A A A Accessibility A A A A
Friday, 11 May 2018 15:39

#GAAD 2018 - Exclusion to Inclusion

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.

Happy #GAAD2018

When I peer into the mirror I see my right hazel/green eye.  Traveling downwards and towards the left I can see my nose then my mouth.  Following the nose upwards and then to the left I can then see my left eye.  Welcome to tunnel vision.

I am a daughter, sister, niece, friend, student, wife and mother.  I also have Usher Syndrome type 2.

My new 42mm Apple iWatch series 1 kindly donated by the Molly Watt Trust, arrived on the day of my Grandfathers funeral, a bittersweet moment.

I have been using Apple products for as long as I can remember so syncing the iWatch with my iPhone 5se was easily done. 

At first I was slightly daunted by the small screen and equally small symbols to tap to activate each app and I did wonder if I would ever get used to it.  The large watch face and its many options to choose from are easy to read and engage with.  The main one I use is the first option where the activity levels take up most of the screen and the time can clearly be seen in the top right hand corner.  

The activity circlet is quite addictive and causes my competitive side to try and complete each of the 3 sections on a daily basis.  There is a pang of disappointment if I don’t achieve this!

The iWatch is also incredibly bossy!

It likes to remind me to stand up if I have been sitting down for too long, every hour!  Having a 7yr old and 17month old means the the chance to sit can be a miraculous achievement.  I have been known to cheat and just hold my arm up!!

It did take me a few weeks to get used to being easily contactable.   Before the iWatch arrived there were times when I would miss an important phone call or not realise I had been sent an emergency text message that needed a reply asap.  I am now alerted straight away and I have the choice whether or not to answer nowadays- normally because I’ve misplaced my phone somewhere! 

Due to the fact I’m still using ancient analogues I am unable to sync the device- unlike with digital aids.  From other blogs I have read I do understand there is a perk to having the speaker on the other end discreetly blue-toothed straight to the digital aid but it will take more than that to convince me to change.  I am very much stuck in my old ways.

The vibration alert can be quite jarring so I have played around with the sensitivity levels.  

When out and about I feel a lot safer knowing my phone is out of sight and tucked away in my bag.  Using a white cane adds a vulnerability factor. 

I have only been using my white cane for 6 months- since when I received the iWatch.  It gave me the confidence boost to ‘come out’ and announce to the world why Im such a clumsy idiot.  I say idiot because my pride and independence is incredibly high and I was in denial about the reality of how poor my vision really is.  Being a mother of two young children meant I could no longer dice with my life everyday whilst navigating the high streets and roads.  

When out and about in new places I use the google maps app, I don’t yet trust the hap-tics and will still check the screen at every turn or pulse. 

When I was younger I used to be an Illustrator and now I have changed career and Im currently studying/training to be a Counsellor/Therapist.  The iWatch is incredibly useful for client sessions.  Not being able to see the clock straight away when I look at the wall I get flustered trying to locate it.  Time boundaries are an important part of the therapeutic alliance so being able to use the timer on the iWatch to discreetly vibrate a few minutes towards the end gives me time to wind down the session without causing interference.

I also downloaded the app ‘Just press Record’.  This enables me to record class lectures and client sessions for case studies at the tap of the button; which then streams via bluetooth directly to my iPhone.  I can save the file on either device and they automatically sync.  Its also audibly louder than the iPhone app ‘Voice Memo’ which makes a huge difference when Im transcribing.  

Before the iWatch I had to ask a fellow peer to transcribe for me which was such a ball-ache making sure I was adhering to the ethical boundaries of confidentiality by gaining permission from my client during the contracting stage.

It does come with its own transcriber option; but I would advise against using it because its rather unpredictable... but it can also be amusing if you are up for a laugh! 
Thursday, 21 September 2017 14:58

My "Blind Date with Ushers

On Saturday 16 September 2017, Usher Syndrome Awareness Day,  I was very humbled to join in on an accessibility workshop hosted by Molly Watt from Molly Watt Trust and Chris Bush from SIGMA, held at the Thames Riviera Hotel in Maidenhead Berkshire. It really was a ‘blind date’ for me as I had only recently met Molly and prior to meeting her I had no idea what Usher Syndrome was. Usher Syndrome is very much an invisible condition, I was pleasantly surprised by a room filled with over 30 people that had travelled from as far as Scotland and Leeds all making their introductions and it really wasn’t until I saw the flurry of furry hounds with their High Vis harnesses on that I would have noticed anything different about this group of guests at the hotel.

On meeting Molly for the first time in Starbucks, on the surface, there wasn’t anything about her that alerted me to a condition of almost total blindness and deafness, until I spotted ‘Bella - the wonder dog’ sitting on the floor beside her wearing the High Vis paraphernalia. Usher Syndrome is a condition which affects both hearing and vision with the main symptoms being hearing loss and an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa or RP and as a vibrant and energetic mainstream millennial, Molly has not allowed her condition to stifle her modern day way of life. Although she is able to communicate using sign language Molly prefers to converse orally, (and boy can she talk for England) as well as maintain an active and strong presence across social media and on top of all that a whizz when it comes to state of the art digital technology - she is even able to maintain her own Digital Hearing Aids from an App on her iPhone reducing those nightmarish visits to the audiologist. A truly model citizen for the connected home industry. 

Being an active millennial, Molly has also ensured that (aside from fashion) she is up to date with modern technology and has even managed to find her way into some high profile manufacturers who are developing state of the art technology including some for the Deafblind community. I guess it’s not without doubt that together with her determination Molly has been fortunate to have been selected as a model ‘guinea pig’ for some of this really cool and expensive kit, including #Applewatch, #iPhone, #ReSound Digital Hearing Aids #LiNX3D, #Ring Door Bell, #Philips Hue Lighting etc.  

Molly had wanted to be a primary school, but was let down by the system, her university failing to provide access to her course, she therefore made the decision to move into the field of accessibility and enablement.  

Molly is comfortable standing in the front of a room and captivating her audience, not to mention she has a great sense of humour too. This confidence and after writing a blog about how the applewatch transformed her life that went viral, also afforded her the opportunity of being invited to Apple HQ in Cupertino twice to provide her insight into the world of the deafblind and the needs of those living with Usher Syndrome along with how she utilises her  #AppleWatch to communicate and navigate safely through society on a daily basis as well as in her home & family life - mum keeps a close ‘watch’ over her through technology.  

Over the last decade, technology, smartphones, tablets and apps in particular have in many ways changed the way people live their lives on a daily basis and even made the world a smaller place. For many though, the arrival of this emerging technology can be very daunting, that is until you understand the benefits of how to extract the best use out of it to your advantage, regardless of abilities, everyone uses their devices in a different and personal manner. Who better to demonstrate some key advantages of these products, highlighting the important things as well as some useful tips too, than Molly herself. Impressed at how these products have impacted her way of living and with her tenacious entrepreneurial spirit, she took the initiative of organising a hands on accessibility and usability workshop in order to share her experiences with other members of the Usher community so that they too can enjoy the benefits of exploring these new arrivals. 

Commanding the attention of an audience of around 30 (and their canine partners) is no mean feat for any speaker, however Molly and Chris managed this with ease and the audience soon became engrossed with the content and couldn’t wait to get hands on with exploring their own devices. 

Not having previously had the need to explore the accessibility features on my mobile phone, I was suitably impressed by some of the tips that Molly and Chris shared with her group (Screen Reader vs Speak Screen, voiceover, inverting colours, zoom/zoom region, swiping with two or three fingers, double and triple tapping the home button -who knew all these options were available etc) that even I myself, a sighted and hearing individual have adapted to using some of these techniques to make my access that much more comfortable for myself including the ‘show controller’, zoom window and nightmode on twitter now that I have reached the age where I have to rely on reading glasses to see anything on my screens.  

About me:- Passionate about the Digital Landscape and emerging assistive technology that is taking the connected smart home and city by storm, it is through my profession in proximity mobile marketing and my basic understanding of the Deaf community that I have identified a unique and niche new form of digital communication using a combination of this emerging technology and a mobile application as part of a #SmartCity Infrastructure that will transform the lives of millions of individuals offering them a more independent and inclusive way of living. I have started a project to develop this revolutionary new digital communication channel dedicated (but not exclusive) to the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Sight Loss community and it was during my research into this project that Molly and I connected. In my experience of proximity mobile marketing where creative agencies are continuously looking at emerging tech and innovative ways in which to engage brands with their audiences in the physical world there is a lot that they can learn from people who have restrictions in life with how to overcome challenges.  

I would like to leave you with this quote - Employees with disabilities drive innovation. Disability creates a constraint, and embracing constraints spurs inventive solutions - Haben Girma and please do consider that Molly-Watt-Trust is an independent Charity - Molly Watt Trust, registered UK charity 1154853 and would benefit greatly via any donations, please be generous.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Molly, Chris, Jane and Andy for being such wonderful hosts, great cakes by the way, Thames Riviera Hotel for being so accommodating with the group and their guide dogs and most importantly for all who supported Molly by attending the workshop. There were some wonderful raffle prize giveaways including the Ring Doorbell and Philips Hue starter kit. Let’s hope that there will be loads more to come and I would highly recommend the services of Molly-Jane Watt as a keynote speaker or gadget guru for accessibility, however please do bear in mind she is an independent Charity and cannot survive on freebies.

 

applewatch, #Apple, #Ring, #ReSound,  

 

Author - Frank Viljoen, Director of MOOHBE a proximity mobile marketing specialist consultant working on a revolutionary digital communication channel for but not exclusive to the Deaf, Hearing and Sight loss community.

 

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