The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

Recently, @jaympaul on twitter brought to my attention #GetOnlineWeek, which  is a long running campaign managed by the Tinder Foundation. The campaign runs between the 17th and the 23rd of October, it’s aim to help people discover the benefits of being online.  This year the campaign is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary, giving me the  ideal opportunity to talk about how technology has helped me get and stay online.

It has also given me the chance to shine a spotlight on the RNIB‘s #OnlineToday initiative, where they help people with sensory loss access their devices and get online.

My aim is to bring out a series of blog posts on how me and my family use the internet throughout October. Although as my plans tend to go awry, like the best laid  plans of mice and men, I wanted to at least release this post looking at an overview of my journey to getting online, a brief mention of some of the devices I use to get online and what I do while connected.

 

My Journey To The Internet.

As you may or may not be aware, I am a legally blind 29 year old, from the UK, suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. This can have some limiting effects on certain aspects of my life.  Thankfully however, having embraced technology from an early age, I have been able to stay up to date with the benefits it can provide to someone like me.

When I first got online, nearly two decades ago, there was only one option available to everyone, that was to get your hands on a PC, be it Windows or Mac. Personally I went down the Windows rout. Nagging my mum year after year, in  a forlorn hope that she may crack and buy me a computer, one summer, shortly before starting high school, a delivery lorry pulled up at the front of our house unexpectedly. Out came box after box, each one containing a piece to the puzzle that would keep me entertained for years to come.

Unpacking each box, me and my brother made an event of connecting each grey box together. We strung cables from the monitor to the base unit, then went in the mouse and keyboard, finally the printer and speakers. Thankfully all the cables were colour coordinated or it may have taken us a lot longer to figure things out, neither one of us having done it before, let alone used one.  in hope that when we turned the power on it would all work.

After a huge amount of hugs and kisses in thanks to my mum and promises made that it would only be used for school work, I switched on that Packard Bell PC, marking the first steps on my journey to the internet.

How things have changed, with the ubiquity of smart phones, tablets, smart TV’s and the plethora of other connected devices, there is a bewildering number of ways you can get online today.

After years of waiting for it to make it’s journey across the Atlantic and become readily available in the UK. Our family recently took delivery of the newest member to our connected household, the Amazon Echo. Yet another way our family is making use of the technology and internet combination, making our lives easier and more full filled.

Not only the number of devices we use to get online have increased , but the means in which those devices talk to each other, the internet, has also increased in availability and speed, while reducing in price for the most part.

When I first got online, broadband was still in it’s infancy and the majority of people were still accessing the world wide web via a dial up connection. Now, mobile internet access and broadband internet access have reached a parity in a lot of areas of the country, making dial up pretty much a non entity, thank goodness.

 

 

My download speed has increased from 56 kbps back in the Packard Bell era of my computing history, to (up to!) an astonishing 150 mbps today, although as the graphic above shows, 108.81 mbps is the best I could achieve here . In addition to this speed increase, the cost of that access has fallen.

I touched on mobile internet a little earlier. This has possibly been one of the biggest changes in technology in recent years. It’s untethered people from their desktops and enabled people to stay connected no matter where they are.

Mobile phones had only just become a thing as I started to lose my sight as a child, I along with the rest of the world had no idea how fast and how far mobile technology would come. But I do know that technology, the internet in particular has played a huge part in my life. I can only see the impact of it growing as I embrace its potential.

 

But you’re blind, you can’t see to use mainstream technology.

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. There may still be devices that haven’t picked up the accessibility baton and hammered their devices into shape with it. However, you’ll be surprised just how many mainstream devices have accessibility features baked into them from the get go.

While the hardware manufacturers and infrastructure companies innovated, accessibility advocates and engineers didn’t sit on their hands, oh no, they were hard at work too.  macOSWindowsiOS and not forgetting Android, the four operating systems that most major consumer devices are based, all have accessibility features installed by default.

There are also devices like the Amazon Echo, that do away with the screen all together. Once the device is configured, which requires the use of a smart phone, either iOS or Android based, the device is accessed entirely via verbal commands. This enables you to access streaming music services like Amazon Prime Music and Spotify. manage your calendar and a myriad of other functions that are constantly being expanded via the Amazon Skills API. This device levels the accessibility playing field massively, perhaps due to a lucky accident, but the end result is still the same.

An Image and Link to the Amazon Echo

My 6 year old son did over estimate the echo’s capabilities a little however,  with his first voice command being “Alexa, make me a snack”. If the 10 inch cylindrical form of the Amazon echo had a face, it would have had a look of bewilderment painted on it, as it thought about how it would complete this task. Little did we know, the Echo is capable of ordering take away meals, via ‘Just Eat‘, so his request isn’t as far fetched as it may have first sounded to me and his mum, as we rolled around laughing.

 

This thing can also make phone calls.

I’d be lost without my PC and I love the new technology that comes onto the market like the echo, however, this past 5 years or so I’ve come to rely a lot on my smart phone. After years of struggling with a magnifying glass to try and read text messages and navigate through phone menus, when I reach 16 years old it came to the point where I just couldn’t manage it any more and my use of mobile devices just stopped.

Then came the smart phone revolution, triggered in part by the original iPhone. As usual, I was a little slow on the uptake. I jumped on board with the Samsung Galaxy S3, when I realised just how accessible the devices have become. Since then things have just got better and better. Now, I’m using the Samsung Galaxy S6  and I wouldn’t be without it.

Accessing email, twitter and streaming content in the same way a sighted person would, my mobile experience is a world away from what it used to be. And on the occasion I need to make a phone call, it handles that pretty well too.

 

Some mainstream technology is difficult to access.

That doesn’t mean I had to give up and spend the rest of my life offline. There are hundreds, if not thousands of products out there,  specifically designed to make accessing technology easier. These either adapt mainstream technology to make it accessible or give you an alternative device with similar features to off the shelf products, in an accessible form-factor.

These products include third party screen magnification and screen reader software, an example of this is Dolphin’s Supernova, a product I am familiar with and used to use during my time at college. Since then, they have continued to advance it’s capabilities and it now boasts a complete suite of accessibility features that is drawing my attention.

A screen shot of the supernova website.
A screen shot of the supernova website.

Software adaptations aren’t limited to desktop and laptop devices however, companies like Synaptic Software provide a software package designed for android devices that simplifies the user interface and makes it easier to access for people with visual impairments. You can also buy devices with this software pre-installed.

As far as my smart phone goes, I am happy, for the most part, with the built in accessibility features provided by the Android operating system. Features I expand upon via the use of third party apps like ‘Tap Tap See.

If software adaptations don’t go far enough, there are several peripherals you can buy to increase the accessibility of your device. These range widely from high contrast keyboards to braille displays that can help you access your smart phone or PC, a lot of which can be found on the RNIB Online Shop.

As my vision is so reduced, combined with the fact I am a touch typist, high contrast keyboards are of little use to me, a braille display is a product I would consider adding to my arsenal in the future however.

 

But I’m not like you, I’m new to technology .

That’s OK, no one expects you to turn on a device and instantly know how to access it and get the most from it. That’s why there are governmental projects and charitable organisations out there to help you get started. An example of this would be the RNIB’s Online Today Initiative , put in place to help those with sight loss access and get the most from their technology.

Take a look at the video below produced by RNIB, where Andrew gives a brief look at what he does while online and the advantages being online offers. He also gives an overview on how the RNIB‘s Online Today team can help you if you suffer from sensory loss.

 

 

I know it’s often easy for someone like me who has surrounded themselves with technology and the internet, to underestimate how difficult it can be to take that first step. However people like Andrew, along with the other staff members and volunteers at RNIB have the training and experience to guide you through the process, so that you can take those first steps together.

 

Technology opened the door to other interests.

The pure love of technology is what got me lusting after a connected life style all those years ago. Although I knew nothing about it, something about computers and technology attracted my introverted personality.

Technology doesn’t have to be the reason you get online though, technology can just be a tool enabling you to stay connected with friends and family, or maybe even make new friends. Endless amounts of information is just a question away when your connected to the internet too. Hours of entertainment can be had, either through online video streaming services, games or audio books.

Speaking of audio books, the RNIB has recently made their “Talking Books” service free of charge, so you can now access thousands of audio books  online, either on your PC or mobile using the Overdrive app. This is another service I make good use of.

If instant information or entertainment isn’t what you’re after and you want a bit of retail therapy, don’t worry, the internet has you well covered on that front. Providing you access to more products than you could ever hope to find on the high street, you’ll run out of money long before you run out of shiny new things to buy online.

Having long forgotten the promises I made to my mum, that my computer would only be used for school work. Chat rooms were the initial draw that got me draping a telephone cable across the living room floor to my pc and waiting for my computer to dial up all those years ago.

Once I grew up (depending on who you ask, some would argue that still hasn’t happened.) and gained access to a little bit of money, online shopping  soon became the major draw for me. Having instant access to all the latest reviews and price comparisons on all the latest technology, it’s a veritable wonderland for someone like me. If only the supply of money could keep up with my growing wish list.

An image of the twitter logo

 

Shopping aside, another huge benefit of being online for me, that I have started making use of within the last year or so is Twitter, having known about it and Facebook for years, as has everyone I imagine, I was a little slow on the up take though, the shy introvert inside preventing me from taking advantage of these platforms obvious benefits. that has enabled me to stay connected with friends and family. It has also enabled me to make lots of new friends with similar interest to me. Being on Twitter also exposes me to information that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise and let’s me get involved in conversations relevant to me.

As my blog’s name alludes to, you won’t be surprised that gaming has also historically taken up a huge proportion of my time online. As my eye sight has deteriorated, the type of games I play has started to change, you’ll be surprised how many of these games are becoming accessible to the blind though, with audio and text based games taking the forefront.

But regardless of your interests, no matter how niche you think it may be, I can almost guarantee it, within seconds of being online, you’ll find other people just like you and a host of information or entertainment based around it.

 

So what are you waiting for?

The fact you’re here reading this blog post shows you’re already online and have doubtlessly fallen in love with the benefits of it, but If you find yourself using excuses as to why you don’t get online more or embrace technology, take a few minutes to think of all the benefits you’re missing out on.

More to the point, if you have family members who are visually impaired that don’t currently get online, take some time to talk to them about their interests and how getting online may benefit them. There’s very few reasons why you can’t get #OnlineToday.

As always, please share this post using the social media links provided and feel free to leave a comment. Share with me how you use technology and the internet. I want to hear your stories on how you might use them both  to further your hobbies and interests or how you use them to simplify your day to day life. You can also contact me on Facebook and Twitter. And if you are on those social networks, please feel free to join the conversation by adding #onlinetoday or #GetOnlineWeek to your posts.

 

Heading Towards Hope!

Heading Towards Hope!

Hello you lot.

I wanted to explain my absence from the blog to you all, in fact, I’ve been trying to do this for a while. I’ve written several blog posts that I just haven’t hit the publish button on, and if I’m honest, I probably never will.

As someone that suffers from depression, I tend to focus on the negatives, maybe more than I should. This gives me a slanted outlook on life, which isn’t necessarily healthy or productive. This, as you might imagine makes it’s way into my writing, at times. Hence why I avoid hitting the publish button, as too much negativity is good for no one, in my opinion.

I tried to work through my depression by writing, talking with trusted friends and having projects to focus on to distract me from myself. If I’m honest it wasn’t really successful. I still had that negative outlook, Wanting desperately to resolve my depression, assuming it can be resolved, I had to change my approach.

So after visiting my GP and asking them for help and advice, in addition to the usual prescriptions that GP’s hand out for such issues, (Prescriptions that I have been on for many years,and on their own, don’t seam to be working) they have now also referred me for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (CBT).

This therapy will supposedly help me face life, with a more positive outlook. As I have not yet started it, I can not vouch for it’s successfulness. I am willing to give it a try however, as I seriously want to focus on the lighter side of life and give the darkness a break for a while.

Before starting the therapy, I had to visit a mental health assessor. He verified my thoughts of myself, as he told me, ‘after only speaking to you for 15 minutes, I can see you have a negative slant on life’. Probably not the thing a depressed person wants to hear about themselves but he was right. He also said something to me after answering a host of questions. He said ‘you have a light in your life that you hold on to’, meaning my wife and children. Hopefully, this CBT will help me shine light on the rest of my life.

He also touched on the fact that I may be suffering from anxiety that has thus far gone without being diagnosed or recognised. He thinks, and I agree with him that this is due to my visual impairment.

I’m now just waiting for my first appointment to come through as there is a waiting list. I will keep you all up to date. I promise though. Once all this mess is sorted out I will refocus on the reason for me starting this blog in the first place, GAMING! If this all goes well, I may finally be heading toward Hope and away from Despair.

If you suffer from depression, or used to suffer from it and managed to overcome it, I’d love to hear your story. Please, leave a comment below or contact me on FaceBook or Twitter. If you still suffer from depression, don’t suffer alone. If you feel you can, please, contact your GP or medical professional and make the first steps towards getting the help and support you need.

Seeing With Dolphins!

Seeing With Dolphins!

Hi guys, I know it’s been a while, but I’m back now!

I thought it only right to write a blog post seeing as my blog was just kindly featured on the Dolphin Blog. Dolphin Software, Supernova to be precise, played a huge part in my life back at school and college and now they’re once again stepping up to the plate and helping Blind and Partially Sighted bloggers, if I was wearing a hat, it would definitely be going off to them right now.

I haven’t spoken about my eye condition on my blog yet, in any great detail at least. I suffer from Retinitis pigmentosa, for most sufferers, this results in what can best be described as tunnel vision, they lose most if not all of their peripheral vision and to them it is like they are looking through a tube, only being able to see what is directly in front of their field of view.

For me however it has manifested itself in a slightly different way, the cells are degenerating all over my retina, not just on the periphery, so I have lost clarity of vision throughout. This means I struggle to distinguish variations in colour, I can’t read anything but the largest of font sizes. I am also unable to recognize people in all but the closest of distances and traveling on my own can be a challenge as I am unable to see obstacles.

This is why Supernova was a life line to me in school. It couldn’t help me walk around without bumping into things, nor could it help me recognise friends and loved ones. What it could do however was help me access my school work, browse the internet and communicate online, all things I would not have been able to do otherwise.

Supernova is a screen magnification and screen reader designed to help Blind and Partially Sighted people access their computer. Without this software I would never had been able to make my way through school and receive anything like the grades I did.

Dolphin Software wasn’t the only aid I had in school however, I also had one on one support in most of my classes except for P.E. (I think you guys in the states call it Gym?). Anyway, that one on one support was so useful, helping me access content that the teacher would write on the blackboard, describing classroom experiments in the science classes and adapting classroom resources on the fly that had not been pre-submitted by the teachers.

The one on one support was more than that though, it made me feel like I wasn’t going through school alone. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends in school, but I don’t think any of them really understood my eye condition, they just saw me for who I was, for the most part, I think. Having the support teachers there who I could go to when I needed to talk to someone who understood was so useful, especially as I went to a mainstream school.

I’d like to thank Dolphin once again for prompting me to pick up the proverbial pen again and take to my blog, it’s been a long time coming and I really enjoyed recalling old memories. School is a huge part of most peoples lives and Dolphin played a massive part in my schooling, so thank you Dolphin.

If you had low vision in school I’d be interested to hear what accessibility aids you used, be it magnifiers or software, one on one tuition or classroom support. Let me know in the comments or contact me on Twitter or Facebook I’d love to hear your story. I’d especially like to know how you carried on after you left school and possibly entered the world of work. Did you continue using the same adaptations or did you change things up, let me know.

Alison, Who’s Alison?

Alison, Who’s Alison?

Like most insecure men, I’m compensating for something. Unlike most men however, I’m compensating for a lack of eye sight, this can’t be fixed by driving a fancy car or living in a nice house. I’ve got to be a bit more proactive with my compensation. Alison can help with this.

So, who’s Alison? First of all Alison is a website, not a who. Offering free education to everyone. Free you ask, yes free, the website itself is supported by advertisements on the site with an additional income stream taking the form of certificates you can purchase upon successful completion of your chosen course.

Sounds good so far, yeah, I thought so too. That’s why I was really grateful to @kazziegriff for letting me know about this site. I’ve heard of resources such as lynda.com before but I have been unable to afford the subscription to it.

Just like lynda.com, Alison offers courses in a variety of subjects from accounting to woodworking and everything inbetween. If your interested in blogging but haven’t managed to figure it all out yet, there are courses on WordPress. Or if you’re anything like me, you might have an interest in programming and web development.Don’t worry Alison has got you covered, there are several courses, covering a variety of disciplines in these subjects, that will satisfy your thirst for knowledge.

If you have a lot of free time, trying to get back into work, or trying to gain access to work for the first time. Alison is a great resource for padding out your CV with skills that potential employers might be looking for. Not only that however, it’s padding out your mind with knowledge that will improve your effectiveness in subjects you have an interest in, or maybe even introduce you to subjects you might never have paid any attention to before.

Most of this knowledge is already freely available on the internet, so why do I need Alison? That’s a good question. Let me address that for you.

The first benefit of Alison over free form learning would be having structured courses. Not everyone likes hunting around the web for bits of information here and some more information there. Some people like learning in a linear fashion. Alison has all the relevant information in one place allowing you to focus on the important part, absorbing the knowledge, not looking for it.

Having the knowledge is one thing, but proving you have it is another. You might be able to link to examples of your work in your CV, this might suffice in a lot of subjects but it doesn’t translate to all, That’s were Alison comes in handy.

Once you have completed your chosen course, a record will be kept in your Alison profile, along with all the other courses you have completed. Here you have the option to buy either a PDF certificate, or a printed certificate as proof of your achievements. If you have accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, a blog, or accounts on other social networks like Twitter, you can link to your public Alison profile, where your friends and potential employers can see what courses you have completed.

This is my favorite aspect of the site. As I am currently looking for work IRL. Every way I can improve my chances I will grasp hold of, wrestle it to the ground and wring every last little benefit I can from it. So I will scour Alison for relevant courses, maybe in Admin, Business and perhaps programming (to satisfy my own personal interests) Once I have completed these courses I will link to them on my CV.

I feel, as a blind person, I have to make that much more of an effort than a regular guy on the street looking for work. Sure there’s legislation in the UK that require larger employers to fulfill diversity requirements. I don’t just want to be a tick in a box however, I want to burst out of that box and show the world what I can do.

If you found this blog post interesting or useful, please leave a like at the bottom, a comment, or consider sharing it on your twitter and Facebook pages using the links provided.

Sweating The Small Stuff!

Sweating The Small Stuff!

Hi everyone, gather round I need to have a word.

I’ve sat down in front of my computer, several times this weak, with the intentions of writing blog posts. Maybe letting you guys know what I’m getting up to, perhaps some gaming news, who knows. The reason no one knows, yep, no body knows because I didn’t write any blog posts this weak. Every time I’ve sat down I’ve been fixated on my website banner image.

The current image has nothing to do with gaming and even less to do with me. I’ve tried to sit down with Photoshop to remedy that, drawing can’t be that hard right? It turns out it is very hard, at least when your blessed with the minuscule amount of artistic talent I’m brandishing. Lets just say my talents don’t stretch to drawing, I’d have had more luck if I’d handed my 3 year old a pack of crayons and commissioned her to draw it for me.

I may be forced to use the same banner I use for pretty much everything online. That was created for me by a member of my twitch stream audience, back when I used to live stream. He admitted to not being an artist but still wanted to do something for me to help me on my way. I’m thankful for him doing that for me because without that I’d have nothing and I’d probably still be rocking the default twitter egg and whatever the default Twitch and Facebook avatars are.

I don’t know what it is about me, I get fixated on one thing and just can’t move forward without that issue being resolved, no matter how small it is to me it seams huge. Like a mountain forming in front of my very eyes, blocking my progress. Maybe it’s OCD, maybe it’s me being a failing perfectionist, I don’t know.

The One thing I know is that this is only my second post and I’m already floundering. I wish I could say I’m surprised and I expected myself to be flying along with this blog, but I’m not surprised. I’ve tried so many things in the past, only to come across obstacles in my path. Failing to over come them, I usually just turn back and give up.

This time however I wanted to try and scale that mountain, that’s what spawned this blog post. I know my blog looks like crap and I know this post has nothing to do with gaming. However, if I didn’t write something I’m scared I may never write anything and this venture would be yet another one that I fail at,slipping by the way side, never to see the light of day. I don’t want that to happen, so please, have a little patience with me and I promise, I will attempt to get my shit together. I don’t know how long it will take but I will try my best.

See you on the next one!

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