Using the Be My Eyes App

I downloaded the Be My Eyes app and tried it out recently. It was incredibly easy to use and very helpful. All you do is go to the app store and install the app. Then you select whether you are a sighted or blind user. When you need assistance, you open the app,  which can be done with Siri and touch the middle of the screen to “connect to first available helper.” The app will then say “creating request” and “connecting to servers.” Then you get a musical tone and a message stating “waiting for other part.” The tone continues until someone answers the call and greets you. This can take a minute or two. On my first call, someone in Stockholm Sweden answered. It was morning for me and evening for him. The volunteer helped me choose between a regular coffee and a decaf coffee pod for my Keurig. All I had to do was point my phone at what I wanted to see and it showed up on the camera. The call lasted a minute or so. I thanked him kindly and said good-bye.  Then I tapped at the bottom of the screen to disconnect the call.

I used Be My eyes again this morning. This time I chatted with the volunteer a moment. He was a firefighter in Ohio and commented on the extreme cold weather they were experiencing. I asked him what prompted him to sign up for Be My Eyes. He said he thought it was a way he could help out. The core philosophy of this app is the idea that we all need help at times and people are willing to help. It connects us to each other in a special way and I am certain there are benefits for both parties. Aren’t we living in amazing times?

 

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Grateful for Talking Books

A book is a device to ignite the imagination.

–Alan Bennett

I am always amazed when I download a book on my BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Downloads) Mobile app and can immediately start listening. I browse the expansive BARD library, search for specific book titles or authors, add books to my “Wish List,” and begin reading in minutes. It is like magic, this wonderful bit of technology at my fingertips and I am so grateful to have access to reading material in this format.

 

Recently, I read that The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) played an instrumental role in the development of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), true to their mission to advocate for education and access to information for the visually impaired. This piqued my interest and I discovered a fascinating history of the NLS and the Talking Book Program. It can be found on the AFB website ( http://www.afb.org/info/75-years-of-afb-and-talking-books/2) and in the book “The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States” by Frances A. Koestler (available through the NLS and AFB).

 

AFB and Helen Keller lobbied in the early days when Congress was asked to help provide funds for the production and circulation of braille books for the blind. The Library of Congress was tasked with this important work by the Pratt-Smoot Act passed in March 1931. Thus began decades of research, development, and partnerships which brought the wonders of books to blind people in America. As Helen Keller said when she testified to the House of Representatives,

 

“ …Books are the eyes of the blind. They reveal to us the glories of the light-filled world, they keep us   in touch with what people are thinking and doing, they help us to forget our limitations. With our hands plunged into an interesting book, we feel independent and happy.”

 

This legislation enabled Braille books to be systematically printed and loaned through regional libraries, funded by the government. As the numbers of blind adults grew as a result of war, there was increased need to produce and circulate more reading material efficiently. This coincided with new technologies being developed to record spoken word. AFB partnered with engineers, commercial recording studios, the Library of Congress, Helen Keller, and American Printing House (APH) to bring to fruition the Tallking Book Program in 1934. Through determined effort, recorded books and play back machines were made available through regional libraries to the visually impaired community all over the United States, on free loan. AFB began recording Talking Books for the Library of Congress and among the first were the Four Gospels and the Psalms, the Declaration of Independence, and some works of Shakespeare.

 

AFB continued to participate in the mission of bringing literature, magazines and other reading materials to the blind even as new technologies evolved. In 1936, Talking Books were made on Vinylite LP records played on phonographs built by blind workers in one of Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration (WPA) workshops run by AFB. By the 1950’s, alternative formats were being developed to record books on cassette tapes and reel-to-reel. Talking Books on cassette tapes with the accompanying machines, were the preferred format distributed by the 1980’s. Then in the 1990’s, digital technologies drove the AFB and the Library of Congress to launch a test program to introduce digitally recorded books and digital players. The conversion to a digital Talking Book system began in 2007. From there, we have BARD Mobile today; books downloadable on digital players and i-devices instantly at our fingertips. Isn’t it grand, to be able to enjoy a book with clear digital technology, easy navigation, and available on-demand? It always causes me to pause to consider what an amazing time we live in and to give thanks to all the tireless efforts of those who went before us, advocating for this access to printed word. Thank you AFB and Helen Keller! And now , I must get back to my Talking Book-“State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett.

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

The old cassette player and newer digital player for Talking Books

Why I LOVE My iPhone!

I was the last one in my family to have an iPhone. I resisted it for some time, feeling intimidated by the technology. Eventually, I got one for Christmas at my husband’s prodding. My adult kids were all home and spent time teaching me how to use it, setting the accessibility features and downloading helpful apps. They encouraged me to “just start looking around and using it and you will learn what it can do.” Every day, I learned new functions and began to enjoy this wonder of technology. There are user manuals and tutorials that also helped me learn the iPhone. To my surprise and delight, it did not blow up in my hands or anything!
I have Retinitis Pigmentosa and am able to see a little in a narrow field. I use my magnification eyeglasses to read the screen and also use the vision accessibility features. I have inverted the color scheme, white bold letters on a black background for increased contrast and decreased glare. I enlarge the font and can zoom in when needed. As I lose more vision, I will be able to transition to the voiceover option, where the screen is read out loud to me.
It was important to me to be able to maintain communication with my children and family. Now I am able to text, email, message on Facebook, and take photos and send them to stay connected. I use the Siri feature and dictate texts, emails and messages so I do not have to struggle to type them on a small keyboard. Siri works beautifully and there is auto correct spelling too. I can even ask Siri, the personal assistant questions and she can answer them.

 

The iPhone has so many built-in features and apps that it eliminates the need for many other devices. It has GPS, stores your personal music like an iPod, radio, timer and alarm clock, and voice recorder to take down information. It has a high quality camera and stores and organizes your photos. The calendar can keep your schedule straight for you. There are many apps for the visually impaired such as a flashlight, video magnifier, money reader, color ID and descriptive video reader for movies. Kindle and Nook apps can be used for electronic book downloads. My favorite app is the BARD app from the NLS, which allows me to instantly choose a book from the library, download it and begin to listen immediately. There are even some fun and educational games like Words with Friends and Scramble that I can access. Most of the apps I use are free and I have everything I need in one handy, amazing device.

 

My iPhone has truly allowed me to be more independent with communications, web searches, finding businesses and services, and managing my time and schedule. I am still discovering new capabilities and having fun with it. Once you get over the intimidation of the technology and begin to use it, it becomes more intuitive and you will wonder how you ever lived without an iPhone.