Featured post

Wheelchair ramps to get …online?

Diagonal view of a text file on a tablet.

Showing text on a digital device

We all know that navigating public spaces in a wheelchair can be difficult, if not impossible, without ramps. As we move more into the online space, the ramp issues fall away, but the visually impaired now get access blocked by unconsidered design steps.

The online platform is largely visual and, thanks to innovative geeks and coders, there are fantastic software programmes and Apps to access this space on audio. …that is, if the developers comply to accessibility guidelines. Safari browser has a reader button that cuts out all images so only text is visible. This is useful for screen reading aids, but is often overwhelming for low vision or dyslexic readers. Text enlarging programmes are expensive, require training and need continuous upgrades. 

Many totally blind users access text online using open source or purchased text to speech software. If one is new to blindness, it takes time, opportunity and money to learn the necessary skills to access basic word processing technology. It is a mission, but not impossible. 

Whilst I am grateful for organisations that provide such services, my heart lies with low vision users, who make up over 90% of the visually impaired people in South Africa…many of whom are seniors. They can see too much to learn Braille and see too little to read large print. 

People with central vision loss, or macular degeneration, usually navigate the physical environment using landmarks and peripheral visual clues. E.g I walk 3 blocks and then turn left at the funny tree, then I use the entrance just after the dustbin and walk down the corridor to the person behind the counter where the red chair is. This way, a person who cannot see signs or faces appears to have no vision problem. The same goes for navigating online. We look for ‘clues’. A white stripe at the top right corner is probably a search bar. We can see where the edit boxes are, but the fancy greyed out description of what to write, is elusive. On familiar Apps we press the 2nd blob of blue, or the top left edge to go back. Who knows what is actually written there. 

With fancier designs on screens and moving images on websites, it is increasingly difficult to actually read a new or unfamiliar site. Often the writing is over an image and many times the colour of the font is the same as parts of the image. This causes visual clutter and is very confusing. 

One in ten South Africans struggle with dyslexia and, similar to low vision, have confusing sensory input that causes frustration, and sometimes even hopelessness. One does not want to take away all the fun from web and App designers, but keeping the space inclusive for those who are text handicapped, will increase the users experience and likelihood of returning to that application. 

Simple, logical and user friendly colour-coded areas would make navigation much less stressful for more people than you would think. 

Banks, public services and transport networks could really do with being more aware of the needs of people with sensory processing issues by considering sound-scaping, landmarking and simplifying, increasing contrast and colour coding to include the text handicapped. Who would not want 5 million more satisfied customers? 

 If reading is a right, then I trust that my writing this is a worthwhile read.  

Illuminating Bathrooms

“It does not matter how many carrots you eat, you will face vision changes sometime in your life” Kathy Tinney, my friend, cheerleader and author of this post.

Even if you wear corrective specs, you are unlikely to be donning them when you are washing your face, shaving or putting on makeup. So these principles of design pertain to pretty much everyone.

As a person experienced in vision loss, I found it useful having a magnifying mirror on a collapsable extension arm attached to the wall. I could then bring it right up close to my face. It was attached in place where I could still have light onto my face , without any shadows.

Lighting/illuminating is a design element that contributes to making a bathroom safe to use, both for people with low vision and the elderly. …

Illuminating Bathrooms

Lessons from a gem squash

I never imagined a vegetable could teach me such a profound and surprising lesson.

It all started in my haste to prepare a low carb base for our rather too soupy bacon and mushroom sauce. There was not enough sweet potato and I can eat gem squash all day every day, especially if infused with salty butter and topped with baby peas.

I know that gems are generally boiled in water on the stove top, but there were too many pots on the go and so the microwave was the next best option.  I knowingly took a skewer and punctured holes through the thick skin into the pip ‘compartment’, which I presume has a special scientific name. 

I confidently popped it into the microwave for 5 minutes and happily continued with the stirrings and steamings while the microwave hummed it’s familiar purr. In the middle of a closed eye tasting, which is my preferred method for cheering on my tastebuds, I heard an almighty BANG! 

The microwave door was swinging bewilderedly on it’s limp hinges, the gem squash had knocked out a nearby chocolate bunny and was staring wide mouthed at me from the fruit bowl at least a foot beside the empty microwave. Yellow squash innards clung to every available surface in the 1m blast zone like crazy party string after everyone has left. I of course, let out a yelp, then gawked in silence before bursting into giggles. 

My next thought was , “Oh goodness”, did I kill the microwave?’ I carefully switched off the power at the wall, pulled out the warm plug and left it to ‘rest’. 

Then, as I slowly inspected the evidence of debri and clumps of pips, shell and pulp, I conjectured that the door must have blown open with such backhand force that it’s rebound hit the oncoming gem shell with a neat forehand in order to place it in the fruit bowl. 

In the process of cleaning up I thought back to the pricking of the squash. I had stabbed into the middle, but obviously missed the inside sac. My brain usually runs on 2 or 3 tracks at a time, so I could not help thinking how humanlike this squash behaved. A thick outer shell that looks strong and protective and impenetrable, yet soft and nourishing on the inside with a coddled innate ability to reproduce in it’s own kind. 

I was reminded of how piercing the shell can prevent a food sort from becoming a missile and, similarly, how powerful humility can be to disarm emotional pressure to avoid unwanted ‘explosions’. I somehow felt that the exploding squash had highlighted my arrogance and poked fun at my lack of humility. It felt like I lost a contest I did not know I was involved in. Gem 1, Jen 0.

I know you probably think me a little silly seeing it like this, but it really did make me think. A little humility can go a long way to turning a possibly  explosive situation into a pleasant and nourishing treat. 

Epilogue

As this happened on the Easter weekend, I left the microwave for 3 days in hopes of resurrection,  before plugging it in, willing it’s little twinkly lights to wriggle across the display screen. It is dead, dead…and standing on the counter as a memorial to true humility. I’ll move it when the lesson has sunk in.

I now feel like a pumpkin.

Lost and Found – Lighting in Dark Spaces

I am delighted to repost this helpful article from my friend Kathy’s blog: Interior design disability guide. Great tips for seniors and LOVIS (low vision).

Oh, the embarrassment of attending a meeting wearing one black and one brown shoe! Cupboards are places of darkness and shadows that can lead to this…

Lost and Found – Lighting in Dark Spaces

Inside autumn

Last Sunday morning I stepped outside the front door into the crisp, cool air of early autumn. It’s freshness cleared my nose of cosy warmth and I got a whiff of the ripe hibiscus flowers in our neighbor’s garden. As I tapped my cane down the road I became aware of the bird cries high above me and the sound of wings swishing as little flocks fluttered in formation in preparation for flying north.

Floral dresses  hanging on a rail.
A ‘hanging garden’ of floral prints

I love walking to our church early. Most people are tucked up warm in their beds so it seems as if I have the sounds and aromas of the changing season, all to myself under the vast blue sky. After meeting with a few folk for prayer, I sauntered into the noisy school hall where groups of chattering people gathered and flowed like flotsam on a stream, some sticking with the clumps and others breaking off to connect with the next group. Last Sunday morning I stepped outside the front door into the crisp, cool air of early autumn. It’s freshness cleared my nose of cosy warmth and I got a whiff of the ripe hibiscus flowers in our neighbor’s garden. As I walked down the road I became aware of the bird cries high above me and the sound of wings swishing as little flocks fluttered in formation in preparation for flying north.

The summer fashions have been so flowery this year. To me it looked like swirls and waves of floating leaves, bobbing blooms, twirling flowers and colliding colours as ladies greeted and turned with fragrant perfumes wafting lightly on the air after them as they made their way to their usual seats. The trousers and shirts stood more solidly like tree trunks stepping determinedly in straight lines, stopping to nod at other pillars of clothes.

I smiled to myself, grateful that I get to see this inside garden of flowing lives in an unusual way. I think that Seeing must sometimes get in the way of experiencing.

After COVID 19, my theme tune is, ‘when will I see you (this) again?’

Wonderfully Made…With a flaw?

A stylised image of a sapling in a triangle of soil I have a story about a tree that drastically changed the way I see myself and that helped me put my blindness into perspective. 

Back Ground

I was brought up in a family culture where, as children, we learned words from the Bible off by heart. There are some great verses, but one in particular was very disturbing for me. It’s in Psalm 139. A song written by King David, where he sings, “O Lord, You search me and you know me!” Then  he goes on about everything the Creator knows about him, which is really securing and comforting for me, until the part; “You knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Good grief! Did He know I had a genetic flaw in my ‘knitted’ flesh? How can a person with an inherited degenerative disease be ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made? Is God a liar? Why is this not my experience? How can a supposedly loving Creator ‘knit’ me with an ingrained flaw? It’s not like my parents had any control of that. 

My Process

This was part of my identity struggle that I took years to put into words. I was scared of the answer in case I was deliberately created to have a factory flaw.  At some pivotal stage of emotional turmoil, probably triggered by some small incident or frustration of not being able to see, I got the courage to ask the hard question to get to the bottom of this. I literally said, “God, if you are alive and real and loving and you made me, then how come I got this disease? Show me, teach me.”

About a week later I was doing some gardening. I find that there is nothing quite as soothing as hard, physical labour that works up a sweat, for a person who is fighting within themselves, namely, me.  There was an area in our garden where nothing seemed to really grow well. It had full sun and got enough water and compost, so I was not sure why a special ‘birthday bush’ I had carefully planted there, had died! It was another symbol of a disappointment and an unexplained defect. We had previously planted a beautiful double-delight rose bush, specially transplanted from our previous home, there and it had also died. What was wrong with these plants?  Why did they not grow for me? The ‘injustice’ seemed to connect with something in my own story. I was upset and so decided to rip everything out of that patch. 

Once the dead roots of the little tree were hacked out, I energetically dug as deep as possible to get rid of this garden bed.  I was arm length into the hole when I came across some builders’ rubble, and a penlight battery.  It was rusted and leaky and had probably, inadvertently, been tossed out in a previous story of someone else’s life. I was so relieved to find the cause of the problem, it was not the plants that were defective , it was the soil. 

Buoyed with hope, I carefully scooped out another bucket of soil around where the battery had been. We added natural fertiliser and new soil. We went out and bought a beautiful leopard tree and planted it in that place. 

As I was working I had an ‘epiphany’ or, as Oprah would say, an ah-ha moment.  There was never a problem with the plants we had put there, it was a problem with the soil. I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. There is nothing wrong with my spirit, the Jenny inside Jenny’s body. I am the plant and my body is just the soil, which happens to have 2 mutations in one gene. I am not my body, I am a spirit, with a soul in a body. What a relief! I found this revelation so profound, that it gave me a fresh foundation from which to look at my life,and my value as a human being. 

In Charge Versus In Control 

This incident scrambled my belief system, as I thought The Creator was in control of everything on earth. Well, now I believe, The Creator is in charge, but not in control. What is the difference? 

Have you ever been in charge of a project, and something goes wrong? Is it your fault? Is it helpful to blame? What action did you take to work with the situation? 

Just because you are in charge, does not mean you are in control. 

None of us are in control of ‘the soil’ in which we are planted. Our bodies, our skin colour, the families we are born into, are all part of the mystery of life. We did not choose our DNA, but we can choose how to respond to what we have been given. We may have been given an earthly ‘bad card’, but we can choose how to play it in a way that positively contributes to the next generation. As for the factory flaw, that was never in the mind of The Creator, it was a weakness in the soil, the genetic material from generations past – that part of us that returns to dust when we die.  

It’s been hard for my parents, who have had to face the reality of passing on a mutation, even though they had no idea it was there. We all have genetic mutations and idiosyncrasies. Even a perfect human specimen is not more valuable than one who has come through illness or accident with a lasting impact. It is the sacred, human spirit, the part we call life, that carries value. 

My conclusion

Electric Books

Oh, my word!

Words create. Grouped together they form ideas, clarify concepts and uncover emotions. They can be breaking or healing, creating or destroying. Words, like single. little bristles on a hand crafted paintbrush, gather together in choreographed groups to curve, colour and create images that appear uniquely in every reader’s mind. Being able to see them, read them aloud, digest them and allow us to continuously form new thoughts, and so,‘in my book’ (excuse the pun) are a basic human right.

Recently my son drove me to the local library to pick up an audio book from the rather limited selection. AS we walked in I was overcome by the nostalgic smell of old books – a blend of dust, leather and tobacco…with a faint whiff of old style floor polish. It instantly raised the memory of my grandfathers study. I sniffed the air and reminisced aloud. He too, was yanked into memory lane by the smell of the pages, mindful of the joy of choosing childhood favourites that opened new worlds of adventures.

Tables of old library books filled the foyer and people of all ages, shapes and sizes were scanning through the treasures in search of those classic gems.

Acrid jealousy hung in my nostrils as I grieved the loss of being able to read a book. The fleeting emotion of self pity wafted over my heart with the loneliness of not being able to join this assortment of people enjoying the hunt.

Then I took my thoughts in hand shooed them towards thankfulness. It is a privilege to live in thees modern times where technology gives me access to electric books.

My cell phone does not quite have the same memory jolting scent (yet) but I do , with some double – tapping and poking around, get to listen some great books. Scan reader apps, and a little more effort, also allow me access to ordinary books and, for those with the privilege, there are some excellent audio libraries online.

My recent introduction to artificial intelligence, gives me much hope that the advance of technology will once again allow us blindies to put our noses back into old style books.

…and that’s not my last word on it.