Friday, October 30, 2015

An Apple a Day or Every Other Day

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was persuaded by an adaptive technology trainer at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to purchase an iPhone in order to buy and use the KNFB app.  The phone came with no instructions, including how to turn it on and off; but the trainer was showing me what to do until he moved out of town.  He assured me that I would be able to get any help I needed at the Apple store or from AT&T where I purchased the phone.  I have not been happy with the service I received from AT&T nor the Apple product, but I decided not to share my experience—until now.

I received the November issue of Consumer Vision, the online magazine (  A reader wrote the following:
“Recently, I got an IPhone 6 as a birthday present. I went online and tried to find a manual for it. There was a PDF version, but it’s imaged. So, when I tried to open it using Adobe, Jaws said “blank document.” Apple prides itself on having accessible equipment. Yet, when I called the Support Desk, the representative had no idea where I could find an accessible manual.”

First, Learning Ally ( has an audio book, “iPhone, the Missing Manual.”  This book is for older versions of the iPhone, but its Table of Contents and content do teach the basics for most older and new models.
Second, when a PDF says “Blank Document,” it means that a document is there but cannot be read by the screen-reading software.  The item (manual) can be printed if it is not too long and scanned and read by a scanner or a sighted reader nearby.
Third, there is a Missing Manuals website online (
Fourth, a PDF that says, "Blank Document," when opened can sometimes be read by a screen-reader if it is saved to "Downloads" rather than opened immediately.
Fifth, everything on your iPhone or Smart phone must be backed up, including a list of your apps and songs.  Smart phone and iPhone users have lost everything from photos to important documents during the transfer process when a phone was replaced or upgraded.

What follows is the reply I sent to an Apple survey after attending a Beginner’s Workshop at an Apple store.  My feedback was not acknowledged, and a computer savvy friend who volunteers at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped says that feedback surveys are trashed.  I am sharing this today because I also received an email from NFB Newsline saying that the KNFB reader is now available for android phones.  Android phones are not sold at stores like the Apple store where “geniuses” at least try to teach customers who need to learn how to use the phone as well as accessibility features.  Please Note: If you decide to trade in your phone for an iPad or a newer model, it is only worth its parts.  In other words, the phone that cost over $500 with the KNFB app is only worth a bit more than $50.  You are expected to read ALL of the print, large and small, online BEFORE buying or learning how to use the product.

My Apple survey feedback after attending a Beginner’s Workshop:  

”Dear Apple Executives:

This survey is not accessible with screen-reading software.  The apple store was an inappropriate setting for a workshop.  The apple staff are not trained teachers and were not prepared to teach a subject as complicated as iPhone use.  The coffee bar stools were uncomfortable.  The loud music made the staff and participants yell, but they still had trouble understanding or communicating with each other.  The answer to most questions was, "Go online to learn about...."  No mention was made of the "iPhone, the Missing Manual" nor was it available for purchase in print or audio format.

The iPhone I purchased at an AT&T store did not come with a box or any instructions.  The phone was defective but was replaced last week at the Apple store.  The second iPhone came in a plain, white box that also had no basic instructions.  I was encouraged to buy the iPhone to use with a KNFB Reader.  The reader works just fine; the iPhone is so bad that I cancelled AT&T service and went back to Sprint to reactivate my cell phone.  I only use the iPhone with the KNFB Reader or YFI as I learn using the "iPhone, the Missing Manual" audio book from Learning Ally.

When I was an undergraduate in the 1960s, my university department chair quoted a character from a George Bernard Shaw play, "Those who can do; those who can't teach."  Then the professor looked wistfully out the window at the education building and said, "Those who can't teach teach others how to teach."  I never found his sarcasm to be true as I studied teacher education, but I certainly found it to be true at the Apple store.  Apple cannot teach.  Apple cannot teach its staff how to teach.  How do you recognize a person who cannot teach?  They cannot tell you what to do; they must take your iPhone and do it for you.

In the past a staff member and I have either had to go out to the Mall hallway or to a room in the back of the store to get away from the noise and hear the iPhone with voice-over on.  Staff members are constantly apologizing for the noise in the store, the uncomfortable chairs, etc.  At the same time, staff ridicule customers when they ask questions (something no trained teacher would ever do) because they are not as open to new things or as fearless as children.  EXCUSE ME!  Just because we adults are not stupid enough to touch something when we don't know what will happen does not mean we are afraid of technology.  Unlike children, most of us do not have parents or teachers nearby to undo our mistakes.  We, unfortunately, must go to the Apple store every other day because Apple cannot teach people with learning styles unlike their own.  Apple is singing to the choir, and I am not joining the choir.  Unless apple learns how to teach the rest of us who lack degrees in computing or engineering, I won't be buying another
Apple product.

Susan Bourrie, Ed.S.”

I want to thank Bob Branco, the publisher of Consumer Vision for giving his readers a platform upon which to communicate and seek answers as we live with low vision and blindness.  If you have not read this magazine, you are missing a real treat (No Halloween pun intended).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Low Vision's Magic Wand

Recently I met several people who were diagnosed with eye diseases that threaten their central vision who have asked me for help.  I am not a fairy godmother, but I do have a “magic wand,” the 20/20 pen that writes like a felt tip pen but leaves a line that is about four times wider.  The 20/20 pen can easily be held with a small stack of unlined index cards by a rubber band.  These tools fit easily into a purse, pocket, briefcase, or back pack.  As my central vision got worse over a 20 year period, I was able to change from 3X5 cards to 5X8 cards and also increase the size of the print I was writing.  Large print written with a 20/20 pen can be read with peripheral vision for lists, phone numbers, and addresses.  Some office supply stores sell small index cards that have two holes that fit into index card holders.  These small notebooks make excellent, portable address books or places to store passwords and website addresses.  These items can also be used when making Braille flash cards.  (Braille is a skill that should be learned as an investment to be used if needed later like a savings account.)  Mini cassette recorders and digital recorders are often recommended for taking notes.  I have not found this technology helpful because it is not private when you need to make a note in a public place. 

If I were a fairy godmother with a real magic wand, office supply stores would sell 20/20 pens.  They can, however, be found online at, (National Federation of the Blind), (Independent Living Aids), (American Printing House for the Blind), and other companies and organizations that sell Low Vision or Print Writing Aids.

These “magic wands” won’t guarantee that you’ll live happily ever after, but they will make loving what is left while living with low vision much easier.    

Friday, October 2, 2015

Common Senses

The following information appeared in an email today.  It is from a newsletter sent by the Hadley School for the Blind (  I have completed several excellent courses from this school over the years that serves students, family members, and professionals in the field of special education.

“Effective November 1, the following HSPS courses will carry a $99.00 tuition:

Braille Teaching Methods for Children

Braille Teaching Methods for Adolescents and Adults”

When I went to the links to read the course descriptions, I found the following information:

Braille Teaching Methods for Children

“For children who are blind, literacy in braille is a significant indicator for their success later in life.”

Braille Teaching Methods for Adolescents and Adults”

“Adolescents and adults who have lost the ability to use print need help transitioning to braille. Braille literacy allows individuals to understand information and communicate with others. For example, literacy skills help with building social skills, finding work, living independently, and raising a family.”

While the Hadley School for the Blind teaches students who are legally blind or have low vision, this is not mentioned in their course descriptions.  Not only should the wording be more inclusive, but it should say that these courses are for children and adults who either cannot read print at all or who cannot read regular print (10 or 12 point fonts) efficiently.

As soon as a person experiences impaired central vision, low vision specialists teach their patients how to use devices that make print larger.  While there are now computer monitors that are 40 inches or larger that can be used to increase the size of print on a computer screen, there just comes a time when reading print becomes impractical because the tools are no longer portable and do not improve one’s reading speed.  For people with central vision loss who read using their peripheral vision, continuing to read print often causes eye strain, headaches, and inefficiency.

Rehabilitation counselors teach clients how to use audio based screen-reading software on their computers, calculators, and phones rather than software like ZOOM TEXT.  More technology is being developed with accessibility features that allow people to dictate rather than type.  Nevertheless, as I mention in the previous post, “Eye Care’s Missing Manuals,” Braille literacy is essential for anyone who has experienced any loss of central vision whether temporary or permanent, or has been given the diagnosis of a disease that has or might cause a loss of central vision. 

Common sense teaches us that we can use more than one of our senses for many things—including reading.  It is my hope and prayer that as modern medicine leaves more people with some usable sight, educators will study the best practices for merging Braille literacy into their rehabilitation and occupational therapy services.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Eye Care's Missing Manuals

The parents of a child diagnosed with a potentially blinding eye disease attended a low vision support group and asked the participants what they should do to help their child succeed in life.  My immediate response was for these parents to make sure that their child would be computer literate and be able to use any adaptive products such as screen-reading software if they were needed.  I would now add that teaching children to read and write using Braille is just as important as teaching them technology skills.

The most valuable and most overlooked books for people diagnosed with potentially blinding eye diseases of all ages and their caregivers have the word, “Braille,” in the title such as Braille Literacy:  A Functional Approach, Foundations of Braille Literacy, and Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy.  You learn from such books that Braille literacy is a skill that should be learned as soon as possible by anyone who is diagnosed with an eye disease that might threaten or has already begun the loss of central vision such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.  While it is important not to overreact to the diagnosis of potentially blinding eye diseases, it is just as important to start merging skills such as labeling, note taking, and reading in Braille with other tools that are used daily.

My concern at this time is for the senior citizens, some with moderate hearing loss as well as the diagnosis of an eye disease that threatens central vision.  Unlike children who are diagnosed before the age of 18, senior citizens do not have access to rehabilitation counselors, special education teachers, and occupational therapists at this time.  These professionals need to be part of the eye care team.  In some places, generally in areas near university medical and research centers, there are specially trained social workers and occupational therapists who work with geriatric and pediatric patients.  No services of this kind are available for patients living with potentially blinding diseases and vision loss other than low vision optometrists who specialize in using remaining vision with the help of large print and high power magnification.

Adaptive technology and Braille literacy need to become part of low vision specialist training.  I came to this conclusion while sitting in a low vision specialist’s waiting room on several occasions and seeing patients walking away from an appointment only to be asked by a family member or friend, “Is there anything else they can do?“ and hearing the answer, “No.”  I wanted to scream out, “Yes, there is!  Computers with screen-readers!  Braille!  Services from the National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped!”  There are so many people, especially senior citizens, who will never get this information from eye care, primary care, or geriatric professionals.
The books on Braille literacy are available in audio format through Learning Ally.  They answer the questions, “How do I learn Braille?” and “How do I merge Braille learning and literacy into a busy life?”  I searched for answers after trying to learn Braille during five hours of trading at a residential school for the blind, from a distance learning program, and from a private tutor who is a Braille user but who learned as a child.  What was missing from all three approaches was phonics (sounding out letters).  Braille, as people tried to teach it to me, required learning the names of letters and then jumping right into reading and writing words.  I just could not do it.  I started wondering if I had a learning disability.  Then I remembered how I was taught to read when I was a child.  Now I am teaching myself the names and sounds of the letters before and as I learn to use Braille.

It is estimated that only 30% of people who are blind or vision impaired are employed.  All of the people I know in the group who are employed are proficient Braille users with moderate to high technology skills.  All of them learned these skills as children.  With access to the books and tools that were used to train my friends, many more people will be able to love what they have left while living with low vision.