Podcast transcript: Mosen at Large episode 161, review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 carbon, more on mainstream vs blindness tech, and a new book designed to give hope to newly blind people and their families
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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. Today, a mini review of the LENOVO ThinkPad X1 Carbon, more on the great debate on mainstream versus blindness technology, and Cameron Algie’s new book seeks to bring hope and information to the newly blind and their families.
Welcome to the penultimate Mosen At Large for 2021. That’s a cool word, penultimate, isn’t it? It’s especially cool when you’re getting ready to have a nice long summer break. Although, you would not think that summer was coming up, particularly at the beginning of this week in Wellington, the rain was bucketing down. And in fact, by Tuesday, after a day and a half of this rain, Wellington had exceeded its average rainfall for December. It was really bad. And I went out to a meeting on Monday, and I was just like a drowned rat. It was a building I’d never been to before, the Uber driver, I guess, somewhat understandably wasn’t really interested in helping me locate the building. And I didn’t have a clue where the entrance was, and there weren’t many people out on the street in the rain. Fun and games.
And if you think that’s fun and games enough, well, we had another flood here. We’ve clearly got some sort of issue where when you get a significant, really significant, downpour of rain, Mosen Towers bears the brunt of it in the ground level, where we have a garage that connects to the house. And we, in the end, had to get a drainage expert to come and take a look, and it’s going to be a big job to get this fixed. Oh my goodness. So if you can hear a wee bit of noise, I imagine the processing is going to filter a lot of that noise out, but it will be because we’ve got a big dehumidifier running at the moment, just to get the damp out of the carpet. The damp that’s left. What a fun week it has been.
But in the middle of all that torrential rain on the Monday, my ThinkPad X1 Carbon, ninth generation, from Lenovo did turn up. And as I predicted in last week’s show, so did my WeWalk Smart Cane. They were brought by the same courier. So how romantic is this? That they met up in Singapore, these two devices, and they made it all the rest of the way together to Mosen Towers. My priority of the two things was the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, ninth generation, particularly because I sold my Dell XPS 15 on Trade Me, and it is now happily ensconced with its owner, who seems really pleased. So that’s good that all worked out and it helped to subsidize the cost of this new ThinkPad.
I’ll share some first impressions of it, because I’ve been spending a bit of quality bonding time with it, getting it set up over the last few days. The first thing you notice, of course, when you take it out of the box, this thing is light, it’s carbon fiber, it’s very light. Bonnie has an HP Spectre, which I think are very good machines indeed. And you kind of think those are pretty light, but this is even lighter and thinner than the HP Spectre, so you notice that. A great array of ports with the USB A and the USB C and the HDMI. When you switch it on and you get it going, the speakers are pretty good.
I wouldn’t say they’re up there with the MacBook, but I don’t think there’s another laptop out there that is up with the MacBook in terms of audio quality, but it’s acceptable. You can listen to music, you could fill a room listening, say to some spoken word content with it or even music with it. And it’s quite acceptable. It’s not unpleasant, certainly not tinny like a lot of these laptops are.
The big thing that stood out for me as soon as I started to use it was, no need for silenzio, no need for the jaws avoid speech cutoff feature. This thing does not cut itself off in an aggressive way, like many laptops that are powered by the Realtek driver tend to do these days, So that’s wonderful. It has some Dolby Atmos features, and you can configure them separately. So at the moment I’ve got my speakers with the processing on, but when I plug headphones, or in my case my hearing aid cable into the X1 Carbon, I have all the processing turned off and they do show up as two separate devices in Windows. As I said, when I mentioned I was going to be getting this ThinkPad, I used ThinkPads for about a decade. And I was used to the function key being on the far left of the keyboard and the control key being the next one in, but all the other keyboards that I have have the control key at the very left.
And so when there’s one that stands out, it’s difficult to get used to it, I guess it’s muscle memory and you can get used to anything. The good thing is though, you don’t have to, you can go into the BIOS, which means you need sighted assistance to do it. And there’s a keyboard section in the BIOS setup and you can swap the control key and the function key around. So now my control key is on the far left, like every other keyboard, even the though it still says function key of course on the label, but I know what it does, so I appreciate that. It is a slightly idiosyncratic keyboard on this device, above the left arrow key you’ve got a page up key and above the right arrow key you’ve got a page down key. So, that’s an interesting way to place the keys. You do have a home key, which is next to the insert key on the top row of the keyboard, by the function keys.
And those are dedicated keys. You don’t have to hold the FN key down, but who really wants to reach up to the top row every time you want to press the home key? And any keyboard warrior will object to this, I think, and Lenovo has recognized this, because as well as those keys performing home and end, you can also press function with left arrow for home and function with right arrow for end. You can’t do function up and down arrow for page up and down. But I guess that makes sense because the page up and down keys are right there. While we’re talking idiosyncrasies of the keyboard, on the right hand side of the space bar you’ve got three keys, the left one is alt and the end is control. What would you think would be the middle one, either Windows or the application key, right? It is neither.
That’s where the print screen key is. Extraordinary. So the first thing I wanted to do was make the print screen key act as the application key. Sharp keys to the rescue, once again. I know many people know about this utility already. It is a free utility for Windows. You install it and you don’t even have to have it running all the time. It doesn’t have to sit in the background or anything, you run this and you nominate what key you want to perform what function. And then it saves that information in the Windows registry. So you don’t have to worry about sharp keys again until you want to make another change. So all I had to do was to tell sharp keys to map the print screen key to the application key, and we were in business. And that’s particularly important for REAPER because pressing the application key and REAPER is not the same as pressing shift F10, and you can perform various functions by holding modifiers down with the application key.
So as a REAPER user, I had to have an application key and now I do. So that’s all worked out okay. I have of course also made sure that my function keys are set to perform their default function, and you can hold down the FN key and perform the other functions. And I’ve got those written down in a file so that I can refer to them and get used to them. F1 mutes, F2 and F3 turn the volume down and up respectively, F5 and F6 control the brightness. And obviously I have my brightness set to 0% because I don’t use the screen at all. And you’ll be amazed at how much battery that saves. Speaking of the battery, I’m a little bit underwhelmed by any Windows laptop, because if you’ve ever used a MacBook with the M1 chip and we have one lurking about here for testing purposes, you will know that that’s kind of the Nirvana in terms of battery life on laptops.
You really do have all day battery life on those things. And it doesn’t matter what task you throw at it, it just keeps on going and going like the Energizer bunny, those things, it’s really cool. And when I read the reviews of the LENOVO ThinkPad X1 Carbon, they really were very glowing about the battery life. But when you read the fine print in terms of what they do for these reviews, they’re not particularly realistic. They turn all the radios off. So they turn wifi off, they turn Bluetooth off and they set the brightness to zero and they play a video. Well, I mean, honestly, it’s not a very real world test. And what I found, I think this is the case with a lot of Windows laptops is that the battery life is extremely sensitive to what you are doing. So if I’m sitting there listening to music or just reading a book with Eloquence or something like that, then the battery life is really impressive.
I’m talking perhaps 12, 13, 14 hours on the balanced plan, which is not bad at all. If you start doing some hard drive intensive activities, the battery life will go way down. So you can push JAWSKey with shift and B to get a battery status update. And you will find it fluctuates a lot depending on the task that you are doing, but I’ve learned to live with it and set realistic expectations about Windows laptops in general in terms of battery life. And it certainly is one of the better ones, there is no doubt about that.
I got my SIM from my carrier. So this laptop does have the 5G option witch I got as an extra. I had this one built for me by Lenovo at the factory and chose the accessories, the peripherals, the additional features that I wanted, and cellular was really important to me. I love the idea of just being able to turn the laptop on and without any hotspotting that might drain my phone’s battery or anything like that, just have connectivity wherever I am.
It has a nano SIM slot, but I also found out that it has an eSIM capability as well. What that means is that if you can get an eSIM from your carrier, you can be connected locally, and that would leave the slot free if you travel internationally. You can then go and buy a local data SIM from a local carrier when you’re traveling, pop it in the SIM slot, and just tell windows to use that instead of the eSIM, that will save you a lot of dosh compared with roaming, from your home carrier.
The SIM card is very similar to install to that on an iPhone. You just pop out the little tray, the card goes in upside down, which is a bit unusual. So you have to be careful to make sure that you don’t force it and that you get the card in the right way. But that was done all right, and then we just popped the SIM in and it just started to work, when I chose SIM one, which is the physical SIM, it all just started to work. It was really easy to get up and running. In association with all of this. I have set up a VPN on my UniFi Dream Machine router that is becoming increasingly difficult to access with its web interface. I know we’ve got a few UniFi Dream Machine users. I wonder if there’s something that we can do, because when I first started to use the UDM, the user interface was much more accessible than it is now.
There are some things that you can do quite accessibly on the iOS app, but you can’t do everything via that app. And it really is becoming a huge struggle. Aira to the rescue, I say. Anyway, I’ve set up a secure VPN. And then one of the difficulties I had was that Windows firewall is really a bit over the top. So I’m connecting to my private network, and because the UniFi Dream Machine has set up a separate subnet for the VPN, by default Windows firewall doesn’t let other subnets connect to local machines. So it took me a while to work out why I could not locate even by IP address the machines on the network. But I eventually got that sorted and we are good to go now.
It is frustrating to me as well, that it seems quite difficult to get Windows to use the default gateway of the VPN as the primary source of DNS lookups. So it’s been fun and games, but we’ve got it up and running now. And the upshot of it is that when I connect to the VPN with my cellular connection, I can access my Synology Drive, which actually just worked because the Synology Drive doesn’t have these limitations with regard to subnets. I can connect to the mushroom pot and I can browse these drives as I was sitting in front of the computer at home. I’ve also got remote desktop set up through the VPN. So you have to be connected to the VPN to get into remote desktop for security reasons. But then I can use that machine, the mushroom pot machine as if I was sitting in front of it here in the studio at its keyboard. So I’m super happy about this because it means I can just do this by switching on the laptop, making sure that cellular is on, and then connecting to the VPN.
The speed is quite good when you’re using it on battery in the balanced area, that’s where the slider is set to 66%. You do get a bit more battery life when you turn the slider down, but I do notice the sluggishness quite a bit, but if you know you’re going to be on a very, very long haul and you want to maximize your battery life, you can turn that down easily enough. I have my power setting set to 100% when it’s plugged in and it goes like a rocket. It is really nice and fast. The solid-state drive, the 32 gigs of RAM and the process kick in there and give me a super experience. And now let’s have a little listen to a recording that I made from the microphone array of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, so you can hear what it’s audio from the microphone is like.
I’m now recording on the built-in microphone array of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. And because it’s a microphone array, it is omnidirectional. So the idea is that you could be in a video conference or an audio conference situation with a few people around a table and it should pick everybody up quite comfortably. And in my limited tests, it does appear to do that. At the moment I’m just sitting in front of the device, it’s on the desk in front of me at around about the height that I would be using it if I were doing a video conference. Now I have to say, if I were doing a video conference, I probably wouldn’t be using the microphone array. I’d be using some sort of better microphone than this, but this just gives you some indication as to what you get when you use the built-in microphone. It’s definitely not a shotty sound. And I’m recording this in REAPER. So I have REAPER set up here. The interview that you will hear later in this episode was obviously recorded in the studio, but edited on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. So it’s perfectly up to the task of audio production and a little bit of audio processing.
Now this is a second recording. And in this instance, I have turned off the audio enhancements. There are audio enhancements for playback and for recording, and those audio enhancements belong to each device. So you can go in and turn off audio enhancements for the microphone array. I have done that now, and what you’re listening to now is unprocessed audio. And actually, I think I prefer that. So if you do too, you can go in and turn off the audio enhancements and get this pure unprocessed sound, which to me sounds just a little harsh than the processed audio. Still, no laptop is going to compare with a Heil PR 40. So I will switch back to that now here in the studio.
I far prefer that just listening to them back to back. Now, it’s possible that because of the noise reduction that we apply to make sure that listener contributions aren’t full of to much background noise, you are not hearing what I’m hearing to the same extent, but that second recording had a lot of fan noise in it. And I do want to emphasize that that noise was not coming from the laptop. That noise is coming from the big dehumidifier that we have running outside the studio at the moment, mopping up some of the damp from the carpet, from the recent flooding. So all that loud fan noise is coming from that. The laptop does have a fan and it does spin up from time to time, but that’s not where all that noise is coming from. So in the normal course of events, you would have quite a nice recording with that processing turned off. I guess you would want to leave processing on for maybe echo cancellation, for filtering out of some background noise. I personally think it does a much better job if you switch it off.
So overall I’m really happy with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. I do wish these windows laptops would do a better job of battery life, but it is what it is. And that would be the case on any Windows machine. There’s a tiny bit of buyers remorse, I suppose, in the sense that I know that if I got the MacBook, man, it would be blazing fast. The battery would go on and on, but the thing is, it’s just not going to work for me because of the applications I spend time in. There are certain apps on Windows that are just not available to me on Mac. And there are certain other applications that just aren’t as efficient to use. I do wish someone would develop an open source voiceover alternative. I can understand why commercial vendors don’t want to give it a go, because who would pay for it unless it was super good when voiceover is on the Mac.
But I think voiceover is flawed enough on the Mac as a screen reader for someone to jump in into a really good open source alternative. But I wonder whether it’s even possible, whether all the APIs, all the necessary hooks are open to a potential third party screen reader developer. I have no idea about that. So Windows is definitely where I need to be. And the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a wonderful choice overall. It’s just so light. It’s a pleasure to carry around and to work with, and having the cellular, I’m just so pleased to have that back. And that’s another reason why I wouldn’t want to go for a MacBook at the moment either because there is no cellular option. So pretty pleased overall. It’s definitely an upgrade for me and I’m going to enjoy using this over the next little while. The Lenovo X1 Carbon because of the inclement weather and other things I haven’t done too much with the, We Walk Smart Cane, yet except set it up. And since I’ve been waffling on for so long, I will come back and talk about that next week.
If you have voted in the top 100 holiday countdown for 2021, thank you very much. If you haven’t, your time is running out, because voting closes at 11:59 PM north American Eastern time this Friday, the 17 of December. You can find out all about how to vote in the previous episode, episode 160 of Mosen at Large, but in brief you go to mushroomfm.com/countdown 2021. You’ve got an accessible voting system there to count your vote for your top 10 holiday favorites. And in return you get an invitation to our virtual Christmas party where we play the top 100 as voted for by listeners. That happens on Sunday between 9:00 AM and 7:00 PM North American Eastern time, that equates to 2:00 PM Eastern, 7:00 PM in the UK. We would love to get your votes. So not only vote yourself, but spread the word and have other of people vote as well.
If you want to, you could even vote for this song, which I’m playing because it reminds me of a time when Amanda and I went to the UK and it’s my only ever Northern Hemisphere Christmas. And I was so excited about the idea of spending Christmas in snow. What a novelty for me, we’re normally in the sweltering heat of summer at Christmas time. And of course, we’ve been exposed to so many songs about snow and things over the years. So the idea that we would actually be there for some snow was very exciting. So in every little pub we went to in England, and believe me, they’ve got a lot of pubs over there. We would put Bing Crosby’s White Christmas on the jukebox in an effort to encourage the snow, to hurry up and arrive. The result, it was the warmest winter in post-war history in Britain. This was 1988, if you’re interested.
Now, I raise this because I figure if I keep playing this song every year, my wish may one day come true, because I don’t care what anybody says, I want a self-driving car. And I hope that I’m around to be the first blind person in New Zealand to own one. So if we keep playing this song every year, maybe it’ll come true. If not with Google, then with Apple. And I understand they’re getting pretty close to a self-driving car. So if you want to, you can vote for this one too. Okay. Google, take me to the pub.
Speaker 1: The pub is 13 minutes from your location by car and light traffic.
Jonathan Mosen: (singing)
To South Africa we go, where Brandt Steenkamp is riding in. He says, “Hi Jonathan. In my sphere of influence my opinion on blind, the specific technology is rather well known. They fall into two categories. One, the easy to justify and two, the unjustifiable. One, the technology I would consider easy to justify would be things such as talking bathroom and kitchen scales, color detectors, Braille with an uppercase B, measuring equipment and mobility aids. I personally have a mainstream Bluetooth bathroom scale, but I do understand why you would want a talking one. Taking an extra piece of hardware into your bathroom is not something I would consider convenient. I also happen to own a very accurate, very sensitive Bluetooth kitchen scale. I once again do understand why you would not want one of those.”
Just pausing to say, Brandt I use a Withings Smart Body Analyzer, and I just walk into the bathroom in the morning and weigh myself. And then when I open the app, it’s all there because it’s not even Bluetooth. I think it does have a Bluetooth option, but it’s wifi. So it just uploads the data to the cloud. It syncs with the Apple Health app, so I have a record to show medical professionals and it’s rocking. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to a scale that was not smart.
Brandt continues. Number two, “On the other end of the spectrum, you have unjustifiable blindness-specific technologies. Most of the electronics specific to the blindness market in my opinion cannot be justified. Let me use an expensive example. Please take note, I personally do not have anything against HumanWare. Unfortunately their prices will first in my Google search. The price for the BrailleNote Touch Plus 32 and note taker on the HumanWare website is $5,795. I am using U.S. pricing for the South African Rand is useless.
Anyhow, for that amount of money, you can upgrade your iPhone at least four times. And as you probably know, your iPhone is actually a fantastic note taker. If you do require Braille, you can easily get a Braille display for less than $1,000. I am of course, talking about the Orbit Reader range, but there are others. I personally own a HumanWare Braille one, sold in the United States by APH as the Chameleon 20 for $1,595. This still leaves a heck of a lot of money that you can spend on other things. This is the simple reason why I don’t feel you can justify purchase a Braille note taker. The blindness specific book readers in my opinion are also obsolete. As you said last time, Jonathan, spend that money on upgrading your iPhone storage and you will never again worry about where to put your books. I am not going to rehash what you said last time, but all of your points stand. I would like to thank you for being a gracious host and providing well thought out content.”
Thank you very much, Brandt, it’s good to hear from you again. I don’t know whether I would use terms like unjustified and justifiable, except perhaps in a personal context, which is probably what you’re doing. I don’t think it is my place anyway to judge what people choose to spend their money on. If it helps them and they have the money to spend, then of course it’s a free market. And if people stopped buying these products, they would go away. And the fact that they don’t go away indicates that there is a genuine need, and I respect that need. I think the one thing I would say though, is that it’s important for us all to make informed purchases, isn’t it?
Sometimes people might buy very expensive devices when actually if they had a little more information and perhaps a little more training, they may be able to do the same thing, at least as well, or even better potentially with cheaper mainstream devices. But if people have got access to all that information and they make an informed consuming decision, then I say, good for them. But I hope that one of the things we can achieve on this podcast is that we can have a rational discussion about these options. And some people will say, “Yeah, I know my phone can do this, but for whatever valid reason, I am willing to spend the extra money because this is what it gives me.”
But what I think is sad is when purchases are made, because that’s what we’ve always done, without investigating all the other are options that might exist. So this is one of the reasons why I enjoy doing this show, because information is power. And maybe if somebody gives something like Ulysses on their iPhone a go in conjunction with a Braille display or they use Voice Dream Reader or various apps that are out there for book consumption, they may actually save a bit of money, become more productive in the process, and that’s a great outcome. On the other hand, some people just get on better with those devices, for reasons that are valid for them. And it’s certainly not my place anyway, to judge them for that. Whatever allows people to be productive and access information, I think we should celebrate that. It’s making an informed decision that I think is critical.
Aaron Linson says, “Following up on Debbie’s question about employment and financial aspects of life, I heard Debbie’s list of things she has to pay. What I don’t understand is why the cars? Well, because she’s got a cited husband Aaron, and couples pay for things together.” He continues. “However, to answer her question right now, I for one live alone at the moment. I hold a full-time job and have no credit card payments at all. For assistive technology, just like anything else, you have to budget for it. I first need to get a new desk as mine is falling apart. I’m looking at standing desk options. I want to explore this avenue and have used standing desks before. I like how they make me feel, especially being a musician in my spare time. I can just pick up an instrument and not have to worry about sitting down and getting situated first. In my opinion, I would get rid of the credit cards, just a thought. As credit cards are not very useful.
There is nothing like responsible credit card use. I won’t go into the trouble I’ve had with credit card in the past, but I will never have another credit card again. You have to prioritize your spending and get rid of other things that you could live within. Live on less than you make, so you can live like no one else later. As for the stream Trek issue that was discussed, Jonathan, I couldn’t agree more with you on this fact. My iPhone is everything to me. My book reader, podcast player, email machine, work email communicator, and work email aggregator. I agree that the VR stream and other products are suitable for those who don’t or can’t use touchscreens. However, if you are a competent iOS user or even Android user, why do we stick to the outdated, overpriced, last year or last processor, minimum RAM, two-year-old OS systems these companies say we need? I couldn’t imagine going back to college with a BrailleNote today as my only computing tool.”
Thanks for your email, Aaron, you do have to be careful with credit cards, for sure, and I think some people are better off without them. I use my credit card for pretty much everything, but I pay it off every month, and because I use it that way, I’m actually better off using the credit card. My primary credit card is an American Express and the points are very generous with that thing. When we do our supermarket shopping, we pay with the AmEx and we get triple points for supermarket shopping, and they really can add up, to the point that a lot of the time I can either just redeem the points for cash back or sometimes I just cash it all in and get iTunes gift cards, which I can either give as presents or top up into my own App Store account, and that saves me money. So it is a discipline and not everybody has that discipline. I suppose that’s all about learning how we in particular are wired.
Mike Feir: Hey Jonathan, it’s Mike Feir. And I just thought I’d contribute on this whole subject of one device being a smartphone, versus the multitude of blindness devices. I am firmly now in the camp of the one device, particularly the one mainstream device. It’s so much better. I have so much more access to books because of that for a bare minimum, especially now that I have 512 gigabytes of storage on my phone. I do subscribe to the Apple iCloud service as part of my Apple One subscription that includes a lot of the services. I think all of them actually. Even on the phone, you have tons of storage, even if the internet snapped off for some reason, and we couldn’t get anything online, my device would still be immensely useful, just because of all I have on it and the apps that can tap into the on-device intelligence and do things.
Bring a power bank if you’re worried about running out of power, that’s so much more efficient than something like a Victor Stream, plus all the other thing your iPhone can do for you. My iPhone is my entertainment center. It’s my arcade of games. Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind, by the way is still my favorite. Six Ages is a wonderful game and the sequel and next chapter of it is still in development. Haven’t really done much with Dice World in a while, but might get into that again at some point.
Looking forward to the countdown, that’s always fun. I’m contemplating my vote. I will get that in soon and very much look forward as always to participating in that as a guest. I just finished the Expanse series. If you’re looking for a really good science fiction read, that is an amazing series of books. James SA Corey is the pen name for two authors that are basically written this immense series of sci-fi. It’s nine books, plus a number of short novella stories and wonderful, wonderful world building and detail and interesting lives to follow. Kind of grim, but lots and lots of fun.
Jonathan Mosen: Thanks for the book recommendation, Mike, and also for your views on this hot topic of mainstream versus specialist devices. I will add a book recommendation and I will check out that series eventually, I’m sure. I have been getting through a series that is now up to book 18. Book 18 has just come out this week. The first book in the series is called The Event and that’s the name of this series, The Event by Nathan Hystad, it’s spelled H-Y-S-T-A-D-T. It’s all about what happens when earth is invaded and a few people survive and essentially make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, and it’s quite a saga. I think he was looking to wrap the series up a couple of books ago, but it’s continuing to expand and now is at 18 books, and I’ve read that on Amazon Kindle. I think they might be available on Audible as well, for people or who prefer to do that. But whenever I have the choice, I will choose an ebook over an audio book any day. So that is The Event series by Nathan Hystad, and if you’re a fan of sci-fi, you’ll probably enjoy that.
Let us go to Hungary now and hear from Peter who says, “Thinking about dedicated blindness devices, I’ve come to the following basic truth. When we use our phone in its original function, a physical keyboard is unbeatable for dialing, interacting with call centers, typing in all sorts of codes. Real buttons are the best way. For all other functions, a smartphone with a touch screen is okay. So I kept my ancient Symbian Nokia N96 for calling people on the phone and receiving calls. My new Nokia G20 is for all other things. I use it without a SIM card in it. I bet you don’t agree because this way I have two devices to look after instead of one, but still… Let me wish for of the Mosen family a very happy Christmas.”
Thank you very much, and he has sent a Christmas song along as well, so I appreciate that, Peter. I don’t mind dialing in codes on the touch screen because you get an idea roughly of where the keypad is. But what I do mind is that sometimes various smartphones act up when you’ve got headphones connected or you’ve got made-for-iPhone hearing aids paired, and as a result, sometimes it can be hard to hear what you’re putting your finger over when you’re trying to dial and there’s a phone call on. I’m having a particular issue with this, with the iPhone at the moment, with a 15.2 beta that’s out. So I understand the point you’re making, but I don’t know whether it frustrates me to the extent that I would want to carry a second device.
Peter: Hi, Jonathan. It’s Peter from Robin Hood County. Hoping you and your family are well. As this is the penultimate show of the year, let me wish you and your family a happy Christmas and a better new year than last year. Let’s hope so. The world is in a bit of turmoil at the moment, isn’t it? Onto blindness and gadgets. I use the appropriate gadget for the appropriate task. If I want to read the book, I put the memory stick into my Sonic, plug the Sonic into the wall and turn it on, unless I’m upstairs and I use my Solo MP3 player with a pair of headphones. I don’t mind using my iPhone for fancy things, but I use what is appropriate for the task.
Now that I’ve reached the grand old age of 70, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately and I keep returning to the lyrics of a song by Billy Bragg called Between the Wars. It might be best if you read it for yourself and see what you think. Those lyrics tell me just how I feel at the moment. And the song that’s been keeping me going this year is the Girl on the Train by Pete Atkin. I like Clive James’ songwriting and poetry, and I also liked Pete Atkin, and you will know him as a producer of various programs on Radio 4. Anyway, Merry Christmas and happy new year, guys, and I hope that next year will return to some kind of what we used to call normal.
Jonathan Mosen: Thank you, Peter, and Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. I had no idea that Pete Atkin was a singer as well, so we’ll have to check those tracks out, so thank you. I’m still curious, you’ve left me guessing though. What is it that’s inappropriate about using your iPhone for the task of reading? Because you mentioned that you use the device appropriate for the task. If you put a memory stick in a device and it’s somewhere in a specific location and you don’t move that device, wouldn’t it be easier to just have it on your phone and just take it with you wherever you are, so you can have your book wherever you need to have your book? So not at all an attempt to be judgemental or critical, because you’ve got what works for you, and that’s the most important thing. I’m just genuinely curious about people’s different use cases for these sorts of things.
Alison Fallon: Hi Jonathan, this is Alison Fallon from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I think mainstream products are fine for blind people who are comfortably using them, but I also think that specialized products have their place for those who aren’t comfortable. I have a BlindShell 2 phone and I really like it, but I could never use an iPhone effectively. So I think it’s a matter of comfort for the person involved and the circumstances involved. Sounds like you got your Christmas presents early between the WeWALK and the ThinkPad, so I hope you and Bonnie have a nice Christmas, and I enjoy the program.
Jonathan Mosen: Merry Christmas to you, Alison, and thank you so much. I’m very curious about this BlindShell 2 and would like to be able to review one or have somebody record a review. So if anyone wants to do a review of it, then please do feel free.
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Jonathan Mosen: Rebecca Skipper is writing in about Aira’s announcement this week of Aira Priority Connect. Now, that’s of very spinny way of Aira saying, “Look, we’re getting overwhelmed. We’ve got these free promotions, including everybody being able to access Aira for five minutes every day at no charge, whether they have a plan or not.” And there are various other promotions available that you can access for free that Aira pays for. Now, what Aira has said this week is that as demand is increasing, they are going to prioritize paying customers at peak times. So if you are trying to use one of those free offers and the Aira technology shows that there is a high level of demand for agents at the moment, you may be told agents are doing paid work at the moment, so try and access this free offer later.
This prioritization is extended to any paying customer. For example, if you are on a minute plan, such as Rebecca is, you are prioritized. If you are going into an Aira Access location, where use of Aira is free for the user, but it’s being paid for by a business, you are also prioritized. If your company pays for Aira for you on the job, you are prioritized. So anything that earns revenue for Aira is prioritized, regardless of who’s paying for those minutes, as long as it is not Aira who is effectively paying for those minutes or giving them away.
Rebecca says, “I understand that you used to work for Aira and I hope I am not putting you in a difficult position.” Not at all, Rebecca. Happy to say what I think. It’s not called Mosen at Large for nothing, you know. Rebecca says, “I understand that Aira needs to make a profit and pay its expenses, but I feel that they are sending mixed messages. First, everyone was offered free unlimited five-minute calling, but eventually this was limited to a specified amount per day. Now we are told that when demand is high, paying customers are prioritized. I pay for the entry-level plan because it is the most affordable option. I am very concerned about this policy because there may be times when a person needs help urgently i.e., completing a job application that is inaccessible or getting medication directions and instances where OCR apps fail.
Maybe Aira should just get rid of the five-minute free plan. This may sound absurd, but maybe Aira should encourage customers to use Be My Eyes for information that is not of a sensitive nature. Partner with Medicare advantage plans and state Medicaid officers and state VR or blindness agencies who could then give vouchers to consumers. If possible, recruit some Be My Eyes agents. I use Aira, but I think this would be a great time to promote Be My Eyes as an alternative for some individuals. It would be interesting to find out what drives demand for Aira’s services. Are some blind consumers using Aira to replace other tools? Maybe we need a business specifically dedicated to helping blind job seekers complete applications, if that is causing extra demand. Recruit social work students for this task. If people are not returning to work, tap into this resource to provide more remote opportunities. Retired nurses could help with questions about medication levels or inaccessible COVID-19 information. The possibilities are endless.”
Thanks Rebecca. Well, I for one applauded Aira’s decision this week. Like many startups, they’ve been experimenting with various business models. There was an unlimited plan at one point. Obviously, they had the glasses to begin with and now they don’t anymore. There was a CEO for a while, a brief period, who came from that Silicon Valley culture, where I think what they were trying to do was demonstrate a significant user base so that they could sell Aira Access. This is all after my time, so I’m not divulging anything here. I just watched it from a distance.
So I think the idea was, if you can say you’ve got a database of users that is this big, then you can go to Aira Access partners, as well as rehab agencies and other entities that might provide funding in various forms and say, “Look at this massive user base we’ve got,” and I imagine that that was the reason for the unlimited five-minutes thing for a while. The thing is, these agents are trained and they’re paid and that costs money to keep the lights on, as you rightly say at the beginning of your message. So if the service is being overwhelmed by people who are not generating the company any revenue, you get a situation where those agents are on the clock, being paid by Aira, but no one is paying Aira to provide the service because they’re being overwhelmed by free users. It’s not sustainable.
I remember thinking at the time that it was highly risky to move to this five-minute free calling model. Now, that said, Aira is a wonderful service. I use it myself, I pay for it myself, and I use it predominantly these days for accessibility-related computer things, or sometimes if I just want to do something really quickly. Maybe I’m walking around somewhere and want somebody to do a bit of online shopping for me, and I have a high level of trust in Aira and I’m happy to do that. The way that they work with TeamViewer is absolutely fantastic, so I’m using it a lot for those sorts of tasks.
I would love to see in every blind person who wants Aira to have Aira, but I also want Aira to keep going because I feel that my life would be poorer if Aira wasn’t around. So to me, the answer is not to give Aira away. The answer is, as you actually point out Rebecca, in your email, that Aira is one of those services that can be extremely handy in a variety of contexts. The example you give of medication is a really good one. Another example that I had recently was, it was an absolutely torrentially raining day, I was dropped off for an appointment by an Uber driver who was not willing to get out of the car. Fair enough, I suppose. There was no one the street, and I had never been to this building before and I was having difficulty locating the door. That’s something that GPS apps are obviously not particularly good at. That’s where an Aira agent can be very helpful, just getting you through that last 50 meters of your journey. So I want as many blind people as possible to benefit from that.
I know that Aira used to spend quite a bit of time working with the traditional voc rehab agencies in the United States, teaching them about Aira and making the point that there are some situations where Aira really can make a difference. The medication example is a good one. I think the job one is a bit more marginal, to be honest, because if you’re organized, you should have ample time, even if you have to call back in an hour or two to complete that job application.
So I think the key thing is we know that there are some blind people who could benefit immensely from Aira, but who can’t afford it. What do we do about that? And I don’t think the answer is to expect Aira to wear that cost. Aira is not a charity and they’re not a bottomless pit, and they’ve got agents to pay and other staff to pay. So if you need Aira and you can’t afford to pay for Aira, I think the answer is to work with Aira, if necessary, on continuing to educate the agencies who could potentially fund it for blind people who fall into that category.
It’s not fair or reasonable to expect Aira to just give that much away. If they’ve got spare capacity, then sure, the agents are there. Why not use it rather than have them twiddling their thumbs? But if there are paying customers who are disadvantaged by that, that’s not sustainable because what will happen is they’ll stop paying in frustration and Aira will have less income.
I think it was a mistake to introduce that five-minute thing, and now they’ve probably got a bit of a poison chalice to deal with, but I think they’ve made a good decision this week, and Lena agrees with me. She says, “I think it is long overdue. When I pay for a service, I expect to be able to use it. Short waits are unavoidable, but long waits or no availability is not acceptable. When Aira first offered free minutes as partnership minutes, I had concerns about how that change would affect availability, sustainability, and how it might change some agent’s attitudes toward explorers.”
And then she said, “Might you let your listeners know that the young readers’ edition of Being Heumann is available in many accessible formats.” This is the book by Judy Heumann, of course. “The young readers’ editions,” says Lena, “is titled Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution. It is written by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner. The audio version available from audible.com and the National Library Service in the United States is delightfully narrated by Ali Stroker, who has fought plenty of battles because she too uses a wheelchair. The young teens I am reading it with say this is a lively and engaging read. We are having spirited discussions.
Let me share the book jacket synopsis. ‘One of the most influential disability rights activists in us history tells her story of fighting to belong. If I didn’t fight who would? Judy Heumann was only five years old when she was first denied her right to attend school. Paralyzed by polio and raised by her Holocaust-surviving parents in New York City, Judy had a drive for equality that was installed early in life.
In this young readers’ edition of her acclaimed memoir, Being Heumann, Judy shares her journey of battling for equal access in an unequal world, from fighting to attend grade school, after being described as a fire hazard because of her wheelchair, to suing the New York school system for denying her a teacher’s license because of her disability. Judy went on to lead 150 disabled people in the longest sit-in protest in us history at the San Francisco Federal Building. Cut off from the outside world, the group slept on office floors, faced down bomb threats and risked their lives to win the world’s attention and the civil rights legislation for disabled people. Judy’s bravery, persistence and signature rebellious streak will speak to every person fighting to belong and fighting for social justice.'”
Thank you, Lena. Sounds like an excellent read for young people of all kinds, but particularly young disabled people. I hope it inspires them to keep the fight alive.
Speaker 3: Mosen At Large podcast.
Jonathan Mosen: In Auckland, New Zealand, Carolyn Peat has been contributing. She’s got a couple of things actually, so we will do her first one this week and then come back to her second contribution next week in the final edition for the year. Take it away, Carolyn.
Carolyn Peat: And hello. My issue relates to Amazon and the inaccessibility of the app that controls our Soup Drinkers. I recently wanted to add a third Soup Drinker to a group of two that I had. I was able to add it as a new device on the app, but of course, I had this existing group. And I know that you are able to edit your group, delete your group on the app, and change the name of your group, if you so wish to do so. All of this is done through the devices tab on that app that controls your Soup Drinker.
Well, my problem is that they’ve done a recent update and I went into the app, I double tapped on the devices tab and lo and behold, I got this page and I couldn’t move past it. It clearly had graphics on it and pictures, and it was called Favorites Information. Now, they’ve clearly done a thing where you can add your favorite devices or whatever, to a situation, but in doing so, they’ve made it impossible for you to get past that process to actually get to your device or get to your groups. So they’ve made it really hard to do the editing, deleting or even modification of a group.
I could potentially add a new group, but the problem is if you already have devices in one group, you cannot, and they will not allow you to add it to a second group. So it kind of gazumps what I want to do. I’ve tried to contact Amazon to let them know about this problem, this inaccessibility, and I’m not having much luck at getting any response, or if I do, they’re clearly not understanding what I’m saying.
So I’m just wondering if anybody has any tips on how to get hold of Amazon these days. They’ve made the processes for contact them a lot more difficult than they used to be. Used to be pretty straightforward, used to be able to do it even through the app, and I can’t even find a way through the app now to do it, which is very, very sad. So if anybody can give any advice or assistance, or even just fire a message Amazon’s way and say, “Look, guys, fix this,” because all it needs to be is a fix. Even if it’s a button that we can get past that, and we can get to the details that we need to get to in that part of the app, it would be fantastic. But at the moment, it completely blocks. It’s like someone’s drawn down a curtain and it’s locked and we don’t have the key to get in.
Jonathan Mosen: Oh man, I’m going to knock on your door. Ring on your… Ring on your Ring Video Doorbell, of course. Thank you, Carolyn. I’m sure that is frustrating. A couple of suggestions for you. I haven’t had a chance to check this particular issue out, but in some instances, you can go to A-L-E-X-A .amazon.com and you can configure some aspects of your Soup Drinker from there. So it’s possible you may be able to add a device to your group from there, but I don’t know that for certain.
The other thing is that Amazon does have an accessibility department. I haven’t had cause to contact them, so I don’t know how good it is. If you Google on Amazon Accessibility, for me it is the first result that comes up. From the Amazon Accessibility page, you can actually make a call from there to their accessibility team, and I believe talk to somebody, and this is clearly an issue that falls under their remit, so there’s no problem there.
If you have access to calling US toll-free numbers and all you really need for that is a free Skype account of course, because you can call us toll-free numbers free on Skype, you could give them a call, and the number to do that is 888-283-1678. That’s in the United States. So that number again, 888-283-1678. And it looks like email works as well, and the address appears to be firstname.lastname@example.org. If anyone has any hints on dismissing that little message and moving on to the good stuff, perhaps they can share that with us.
Recently, we had an inquiry about LG TVs and their accessibility, and Tim Appleby is writing in from Canada about this. He says, “Hi Jonathan, I have a 60-inch LG 4k Ultra HDTV.” Dude. “It has audio guidance on it. Unfortunately, the only voice that’s available for the screen reader is Smokey Samantha. For the most part, the TV has a lot of accessible apps, but if you download apps like Spotify, they aren’t accessible. However, Amazon Soup Drinker is on it, but it is not available. That’s what the TV told me in a dialogue that popped up. The only button that’s available is an okay button. I have no real gripes about the unit.”
Charlie: Hello Jonathan, hope that you are good. This is Charlie in South Africa, and today I’m answering Rebecca’s question where she was asking how to make a shortcut in Windows 11. Now, this method does not matter which shortcut that you want to create, you can create shortcuts using this method and it’s quick and easy. Now, what shortcut are we talking about as an example here? I love my library shortcut in order for it to be in my desktop so that I can easily find it, but unfortunately it is not. So in order for me to get my libraries, I have to go into File Explorer by pressing Windows E.
Windows: File Explorer. Items view list. Folder.
Charlie: And then after that, you press backspace in order to go to the desktop preview.
Windows: Items view list. Dropbox not selected, not tracked row one, column 11 of 66.
Charlie: Press L in order to go to your libraries.
Windows: Libraries tracked row two, column 25 of 66.
Charlie: Press the applications key in order to bring up the context menu.
Windows: Text menu.
Charlie: From here, I’m just going to cycle through all the options so that you can hear what options are here. But the option that we actually want is create shortcut, which you can press the S key in order to make that happen.
Windows: Open, O. Open, O. Open a new window. Pin to quick access. Restore default libraries, R. Pin to start, P. Copy, C. Create shortcut, S.
Charlie: Here we go. Create shortcut, S. Now, once the shortcut is created, it won’t actually give you feedback and tell you, “Shortcut created successfully,” it will just launch you back into desktop preview after this.
Windows: Desktop. Items view list. Libraries tracked row two, column 25 of 67.
Charlie: All right. Now we can close this window by actually quitting this window by alt F4 in order to go back onto our desktop.
Windows: Desktop list. Demo checkbox not selected, not tracked, one of 64.
Charlie: And here you can just press L in order to find your libraries.
Windows: Libraries dash shortcut checkbox, checked 64 of 64.
Charlie: I don’t want that dash shortcut. I don’t want to know if it is a shortcut or not. For me, if it just says, “Libraries,” it is perfectly fine. So I will press F2 in order to rename this.
Windows: Edit selected libraries dash shortcut.
Charlie: And I will go to the end by pressing the end key.
Windows: Libraries dash shortcut unselected.
Charlie: And from this, when I’m done doing that, I will then press shift, control, plus left arrow twice in order to select the dash and the shortcut.
Windows: Shortcut selected. Dash selected.
Charlie: After doing this, what I will do, I will then press delete in order to clear this from the name.
Windows: Blank. Selection removed.
Charlie: After this, I can just then press enter or escape to just go out of this.
Windows: Libraries checked box, checked 64 of 64.
Charlie: And by that we’re done creating the shortcut. Now you have successfully created a shortcut on your desktop and you can go on as always finding your things easier. Hope this was helpful and hope you have learned something new. Have a beautiful day. Cheers. Goodbye.
Jonathan Mosen: Here’s Dan Tebeld writing in and he says, “Hi, Jonathan. I hesitate to raise this issue again because it may sound like I am a broken record. Last week, I had an experience with Freedom Scientific which really concerns me. I got an update notification from JAWS and installed the latest version of JAWS 2022, and the installation failed. There was a cryptic message from the installer program, informing me that there was a missing Windows 64 bit component, but not providing any instructions on how to resolve the problem. I rebooted my computer and repeated the installation, which resulted in the same error message. I called Freedom Scientific and got a technician who helped me resolve the issue by performing a tandem session, and asking me to download and install the latest version of JAWS directly from the Freedom Scientific website. During the entire call, when I either misunderstood an instruction or an instruction failed, the technician acted very annoyed and his tone of voice sounded like he didn’t want to be bothered, and that I was wasting his time.
“When I successfully installed the update, the technician informed me he was going to report the issue. It would’ve made all the difference if the technician had apologized for my inconvenience. Didn’t he realize he was taking up my time and that my time is also valuable? I’m not expecting installations to work perfectly, but if he had just apologized, this would’ve made all the difference. We pay a lot of money for assistive technology, and I don’t think it is too much to ask for courtesy from technical support teams. I don’t usually get this type of treatment from Apple or Microsoft. Almost every time I have called Apple or Microsoft, the support people have been willing to walk through the issues with me until they are resolved.
If I ask Freedom Scientific to work with me on an issue, they often say to just listen to their webinars, what kind of treatment is that? I recently called Freedom Scientific about a Google Screen Reader support issue and the technician just told me to listen to their webinar on Chrome. When I asked the same question on a mailing list, someone responded with instructions on how to check if Screen Reader and Braille support were enabled and working and it took me about 30 seconds to resolve the issue. I don’t usually call tech support unless everything I have tried hasn’t worked.”
Thanks for the feedback, Dan. I would definitely encourage you to pass that feedback along to Freedom Scientific. I know sometimes they will do customer surveys at random to ascertain how their tech support is being received by customers. I don’t know if this is the case, but it could be that the call was recorded and they can review it for training purposes and up-skill the person concerned if they deem that desirable.
The other thing I would say is that install issue is a known one. What happened was Microsoft came out with a patch some weeks ago during Patch Tuesday and without warning, it caused a compatibility issue with JAWS updates. It was not an issue of Freedom Scientific’s making, and obviously it would’ve caused them considerable tech support backlog. That’s not in any way justifying the experience you say you had, but it was an issue that was quite complex as I understand it, to resolve. It did result in Freedom Scientific and Microsoft working together on that one. But you’re right, you are a valued customer of any company that calls you, and you should walk away from a process feeling treated as such.
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Jonathan Mosen: The impact of blindness or low vision is such a variable thing. I think there is a significant difference in the experience between people like me, who were born blind, and people who acquire a vision impairment later in life, be that low vision or total blindness. A book that explores all of this is called, I Can See Clearly, is by Cameron Algie and he’s with me from Melbourne. Cameron, it’s great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
Cameron Algie: Well, thank you very much, Jonathan, for having me.
Jonathan Mosen: You’ve been on a journey yourself, haven’t you, that seems to have inspired this book? Can you give me a little bit of a background about your own low vision journey?
Cameron Algie: Indeed. Well, it’s for over 50 years, I’ve had a degenerative genetic disease known in short as RP, but retinitis pigmentosa, so that’s been slowly declining, diminishing over many, many years to the point of near … I’ve still got some vision, but it’s not much usable sight now. That’s the personal experience with all its vicissitudes and work experiences and all those things going on over that period, because I was working all during this time.
Then the other thing that’s directly led to the book is that for the last 14 years, the last 14 years of working, I was with Vision Australia running what they call Quality Living Groups, which are peer support groups in effect for people who experience vision loss. Often they’ve had it for a while and not coping, or they’ve just got it for the first time, and again, not coping, where the great power of peer groups is brought to bear and they get together and share their experiences and that’s life changing. The effect of those groups is life changing.
So many people are apprehensive, in fear, all those aspects of trauma, that results from the feeling of loss of a life, loss of their vision, loss of jobs, all those things come together, sometimes quite catastrophically and they come together and talk this through in a group setting, very self-supporting and very effective.
Jonathan Mosen: I obviously can’t relate to what you’ve been through as a totally blind person, but as somebody with a degenerative hearing impairment, I think I do get this. Often, it’s the insidious of the erosion over time, isn’t it?
Cameron Algie: Exactly, Jonathan, it’s a trap in a way. There’s a number of eyesight conditions which brings about, losing sight slowly, it allows for a lot of denial and avoidance characteristics. People are able to duck and weave and dodge and deny, and they don’t want to admit to be blind. They develop a lot of coping techniques and there’s nothing with that in principle, but it can lead to the point where they’re not facing up to the reality and need to change. I’ve seen people struggling to read.
I got a computer screen, there was about two letters on the screen and I was working through it slowly. In all honesty, that’s pathetic, but they need direction to say, “Look, you can do better than this.” That’s where, if you catch people at the early stages of vision loss, you can do wonderful things to get them redirected but when that languishes and people are left sitting wondering in denial and avoidance, then you’ll find they don’t want to change. They’re accepting, bit fatalistic, accepting the lot, lot in life and saying, “Well, that’s what I expect. I’m getting old. I’m going blind, yada, yada, yada.” All those things are really unnecessary. And I know in the groups, we had people in their 90s, 90 years of age, coming to the groups in that bit self-defeating or defeatist attitude and you can turn them around and you introduce them to technology and suddenly they’re up and away and communicating again, using your smart phones, using computers, et cetera, et cetera, using emails, wonderful thing to see.
So at any age, you can turn it around. There’s no bad here in a sense of capacity, unless there’s actual cognitive issues, which is another pattern altogether. So yes, the slow vision loss can build in a lot of barriers, which can be thrown away or discarded by knowledge.
Jonathan Mosen: One of the things that you cover in your book, which is a real hot button topic for me is that I think one of the reasons why people have the problems that you describe is the constant bombardment of negative imagery around blindness, that there is this perception blindness is associated with ignorance. People use blindness as a synonym for ignorance, or unawareness, or stupidity. So right throughout life people associate blindness within incompetence, so they will continue to try to do things the normal way, so-called.
I’ve seen this too, as a technology trainer in my past where you see somebody who is struggling to read and an email, it may take them five to 10 minutes to read a fairly simple email, which they could have read with text to speech in 30 seconds.
Cameron Algie: Exactly, exactly. That’s the thing I found certainly in my own life, I was in that pattern for a while myself, in denial, but with people coming into the groups, exactly what happened. There’s a lot of negativity as you say, it’s the stigma of blindness. The words about blindness, blind as a bat, blind dumb, all those sort of things are associated. But see, that’s been there since ever and a day, it’s built in to our mythology. The ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans and Egyptians also blindness as either a punishment, a curse, if you like for some sin or some wrong, or it gave people who were blind, had a set of supernatural powers, that’s bled into the mythology of blindness over time, into literature, into films and so on. There’s a general perception that blind people either have no opportunity and it’s helpless and hopeless, or they’ve got some supernatural capacity.
You see this mentioned quite often, people say to you, they might have said to you, “Oh, you are wonderful. I don’t know how you do.” Well, the simple fact is it’s just doing it differently. That’s the message that has to come out of this. We could do anything. There’s some wonderful people that I quote in my book, whose lives have been full, absolutely full, because they’re doing things differently. Just the example you give people, people struggling over to read an email when text to speech will do it for them in a simple 30 second space of time.
Jonathan Mosen: What’s the answer to this problem then? Because what I’ve been saying on this podcast is the answer is actually to take back the word blind from those who have hijacked it over the years is, over the millennia almost, and be proud of the word blind and be proud of being blind. There are some though, who say that the answer is actually to just find a different word, where do you stand on that?
Cameron Algie: I think that’s difficult because it’s built into our culture, our language, and it’s got many, many uses. We refer to justice as being blind because it hands out justice without fear or favor. I think it’s too hard to change that but the resistance you’ve got or the perception people have about blindness, it’s an educational issue. That’s the second reason for the book really, it’s not just written for people trying to cope or come to terms with vision loss. It’s really for the families, because that was often the issue that came into the group that people would say, “Oh look, I find it difficult to explain vision loss, but also nobody understands me.” This is referring to their families or so on. I think there’s need for people to come to terms, it’s not the word blind. It’s the stigma associated with blindness that we need to address. Like any stigma, ignorance is the barrier. We have to overcome ignorance in a community sense. That’s by education, in the long term.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah. There’s that wonderful old Fawlty Towers sketch about don’t mention the war, don’t know if you remember-
Cameron Algie: Yeah.
Jonathan Mosen: And it’s almost like there are blindness agencies now that almost say, “Don’t mention the B word.” People are talking about people with sight loss and God knows what. I mean, you worked for an organization for blind and no vision people called Vision Australia for God’s sake, which to me is just deeply offensive. Why avoid the name blind or low vision and-
Cameron Algie: Well, I think that’s part of it, Jonathan, isn’t it? This is this avoidance. It’s an interesting part and we’re talking about many sub-components, like all these things, there’s no absolute one word answer here, but I feel a lot of people who’ve got total vision or full vision are afraid of blindness. It’s a fear, deep seated fear. In fact, American surveys have confirmed it is one of the greatest fears of mankind, but also they don’t know how to speak to people with a blindness, disability generally. I think that’s also part of it. I saw it at work and it actually used to make me a little bit mad as a snake, to use a colloquialism there. They’d say, they’d be saying about person who’s struggling with vision, ‘Oh no, they’re depressed.’ Now I get quite angry at that piece. My experience with most people, if you got got them early enough, they weren’t depressed. They’re what medically called, in adjustment disorder. In other words, they’ve been hit by this rapid, massive change to their life. They’ve stopped driving, they can’t read, they’re life’s falling in down around them, perhaps their wife, or the partner’s a better word, has left, or the family’s not coping. There’s a myriad of other responses to vision loss that take place. They think they’ll get sacked from their work, et cetera, et cetera, vary very complex issues.
Or even in the children or teenagers in the classroom, they don’t want to use technology because they don’t want to look different. So you see, the response of others is often treating it as that’s that’s at the end of … you lose your sight, that’s the end. That’s the finish. Well, you would know from your career and in my experience, that’s an absolute nonsense, but people need to understand that.
Look, why is unemployment amongst the vision impaired community very, very high? It’s the levels of about 25% of full employment for people with vision impairment, that’s pathetic when the general community’s up about 80% or 90% of employment. Stigma, barriers are put in everybody’s way. I think that family and community response to blindness is around the fear, trauma response of trying to put it … Well, I’ll start from a slightly different tack I suppose, that when people experience a very difficult problem, a lot of our response is to try and not resolve it. Same with something dramatic like vision loss, the first response is, “Where do I go? Who do I go to?” Doctors usually, and I’m sorry to say are not that helpful by referring people onto rehabilitation. So they’re left to cope or fend for themselves and I don’t think that’s very helpful either.
Jonathan Mosen: No, there seems to be a global problem, actually, that there’s this disconnect between eyecare professionals and the rehabilitation system or the blindness system. Often people who get to the point where an eyecare professional just doesn’t have anything else to offer, the eyecare professional seems to feel a sense of failure, I think, is the want of a better term. They just simply say, “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do with you,” and send them on their merry way. And even sometimes set some incredibly low expectations for those people. “You shouldn’t expect to work again because you’ll be pretty much blind all your life.” No matter how hard blindness agencies that I see around the world try, they don’t see to be establishing these good connections between the eyecare professionals and them for the handover.
Cameron Algie: See, that was a great battle of Kenneth Jernigan, I think it’s pronounced with the soft G, the former president of the National Federation of the Blind in America, the USA, he fought and fought and fought to have the service providers listen to the words and the requests of vision impaired people, because there’s a tendency of sighted people to think they have the answers and tell people what they should be doing. I think that’s built into the response factor as well, that they’re like, “I know the … ” just saying with doctors when they come to the end and they can’t provide any more clinical support than say, even with rehabilitation people, very much that they know the answers and they’re trained to do OTs and O and Ms, trained to do it and they don’t listen. My personal view is I think these blindness agencies should be run with the principals being vision impaired. That’s true and these agencies, they’re all run by managers. In Vision Australia, there’s only one senior manager who’s totally blind.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Yes. We have a crisis in a number of blindness agencies around the world, similarly.
Cameron Algie: Really, really.
Jonathan Mosen: And for some reason it’s going the other way. So I can remember in the ’80s and ’90s, there were several senior leaders in these agencies and now senior leaders in these agencies are actually getting more scarce it seems.
Cameron Algie: Yes. It’s hard to know causes, I think the corporatization of these agencies is one of the factors. They all fall into that corporate sphere of mission statements and profound nonsense that comes out of corporatization. The people seem to be the managers for these and some of these agencies got big budgets. It’s not a little self-help group of the past. So, there’s a lot of responsibility associated with it, but there’s people who can deal with that. So, I do think that management is not listening to the blind community and therefore the corporatization means they follow principles for fundraising, image, community image and that they are not listening to the blind community in the way I would like them to do, but hear my little voice in the wilderness.
Jonathan Mosen: There’s a journey that people go on and that journey can be quite different when it comes to blindness or low vision. And so, for example, if you can have peer support from somebody who has been through that insidious process of losing one’s sight, it can be incredibly helpful just to know that there’s somebody else who’s been there and come out the other end okay.
Then of course, there’s the parent of a newly born blind child. This concerns me greatly as well, because I think what has happened is that you do have usually sighted professionals who try and turn the raising of a blind child into this incredibly complex psycho-science. When in fact, I think if I look back on my own childhood, the greatest blessing I had was that I was the youngest of five kids, the oldest of which was also blind. So by the time I came around as number five, I was just pretty much allowed to be a kid and get into scrapes and not be mollycoddled. That’s a real concern isn’t there, that somehow getting access to adult blind mentors and role models for those parents of newly blind kids who might not know what to expect, what reasonably can be expected of that child to become.
Cameron Algie: Absolutely. I give some examples in the book about that, a couple of families that I’ve mentioned there by name, because they’ve been happy for me to do that, had that similar experience to yourself where because there’s more than one child in the family with vision loss, they’re allowed to play as normal children. I think that takes exceptional parents though to do that, although the story was that one of the chaps in his autobiographies, Nick Leeson talks about how he is was allowed to go down the street with [inaudible 01:22:27] very, very badly vision impaired, they had detached strictness as a family and he is allowed to go over the shop to buy some lollies. He found out later that his mother had followed him down the street to make sure he didn’t get lost or didn’t get into trouble. That caring, concern, anxiety of a parent, doesn’t go away, but they seem to have this capacity to let people run free in that childhood experience.
They’re the people I know who are the most well adjusted now with the total blindness, they’re quite happy to use a cane, not using a dog. They’ve led full lives of work and life’s experience and marriage and children of their own. But it is hope because the other tendency is parents to be then overprotective. Of course, with vision loss generally, once that happens, that’s so disempowering. You’ve probably experienced that yourself where people take over for you, think you can’t do it. Well, that’s the message of my book, course you can do it.
Look the examples of Jane Poulson a doctor in America, who was went blind about the age of 20, 21 from diabetic retinopathy and went on practicing as a doctor. Eric Weihenmayer, the mountaineer, climbed Mount Everest and other mountains, seven major mountains of the world, lead extraordinary lives. But they do that though with the help of others. We must remember that, this perception that blind is you’ve got magical powers and you can walk through walls like Superman. People who are successful, do it with the help of others and know how to ask for help.
That is, I would think too, with parents, they’d be reluctant to ask for help because of the shame stigma. There’s a lot of stigma associated with that, “Oh my child’s disabled,” we’re talking about blindness before is a stigma. The more cruel word is actually disability. The term differently enabled is what we should be saying.
Jonathan Mosen: This is where you and I have a different point of view, but I think this comes from the different way in which Australia uses the term disabled. So, let me tell you about what we do in New Zealand and see what you think. In New Zealand, we have adopted what they call the social model of disability. What that means is that we seldom talk about people disabilities, we talk about disabled people. The reason why we do that is because we are saying actually, it’s the environment that disables us.
So when we talk about people with disabilities, we’re victim blaming. When we talk about disabled people, what we’re actually doing is saying, “Okay, society, you’ve got the problem, not the individual. You need to create an enabling society.” The way that I illustrate this is to say to people, imagine that we’re walking into my office at 2:00 AM and the street lights are out. There’s some sort of power outage, so it’s pitch black, who would be the disabled one at that point out of a blind person and a sighted person? It would be the sighted person who is disabled because the environment has disabled them. So, when we talk about disabled people in New Zealand, we are actually issuing a challenge to society, fix the disablement.
Cameron Algie: Well, yes, but as you say that, a lot depends upon the capacities of the individual to be able to operate within their own environment anyway. A lot of it about attitude, a lot about training, the point I was making before, if you can catch people early in their vision loss experience and you get them onto the things that will assist them. Now, we’re so lucky with the smart technology and computers and text reading software and so on. There’s many, many apps that also coming into to help us like that. Seeing AI, which is fabulous.
Jonathan Mosen: So with all of those things, it would be the lack of training or the lack of access to technology that will be the disabling factor of the social model.
Cameron Algie: Yes. Delivered, if you put it that way, to people so that they can overcome those disabilities as quickly as possible, and then find a place in work and in the community. Where that doesn’t take place, people are left, as it were, stranded and then have a defeatist attitude, “Life’s finished. I can’t do it.” In assessing people for the groups and for services at Vision Australia, I found sighted people, found it difficult to talk to vision impaired people. If you could get people to talk about their visual loss … and the minute they said, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” All these different items, the word can’t was like … I called it the gold because every time somebody said, “Oh, I can’t,” well, there’s a solution.
Jonathan Mosen: We’ve been having some really deep discussions over 2021 on this podcast about blindness philosophy. I really like it and for the most part, they’ve been conducted quite respectfully. One of the things that we’ve talked about is whether there is such a thing as a blindness culture, that there’s absolutely no doubt that deaf people perceive that they have a culture. But I wonder whether people, say like me, who have been totally blind since birth, you mention among other people, Graeme Innes in your book. So, those sorts of people who have lived their life as blind people, do you think there is a culture share associated with blindness?
Cameron Algie: I think you’ve got to live it to really know that, to be honest, Jonathan. I think there is a bit, I’ve seen it in Blind Citizens Australia, and earlier on in Vision Australia, a grouping of people who thought they knew the answers for blindness, but that’s part of the aspects of my book. See, blindness is not black blind for everybody, it’s only 3% of the Australian community. The rest, it’s shades of vision loss, degrees of vision loss, and the vast majority of people have vision impairment. I think they have a different perspective, a different look.
Jonathan Mosen: Yeah, that’s where I’m going with this really, is I wonder whether sometimes people who have been blind since birth and tend to be quite high achievers and running the system or whatever, how inclusive are those people to those who are struggling on the journey and coping with that insidious loss we’ve been talking about? Or in some cases that sudden loss where maybe an accident has rendered them blind overnight, it troubles me how welcoming we are of that new intake if you will.
Cameron Algie: I’ve got a slightly different view because in one of the best things that was run at Vision Australia was the peer … They had in addition to these support groups, they had a peer network and I found some of the best peers were those who were totally blind because they would reassure people who are just losing their sight that look, it was possible to leave a full life. I think we need to draw on the experience of totally blind people more than we do rather than even say, “Oh look, they’re all right. They’re functioning well, leave them alone,” and draw them in. Now there is a barrier that’s hard to bring people together, like totally, the peers that I know who are totally blind would be well versed in how to cope in and navigate within a certain area.
Now again, if you’re just losing your sight, navigation and finding your way around’s one of the hardest things to do, because you’ve got to place your trust in touch and probably use of a cane, which people don’t want to use and a number of other features. They would find it hard to accept that you could do it. Only it’s actually practice that allows people to realize it can be done. Part of the group experience was we’d let them practice being blind in the totality, sense of totality. That gave them a lot of confidence to realize that they could do things differently.
Jonathan Mosen: I’m heartened to hear that, that you found that some of the best peer support came from that group because I wondered whether there might be some people who thought, “There is no way that I can achieve what this person is achieving.” That they’re just so out there in terms of their degree of confidence and competence, that given the states that some people find themselves as their vision deteriorates or vanishes quickly, they just don’t see it for them because it seems just so out of reach.
Cameron Algie: It’s a tendency, and this comes out of training, and I guess I had a background in training that allowed me to draw out of people who were totally blind, the skills that they were using. You had to do that in a little step-by-step basis because there’s a tendency once you can do things to say, “Oh look, it’s easy. You just do it this way.” Unless it happens with technology and something you’d be familiar with. Once you’ve learned it, “Oh, look, it’s easy. Just do bang, bang, bang,” and you whip through it and say, “It’s easy.” Well, it’s not easy.
Then I think it’s only a trainer, when you learn to take people through step by step, I remember doing this with somebody who was totally blind and saying, “Well, how did she find her way from the bus stop,” I think it was, ” … to where her destination was and what was she using to find her way?” You can pull that back to the little minutia of, well, the different shape of the footpath, different tiles, the different tactile aspect of the footpath and the other thing about different sounds and smells that all make up the environment. I think the capacity to get that knowledge from the people with that experience transferred into an understandable format, that’s important. To that extent, having done training to be a trainer, I think I was able to pull that out of that inherent knowledge. It’s not easy, but you have to learn it.
Jonathan Mosen: So what does good peer support look like?
Cameron Algie: Good question. I think acceptance in the first place, that it’s highly useful as a way of transferring just what I’m talking about, transferring knowledge from one sector to another. The key word with a peer is that they’re empathic, that they’ve come to terms with their own vision loss, so they’re not using the emotional experience of somebody else’s loss and grief to satisfy their own sense of superiority. So they’d be quite comfortable in their own state and be able not to tell people how to do it, but to use the experience to say, “Look, I did it this way. I found this to be very helpful. You might like to try that.” In other words, you don’t tell people what to do. You use your experience to get a message across that you can do it, and that other person listening might work out a totally different way of doing it, which is fine. There’s no absolute black and white here about the way to do things. And given the myriad of eye conditions that we experience, everybody’s going to be different. We have to understand that. And a good peer will understand that and be happy to transfer their experience and knowledge across as an explanation rather than the direction.
Jonathan Mosen: And I presume that a good peer would also have to understand that there are some people who are just not going to accept that blindness or low vision isn’t anything other than a major tragedy. And they’re never going to get past that.
Cameron Algie: Of course, a peer should understand that. That’s part of the training that was offered, that they do understand that, that’s where some people are coming from. But again, the earlier you can catch them in their vision loss journey, the better it is. You can motivate them. I’ll give you a little example, Jonathan. When I’d ring people to encourage them to come into a group, the first thing I noticed is whether or not they had a mobile phone. If they had a mobile phone, I’d be saying to them, “Well, what sort is it?”, and they’d say; “it’s an iPhone.” Oh yes, I’ve heard about Siri. I use Siri? And I’d say, “Well look, have you heard about voiceover?” “No, what’s that?” And so you’d get them to turn it on. Get somebody in your family to turn it on or used to email instructions to the family, to be able to turn it on.
And then you’d say, well, there’s also some apps which are free. You could have them downloaded. If you can’t do it yourself, get someone to help. And I remember one lady was in despair because she was just losing her sight very rapidly and she got that Seeing AI app on. And I rang her about a week later and she’s over the moon. She said, “I’ve been going around my home, reading everything.”
Jonathan Mosen: Yes.
Cameron Algie: And she changed in a week from despair to hope. And there’s the missing link of hope. If people are given hope that they can do things differently, do it a different way, that’s acceptable and not an embarrassment, then you’re going to get the moving in the right direction. And that gets back to the stigma. No using a cane. People hate the cane, but it’s one of the best things you can be doing for several reasons.
But the barriers there, that say a lot… “I’ve had my cane, it’s been folded up and in the cupboard for four years.” Why don’t you use it? “Oh, I don’t like using it because I’ll be picked on, I’m vulnerable.” Well, that’s a lot of nonsense as well. On the statistics it’s nonsense, and that’s part of a book. The section on mobility. I’ll look into the vulnerability of people with vision loss and a cane. So you see it’s giving them hope, getting the information across. And not everybody’s good at it, but a good peer will convey how they manage their lives. And people say, “Oh, if you can do it, I can do it.” That’s very inspirational.
Jonathan Mosen: Very wise words there. One of the things that I used to do when I worked with a lot of people in technology instruction was to say to them, “What’s the thing that you miss the most.” And actually quite often it was not being able to read the newspaper in the morning. Just sit down with the paper. And so we would work through reading newspaper sites and optimizing the screen reader to get the best out of that. And what that does is it gives people encouragement and it gives them hope. If they really do miss something like that, they’re incentivized to make it work. And they’re learning skills that will then stand them in good stead and all sorts of other aspects of life.
Cameron Algie: Exactly, because the most common reaction to technology is that it’s scary.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes.
Cameron Algie: That’s why I don’t like technology fundamentally. It’s very scary. And then the minute they lose… Say they’re placed on the screen, and many of them are still using a mouse in the early stages of vision loss, get lost on the screen or lose the screen, et cetera. And they panic. It’s a natural response, it to panic because then the frustration builds in because they get stopped in what they’re doing. Frustration leads to the complaints about vision loss. How terrible it is.
It leads to anger; all the other anxiety responses you get. It’s sort of tumbling down into those more negative responses. So catch it early and if you get people in… I’ll still find that people will not take up training that’s being offered. They won’t take it up. Why can’t you use your voiceover in your phone properly? Muffling and mumbling. They still read their phone with a magnifying glass. And you think; “what the hell are you doing that for when the phone speaks to you?” They just…
Jonathan Mosen: Yes, because the sighted way is considered the superior way, and there are people who will pursue that at all costs.
Cameron Algie: Totally. And to the point where it’s… What we mentioned before, of stupidity. Where it’s so slow, and so tedious, and so cumbersome that they’re actually making themselves disabled by that inefficiency.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes.
Cameron Algie: An example in the book. Somebody rang up the radio station early and said; “why don’t the supermarkets print their signs in large print? Well, of course that’s complete nonsense. He’s trying to make the sighted world change just for him. He said, “Oh, I’ve got an iPhone.” But he didn’t have Seeing AI or one of the other reading apps on his phone where he could read the signs if he wanted to do that, read the signs at the end of the aisle anyway. And they could have been in microscopic print, the phone would still read it. It’s sort of a barrier created by that reliance. And I felt that often was the biggest barrier of a lot. That’s people trying to use their sight struggling. It’s a natural thing to do, but it’s very hard to break the habit.
Jonathan Mosen: It is a natural thing to do. And in the interest of full disclosure, I am totally guilty of this in hearing impairment context. So sometimes I’ve been in situations and meetings where I have struggled along, even though I have technology in my briefcase that would actually help. It’s just stubborn pride really and…
Cameron Algie: And convenience. And you don’t want to drag out this stuff and get it out of your bag and plug it in and there’s people looking at you, or you might think that they’re looking at you and in the end to hell with it, it doesn’t matter. It’s very hard to get to that final position where you can say, “Oh look to hell, I don’t care what people say or think I’ve got to do it this way.” And that’s it. Not many people can get to that. Certainly in the early stages of the trauma revision loss, they can’t get to that.
Jonathan Mosen: And I think part of this is the level of comfort that the group you are in or society as a whole has with different impairments. So I’m very lucky now that I’m the Chief Executive of a pan-disability organization. I’m in an environment where it’s safe to be completely frank about my hearing impairment and to ask that it be accommodated. But if you are in an environment where people are going to think less of you potentially or treat you less competently, you’re going to be more reluctant to use that technology.
Cameron Algie: Definitely. Work’s this classic situation for that, where you might fear promotion being affected or even… You’re placing a job in jeopardy. You admit to having a disability. Very serious stuff. And that’s why people will hold back. I did it for years. I used to pretend… I left my reading glasses behind. It was so stupid. And you think about it, I’d ask people to read the… When they hand out a document in the middle of the meeting and I’d say, “Oh God, I left my reading behind. Can you read it for me?” And they’d read one or two lines and you’d pick up what the hell it was all about, but why did I do it? Same thing. It’s a little thing within us that we don’t want to expose or disclose ourselves to the public at large that we’ve got a disability. Back to where we started, the stigma.
Jonathan Mosen: Was there any particular tipping point for you personally, where you stopped feeling like that and you suddenly thought, actually I just need to be me and society can accept who I am. Was there a cause that got you to that point?
Cameron Algie: It wasn’t a cause so much. No, actually it was going to work for Vision Australia. Because I finally felt that I could use the computer, and I could ask for help, and I could use all this stuff. Computer jabbering away at me. So I did my work, working on the phone as well. Well, I suddenly felt that I don’t have to be asking or expecting support in a different way. Leading on from that was when I was running into the group. So I think it was a lovely… I was able to immerse myself in the experience of blindness more fully with all the other client experiences as well. And it really just told me that I actually could convey a lot of skills myself. And I think that was what was important.
Jonathan Mosen: Particularly with respect to your book. I found that interesting. I get pitched quite a few books on blindness for this podcast, but one of the things that I really enjoyed about your book is that it didn’t really seem to be promoting a philosophy of blindness as such other than to say that, really, your own perceptions of the limitation. You profile a number of people who’ve come to blindness from various perspectives, whether they be born blind, diabetic retinopathy, whatever it might be. Degenerative condition like RP. They’re all covered on their journey. Why did you decide to add yet another volume to the copious amount that’s out there on blindness? What value are you hoping to add?
Cameron Algie: Good question. Well, I don’t think there’s any other book [am I looking around? And you might correct me on this Jonathan, but there is no other book that brought together as a resource book, all the relative issues typically dealing with this psychology of blindness. I know there’s a lot of autobiographies and biographies and they’re all very useful and very inspiring, but one person’s journey isn’t the exposure that I got in dealing with so many types of vision loss and so many people of different ages. From teenagers through to people in their nineties. And I felt that the missing link for a lot of people was understanding what was happening to them. A lot of people would say how frustrating blindness was and the anxiety they felt. But when it was explained that this was just part of the process, part of the pathway you’re going through, people again were more happy to accept that and then say, “Okay, well now I know what’s happening to me.” They then started to look around and listen to what’s there in terms of the skills development they needed to manage their vision loss.
I think that’s why the books written as it is. That the principles that apply to trauma, which I explain in the vision loss, are also relevant to trauma generally. The great gap, and when I found many people coming into the session saying I’ve been to see a psychologist and they don’t help, it’s again what we’re talking about before. The gap between the sighted world and the vision impaired world. For people with vision impairment, the psychology, it’s like a death or a loss. A real death of a partner or family member. There’s a whole process you go through, with a sort of a celebration of that life and that person’s meaning. With blindness, every day you wake up, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, you are living with this loss.
And it can be a very heavy grief burden for people to carry on. And psychologists didn’t get that. Especially sighted psychologists didn’t get that. That continuum of loss and grief that’s associated with it. And again, coming back to my other point, if you catch people early in that pathway, when it’s in that period what I call adjustment disorder, and they haven’t gone yet into depression, but they’re in the coping stages of the adjustment, then you’ll have the best effect. So introducing people to technology and that there’re solutions. They can do dishes differently, they can cook and they can read all the books in the world they want to. It’s done with audio books. They can read the newspapers through an app and that they’re life isn’t closed off at all. In fact, they’re more likely to open up and read more than they did before.
Yes, they might have to stop driving, but there’re still people doing their gardening. Leading rich and full lives. They’re going fishing. And I list this in the book. People working in the shade working on motor cars, a totally blind chap restored a motor car. It’s engine and it’s body work completely. That’s what we know we can do, and people just need to, I mentioned that word hope before, be given the hope that yes, they could do it if they want to. Just do it differently than they thought they could do it before with sight.
Jonathan Mosen: I think hope is a key word in all of this. But you have me smiling because I have had experiences with the medical profession myself, where even if you go to somebody from the medical profession with something that’s not related to your blindness at all, you do sometimes find that the medical professional was fixated with it. I went to the doctor with a busted finger once and had to get into this long discussion about my congenital blindness. Had nothing to do with it. And then I have had marriage guidance counseling, not for the current one, I’m pleased to say. And they got hung up on the whole blindness thing, which has nothing to do with the topic at hand. So that can be difficult as well, that people can think that your blindness plays a much bigger role in your life than it actually does.
Cameron Algie: I agree with that. And that it’s this concept that if you can’t see, you’re blind, therefore you’re going to be finding it difficult to cope with your life.
That is the reaction that you get. They think, “Oh, I couldn’t do that if I had lost my vision.” So they overcompensate, and then by that process disempower you by implying that you can’t do it or you shouldn’t do it.
Jonathan Mosen: Where is the book available at the moment and what formats?
Cameron Algie: Well, it’s available in E-format and in the printed version. I haven’t got around to getting the audio version done yet. That’s partly due to the pressure of time. It only got released in the 1st of September, but it’s available. And the quickest way to find it is through my website, www.icanseeclearlybooks.com, where it’s not only described and summarized, but it’s got the links to go onto some of these Amazon or Booktopia or, if you like, ebook only through Apple books. The links are there for convenience. That’s the format it’s available in now. And if you’ve got the Amazon’s reading device…
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. The Kindle?
Cameron Algie: Yes, the Kindle. And it can talk. Well, you could download the ebook and be listening to it straight away. Or you could download the book onto a phone with the voiceover. It’ll read the book all right. I think you’d be well aware that it just reads almost anything.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes. Oh yes. So you are hoping then that this will be of hope and help to those who are going through a sight loss journey. But I presume also it might be a great book, I think, for professionals to read and get some firsthand experience of blindness from people themselves.
Cameron Algie: I’d hope so. In one extent, I’m getting some breakthrough there with the teaching profession where the response has been fantastic. Saying exactly that, it’s a fantastic resource. Identifying the issues from the vision loss perspective. As for the medical profession, I’d like to think there’s some scope within a psychological profession that they would acknowledge its importance. But remember, the second main thing is for families. It’s the people who don’t understand blindness and the response that came up time and time again. “My family don’t accept my vision loss.” Again, they put you in this box of where they take over. “Oh, I’ll do that. I’ll do the cooking.” Clearly identify them as being incapable of performing anymore and shut them off. It’s either through fear of blindness or this, “I’ll do it for you.” When they come in to help, and take things over. Instead of being patient enough to give the person time to relearn the skills to cook or do the house work differently.
Jonathan Mosen: Yes, of course the majority of blind people are over the age of 80 in fact. People become blind due to age related vision loss, particularly age related maculopathy. And I can remember in my time as a rehab professional who was getting people into the blindness agency here, you would go out and you would meet with these people. And it could be, for example, the wife who was going blind and the husband was there and they’re elderly, and you would offer these services, you’d offer techniques of daily living or whatever. And she would say, “I don’t need that because my husband does this for me, and we are good,” or we are fine. “There are people who are worse off than me or people who need it more than I do.” I’m sure you’ve heard all that. And then you have to very gently say, “you’re getting older. You’re not getting any younger, what would you do if your husband dies before you?”
And there are those questions you have to confront. But I think your comment about the family members is very interesting because in my own family, I’ve seen people who develop age related vision loss quite later in life. And it’s quite difficult. People at that age are just often tired and it’s not always the case, but it’s sometimes the case. They’re tired and they see this just as a natural part of the aging process. And you can talk to them about how wonderful it would be to get a magnifier or a phone that would assist them. And they just don’t want to know. How do you get past that not wanting to know phase?
Cameron Algie: I don’t think you can. In some people I think if that’s the way they feel and it’s fairly fundamental to the way they see their position in life, you got to let people go their own way. And look, I think there’s a danger that you can try to be the “get everybody to a certain level” or “a certain state of mind.” You won’t accept the diversity of mankind generally and that there’s some people who’ll be willing to learn some elderly people coming in at 80, so dead keen to know everything, how they can keep on managing their life, keep on cooking, keep on reading, keep on sewing, and knitting and so on. Dead keen.
And others, as you say, tired, sick of life, accepting that’s its perhaps their loss. They may be inspired, I think most particularly by seeing others manage. And that’s where the peer group would come into play again, if they can see that others are doing it they might think, “Oh look, I could give that a try too.” It’s a slow accretion of knowledge rather than the light bulb realization I can be doing it differently. I think we have to accept that divergence of opinion.
Jonathan Mosen: And the title of the book. I can see clearly inspired by the Johnny Nash song, right?
Cameron Algie: Yes.
Well, I think it’s got some great lines in it. I know there’re other authors who have used the concept, but it’s metaphorically speaking, if you can see things differently, do things differently, then you will see clearly in the end. It’s a metaphoric approach to the concept that there’s a new life out there if you’ll do it differently to the way you did it before.
Jonathan Mosen: Well, I really enjoyed reading it and I’m glad that you got in touch and let me know about it. So can you give me that URL one more time as we wrap. If people would like to find out where to get the book in various formats?
Cameron Algie: Well, the easiest way will be through my website, www.icanseeclearlybooks, all one word, .com.
Jonathan Mosen: I’ve really enjoyed the discussion and congratulations on the book.
Cameron Algie: Thank you.
Jonathan Mosen: And we will put a link to the website in the show notes and that thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.
Cameron Algie: Thank you, Jonathan. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Speaker 6: Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan Mosen: This email says, “Hi Jonathan. My name is Luke French, fellow Apple II and Braille edit user. And I have been legally blind since I was six years old. I heard your presentation of the Carroll Center Technology Fair, and I often used the methods you recommended to communicate with software engineers during decades as a top level support engineer, verifying bugs and firmware fixes. I had to leave the industry because remote control of customer PCs is not accessible to screen readers. The programs are accessible for people to participate in meetings, but you cannot take over a remote client with JAWS, Teams, RD, et cetera. I tested with two JAWS machines in the same room, and when I controlled the client, the speech came from the machine I was taking over. Of course, in the real world, I am controlling a machine that is not local and even if JAWS was loaded, I would not hear the speakers.”
Serotek has a screen reader that can remote control clients, and they worked with me to adapt the software to work with a big GTAC, by placing a download on their site that customers could go to rather than local distribution or email, which they had been using because most of the clients were students in a classroom environment. The showstopper with programs like Sentinel, would not allow the program to load. And I was dealing with IT Directors who are… I think they should be wary of such things. I believe companies like Zoom have met the ADA requirements by making most of the program accessible, and the cost of making remote control work with screen readers is expensive, and arguably cost prohibitive. I have talked to Microsoft’s accessibility line and it was not helpful. Is this of concern to many blind people? Is anyone advocating to resolve the issue?” There are quite a few people who are blind that work in support because working a phone and looking up information is something blind people can do and it paid well. What can I do to help?”
Thanks very much for your email Luke. You raise a very important question because you’re right. This is something that blind people could be good at doing. And I suppose what’s going on is that people are seeing a bit mapped image of the screen that is not accessible to screen readers. Obviously, if you’re using something like remote desktop, then screen readers like yours do work with that, but that’s not going to be an answer for remote tech support for sure. We’re talking about those utilities that often, as a caller, you get asked to download and you exchange codes, and then somebody can remote into your system and control it.
I don’t know this area very well, but I’m not aware of an accessible solution. Perhaps if anybody has conducted some advocacy on this or knows of some ways around it, they can share it with us. But even if we are not interested ourselves in being a part of this industry, whenever there’s a job that really a blind person should be able to do, but can’t because of sort of technological barrier, we should all be concerned about that.
I’m going to lean into my microphone to read an email about microphones and it comes from Andre and it says, “Hi everyone. Finally, I purchased a Samson Q2U microphone that was praised by many Mosen at Large listeners, including Jonathan, the cool great himself.” Oh my goodness! “As I have no XlR input”, says Andre so far, “I’m using it via USB. I’m satisfied with the recording quality, but one thing is kind of annoying!”
I connected my headphones to the microphone’s input.” I think that would be output if you’re connecting headphones to it. “And when direct monitoring is turned on, it emits an awful hissing noise, no matter whether the microphone itself is muted or unmuted. Two questions: is it normal? Does anyone experience this?”
Thank you Andre for writing in. When you say a direct monitoring on, I think this could be the problem, because if you are plugging into the Q2U, you should be able to hear your microphone when it’s unmuted, whether direct monitoring is on or not. So if you have direct monitoring on and you also have your headphones plugged into the Q2U, it’s possible you’re getting double the signal. I think that could be it. If that’s not what it is, another possibility is that it’s the impedance of your headphones not liking that particular jack And you may like to try another set if you have one around, but it is not normal. It’s not something that I’ve personally experienced. It’s a pretty good mic for the price actually. So I hope you can get that resolved and best of luck.
A pokery, a veritable pokery, that’s a great word, isn’t it? And you don’t hear it often enough. Of tech questions from Scott who was writing in and he says; “I wanted to get the iRig guitar interface that allows you to send audio from your mixer into the iPhone. When I look on Amazon, I see many models of an iRig guitar interface. Can you let me know of the exact model that you have found to work well for this purpose?” Well, Scott, the one that you want is called I believe the iRig 2. The number two is important here, guitar multimedia interface. So I hope that narrows it down for you. iRig does have a pretty confusing range of interfaces and options, but it’s the iRig 2 guitar multimedia interface. And I think they may add for iPhone and iPad at the end of that.
There’s also a cheaper option, which I think is just a cable that is sold by AC guys. And it will do the same thing and it may be a bit less convoluted. I’ve not tried this myself, I can’t speak towards its durability or its reliability, but other people are using it fine. And the product is called Headset Buddy. I have a little Headset Buddy! Sounds like something out of Sesame street. Ernie, maybe it’s his replacement rubber ducky. You can imagine Ernie sort of squeaking at it and saying, “Hey, little Headset, Buddy, would you like to get on a clubhouse with me?” Yes. Headset Buddy is what it’s called, and it’s from AT guys. So you might want to check that out as well. Cheaper and I understand just as effective.
Scott continues, “I’m also looking into getting a KVM keyboard switch so I can use the same keyboard for multiple computers. Do you have any recommendations on a KVM model or something else from any vendor that would do the trick?”
I have not bought such a product Scott. So I do not know, but there is one thing I do know, and that is that there is a voluminous amount of talent and knowledge within the Mosen at large community. So perhaps somebody can tell us about this. If you have bought one of these products that allows you to control multiple computers with a one keyboard just by switching them, let us know what has worked for you. That would be awesome. I’d like to know that myself.
One final question, says Scott, “Can you point me in the right direction for information on royalty fees for playing music over an internet broadcast?” Well, so you’re getting into the internet radio gig Scott. Good luck with that. Because you’re beaming in from the United States, you are subject to the digital millennium copyright act. If you are setting up an internet radio station, that is US legislation, we are not of course, subject to that here cause we are New Zealand. And in New Zealand, mushroom FM is licensed by our New Zealand licensing authority, which is really a lot more straightforward as I understand it than the DMCA. All we have to do is pay a flat fee and every year they come back to us and they ask us for the next year’s flat fee. And we pay that and we are done.
We don’t actually even have to produce any royalty logs or anything like that. That could be because we don’t make any money on Mushroom FM or anything, but the licensing system in New Zealand is wonderfully simple and there are no restrictions in terms of how much music you can play from the same artist back to back. And all of that malarkey. Now in the United States, it’s much more strict.
The only thing I do recall from having done some time on US radio stations that are licensed, is that there is a website called streamlicensing.com. and that might be a good place to start, if you’re wanting to set up been internet radio stream. I don’t know if there are other US based options you should consider. And perhaps people in the United States who have to set up internet radio stations within that jurisdiction can comment on it, but that is a place to go at least; streamlicensing.com.
I’d love to hear from you. So if you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.