My guest today is Edward Cohen, a low-vision entrepreneur who found a need in his daily life and went on to fill it.
Hi Edward, thank you for joining us here on Rainne’s Ramblings.
Would you like to kick off by telling us a little about yourself and your background?
Well, in my late 60s, I have a lot of background. I grew up in Indianapolis. I’m married and raised two children. We now live in Southeast Minnesota near our daughter’s family and her two sons.
I’m fortunate to have had many careers. While dealing with vision impairment of RP, I still drove until I was 45. This made many things possible. My careers ranged from media production to home weatherization and training energy auditors.
Before retiring in 2010, I worked 26 years for the State of Indiana in the areas of energy, recycling and information technology. Many of those last years were spent working to make electronic information comply with accessibility guidelines.
I’m active in my community and enjoy getting outside.
How does your declining eyesight affect your daily life…?
Dealing with late-stage RP means my acuity and peripheral vision are greatly limited. I require my CCTV or another person to access printed text.
I was a bicycle commuter but gave up riding my trusty 10-speed when we moved. Frankly, giving up the bike was harder than giving up driving.
I’ve always lived in a city, so I’ve always had many options for getting around. When we moved, we found a house within a 10-minute walk of the edge of downtown. So, it allows me to maintain a degree of independence.
…and what changes have you had to make to your day to day living to compensate?
Wow, where do I start? Of course, I use a white cane when traveling alone. I’ve switched to a 3-speed, 3-wheel bike. It is working for me. Our city has a good set of bike trails and I’m rarely on a city street or sidewalk. It lets me slow or stop when I’m uncertain about the way forward.
In my house, I have placed tactile bumps on appliances that need them so I can operate them independently. Since I still have some useable sight, I’ve placed night lights in outlets in strategic locations. At night they help to me navigate from room to room.
On my computer, I use the High Contrast setting screen. I use Fusion which combines ZoomText and JAWS which gives me high magnification and speech. I could go on. In fact, on the Blog on my website, I describe many tips and habits that make my life easier and less stressful.
You designed your calendar for yourself out of necessity. What was that necessity?
Well, there were actually two types of necessities. The first was, like all Baby Boomers, I grew up using paper calendars. I prefer them to be 8 and a half by 11 inches. That size gives me plenty of room to write big. I continue to prefer them.
My life is still busy enough that I need a weekly planner style calendar. A wall calendar type just wouldn’t work for me.
The second necessity was that, as my eyesight worsened over the past 10-years or so, I couldn’t find a weekly calendar that met my low-vision needs. Believe me, both my wife and I looked long and hard in stores and on the internet to find one.
I needed a weekly calendar I could easily see, yet nobody made what I needed.
So, at what point did you decide to go into business?
Well, in the Spring of 2015, I was already using the prototype calendar I had made. People would see it, since I took it with me to all my meetings and appointments. Folks with and without vision issues who saw it, asked where I got it. They’d either say that they could use one like it or knew someone who might.
I’d often hear, “You should start a business and start making them”. As nice as it was to hear such things, I had a happy and busy life. I didn’t need a job. Plus, I had a healthy respect for what it would take to start a business; not to mention making it a success.
But as the comments continued, it dawned on me how many people might find it helpful. After a couple of months, I came to see this could be my way to give back to my low-vision community.
I had been sharing the feedback I was getting with my wife. Finally, I told her what I was thinking of doing. She had always supported me in all my efforts but this could end up being a big one. I also knew that somehow, she’d get dragged into helping me in some way, so I wanted to hear she was okay with me doing this. She said ok, but before she said she was okay with it, she said, “Just so you know, this is your business, not mine.” As it turns out, though, she has become an invaluable help.
Then by the fall of 2015, the company was up and running.
And you’ve continued making them since?
Yes, since that first 2016 edition, I’ve put out three more editions and sold several thousand of them. Each year I get more repeat customers. In fact, as we’re talking in early 2019, I’m already working on all the things that have to be done to make and sell the 2020 edition.
What’s different about your calendar compared to other large print calendars?
One of the things that’s been fun about doing this is, because I’m also a customer, I’ve incorporated unique features that are lacking in all the weeklies I found.
Sorry for that long build-up. Ok, let’s flip through it and I’ll describe what I’m showing.
Since I’m into my calendar multiple times a day, I use a heavier-weight paper and laminate the covers.
Its size is 8 and one-half by 11 inches tall. It’s black spiral-bound so you can fold it in half if you wish.
All the content is in black ink and at least ten times the size of newsprint– nothing small and hard to read.
I use a proprietary font that is a bit easier to read.
The first inside page is where you may write your contact information. If you leave it somewhere, when it’s found, they have a way to reach you.
After that are twelve pages each showing the full view of that month. The upper half of the page shows the entire month. On the lower half are rows listing that month’s major holidays. There are always one or more rows to list days that are important to you.
Now we get to the weekly pages. These are what cause people to really react. What jumps out at you is, how much uncluttered, writing space there is for each day. There’s so much space because only the date and the initial of the day are in each cell. People really like how much writing space there is. I wanted the maximum amount of writing room since I write big.
If there is a holiday, it’s tucked up at the top of the day’s cell. Another unique thing this calendar has, if it’s a holiday that starts at sunset, it’s listed on the day it starts at sundown. Then I put a note by it, saying “at sunset”.
Like other 2-page weeklies, with it open to see the full week, you see Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the left page and the rest of the week on the right.
Each weekday is in its own row. Each row or “cell”, runs the 8 inch width of the page and is a bit over 3 inches high. Do the math and that’s nearly the size of 2-3 by 5 cards. The biggest possible uncluttered, writing space available.
Saturday and Sunday share half the bottom right row. Some people tell me that their weekend is as busy as their weekday. They might wish it had more weekend space. So far, no one has offered a good solution. If we had a 6-day week, things would be easier for us calendar makers.
But wait, there’s more. Just kidding. But actually, there is one more element on these pages that sets it apart. For those of us prone to writing off the edge of the paper because we can’t see the paper’s edge, there is a thick black page border. You won’t be writing off this paper!
Then at the end are six bold-lined pages, like you see in bold-lined writing pads. Use them any way you wish.
And to top it off, it’s only as thick as a wooden pencil.
Wow, it does sound unique, I could probably use one myself. How do you market your calendar?
While I started with Lighthouses for the Blind and online catalogue companies, I’ve expanded my reach. I’m starting to reach out to offices of low-vision eye doctors, state departments of education, health and senior services. I’m now on Amazon and I’m reaching out to state affiliates of the large national organizations. I’ve contracted with a good social media person who helps spread the word that way. I’m working hard to get into veteran’s rehabilitation centers.
There are so many places I could approach. My challenge is time. There is only so many hours in a day and I can only do so much. If there is a sales and marketing person out there interested in talking to me, please do so!
Ok, Edward, we’ll give your contact information out at the end. Now tell me, who are your customers?
Well I joke that there are only two types of people who buy my calendars. Those who have a vision problem and those who don’t. But seriously, I’ve got three types of customers.
One is people dealing with some inherited condition can use and who prefer a weekly-print calendar. The second group is those who, later in life start dealing with low-vision. The last group is two segments of the general public. One group buys it for themselves. They might personally have demanding schedules. They might want a family calendar or manage the schedule for their kids, their parents and themselves. Some just use it as a journal or record book. The other segment is those who buy it as a thoughtful gift for a loved one. Look at the Testimonial page on my website to read some really touching examples of all of these sorts of customers.
Where can we buy an EZ2See calendar?
Well, of course you can buy it on my website. You can also get it on Amazon, at Independent Living Aids and Blind Mice Mart. Plus, check my website to see if there is a local retailer in your community.
Have you any other products in the pipeline?
Absolutely, there are other helpful items that I need, but nobody makes them. So, once I get some additional help, they will move from the drawing board to reality. Sales and marketing person, where are you?
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Well that is quite rare since all this business began. But when I can, I really enjoy being out in nature where the only sounds are natural. I feel my batteries get recharged by that.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
As a kid, I liked building plastic models and later constructing elaborate erector set projects. At some point, I became fascinated with submarines and what could be built underwater. My direction in school was towards math and science classes. I had thought of a job helping build underwater habitats and the like. Obviously, that didn’t happen!
As someone who more often interviews authors, I have to ask…
Do you read / listen to audio books and if so who are your favorite authors.
Like I said before, time for such pursuits is largely limited to the rare vacation. We do listen to audio books when my wife and I are on driving trips. I do download books from BARD and take them with me on those rare vacations.
I tend to lean towards nonfiction. Books about what’s happening now or in the past or the future I was once a big science fiction fan and occasionally work one of those in. The reality is that I have a half dozen half-finished books sitting in my portable device. I look forward to my next trip to finish off one or more of them.
If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?
I’m sort of a practical guy. When time travel is part of a plot theme in books I’ve read, things usually don’t go so well. I better stick to reading about history which I do enjoy.
What is your most treasured possession?
I’ve never really thought about that. But I’d have to say some objects my dad gave me that he made and used while serving in the Royal Canadian forces during World War 2.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Well yes, we should give out my website so people can contact me and my Facebook page. Would that be okay?
Of course, go ahead.
On my website you’ll find the “contact me” page and links to other pages including my Blog posts. There’s even a page containing all the online, radio, TV and newspaper interviews I’d had.
Oh yes, you can also order the calendar from there.
Thank you ever so much for your time, Edward. Best wishes for all your future projects.