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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: Diving Into December 2021

Diving Into December: Organizing Your Mail

Throughout December, we have reflected on the previous year, and we have begun to set goals for the swiftly approaching New Year. December is a great time to get organized to be ready for all that the holiday season and the New Year has to offer, so get excited to dive into these topics with us this month:

  • Organizing Your Wallet
  • Organizing Your Kitchen
  • Organizing Your Clothing
  • Organizing Your Mail

In this fourth installment of our “Diving into December” series, we will take a look at the best ways to organize mail and other important printed documents.

Why It Matters

Even though many organizations and government agencies have gone paperless, many still send out important notices and action items in the mail. It may not be as common as it once was, but keeping on top of your mail and ensuring that you are holding on to important documentation is a key part of transition and moving into adulthood. Read below to learn more about how to organize your mail, whether it is junk mail, an action item, or an important notice.

Reading Mail

The first step to organizing mail is to know what each piece of mail is and what it says. There are a variety of ways to do this, including:

Types of Mail

Being aware of which kinds of mail and documents are important can help you have a better idea of how you may want to sort them. Here is an overview of some types of mail or documentation you can expect:

  • Important Notices: Holding onto any notices you receive /is important because you may need to offer them as documentation in the future. For example, you could receive a notice that your student loan of a particular amount was approved, or you may receive your benefits letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
  • Action Items: One form of mail is the action item letter. SSA may be sending you a letter to check in with you, or a doctor’s office may be sending you a bill for a co-pay you owe. You will want to take note of what the sender is asking and how they suggest you take action, such as going online, calling a specific phone number, or sending in a letter or check.
  • Identifying Documentation: Many schools, apartment complex applications, and training facilities require that you submit critical documentation, including your social security card, birth certificate, or immunization records. These are important documents to keep set aside so that you can be sure not to lose them.
  • Junk Mail: Junk mail can take the form of advertisements or anything that you feel is not relevant to you. There is not much you need to do with junk mail, although it is worth noting that being sure to dispose of the mail is important because it will help you avoid piling up mail that you would then have to go through once again.

Organizing Mail

Once you know what all of the items are and you have an understanding of these kinds of mail, you may then organize them accordingly. Here are some tips for organizing mail and other important documents:

  • Envelopes: Using large envelopes to organize mail can help you keep track of and then locate particularly important documents. You may use brightly colored envelopes, Braille your own envelopes, or make some sort of tactile indication on the envelopes to differentiate them. An alternative to this method is creating labels on index cards and using paper clips to keep the index card with the corresponding mail item.
  • Filing System: At any basic office supply store, you can find an accordion file folder that is divided into sections by paper or plastic. You could label each section in Braille or with your favorite indicators to know what papers are contained in each section.
  • WayAround: WayAround sells labels (called WayTags) specifically to help with office organization. You may purchase WayTags and then use the WayAround app to type in what you want to be spoken when each label is scanned. You might choose to include a simple label about what the item is, or you could add in any information that you want to be sure to have on file for yourself in the future. Then, you can use the app later to scan the WayTag for each file and hear the label and any other stored information read aloud to you.

Contact us

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: Diving Into December 2021

Diving Into December: Organizing Your Clothing

Throughout December, we have reflected on the previous year, and we have begun to set goals for the swiftly approaching New Year. December is a great time to get organized to be ready for all that the holiday season and the New Year has to offer, so get excited to dive into these topics with us this month:

  • Organizing Your Wallet
  • Organizing Your Kitchen
  • Organizing Your Clothing
  • Organizing Your Mail

In this third installment of our “Diving into December” series, we will take a look at the best ways to organize clothing so that you feel confident in what you wear wherever you go.

Why It Matters

Wearing clothing that you can identify is important, whether you are dressing for an internship or you want to be sure you are reaching for your favorite t-shirt on a casual Saturday. Organizing and identifying clothing can feel like a very visual task, but with a few tips and tricks, you can feel confident that you are selecting clothing from your wardrobe that matches and suits the occasion.

Labeling and Organizing Clothing

Everyone has a different way to organize and identify clothing, and we encourage you to develop the system that works best for you. Reference this list to get some ideas for how to create your own organization system:

  • A simple cut in the tag of a piece of clothing can help you differentiate between items. For example, you could put a vertical cut in the tag of all of your black clothing items, a diagonal cut in the tag of all of your gray clothing items, and a horizontal cut in the tag of all of your navy items.
  • Strategic closet or drawer organizing can help keep items in their proper place for quick access. Perhaps you have one side of the closet for shirts, and another for pants. Perhaps you choose to organize your closet by color or season.
  • You never have to worry about matching socks again with pairing tools, such as safety pins or sock locks. You can simply take off your socks after a long day and either (1) use a safety pin to keep them together or (2) feed them through the plastic holder to keep them together. Both will keep your socks paired through the laundry process – both washing and drying, and they keep your socks together in the sock drawer as well. Safety pins can be purchased from dollar stores or retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, and sock locks can be purchased on Amazon or from specialty retailers like the NFB Independence Market sock locks (Item number AIG59S), LS&S sock locks,  and Maxi-Aids sock locks.
  • Consider going through your wardrobe once a year or so with a friend, family member, or hired shopper to ensure that your clothing is free of stains or other natural wear and tear so that you can always feel confident that you look your best!

Specific Labeling Ideas

You may feel that you want to have the maximum information available to you on your clothing labels. There are several different options that involve attaching a customized label to your clothing using a pin or a needle and thread:

  • WayAround: WayAround has a special line of labels (WayTags) that can be attached to clothing using a needle and thread. Once you have gotten your WayTags, you can download the WayAround app and create the content for each label. You could choose to include the color, laundry instructions, and style of dress (casual, professional, formal, etc.). Then, when you scan the tag later with the app, all of the tag information you entered in will be read aloud to you.
  • Braille Clothing Labels: These premade Braille aluminum labels can be attached to your clothing with a needle and thread or a pin. The labels are very small and are safe to launder. They are available from specialty retailers like the NFB Independence Market labels (Item numbers AIG44B and AIG86B), LS&S labels, and Maxi-Aids labels.

Contact us

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Independent Living Resources Series: Diving Into December 2021

Diving Into December: Organizing Your Kitchen

As we enter December, we reflect on the previous year and begin to set goals for the swiftly approaching New Year. December is a great time to get organized to be ready for all that the holiday season and the New Year has to offer, so get excited to dive into these topics with us this month:

  • Organizing Your Wallet
  • Organizing Your Kitchen
  • Organizing Your Clothing
  • Organizing Your Mail

In this second installment of our “Diving into December” series, we will take a look at the best ways to organize visually-labeled items in your kitchen.

Why It Matters

Even if you are not much of a fan of cooking or have little exposure to how to cook nonvisually, keeping an organized kitchen can help you feel more confident in terms of preparing basic meals independently. You can organize your kitchen with various labels and/or strategic shelving, and then you can quickly locate any item you need without any hesitation. Whether you have goals of preparing quick meals or becoming a full-fledged chef, keeping an organized kitchen that is easy for you to navigate is key to whatever cooking activity you want to accomplish.

Methods for Labeling

Labeling items in Braille or audio indications can help you to quickly identify items in your kitchen. There are many ways to do this, and we encourage you to experiment and decide which method works best for you or use a combination of these methods:

Braille labels

You can create Braille labels at home using basic adhesive labels or Dymo Tape, and a slate and stylus or Braille writer. We recommend Braille labeling items that will last a long time, such as a spice container.

WayAround

This product is an app that you can download to your phone that allows you to create and scan labels (called WayTags) that you can purchase from the WayAround website. You could include anything you want in the label, including important notes such as what the item is, its expiration date, nutrition facts, and any cooking instructions. After creating the label, you can place it on an item, and later when you want to identify it, you can scan it with the app and your phone will speak aloud everything that you included in the label. Learn more about WayAround’s kitchen-specific labels here.

PenFriend

This is a device that allows you to create labels using your voice. You can include anything you want in the label, and then scan it later to identify it using the PenFriend device. The PenFriend will then play your recorded voice saying what the product is and any other item information you included in the recording. Find out more about the PenFriend here.  

Other Ways to Identify Items

Labeling is a fantastic way to keep your kitchen organized, but it can take time, and, depending on the labels used, there can be cost involved. There are other ways to maintain organization even when time and money are limited:

Strategic item placement

Establishing a system where you plan to store certain items in specific places can be a helpful way to identify items without necessarily having to label them. Perhaps you keep your favorite cereal all the way on the left-hand side of the cupboard, or maybe you keep canned soups on the bottom shelf and all other cans on the upper shelf. Or perhaps you keep the pepperoni frozen pizza above the veggie frozen pizza so that you always know which one you want to grab depending on your preference.

Tactile indicators

Placing a tactile indicator quickly on an item can be a fast and easy way to ensure you will be able to identify it. Do you want to make sure you eat the frozen green beans instead of the frozen veggies? You could place a snack bag clip on one of the bags to instantly tell them apart. Do you want to have the broccoli cheddar soup instead of the loaded potato? You can place a rubber band around one can to tell them apart. You could even put a small notch in the lid of a spice container using a knife to serve as a tactile indicator. For example, you could put a notch in the salt lid so you can tell it apart from the pepper by feel. Remember to make a very small notch or blemish which would be tactile, but not such a strong tactile mark that the lid would then be open.

Get creative

Think of ways to organize your kitchen that will be both memorable and workable for you. Remember that you are the one who needs to access the food items, and so making a system that works for you is key. The Bridges Helpdesk is here to help you brainstorm ideas to ensure that your kitchen is exactly how you want it to be regardless of the task at hand.

Contact us

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Bridges Blog Financial Resources Independent Living Resources Series: Diving Into December 2021

Diving Into December: Organizing Your Wallet

As we enter December, we reflect on the previous year and begin to set goals for the swiftly approaching New Year. December is a great time to get organized to be ready for all that the holiday season and the New Year has to offer, so get excited to dive into these topics with us this month:

  • Organizing Your Wallet
  • Organizing Your Kitchen
  • Organizing Your Clothing
  • Organizing Your Mail

In this first installment of our “Diving Into December” series, we will take a look at the best ways to organize visual information in your wallet.

Why It matters

From money to cards to papers, everything in our wallets is labeled in print that is not accessible to blind/low vision individuals. Learning strategies to keep up with everything that goes in and out of our wallets is key to financial success and general organization. Prepare to have spaces for gift cards or cash received as holiday gifts, and to keep your debit and credit cards organized for holiday shopping!

Organizing Cash

Most blind and low vision individuals have a personalized system to have their money folded in specific ways so that they can identify the bill value immediately upon touching it. For example, one could choose to have $1 bills folded in fourths, their $5 bills folded in half, their $10 bills folded in eights horizontally, and their $20 bills folded in eights vertically. It is important to set aside time to organize your cash so that you are able to readily identify it when you go to reach for it to make a transaction. The Seeing AI app, which has been featured previously on this page, has a currency reading mode that can allow users to identify bills across many different currencies. Taking the time to sit down to go through and organize cash with an app, reader, or iBill Talking Banknote Identifier can help you to feel more in control of the money you have and to feel confident in the exact value of each bill.

Luckily, coins are a bit easier to organize tactilely:

  • Quarters are the largest coin and have rough edges
  • Nickels are the second-largest coin and have smooth edges
  • Pennies are the second smallest coin and have smooth edges
  • Dimes are the smallest coin and have rough edges

Organizing Cards

We seem to carry more cards than ever, including insurance cards, legal ID, work or student ID, transportation access cards, credit and debit cards, and gift cards. Sometimes, it is easy to tell cards apart. The new REAL ID cards have rough markings on them which make them unique to the touch. Perhaps your insurance card is made of a thinner material than all of your other cards so you are able to tell it apart from the others. Even with these distinctions, there are still likely cards that feel the same and have no notable differences from other cards in your wallet.

Many wallets are designed with layers of card slots in which you can categorize your cards based on your own system. Many people find it helpful to have a specific place for each card so that they always know they are presenting the correct one. As you are still getting used to your card layout system, you may even choose to write it down so that you can refer to it until you are able to find each card in your wallet fluidly. The Bridges Helpdesk is always here to help you brainstorm ways that will work for you to organize your wallet in a way that is personalized and useable.

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Next Steps November 2021

Next Steps November: Note-taking

It’s November, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. We settled into the school routine, and the holiday season is gearing up. November is a great time to create bridges between our current realities and the futures we seek, so these are the topics we will explore this month:

  • November 2: Navigating (Your Future)
  • November 9: Networking
  • November 16: Niche (Finding Yours)
  • November 23: Note-taking
  • November 30: Nurturing (Yourself)

In this fourth installment of our “Next Steps November” series, we discuss Note-taking – why it is important and how to make it a strength for you.

What is Note-taking?

Note-taking can exist in many forms. For the purpose of this Free Bridges Transition Tip, Note-taking is the process of:

  • Determining what information is important
  • Capturing that information efficiently and effectively
  • Ensuring that you will be able to access your notes whenever you want to do so

Why is Note-taking Important?

Note-taking provides individuals with a tool to access important information long after the information is no longer being presented. Some individuals can memorize information well, but note-taking is still an important skill for them because the raw content of the information is only part of the picture. Facts and data are great to have, but the ability to compare and contrast information grows more and more important throughout our school years and into adulthood. By adding note-taking to your skillset, you increase the accuracy of your memory recollection and you provide yourself an efficient tool to discern relationships between facts and figures.

Note-taking can also help pay attention to presentations and improve your memorization process. The very act of taking notes engages you with the presentation, and your memory of the presentation can be triggered when reviewing the notes you have taken. Sadly, neither of these benefits are available by reviewing notes other people took.

How Should I Take Notes?

Note-taking strategies can vary based on individual strengths and needs as well as on the purpose of the note-taking, itself. Here are some examples:

Do your homework

Typically, in a classroom setting, there is a topic for the lesson of the day. You may have been assigned reading to do, and there may be an outline of the lecture or, at least, a vocabulary list.

  • As you read assigned passages for homework, make note of headings, sub-headings, and vocabulary words.
  • Put these into an electronic file that you can use during the upcoming lecture.
  • This will help you organize your notes and allow you to make certain that your spelling is correct (so that you may focus on the lecture and not on spelling).

Use any resources provided before the presentation

Whether in school, on the job, or at another kind of presentation, there are often materials used during the presentation (like PowerPoint slides) or handed out at the presentation (like guided notes, outlines, etc.).

  • Before the presentation, politely request accessible electronic versions of all materials used during the presentation.
  • Even if you cannot get accessible electronic versions, get what you can. Please feel free to contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk for tools and strategies to make inaccessible paper or electronic documents accessible for you.
  • Review these materials; they will show you the important highlights of the presentation.
  • Consider creating a note-taking template based on the materials. Using accessible electronic documents, you can create the presentation outline. By using this document as an outline, you can better focus on the presentation, and you should have more time to take any additional notes you need (and to highlight important parts of the outline).

Listen for clues of importance

Speakers often use verbal and visual clues to stress the importance of certain parts of their presentations. For the visual clues, consider asking the speaker to also include verbal clues (such as: “I am pointing to this word.” “I am underlining this word.” “This word is blinking on the PowerPoint.” Here are some verbal clues that a word or phrase is important:

  • Repetition
  • Change of voice (pitch, tone, etc.)
  • Raising one’s voice
  • Speaking more slowly

How Do I Know If I Am Taking Notes Well?

This is a great question, and it will take time to answer. The key to good note-taking is that it works for you. In addition to asking your peers, teachers, and/or parents about the quality of your note-taking, consider whether your notes are helping you achieve your goals:

  • When you study for tests, does the information in your notes make sense?
  • Do tests or quizzes contain items that are unfamiliar to you?
  • Are you feeling more confident about the subject?

Where Can I Find Out More?

The professionals at the Free Bridges Helpdesk eagerly await the opportunity to serve you. Please feel free to contact us anytime, including holidays and weekends. We are here to support you!

Contact us

Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.