more spice jars to it. These are single spices and I organize them in specific rows. The top row is basics – garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, etc. These I used to keep handy along the back edge of my stove where they’re most convenient to add as I cook, but the heat exposure there made some jars rust and turned my onion and garlic powder into a solid rock-hard block. So now they are with all my other seasonings. The next row are my favorites – turmeric, dill, tarragon, marjoram, and nutritional yeast. The next row are the pumpkin pie type ones – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and mace. Next are Italian-type ones – basil, sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Next are herbs – parsley, bay leaves, cilantro… Below these there are a few empty ones waiting to become useful. Each jar is labeled both in Braille and print on the lids. I especially like this setup because everyone can see or feel all the seasoning options at once rather than forgetting about those that end up out of reach in the back of your cabinet. Once you have selected one, simply remove the lid and scoop out the amount you need directly from the jar with a clean measuring spoon. The jars are shallow and wide, as opposed to the tall skinny bottles the store packs the spices in, so scooping straight out of these jars is easy. Here is a link to where I got these jars: Spice tins
wn dish soap. The other day I drained grease off a meatloaf straight out of the oven and inadvertently poured hot grease over the glove but it did not burn me. Then it washed off as I “washed hands” under running water in the kitchen sink and I was able to go right back to cooking; no need to wait to launder them! They come in a pair, and that, along with the ingenuous silicone gloves design, accounts for the higher price. Here’s the link to where I got these on Amazon: Silicone Oven Mitts
Now we begin on the left side of my kitchen, across from the sink. This side has cabinets, the stove and refrigerator.
First, next to the pantry is a tiny counter, about 10 inches wide, with a narrow drawer and cabinet under it. It’s squeezed in between the wall and stove. On this counter I keep my toaster oven, which I sadly haven’t used in a long time.
Below it in the drawer I keep all my cooking utensils handy – my wooden spoons, whisk, soup ladle, spatulas, etc. Below that in this cabinet are my cooking oils, vinegar, extra bottles of spices (the unlabeled and, admittedly very unorganized, plastic ones they came from the store in; these are used to refill the jars on my pantry door), and the plastic wrap and freezer baggies.
To the left of this is my stove. I used bump-ons stickers to mark the knobs. My 4 top range have a dot on the back where the knob needs to align with the line on the stove and a dot on temperature setting 1, 2, 4 and 6 on the knobs. So if I want to set a pot to simmer, I’ll turn the knob counterclockwise until I’ve aligned the #2 marker with the marker on the stove. If I want medium-high heat for sauteing, I’ll align the space about halfway between #4 and #6. The oven knob I marked every 50 degrees between 200 and 450. So, to roast a chicken at 375_F, I align the marker on the stove with the space halfway between the #350 and #400 markers on the knob.
Below my oven is a broiler drawer. I rarely ever broil though, so I keep all my baking pans here instead. With the exception of a glass casserole pan and metal sheet pans, about all of my baking pans are silicone. I love silicone dishes as they can go from oven to freezer back to oven and to table – no need to use another container to store them. Their flexible material also makes removing food easy, like popping muffins out is similar to popping ice out of ice cube trays. There’s no need for paper muffin liners. Silicone food storage bowls are collapsible, and most are also microwave safe. (I don’t own a microwave, but it’s cool that I can bake something, refrigerate, then reheat in microwave at work for lunch all in the same container!) Silicone also has lots of fun shapes, which is cool for me as a blind person. For example, flower-shaped muffins or pawprint-shaped homemade dog treats…
Above this stove is a high cabinet where I store extra dishes out of my reach as they’re rarely used. For example, I only use one ice cube tray, as I personally use very little ice. I have 6, however, so the 5 extras go up here. Lots of extra glasses up here too, so they’re ready for when I have company over but out of the way for everyday use.
To the left between my stove and refrigerator is a long counter where I prepare most of my food. Along the back I keep things I use frequently like honey, coconut manna, ghee and salt. (Yes, I have 2 things of salt – one by the stove and one by the water…Call me lazy?) My Braille cooking timer is here also.
Below this counter are two drawers. In the right-hand drawer I have a sectioned tray I keep my silverware in. Butter knives, small forks, large forks, sharp steak and paring knives, and spoons all in here. To the left of that tray are all my big chef knives. In the front are big spoons, grilling fork, and drinking straws. In the left-hand drawer I keep two sets of measuring cups, several sets of measuring spoons, can opener, vegetable peeler, small reusable stainless-steel containers perfect for things like salad dressing or shrimp cocktail dipping sauce, tiny silicone bowls and an open bin where I put my syringes, eyedroppers, and clips used to close bags of chips and such. Why syringes, you say? Good question. They’re an ideal way to measure small amounts of liquids. For example, a teaspoon of vanilla extract is hard to pour precisely into a teaspoon without vision. So instead, I stick a clean 5ml syringe into the vanilla extract bottle and draw up one teaspoon directly that way then squirt it into whatever I wanted to add it to. Another method I like to use is to pour some into a tiny soft silicone bowl. Then I can use my teaspoon measure to scoop out the portion I need then pinch the rim of the bowl with fingers to make a narrow “pour spout” and pour any excess back into the bottle. If both the bowl and spoon were clean, it’s no problem to return some excess back to the bottle for later use. Here’s a link for the little bowls I like: 10 Pieces Silicone Bowl
Below these drawers is one big cabinet where I store all of my pots and pans, mixing bowls, cutting boards, and colanders. Nothing special here.
Above this counter is a 3-shelved cabinet where I store all my plates, bowls, glasses and leftover food storage containers. On the top shelf I have 3 old-fashioned slow cookers. Slow cookers are my favorite way to cook food – much easier to work with than a hot oven or frying pan.
Finally, we come to the refrigerator. We won’t go inside it today, as that’s entering a whole ‘nother world, and it can be a scary place for some people (hey, liver ‘N onions or rabbit stew, anybody?!). But there are a couple notable things about my fridge…
Above it there is another small cabinet that’s out of my reach where I store anything I don’t use – extra computer cables, mostly. On top of the frig is where I leave empty water jugs while they wait to be refilled. That way they’re out of my way but easily visible for the person who refills them. Then on the front of my freezer door is a magnetic towel bar where I hang a towel to dry my hands on. Many people hang this on the oven door. I would never recommend doing that for two reasons: 1) it’s a fire hazard, and 2) as you open the oven door your towel is going to touch the floor at some point and get all dirty.
Now we have come back to the entryway and my front door is on your right! I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my kitchen and have found some useful ideas for yours! If there’s any particular questions you have about making your kitchen accessible, feel free to use the contact us form and ask!
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