June 22, 2017

Does Technology Help People with Vision Loss? You Decide…

- Stephanie Hurd, Assistive Technology/Activities Specialist

a blind girl using headphones on the computer in a library

Stephanie Hurd, Community Relations Coordinator at Future In Sight (formerly NH Association for the Blind) wrote this article for the Summer Issue of the New Hampshire RAP Sheet. This is a collaborative effort of the Disability Rights Center-NH, Institute on Disability, and NH Council on Developmental Disabilities. To download the issue in its entirety please click here.

My iPhone alarm goes off at 6:00 AM. It’s the opening movement for the orchestra of technology that gets me through my day. OK, I admit a second alarm is set for 6:15, I like to wake up gradually. Thanks to the Stringafy app that works with my Hue lighting, the hallway and dining room lights slowly come on.
As I make my breakfast, I tell Echo Dot,1  “Alexa flash briefing” and she announces my morning news. I’m fairly coherent now that my talking microwave has warmed up my second cup of coffee. My daughter has left for school and I enjoy a little free time listening to Hillbilly Elegy, through Bard on my iPhone. Oops, there goes an Alexa alarm; it’s time to get ready for work.

Tech Workshop

What to wear? This could be challenging, as I am blind and can’t distinguish colors, but I’ve got an app for that. The color ID app confirms that my socks match. However, I have two identical sweaters one purple and one blue. I want the purple one, but the app isn’t getting it right this time. Snap! I take a picture with my iPhone. “Siri send a text to my sister. What color is this sweater?” Within seconds she confirms it’s purple. Problem solved.

At work, my laptop is up and running. Using JAWS screen reader I check my email. My hands glide across the keyboard; JAWS reads the screen and echoes what I type. Shall I bore you with the reports I write and presentations I schedule? What does a Community Relations Coordinator do, anyway? It’s actually a fabulous position with lots of variety, but I’ve got to fly. My iPhone calendar is reminding me with an audible alert that I have to leave for a presentation.

Wow, it’s already 4:00 PM and I promised my nephew I’d listen to his latest song. I’m in New Hampshire and he’s in Tennessee, but that’s not a problem. I grab a bottle of water and make a Facetime call on my iPhone. I can’t see him, but he enjoys seeing me and besides the sound is better on Facetime. My nephew is pretty tone deaf, but I don’t tell him. This is something we always enjoy together, so I let him go for it!

It’s a beautiful day and there’s still time for a walk. My health app keeps track of how many steps I’ve taken and incorporates that into My Fitness Pal app. (I am obsessed with this app, but there are times I really get annoyed that it keeps tabs on what I eat and how Lazy I can be.) While I’m out I pick up the mail. Thee’s only one bill today. At  home, I open the envelope and take a picture using my KNFB Reader app. Presto! I listen to my electric bill through my iPhone and then use my iPhone to pay it.

I’m glad we are going out to eat tonight; I don’t feel like cooking. Using my iPhone, I check out dinner options on Applebee’s menu. I go with my favorite, the oriental chicken salad; it’s really good. When the bill comes, I use Apple Pay on my iPhone; it’s a completely independent method using voice over. On the way home I pick up a few things at the grocery store. This time I pay with cash. I don’t worry about getting the wrong change; I check it with my money identifier app.

I’m glad to be back home. I just want to relax in from the TV. Yes, people with vision loss enjoy TV. At least I do. My Xfinity remote has voice guidance; I can speak into the remote to change channels, bring up the guide, and manipulate the arrows and other functions on the remote. I settle on the Big Bang Theory. That show is funny!

I just remember we’re getting low on coffee. I cannot run out of coffee – it’s a necessity. I tell Echo Dot; “Alexa, add coffee to my shopping list.” Finally, time to get some sleep. To wind down I ask Alexa to play some relaxing jazz on Spotify. Another day is complete.

For people who are blind or have low vision, technology can be an incredible help in navigating day-to-day life. Future In Sight offers workshops, as well as one-to-one training, on selecting the right technology to open up a world of independence and enjoyment. For more information contact us at [email protected] or call us toll-free at 1-800-464-3075.

1 Echo dot is a hands free voice controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, read the news, set alarms, read audio booth, and more.