Tag Archives: technology

Technology for most is a nice thing to have, but for those with disabilities, how huge of a game changer technology is in improving their lives cannot be exaggerated

Posted on July 6, 2018

As I wrote about in my last post, technology in its most basic definition is an innovation which makes some task easier, and for most of us that is most of the time, the case; but for people with disabilities, it is way more than that.
Technology helps us get places faster and safer. Technology has made communication more possible and convenient today than was ever thought to ever be possible even a short time ago. Technology is nice, cool, fun, entertaining, amazing, and many more words beyond this sentence; but for those with disabilities, technology is way more than any of those accolades, technology is life changing; sometimes in unimaginable ways. I think sometimes even in some ways that can only be realized not in blog posts or videos, but in first hand experiences.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Mac Power Users, and several episodes ago David Sparks, and Katie Floyd were talking about one of my least favorite forms of technology, the pdf file format. If pdfs have done anything good for me though it is that many more people in recent years are aware of and use optical character recognition (OCR)
During the episode David talked about how he’d OCR scanned a bunch of documents and that enabled him to find a phrase he heard and needed to refer to during a court case. OCR is great even if you’re sighted because it enables you to very quickly search documents and even automate tasks like organizing and processing them. It wasn’t that many years ago that OCR was thought of as unnecessary, slow, not worth it, and often avoided; but for blind people optical character recognition is one of the most enabling technologies to come out since the invention of braille itself.
Yes braille is awesome and crucial to the education and development of a blind person’s intellect, but only about 1% of all the books in the world are ever commercially produced in braille. Audio books, and text to speech together with OCR have made many more books available to blind readers, but nothing will replace braille for things like mathematics and program code. I know some blind geeks will flame me for this  and say they don’t need braille at all and they write program code all day; but I know from years of personal experience that no matter how good they are at hearing text to speech spell out arcane function name spellings and all types of punctuation, that using an exorbitantly expensive refreshable  braille display would significantly increase their efficiency; a whole other topic for another post another day.

Beyond all of that, OCR means that if there isn’t any e-book available for a title, a blind person can probably buy a print copy, and after scanning it in, have a copy they can read in braille or text to speech relatively quickly.

The smartphone is also something that along with the internet and OCR is a close second to braille in how huge of a life changer inventions can be for the improvements of the lives of blind people.
When the iPhone was first announced in 2007 I was seriously frustrated thinking that a touch screen would never be accessible, and also knowing that touch screens were the future. No one outside of Apple saw VoiceOver coming to the iPhone in June 2009 but that along with Talkback on Android some time later may be the largest improvement to the blind world by technology in the last 20 years.
Yes I can call people on my iPhone, or text them; I can also play games or listen to music, but that is only the beginning. There are GPS apps that not only tell me how to get to places, but also tell me landmarks and street names as I travel, almost like a sighted person looking around and telling me in my ear what they see passing by; , a true form of augmented reality and it’s not even visual. Some blind people use their phones to read small documents or food labels on the fly, and if it can’t read the text maybe a barcode scan instead.
There are still talking devices made specifically for the blind, like for example, scales for weighing, thermometers for body temperature, cooking, or outside. There are talking glucose monitors and other things not mentioned here. These devices are often significantly more expensive than their mainstream counterparts, and before smartphones they were the only options blind people had. Some still feel more comfortable with them than trying to pair a smartphone to a more modern device, but that’s just another way technology is improving our world. A talking smartphone, plus an accessible app, plus a mainstream bluetooth device; means an often very accessible and usable device that has more features than the blind-specific devices also out there, and they’re also devices many people have, sighted and blind. If I buy a bluetooth scale and don’t understand how to add my weight to the health app, I can ask anyone who has the scale, not only the few blind people I might know who bought the blind-specific one.

Yes there are other disabilities that being blind, like people in wheelchairs, or people with cognitive disabilities, and those are just as important to realize, and they have been just as impacted by technology, just take a moment to remember what Stephen Hawking could do. Helen Keller if still alive today would probably be amazed at what more she could have done.

Please think about instead of just how cool your app is or what fun it can be, but more of how can You improve someone’s life even or more especially if they perceive information and interact differently with interfaces than You do. If you are a  developer or designer reading this post, please take a moment and step outside the box that is your subset of reality, and not only imagine how you could make the world, including the lives of those who think differently better, , but then actually do it.


Some reflections on how technology has progressed as I flew home from North Carolina to Wisconsin last Friday

Posted on June 25 2018

Just a reflection on how technology has advanced over a time period I can remember.I can remember in high school wishing I could type some of my homework on my  30 minute  bus rides each way, and although until 11th grade I had a very nice electronic typewriter, it wasn’t portable.   Then when I went to California in 11th grade there was no way to even think about taking my Apple IIe computer along.Now, as I type this post I’m at  35000 feet traveling between  490-520 miles per hour currently over Kentucky, (I love running GPS on my phone)   flying home to Madison WI from Charlotte NC. Yes I flew to California, my first time in an airplane,  back in high school, but back then when on a trip I pretty much lost contact with family and friends “gone for a week talk to you when I get back” I’d have to say. Thankfully I can now say that time is over.The basic definition of technology is to make doing some task easier, but I’d say think deeper, think more  human. Technology are innovations to make our lives better beyond just doing tasks; technology when used properly can let us be more human. In this case technology let me communicate with family and friends while I was working in Dayton Ohio this week. It also lets me put down thoughts on an airplane. Ye we still have pen and paper, but my handwriting is so bad I can’t even read it; oh wait, I can’t read anyone’s handwriting   for other reasons, some people can actually read mine, although they cringe and complain about it.I’m not saying technology is amaZing, because that implies it can’t be understood, but I do think we shouldn’t take technology as much for granted, yes that includes me too some times. Beyond using it, and enjoying its benefits, I think more regularly appreciating how it has and will continue to transform who we are and what we can do. RecogniZing this mind set more may also help us shape how and what we do with technology available to us. If we consider our human side more while geeking out with our technical side, just imagine how you, I, or together we can make the world better. No this post won’t end any wars, but maybe thinking more like this we could avoid a few more  fights, or discuss and debate more  and argue less. Maybe with all this technology at my fingertips I could understand someone different than me a little more.; and don’t forget friendships, try to reconnect a few of those that have faded too.  GPS update, the plane is  now over the south western corner of OHio.No I can’t post this to the blog from this airplane, no wifi on this flight,  and some might find that frustrating; despite the fact that if they could tell the pilgrims from 1620, or even Immigrants from only 150 years ago that you could get from London to New York in about 6 hours they would have never believed it.  but I’m totally happy with how far things have progressed as much as they have, posting it when I get home, or maybe not even until tomorrow is just fine by me.

My thoughts on how both technology and new workflows improved my life in 2016

People can look around and see new things they bought over the last year, but if they think a little deeper they might realize how some of their workflows also changed. Yes I bought a few new gadgets in 2016, but some of that was to support changes in my thinking and planning for better workflows in the near future.

I’ve had 2 talking medical thermometers in the past, the second of them quietly dying in 2015, I’m not sick often but decided having a way to take my temperature was a good idea, but instead of finding another blind-centric device I bought the Pyle in ear thermometer. It has bluetooth, pairs with an accessible iOS app and will even save temperatures along with date and time to my calendar; a workflow I hope to not need for some time yet. Oh, and it takes body temperature in about 2 seconds instead of 3 minutes like old traditional thermometers, that is game changingly awesome.

I replaced my corded hand vac with a cordless dry-wet vac, already finding no cord a nice convenience which might actually mean I use it more.

In the kitchen I now have the Instant Pot 7 in 1 programable pressure cooker, with bluetooth, really the only way to go for a blind person. Today I ordered the Waring PVS 1000 vacuum sealer, (refurbished because the price of unboxed models jumped $75 when I wasn’t looking) which among things may allow me to try some sous-vide cooking; along with preserving fresh food longer. I also got the Drop digital kitchen scale to measure food by weight instead of volume, I can also now answer the question of “What do you know” with a penny weighs 2 grams.

Since iBooks came out in iOS 4 back in 2010 I’ve been reading almost daily on my iPhones , but when the cool automatic scrolling-reading option in voiceover broke in the first iOS 10 beta last June, I started using the voice dream reader app; which I knew was awesome and had bought 3 years earlier, just hadn’t used it much. The voiceover bug was fixed in beta 3 but I still read now almost all long text with that app. I wish the voice dream reader had an Apple watch app, then I’d have the smallest ebook reader ever; and since I’m blind and not screen dependent, it would be awesome.

Already this year my 2009 MacBook pro died, and thanks to one of my cool friends, I now have a maxed out 2013 11 inch air on loan. Another workflow change is I installed Homebrew instead of Macports this time around. The newer air also means VoiceOver thus far is busy much less of the time, so I can finally play more with Xcode; and I’ll have a working battery when I speak at Cocoaconf Chicago in late April.

What kinds of changes in your workflows did you see last year, how might new workflows in the new year help you in the future. Rather than just coasting through life, it’s way better to “live on purpose”.

Thoughts on how I keep remembering Beethoven’s birthday, music and technology

It is possible that if it hadn’t been for Charles Schultz, and through his Peanuts cartoons , December 16th being the birthday of Ludwig Van Beethoven would have been as unknown to most of us today as the birthdays of the other great composers. In the Charlie Brown Christmas special recorded in 1965, one of his best friends Schroeder plays the opening measures of Fur Elise to celebrate the birthday of the Viennese master. Though played with a simplified left hand part, it’s still a nice touch decades later. In one of his  comic strips, Schultz has Schroeder forget Beethoven’s birthday and then be reminded by Lucy  that he had forgotten.


My youngest though still older sister, Andrea, introduced me to Beethoven’s music when I was in middle school and with Schroeder still in my subconscious, I decided i wanted to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday in my 8th grade year. I copied 2 records I had to a tape, in mono no less, and listened to them on my bus ride to school and home, half an hour each way. By the end of the next year, I had taped recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies, and hearing all of them in a row has been my celebratory tradition ever sense still 32 years later.. Not only have I heard the quality of the recordings improve over the decades, hearing a set of pieces spanning over a composer’s lifetime is a great way too also experience first hand how their style developed and changed over time. From tapes played on a mono player, then to a walkman, then to cd’s, to an mp3 player, to streaming lossless off my Synology network server first time this year, not only has the audio improved amazingly but also the convenience e.g. I don’t have to make sure the next tape is lined up.

Beethoven’s first 2 symphonies though still somewhat classical in style paying homage to Haydn and Mozart, still have moments here and there that totally make the listener sit up and take notice, moments that are clearly Beethoven’s. His 3rd symphony completely changed what a symphony had been to that point, and is considered the first of his mature symphonies, as well as in the minds of some musicologists the first piece of the Romantic period. Looking at the Beethoven symphonies, beginning with the 3rd, each symphony has a story to tell, and all of them collectively as well as individually are strong affirmations to life, to the human condition. That, even though Beethoven’s childhood was harsh and much of his adult life silent due to his deafness, that there are still moments totally worth living for and hoping for in the future; Beethoven’s symphonies are all more than worth the time to explore and understand.

While writing this post, I listened from the finale of the 3rd symphony, to the end of the scherzo movement 3 of symphony 5.
There’s a little of Schroeder in me too, I went to Edgewood College  who  puts on a Christmas concert every year and twice during these concerts I played a Beethoven solo. The coolest of them was on 12/16/1991 when I played the 1st movement of his piano sonata op. 31 no. 2 “The Tempest”; Andrea along with our parents were in attendance