Samuel Wilkins – Using technology in daily life

Samuel and his dog PilotSamuel lives in Gillingham in Kent. Norrie disease means that Samuel is blind, partially deaf, and on the autistic spectrum. Samuel volunteers as a telephone befriender for carers. Samuel says ‘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’.

Samuel says ‘It’s been very important for me to know how to use technology and to fix any bugs I find, and to keep on top of what is available. 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. I have marked the knobs on an oven with a tactile marker, which is less expensive and easier to maintain than buying an expensive piece of specialist equipment’.

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 Macintosh 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, 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. “