Posts Tagged ‘accessibility’

Does Your Guide Dog FaceTime?

April 1, 2012

Guide Dog work is not all work and no play. For years, guide dogs have been tasked with leading blind people around. They are trained to go from corner to corner. Now I have no idea about the history of guide dogs. I am sure there was some caveman out there who was blind and slapped a harness on the back of a T-Rex. And that is how it all began. When dinosaurs became extinct, blind people had to find a new animal to lead them around, and who better than the family friendly dog? Then came guide dog schools to train the dogs, and the great people who raise the dogs before heading off to the guide dog school, the puppy raisers. And things have pretty much progressed since there.

With technology being what it is these days, and everyone having a camera and GPS system on them at all times, I am sure the future of guide dogs will be interesting. Guide dogs already have GPS chips in them in case they get lost, so they can be found by satellites. Pretty amazing, try explaining that one to World War II vets. With GPS becoming more and more advanced. I can see a time pretty soon where the guide dogs harness comes with a chip in it that will help a blind person navigate even down to the slightest millimeter. With my great guide Nash now, I still have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me find the door to a business, especially a place that I have not been before. If there are a bunch of stores in a row next to each other, and I tell Nash left to the door, I can still be at the wrong store. With a GPS system built in to his harness where I can click a button and have a bluetooth earpiece in, I could find the door on my own, if GPS directions get down to it. That would be quite a nice world to live in.

Now that we have covered the work part, lets get to the play part. Does your guide dog FaceTime? For those of you not familiar with FaceTime, it is a program built in to all macs, iPhones, and iPads, allowing you to chat via video with someone else running FaceTime. I believe it is the same concept as Skype. The problem with Skype is it is no longer accessible, meaning that a blind person who uses a screen reader, in my case, voiceover over the mac cannot use it. There are several programs and websites that are inaccessible and we are not going to get in to that today, as that is a long topic. When a site or app is inaccessible it means that the site or app has not been properly designed where a screen reader cannot read the page elements. That is a novice understanding of it. I am sure a computer programmer could explain it in much more detail to you. You do have to remember I was in college at a time when the internet and email hadn’t blown up quite yet, and we were still just using it to download pictures from Entertainment Weekly. Remember Prodigy?

So now that you have a basic understanding of FaceTime, what good is a video chat to someone who is blind? None. Yes, the person you are speaking with can see you, but you can’t see them, but to a guide dog, it can be quite fun, and a way for him to see those family members and friends that do not live near you. I have Facetimed a few times with friends and family. And I know what you are thinking, how does Nash get anything out of it? I didn’t think he was either, until I noticed that every time I FaceTime with my Mom, someone who Nash knows quite well, he wants to lick the screen of the iPhone when he sees her face! Sorry to let you other people know, Nash doesn’t do that when he sees you. Pretty amazing, as I know he is color blind, but he is obviously differentiating between my Mom and everyone else I have Facetimed with. So, yes, my guide dog does FaceTime!

When You’re Blind, Technology Can Be An Amazing Thing

December 23, 2011

We all have those days when nothing seems to go right. Being blind this seems to be most days for me. So tonight when I got ready to walk my guide dog Nash and went to put my sneakers on, it was no surprise when I went to tie my sneakers and the shoelace ripped right off in to my hand. UGH! Lately I have been wearing sneakers most days, so what am I going to do now. I went in to my closet to find another pair of shoes, as I don’t think Nash is going to understand, sorry pal my shoelace is ripped so you can’t go out. I hadn’t worn another pair of shoes in quite awhile, so I was a little flustered, as I wasn’t a hundred percent certain the shoes I was putting on were the same pair. Yes, my vision has gotten so bad, that I can’t tell if a pair of shoes match. Then I remembered an app I had downloaded on my iPhone awhile ago called VizWiz. I had never used it, but I recalled, that you could take a picture of something and then add a question to it, and send it out in to cyberspace. Well, no time like the present to give this thing a whirl. I took a picture, but then when I went to ask the question, nothing happened. Great yet another app that doesn’t work properly. Then it hit, try turning a light on, as maybe the camera needs a little light. When you are blind, you do not sit around with a lot of lights on, especially when you have the severe glare issues from light that I have. Every time someone comes over to my apartment, I have to remember to turn a light on, as I could imagine my apartment without light could be a little creepy to the sighted. Hey at least when it is just me here I am saving on that damn con ed bill. So I turned a light on, relaunched the app, took the picture of the shoes again, then asked are these the same pair of shoes? After that VizWiz took me to a screen with a few options, AI for artificial intelligence, web worker, I assume for a human to answer the question, Facebook, sorry not hitting that one, as I do not want my Facebook friends to see this, and twitter. I selected the first two options. Immediately VizWiz sent me back an AI answer that said black leather shoes. Ok, cool, I guess that means they are the same pair. Then a few seconds later I got an answer from a web worker that read, yes they are the same pair, but on the wrong foot. I was like whoa. How do they know what foot they are on. The shoes were sitting on the floor, and not on my feet. Then I tried to put the left shoe on, and sure enough it was the shoe for the right foot. Wow, this is unbelievable. And the best part, VizWiz is a free app. Now most of you who read my blog are probably sighted, and will not need an app like VizWiz, but I implore you to pass this along to your blind or visually impaired friends. The only that disappointed me about the app, was there was no way for me to send a quick thank you to the web worker for answering my question. So I guess this blog entry goes out to all the web workers for VizWiz, and the creators of the app. I definitely will be getting a lot of use out of this app and sharing it with all of my blind friends. Now if there was just an app that could replace my shoelace.

Since I was having such good luck with technology tonight. I decide to try on the new sweat pants and sweat shirt my Mom had just bought me. She was so nice to buy my two pairs, one black and one gray. Now she did do a great thing and put a pin in the grey pair, but I wanted to test out the new color identifier that I recently downloaded. Why did my Mom buy me new sweats? Well, I guess my old pair was pretty worn, and even though I am living in Queens now, I guess I don’t have to look like I live in Queens. And just so you know, I do not wear sweats out to the store or anything, just to lounge around the house, and walk Nash. I have fallen in to the category of giving up which you let the world know once you start wearing sweats out and about. So I put on the black pair, and fired up the color ID, and sure enough I ran it over the sweat shirt, and the app said black, then I tried it over my old sweat shirt, and it said dark yellow. Wow, yes, it was a dark yellow shirt, and wasn’t that way from being dirty. Wow, technology has really come along way, now if they could only find a way to cure my retinitis pigmentosa that would really impress me!