Podcast Transcript: Mosen At Large Episode 140, Amazon Echos new voice, the Apple MagSafe Battery, meet the Optophone, a reading machine invented in the early 1900s and more
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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen and this is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. Amazon Echo has a new voice, and Apple has a new software update. Feedback on the Pneuma solutions interview, disability models and advocacy strategies, and a reading machine for the blind invented in the early 20th century.
Announcer: Mosen At Large podcast.
Jonathan: It is marvelous to be back with you for another episode. Thank you very much for being here. I mentioned last week how windy it was when we were recording Mosen At Large 139. That was nothing compared to the rain that befell all over us. It was so bad that we had a little bit of flooding in the lower level of Mosen Towers, just around one of the bathroom areas and the garage, but that’s nasty when you try and beat the flooding and mop and put towels down and do what you have to do to try and keep your carpets in reasonable shape. It’s a very pleasant day as I put the show together, and that is a good thing. Lots of very interesting things to cover, thanks to our featured guests later in the episode, and also to your contributions. Before we open it all up, you may be interested to know that the Amazon Echo devices now have a new voice that you can choose. We will demonstrate this.
I’m really excited about it because I think it has some interesting accessibility benefits. Namely, that the new voice that they are offering is male, so it’s deeper and that may help people with high-frequency hearing loss. This new voice is called Ziggy by the way, and I guess that’s the only time I will do that because you can now change your wake word to that as well. As well as the voice whose name starts with A, the female voice that we’ve all become familiar with, you now can also have Ziggy on your device as well. If you use the Amazon Echo platform on third-party devices you may not be able to change your wake word. We have a lot of Sonos devices around the house, a number of which have Soup Drinker support, and you can use the new voice on those devices but you can’t change the wake word. Let’s see how this works and how it sounds more importantly. First, let’s remind you of the default voice that has been in the Amazon Echo since it came out. Soup Drinker. Hi there.
Alexa: Hello. This week I’m warming up for the Summer Games by sharing inspirational stories of elite athletes, to get into the spirit just say who inspires you.
Jonathan: Let’s try and change the voice now. Soup Drinker, change your voice.
Ziggy: Okay. You’re all set. I’ll be the voice you hear when you speak to this device. If you’d like to change how you wake me up, you can also change your wake word.
Jonathan: Let’s see if we can get the same information back now. Soup Drinker. Hello.
Ziggy: Hi, or should I say howdy? Because I reckon I’ll celebrate national day of the cowboy with a twangy tune. Just say, sing a cowboy song.
Jonathan: Now, that’s interesting because when I tried to have it sing songs, it always goes back to the female. Let’s see. Soup Drinker, sing a song.
Ziggy: Well my WiFi left me
Jonathan: Oh, it sings that one.
Ziggy: And I’m out in the rain
Those last few answers were hard to obtain
But that’s no excuse to put me on mute
Like a good cowboy, I’ll up and reboot
It’s raining in the cloud
And I ain’t proud
I’ll answer in the morning
Answer in the evening
When you’re around
I’ll answer in the morning
Answer in the evening
When you’re around.
Jonathan: There we go. He sings as well, but I think you’ll find that my favorite Soup Drinker song still sings with the female voice, but I’ll try., Soup Drinker, sing the technology song.
Jonathan: Soup Drinker, stop. There you go. Now you have a male option there to choose from, and there are all sorts of things that Amazon have announced over the last week or so with respect to Amazon Echo devices. One thing is that they have promised that all but the first generation of Echo will be upgraded to this new joint standard for home automation that will hopefully make home automation peripherals work with a wider range of devices. Unless you have the first-generation Echo, the big cylindrical thing, you should be okay for those upgrades.
Also, they have noticed a decrease in our use, people like you and me using the skills. They’re seeking to find ways to liven up the skills platform as well. I read a book over the last week called Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone, who is a Bloomberg writer who’s been writing about Amazon for quite some time, and I really enjoyed it. It talked a lot about various Amazon services and the way that Amazon has evolved over the last decade or so, but the first chapter is one that you might really like if you are a fan of the Soup Drinker, because it talked about how the Amazon Echo got started, how they chose the woman to do the voice, the name of the woman and how she’s under a pretty tight NDA, nondisclosure agreement about the whole thing. If you’re interested in things Amazon, do check out that book, Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone. I suspect it will be in all the usual repositories.
Announcer: Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast.
Brian Hartgen: Hi to all, this is Brian Hartgen. I’ll make this contribution brief, but I really couldn’t let this opportunity go by. I wanted to congratulate everyone involved this week with the ACB Convention. For obvious reasons, it had to be a virtual event this year, and it must have taken an extraordinary amount of planning and organization. I could discuss the various sessions I attended. There were certainly plenty of those, but I wanted to focus on a point maybe other people will not talk about on this podcast, and that is the way in which ACB did their very best to include everyone. I don’t just mean with hosting sessions, although they rose to the challenge there, but when you host a virtual event of this magnitude you want to reach out to as many people as possible in a completely accessible way.
In my view, ACB did this exceptionally well. Apart from people being able to hear all the activities using Zoom, which as we all know is an accessible platform on different devices, they had radio streams carrying various events. If people were not comfortable using Zoom, they could at least hear it on their computer or maybe their Amazon Echo device. People could participate in sessions using Zoom and the phone, but they also pulled off what I think was a masterstroke. They embraced Clubhouse, a modern technology which people are now getting to grips with, of course, as it’s very easy to use. You could listen to some events on Clubhouse and even take part in them, which couldn’t have been easy to organize. ACB provided an immense amount of information so you could be sure to get to the event that you wanted.
They had emails, including the community bulletin and daily newspaper. You could log onto the website to obtain all the Zoom links for not only sessions to attend, but the exhibitor booths as well. On one radio stream, there was a reading of the activities of the day, and I come to one of my favorite sessions, Morning Coffee. I’d especially like to thank Cindy and Colby for hosting this event each day. Not being from America I do sometimes wonder how I will fit into the general conversation. I understand I’m an outsider, but I did want to be accepted. They not only made me feel especially welcome but did everything they could to ensure that no one who joined the session was left out. They tried especially hard. Everyone must have felt included. It was a place where you could get together at the start of the morning, ask any questions if you were struggling with something, and get to learn what was coming up for the day, yet another way of learning what was on offer.
The hospitality sessions where people could get together and have a chat were also very well hosted, and this was important as I think the social interaction plays a very important part in such events. I was really pleased with the way that they integrated Clubhouse. It would have been all too easy for the Clubhouse attendees to feel a bit of an afterthought or a little bit left out, but that definitely didn’t happen. Every so often, Cindy would take a break from the Zoom participants and give people on Clubhouse their fair chance. It was very, very well done.
I know people are looking forward to meeting up face to face next year, but there’s no doubt that this must have taught ACB that they have a really good platform here to reach out to people who cannot attend a face-to-face convention for any one of a number of different reasons. I was very glad to be part of this event and was totally impressed.
In the UK, we had nothing like this. Any virtual conferences I saw, and there were a couple, were hosted on YouTube or Facebook, which to my mind are far from being wholly inclusive. Other countries could learn a lot from the gold standard, which is ACB.
Jonathan: Well, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but it is Olympics time again. With COVID raging away and the Delta variant going on, you just can’t help wondering whether we’ve got a super spreader event on our hands, but nevertheless, if all that running, and jumping, and throwing things, and standing still is your thing, you will want to be glued to the coverage.
David Harvey wants this and writes, “Hi, Jonathan. I just downloaded the Sky Olympic Video Player app.” This is Sky here in New Zealand because David is writing to us from Auckland. He says, “Which is accessible with labeled tabs. However, when it comes to watching the stream, the player isn’t exposed to voiceover and defaults to a noncommentary feed. I had to ask for sighted assistance to make it to the commentary feed. However, after exiting the app, the commentary feed doesn’t stick. That is really unfortunate.” Thanks for letting us know about that, David. Other New Zealanders listening will be disappointed to hear that as well I’m sure.
I would give Sky a call as soon as possible. It’s still early days for the Olympics and it’s possible that they might be able to get out a fix. Probably unlikely, but it’s certainly technically possible for them to get a fix out. I would give them a call and see if you can escalate to this, speak to someone who has control over the app.
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Jonathan: Every time I hear about the OrCam MyEye, I immediately think of Cheech & Chong and the Earache My Eye thing, which is quite annoying to be reminded of it all the time. Anyway, Darold is writing in and he says, “Hello, Jonathan. In response to your asking for OrCam MyEye user experiences in Mosen At Large Podcast Episode 139, I am a totally blind OrCam MyEye user living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.” I’ve been there, mate. It’s a lovely place. “I have used the device for about five years and have found the device to be quite useful for providing information for a variety of situations in my immediate environment. I believe that a totally blind person with the right skills and some perseverance can definitely benefit from using the OrCam as another good tool for completing tasks independently.
In my opinion, the real advantage the OrCam has over cell phone scanning options is that it is a wearable technology. Users can use the glasses to quickly focus and take a picture of target objects. In my experience, this is more efficient than the cell phone scanner option in many real-life situations such as when navigating and finding information in public places. Here is a categorized list of some of the situations where I have used the OrCam to obtain information and complete tasks independently. Under reading tasks, we have reading mail and other hard copy documents, reading printed handouts and meetings if electronic copies were not available, read hard copy information distributed at meetings and events, read paper business cards, read product labels and instructions, read restaurant and take out menus, read the text on applications screens in situations where it is not accessible in speech or Braille, with an upper case B, read the text in screenshots mostly replaced by JAWS OCR features just now. Read PowerPoint slides using a headset during live presentations if electronic copies were not available.
Under navigation assistance, read inside and outside signage, identified entrances and exits, located room and office numbers and buildings. Read electronic and paper notices displayed by elevators and in other common areas.
Now we’re onto the social interaction category. Use the facial recognition feature to store faces and identify people in work-related settings. I hope this information is useful and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about my experience and thoughts on the technology.
In closing, I would like to join the many other voices in thanking you for the wealth of information and open exchange of ideas that you provide to blind and low vision people around the world. Your tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to related issues really do make the world a better place. Have a good day.”
That is really nice of you. Thank you so much, Darold. That’s a great extensive list. Gosh, it’s tempting me, I tell you. That really is interesting.
Leslie: Hi, Jonathan. My name is Leslie. I am calling in from Mississippi in the United States and I’m calling about the question that was posted about the MyEye tube from OrCam. I am a blind user. I have also been a low vision user. I lost vision. I’ve been totally blind for about five years now and I also teach this device. I find this device challenging for some people who do not have vision unless they have good spatial awareness, but I have also found that with some practice, they can develop some muscle memory that help them line up the document correctly that they are trying to read. I’ve also found that it can be useful for reading signs, having it identify people, and a few other features that don’t require so much exact targeting skills as lining up a document.
This is a very handy device for reading, especially now that it has a smart read function that allows you to scan the document and then pull information out of it, like say, asking to find the phone number or asking to find the date and the document or asking for a specific item if you’re scanning, say, a restaurant menu like find sandwiches. It does have some very good features.
The orientation mode feature for finding a chair is still in beta and it’s hit and miss. Of course, they have the facial recognition feature, which does a pretty good job most of the time. Depends on the lighting, depends on how well that person was lit and the lighting situation when you train the device to recognize them. I always work with students on that on trying to make sure that they have good lighting when teaching the device to learn people. It, of course, has a barcode scanner and product recognition and does product learning as well.
I would say the main thing that I use this device for is reading and the smart read function tend to do a pretty good job of recognizing people by voice. I rarely find it necessary to have the device tell me who they are. The downside to this device is certainly its battery life. If someone is a heavy user, they would either need to use it while it’s plugged in and charging or be able to take breaks, but it does charge fairly quickly. I think it takes about an hour for it to charge back to full capacity, maybe even a little less.
Jonathan: Thank you, Leslie. Isn’t it great when the community can help each other out with this information? That was such a thorough and helpful response. I really appreciate you sending it in and it’s good to hear from a new listener as well. I hope we’ll hear from you again soon.
Announcer: Jonathan Mosen. Mosen At Large Podcast.
Jonathan: iOS 14.7 is now out and if you have made the jump already to the 15 beta cycle that was released earlier in the week, one of the big features of 14.7 is that it fixes this bizarre bug that people have found. It’s a little bit like the Eloquence bug from days of yore. You will remember this if you’re a tech user from way back where you could type in certain strings and they would cause Eloquence to crash. You used to have these nits, these nits who would send messages via technologies like ICQ and MSN Messenger and all the other social media apps we used to use back then. Actually, I think this bug may have been around to some degree, even when Twitter first started and they would send these strings so that some innocent unsuspecting blind person will be looking at their instant messages or their tweets and whatever and some nit would send a message that would crash their Eloquence. Most frustrating. There was a very similar thing with Wi-Fi network names, where if you try to connect to a Wi-Fi network with certain really spurious weird names, the whole phone would crash. One of them was so serious that the only thing you could do would be to completely hard reset the phone, erase it and restore from a backup or something like that so they had to fix that.
They’ve also got support for this new MagSafe battery, which I think is a really cool product. I’ll talk about that when Bonnie joins me a little bit later in the episode for the Bonnie Bulletin, but inevitably Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away and one of the bugs in iOS 14.7 that is frustrating Apple Watch users is that for many, if not all Apple Watch users, iOS 14.7 has broken the feature where you can unlock your watch with touch ID or face ID on your phone. Now, David Lepofsky has been in touch, which has the same meter and the same number of syllables as Eleanor Rigby. David Lepofsky picks up the rice and– One can’t help thinking about these things. He says, “I installed iOS 14.7 this morning on my iPhone SE. The usual voiceover voice I use switched to some other voice. I found I could not switch it via the settings for voiceover. I called Apple Care’s accessibility line, turns out they had this reported by a number of other people. I can use the Rosa and switch language and thereby get to another voiceover voice but I am still in the situation where the voice I used to have has changed and not for the better I might add. Weird or what?” says David.
Then, he a couple of days later sent a second email, which says this, “I remain correct that there is the problem with iOS 14.7 with one correction. After some bumbling around, I got it to return to the Samantha voice I like, but you still cannot use setting/accessibility/voiceover/speech/voice to change your voice for voiceover and have it go into effect. You still must then fiddle with the rotor, having language as a choice on your rotor. The Apple Care fellow told me yesterday they will have to fix this in a later update.”
Thanks, David. I haven’t heard anybody else talking about this, but maybe I’ve just been off the grid too busy with work this week. Hopefully, it’s all working peachy in iOS 15. I guess if you’re feeling adventurous and it bothers you, you could try upgrading to the beta of iOS 15. If anyone else wants to report on what they’re seeing with iOS 14.7, which I am not running, that would be good.
Francois Jacob writes in from Melbourne, and he says, “Hello Jonathan, I’m still loving the podcast and learning a lot from it. Thanks for everything you do. In short, I think the social model of disability is so last century, but let me explain. I have been doing quite a bit of reading on models of disability as part of my post-grad studies and disability and inclusion this year. I think it’s important to bring this issue to your attention as many listeners, including myself, regard you as a reputable source of information so your opinion does matter. No pressure. While the social model of disability is arguably the most prominent among the models of disability that people relates to these days, I have come to the conclusion that it has passed its sell by date and no longer appropriate in current society.
It feels to me like it’s the exact opposite of the medical model. Simply put, the medical model was all about impairments and how to fix them. Whereas the social model is all about the environment with its physical and attitudinal barriers. The social model from the latter part of the 20th century was exactly what was needed at the time, a strong, radical activist response that affected change to some extent. However, both these models disregard the individual experience of disability. That thing that makes two people with identical impairments experience them differently. Since the social model, there have been a number of others like the bio-psycho-social model that recognizes personal or psychological factors in addition to impairment and social factors.
Then, we have the ecological model, which looks at micro, meso, and macro systems level and I’d say almost too complicated for the lay person. The one that I personally relate to is the human rights model of disability, but that’s something perhaps for another day. For the purposes of this discussion, I thought to send the attached chapter from Tom Shakespeare’s book called Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited. It critiques the social model with what I feel is a convincing argument for why it’s time for us to move on. He proposes a number of reasons for this. One that particularly struck me was his argument around how it doesn’t make sense to try to distinguish the effects of impairment from the effects of disablement.
He also makes some interesting points around the use of person first language, which might interest you. I can totally appreciate the usefulness of the social model for activism purposes, but there’s much more to disability than just barriers and I think our discussions around disability should reflect the evolution of contemporary understanding of the concept of disability within the context of the changing landscape. We can probably say to mobilize people and to keep the message simple, let’s highlight the barriers but to include in this message that we subscribe to the social model of disability is, for me at least, not the full picture. If you somehow find time for a bit of leisure reading, you’ll see how Shakespeare says all this much better than I can. Thanks and keep well.”
Thank you, Francois, for your email. It’s very thoughtful and considered and also for the chapter that you sent me, which I did read. I presume that Tom Shakespeare’s book is available all over the place. There were a number of things that struck me. I have to say my response after reading it was the polar opposite of yours. I felt that his book was catapulting me back into a distant past. I would say that person first language has well and truly had its day. There was a period where people thought this was the cool thing to do because it made the points that people are people first and the disability is we used to call it, was second. What that did was to abnormalize talk about disability because you would normally put the characteristic first. You wouldn’t say, “Gosh, you are a woman exhibiting beauty”.
I wouldn’t be described as a person with whiteness. I’m a White guy. By convoluting the language around disability like that, you actually send a signal that disability is something special, something to be tiptoed around. This is one area where New Zealand and Australia have really diverged. We notice this when Australians come over to conferences to speak and they use the person first language, and there’s almost an audible cringe in the room and yet I am equally to blame because when I go to conferences to speak in Australia, I cannot bring myself to use person first language. I just cannot. That’s fine. It’s the culture that we’re in. Hopefully, we can just accept the fact that people have different perspectives in different cultures. I also note that the copyright on this book is 2013. I think we’ve now got eight years to demonstrate that Shakespeare is wrong about a number of things that he says.
He talks about how the United States is a kind of gold standard, they’ve approached disability with a human rights focus and that they use person first language. What you increasingly see in the United States is an adoption of the social model of disability. There’s an increasing amount of interest in that model from the US now, and a real push, particularly from younger disabled people who will of course determine the future to use identity first language. It’s older people who are sticking with the person first language and younger activists blind Americans who are using terms like disabled people. The usage of those terms and the adoption of the social model has increased dramatically in other English speaking countries since 2013. It’s also sloppily researched because by 2013, the social model of disability had been adopted in New Zealand and was government policy and there’s a huge consensus around it in New Zealand.
Yet he claims in his book that it’s only England and no other English speaking countries that adopted the social model of disability. That suggests to me that his research and writing this was actually really sloppy. It’s extraordinary actually because in 2013, Tom Shakespeare did come to New Zealand and he spoke at a disability rights conference in Otago, in the south island of New Zealand. He would have been well aware, perhaps after the publication of the book to give him some credit, that New Zealand had gone lock, stock, and barrel into the social model of disability.
Now, Tom, actually I think he’s Sir Thomas now, isn’t he? Sir Thomas is adventitiously disabled. He’s a wheelchair user and it did seem to me like, although he does mention other impairments, he’s coming from quite a wheelchair centric perspective and that’s fine. I don’t blame him for that at all, but for example, he didn’t talk at all about the National Federation of the Blind in the United States. For a long time before the social model of disability really made its way to physical impairment, they were saying things like with the proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to the level of a physical nuisance. That is essentially a kind of social model of disability long before that term became common.
You look at the success that the NFB have had with advocacy. I think you’ll find that it’s stood them in quite good stead. Like any pointy academic model or public policy, social policy, there will be flavors that emerge depending on where in the world it’s implemented. The social model of disability that he’s referring to in England may not be quite the same as the social model of disability here in New Zealand. For example, he talks about the fact that basically impairment is ignored in his version that he’s familiar with, of the social model of disability. That is certainly not the case here. As a blind person, I am absolutely free to articulate the specific things that society does or does not do that disabled me.
For example, if there are not accessible street crossings, then I become a disabled person at a street crossing. If I go into a presentation and somebody has taken the time to make sure that I have an accessible version of the PowerPoint slides so that I can read them as they are on the big screen, I am not disabled in that situation because my impairment has been accommodated. I feel certainly in our model, in New Zealand, that I’m not turned into some generic disabled person. I’m a blind person who can sometimes be disabled, but I’m able to put those ideas forward. I do agree that that is a potential danger of the social model of disability. We do each have different needs based on our impairments and it’s important that we have the forum to articulate those.
It may be convenient for lawmakers, public servants to perceive disability as one big homogenous group, but it is not. I do agree that that is a potential danger if it’s not handled, but I believe here it is being handled. We are having a bit of a discussion here in New Zealand over accessibility legislation. I’m not completely ruling out the fact that the social model of disability and the human rights approach cannot coexist in some way. Human rights essentially says that the rights belong to the individual. If your rights are infringed, you as an individual or disabled people as a class can take some legal action to have your rights protected, those rights that are enshrined in law.
Now, accessibility legislation essentially does take that social model of disability and say, we, as a society have an obligation to minimize the disabling barriers that our decisions create. Now, you could argue that the social model of disability may result in effective change without as much litigation and bitterness. This is certainly an argument I hear from some people and I’m on the fence about this. The ADA and the DDA, I think in Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act have handed us some pretty important victories, but you also get pushback. As I said in a previous segment, I’m not worried about the pushback when you’re on the right side of history. I’m not worried about that at all, but I think it is worth asking, could the social model of disability affect similar change without as much aggro?
I don’t know an awful lot about the way Australian disabled people think. I just see the person first language and I think, wow, what is up with that? I really don’t know if the social model of disability has become enshrined in governmental thinking basically accepted by disabled people in Australia in the same way it has been here or not. Often, I think what happens is the environment that you are surrounded in influences the way that you think about these things, but when I read that Shakespeare chapter, I thought, wow, this is like being catapulted into a past that I do not want to be catapulted back into, but it’s a really interesting discussion. I appreciate it.
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Jonathan: Beth from Virginia Beach is writing in and says, “Re the ACB Convention, July 18th, 2021 session entitled Disability History/Awareness Society Implementation. I just finished listening to this very intriguing session. I can’t tell the story as well as Dan Spoon, ACB president did, but here goes. Dan and his wife are both blind or visually impaired, not sure which, or to what extent. At first, when they walked into a sports bar, the other patrons looked at them with puzzlement as if wondering what they were doing there. Upon hearing that Dan and his wife wanted to play a fantasy game, I believe it was baseball, they were told that this is only for people who are really into the game and who know what the game entails.
Well, one time when two cited patrons didn’t show, Dan and his wife got to play. They won for two seasons in a row. I assume Dan said something about being blind as a bat since when they now enter the sports bar, someone yells that two bats are in the house. When newbies look puzzled, the story is told, I’m sure to much glee. Dan knew the sighted participants had gone from awareness to acceptance. Also, years ago, upon leaving a restaurant with sighted friends, the waiter said he hoped to see us again. He suddenly did a double take and I could feel his regret, shame and embarrassment at having said that to a blind person. I had to spend at least five minutes, maybe more, telling him I didn’t mind at all. I’m not sure he was comfortable even after that. If we insist that so-called ableism exists and ought to be done away with, we will drive sighted people even further into their shells. They will be even more fearful of communicating with us.”
Thanks for your email, Beth. You’ve cited two examples there and one most certainly is of ableism. What you have is two capable people walking into a bar who simply want to play a game that the other patrons are playing. They’re initially told that they can’t because they’re blind or low vision. Now, I haven’t heard this presentation. I’m going on your recount of the story, but assuming it’s accurate only when they were desperate and when there was a gap, did they have the chance to prove themselves. Now, let’s switch that around. Let’s say that a Black couple walks into a bar and wants to play a game of fantasy baseball and they’re told that they can’t or what about a gay couple? There’d be no question that we were dealing with in the first case racism and in the second case homophobia.
What these people assume is that no blind or low vision person can seriously have the competence to be into baseball, know the game, and to be able to hold their own in this fantasy baseball game. Ableism through and through. Now, sometimes racism, ableism, any discrimination occurs without any bad intent. It occurs out of ignorance. That doesn’t change what you’re dealing with here.
Now, the question then becomes, what do you do about the ableism? That’s where the subject, in my opinion, gets a lot more nuanced, because I think in a situation like that, it sounds like Dan and his wife did exactly the right thing. Nobody’s employment was in jeopardy here. They were still in the bar. They weren’t being refused services such, what they were dealing with was some ignorance, just born out of unawareness of blindness. They hung in there and they educated and they changed people’s perceptions and that’s a fantastic outcome. It doesn’t change the fact that it was an ableist thing to exclude them in the first place.
The second issue that you described, that’s not ableism. That’s just people who are a little bit worried about offending people when using the wrong terms. Of course, he is sighted. If you come again, he will see you later. It’s absolutely right that we try and put people at their ease there and say, of course, you will see us later. It’s absolutely no problem at all to use language like that around blind people.
You made a third point too, that I think is very important. That is that somehow we shouldn’t challenge ableism when it occurs or take it on in any way, because we might offend sighted people. All I would say to you about this is that I’d invite you to reflect on what might’ve happened if Rosa Parks had decided not to take the stance that she did on a bus in the 1950s for fear of offending White people. I also would like you to think about the books that you read from organizations like Bookshare or NLS, because I can tell you a story about how the Marrakesh Treaty really got started. It got started here in New Zealand through work that I was doing with a couple of other blind New Zealanders in the early 1990s. We made the case then that access to public information was no different to access to public buildings and that if it was the law of the land that public buildings had to be accessible, then once you publish information, that information should be accessible too.
Being pragmatists, we also realized that there was no way particularly in the 1990s that we were going to get every publisher to make sure that their work was accessible. What we did was we went to government and we said there should never be a situation where authors can deny consent to publish material in accessible formats. That’s exactly what used to happen sometimes when alternative format producers would go to the copyright holder of a book and they’d say we’d like to record your book onto talking book or we’d like to put your book into Braille. Is that okay because that’s what the law said. They were the copyright holder. They had the final say and believe it or not, some copyright holders would come back and say no, it is not okay. Now, that is ableism. That is denying blind and low vision people the right to read. That is a very serious matter.
That’s why in New Zealand, we took it on and we went to the government and we said they should not be allowed to say no in those situations. We got our copyright act amended accordingly just towards the end of 1994. Now in the process of doing that, I got a call one day in my office from the organization representing authors and publishers in New Zealand. He was very upset with me. He said, “Do you steal from everybody or is it just authors that you steal from?” He was livid! With civil rights victories, sometimes you are going to offend people who are comfortable, who don’t want you to have those civil rights. We, of course, won that. The Chafee Amendment came along a little bit later. Eventually, we got the Marrakesh Treaty and alternative format material is now much more easily circulated around the world. If we hadn’t done any of that, it would not be as easy as it is now to get material in a format that you can use.
I’m afraid I strongly disagree with you. History teaches us that sometimes you have to go for what you believe in. If some people are offended, that’s their choice, but if you have right on your side, then you’ve got to go for it.
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Dean: Hi Jonathan, Dean Martineau here in Florida. I debated whether I should weigh in on this but I finally decided I would. I really don’t like the term blind ghetto device. I think the people that use that term, number one, maybe they’re using it to market their product. Number two, they’re using it out of a sense of superiority. Oh, look at me. I’m really good. I don’t use those products. I use mainstream products. If you’re using a screen reader or a Braille device, Bluetooth to your phone, you’re still using a device that’s made for the blind. I am not a frequent listener, so I don’t know all the comments that have been made but I suspect you’ll agree with this.
I am real happy being blind and I’m going to use the tool that works best for me. If the devices like the BrailleSense 6 that I have a definite hanking after, if it’s expensive it’s not because of greed so much as it is our system which is materialistic and does not have people in mind.
There’s no reason why we couldn’t have devices, a whole range of them for our individual needs as blind people and people with other disabilities. That’s not the fault of us and the people that provide them have to charge a little money. Otherwise, they aren’t going to make a living but I just simply don’t buy that. I don’t have a lot of respect for people that say it. For businesses that use that approach to try to promote their companies.
Jonathon: I’m with you on that one, Dean. I’m so with you. Thank you very much for that perspective. I believe that Pneuma Solutions are going to post or may have posted by the time that I release this, a blog post on the blind ghetto, basically in my opinion, digging deeper into the hole but whatever.
“Hi Jonathan,” says Roberto Perez. This is also a follow-up from our Pneuma Solutions discussion. “I want to thank you for giving voice to so many of us and for creating a safe environment where different points of view can be expressed in a constructive way. Something that is not so common nowadays. I’d like to share some thoughts/questions about Pneuma Solutions Scribe and its promise to make documents accessible, hoping to get a broader understanding and perhaps develop a fair opinion. Here is another company that promises fully automated accessibility for an affordable price.
I wonder what do they really mean by accessibility? How far can their AI go and how much of the remediation process have they been able to automate? I cannot imagine it going beyond OCR, automatic image descriptions, and the addition of some structural tags for headings, lists, and possibly simple tables. Can they fix color contrast issues? Can they check that the font is appropriate? How do they deal with data presented in diagrams and charts? I don’t know of any AI that can make data visualization accessible.
How do they deal with situations where the document contains explanations based on color or graphical elements such as your typical product manual. In summary, is what they offer true accessibility with just a handful of automatic improvements for screen reader users? Are the files they generate accessible to everyone or just to screen reader users through a visually hidden link? During the interview, Mike mentions that users can request a human remediated file when there were problems.
I would say that as a blind screen reader user, I don’t know what I don’t know. In other words, in a document or website, there are often pieces of information, which are inaccessible up to the point where we don’t even know we are missing something. How are they protecting us from that? Even if their AI is so great that it can truly make documents accessible, they promote a model in which Pneuma Solutions establishes itself as a middleman between the content provider and us.
Do we really need or want something like this at this point? They oppose accessiBe and even developed an extension to block it but I’m finding many similarities between their solution and that of accessiBe. I know I’m somewhat negatively predisposed here and that’s why I wanted to run it by you and the awesome audience of Mosen At Large. May you continue producing wonderful content for many years to come.”
Thank you, Roberto. It isn’t always easy. Some of the stuff that I receive is highly trollish in nature and I’ve just decided I’m not going to read that soup because so many of us are trying to be respectful and have reasoned meaningful discussions to explore a range of perspectives. We’ll soldier on with people who know how to behave. Regarding your questions, I don’t have any answers but if the Pneuma Solutions folks would like to, they are welcome to give us a right of reply on this one. Of course, we welcome anyone else’s thoughts.
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Jonathan: I think I’m safe in saying that when we think of the first reading machines for blind people, most of us believe it all started with Ray Kurzweil and his reading machine, which he developed in close consultation with members of the National Federation of the Blind in the United States. Indeed that was the breakthrough product but attempts to develop reading machines go back a lot further than that.
Recently, I read a fascinating article about a device called the Optophone. Not only had I not heard of this device before but the name of its inventor was also new to me. To fill us in on this part of blindness technology history, I’m joined by the man who wrote the article that caught my attention, Edd Thomas. Edd, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you so much.
Edd Thomas: Jonathan, Thank you very much for inviting me.
Jonathan: Before we talk about the Optophone specifically, tell me a bit about your own background and why you have an interest in topics like this.
Edd: I am a writer and antique dealer for historically interesting vintage technology. I get to enjoy myself digging out interesting stories and also, more importantly, digging out interesting artifacts which often lead to stories. In this occasion, I actually somewhat stumbled across a small part to one of these Optophones. I had no clue what it was at first. I then thankfully found a little bit of paper to go with it and it began to make a bit of tantalizing sense.
I took this thing home and began researching and it was one of those stories that again began to really resonate with me. Interestingly, like yourself, it was not something I’d ever heard of before. An Optophone to me was a brand new name but the more I read it, the more the story made sense and the more it began to piece together some of the other ideas that I’d heard about for developments of the 20th century.
Now, in terms of my own history, when I was growing up, my mother used to be– worked at what we called a special school in the UK locally and it was for kids with mostly severe physical disability and it was quite a broad spectrum. It encompassed everything through from low vision through to quite degenerative diseases and because my mother, when she was working there was dealing mostly with communication access stuff with these kids in terms of trying to get the machinery, trying to get them interesting ways to access the normal classroom and normal learning scenario, I got to play with it.
Of course, what was great was that every day after school, I would jump on the bus. I’d head out to this school and I would hang out with these guys who were my friends, and we had fun playing with their machines. We played with early synthesizers, voice machines, head pointers, Braille writers, you name it. When I came across the Optophone many years later, that’s what I’m saying. There was a sort of resonance with me about the story.
Jonathan: That must be a fascinating business, looking at old tech and playing with old tech and it gladdens my heart actually because I’m a collector of technology inadvertently, I guess.
Jonathan: Every so often my wife said to me, “It’s time to clear out the clutter.” I say to her, “Bonnie, I say, you might be clearing out something that’s worth a fortune one day.” She’s highly skeptical. Some of the stuff fetches a pretty penny and it’s interesting what does. Obviously, I understand things like the Apple-1 in good condition would fetch a lot of money, but I was reading just the other day that even something like an original unopened copy of a game from 1987 sold at auction for $700,000, that’s extraordinary.
Edd: Yes, absolutely. I think what we forget is that we are a society now who are very much guided by technology. When you start to look backwards, you see that these artifacts, they’re the DNA of who we’ve become now. As you say, the iPhone might be the iconic machine or the phone we are using, but if you actually look at where the technology for the iPhone came from and you begin to track it backwards, you come across some really interesting objects, often which have disappeared and people and names that again have just disappeared and all we’re left with is the modern iPhone.
Jonathan: Speaking of names then, tell me a bit about the inventor of the Optophone and I’m deliberately not pronouncing his name because I don’t know how to. How do you pronounce the name of the inventor of the Optophone?
Edd: The guy was eclectic, to put it mildly. His name was Edmund Edward Fournier d’Albe which if you take the French, it’s Fournier of Albe which is a region of France, and as I say, he was quite an interesting character. I think he was one of those people who probably we would be able to associate with today had a very eclectic background, quite an unusual background. Funnily enough, actually, he also had a brother who you might or might not have heard of in New Zealand. He had a brother was called Sydney Fournier and Sydney Fournier was one of the leading figures in the history of New Zealand Labor Movement. He was captain of Pickets in 1913 Waterfront Strike and he was one of the very first communist party members and this was his brother.
Jonathan: Quite an extraordinarily small world. [laughs]
Edd: Well, I think what’s fascinating is this guy’s family– Sadly, there were five children and only he and his brother survived through to adulthood, but you look at what they did and they racked up between them all sorts of fascinating achievements. Things we’d been proud to have done one of them and they each had an armful.
Jonathan: There’s an Arthur Pearson connection, which we’ll come to in this story and he has quite a strong connection with New Zealand as well. There is still a fund here in New Zealand called the Sir Arthur Pearson Memorial Fund, which dispenses money to blind people who need it. A lot of it for the funding of technology, ironically enough, so we’ll get there. He is a colorful character. I got that impression from your description of him and the fact that he was into all sorts of things.
Edd: Yes, that’s right. I have to say, when it comes to the Optophone, there are other academics that have been studying this far, far longer than me. One of them is Ian Stewart and I think he had a really good take on Fournier in that he was very much of that fantasy Eckler generation where everything could be mushed into one through the social science. It doesn’t matter what part of the topic you’re looking at, it’s all part of life and interpreting life and understanding the science of life. I think that’s how Fournier approached a lot of things he did.
He married an Irish woman and I think possibly had Irish roots through his mother, although he also had Huguenot roots and German roots and all sorts of things, but he and his brother became quite engrossed in the unification of Ireland at the time at the turn of the century. He also got quite interested in some of the technical thinking around science. He influenced people like Brenda Mandelbrot, also Benoit Mandelbrot about fractals. He wrote extensively, he had like 11 books and countless articles against his name.
Fournier was also an ardent spiritualist when he was young and this is something which he dabbled with and wrote books about and got him in I think a little bit of trouble before he invented the Optophone and he had a slight regret about it afterwards. As I say, an extraordinarily colorful chap. Together with his brother, you can see that these guys, they approached life to the full and they also like to take on causes between them, which is why I think that when Fournier looked at the Optophone, he trained as a physicist. When he looked at selenium and he looked at the Optophone, I think one of the reasons that he was drawn to it having a practical use was because of the kind of world that he’d grown up in.
Jonathan: That spiritualist component seems oxymoronic, but I suppose we have to go back and look at the historic context, which is that people were discovering radio waves, radio was in its infancy and there was this context that was trying to put that into some sort of perspective and it’s interesting how scientific research on radio waves did lead some people to spiritual pursuits.
Edd: Not just radio waves, but that was also sort of that was the time when the electron was being discovered. Once again, you suddenly have the scientific world being ripped upside down. People were discovering new forms or new parts of the world they didn’t know existed. A lot of people at the time, including the circles he was standing with, were looking at telepathy in quite a serious way. Back from the 1860s onwards, there had been the formation and the formality of some sort of groups looking at spiritualism, telepathy, telekinesis, all of those things. He was one of those people who believed that this may well be possible and why not?
The rule book was being broken at the time. Many of his associates were coming out with claims and he did the same thing. In 1908, he came out with this idea that the idea of the soul actually could be given a physical weight, given 50 milligrams, it can be built into all of us, it’s called a psychomere, and that we each possess it. If you could find that soul particle, that particle is the thing that gives us telepathic connection with other people.
Jonathan: He was an out of the box thinker, a bit of an innovator, and we’d go to 1912 and what is quite interesting about this story is that there are two things called Optophone, and it is a pretty cool name, actually, Optophone and he deserves in creative thinking of that one. The first Optophone actually was not for reading, it was simply for the detection of light, and based on your description, it sounds like some of the light detector apps that many people like me who are completely blind without any light perception at all have on our phones so that we can walk around the house and tell whether the kids have left the light on it and it admits a tone to tell you how much light you have in any particular instance. It sounds like that’s what the first Optophone was.
Edd: Well, what had happened is that the element selenium had been discovered back in the start of the 19th century, but it was pretty inert, people didn’t really think much of it. Then in about 1873, a guy working for one of the English telegraph companies called Willoughby Smith, they were trying to do the transatlantic cable at the time, and they needed to make sure that these cables that they were laying thousands of miles were going to survive and the insulation around them is going to be strong. He was trying to work out the best material to use as insulation and he encased one of the cables with this stuff, selenium.
Now, what he found is that when it was in a closed box, also, he attached an amp meter to either side to check how good the electrical current running through it was, but what he found was that when the box was closed, it gave one reading and when the box was open, it gave another reading. He announced this to the English society, the national society who promptly realized that actually, this was quite a wonder element. The element of selenium had photoelectric properties. It would react to the light intensity being shone on it.
Now, lots of people then realized that this could be a pretty powerful tool. There were people including Alexander Graham Bell in 1880, who decided to use selenium and he invented something which he thought was far more important than the telephone. He invented something called the photophone, which would have been like a mobile phone in a way. It was sending signal via the air. It didn’t really work, but it was an initial attempt, and then other people had a go at using selenium and people knew that this material had the potential to be something really interesting, but people weren’t quite sure how to harness it.
Running forward a little bit, in about 1907, Fournier d’Albe decided, he had been a writer beforehand for electrical and scientific news magazines. He decided he wanted to be a physicist, and because of his good contacts, he got in contact with Oliver Lodge, who again was one of the main people behind the development of radio waves. Oliver Lodge suggested to him, “Well, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you have a look at selenium? To do your doctorate?” He said, “Yes, okay.” Of course, Fournier d’Albe then started looking at it and started playing around with this material, and he, like everybody else realized that you could do something interesting with it.
What he did was, and this is running through to where you started the conversation in 1912. He came up with, what we would classify almost as a light Geiger counter. It was a box, with a set of headphones, and you held it in your hand, and when you pointed it at the light, it ticked more loudly and when you pointed at the dark, it ticked less loudly. Now, of course, Fournier d’Albe was never one who was shy of self-promotion.
In his own words, he said, “Look, I pretty much solved the blind problem here. This is going to be of immense use to everybody.” In fact, loads of people were very supportive of his brand new idea, and he called it an Exploring Optophone, because I guess you were exploring your environment, and he did it. He got it very good press in 1912. What happened is that, he then received a letter from a guy called Sir Washington Ranger.
Now, at the time, Washington Ranger was a very well respected and noted blind lawyer. He basically put Fournier in his place and he said, “Look, the problem of blindness is not about being able to find windows or lights. It’s about how to earn your living.” Now, of course, if you think about the family that Fournier d’Albe had grown into, I think that was almost a call to arms to say, go on then, turn your invention into something really useful, which is what he did.
He went back to the drawing boards, the first thing he came up with actually, he called a tonoscope and that converted light into sound, which is could be used for artistic purposes, but again, lacked much use. Then, he realized something quite fundamental, which is really where his place in history has been sealed. That’s that, when you look at words on a page, what you’re looking at is a visual ratio of light to dark, of black to white, and that if you could somehow read that ratio of light to dark using selenium, you’d actually be able to effectively interpret or read a book, even if you were blind.
He took his idea and he presented his brand new idea in 1913 in Birmingham about a machine, which would be able to read normal books and convert them into sounds. This machine was, he called it a reading Optophone because this one was about reading, and it was aimed specifically at helping blind people to read regular printed text.
Jonathan: A couple of things stand out for me about this part of the story. The first is that, what he experienced is still going on a century later, which is that you have these inventors who are very well-intentioned, and they think they have come up with the super device that is just going to change the lives of blind people, and they do it without consultation with blind people themselves.
A blind person finally looks at this thing and says, “Actually, you’ve got a solution here looking for a problem,” but at least he had the good grace to modify his invention and really tackle a very serious issue, and that is literacy. This is a very intriguing device, because a lot of blind people, well, at least a much higher proportion than the average population, do have perfect pitch, and the pitch of these notes that the Optophone was rendering was really important to understand what was on the printed page.
Edd: Yes, absolutely. The way that it worked, now, like I said before, the problem with selenium had been that it’s almost like a slow burn when it worked. Imagine putting a rock on a fire, it warms up slowly, it cools down slowly. The problem was that you need to have a very fine instrument to be able to read individual letters at speed. What he did was he came up with a method for being able to do that, and it utilized basically a small siren disk.
I think of a small circular disk with lots of holes drilled around it, there’s five rows of holes. Each row of holes has a different number of holes, which would relate to a different note and a light was then shone through that, it would be reflected off of the page, and then it would hit the selenium cell, which would be able to detect in minute details, the differences between the different letters that were being read, or the different sounds that were being formed.
This is something that’s quite important for his machine. It was that being able to be fine enough to pick up and discern between different notes, because anybody could have just like a mess of noise and it would be meaningless. One of the things that he did importantly, was he chose a telephone receiver that had only been recently invented by a company called Browns, I think the Browns of London.
That receiver was able to pick up signals up to a millionth of an ampere. Together with his siren disk, that broke up this beam of light into little tiny strips, 30 revolutions a second so it’s 30 different strips a second for the selenium to react to, and then this little radio receiver that was highly, highly sensitive. He was able to pick up the different sounds. For his first machine, he picked up where he was able to create the notes C, D, F, G and B.
When people were listening to the machine, what they would hear as it scrolled across the individual letter was they would hear a variation of sounds of those notes. Some of them would form chords, some would forms these individual notes, some would maybe form a silence. If you could learn that individual sequence, then you knew it was the letter J, or you knew it was the letter N.
Jonathan: Can we go through what we would call these days, the workflow? I’ve got a page of printed text that I wanted to read, and obviously, it took a while before he got to the point of getting out of prototype and into commercial production a long while. When that was all done, how would I use this thing? Can you take me through that process and what the device actually looks like?
Edd: Basically, it was, think of a table with a curved top, and the book sits on the curve top open at the page that you want to read, and underneath the table, was a little armature, which would swing bit like a pendulum back and forth, back and forth, and it was that little armature, which was the read head, which was reading the individual letter, individual word, individual sentence.
What you would do is, you would place your book onto it. There was a small handle initially, and then it was converted to electrical, but the first ones had handles, you’d whine the handle very, very carefully, and obviously, then you could hear the different sounds, run, scroll back a little bit, if you needed to. Then, when you’re ready, on the first machines, you had to move the book.
On the second machines that he produced from 1918 or 1921 onward, the book stayed still, but the armature moved instead, which was a big jump. Then, theoretically, he would have a set of headphones, and with those headphones, he would be picking up lots of different sound combinations, which would be telling him which letters he was reading.
Jonathan: What could an attuned Optophone user achieve with this thing in terms of reading speed?
Edd: Well, this was the problem with it, Fournier d’Albe was a very interesting character and he was a good scientist, but he wasn’t really an engineer. When he created it, he initially said, “Look, this is great. Fantastic. You’ll be able to learn this in 20 lessons. It’ll just take eight hours to learn the basic letter alphabet, and then after that probably 20 lessons to be able to be proficient with it.” Now, of course, that actually, in reality, was overreaching.
In 1917, he invited the National Institute for the Blind across to come and see his machine. He, at that time, did the actual reading with it, and what they did was they chose a random text from a newspaper and they asked him to read it. Now, the reality was, he only managed a couple of words per minute. Now, he felt that that was fantastic. He was from his idea, he was proving a principle.
What he was hoping, I think, was that other people would say, “Wow, look, this is so fantastic. This is a fantastic new medium, let’s help you develop it,” but that sadly didn’t really happen very well. He realized that he probably wasn’t very proficient with it. Shortly afterwards, there was a couple of local blind girls, sisters called Mary and Margaret Jameson. He asked them if they would come and learn the Optophone as well. Both of them were well-educated, bright, beautiful girls. They both read Braille already. They both had to go of using what he called the white Optophone. This was the first type of Optophone he invented. One of them did much better than the other. Margaret, did much better– Sorry, Mary did much better than Margaret. What happened is, she ended up practicing a lot, and she ended up going with Fournier d’Albe on a lot of traveling exhibits, taking the machine, sitting on stage, and reading off volumes of, Dante’s Inferno or whatever the text happened to be, to try to drum up interest in this new machine.
Of course, when she started out, again, it was quite slow going again. She was only able to read a couple of words a minute to start with, and that built up, but she actually, interestingly, she continued to use that throughout the rest of her life. By the time she was at the end of her life in 1960s, early 1970s, she was up to about 60 words a minute.
Jonathan: Do you know how that compared with her Braille reading speed?
Edd: I don’t, sadly. One thing I think to say is that, it’s still an extraordinarily slow speed, I believe. When sighted people read, I think the average is between 200 and 300 words a minute. Of course, what was happening was that a lot of influential people were looking at this machine and saying, “Nice idea, but you know what? Way too impractical. Who’s going to sit there for hours and hours on end to read several sentences?”
What was quite fascinating is that, this was the end of her life, Mary again, attended a lecture for blind people and looking at blind machines. She was asked about the Optophone and she said, “Look, actually it wasn’t the speed that I think was the problem, it was just the fact that it wasn’t as sensitive as it could be. Plus, the fact that when people walked through the room, it jumped around.”
For her, I think what she recognized was, again, this proof of concept. Here was this man, and he had invented something that was slow to use, that was not very accurate, but it had the potential for her to do something she’d never done before, which was to read a regular book that hadn’t been printed out in Braille.
Jonathan: Is there an ablest angle about this though, that people are saying somehow reading print in any form is superior to reading, say Braille, even though you could read Braille a lot faster, that somehow print was normal, and therefore superior, even if the results weren’t as good?
Edd: Well, that’s a very interesting point and it’s probably quite valid. I think that’s probably also where a lot of the blind institutions were questioning his machine. I read somewhere that, or in fact, I read a news article from 1921 that said that only one in 10 books have been put into Braille or Moon raise type in the UK by 1920. This was saying, “Look, there’s always massive potential,” which as you say, actually, is it pushing to the side the importance of Braille? Because Braille had been emerging as an important reading type, obviously, in the UK up to that period.
Arthur Pearson who had taken on the cause from the time that his own glaucoma started, was certainly pushing Braille, and was getting a lot of books put in front of people that needed it, and he was pushing the agenda. In many respects, I think that’s where there was this man, Fournier d’Albe, who thought that he had invented something which was going to change the world, and he didn’t really understand the existing dynamics of the world that he was bringing into.
Jonathan: One of the counter-arguments about the, it’s too slow position is that if you started a child very young with something like the Optophone. It would become second nature and that they could become quite proficient. It seems like the literature is a bit lacking there in terms of the fact that this was attempted, I believe, that we don’t really know what happened to that.
Edd: Well, that’s right. Fournier d’Albe was good friends with Campbell Swinton, who he was quite important in terms of development of television, and he understood the field. He was in defense of Fournier d’Albe. He said, “Look, we’re assessing this machine based on adults.” As you say, as children, we develop the ability to read and write very slowly. You don’t put a child in front of a book, or in front of a Braille book, whatever book it happens to be, and expect them to be able to do it in eight hours.
It simply doesn’t happen that way. We develop our skills slowly. What he did in the early 1920s is, he got a couple of the machines from Fournier d’Albe, and he began an experiment with a group of children. Sadly, we don’t know what happened to that. Part of the problem, I think, and one of the sad things of the whole story of Optophone is that a lot of the potential that had been built up, up to the early 1920s, really drifted away.
One of the reasons for that is that in 1927, Fournier d’Albe had a stroke, and this left the whole side of him unable to be used. I think he very much shrunk back from society, and where beforehand, he’d been the one pushing this machine and pushing it on to people to test it, to talk about it, to discuss it. He was happy that people not agree with him, but he wanted them to discuss it.
Of course, after 1927, he sadly wasn’t in that position to do it anymore, but he never lost him personally. In 1933, he died. I read a note in one of the newspapers from that time that describes that when he died, he in fact was still tinkering with his Optophone. It was something that all the way through, from the time he had invented it, although through the end of his life, he knew that this was going to be something important, but unfortunately, he had to bow out of the dialogue of how that machine would develop.
Jonathan: One of the lessons I’ve learned from history is that sometimes an inventor or a proponent of a particular position may, in fact, have had a lot more of a point than people realized, but their behavior, something about them rubbed people up the wrong way, and that essentially stymied what it was they’re working on. An example of this, of course, is Robert Atkins.
The more the literature comes along, the more there is a case for ketogenic eating for low carb, that he may have had a lot more credence than the quackery. A lot of them people dismissed him for. I wonder whether there’s an element of this here, that because of his spiritual bent, at one point in his career, because perhaps he was not a super marketer or scientist that it just didn’t gain the traction that might otherwise have had in different hands.
Edd: Well, I think there’s a lot of truth in that. I think in some sense, he was a bit of a social dreamer. He hoped that he would show his idea to the world, and the world would just embrace it. Of course, as you know there’s an awful lot more to that. It’s the 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration effect, that I think he did come up with what was in the long run, a very fundamentally important observation about the way that type could be read.
Of course, if you take it back to the 19 teens, well, here was a guy who, again, had some quite strange ideas, he’d been exactly profitizing weird concepts. He was sitting outside of the mainstream scientific establishment often. He also, I think, he probably did rub people up the wrong way, especially when it came to the blind establishments that he really needed the backing of to get the support.
On top of that, he was financing the Optophone entirely himself. Today, we have an idea and we go and get seed funding for millions and millions of dollars. Of course, that didn’t happen back then. Anything that happened, it only happened under his own funding, and also his own energy. There was a lot of that where he just didn’t have the skills for it. When the Optophone was first brought out, he tried to sell it through one of the medical trade associations, and the price at the time, this was 1917, was £35. Now, that equates to about $3,500 today.
This was basically his prototype machine he was trying to sell at that price. Forward by a couple of years, and he managed to get the machine properly tied it up by a instrument maker in Scotland called Barr and Stroud, who made good modifications to it, improved it, no end, but when it was released by them in 1921, well, the price had tripled.
You’re looking at a machine that normal people probably wouldn’t have been able to afford out their own pockets. The medical institutions and the blind institutions probably would have been able to, but they didn’t feel inclined to, because they didn’t feel like he was singing the right song for them.
Jonathan: Isn’t it interesting how some of the problems of assistive technology persists like that though that you have a specialized device, whose manufacture you have to spread across a small number of units, and that puts the price up. [chuckles] In some respects though, devices like the iPhone, where we can now just snap a picture of a document and have it read in synthetic speech exactly what that printed page is saying, has mainstreamed a lot of this technology. Can we trace a path in any way from the Optophone to the OCR technology that blind people now take for granted, or is it a completely different track that led us there?
Edd: No, it’s not at all. What happened is that a lot of people saw the Optophone that Fournier d’Albe had publicized and toured around the country with. In fact, he also took it to America although he didn’t really hit big there, and they saw the potential. I think what they saw was a machine that still had too many kinks that needed ironing out. Quite a few people attempted to improve upon that.
In fact, even in 1915, very shortly after the initial publicity around this Optophone, an American guy, called FC Brown from Iowa State University, well, he again, produced his own variation, which he called a Phono Optical. That was a very slight variation on Fournier d’Albe’s machine, but it used individual selenium crystals, and it also had a handheld device. Now, interestingly, again, although there was publicity around his device, it also didn’t take off.
Further, people then try to, again, take up because they tried to take up the cause, in the 1930s, there was a group of machines which really used the principles, which Fournier d’Albe had set forward. In 1932 there were some French inventors called Thomas and Conland, and they invented a machine which was called a Photoelectrograph, and that allowed standard print or Braille to be read and embossed onto a sheet for printing by blind people.
There was in 1929, a machine called an Optograph, by a Dr. J. Butler Burke, and that converted text into Braille. There was a Visograph in 1931. There was in 1932, another machine. There were a slew of people trying to improve upon and perfect Fournier d’Albe’s approach. None of them quite hit the mark either. That was really where this invention lay. It lay in the doldrums of a nice idea, but still somewhat impractical until the Second World War.
What happened really in America in Second World War was fundamental in taking the principle of Optophonic reading and jumping it forward. What happened is that, in 1943, even Vannevar Bush had established– He had a real soft spot actually for assistive technology, and in particular, technology to assist the blind. He established in 1943, an office under the Office of Scientific Research and Development, a program, which would look specifically at creating reading machines for veterans who were blinded in war.
Now, of course, this was wartime. He could, therefore, fund it under wartime conditions. What happened was that he had a couple of good friends. One of them was a guy called, Vladimir Zworykin, who had grown to immense importance in America, through his development with the scanning disc on television. Zworykin actually had met Fournier d’Albe back in the 1910s.
It’s believed around 1913, and he’d seen this machine and he’d spoken to Fournier d’Albe, and he’d never really forgotten it. When Vannevar Bush came and started talking to him about possibly reviving the idea and improving upon it, well, Zworykin was actually quite keen and said, “Yes, okay, we can do this.” He was working for RCA at the time, and RCA put together a prototype which used and or built upon Fournier d’Albe’s principle.
He didn’t use selenium, he used tubes instead, which was a big change. They also had a little wand, or a little pen pointer that would work. It was again, quite an interesting machine. It was called the A2, but it never really went out of prototype. There was some media coverage around it, but because by that point, the war was coming to an end, the machine never really advanced any further, at least, for a couple more years.
The thing was, the machine that then spun off the A2 was a machine, which was not only able to read text, read it and translate it into tones, it actually would verbalize that text as well.
Jonathan: Really? [chuckles]
Edd: Yes, exactly. It was the the first voiced Optophone, but it was that machine, which then gained some traction, not really so much among the blind community, but it gained interest and traction among the new emerging computer field, who saw it and said, “Well, you know what? We could, again, use this fascinating principle, and we could read documents really, really quickly doing it,” which is where the connection with optical character recognition comes in.
Of course, at the same time, you still had a good cohort of people who were definitely passionate about providing these machines for blind users. Although, the initial funding via the office of scientific research did ebb, there were more pockets of funding, and there was more interest that continued through a little bit further to, again, begin to think about and develop machines that were specifically for blind people.
By the early 1960s, as you say, you’re starting to hit a period where the technology in terms of computer reading for these things was at a point where, a blind reading machine was quite useful. You do have the Kurzweil Reading Machine. You do have, what’s called a Visatone in 1967, the Opticon in 1971. You have this short period, where there was suddenly a revival of interest in Optophonic reading machines.
Jonathan: It does sound like the Opticon, which is still a loved device. It’s no longer in manufacturer. I know of several people who have bought up Opticons and keep them as their prized possessions in case their current one breaks. They just think that nothing has duplicated what the Opticon can do, and it got to the point where you could put your finger on an array and rather than have to convert tones into their letter equivalents, you can actually feel those letters under your fingertips.
Edd: Well, you’ll know far more obviously about all the variations that came through the second half of the 20th century, when it comes to these machines, but it does– Reading what I do know about them. It does seem to be that Fournier’s device was a proof of concept, but it was in many ways, it was quite a doddery old machine, but there was a lot of people realized that it had a potential, and that potential only really began to be properly usable, and translatable into a production machine, really not until the late 1960s.
Jonathan: It’s a riveting tale. It’s so important that we don’t forget our history. Are there still any working Optophones out there?
Edd: There is certainly one working Optophone. That is with Blind Veterans UK, that used to be called St. Dunstan’s in the UK until they renamed. That was the one, St. Dunstan’s was founded by Arthur Pearson. What’s interesting is that Arthur Pearson was obviously very vocal against the Optophone all his life, but what ended up happening is that one of the very few machines in the world lives with the organization he helped found.
Jonathan: [chuckles] That is remarkable. I really appreciate you sharing this story with us, Ed. I think it’s so important that we know where our technology has come from, and some of the people who put a lot on the line, and gave a lot of thought and sacrifice to make these things happen. Thank you so much for sharing it.
Edd: No, as I say, I was as unaware of this as most people, and I have to say there’s people out there that have been researching this for years, and have done fantastic work. I would flag out Mara Mills is one of them. I think what’s interesting is, when you start to look at the Optophone, you realize that there are so many interesting connections to modern technology, but the inherent story of where this came from, came from a wonderfully eclectic gentleman, who just, I think he had his light bulb moment and said, “This is going to be important. I don’t quite understand how, but this is going to be important.”
Jonathan: That soothing music, which we did not hear last week, heralds another Bonnie Bulletin. Another Jacob Bolotin. I know, see, I always thought it was Jacob Bolotin, but it’s Jacob Bolotin-
Jonathan: -because when you read it with text-to-speech, they talk about the Jacob Bolotin Award, but then when I heard them on the talker, they were talking about the Jacob Bolotin Award. How are you?
Bonnie: I’m good. Hi, guys.
Jonathan: We have had quite an eventful couple of weeks since we did the last Bonnie bulletin. We had Nicola, my daughter, who was on holiday visiting a friend and, unfortunately, they were caught up in a very serious house fire, serious to the extent that they sent five fire crews. They’re in an old house where her friend was living and they have this place that’s two up and two down, basically four units. One of the upper units burst into flames. They had no time at all to get out before things got bad. They just rushed out barefoot. It was the middle of winter on a pretty cold night in the South Island. The only thing my daughter had was her phone. Luckily, so she was able to call us, and we were able to take some control of the situation remotely, but that is such a scary situation.
Bonnie: Yes. Fires are terrifying.
Jonathan: Yes, it was such a close run thing. If that had happened when they had been asleep, and therefore, would have taken longer to react, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s been a real scary time. What else is happening in your world?
Bonnie: Of course, we’ve had record breaking rainfall, the past week or so.
Jonathan: Biblical proportions.
Bonnie: We’re very fortunate. You got to look at the good thing.
Jonathan: Are we?
Bonnie: Yes. A lot of people lost their homes and stock over on the South Island. It was awful. It just was torrential rainfall.
Jonathan: It was very bad.
Bonnie: Our lawn, our yard is still a swamp. I almost fell this morning coming out, because I stepped in this very slippery mud puddle. We did have some come into the house through the garage and dampen our carpet downstairs.
Jonathan: That’s scary. You know when it’s been raining cats and dogs, when you step into a poodle.
Bonnie: Yes. You know where that expression came from?
Bonnie: A lot of things come from the middle ages and they used to put straw and thatch up in the roofs of the houses because it would insulate, and dogs and cats would get up in the rafters to sleep, so if it started to rain, it would flood in, and the cats and dogs would fall into the house.
Jonathan: Well, you’re a fountain of knowledge. Now, you wanted to talk about the little baby whale. What’s the name for the baby whale?
Bonnie: His name is Toa.
Jonathan: No, but what is a name for a baby whale?
Bonnie: He’s an Orca calf.
Bonnie: Orca is actually, they’re called dolphins, but they are part of the dolphin family, even though they call them Killer Whales. His name is Toa, which in te reo means strong or brave. About– Was it about two weeks ago? 17 days ago, he got stranded. He was with his mom and with his pod. That’s a family of dolphins and whales, and they were hunting, and he somehow got– The tide was going out. He somehow got swept into a little rock pool, and couldn’t get out. The family hung around a while and the tide was going out.
They had to leave. A young boy, I think he was 16, saw him and alerted the maritime police and Department of Conservation. They tried to get him out and got him out, and then by that time, his family had gone. They took him to the boat ramp here in Plimmerton and made a little sea pen for him. They have been with him trying to– There’s been a really big effort of looking for the pod on air and boats. Unfortunately, the weather is just not been that great.
Jonathan: I think they found it, didn’t they? They thought they had found it last weekend, but that was when the weather was just so, so abysmal.
Bonnie: Yes, they couldn’t get him out there, and they had to put him in a pool. He’s only, they think he’s about possibly two months old. There’s been a lot of talk of why didn’t they just turn him loose. Well, he couldn’t survive. Whether he would have found his pod or not, we’ll never know, but they’ve been keeping him there. People have been with him and doing all they could, but, sadly, last night he took a turn for the worst and died.
Jonathan: Yes, so there’s a lot of sadness around the country about this.
Bonnie: They buried him this morning. They had a memorial service for him and then the local iwi, which is the Mari tribe, I guess, would be the best word for it. They buried him at their marae, which is their home because they have a very special relationship with sea creatures and the seas, so in the ocean. They buried him. It’s sad, but like someone put it and its true, nature doesn’t have Disney endings. [chuckles]
Jonathan: No, that’s right. Now, we have a box.
Bonnie: Yes, we do.
Jonathan: We’ve got a box, and we have got a couple of new Apple things. We got the Apple Siri Remote, the brand new one that you get when you get the Apple TV new thing that came out recently. I looked at the specs for this Apple TV and I have to tell you, I didn’t really think that we would benefit from getting it. I think Apple gets enough of my money, but the cool thing is, you can get the new Siri Remote without buying the new Apple TV.
We’ve got that, and it has the little button on the right hand side to summon Siri. You also have a proper up, down, left, right, joystick type set up, which in my view is much better than the touch surface that they had. You can emulate the touch surface if you want to, but I’ve turned it off and we’re pretty happy with the Siri Remote, but I’ve been waiting very patiently to record this part of the podcast before we unbox our next goodie from Apple, which is the new MagSafe battery.
As we unbox this, I should say, there was an article I read recently where the guy was putting forward the hypothesis that the most exciting thing about the iPhone 12 range was MagSafe, and I thought, “Wow, it’s amazing how we see the world differently,” because I have not bought a single MagSafe accessory yet for my iPhone. I thought that the biggest thing in the iPhone 12 Pro range at any race was LiDAR.
I think that it’s very significant. We’re only seeing the beginning of that, but this dude, he thought that MagSafe was where it was at. This is my first–
Bonnie: Horses for courses.
Jonathan: This is my first MagSafe accessory, the official MagSafe battery to have come from Apple. There is quite a lot that’s intriguing. I’ve now got it out of its shipping box and it’s in plastic, which doesn’t seem very environmentally friendly to me. It’s in a plastic bag. I’ll pass it to you, Bonnie, for some commentary on this.
Bonnie: Well it’s in not your typical Apple box, but the Apple box that accessories come in, has a– The little thing on top where it’s probably, in an Apple Store would be hanging on a rack, so that you could go by and pick it up. Do you want me to open it, or do you want to–[crosstalk]
Jonathan: You can open it if you like, yes, go ahead. While you do that, let me just talk about why this battery potentially is so cool. We’ve had battery cases from Apple before that give you a little bit of extra juice if you need it. If you’re traveling a lot, if you just have to have something on standby. Also, we realize here in New Zealand, we have earthquakes. We have some strange things going on, and there could come a time where we would be without power for a long time.
That’s why I actually have a 20,000 milliamp battery always charged up to power the phone, but you can never have too much backup in that regard. The MagSafe battery will just snap on apparently to the back of an iPhone 12, any model in the iPhone 12 range. Many, the regular iPhone 12 and the Max. What’s interesting about it is, so it will charge at about five watts, which is your standard QI wireless charging rate.
If you have it plugged into a lightening port, you get 15 watts out of it, but the really exciting thing about this is that this MagSafe battery enables something that we have suspected was in the iPhone 12, but Apple hasn’t been talking about.
Bonnie: This is cute.
Jonathan: That is something– Thank you. That is something called reverse charging. What that means, is that the phone can also charge the battery, and the battery can charge the phone. It means that you can put things like your AirPods on the battery, and have it charged. It’s quite genius. Can I have a–
Bonnie: It looks like little a tiny iPhone?
Jonathan: [chuckles] Yes. We’ll just take the little plasticky things off it.
Bonnie: [unintelligible 01:38:27]
Jonathan: Paper. Okay. Obviously, people have been complaining about the size of it.
Bonnie: It’s not that big. It looks like a little tiny iPhone. [chuckles]
Jonathan: It’s got a lightening port, which you can charge.
Bonnie: Yes, I think I just dropped the charger for it.
Jonathan: Now, I understand that because I’m running iOS 15, that I might not get all the cool information when you first plug this in, but I will just bring the phone up here. I’m putting– The lightning port faces to the bottom, and this is the bit that clearly goes on the back of the phone. We’ll see if it just– Oh, yes. It’s just attached there now. It’s quite a firm.
Bonnie: No. How does it charge itself?
Jonathan: Well, it’s got a lightening port at the bottom, so you can plug it into the power to get it charged-
Bonnie: Okay, because it didn’t-
Jonathan: -but also the phone will charge the battery as well.
Bonnie: -come with any cable.
Jonathan: Yes. I think they probably conclude that we’ve all got enough lightning cables.
Jonathan: Here is the 12 Pro Max with the battery on the back.
Bonnie: It’s not bad.
Jonathan: It just sticks on there.
Bonnie: It’s a big phone.
Jonathan: Yes. I mean, that’s what people are saying, it does add quite a bit of bulk, but does it really add a lot more bulk than the case did?
Bonnie: No, you just need to make bigger purses for ladies.
Jonathan: Well, okay then, I’ll bear that in mind. Then, when I put my phone back down on the desk here, it’s definitely– I think it’s similar in the bulk that the battery case added.
Bonnie: I think it’s less. The battery case was pretty fat and heavy, so yes, it’s not bad.
Jonathan: The nice thing is it just snaps off. You can snap it on to get a bit of extra juice, and when you’re done, you can just detach it and put it back in the aforementioned purse. You know what I’m saying? It’s probably easier just to store that battery in a purse, and then attach it as you need it.
Bonnie: My work phone is about the same size or maybe a little bigger. [chuckles] I’d be careful not to grab the one instead of the other. I have a iPhone SE at work.
Jonathan: I would be intrigued to find out what it feels like on an iPhone Mini when you plonk this battery on the back.
Bonnie: Will it work with the Mini?
Jonathan: Yes. It will work with any iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 Mini, it will work with
Bonnie: It would probably be the same size as the Mini. It really looks like an iPhone. It’s cool.
Jonathan: It’s cool to have it. It’s very exciting to note the reverse charging features that this has exposed in the new iPhone.
Bonnie: I like the auxiliary piggyback charger because it’s a pain, particularly, if you’re on long hauls, which [chuckles] I don’t know when the next long haul will be. It’s a pain to have to have the external charger, and there’s nothing wrong with the external chargers. You have to have that, you have to plug the phone in, then you have the external charger. If you’re lucky, you have USB on the plane, but it’s nice to have it built in, so you don’t have to fiddle with too many devices and things.
Jonathan: Well, the good thing too is that, this also has a lightening port, so you’re giving charge to the phone as well, and that will leave the main lightening port on your phone free for accessories. That’s the iPhone 12 MagSafe battery. You can get it now from your Apple Store. We don’t have any in New Zealand. You can order it online. It is a pretty cool accessory to have.
Bonnie: I miss going to the Apple Store.
Jonathan: It does– I’m shaking the phone. I’m shaking it. It’s very firmly attached. That’s really cool, the old MagSafe.
Bonnie: Just wanted to talk about, there was some discussion about job readiness and looking for work and that thing on the last podcast. I really want to reiterate not because he’s my husband, but I really think Jonathan gave some very, very valuable advice. When you’re young, and when you’re first starting out, it’s very easy to be quite arrogant. I think this is true for all job seekers, whether they be disabled or not.
You can’t start at the top, some people do and they’re just really lucky, but sometimes you have to take what you get, because whether you have a college degree or not, you may not have a lot of experience. Sometimes you may have to look further afield than what you’re looking at, and take what you get. If you’re offered a job, take it. It’s a lot easier to find a job if you have one, than if you don’t have one. Sometimes, and a lot of my clients over the years have struggled with this as moving. When I graduated from uni with my degree, I’d have gone anywhere.
Jonathan: Look, if I lost my job tomorrow, I would do call center work, I would just do whatever I could find, rather than not have work at all.
Bonnie: New Zealand was a tough market for me when I came here, because it’s only a country of five million. It’s a country smaller than some states or the same size. It’s not like, if you live in the States and you’re living in Rhode Island and you have to look in New Hampshire, it’s a different whole different ball game when you have those opportunities. A lot of people look down on Voc Rehab, or look down on agencies that help blind or disabled people find work. There are good counselors and there are bad. Hey, if they have the resources, if they have the networks, use it.
Jonathan: You’ve still got your book.
Bonnie: I do.
Jonathan: It’s Off To Work We Go.
Bonnie: Off To Work We Go. It does need to be updated. I re-read it the other day and taking it apart for content that I’m creating right now to see what I could revamp. There’s a lot of help out there. The NFB has an employment listserv that lists a lot of jobs of different varieties, not just professional, but call center, that things, and network. It’s not what you know, it’s who.
Jonathan: You can find the book in the diminishing Mosen Consulting store. We keep titles for as long as they’re relevant. There are a few left over at mosen.org. Choose the store link, you’ll find, it’s Off To Work We Go by Bonnie Bulletin by Bonnie Bulletin? [laughs] By Bonnie Mosen, including a narrated audio version by Heidi.
Bonnie: By Heidi Mosen. Yes.
Jonathan: Was she Heidi Mosen or Heidi Taylor then?
Bonnie: Pretty sure she was Heidi Mosen. I don’t remember actually.
Jonathan: You can buy Heidi’s narrated audio if you want to.
Bonnie: Yes, maybe it was Taylor. I can’t remember.
Announcer: For all things Mosen At Large, check out the website, where you can listen to episodes online, subscribe using your favorite podcast app and contact the show. Just point your browser to podcast.mosen.org. That’s podcast.mosen.org.
Jonathan: Gary G is writing in from South Africa and says, “Hi, Jonathan, hope you’re well. I’m experiencing a strange problem when using YouTube from my browser on my phone. I haven’t tried anything else except Safari so far. Whenever I want to play a YouTube video, I get the following message. ‘Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network, please try your request again later.’ I have tried this both with Wi-Fi and without Wi-Fi. I can’t play any YouTube video from any one of my laptops or PCs.
It is definitely something to do with my phone. I have also uninstalled and re-installed Safari with no luck. The only thing I haven’t done was running a new web browser, such as Google Chrome. Even if I do that, when I click on the YouTube link, it will automatically open up in Safari and then I am stuck with the same problem. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again, as always for a brilliant show.”
I guess, my first question for you, Gary, is why not use the YouTube app. Is there any particular reason why you’ve chosen to do YouTube over your browser, because the YouTube app would probably offer you a better experience and it’s free, and you can get it from the App store. Not withstanding that, unfortunately, uninstalling Safari and reinstalling it, does nothing at all because Safari is baked into the operating system.
When you uninstall it, all it does is hide Safari from your home screen, but it’s still actually there. You could try another browser. From iOS 14, you can now specify an alternative default browser. If you were to install Chrome or Edge or Brave, all of which are accessible, and then you tell one of those browsers to be your default. When you choose a YouTube link, it should choose that new default browser. My initial thought is, give the YouTube app a try.
Marissa writes in, and says, “Hi Jonathan, I wanted your advice on staying in step with the White Cane. As I understand it, you step with one foot and then you sweep and the opposite direction of the foot you stepped with. While that sounds somewhat easy. I have tried it and I physically struggle with it. I do have an intellectual disability as well as my legal blindness.
I think the part that I struggle with the most is walking, then remembering, that if you step with your left foot, for instance, you sweep to the right. I don’t know if it’s an issue with not mentally comprehending it, or not physically being able to have my body get in line with how it’s supposed to go. Do you think that I just require more practice with the cane, or is there some way to modify that when you are still getting the feedback that you need?
In elementary school, I was not given a cane by my instructor. I asked her for it during a night lesson, because, of course, I’ve always struggled with depth perception. She gave it to me, but really didn’t give me formal training. I’ve had various orientation and mobility training in the past as an adult. I really would like to be able to use the proper cane technique.”
Thanks Marissa. Gosh, I have been doing this for so long that it’s almost impossible for me to take it apart. Obviously, I’m not an O&M instructor, but I wonder whether understanding the rationale for it helps. Obviously, what you’re doing is when you’re sweeping to the right, as you put your left foot forward, you’re checking the path ahead before you put that right foot forward, so you’re making sure that the path is clear.
I don’t know whether that helps at all. If anyone has any comments on cane technique, and how to work on it, I’d be keen to hear it. I guess that what would really help is just for you to find an orientation and mobility instructor that you click with. Someone who can understand, perhaps, what’s not registering and just giving you some assistance, but it may just be more practice, Marissa. Perhaps, that’s all it takes.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, but perhaps, just practicing a little more is all that’s necessary. We’ll open it up and see if anyone has any thoughts on cane technique. Back to a subject that is dear to many hearts, non-24. Peter writes, “Hi, Jonathan, I have been a hardline non-24er for a few years. I always had severe sleeping disorder, but before I went blind, I had some sleeping hours every day during the night.
When my tiny little sight in one of my eyes disappeared in 2014, things got worse. Now, it’s a complete mess. I was examined thoroughly in a sleeping lab. It was found that my issue had nothing to do with breathing problems. According to the doctor, my brain is just like that. There’s no cure for this illness, but I still started to do something that may be helpful for my fellow non-sleepers. Most of the people think medicine is the last resort and I agree with them, but when it comes to so serious challenges, it is time to go for that option. What I do is a special regime.
I take a 10 milligram dose of zolpidem once a week. This medicine is originally not intended to use this way. Zolpidem is for curing short term sleeping disorders. It can not be taken for more than a few weeks. If you use it daily, it can easily cause dependence, but lowering the intake to one pill a week, it’s not so dangerous anymore. Though it only solves the problem in every seventh day.
In a case like mine, it is certainly a step forward. A good sleep once a week is better than seven terrible nights, because I was afraid of getting addicted to the drug, I tested myself a few times in recent years. I kept myself away from zolpidem for more than a week. Fortunately, I experienced no worrying symptoms, so I can live without it If I decide to do so. Zolpidem is quite a cheap drug, especially, if you take only one pill a week. I think if somebody has the strength not to abuse a rather strong sleeping pill, it can significantly make life easier for a non-24er. Maybe because of the restricted intake, I have no side effects.”
Commenting on a comment that I made in a previous episode, he says, “By the way, Horvath is Croatian. It’s true that a lot of Hungarian people have this name coming from our Southern neighbors.” Well, I learned something today. Thank you so much for that contribution, Peter. To other listeners I would just remind them that if you are going to try something like this with powerful, potentially addictive sleeping medication, it is absolutely critical that you talk to your healthcare professional, preferably, a healthcare professional who really understands sleep, and understands what you are dealing with when it comes to non-24, before you embark on something like that.
Mosen At Large Podcast.
Brent: Jonathan, good morning. This is Brent Bakham. I’m calling from Hanford in California. It’s my first time to call. I am totally blind and I am a senior citizen, and really enjoy your excellent program. I’ve been listening to it for a long time. Also, I go back with you to 2001, main menu days. The reason I’m calling, I learned something this last Friday from Gloria in the disability department at Google regarding these, what we’ve always called angular gestures in Android, and come to find out, she’s the only one that’s been able to tell me that they’re not quite angular.
Actually, one of them is you swipe down directly to the right, down and then to the right, or the other menu is up and to the right, but both to the rights are straight, not angular. Did you know that I’ve been able to get them to work every since she taught me this, this last Friday afternoon, I have the Samsung Note S20 5G and I have a Pixel 5, and now I’m able to get into the menus with no problem. I just thought this might help you or others who are considering Android.
Jonathan: Well, thank you for the tip, Brent, and also for getting in touch for the first time. Really appreciate that. Yes, I suppose we call them angular gestures because you are swiping in one direction, and then you’re swiping in another. For example, up and then right, or down and then left. People have called them angular gestures as a generic descriptor. The good thing from my point of view is that newer Android phones and the latest version of Talkback as Nick Zammarelli demonstrated here on the podcast, do not require those gestures. You can now use multi-touch gestures.
I think many people will celebrate that, but it’s great that somebody was able to show you how to use those with consistency and with confidence. I think it can vary a little bit from touch screen to touch screen as well in terms of how responsive the touch screen is to those gestures. If you’ve got a formula that it’s working on the two devices that you have, that is really super.
I just celebrate the fact that now if you want, and if you have hardware that’s capable of it, you can kiss those gestures goodbye and go to multitouch gestures. Now, if they could just sort the Braille out, those of us who are Braille users, would be very happy about that, but there’s definitely progress to report.
Christian is writing in. He says, “Hey, Jonathan, I just purchased a new Apple wireless keyboard for use with my iPhone. I have noticed that when I hold down the command key within apps to get a list of keyboard shortcuts, nothing happens. When I’ve tested this on family and friends’ iPads I have borrowed, it works just fine. Why doesn’t holding down the command key bring up a list of shortcuts on the iPhone.”
Well, the answer to that one, Christian, is because that’s the way Apple has designed it. The holding down of the command key to get that keyboard shortcut list is an iPadOS feature, not an iOS feature. Similarly, if you try and command tab between applications on your iPhone, that doesn’t work either. It would be a highly useful thing to have. It used to work on iOS a long time ago, and then they took it away and made it an iPadOS specific feature. The only thing I can suggest is that you contact perhaps Apple Accessibility and tell them that you would like that in iOS, and they may well register your interest.
Mickey: Hey, Jonathan, this is Mickey from Bismarck, North Dakota. This question is for a friend of mine, who is a totally blind computer user. He is thinking about getting a Mac computer. My question is, how you navigate the touch bar using voiceover?
Jonathan: It’s good to hear from you, Mickey. It’s been a wee while since we’ve heard from you. The touch bar on a MacBook Pro is very much like the touch screen on your iPhone or the track pad on your Mac. You can flick through the items on it. You can also drag your finger along and find the items on it and double tap the one that interests you.
I think it’s fair to say that whether you’re blind or whether you’re sighted, the touch bar is a bit controversial. Some people like it, other people wish that the MacBook Pro would get back to function keys, and there are rumors that that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing in future MacBook Pros that the touch bar just isn’t taking off in the way that Apple had anticipated.
When I got out of the Mac in 2016, one of the reasons for doing it was the touch bar, because in those days, what I liked about the Intel Macs was that I could run Windows and the Mac on the same computer, and have the best of both worlds. Now, obviously, when you go to a MacBook Pro with M1 chip, and if you’re buying a Mac now, I would not recommend doing anything else.
The M1 is a phenomenal piece of hardware. Then, you’re going all in on Mac because you can’t easily run Windows on one of these new MacBook Pros. For me, the lack of the function keys for when you’re using a Mac with a virtual machine or in Bootcamp, that was a bit of an issue for me. I thought, “Well, if that’s where Apple is going, I’m not really interested.”
If you listened to the session that we did with Janet Ingber a few weeks back now, we had Desiree, one of our callers, who was really adamant that she did not like the MacBook Pro’s touch bar.
Others, however, do, so it’s not a blindness thing at all. It’s accessible. It seems to work well from a voiceover perspective, from what I can gather, it’s just an acquired taste thing.
If you have an Apple Store or a Best Buy or something nearby, where you can go and lay hands on one of these things, you can always check the touch bar out for yourself and see what you think.
Some people are quite happy with the M1 MacBook Air, which is actually the very same chip as the M1 MacBook Pro, it’s just that it doesn’t have a fan in the air. That may mean some performance degradation. The MacBook Pro also has a better microphone array, which for many of us may be a significant factor.
I love to hear from you. 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.
[01:59:41] [END OF AUDIO]