Your Questions Answered Part 2: Assistive Technology & Accessibility

Everything you ever wanted to know about me and some things you didn’t…Again!

How on earth do you use a computer if you can’t see?

When I was about 12 I saw the movie “Flubber” (starring the late great Robin Williams), for the first time. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s about a rather eccentric scientist/inventor who creates flying rubber that he calls flubber.  Anyway he had this robot personal assistant, “Weebo”, who I loved! She was really just a flying computer that kept his life running and always had a joke or witticism to share.

I desperately wanted one. I had a laptop (as discussed in part 1) but it was nowhere near as cool as her and if I’m honest, I resented it for not being able to talk to me.  Fast forward 19 years and now my laptop, as well as my mobile, iPad and work PC all actually do talk. I still don’t have a computer that flies though.

My laptop has a touch screen (it’s hard to use a mouse when you can’t see the cursor) and a backlit keyboard to make the letters stand out.  I use screen reader software called “Magic” which talks me through emails, documents and generally whatever I have up on my screen. If I need to know something specific I can touch the screen and the software will announce what I am touching. When I hit a key on the keyboard the software tells me which key I have hit (although I can actually see this).When I need to read something (like a book or letter etc.) that is on actual paper (how old-fashioned!) I have a special scanner. It looks like a desk lamp but is connected to my computer and if I place the document under it, it will read what is on the page. It can only do typed text though as it doesn’t recognise handwriting.  I have exactly the same setup at work.

Although I can still read books using my scanner it is rather awkward to do, so I prefer audiobooks. I cannot read braille. As my Dad will tell you I have always loved being read to. He read me the book “When the Moon Was Blue” so many times when I was a child that I can still recite it word for word today. I wonder if I can get that as an audiobook.

Be careful what you wish for though. Yes my computer talks but the voice is super annoying. It is the standard monotone American voice that all screen reader software has. You can adjust it a bit however, there is a setting called “Grandpa” which is the same voice with a higher pitch. Is this what old people sound like in America?

On my mobile and ipad I have the voiceover setting (found in the accessibility menu) switched on. This means that just as “Magic” does, it reads absolutely everything out to me, unlike Siri who only helps you when you want her. Speaking of Siri, she is also very witty.

If you want a laugh ask her How much wood can a Woodchuck chuck if a Woodchuck could chuck wood? And see what she says. It is very funny (I promise I do have an actual life and real friends).

What about getting around?

Obviously I do not drive. So mostly I use taxis to get about. Otherwise I rely on the kindness of family and friends. Taxi travel can get expensive, especially if you do it multiple times per day. So I have TUSS (Taxi User Subsidy Scheme) vouchers that I use. These entitle the user to either 25, 50 or 75 percent discount on the fare depending on the severity of their disability. Before you get excited remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Much like an ACROD sticker (That allows you to park in those awesome parking spaces) it comes with lots of conditions and can be revoked if it is abused. .

I find it difficult to get onto buses and trains even though they do lower and provide a ramp to help get on and off.  This is because of the speed required to do this and walking to the stops, as opposed to being dropped exactly where you need as with a taxi, can be a chore. I can get in and out of a taxi easily. In fact my taxi drivers (I have a regular bunch) are so good about this that one has even taken me with him to look at potential new taxis to ensure it is accessible for me.

Generally Perth is also very accessible. It is very flat and the pathways are usually well maintained. Most restaurants, pubs and theatres have ramps or elevators so I can get in even if I have my walking frame or wheelchair with me. If I go somewhere and find that it hasn’t got appropriate access (this is very rare), I will just go somewhere else. My family and friends know my capabilities so they are very flexible.

In places I know well; home, work and the homes of my family and close friends I can get around by myself without too much drama. If I am somewhere unfamiliar or on the street I will usually have someone with me as a guide. At times this can be a tad irritating as occasionally it would be nice to have that little bit of extra freedom. Still, it beats the hell out of getting lost!

Tune in next time for part 3: Confidence, acceptance and knowing your limits. It’s the last one, I promise!



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