This time let’s talk about something else, and put the coins aside for the sake of this post. I have received many questions about blindness in general, and about using technology as a blind person. It felt almost natural to me to talk about things which weren’t necessarily obvious. Such as talking about seeing something, or using the computer.
First: is blindness a private matter? Not to me. But it maybe to other people. I have worked in education, one way or another my entire life, so I’m happy to answer any questions. It doesn’t bother me when people ask questions. However, you may want to know that there are people who maybe recently lost their sight, or it is associated to a trauma, and they don’t want to discuss it. And this applies to any other disabilities.
Very often I say that I have seen… Really? Did I? No, of course. But let’s say we are talking about a coin, and I say I have recently seen a 200 years old coin. As weird as it sounds, it is even more awkward to say that I have touched and experienced a 200 years old coin. We, blind people, watch movies, go sight seeing, and will even see you later.
And there is technology. I have worked with technology all my life. Ok, discount the first 10 years. Technology has been improving rapidly to help people with disabilities. I use a computer with a screen reader software. In a nutshell, this software announces everything I type, and reads the information from the screen. There is much more to it, but this is the bottom line. I can browse the internet, read documents, participate in chats or online webinars. In my day job I help developers to make any technology accessible to people with disabilities. It is not fully usable. For example, if you post an image on the internet, I can’t do anything with it. If you provide a description of the image, all of a sudden it is meaningful.
I also use an iPhone. It has a built in screen reader, you can activate it on yours, too. If you are using IOS 7, just hold down the home key, and say “turn VoiceOver on”. That’s it. It will be different to interact with the phone, first you won’t get much out of it. But at least you will get a feel for what happens. If you had enough, just hold down the home key and say “turn VoiceOver off”. Back to normal.
I can slide my finger on the screen and hear what’s under it. When the keyboard appears, I can find the keys, activate them one by one. It is a little slower when you can’t see the keys, because you can make a mistake. Therefore, all key presses take two movements, one is finding the right key, and the other is acknowledging that this is what you want to press. However, with the dictation feature I can work on the phone pretty fast. For that matter, I don’t even need a tablet to do anything. If you can see the screen, the larger it is, the better you can orientate yourself. For me, there is speech, so the smaller the device, the more convenient it is. However, a tablet has a great advantage: I can better “visualize” what the screen looks like, and better understand the layout of a web page or document.
I also have an old device, called Optacon. It is not manufactured anymore. This device has a camera that you can place on a sheet of paper or on a screen. The device converts the image into tactile images using small vibrating pins. It is very slow, but if all else fails, I can read information with this. It is particularly helpful when I need to get information from an image which is not described, or read handwriting. And oh well, it doesn’t do well with coins…
When I want to read books, I scan the book into my computer, or use an app on my phone, and than run it through a character recognition software. This software takes the image and converts it to text which I can now read with my screen reader.
There is really too much to say about these topics, and since it is not the primary goal of this blog, feel free to ask in the comments section and I’ll try to answer your questions. And next time I will get back to coin collecting.