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!
Today is ‘Rare Disease Day -2019’
So I decided on a blog about hearing aid technology that can and does enhance lives.
This http://www.nciua.org.uk/latest-new/ was brought to my attention several weeks ago. My first thought was FANTASTIC for those choosing cochlear implant but the more I thought about it and re-read it the more concerned I have become.
Of course this is really great news for those choosing cochlear implant, great that the criteria has changed making, I assume, application, assessment and presumably funding easier, however what about those of us using hearing aids, isn’t our access to the best available hearing aid technology as important?
I then read this: http://www.hearingreview.com/2019/01/better-hearing-better-living/ and felt compelled to have my say!
I have always advocated for those who wear hearing aids. Having worn them since I was 18 months old they have been my access to the world, to sounds that enabled me to access speech and oralism, also very importantly to access the sounds of danger when combined with visual clues.
My belief is being able to hear opens the door to a whole world of inclusion and independence, that said it isn’t easy. Learning speech takes years and lots of patience and commitment and it is exhausting.
All people born deaf have to learn to listen and understand sounds, not just profoundly and severely deaf but also those with mild and moderate hearing loss who do have similar challenges accessing sound. It is fair to say all deaf people have to work really hard just being themselves!
I have met profoundly deaf people doing well and mildly deaf people struggling. Level of deafness does not always demonstrate need, just some cope better than others. I have in my lifetime been bullied because I am “not deaf enough” the fact is I am deaf enough to need hearing aids, I hear only loud noises without my hearing aids and lipreading these days is out - deafblind is hugely challenging.
Since losing most of my sight I am almost totally reliant on hearing technology to access the world.
I am a hearing aid user, I do not require or want cochlear implants at this stage in my life I cope very well with state of the art smart hearing aid technology, technology that has enabled me to access so much more than I had ever imagined.
I work and have many contacts around the UK working for the NHS and the funding of hearing aids seems to be so complicated I have been unable to get the answers I’m looking for.
I am no expert on these things. I have tried to find out who funds what, it is all so incredibly complicated, NHS Trusts, NHS England, the list goes on, then there is the post code lottery which dictates who gets what hearing aids. Sadly many NHS Trusts have little or no experience of deafblindness and attempt to assume our needs! In short we miss out. It is a fact that the deafblind should be provided with two pairs of hearing aids and two pairs of glasses if appropriate, again this is a postcode lottery, but demonstrates the needs of those with dual sensory impairment do differ considerably. Surely in recognising this why do we not go further and offer the very best in hearing aids as smart hearing aids can and do to a degree compensate for visual impairment.
I rely on my hearing aids more than ever before, they are my link to people, to speech and to education and I don’t just mean school, I mean learning to be a part of society, away from silence and it’s isolation and in my opinion that is where so many problems can begin. The hearing aids currently provided by the NHS can only offer so much, having lost visual clues means they do not meet the needs of the deafblind.
Inappropriate hearing aids can lead to a lack of confidence, a vulnerability and often isolation and depression as blindness sets in.
At 20 years old I was very fortunate to discover GN Hearing and to benefit from “Smart Hearing aids”. In 2014 I was fitted with Resound LiNX2, then LiNX3D and now LiNXQuattro and it is really here that I want to begin:
Smart hearing aids have revolutionised access to sound, they are a real alternate to cochlear implant, they enable choice for those with all levels of deafness and whilst it could be said they are more expensive than the standard NHS hearing aids they are a fraction of the cost of cochlear implant and when considering what they provide for the deafblind they are priceless. I cannot put into words how enriched my access to sound has become. I now hear things I had never heard in my life, as a result I can do so much more. Not only that but my confidence is at an all time high, I can access the world around me.
Smart hearing aids have enabled me to use a telephone, they give me directional sound. They literally help compensate for my vision loss. Directional sound and enriched hearing means I can engage with people, I hear danger and I can live a pretty full life.
I’d really like to know why funding quality hearing aids is such a big issue, the ROI (return on Investment) like cochlear implants is clear, they provide inclusivity not just to sound but to our world.
Living with dual sensory impairment, deafblind is more than challenging and from my view point very frustrating as I know exactly what smart hearing aid technology is available and yet most are denied this because of cost.
In a paragraph at 24 years old I have experienced the evolution of hearing aids, from analogue to digital and now to smart hearing aids resulting in me being able to “Hear more, Do more and Be more” doesn’t everybody deserve that?
Usher Syndrome is the most common cause of congenital deaf blindness, that said according to recent research we are between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 20,000 so in the scheme of things rare.
I wanted to write something for GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day) this year to take into account a lot of the work I have been doing over the last 3 years and how and why I do it.
Being born deaf and living as a deaf person with NHS hearing aids until I was 12 years old allowed me to adopt lots of coping strategies that saw me through my primary school days. Back then I did not realise my hearing aids were assistive tech, I just wore them so I could hear, so I could be a part of everyday life. Apart from my hearing aids I used a radio aid at school, hated the fact it drew attention to me but looking back my hearing friends were not bothered by it. Considering I didn’t speak too well until I was 6/7 years old I did very well at my local primary school with visits from the teacher of the deaf, a speech therapist and a teaching assistant, deafness is not rare.
My big challenges came when I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, deafblindness, a progressive condition with no cure.
I could dwell on all the negative things that happened to me back then like being bullied by staff and pupils at a school for the deaf, being in denial, mental health issues as a result, counselling but actually I want to concentrate on the positives that came from those ugly and unnecessary things.
Nobody was in my shoes, however, strangely many liked to talk for me, tell me what I was thinking and what I needed to do to deal with myself, well, actually NO. I was brought up to speak up about my needs as few people knew much about my condition so there I was speaking up, which at 12 years old is a big deal, sadly few listened!
Determination to make something of myself I initially chose to be a primary school teacher, worked my socks off at College.
I wanted both a career and to make a difference but it wasn’t to be, unfortunately my dear old friend ignorance reared it’s ugly head again and I was denied access to my course by a very highly thought of London University!
So another avenue closed for me, however, the realisation that every step of the way I was excluded was because of my accessibility needs and an unbelievable lack of care or understanding.
What I had not realised was how my coping strategies and desire to be included in society had grown hugely from that deaf child relying on hearing aid technology and assistance from those very experienced with deaf children.
The lack of understanding of deafblind needs had led me to discover the world of assistive technology #techforgood #techforall
Using my faithful MacBook I was accessing the world, something I couldn’t do on a laptop as the accessibility features simply were not there without incredibly expensive software and for me even with it I wasn’t comfortable.
I loved Apple accessibility features right from the start and thankfully for me things got better and better, along came iPhone and then iPad and applewatch all of which I use, each of which have opened up my deafblind world.
To add the icing to my “Deafblind Accessibility Toolkit” today I wear state of the art smart hearing aids made my GN ReSound. I have been very fortunate to have worn LiNX2 which were upgraded to LiNX3D which changed my life beyond all recognition.
I was used to my old NHS Phonak Hearing aids and to be fair whilst I was just deaf they were ok, however, becoming deafblind, losing the ability to use my eyes to lipread, see body gesture, see sign language, hear sounds and although not knowing where they came from I could turn around and look around to find the sound, often sounds of danger - those coping strategies gone so unless somebody close by talking to me on a one to one and in an acoustically appropriate room I would struggle to hear. Life for people with progressive conditions like myself have to deal with ever changing challenges, many of my challenges similar to the ageing process! I blogged about this http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/accessibility-grandad-and-me .
Enter GN ReSound technology. I could now hear well enough to use my iPhone as a phone because of direct streaming, never had I been able to do that confidently with the previous hearing aids. I could hear differently, the voices of those closest to me sounded different, I could hear different tones, a new clarity. Something very new to me and something that blew my mind was directional sound, now not only could I hear better but could localise, I could hear people speaking behind me, I could “earwig” on other peoples conversations and as if that whole new access to sound wasn’t enough those smart hearing aids could be paired to my iPhone, iPad and applewatch enabling me to access directly streamed sounds directly to my ears along with apps many of which are so enabling to somebody like myself. On that note GN ReSound had an app for my smart hearing aids which initially enabled me to adjust my hearing aids further, I could change base and treble, a number of different setting again that I could change depending on the environment I was in and as if that wasn’t simply amazing the next generation LiNX3D enable all of those things and more, now I can remotely report any problem I might have with my hearing aids, my audiologist check my hearing aids and deal with my issue without me having to attend or send them away. Not sure it gets much more awesome than that for somebody deafblind because of course we also have mobility challenges!
Something else that has happened as a result of my wearing these smart hearing aids is the quality of my own voice has improved which is awesome.
I have written extensively about applewatch and it’s importance in my life http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days and today it is something I never want to leave home without.
Today I am using all of this technology, I know I am very fortunate to have this equipment as it has changed my life and resulted in me operating in the fields of accessibility, usability and inclusion.
I want to share my experiences not just of what is available to enable, but how these things can be life changing and life enhancing not to mention bring inclusion to many who do or have felt isolated.
Today I am listened to, I am a regular keynote speaker around the world and in varying fields, I have spoken to some of the biggest in digital and continue to have my say in all things accessible.
I provide accessibility workshops where I use the skills I’ve developed to access the world and these skills can and are used by those involved in developing and designing accessible websites which brings more inclusion but also by those struggling, people like myself, our ageing population in fact accessibility makes life easier for all.
It has become very clear that often those in high places, the decision makers are often unaware of exactly what is available by way of assistive technology and as result millions are missing out, excluded through lack of awareness and this has to change. Knowledge and a return on investment makes complete sense.
I am pretty sure if I did not have access to the assistive technology I use daily I would not be the person I am today, I would not experience my as close to normality as it gets being deafblind. I would not be the confident person I am today, I’d probably be that quiet introverted person struggling to deal with life, mental health problems and zero confidence.
Everyday I thank my lucky stars that my parents taught me to speak up, everyday I know how fortunate I am that I was given access to technology that has changed my life and everyday I’d like to bring positive change, make a difference for others to benefit and to raise awareness of just how enabling digital is for us all.
Lastly for those who take the time to listen and make changes thank you for making life more inclusive.
How is it that a few simple vibrations can give you SO VERY MUCH?
If you had asked me the same question just a few months ago I would have probably said how I didn’t understand them.
Well, that was before I was fortunate enough to receive a Series 1, 42mm Apple Watch from the charity The Molly Watt Trust This was a piece of accessible technology I would never have been in a position to justify buying; even though I have seen the benefits others have gained from it.
So I took a chance, I applied to the charities project and crossed everything!The Apple Watch arrived at the end of November. And after I plucked up the courage to open up the box it was like love at first sight! (If such a thing can happen with an inanimate object like a watch!)
The first fun was setting the Watch face. Having previously had a Fitbit Surge I thought this would be easy...... it wasn’t! That’s a bit of a fib, setting the Watch face was easy it was rather trying to decide on what ‘complications’ I wanted to be able to have for easy access on the Watch face that was the difficult part. And it took just over a week to get the right mix, that I have continued to use ever since!
Since wearing hearing aids in 2017 I am no longer able to wear in ear headphones, this posed a huge issue for me as an iPhone user who relies heavily on Apple maps and google maps to help support me to keep more independence. Walking with my phone out in my hand wasn’t exactly safe either.
This is the one feature I was really excited about trying out for myself on the watch. The ability to set a route on my phone in apple maps and then have the haptic (vibrations) go on my wrist to alert me to an instruction.
It took some getting used to, and if I am honest I tend to make use of my remaining sight to look at the instruction, but I am learning to be more trusting of it.
While my phone stays safely away in my pocket or bag.
Another feature I have found incredibly useful is text messaging. Yes I can use my phone for most of my day to day messages (with the added support of zoom).
But if I am out and about (or even sat in a loud, busy venue) I can quickly scroll down to a pre-set message that simply says “struggling here”. This I find is enough to help raise the alert that I am not finding things easy.
This works particularly well with my friends who also have an Apple Watch, but for those who don’t, but who can quickly glance at their phones I am quickly able to find reassurance...... Or in the case of the other day; I am able to alert my friends that I have got lost on the way back to the table after going to the toilet (the waitress had kindly shown me where they were)
For me, the feeling of being safe in my surroundings is key; whether this is somewhere on my own, somewhere new or somewhere ‘different’ has always been important to me. As my sight deteriorated this became even more important. But when my hearing also started to fail me; I worried that I would loose myself with it.
In these past four months, I have felt like I have a new lease on life.
And I really do believe this is down to the support I have benefitted from from The Molly Watt Trust and The Apple Watch Project.
I was aged 14 when I was told I had Ushers Syndrome Type 2. I was devastated and my dreams for the future were gone in a single moment. Being faced with the bleak reality of slowly losing your sight would be hard for anyone, let alone a young teenager already struggling with typical teenage problems. As the years went by with the emotional rollercoaster of being registered visually impaired at 16 and then being registered as legally blind at age 19, I learnt how to be more optimistic as I grew tired of wallowing in self-pity and not taking opportunities while I still could see. I learnt more and more about the concept of accessibility and that I wasn’t as limited in my abilities as I once thought. I became more aware of the importance of accessibility to people like me, I got frustrated at the lack of it even in today’s modern era.
I have always been a fan of Apple products due to their settings, a whole subsection dedicated to accessibility with amazing features such as Magnifier, larger and bolder text and specific volume controls for hearing aids. Since the Molly Watt Trust has kindly given me an Apple iWatch Series 1, I have taken advantage of its array of features which has already made certain aspects in my day to day life so much easier. I recently took up running and it is much more convenient using my Apple iWatch which has a fitness activity app which helps me record my daily activity. If I have important incoming calls or texts when I’m out and about or running, then I can answer from my iWatch rather than getting out my iPhone which could easily be dropped. One of my favourite features would be the Extra-Large Watch Face which make it easier for users with low vision to see the time and means I can quickly glance at it when I am on the move rather than getting out my phone and squinting for the time.
Due to the Bluetooth connectivity between my iPhone and my iWatch, I can leave my iPhone charging and still go about my day with my iWatch as my calls and messages will also appear on my iWatch’s screen and I can answer them accordingly. Apple iWatch also includes a range of settings to meet the needs of people with a wide variety of sight loss not just RP. These includes Zoom, Grayscale, Reduce Transparency, Mono Audio and much more. These settings can also be controlled and altered through the Apple iWatch iPhone app.
The only downside with the iWatch is that it can drain a lot of battery life from my iPhone which means I have to charge both my iPhone and iWatch overnight but aside from that I think Apple has really pushed the boundaries of accessibility by designing their products to meet the needs of visually impaired users, the Apple iWatch Series 1 has ticked all the boxes for me.
Hi Molly Watt Trust
I want to thank you for funding my applewatch.
I had so much catching up to do through the school summer holidays including training with my new guide dog Twinkle, along with keeping my two children tkeep occupied.
Now I’ve caught up I can finally write my first feedback about my initial experiences with my applewatch, thank you so much for this genuine opportunity for me to own and benefit from it, I'm truly amazed by how it works.
Firstly I like the way you can change watch faces you want, I particularly like the motion ones that moves very pretty.
The activity app is brilliant tells me how many miles I've walked, how much exercise, movements and how long I've been standing through out the day and its rewarding you get achievements goals saying well done keep up the good work etc.
Its very encouraging.
I also enjoy the workout, outdoor walk. I set up up so it is ready before I leave home and as soon as I get to work I stop it to see how many miles I've walked and my iPhone shows me my routes where I have walked its brilliant.
While I'm on the go my applewatch alerts me by vibrating on my wrist that I have received text messages and phone calls while I'm busy working my guide dog Twinkle, or at home doing things I need to catch up on.
I now rarely miss calls or text due to the taptic alerts. I am genuinely delighted with these initial things and already I feel I don’t ever want to leave home with out it.
I also really like the timer, so helpful to be alerted by vibrations on my wrist to home appliances that do have timer alerts that make sound but that I cannot hear. It has saved me from burning or spoiling things I have cooked.
I find I am more relaxed wearing my applewatch as I feel very contactable and ‘things’ are more accessible.
I'm learning new things every day with my applewatch.
I will send more feedback soon.
I blogged about my not just poor but disgraceful treatment by Singapore Airline cabin staff on 13 November during my flight, Heathrow to Singapore. I very unpleasant start to travel I had looked forward to for months.
The experience was so bad I put in a formal complaint to the airline who did respond apologising for their inappropriate treatment of me as a traveller with specific documented needs and also for the inappropriate way a male staff member spoke to my mother, suggesting it was her job to ensure my safekeeping and safety onboard the flight.
The fact is I sat on a Singapore Airlines plane for 13+ hours not knowing where anything was, that includes, safety information, toilets, no access to entertainment system, no access to assistance at all. The 13+ hour flight was a nightlight, I am completely blind in the dark and as a result of aircraft noise, little hearing and no access to lipreading my experience was not just horrible but uncomfortable and unpleasant and this was acknowledged with an offer of 100 Singapore dollars as what, an apology or compensation for their terrible service, either way a complete insult and not really the point. Clearly the principal far more important.
My travel agent was informed and both they and Singapore Airlines said they had learnt from my complaint and that my return journey would be perfect, everything would be dealt with to insure my needs considered completely.
So here we are travelling back from Denpasar, Bali. Check in 3 hours before your flight they said. Three hours before my flight they had already allocated seats for the Denpasar to Singapore flight and also the Singapore to Heathrow flight and guess what WRONG again.
Seats allocated were not appropriate, once again I would not be in a position to see or hear the cabin crew.
My mum contacted the travel agent in the UK who suggested we deal with the matter in Singapore, the people at the gate in Denpasar advised they would forward details of the seats required on the Singapore to London Heathrow leg - either that was not done or Singapore Airlines have serious communication issues on the ground.
Our travel agent was also horrified by the treatment on the outbound flight and I'm told has taken the matter up with his Singapore Airlines rep, repeating my thoughts on what an insult it was to offer 100 Singapore dollars as an apology or compensation, I should add that money could be spent only with, you guessed, Singapore Airlines so insult and completely invalid to me as I’ll never travel with them again.
I suffer with anxiety at the best of times and my stomach was tied in knots, I couldn't breath and went into meltdown at the airport in Denpasar, my Mum was at my side assuring me it would be okay and that the staff had promised to provide a supportive service on the way home, sadly it was not that way.
On arriving at the check in gate the young man on the gate suggested it was our fault the seats were not right and that Singapore Airlines do not attach any priority to people with disabilities - that is nice to know!
After the most embarrassing show of ‘We got it wrong’ having staff running back and forth to the plane asking people to swap seats, none wanted to so we boarded the plane virtually last.
I found it very hard to hold things together, I was so upset, it didn't feel like I had just had a wonderful holiday, I felt anything but relaxed.
Clearly the staff had been briefed to speak to me which would have been nice had I not felt like everybody was looking at me and listening to the conversation, I just burst into tears and wants to be left alone.
Yes this time I was told about safety and emergency procedures but to be honest I wasn't listening, I was far too upset.
I know the flight attendants were trying to help but the damage was already done.
Another 13.5 hours of seeing and hearing little or nothing, I decided to try to sleep in the hope I’d open my eyes and be home.
No such luck, closed my eyes and dozed on and off anxious, I might knock somebody or something, I just wanting to be anywhere but on this aircraft.
When the lights come back on in the cabin, about 3, 3 and a half hours from home I could see enough to look around the cabin, I could see no reason why my needs had not been considered and why I hadn't I simply been allocated appropriate seating with my Mum in a row of two where I didn't have to worry about knocking into or disturbing anybody else, I might even have been able to relax and possibly got some proper sleep.
I also could not see why I was not put in the bulkhead seats considering there were places for basinets but no babies, just a row of 3 men and a woman.
How can it be that this airline considers it is ok for babies to be on a bulkhead in close proximity to emergency exits and yet I would not? Makes no sense to me at all. A baby in arms would certainly be a hazard in the event of an emergency exit, would it not? I also scanned around when my mum escorted me to the toilet that the rows of two on either side of the plane did not have anybody with special needs, people who could have easily been more comfortable in the seats I was allocated, seems its true, Singapore Airlines does not give prior consideration to those like myself with very specific needs.
On scanning the cabin further I couldn’t help but notice the detail this airline go to symbolise Christmas, lots of decorations around the cabin, more concern for look than that of passengers with specific needs! Nice!
I cannot make head nor tail of this organisation, I simply asked for ‘Reasonable Adjustments” not because I’m difficult but because I want to feel comfortable just like everybody else.
Sitting in a front row means a staff member can stand in front of me so I can at least try to lipread, be independent rather than staff having to reach over to touch me to get my attention then repeat themselves over and over, making a spectacle of me in the process. I don't mind being touched but there are people who absolutely would be insulted, this is something else the needs to be considered.
I do not know what the answer is to travelling on a plane if, like me. you inform your travel agent and the airline of your needs and this sort of thing happens, what else is there besides do not fly at all!
The staff on my flight were very good, it shows just what they can do, sadly for me it was too little too late.
Thank you to both Elaine and Michelle for all your help on SQ306, you certainly tried.
To finish up, Singapore Airlines have demonstrated me just how thoughtless and incompetent they have been when it comes to travelling as a deafblind person and I’m sure will be happy to learn I won’t ever fly with them again. Expensive tickets to be treated badly.
I am a 22 year old who struggles with accessibility.
I am registered deafblind, however, I was not born deafblind but deaf. What that means, to you, is that I was brought up a very visual child and like most deaf people I could lipread, observe body language and even converse using my hands and sight. I was not brought up using Braille, or voiceover and still today I know the most basic Braille, my choice and I still chose to use the tiny amount of vision I still retain.
For your information what I see is like looking through a straw, I'm sure you can try to imagine how challenging that is.
So when I am told and sent links by your "accessibility team" telling me to seek help in your help pages online you will understand that you have not enabled zoom so it is impossible to magnify anything so I can read it so naturally asking me to complete a form really is a thoughtless request and of as much use as a chocolate teapot!
Facebook is one of the most altered and cluttered apps and as yet I am waiting for the alteration that enables people like myself to actually access it the way others can, it just clearly isn't a priority to you.
In real terms what this means is you are knowingly isolating further an already isolated community and not just those with my condition or low vision but the elderly who want to reach out to others, to those confused by the cluttered fashion of Facebook. I know this isn't new news to you because I have blogged about this before!
It's not asking too much for huge corporates like Facebook to consider the accessibility needs of us all and yet it continues to fall on deaf ears.
The latest in the Facebook Book of "Accessibility Howlers" was delivered to me via twitter, which seems the only way you respond to anybody accept the time I was contacted by your London offices, by email via my charity and asked to give you a free presentation on accessibility - I think on reflection maybe I should have given my time for free to help vulnerable groups but, I too have to make a living!
Facebook decided to withdraw the 'boost post' facility from my Charity Page, a page where I would regularly share information within the deafblind community, the reason why, who knows? It asks, in the dreaded pop up box, for up to date payment details, had to have that read to me and guess what? My payment details are all up to date. Put in alternate payment details, won't accept those, so what is next? Of course, ask @fbaccess and guess what, you got it, they send a "help" link I cannot access because zoom is not enabled - so what is the answer, just ignore me, so far that is the only answer, nobody has contacted me, told me why I cannot boost any posts, re-enabled the facility so that's it - Facebook cares I'm told, well, really?
Is this really satisfactory accessibility from one of the biggest in social media, it's beginning to feel very much like Anti-social media!
You know, I would far rather work with these companies and help make everything accessible for those in need but Facebook remain unapproachable and inconsiderate.
I'm not asking for for 'super amazing brilliant' I just want fair access, zoom enabled and for somebody to sort out this 'boost post' facility so I can continue with my work raising awareness of Usher Syndrome, deafblindness, accessibility, assistive technology and all the other aspects of my work.
Maybe if I put this on my Christmas list it might get resolved or maybe Christmas will never come!
Dynamic text galore!
As we all know Apple products, get fairly regular software updates.
I had read and heard a few things about iOS 10, but was intending on waiting to experience it before making comments.
A few instant differences, my text seems larger. I already had larger text enabled via Accessibility settings and with this some apps enable dynamic text so also enlarge text, however, in settings my text seems clearer, larger and bolder, very positive, though not all text size is consistent through all apps.
There was a lot of chat about a new iMessage.
I couldn't imagine how it could be improved. Instantly noticeable are now three symbols, the 'camera' symbol being instantly recognisable, however, the the other two symbols I had to scrutinise! After some time zooming in I discovered the middle is 'digital touch,' like on Apple Watch, though this isn't quite as simple. The bottom half of the screen is black and to change colour of the pen, is simple, but the icons used to illustrate digital touch and video are so tiny. This confused me, after pressing the video icon, camera appears and its now possible to doodle before or during screening a video. This doesn't particularly interest me, though I found after exiting from the camera (well contrasted small cross in the left corner) the black digital touch screen appears in full screen mode, this certainly makes the screen more accessible, giving more room to send your heartbeat or 'sketch,' whatever you'd like to do with digital touch.
The third icon, my initial thought 'A' for AppStore, however on pressing an interesting discovery of 'memes,' images of text and then the option to send across a song from your music library.
To me this seemed like a strange selection under 'A,' I did not find it immediately obvious or the understanding behind it. After more scrutiny I realised it is possible to send Apps, however I didn't find this until I discovered 4 grey dots in the bottom corner that navigate to 4 more options, one being '+' which directs you to the App Store itself.
It took some me some considerable searching and fiddling!
Going back to the first icon in iMessage, the camera, this one though I understood exactly what it was I've not yet seen' figured out how to put camera on full screen before sending a picture. To enlarge on this, once pressing the camera icon, your camera roll appears next to minimised camera feature, moving my phone around I realise the camera was active, and indeed you can take a picture and send right across without being redirected to the camera app.
This may seem easy for some but for somebody like myself who uses the camera as a 'seeing' tool, to zoom in and take pictures to access detail, having the camera feature small without the ability to enable full screen isn't helpful. However, after investigating this further I found that swiping from the left side of the 'mini' camera icon is a slim grey tall box with a grey faded arrow to the left that then indicates to 'camera,' and 'photo library,' this does then take you into the camera app on full screen- this took me a considerable time to discover! Grey on grey dare I say, is incredibly inaccessible!
For as long as I can remember I have used iPhone with large text, this is always helpful and of course is how I can read my messages without straining, though one thing that is noticeable with larger text is the icons don't enlarge. For instance, the 'send,' button has changed in iOS10, it's now an arrow, this is small and I had to search around for it a few times with my finger.
The sizing of the icons in comparison to my large text can make my screen seem out of of proportion and harder to find the smaller icons.
Inside the message window there is 'iMessage,' written in faded grey, not only is this poor contrast but because of that it can be hard to find the text box as the overall backdrop is white, making it difficult to differentiate conversation with text boxes.
Keyboard-wise I noticed the emojis have also enlarged ever so slightly allowing less 'faces,' on screen at a time before swiping across to see the rest, they now have more 3D effect I can start to understand what each emoji stands for.
When in other apps and I received a message, the iMessage/ text message tab that appears is grey. This overlapping other apps doesn't sit well visually. I find it hard to see the tab to either press on or exit it.
Before this update the tab was black, and by pulling it down from the top of the screen the backdrop was black and the text was white- I loved this! Visually it was soothing and did not put any additional stress on my eyes. I'm sad to see this gone with the new update.
Moving onto Apple Music, since having my new and treasured hearing aids,Resound Linx2 I can stream music rarely a day goes by without me listening to music. One of the first things I noticed after updating was the ability to load lyrics, and again large text enabled. This made my day!
Being a deaf person, growing up I always enjoyed music even though I couldn’t access the lyrics, now I love it even more. I would always google the lyrics and sing/ read along with the song in attempt to fully understand and appreciate it.
In recent years I've found the lyric websites to be poor in contrast and a struggle to read even with zoomed features. Having lyrics loaded up on Apple Music means I don't need to search for accessible lyrics, they're right and in dynamic text, perfect.
Another pleasant improvement I noticed, not only is the time and date now displayed bolder than before in locked screen, it's nice to have the ability to swipe down and see any notifications I may have missed or need to see.
The new update has changed the text and colours. Much better! The boxes 'up next,' or 'Siri app suggestions' are off white/ grey with bold larger text (dynamic text!) I can access these without straining. I struggled before and often had to fiddle with zoom features to access, which took a lot of time.
Maps is an app I use a lot both on my iPhone and Apple Watch. Glancing at the Map I instantly saw that text / locations is larger and clearer, 'start,' and 'end,' displayed much clearer than before (also green and red, to clearly indicate without losing it on the screen in poor contrasts) and there are less steps to get where you need previously.
Simplicity makes all the difference and certainly less tiring and hassle to navigate!
What a brilliant idea since I rely heavily on my camera to zoom in on things. Having it set as a shortcut via triple clicking the home screen is really helpful, however, I could already swipe up on a locked screen and be on camera which is quicker!
Camera, one movement rather than three speedy fiddly clicks. Once on magnifier there is a line with a dial along the bottom of the camera that enables you to zoom. The bottom of the screen where the controls are to enable zoom is great, black with yellow dial to scroll across to zoom. These colours are great for me visually to see exactly where to zoom. An alternate for those who struggle to see the scrolling feature like on camera, fingers can be used to pinch the screen to use zoom.
At the bottom right corner is a feature to alter brightness/ contrast or even invert colours, this is a great add on, I can see this as brilliant for reading menus in restaurants or any text material.
Another great way of using mainstream tech as opposed to expensive specialist equipment made for the blind /visually impaired.
I got really excited to see this, I straight away enabled 'colour filters,' to see what I could do to reduce glare and brightness without making the screen seem dark. There are 5 options with various colour combinations which can filter the display to most comfortable.
After experimenting I opted for 'colour tint,' the very last option, this immediately made the screen yellowish, and below I could either increase/ decrease intensity or hue. I loved having the manual power to adjust to what was best to suit my needs. I also have enabled 'reduce white point,' as any white/glare onscreen gives me headache after using for a while.
The only critism I would have here, is on adjusting 'intensity' or 'hue' or even 'reduce white point,' each has a line with a button that can scroll either way, the colouring of this is quite difficult to work with, whites and greys are a difficult contrast for me to determine where the button is to scroll, I’d like to see these colours and contrasts used less frequently as they are difficult.
From an accessibility view there are a few changes for the better, especially the more consistent dynamic text through the many applications, the clarity and better contrasted boxes in 'notification centre,' or some refer to as 'glances.' However some iMessage features such as the icons, the struggle to find camera have made life a little tougher.
I rely on my iPhone for many things it helps me to access the world, for me each software update brings new possibilities, iOS10 is on the whole good but there is a little room for improvement!
After my recent report regarding very unacceptable treatment whilst flying British Airways Premium Economy to Las Vegas in May I’m very pleased to announce that they have at least changed their ticketing practice and are now able to add both deaf and blind instead of just one disability, this should now make very clear to all staff the unique accessibility needs of any deafblind traveller travelling and to ensure the appropriate support /assistance is in place.
I was very pleased to see this on my ticket for my flight last month to Glasgow.
This is absolutely a step in the right direction however there is still work to do.
I have suggested to British Airways have all safety instructions and menu’s available on the iPads each staff member appears to have which would then solve the issue of accessibility for the majority with blindness, visual impairment or low vision, how simple is that? In my opinion there should always be braille copies of safety instructions onboard for those who need it, according to the people I spoke with on both recent flights this has not been the case for years. Virgin have braille on every flight!
All with blindness should always be offered a one to one to touch and feel safety equipment, without exception, this I am told is normal practice, however, it was not offered to me on either of my recent flights!
It is my belief that more can be done to make life much easier for those with disabilities travelling rather than the many hoops we have to jump through currently.
Technology is always the answer and it should be used to make life easier for both traveller and staff.
Going back to the staff iPad, these are already in use why not enable disabled travellers to set up a profile detailing their needs and upon booking a flight the profile can be added this would be particularly helpful to the deafblind and deaf unable to use a telephone but with specific accessibility needs.
The call to special assistance is usually a long hold then a staff member unsure of what is required, ending the call feeling anxious that needs are not catered for and from my experiences they simply do not get it right.
A personal profile could be set up simply and safely stored by the customer of by the airline with the permission of the customer and applied at time of booking the information then readily available and viewable to all staff and then the unacceptable excuses I was given about breakdown in communication from ground staff to air staff would be eradicated and all disabled people would know their needs would be met.
I very much appreciate British Airways have listened to me and I have seen evidence of this however I am concerned to hear several deaf customers have also had bad experiences recently so there really is work to do.
Hidden disabilities are often the most misunderstood hence the need for all round training.
I personally object to being offered a wheelchair in order to have assistance at the airport, why would I need that? I’d like to be escorted on foot through the quietest checkin and security, I can walk, it is just very difficult in busy unfamiliar areas with a cane or guidedog.
So British Airways thank you for changing your ticketing procedure as a direct response to my complaint and for the offer of compensation airmails or eticket but more importantly please consider my other ideas which will make a difference to millions.
My offer to present deafblind, deaf, blind awareness to your staff remains and I can be contacted via my website.
My next two flights are booked and not with British Airways however I will consider flying with you again to see if improvements continue to be made.