An Old Dog Learns New Tricks: Sometimes Technology Empowers

By Katherine Schneider

I’m sixty-eight, totally blind and retired, so I thought I’d sneak through life without ever having to do a PowerPoint presentation. But I’ll be doing a talk on Wisconsin Public Television and everybody else does theirs with a PowerPoint, so I reluctantly decided I’d do one. I had no trouble preparing the text for the slides, but I wanted it to “pop” as a sighted friend described it. Luckily this friend volunteered to do so for free, although some chocolate did change hands.

 

Next I had to figure out how to show the PowerPoint. I didn’t want to be trying to use someone else’s technology (which might or might not be accessible to me) to show it. I decided to number slides and ask an audience member to use the slide clicker for me. I’d ring a bell and state the number of the slide I wanted. The method worked perfectly and didn’t seem to distract the audience. The presentation is on Being Access Able, so it made a great example of asking for help and people being willing to make accommodations.

 

Getting ready for a White Cane Day celebration we’re having in Eau Claire gave me the justification I’d been looking for to buy a beeping ball. I needed it for outdoor games, but it costs $40. It’s low tech, just a battery and a beeper inside a soft, spongy ball. After the event, I’ll donate it where grandparents can check it out to play with grandkids, kids can play catch whether they have a visual impairment or not, etc. Once families know it’s out there, they can consider buying or approach a civic club like Lions International about funding a ball for them.

 

The new iPhone app that’s garnering a good bit of attention in the blindness community is Seeing AI. It’s a free app designed by Microsoft for I-devices. It takes a picture of text or bar codes and then reads it aloud. The entertaining part is that it will also take pictures of people and scenes. For people, it will tell you their age, gender and expression. It’s not perfect. I’ve been everything from a 77 year-old female to a 55 year-old male (after I got a haircut). It’s providing a good bit of hilarity at gatherings and sparking some interesting discussions about what artificial intelligence can do nowadays and how humans feel about it.

 

My reactions to this app and another one that described the recent eclipse are: bring it on! No app will be perfect and make my experience of the world be the same as a sighted person’s, but they add something to my experience. A beeping ball, an app or ability to do PowerPoint expands my choices which means empowerment in the technology field. I’ll still choose to rely on sighted friends’ reports to tell me if something “pops”.

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