Category Archives: technology

Wheelchair ramps to get …online?

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.  

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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.

Eye deal iPhone

Looking is not really my strong point (understatement), but looking for simple solutions is.

Problem: Really bad eyesight

Solution: iPhone

Yes, the solution for-needing an electronic magnifier, was literally under my nose…almost on my nose!! Such is the posture that shortsightedness dictates. My iPhone had been merrily freeloading in my handbag like a lazy stowaway, until I discovered how brilliantly it can work … for a living.

Now It works 15 hours a day, on minimum wage, and it is everything from a personal assistant, a talking watch, cab caller, story reader and an electronic magnifier. It is very polite and never complains. Paired with a bluetooth keyboard, it is also a word processor with built in, free screen reading software.

It requires patience to learn how to handle this versatile creature, but the rewards of a mutually beneficial relationship outweighs the inevitable frustrations of a green apple ….user.

Just one byte 😉 and you will be hooked.

….and live ‘appily’ ever after.

Check out my first video and share with friends and family with really bad eyesight

https://youtu.be/FFHbBpOcdvg

iSight or iSee

iSight or iSee

 

isightI recently attended a mobility training course to learn how to get around more independently as a visually impaired person. It required that I learned how to use a mobility cane – an extra-long cane with a rotating golf ball at the tip (so you get extra notice when you are about to fall into a cover-stolen manhole) as opposed to a symbol cane, a shorter stick which merely reminds others that you are a person who has full permission to act slightly strangely at times (like using a magnifier to see a till slip or walking past a friend without greeting them).

Shortly after this, a close friend of mine found an iPad that had been dropped in the street.  In her good citizen quest to find the owner she had to make a trip to the iStore in Canal walk. That day I was feeling down about a health issue, and was pondering on how precious life is.  So when the opportunity arose I grabbed the chance to get out, enjoy time with a friend, changed my plans and offered to go along for the drive.

I took along my new cane and was excited to try out my fresh skills in an unfamiliar environment.   I felt really free just walking from the car into the building without putting strain on my always confusing vision.  We found the relevant shop and, bolstered by my new found confidence, I asked her if she was up to a bit of fun. She giggled and said , “Go for it”, so I held onto her elbow, kept my shades on and she led the way to the counter at the back of the store where two attendants were waiting . I asked, “Is this the iStore? “when the chap said yes, I announced politely, “I would like to buy some eyes”.
There was a serious and awkward silence and then we burst out laughing.  The guys then joined in – I think very relieved at not having to make an appropriate response. We eventually got onto our real errand.

I was reminded that life with a disability is not as tragic as a life where you cannot see hope. There is no option to buy ‘iSight’, but there is always an option to choose how ‘iSee’.

P.S.I admire all things Apple and, in my opinion, an iPhone is a brilliantly helpful assistive device for any blind or blindish person… even without using the accessibility functions.

P.P.S. Apologies for any emotional trauma caused to the iStore staff.

 

Ice-cream or I scream

Early this morning, long before the alarm was due to go off, I was settled at my desk in front of my reading camera with my nose hovering about 10 centimetres from the high definition monitor screen. The house was dark and still while I read in the glow of my desk light, blinkered and focussed on the words. All was quiet in the room, and I could vaguely hear the twittering and chattering of the birds in the background, announcing the pending dawn. I was deep in thought as I pondered the scripture for my day ahead.

A heavy hand rested on my shoulder and I heard a deep whisper, ‘Jen”. I screamed and shrieked as I lurched back in the chair. I looked up, still yelling because my eyes had not adjusted from the bright glare of the screen and finally the man- sized figure evolved into my apologetic and astonished husband. He happened to be wearing thick socks and had crept quietly into the room so as not to disturb my peace and contemplation. Well that didn’t work! We both got the fright of our lives!

We laughed and hooted in recovery, waiting for the hammers in our chests to wane.

He owes me one …I think Ill demand a caramel dip… ‘I-SCREAM’!!

Bring on Technology

I just thought I would share this link with those who follow my blog via email.

This is so cool and I am so grateful for all the creative and technically brained people who thought this up!

http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/if-this-isnt-the-coolest-thing-i-dont-know-what-is/

Snapshots and sound clips

Recently, while we were away on holiday on the edge of Langebaan lagoon, I was awakened by the unusual and fascinating sounds of the early morning. I dressed warmly, armed myself with coffee and crept outside to embrace the new-born day. I listened to seagulls squawking belligerently as they squabbled over seafood specials. I heard the lap and swash of the shoreline, the clinking of fishermen’s bait cans and the distant drone of a fog horn from the harbour. On that white, foggy morning there was low visibility, and coupled with my own poor ‘visibility’ I decided to appreciate the sounds with my eyes closed.  The experience made me realise how much there is to hear when I take the time to notice it ….or whatever the equivalent of noticing is in sound terms.

I set my voice recorder on my phone, placed it on the gate post and saved the cacophony of sound which accompanied the waking world. It has recorded a moment that I can relive every time I listen to the audio clip. It even ignites the memory of the cold air stinging my cheeks and the salty smell of seaweed and wet sand .Sound memories for the vision impaired are as photo memories for the sighted.

I have started recording ordinary circumstances as keepsakes – like the sound of the family pottering around on Sunday afternoons and the sound of a bird call while I hang the washing.  What do I call the sound version of a ‘selfie’? Maybe an ‘audie!?

Now I just need to work out how to save a sound album instead of a photo album.