Indeed back in the 19th Century it was Helen Keller who stated “DEAFNESS SEPERATES US FROM PEOPLE AND BLINDNESS SEPERATES US FROM THINGS”. Back then she was right, she lived in a time where there was no assistive technology to help her live her life and having read about her since my own deafblind diagnosis it is fair to say she was one determined and inspirational lady.
I have often referred to both Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman before her. They both found a way to communicate and to make the most of their lives.
How we have moved on, I cannot imagine the isolation and frustration they would have endured.
Today there is no need for anybody to feel the separation/isolation that was experienced back then.
My disability isn’t the only issue when it comes to accessibility, more often than not I have been the educator.
The problem with this has often been those older than me, more educated or more senior than me can appear to have a problem listening!
When I was at a mainstream primary school as a deaf youngster I was very well supported because my teacher of the deaf understood deafness, equally my VI teacher knew her stuff but put the two together and both used mainly guess work to support me!
Being deaf meant I used hearing aids and a radio aid to access sound, the rest of my support was from people who for me were both patient and kind, providing me with confidence and the ability to be included in all aspects of mainstream school life. I was not seperated from people.
Early access to sound and appropriate support enabled me good communication skills which I used to tell my educators and support team what I needed particularly as my sight failed, the question again was were they listening?
The blindness diagnosis alongside deafness was beyond challenging and at this stage my support system began to creak and fall apart in a number of ways.
I was provided with a VI teacher (visual impairment) an older lady who was sympathetic and good at her job but knew nothing about deafness and as time revealed she was a bit of a technophobe, this was a real problem as it had become very clear to me that technology would be my way of accessing so much. I did eventually get a teacher who specialised in deafblindness and she was great but I only had access to her once a term!
Only 10 years ago many saw modern tech as ‘flash’ and inappropriate for school whereas I saw it as my way to be inclusive. I didn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb and I could make lessons individually accessible. Fellow pupils did not have to put up with large text or contrasts they didn’t want because all adjustments were made by me for me.
I became knowledgable about assistive tech by accident really and I applied that knowledge to my schooling. Unfortunately many educators stuck in their ways would openly admit they “don’t do technology” but do they know how much that holds people back?
I am delighted to hear that younger kids living with usher syndrome are using modern technology like iPads and MacBooks in school, also lots of apps to access eduction, enabling them to not only fit in but to be active achievers in mainstream environments. Things are moving on nicely but there is still so much more to do.
I no longer feel separated from people as although every morning I wake up a deaf person I soon fit my smart hearing aids and I am able to access sounds that make our world go round and I am a part of it, I am not isolated unless I choose to be.
Blindness is different, definitely the more challenging condition, particularly being combined with deafness but I refuse to be separated or isolated from things so I have embraced technology.
I am an ‘Apple Fangirl’ I don’t say this because no other tech works I say it because it works best for me.
Apple products have some amazing built in accessibility features which I am very familiar with and they have got better and better forming my hub for inclusion, the ultimate icing on the cake for me is the connectivity to my smart hearing aids, GN Hearings LiNXQuattro’s.
Using my iPhone I am able to access numerous apps made to make life easier for the blind, some of the best made by Microsoft. Without my hearing aids being bluetooth connected I would not be able to benefit from some of these apps which use audio description meaning I need a decent level of hearing, massive thanks to the team at GN Hearing for their innovative products.
The accessibility tools I use are all mainstream so useful and widely used by many it remains that all too many websites are not accessible or set up to enable full use of the built in accessibility features on most digital devices.
This Global Accessibility Awareness Day I’d like people to see accessibility as a doorway to inclusion, my wish would be for people to think about accessibility in everything they do. It is not just about getting in and out of somewhere it’s about everything, it’s a part of everything, it should be at the top of any to-do-list as it matters to all of us.
It should never be if but how!