A Day Through the Eyes of a Blind Woman
Let's look at an ordinary day with the eyes of a blind person. There is so much to take for granted which is not given to others, for example, because they can't see. What happens with people who are totally blind? All of a sudden, many things are done very differently. Sometimes, accessible technologies will solve the problem. This includes any technology which can be used equally well by those who can see and those who can't. In other cases, special technologies need to be used to achieve the same that others do just by using their sight. This is technology which is specifically developed for blind people.
Let's follow a blind person through a whole work day. For the sake of the example, we will call her Lisa.
We will examine how technology helps Lisa throughout her whole day. We will not discuss anything else, but instances, where information technology can help her. We won't look at any other issues she might be facing. There are many more challenges we could talk about, but in order to overcome those, information technology itself will not solve the problem. In this post, I will only demonstrate how much information technology can make a difference.
When you read about Lisa's day, just think about all the equipments we will talk about for a second. Most likely you have all of these in your household or at work. Do you think she would be able to use it?
It all starts the day before. It would be nice for Lisa to set the coffee maker for the same time as her alarm clock, so that she could have a fresh cup as soon as she wakes up. However, most coffee makers, especially the fancy digital ones are not that easy to operate. The worst case is that they are operated by a touch screen, where the buttons cannot be distinguished by touch only. While some don't have this problem, Lisa still needs to memorize all the buttons so that she could use her coffee maker. She needs somebody to show it to her. And we didn't even mention the little digital display which helps you see if you set it for the right time. But she has some options here: she can ask a friend to set it up for her for 6 AM, and every day, like it or not, she is having her fresh coffee at 6. This, however, assumes that she won't have a power outage. The other possibility is that she can decide that coffee is good enough five minutes after she wakes up, so she uses a regular, simple, toggle switch operated machine.
After she decided that the toggle switch machine is good enough, she needs to set her alarm clock. Most likely she won't be able to use the same type of clock you have, she will either need a Braille clock, or a talking one, which you won't find in any store, you have to put in a special order for it. Her other option is to use a wake-up service, for now she will use her land line, we will talk about cell phones later.
So, when she has this all figured out, she is ready to sleep and wake up. She goes into her kitchen, puts on her coffee, and decides to take a shower and get dressed while her coffee is brewing. You may ask, why is this important, we agreed that we will talk about technology only. But hold on for a second. It is reasonable for her to use the body wash and the shampoo at the right place and not the other way around. But for Lisa, these are ordinarily just two bottles of liquid. Way before this morning, she had to figure out which is which, and had to have a system in place so that she won't mix them up. Again, she has a couple of options. She will remember what the bottles feel like when she buys them, which is not too difficult when this is all you use. But have you counted all the bottles and flasks and tubes and containers in your bathroom? It is not all that easy to remember what they all feel like just by heart. You may have a certain place for all of them, or you can specially mark them so that you will remember. One way to do it is to put Braille labels on the less frequently used ones, you just get used to the rest. But this is where Lisa needs some technology. She won't just grab a pen to scribble a word on something, she will need a device that can write on sticky labels, or a simple labeler, and while it is manual, it can safely be called information technology.
The color of clothes
Let's assume Lisa successfully took a shower, after all, it is not a big deal. Now she is ready to figure out what she is going to wear. You would pick up two pieces of clothes, decide if you like it for the day, and check if the color combination matches. Maybe somebody explained colors to Lisa, as good as it gets, but most likely she doesn't really know exactly which goes with which color, though she could possibly memorize a couple of combinations, and here we are not even talking about patterns. Now the question is, how does she know the color of each piece of garment. Theoretically she could remember all of them, but in practice it leaves some room for error. So, most likely she is using some kind of a labeling system. Even as simple as little sticky, washable labels inside the clothes, which give her some indication of what it is, maybe sorted by color. She can't just go to the local store and pick up a set of such labels, she will have to again, specially order it, and we get back to technology, these labels have to be produced somehow. But maybe she figured out a home solution for it. Her other option is to use a color recognizing device, but aside from an expensive investment, it might not be totally accurate, especially with checking multiple colors.
Now that she is dressed, she takes a sip of her coffee, and decides to throw a couple of frozen pancakes into the microwave. Remember the issues she had with the coffee maker? She needs to make sure that her microwave has buttons which are easy to distinguish by touch. Then she needs to memorize them or label them. Most likely the numbers are easy to find, but not the extra features. And probably she won't be able to use many of those because of the digital feedback she is getting. Or, she can purchase a talking device, again, not from the local store, and not for the same price.
Before she storms out the door, she remembers that she needs to take her two medications. The are both in pretty similar boxes, and switching them up on a daily basis could be very unpleasant. Ok, now the solution is much easier to get from the local store, she can buy a sorter, but she will still need help identifying the boxes for the first time. However, if she lives in the European Union, by law minimal Braille information is required on the boxes. But here we are at the special technology again, this information needs to be transcribed into Braille, and embossed on the boxes, and mainstream technology will not do here, either.
In part 2, read about how lisa:
- Gets on the right bus
- Identifies money
- Uses the computer
- Uses the cell phone
- Uses the internet
- Orders in a restaurant