I blogged about my not just poor but disgraceful treatment by Singapore Airline cabin staff on 13 November during my flight, Heathrow to Singapore. I very unpleasant start to travel I had looked forward to for months.
The experience was so bad I put in a formal complaint to the airline who did respond apologising for their inappropriate treatment of me as a traveller with specific documented needs and also for the inappropriate way a male staff member spoke to my mother, suggesting it was her job to ensure my safekeeping and safety onboard the flight.
The fact is I sat on a Singapore Airlines plane for 13+ hours not knowing where anything was, that includes, safety information, toilets, no access to entertainment system, no access to assistance at all. The 13+ hour flight was a nightlight, I am completely blind in the dark and as a result of aircraft noise, little hearing and no access to lipreading my experience was not just horrible but uncomfortable and unpleasant and this was acknowledged with an offer of 100 Singapore dollars as what, an apology or compensation for their terrible service, either way a complete insult and not really the point. Clearly the principal far more important.
My travel agent was informed and both they and Singapore Airlines said they had learnt from my complaint and that my return journey would be perfect, everything would be dealt with to insure my needs considered completely.
So here we are travelling back from Denpasar, Bali. Check in 3 hours before your flight they said. Three hours before my flight they had already allocated seats for the Denpasar to Singapore flight and also the Singapore to Heathrow flight and guess what WRONG again.
Seats allocated were not appropriate, once again I would not be in a position to see or hear the cabin crew.
My mum contacted the travel agent in the UK who suggested we deal with the matter in Singapore, the people at the gate in Denpasar advised they would forward details of the seats required on the Singapore to London Heathrow leg - either that was not done or Singapore Airlines have serious communication issues on the ground.
Our travel agent was also horrified by the treatment on the outbound flight and I'm told has taken the matter up with his Singapore Airlines rep, repeating my thoughts on what an insult it was to offer 100 Singapore dollars as an apology or compensation, I should add that money could be spent only with, you guessed, Singapore Airlines so insult and completely invalid to me as I’ll never travel with them again.
I suffer with anxiety at the best of times and my stomach was tied in knots, I couldn't breath and went into meltdown at the airport in Denpasar, my Mum was at my side assuring me it would be okay and that the staff had promised to provide a supportive service on the way home, sadly it was not that way.
On arriving at the check in gate the young man on the gate suggested it was our fault the seats were not right and that Singapore Airlines do not attach any priority to people with disabilities - that is nice to know!
After the most embarrassing show of ‘We got it wrong’ having staff running back and forth to the plane asking people to swap seats, none wanted to so we boarded the plane virtually last.
I found it very hard to hold things together, I was so upset, it didn't feel like I had just had a wonderful holiday, I felt anything but relaxed.
Clearly the staff had been briefed to speak to me which would have been nice had I not felt like everybody was looking at me and listening to the conversation, I just burst into tears and wants to be left alone.
Yes this time I was told about safety and emergency procedures but to be honest I wasn't listening, I was far too upset.
I know the flight attendants were trying to help but the damage was already done.
Another 13.5 hours of seeing and hearing little or nothing, I decided to try to sleep in the hope I’d open my eyes and be home.
No such luck, closed my eyes and dozed on and off anxious, I might knock somebody or something, I just wanting to be anywhere but on this aircraft.
When the lights come back on in the cabin, about 3, 3 and a half hours from home I could see enough to look around the cabin, I could see no reason why my needs had not been considered and why I hadn't I simply been allocated appropriate seating with my Mum in a row of two where I didn't have to worry about knocking into or disturbing anybody else, I might even have been able to relax and possibly got some proper sleep.
I also could not see why I was not put in the bulkhead seats considering there were places for basinets but no babies, just a row of 3 men and a woman.
How can it be that this airline considers it is ok for babies to be on a bulkhead in close proximity to emergency exits and yet I would not? Makes no sense to me at all. A baby in arms would certainly be a hazard in the event of an emergency exit, would it not? I also scanned around when my mum escorted me to the toilet that the rows of two on either side of the plane did not have anybody with special needs, people who could have easily been more comfortable in the seats I was allocated, seems its true, Singapore Airlines does not give prior consideration to those like myself with very specific needs.
On scanning the cabin further I couldn’t help but notice the detail this airline go to symbolise Christmas, lots of decorations around the cabin, more concern for look than that of passengers with specific needs! Nice!
I cannot make head nor tail of this organisation, I simply asked for ‘Reasonable Adjustments” not because I’m difficult but because I want to feel comfortable just like everybody else.
Sitting in a front row means a staff member can stand in front of me so I can at least try to lipread, be independent rather than staff having to reach over to touch me to get my attention then repeat themselves over and over, making a spectacle of me in the process. I don't mind being touched but there are people who absolutely would be insulted, this is something else the needs to be considered.
I do not know what the answer is to travelling on a plane if, like me. you inform your travel agent and the airline of your needs and this sort of thing happens, what else is there besides do not fly at all!
The staff on my flight were very good, it shows just what they can do, sadly for me it was too little too late.
Thank you to both Elaine and Michelle for all your help on SQ306, you certainly tried.
To finish up, Singapore Airlines have demonstrated me just how thoughtless and incompetent they have been when it comes to travelling as a deafblind person and I’m sure will be happy to learn I won’t ever fly with them again. Expensive tickets to be treated badly.
I am a 22 year old who struggles with accessibility.
I am registered deafblind, however, I was not born deafblind but deaf. What that means, to you, is that I was brought up a very visual child and like most deaf people I could lipread, observe body language and even converse using my hands and sight. I was not brought up using Braille, or voiceover and still today I know the most basic Braille, my choice and I still chose to use the tiny amount of vision I still retain.
For your information what I see is like looking through a straw, I'm sure you can try to imagine how challenging that is.
So when I am told and sent links by your "accessibility team" telling me to seek help in your help pages online you will understand that you have not enabled zoom so it is impossible to magnify anything so I can read it so naturally asking me to complete a form really is a thoughtless request and of as much use as a chocolate teapot!
Facebook is one of the most altered and cluttered apps and as yet I am waiting for the alteration that enables people like myself to actually access it the way others can, it just clearly isn't a priority to you.
In real terms what this means is you are knowingly isolating further an already isolated community and not just those with my condition or low vision but the elderly who want to reach out to others, to those confused by the cluttered fashion of Facebook. I know this isn't new news to you because I have blogged about this before!
It's not asking too much for huge corporates like Facebook to consider the accessibility needs of us all and yet it continues to fall on deaf ears.
The latest in the Facebook Book of "Accessibility Howlers" was delivered to me via twitter, which seems the only way you respond to anybody accept the time I was contacted by your London offices, by email via my charity and asked to give you a free presentation on accessibility - I think on reflection maybe I should have given my time for free to help vulnerable groups but, I too have to make a living!
Facebook decided to withdraw the 'boost post' facility from my Charity Page, a page where I would regularly share information within the deafblind community, the reason why, who knows? It asks, in the dreaded pop up box, for up to date payment details, had to have that read to me and guess what? My payment details are all up to date. Put in alternate payment details, won't accept those, so what is next? Of course, ask @fbaccess and guess what, you got it, they send a "help" link I cannot access because zoom is not enabled - so what is the answer, just ignore me, so far that is the only answer, nobody has contacted me, told me why I cannot boost any posts, re-enabled the facility so that's it - Facebook cares I'm told, well, really?
Is this really satisfactory accessibility from one of the biggest in social media, it's beginning to feel very much like Anti-social media!
You know, I would far rather work with these companies and help make everything accessible for those in need but Facebook remain unapproachable and inconsiderate.
I'm not asking for for 'super amazing brilliant' I just want fair access, zoom enabled and for somebody to sort out this 'boost post' facility so I can continue with my work raising awareness of Usher Syndrome, deafblindness, accessibility, assistive technology and all the other aspects of my work.
Maybe if I put this on my Christmas list it might get resolved or maybe Christmas will never come!
Dynamic text galore!
As we all know Apple products, get fairly regular software updates.
I had read and heard a few things about iOS 10, but was intending on waiting to experience it before making comments.
A few instant differences, my text seems larger. I already had larger text enabled via Accessibility settings and with this some apps enable dynamic text so also enlarge text, however, in settings my text seems clearer, larger and bolder, very positive, though not all text size is consistent through all apps.
There was a lot of chat about a new iMessage.
I couldn't imagine how it could be improved. Instantly noticeable are now three symbols, the 'camera' symbol being instantly recognisable, however, the the other two symbols I had to scrutinise! After some time zooming in I discovered the middle is 'digital touch,' like on Apple Watch, though this isn't quite as simple. The bottom half of the screen is black and to change colour of the pen, is simple, but the icons used to illustrate digital touch and video are so tiny. This confused me, after pressing the video icon, camera appears and its now possible to doodle before or during screening a video. This doesn't particularly interest me, though I found after exiting from the camera (well contrasted small cross in the left corner) the black digital touch screen appears in full screen mode, this certainly makes the screen more accessible, giving more room to send your heartbeat or 'sketch,' whatever you'd like to do with digital touch.
The third icon, my initial thought 'A' for AppStore, however on pressing an interesting discovery of 'memes,' images of text and then the option to send across a song from your music library.
To me this seemed like a strange selection under 'A,' I did not find it immediately obvious or the understanding behind it. After more scrutiny I realised it is possible to send Apps, however I didn't find this until I discovered 4 grey dots in the bottom corner that navigate to 4 more options, one being '+' which directs you to the App Store itself.
It took some me some considerable searching and fiddling!
Going back to the first icon in iMessage, the camera, this one though I understood exactly what it was I've not yet seen' figured out how to put camera on full screen before sending a picture. To enlarge on this, once pressing the camera icon, your camera roll appears next to minimised camera feature, moving my phone around I realise the camera was active, and indeed you can take a picture and send right across without being redirected to the camera app.
This may seem easy for some but for somebody like myself who uses the camera as a 'seeing' tool, to zoom in and take pictures to access detail, having the camera feature small without the ability to enable full screen isn't helpful. However, after investigating this further I found that swiping from the left side of the 'mini' camera icon is a slim grey tall box with a grey faded arrow to the left that then indicates to 'camera,' and 'photo library,' this does then take you into the camera app on full screen- this took me a considerable time to discover! Grey on grey dare I say, is incredibly inaccessible!
For as long as I can remember I have used iPhone with large text, this is always helpful and of course is how I can read my messages without straining, though one thing that is noticeable with larger text is the icons don't enlarge. For instance, the 'send,' button has changed in iOS10, it's now an arrow, this is small and I had to search around for it a few times with my finger.
The sizing of the icons in comparison to my large text can make my screen seem out of of proportion and harder to find the smaller icons.
Inside the message window there is 'iMessage,' written in faded grey, not only is this poor contrast but because of that it can be hard to find the text box as the overall backdrop is white, making it difficult to differentiate conversation with text boxes.
Keyboard-wise I noticed the emojis have also enlarged ever so slightly allowing less 'faces,' on screen at a time before swiping across to see the rest, they now have more 3D effect I can start to understand what each emoji stands for.
When in other apps and I received a message, the iMessage/ text message tab that appears is grey. This overlapping other apps doesn't sit well visually. I find it hard to see the tab to either press on or exit it.
Before this update the tab was black, and by pulling it down from the top of the screen the backdrop was black and the text was white- I loved this! Visually it was soothing and did not put any additional stress on my eyes. I'm sad to see this gone with the new update.
Moving onto Apple Music, since having my new and treasured hearing aids,Resound Linx2 I can stream music rarely a day goes by without me listening to music. One of the first things I noticed after updating was the ability to load lyrics, and again large text enabled. This made my day!
Being a deaf person, growing up I always enjoyed music even though I couldn’t access the lyrics, now I love it even more. I would always google the lyrics and sing/ read along with the song in attempt to fully understand and appreciate it.
In recent years I've found the lyric websites to be poor in contrast and a struggle to read even with zoomed features. Having lyrics loaded up on Apple Music means I don't need to search for accessible lyrics, they're right and in dynamic text, perfect.
Another pleasant improvement I noticed, not only is the time and date now displayed bolder than before in locked screen, it's nice to have the ability to swipe down and see any notifications I may have missed or need to see.
The new update has changed the text and colours. Much better! The boxes 'up next,' or 'Siri app suggestions' are off white/ grey with bold larger text (dynamic text!) I can access these without straining. I struggled before and often had to fiddle with zoom features to access, which took a lot of time.
Maps is an app I use a lot both on my iPhone and Apple Watch. Glancing at the Map I instantly saw that text / locations is larger and clearer, 'start,' and 'end,' displayed much clearer than before (also green and red, to clearly indicate without losing it on the screen in poor contrasts) and there are less steps to get where you need previously.
Simplicity makes all the difference and certainly less tiring and hassle to navigate!
What a brilliant idea since I rely heavily on my camera to zoom in on things. Having it set as a shortcut via triple clicking the home screen is really helpful, however, I could already swipe up on a locked screen and be on camera which is quicker!
Camera, one movement rather than three speedy fiddly clicks. Once on magnifier there is a line with a dial along the bottom of the camera that enables you to zoom. The bottom of the screen where the controls are to enable zoom is great, black with yellow dial to scroll across to zoom. These colours are great for me visually to see exactly where to zoom. An alternate for those who struggle to see the scrolling feature like on camera, fingers can be used to pinch the screen to use zoom.
At the bottom right corner is a feature to alter brightness/ contrast or even invert colours, this is a great add on, I can see this as brilliant for reading menus in restaurants or any text material.
Another great way of using mainstream tech as opposed to expensive specialist equipment made for the blind /visually impaired.
I got really excited to see this, I straight away enabled 'colour filters,' to see what I could do to reduce glare and brightness without making the screen seem dark. There are 5 options with various colour combinations which can filter the display to most comfortable.
After experimenting I opted for 'colour tint,' the very last option, this immediately made the screen yellowish, and below I could either increase/ decrease intensity or hue. I loved having the manual power to adjust to what was best to suit my needs. I also have enabled 'reduce white point,' as any white/glare onscreen gives me headache after using for a while.
The only critism I would have here, is on adjusting 'intensity' or 'hue' or even 'reduce white point,' each has a line with a button that can scroll either way, the colouring of this is quite difficult to work with, whites and greys are a difficult contrast for me to determine where the button is to scroll, I’d like to see these colours and contrasts used less frequently as they are difficult.
From an accessibility view there are a few changes for the better, especially the more consistent dynamic text through the many applications, the clarity and better contrasted boxes in 'notification centre,' or some refer to as 'glances.' However some iMessage features such as the icons, the struggle to find camera have made life a little tougher.
I rely on my iPhone for many things it helps me to access the world, for me each software update brings new possibilities, iOS10 is on the whole good but there is a little room for improvement!
After my recent report regarding very unacceptable treatment whilst flying British Airways Premium Economy to Las Vegas in May I’m very pleased to announce that they have at least changed their ticketing practice and are now able to add both deaf and blind instead of just one disability, this should now make very clear to all staff the unique accessibility needs of any deafblind traveller travelling and to ensure the appropriate support /assistance is in place.
I was very pleased to see this on my ticket for my flight last month to Glasgow.
This is absolutely a step in the right direction however there is still work to do.
I have suggested to British Airways have all safety instructions and menu’s available on the iPads each staff member appears to have which would then solve the issue of accessibility for the majority with blindness, visual impairment or low vision, how simple is that? In my opinion there should always be braille copies of safety instructions onboard for those who need it, according to the people I spoke with on both recent flights this has not been the case for years. Virgin have braille on every flight!
All with blindness should always be offered a one to one to touch and feel safety equipment, without exception, this I am told is normal practice, however, it was not offered to me on either of my recent flights!
It is my belief that more can be done to make life much easier for those with disabilities travelling rather than the many hoops we have to jump through currently.
Technology is always the answer and it should be used to make life easier for both traveller and staff.
Going back to the staff iPad, these are already in use why not enable disabled travellers to set up a profile detailing their needs and upon booking a flight the profile can be added this would be particularly helpful to the deafblind and deaf unable to use a telephone but with specific accessibility needs.
The call to special assistance is usually a long hold then a staff member unsure of what is required, ending the call feeling anxious that needs are not catered for and from my experiences they simply do not get it right.
A personal profile could be set up simply and safely stored by the customer of by the airline with the permission of the customer and applied at time of booking the information then readily available and viewable to all staff and then the unacceptable excuses I was given about breakdown in communication from ground staff to air staff would be eradicated and all disabled people would know their needs would be met.
I very much appreciate British Airways have listened to me and I have seen evidence of this however I am concerned to hear several deaf customers have also had bad experiences recently so there really is work to do.
Hidden disabilities are often the most misunderstood hence the need for all round training.
I personally object to being offered a wheelchair in order to have assistance at the airport, why would I need that? I’d like to be escorted on foot through the quietest checkin and security, I can walk, it is just very difficult in busy unfamiliar areas with a cane or guidedog.
So British Airways thank you for changing your ticketing procedure as a direct response to my complaint and for the offer of compensation airmails or eticket but more importantly please consider my other ideas which will make a difference to millions.
My offer to present deafblind, deaf, blind awareness to your staff remains and I can be contacted via my website.
My next two flights are booked and not with British Airways however I will consider flying with you again to see if improvements continue to be made.
My outward journey to Las Vegas was nowhere near the way it should have been.
The necessary call to ‘special assistance’ had been made by my mum prior to the trip and my specific accessibility needs spelt out then, again at check in and still sadly the necessary provision was not in place.
Whilst my condition is rare my accessibility needs are not overly out of the ordinary:
I personally need safety instructions I can read, so large print and a one to one, maximum 5/10 minutes explanation as to where I can find the emergency exits, toilets and assistance button. In addition to this I would need a menu with large print.
From a safety and comfort prospectus it would be preferable to be seated in a bulkhead seat for several reasons. firstly toilets tend to be near bulkhead seats, secondly I am quite clumsy not being able to see or hear properly I then have a little more personal space and therefore less likely to knock into or irritate other passengers and thirdly if I am travelling with my guide dog she needs that extra space.
As a result of the unacceptable lack of provision and discussion with one of the onboard staff I was assured my return flight would be stress free and that I should not worry.
My experiences widely publicised on social media again I was assured my return flight would be better!
Once again at checkin I checked my disability was recorded in the booking which was confirmed and I was asked if I needed assistance, calling for a wheelchair!
This awful stereotyping and assumption that all people with a disability need a wheelchair really needs to change.
Naturally I did not use the provided wheelchair but did take up the assistance in getting through customs relatively stress free.
I boarded the aircraft with my cane in hand and was shown to my seat and that was that.
No accessible safety instructions or anything else, in fact worse as the entertainment system was not working so the staff did a manual briefing of the safety instructions. I am fortunate to have the very best in hearing aid technology however, I could not hear the verbal instructions very well and certainly couldn’t see the staff member doing his demonstration. What I did hear was things like ‘Your nearest exit can be found here and here’ well, where is here? not useful at all to somebody who is deafblind or blind - this is certainly something that needs to be addressed. Everybody needs full access to safety instructions.
Again the staff member spoken to was shocked and surprised that according to her ‘iPad’ I was not noted as having a disability at all and she showed me her iPad. It occurred to me then, why not have an iPad available to people like myself with the safety instructions on it, then each individual could then adjust text to their personal needs, simple!
Evidently any person travelling with a disability should have a small sign beside their name indicating such - strange as ground staff had confirmed it was on the booking at checkin. At this stage I was informed BA could only identify me as either deaf or blind not deafblind as their system would not allow it - SPEECHLESS, clearly my needs could never have been considered appropriately with this system.
Needless to say my experience with BA had not been a good one and I am sad to say exactly the same happened to me on a flight to Hong Kong in 2012, back then I was assured the system would change!
I travel a great deal as do many with my condition and the service I endured was not acceptable and as a result I have publicised my experience in the hope BA will consider the deafblind and look to address the unacceptable treatment I endured.
I am absolutely delighted to say today I received notification from BA that as a result of my experiences the following has happened:
BA’s Customer Services have conversed with their both Policy Manager and Facilitation Manager and as a result their system will now allow both deaf and blind indicators on their bookings, sadly not deafblind as their system won’t allow it at this time, hopefully this will come, but this is certainly far better than previously at least now cabin crew will know when a passenger has more specific accessibility issues.
I am oral however some with my condition (Usher Syndrome) may need safety instructions in braille, some might use sign language.
I think it would be prudent of airlines to consider communication needs also.
I’m told it is now possible to select both deaf and blind when booking too which is great news as many deafblind are unable to use a telephone to advise of their needs.
Of course this hasn't made my experience any better but it has given me faith that I have been listened to and that BA have immediately looked to improve their service for all deafblind travellers and of that I am eternally grateful.
So, again thank you to social media for enabling me to get my message across to British Airways and to British Airways for listening and acting.
Usher Syndrome for me means my whole world is accessed via accessible assistive technology.
A year ago to the day I was fitted with Resound Linx2 hearing aids. It has been quite a year, a year that I have experienced some amazing things.
I was born deaf so very used to wearing hearing aids and I coped pretty well. Great support as a child, I could speak well and on the whole was doing pretty well at school, I accepted deafness, I knew no different. However things changed upon my usher diagnosis.
As my sight went I felt as though my hearing had deteriorated too, thankfully this was not the case but in actual fact I had lost my ability to hear with my eyes. I couldn't lipread, i couldn't see body language or gesture properly. I visited audiology to be told my hearing was stable so I continued to use the same hearing aids, I then realised how much I had relied upon my vision to help me hear. I could no longer see much and I was really struggling to hear and there I was expected to just get on with it.
To say it was difficult is an understatement so I isolated myself, the world was a frightening place when you cannot see or hear.
I look back now and it makes me angry to think this is so unnecessary knowing so much more about the available enabling technology.
Had I been fitted with Linx2 when I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome my blindness would not have impacted so heavily upon me. The clarity of these hearing aids, their ability to enable spatial awareness, to have several settings changeable depending on environment instead of feeling more deaf and more isolated than I had ever felt as a deaf person I would have felt more confident in my ability to hear and to trust my hearing.
Linx2 bluetooth connectivity has enabled me to use a telephone for the first time in my life and to hear clearly, I was 20 years old before I could make a phone call with confidence and to hear the voices of my family properly, things most people take for granted.
I can now localise, I know where sounds come from. Before I was blind I would hear sound and often need to look all around to find the source, looking all around is no longer an option with only 5 degrees of sight left so this feature is priceless. I can be out and about with guide dog Unis and hear the sounds of danger, I can also hear the sounds I've missed over the years, I can hear birds sing and dogs bark, I can hear aeroplanes and the more important things I can hear voices, the voices of my family so clearly. I can hear new tones, I hear music, I can hear mood and picture atmospheres and so much more.
Blind people rely on their hearing and deaf people on their sight and yet deafblind people like myself are expected to "make do" to get by. As if life isn't tough enough with dual sensory impairment, surely we should be entitled to technology that will enhance our lives, to enable us to get on as best we can.
Linx2 enable me to access so much more. With full connectivity to my iPhone and applewatch I can now access lots of useful apps developed to assist the blind, something I could not do with my old hearing aids.
For me blindness is the most challenging part of my condition, there is no cure for it, it affects how I personally access information and also my mobility.
There is no cure for my deafness either but the hearing aid technology I use has been life changing so not the issue it was for me.
My interest in assistive technology and accessibility heightened on my Usher Syndrome diagnosis. Being only 12 on diagnosis and then registered blind at 14 I had already begun strategising and experimenting with assistive technology as it enabled me to "fit in" as best I could.
I see myself as fortunate to be born at a time when technology was good and am thankful it continues to get better and better, sadly for many accessing the best enabling technology is all too often out of reach financially which is very sad.
In my mind best technology is the only way forward and long term would work out so much more beneficial to all.
More people with Usher Syndrome would have the ability to be active members of society. Able to get out and about with confidence, work in different environments, use a telephone, communicate confidently rather than be home, unemployed often feeling isolated and depressed.
Technology should not be "frightening" to anybody it should be embraced by all it is not just fancy gadgets for people like myself, with other disabilities and for the elderly it is enabling.
I am deafblind, I am 21 years old and technology has given me my life back.
I am hearing with the most amazing technology, technology I'd dearly like for others who would benefit from them. I am able to access lots of information via my iPhone and Applewatch, I am even seeing things with my 5 degrees of vision, things I haven't seen in years via the Ricoh Theta s 360 degree camera. This little camera enables me to take a 360 degree picture which appears on my iPhone screen, I can move the picture around with my finger to see a whole screen of information. A strange experience for me the first time I used it but an amazing experience I can only describe as seeing an atmosphere, zooming in on every area of my screen. It gives me a memory of peripheral vision, something I lost almost 8 years ago, absolutely amazing.
I cannot imagine my life without my trusty MacBook or my iOS products they enabled me to access my education, to reach out to others and to maximise my abilities as a deafblind person and more excitingly these technologies keep improving
I love teaching others how to use the technology I am lucky enough to enjoy, I want others to understand what technology offers and I want those in technology to understand the often unique needs of people with sensory impairment, particularly Usher Syndrome and deafblindness.
Whilst accessible technology is available and amazing it remains that far too many websites are not accessible, even with fantastic technology. This is an area that needs to improve and an area that interests me.
There is no reason why it remains that many educational intranets and government websites are inaccessible. Still many of the most important Social Media platforms are not fully accessible and this needs to change.
I myself was denied my University education and in this day and age this is absolutely not necessary.
It is refreshing to know there is now a Global Accessibility Awareness Day as it must means Accessibility is firmly in the minds of many going forward and this is absolutely good news.
A really is for Accessibility...
I have been asked many times what my favourite social media is and why and my answer is always Twitter.
The reasons I like Twitter are firstly from an accessibility view point. There is choice, there are several Twitter apps each offering something a little different and those little differences mean more chance of there being something that works for those of us with varying needs like blind but with low vision, hence able to access text if the right size, colour and contrast, bearing in mind biggest it not always best!
Twitter is an excellent platform for accessing and sharing information also for finding like minded people and for support.
Through blogging and networking mainly using Twitter as my favoured platform I have been able to reach out and communicate with people and companies I would never have met without accessible social media.
I have been quite overwhelmed on occasion that people from all over the world and from fields varying from technology, accessibility and healthcare have taken an interest in my work and remembered me in such a way that they post and tag me in things they feel may be useful or interesting to me and my cause which is quite incredible and I am very thankful of that consideration.
My passions continue to be to raise awareness of Usher Syndrome, it's many challenges, to recognise accessible and enabling assistive technology for those with sensory impairment and test if possible then share my findings.
Twitter is so easy to access, simple rows, easy to scroll up and down unlike my least favourite social media platform, Facebook.
I blogged a great deal about Facebook last year and I was very pleased to see the long awaited arrival of dynamic text for those of us with limited sight. That said they still have a long way to go to make accessibility easier for people like myself, particularly on mobile devices.
Facebook is very useful for specialist support groups, bringing people together, however if those who need the support cannot access it it becomes frustrating and quite a let down to many in need.
I remember there used to be more than one app for Facebook but that no longer appears to be the case, which is very unfortunate, we are all different and all like choice.
Facebook changes / updates regularly but remains very cluttered and hard to navigate.
It seems Facebook sees blindness as total and that voiceover is a requirement even though there are so many with low vision.
The low vision group would include the ageing. Then there are those with Usher Syndrome, deafblindness some who cannot access sound so voiceover not an option. These people are therefore reliant on accessing visually and it is very difficult amongst the clutter.
There needs to be options to invert / change colours at least.
If you can imagine looking through a straw and actually realising how little of a screen you would see at any one time then you can imagine the difficulty experienced on a cluttered screen, it's exhausting.
I guess frustration best describes Facebook and it's very disappointing as so many vulnerable groups rely on it to catch up with others when they cannot get out and mix easily.
Facebook make regular changes and I noticed are looking to make more improvements including describing pictures, which is great for those who need it but again won't help the deafblind.
I feel Facebook should be a friendly and easily accessible place for all to find friends or support groups, here's hoping this is coming too, until then its “Frustrating Facebook.”
I am very fortunate that I have access to quite a range of accessible assistive technology and all are mainstream products which really goes to show how far things have progressed for people with sensory impairments, however so many apps and websites have a long long way to go to allow full access to all.
My son read Molly's applewatch blog to me last year. She made everything sound so easy and to be honest I didn't believe it.
My son kept on and and and on about me getting one as I had become quite a recluse.
I could always find an excuse not to go out, my neighbours helped out with shopping and my son visits regularly.
I have had an iPhone for just over a year and learnt how to use it just by playing with it.
A couple of years ago I was assessed by Guidedogs for a dog but was told I couldn't be considered for a dog until I had some sort of routine as the dog needs to work.
To be honest it put me into a state of depression and I withdrew further.
I was trained to use a cane some years ago but didn't like it and didn't feel I needed it. I was definitely in denial.
Anyway, I had been unhappy for many years. Usher Syndrome has isolated me and I let it.
My son advised me of the project Molly had put together through her charity and he more I read the more I wanted to give the applewatch a try.
I admire Molly, so young and doing her best to live happily and to help others, she is definitely an inspiration to me.
At 54 years old I am not an expert in technology but I'm learning and I quite like it, I have surprised myself with my iPhone, set up my own email and a few apps and games with a little help.
I decided to apply for the applewatch thinking I'd have no chance, as I don't have a regular routine, haven't even ventured to my local shop on my own for probably 5 years.
I'm sure there are lots of people hoping to get an applewatch and Molly Watt Trust is a small charity and fundraising isn't easy.
When I got the email to say I had been approved for a watch and after a few formalities it would be sent to me I was in shock, I hadn't expected it especially as at this stage I knew MWT have asked for feedback to help with fundraising and I asked to be anonymous - it wasn't a problem.
I received my applewatch in January, it was like Christmas. I charged it and set it up on my own, I fiddled around with it, sorted out the accessibility settings and changed the faces. My son did help me with a few apps and applepay then he helped me set up a route on maps for me to walk on my own with my cane. He was more excited than me.
It took me 2 weeks to actually walk that route, I had sleepless nights thinking about it. I was fighting with myself, I wanted to do it but I was frightened and hated the thought of being seen with my cane.
I planned the walk over and over until I finally took a deep breath and just did it.
The route was to my local shops, just over a mile a way.
At first I was really slow and apprehensive but the further I got the better I felt, the watch guided me with taps on my wrist for left and right. I made it to the small supermarket and I felt so adrenalised I wanted to walk and walk. All of a sudden I didn't care if people were looking at me, I felt confident, I felt great.
I decided to go in the coffee shop next door something I'd never have done for fear of knocking something over, I walked in, it was quite empty, I ordered my coffee and the young girl asked if I wanted to pay with my applewatch, I stretched out my arm and beep, done.
I sat down and my coffee was brought to me.
I couldn't believe myself, I was smiling to myself for the first time in a long time, I had done it and I did it for myself.
I text my son from the coffee shop, he didn't believe me so came and met me. We both cried, silly I know but a big deal for me.
My son took me home and we talked about technology and how it can change people, enable people, just amazing.
That was the first time and now I go out everyday, I feel so much better for it. No longer a prisoner in my own home, I can get from a to b fairly safely. I do get a bit stressed if it is busy so I avoid busy times.
For me this is just the beginning, I will contact Guidedogs for the blind again perhaps in the summer when I can say I go out regularly, we will see.
For now I just want to thank everybody at Molly Watt Trust for making this happen and for Molly for being such an inspirational young lady.
I will write again soon.
San Francisco had been on my long list of places to visit and I was lucky enough to go on a girls only adventure with Mum and my younger sister Lily.
Going away and out of my comfort zone can be very stressful, whether I am alone, with Unis or with others.
To deal with the anxiety I often feel I use my travel experiences as a mission to find who and what is accessible in my world.
Whilst I’m concentrating on the good, bad and acceptable it gives me something to think about rather than feel anxious.
Our journey begins at Heathrow Airport and our flight with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin were advised I am deafblind on booking and that safety instructions in large print be made available. They were also advised I am most comfortable to board first to avoid the crowds which are uncomfortable.
I was escorted to the aircraft, Mum and sister following behind. I was introduced to two staff and shown to my seat where I was made comfortable and provided with safety instructions in both braille and large print - impressive.
The nearest toilets and emergency exits were pointed out, not too far in front of me and button to call for assistance.
Very good, it would have been good to have the food menu in larger print as I did have to ask for help in choosing my meal, handy to have Mum and sister to rely on here so a little room for improvement but not bad.
It was a long journey, almost 11 hours.
It wasn’t too bad as we arrived in a warm and sunny San Francisco, 8 hours behind UK time so quite tired but adrenalised to finally be there.
This is the main reason I did not take Unis, long journey, time difference and we were only there for 6 days. It would have been a lot to ask of her so she stayed home with my Dad and had a mini break from work!
Unis always gives me a hard time when I leave her, sulks for days when I get back, it was for the best, she just doesn’t realise it!
I was disappointed with SFO Airport, it did not have an assistance lane in the arrival hall. I find crowding very stressful, especially when I am in unfamiliar surroundings, its very disorientating.
I was glad to have Mum and Lily to guide me.
I was really happy to arrive whilst it was light so I could appreciate the views from the taxi drive on our way to our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Check in was pretty painless and we were soon in the lift to our room.
A nice room but it was so dark, dark walls, dark furniture, and dark blinds. Thankfully the bedding was white so I could at least see the beds ok.
There were lots of lamps around the room but not a ceiling light so the dreaded uneven light that my eyes hate, a kind of dusky light.
I had several bumps and bruises from that room set up #ushersyndrome #issues.
I really liked the area we stayed in, it was quite easy to get around by public transport using my applewatch.
At the core of my visit was a trip to the Apple Campus in Cupertino which was a bus journey followed by a train trip. Pretty easy and pain free travel using my cane.
I was impressed with the first bus stop I needed, it had both visual and audio description of which buses go where and when. I didn't find this function at the train station but did find a very helpful employee who showed me to where I needed to be.
Yes, I am the deafblind one but I like to be as independent as possible so Mum and sister let me find out what I need to and of course if I need help they are there.
The train was great, really clear audible information from what sounded like a real person rather than the recorded voices on public transport in UK.
I liked to hear a real person sounding cheerful announcing each station as we approached it.
We disembarked at Mountain View and were met by a cheerful English driver who drove us to the Apple Campus. It wasn't too far.
Having been dropped off the driver made sure we were okay checking in and met with a couple of the staff we were meeting.
I was a quite overwhelmed to be visiting the Apple Campus, it was all quite surreal.
We got lunch and sat out in the sunshine speaking to various people from various of the teams based there and of course we discussed my http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days was an amazing experience for me.
We got to look in the newly refurbished Apple Store, I really like the shop, the lighting was warmer than lots of shops here in the UK. The new large screen was awesome. I also particularly liked the new shelving of the accessories, right height and so easily accessible, perfect.
Lastly a meeting with those who wanted to meet me, my last chance to talk about accessibility and how I and people like myself use apple products.
We were at the Apple Campus for the afternoon, time flew, it was an amazing experience, a real WOW and something I’ll never forget.
Taxi journey back to Mountain View and the train back to the City in the dark!
The train was well lit and busy but worked fine for me.
The bus journey back to Fisherman’s Wharf was straight forward once I had found the bus stop, this was not ‘Usher Friendly’, at least not the way it is here in the UK.
Bus Stops in San Fransisco are not always obvious like in the Uk. Some do have proper bus shelters, some appeared to be just poles with small numbers stuck on them or bus stop written on the road. Thankfully I wasn't alone or I would have really struggled, particularly in the dark.
On the whole public transport in San Francisco is good, however I found road crossings are not ‘Usher Friendly’.
Here we have ‘zebra crossings’ which have flashing lights and they're very obvious, even to people like myself in San Francisco there are some pedestrian crossings which I understand however there were also crossings indicated by two thick white lines about 8 feet apart, however these were not obvious to me and I wasn't sure when it was safe to cross or who's right of way it was. I was confused and Unis would have bee too.
We went shopping in San Francisco and I know all my Usher friends in the UK will be interested to hear that both Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch had decent lighting, not the awful darkness we endure in their shops in the UK.
I used my cane a lot in the City centre and on the whole felt very safe. We navigated around on foot to the various galleries and places of interest using my Applewatch.
As we were only there for a short time we decided to book a one day bus tour around the City. This was a disappointment as on boarding the bus I advised the driver of my deafness, I was not offer a loop system or anything else to give me access to the onboard guide. I definitely missed out on the audio, I relied on Mum and Lily to fill me in on what was being said. I’m pretty sure we all missed out because of that.
Fisherman’s Wharf was a buzzing area, we walked there and enjoyed some sightseeing and a boat trip around the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was lucky enough to actually see sea lion’s swimming alongside the boat. I felt really lucky to actually see them as each time Lily or my Mum pointed to them and I looked they were gone. I felt so sad but it was almost as if they knew I hadn't seen them as they popped up right in my field of vision just before we docked, it completely made my day.
I found San Francisco to be a friendly place and I would love to return, see and experience what I missed.
I know people with Usher Syndrome that live there who had hoped I was doing a public presentation, sadly not but maybe one day, fingers crossed.
We left our hotel with heavy hearts but I was looking forward to being reunited with Unis.
The check in with Virgin Atlantic at SFO Airport was straight forward and thankfully security not too stressful.
Again I was boarded first and given accessible safety instructions and made comfortable. Virgin were very good.
Now home in a very chilly Berkshire where Unis has stopped sulking and its back to normal, that said my 6 days in San Francisco have given me memories I’ll never forget.
Besides a beautiful City I got not just a visit to the Apple Campus but also to to meet and speak to some amazing people, a real WOW experience and a big thank you to those who made it happen.
So I've now had my Watch a month and the best way I can describe it is 'Effortless.'
When I first got it all in its beautiful packaging it felt like Christmas again, all thanks to the Molly Watt Trust's GlobalGiving Project.
I was chosen as one of the first to trial this idea and wow I'm very thankful!
I Have Usher type 2 so born partially Deaf and now slowly losing my sight due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, that is Usher Syndrome.
I'm pretty much the worst for missing calls or notifications and emails simply because I don't hear the pings and don't see until I check myself usually just before bedtime.
Well since this lovely piece of tech came into my life that is now a thing of the Past....
'Haptic's where have you been all my life?'
So when I first got this all set up, I adjusted the font and display and synced to my IPhone 6, I turned Haptic's up and volume down ( I'm higher tone deaf so no point for me as I wont hear it) I was well away.
I downloaded some apps such as my Bank and Email also Around Me so I could use it with Maps to use as a walking Sat Nav, also BBC news app.
All of these worked well for me the At a Glance I found really useful as well as the Call Feature as when I'm on a bus or the school run it isn't ideal with Guide dog in one hand, child in the the other so now in an emergency with just a quick click and a tap or even a 'hey Siri Call...' at my wrist I could call for help without being at risk. That was a huge biggie for me.
However for me there is one very big FAIL! It is not the fault of Apple or the Applewatch but my hearing aids, they do not work with Bluetooth, no connectivity so I can't hear directly to my ear so I found myself holding my wrist right up to my ear looking abit 'James Bond esk' but not a great feeling trying to juggle everything child, dog and school bags it was abit of a pain but as I say not Apple's fault but the Oticon spirit Zest hearing aids supplied by the NHS so no perks which a real shame as I feel I could probably gain a whole different view had I had the right equipment.
Any way a month down the line the applewatch feels great it's amazingly light and easy to forget it's on my wrist until I get the helpful Haptic's reminder of something in my calendar or emails, and even to navigate to somewhere new, very useful In busy town centres when I just need to go from A to B without scanning around which causes terrible eye strain and headaches, Applewatch has helped stop this, no more scanning just relying on a simple tap or taps on my wrist enabling me to simply direct my guide dog left or right accordingly.
Pretty awesome and effortless for me, my daughter likes the drawing bit in the contacts with those who also have the watch she thinks its magic and cool.
I know I have a lot more to learn about my Applewatch and I'm sure in the coming months I will have more to report.
I'm feeling more confident and independent and feel with this technology and my guidedog I can become ever more independent, maybe a part time job soon.
The only snag I have are these 'prehistoric' hearing aids. Having hearing aids with full comaptibility would be absolutely awesome, I guess a girl can dream!
That said I love my new watch, it is more than a watch and whoever developed Haptics - Thank you life is definitely a little easier.
I want to say Thank you to to the MWT Global Giving project for this awesome gift!