As people living with sight loss we are constantly looking for solutions to make our lives easier without too much effort or cost writes Jonathan Abro.
Over the last 20+ years of my sight loss I have been on this same journey. I am delighted at how much is available to us. Ten years ago I would not have believed such progress would have been made and that some sight loss solutions would become mainstream in the way they have.
Over the next few newsletters I’ll share some of my favourite apps and solutions with you. I won’t be providing user guides but rather sharing what I find useful. Detailed instruction is widely available with a simple Internet search.
Introduction (first published in Look Forward, Summer 2021)
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever had from another VI person is: learn to touch-type now and learn to use assistive tech before you need it.
Being a few-fingered typist I took this advice seriously and tried various tutors. I found Azabat to be the one for me and within three weeks of tuition I was a touch-typist. It was definitely worth the effort as we use keyboards every day whether on smartphones, tablets or computers. Try these typing tutors to find the one that suits you:
- Azabat: azabat.co.uk/typing.html
- BBC kids: bbc.co.uk/teach/skillswise/typing/zjqm92p
- Mavis Beacon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavis_Beacon_Teaches_Typing
Smartphones are a good place to start and, although I use an iPhone, the accessibility features and equivalent apps are available on Android phones too which means that the choice has become much wider as to which smartphone to buy.
When it comes to apps, remember to always try free apps first. If you think the paid-for apps have better features for your needs, give the free trial a go first to ‘try-before-you-buy’.
Seeing AI, a free Microsoft app, is one of my favourite apps and one I use frequently. Using artificial intelligence, each channel has a different function allowing us to:
- Read the post as it arrives rather than waiting for help,
- Scan a document to read or save for later use,
- Recognise supermarket products by scanning barcodes,
- Check on the colour of something,
- Sort out currency in your wallet before going out,
- Determine how light or dark the room you are in is, and,
- Still being developed, read handwriting, scenery description and identify or describe a person with some hilarious results so to be taken with a pinch of salt!
Listen to this article at: https://anchor.fm/retina-uk/episodes/Look-Forward—Summer-2021—Issue-174-e12od4r (Track 13)
Apps and mobility (first published in Look Forward Winter 2021)
Thanks to tech boffins, our amazing smartphones allow us to get assistance from other people and, via our cameras, they can help us with a myriad of tasks.
Welcome to the next in my series on amazing apps that make my life that much easier. This time I’ll finish up on assistance apps and move onto mobility as there is crossover between them.
With financial and banking help, most banks offer accessible services so contact them first.
Be My Eyes
an incredible free app that brings another way of keeping our independence and getting tasks done without bothering anyone while probably making someone’s day by giving them the opportunity to help. There are currently over 5.2 million volunteers ready to help 341,389 of us blind and visually impaired users! Via live video calls I’ve used this for something as simple as checking the colour of my socks to having the error message on my television read when it went on the blink. Specialized Help has companies from technical support to personal health and beyond, well worth exploring.
Another assistance app that I’ve started using. AIRA employs people to help so a very different offering. There’s some free usage alongside various subscription plans. Join with this link to get extra free minutes: https://link.aira.io/ref-sghm8.
Take care when out on the streets, don’t stand on the edge of the pavement when using your phone. Using gestures and voice commands while your phone is in your pocket is safest.
I’m fiercely independent and a keen walker so it is vital that I am able to find my way around London. Depending on where and how I am going, I use one or more of these apps:
Apple or Google Maps
On iPhone just by saying to Siri, “start walking directions to” address / postcode / landmark gets me on my way;
Soundscape and Lazarillo
Announces everything around me from shop names to recycle bins, bus stops and street intersections. Integrated
with maps and using Aftershockz bone-conducting earphones to hear ambient sounds makes for great walking;
I can choose the correct bus stop, have all bus numbers at that stop, number of minutes until they arrive and all stops along each route. This takes away the need to stop every bus and ask the driver their number making bus travel so much easier;
Just downloaded this app and it’s an excellent journey planner for the Tube. I know my way around the Underground pretty well but wanted
a backup. TfL staff are fantastic with assistance on journeys so I’m always confident on getting to wherever I need to go;
Just learnt about this app which shows where Disabled parking spaces are located. Will try when next out in a car.
There is a myriad of other mobility apps available and coupled with Be My Eyes or AIRA getting around has become a whole lot easier.
With all of these apps I still rely on one other method – I ask someone. People love to help so ask someone if you are lost or uncertain. I have had people get their maps up on their phones and walk with me resulting in a conversation and a fun encounter. I learnt about my now favourite coffee shop in The City in this way.
I hope you find this useful and it gives you some help with assistance and mobility apps. More amazing apps to follow next time…
Listen to this article at: https://anchor.fm/retina-uk/episodes/Look-Forward—Winter-2021—Issue-175-e1a07gc (Track 17).
Jonathan Abro lives in central London and is a Freelance IT Professional specialising in IT Project Management of large-scale software development and IT Accessibility for all forms of disability. He is a Trustee of VocalEyes, the Charity providing Audio Description to The Arts, a member of the London Sight Loss Council, a Tech Support Volunteer with the RNIB and a member of Retina UK. Jonathan has RP and, since being diagnosed in 1996, has lost all but a bit of his peripheral vision. He is passionate about travel with highlights including camping on the ice of Antarctica, standing on all seven continents and, to celebrate his 50th birthday (while raising research funds into RP and raising awareness of sight loss), he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.