An audible App or program for the blind, accessible to deafblind, using hearing aids?
There was a time when accessing such a thing would have been impossible and in my lifetime too.
However, in April this year I had the fortune to do an Usher Syndrome Awareness presentation to an innovative Company in London called UsTwo.
Before my presentation to the team I got to meet the awesome Ume who was working on Wayfindr.
We had a long conversation about it and discussed the possibility of how Wayfindr could be accessible to those with hearing aids.
Back then I was wearing Phonak hearing aids and with those particular aids there was no way I could have accessed audible instruction via an app/program on my iPhone.
I followed the trials of Wayfindr’s progress on TV throughout the summer and could see the difference it would make to blind people when travelling on the busy tube network in London.
I was fitted with GN ReSound’s Linx2 hearing aids in May this year, their connectivity is outstanding so a chance Wayfindr could now work for the deafblind.
I have kept in touch with UsTwo who have remained interested in my work, they and I were curious and excited to think this technology might now be within my reach, the reach of some others with Usher Syndrome and so a trial was set up.
I do not live in London, however I do go there fairly regularly, I love the buzz of London, the museums, the theatres and of course I love shopping but using the tube is my idea of a nightmare.
It is not a regular route for Unis and I so often quite a stressful experience.
Our journey starts on the mainline train and Unis and I are used to this as we use the train to go to work so no hassle, its the tube, dark tunnels, lots of networks and people everywhere and always in a hurry, my anxiety levels are high and I am very on edge.
The irony, perhaps is my concern for Unis getting trampled on which causes me even more distress and as much as I know she is 100% trustworthy, I sometimes do not trust myself!
The journey was stressful and on arriving at Euston I felt really quite disorientated, so many people rushing around, lighting in the station very poor for me, Unis stopping and starting as people rushed in front of us.
To be honest on arrival the last thing I felt like doing was trying anything!
There was a little mix up with the agreed meeting place which allowed me to feel more anxious, however, this was soon rectified and I met with Georgios and two people from Transport for London (TFL).
It was quickly identified that Unis is not escalator trained, however, whilst this could have been a problem TFL are fantastic at accommodating service dogs if there are no steps or lifts in the older stations in London.
Then the first exciting part for me, would my Linx2 pair with the iPhone in use with Wayfindr?
Linx2 allow me direct connectivity to my iPhone so unpairing from my iPhone and pairing with the ‘Wayfindr iPhone’ took place and a “ReSounding” YES I’m tuned in to audible instructions.
Wayfindr is still trialling but I would definitely say an app on applewatch would work perfectly and possibly allow even more deafblind access by making use of taptics.
I was happy with the voice on Wayfindr it was neither slow nor fast so no adjustment needed as is often the case with Voiceover.
so all set up, I could hear instructions and had the Wayfindr iPhone in my hand, I must admit I do not like holding the iPhone for several reasons, vulnerability, difficulty handling Unis and for balance - Usher Syndrome can come with balance issues but for me I have terrible vertigo so often feel a little wobbly on my feet and the need to hold on to something, another reason I think this would be fantastic on the applewatch.
I was told I could put the iPhone in my bag or pocket but that the screen had to remain open which is a little concerning from a battery / power point of view as I rely on my iPhone for lots of things when out and about, like, torch, magnifier, maps and of course for contact with others, losing power on a day out would be traumatic, particularly in London.
I decided to hold the iPhone just incase it went off in my bag whilst underground, I felt quite apprehensive initially.
On reaching the ticket area the instruction was a little difficult in getting to the wider (*disabled) gate, I’ll come back to this later.
The instruction directing me to the escalator was good and on approaching it TFL had already kindly stopped one of the two working escalators so that Unis and I could walk down safely.
The instructions were clear and thorough and at the bottom were good and seemed timely allowing Unis and I to safely navigate through the tunnels safely and calmly.
A huge positive for me was how calm I felt, no having to scan around everything, I was too busy concentrating on the audible instructions I didn't feel at all stressed or shaky and the crowds didn't matter.
It allowed me to realise how amazing Unis is in just doing as I ask but taking charge of keeping me safe.
On completing the trial it was good to discuss my thoughts about the various aspects of the instructions:
For me travelling with Unis I feel the terminology used could be a little better and would be different to me travelling with my cane.
With Unis I need to hear an instruction and then instruct Unis so a small time issue which meant I did react slightly out of sync with the instruction, I also believe there may be a second or so delay in sound reaching my hearing aids, but nothing too concerning and to be honest I’m so happy to be able to access the instructions.
Regarding terminology, in guide dog training there are certain instructions the owner learns which could be adopted for instance as I mentioned above the wider (*disabled) gate the instruction was quite late and to turn left, however for Unis ‘find left’ would have been more appropriate as she would have found the safest time to find left to keep me safe. Left tends to be safe here in the UK.
Also easy to ask a guide dog to find straight or find right when in a curvy tunnel rather than turn left or turn right. A turn is literally a turn to a guide dog.
However, if I had my cane, no dog leading more literal instructions telling me to turn left or right and there needn't be the time delay as I’d not need to give any instructions.
Having 5 degrees of vision I did notice the words of instruction do come up on the screen of the iPhone and on looking after the trial we noted that I was not hearing the first word of each instruction, not perfect but missing that one word did not interfere with the actual instruction, I’m going to take this up with ReSound.
Besides the little things I’ve mentioned it was great.
The instructions were thorough, I liked feeling I was in control, via Wayfindr, I was at ease, calm and collected, I didn't think about who or what was around me even as Unis and I approached the platform or as I was informed the tube would arrive to my left.
I liked that it counted out the number of steps I would take and even told me I was approaching a curved pathway, another example of needing to be told if using a cane but working Unis I knew I was being led round a curve.
There is every reason to be very excited about Wayfindr. Without a doubt I would find it invaluable and I’m sure so many others with Usher Syndrome would too if enabled to access it.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be the first deafblind person to trial this, can’t wait for it to be rolled out all over London.
Accessibility really is essential for those of us who need and want it, it gives independence and confidence and enables us to live our lives and to deal with our daily challenges.