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My Life With Technology, by Samuel Wilkins

Hello. My name is Samuel Wilkins. I live in Gillingham in Kent, which is 46 minutes away from St. Pancras station by train. I am completely blind, partially deaf, and I am 

on the autistic spectrum. I don’t work at the moment, but I volunteer as a telephone befriender for carers. I find daily life fairly easy to handle, and I do my best to concentrate on the things I can do, rather than what I cannot do.  True, there are times when I get frustrated, and sometimes I feel I need to let off steam, but for the most part, I don’t let it get to me.  Moreover, my Christian faith is very important to me, and helps me get through having disabilities.  

Technology is very important for blind and partially sighted people, because without screen readers on computers and phones, Braille tablets, adapted domestic equipment and accessible toys, (to name but a few examples) we would not have so many advantages as fully sighted people.  However, it is also a good idea to find equipment that can easily be adapted by you personally.  For example you could mark the knobs on a oven with a tactile marker, which is less expensive and easier to maintain than buying an expensive piece of  specialist equipment. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, technology does not solve all problems for blind and partially sighted people, so additional options should also be looked into.  

One of the top pieces of technology I have used is a screen reader on the PC.  I used the Window-Eyes screen reader from 2003, up until it ceased development in 2017.  Since then, I have been using the NVDA screen reader, but I also have experience of Jaws. Regardless of the screen reader used, they are invaluable tools for anyone on a PC or Mackintosh computer, as they can give access to all sorts of features, such as editing text, reading emails, working with the internet and scanning documents and converting Kindle books.  I also learned to touch type, which is a very important skill to have, as it makes writing documents a lot quicker.  Here blind people have an advantage over their sighted peers, many of whom cannot touch type or do not touch type well. Another piece of technology I use a lot is the BrailleSense Braille tablet.  This is an Android based tablet that has many functions, including word processor, schedule manager, email, web browser, the ability to connect to phones and computers, and the ability to download apps from the Google Play store.  This device, and other similar products, such as the BrailleNote, can be invaluable in many situations, E.G. Reading books, working in a classroom, office work, and writing notes.  In fact, I feel that these technologies can make learning Braille easier for both blind and sighted people, as the Braille is very clear, and since there is a screen as well, a sighted person can compare what a print symbol looks like with the same symbol in Braille.  I would even say that despite what some people have said, Braille is not dead, and if you have the ability to learn it, then it will be invaluable to you.  

My IPhone is something I never leave home without. Every iPhone has a screen reader function (voiceover) built in, and don’t worry if you have an android phone, a screen reader can be installed.  Even with a touch screen, it is possible to learn how to use these phones in a relatively short time, and if using a BrailleSense or BrailleNote, all functions can be controlled by the Tablet, so all private information is read in Braille while the iPhone stays safely in its case.  Not only does this make your information more private, but it also means you can text, or email with the speech turned off, thus avoiding annoying fellow train passengers or office colleagues with a constantly chatting phone.    There are countless apps that can be downloaded onto accessible smartphones, however it is often trial and error as to whether they are accessible.  I often use the Moovit app (a public transport information app) because I travel around Kent regularly, and need to plan my journeys.  I also use GPS on the phone, however I would advise caution when using any form of navigational aid.  GPS systems cannot warn you that someone is coming up to you, or stop you from bumping into a lamppost.  They also can’t tell you if it is safe to cross the road, or if this particular road has four way traffic.  Also remember that the map data may not always be up to date.  GPS systems won’t replace your cane or guide dog either.  

I’m offering myself as a mentor, because it’s very important that people know how to use the technology they have, that any bugs can be fixed, and you know what is available.  If you’re a parent wondering what technology your child may need, I’m here to give you a few tips.  I’m not here to tell you to use this  screen reader instead of that one, but to tell you what is available to buy, how much it might cost and what the advantages or disadvantages of the technology might be.  If you’re looking to buy your first ever screen reader or Braille tablet I’m here to help you with any teething troubles you may be having with them, and I can also share with you some of my experiences using technology which as my Braille tablet,, screen reader and the iPhone apps that are available.  If your technology seems to have a serious problem I can do my best to help you solve it.  If like me you love technology and would like to talk tech with me, just get in touch and we’ll do that.  Whatever your question or problem please  contact me on samuel@spwnet.co.uk.  It would be best to contact me on email, as it’s the easiest option for me.  Thank you.

Living with dual sensory loss

Carla Danielle Golledge, mum to Cameron, who has Norrie disease shares an incredibly powerful account of her family’s journey.

I was asked to write a few words about Cameron and his hearing loss, something I do not often talk about. As Cameron was born totally blind, it quickly became ‘our normal’.

But despite being told all the possibilities of additional needs Norrie Disease brings, one thing we never mentally prepared ourselves for was progressive hearing loss .Over the months we noticed a change in Cameron’s behaviour. Going out in noisy crowded places became a huge problem and would quickly send him into a sensory overload meltdown.

It was difficult to manage his frustrations and his severely delayed communication skills were showing no progress. After years of recurrent ear infections and traumatizing pain, I began to notice certain sounds were somewhat painful to his ears.

After being closely monitored by audiology every 6 months, we decided to insert grommets – where it was then discovered he had full hearing loss in one ear at the age of 3.

When people learn about Cameron’s blindness, the first thing that everybody says without fail, is how his ‘super senses’ will compensate for his vision, especially his hearing. But for Cameron the most important sense is touch. Unfortunately having dual sensory loss can prove difficult at times, he is still unable to form communication and language skills and we have to adapt our surroundings and environment to help him reach his full potential.

Every day we live in fear that the progressive hearing loss will affect his other ear before he develops the skills to talk, something I so long to hear.
It is a ticking time bomb in the corner of the room just waiting to happen.

The grommets were completely life changing, helping to manage the pain and help keep his one hearing ear clear of fluid and congestion. But Cameron has to work ten times harder to locate sounds and process them. He can not see what is making the noise and his hearing is severely affected when there is just too much background noise.

Having a multi sensory impairment has caused Cameron to have very complex additional needs, so much more so than just blindness or hearing loss alone. When one loss accompanies the other, we feel the disability is far greater and much more difficult to overcome.