Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dumbass Smartphone Blues!

If you've already read "The BlackBerry Blues", a post I did way back in 2008, you'll have some idea what this post is about.  I'm sorry to say that not a damn thing has changed since that post, at least not for me.

Last year I was really hoping BlackBerry would come through with a phone I might be able to use, but the Z10 was a touchscreen and the Q10's keyboard was still too small for my clumsy hands.  And these new versions, from what I can gather, don't seem to even come with a screen reader like previous versions did.

Yeah, I know, now we have the iPhone, which I hear a lot of blind people are using.  And I'm really glad it works for a lot of people.  But aside from the fact that it relies on a virtual keyboard and touchscreen icons instead of a tactile keyboard and buttons, you also have to be able to make gestures.  Although my hand dexterity's not the worst, it's not great either, so I can safely predict that the iPhone and other phones like it would very likely misread a gesture I was trying to make.  And not knowing where the icons are (or what they are) makes these phones especially tedious to use.  Sure, they have VoiceOver or some other screen reader, but that just means you have to keep tapping around the screen blindly and listen each time to find out what the fuck you just pressed.  Yeah, eventually you'll hit the right icon or menu option, but it'll take a while.  Not my idea of a good time!!!

I was Googling just a while ago, trying again to find accessible smartphones (and even flip phones), but so far I haven't had much luck.  All the keyboards (on the phones that actually still have physical keyboards) are still too small for me to touch-type on.  Since I'm blind I need to touch-type (for you hunt-and-peck guys that's where you keep your fingers on the home row and from that position you know where all the other keys are without seeing them).  I've been told I could get a Bluetooth keyboard to go with the phone, but that would be even more tedious and cumbersome since I'd be dropping both devices instead of struggling to hang on to just one.

And then there are my favorite phones of all -- the senior phones!  OK, at first I actually thought these might be just the thing for me, and they might have been if I only wanted to make phone calls.  I can't believe this, but when I was Googling a while ago I found a set of phone picks for seniors, whose intro started out like this: "When choosing a phone for your elderly parents or grandparents, forget about 4G, Bluetooth, or dual-core processors. There's also not much chance they'll have much use, if any, for texting or data plans to post to social media sites."  If you don't believe me just go to http://www.bestcovery.com/best-cell-phone-for-seniors and see for yourself. Now I'm not sure what date this was written, but it was at the top of Google's list when I searched for "large key flip phone" -- yes, I'd already tried search terms like "accessible smartphone" and come up with nothing useful.  At this point I wanted to scream and throw things, not to mention seriously damage all the assholes who make cell phones and lots of other stuff I can't use.  Although I'm getting up there I'm far from being a senior, but with all the aging Baby Boomers out there I just know there has to be a bunch of seniors who want a lot more than just a simple cell phone that only makes calls and maybe has an SOS button.  I knew this kind of senior phone existed back in 2008, but I thought for sure the phone manufacturers would have wised up by now and started making smartphones with bigger keys (I mean real keys), a built-in screen reader, and other accessibility features that would be helpful for seniors as well as other people with disabilities.  But apparently the dumbass smartphone makers still haven't figured out that not everyone gives a crap about their ultra-thin, ultra-light phones that wouldn't even make a good paperweight and would probably shatter if you looked at them the wrong way.

OK, I'm totally at my wit's end here.  I tried e-mailing companies like BlackBerry -- yes, more than once -- to get them to make their stuff more accessible, and only got form letters back.  After the Z10 and Q10 came out I e-mailed them again to ask if they had screen readers on their new units, and got no reply.  I've tried e-mailing laptop companies too, to ask them to make their laptops with keyboards that have the old-style concave keys that are much easier to type on if you touch-type like I do.  NADA!!!  The only thing I can do now is hope a bunch of aging Baby Boomers will start an uprising and storm the manufacturers' head offices or something.  Hey, a girl can dream can't she?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Washroom Woes!

... She'd just started to wipe when suddenly the toilet flushed itself, trying to pull her into its gaping maw.  She broke free from its hungry pull and tried to finish cleaning up, but the toilet flushed again, intent on sucking her into its depths. ...

So you think this is part of some weird horror story?  Well, it's actually real life.  Yeah, this actually happens. In the "accessible" washrooms that have motion-sensing toilets and sinks, and sometimes even motion-sensing soap dispensers, a simple trip to the can turns from a tedious everyday experience into something out of a horror flick.  Don't get me wrong, I really do appreciate people trying to make public washrooms accessible for people with disabilities, but before they spend big bucks on getting high-tech stuff they really need to try it out for themselves and see how well it actually works.  For that matter, maybe they should have people with disabilities designing the washroom in the first place - yes, some of us can really design stuff.  Here's what happens when you go into a washroom with automated fixtures.

First, you use the can and start to wipe, and the toilet flushes at least once or twice before you're finished.  Then, when you try to find the mechanical flush button or lever, you either can't find it at all, or there's a tiny little button way at the back where it's not accessible for the people with disabilities the toilet was meant for.  Why not put a large flush pushbutton on the side wall near the toilet paper dispenser?  I'm no plumber, but I'm sure that could be accomplished and it would make flushing a lot easier.

Second, when you get to the motion-sensing sink, it turns on before you're ready to use it and then turns off when you actually put your hand under the water stream.  And I need to mention at this point that the tap spout is usually so short and so far from the front of the sink that it's very difficult or impossible to reach for someone in a wheelchair, especially someone with short arms or someone who can't lean forward.  Then you try to get soap from the motion-sensing soap dispenser and you're lucky if you get the soap in your hand where you want it.  If you're unlucky the soap dispenser will trigger itself onto your lap or shoes where you really don't want it.  Dude, just put in a single-lever faucet with a long spout, you know, the kind of tap found in kitchens!  That works!

Next, you either get a shot of hot air in the face from the automatic dryer, or you get some paper towels dropped in your lap by the motion-sensing paper towel dispenser.  (And if you still have any soap on your lap or shoes you'll be pretty much tarred and feathered, the same experience a friend of mine had.)

Not only that, but in a lot of "accessible" washrooms, whether automated or not, there's not enough space for a chair or scooter to maneuver and turn around easily if at all.  And in a lot of washrooms the placement of soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, garbage cans and other stuff is often totally illogical for people using wheelchairs or other mobility aids.  Aaarggg!!!  OK, I've exhausted my potty mouth and my sense of toilet humor, and now I need to hit the can again.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wheelchair cane system -- It works!!!

For years I've been trying to figure out a good design for a white cane system that can be used by blind people in wheelchairs, so we have our hands free for doing other stuff.  Yeah, I know there may not be many of us out there, but there are definitely more of us than you might think.  In my power wheelchair I use one hand to control the joystick and the other to sweep my cane back and forth, and I wanted an alternative to my standard white cane because my hand gets numb from constantly sweeping the cane.  I'd also like to use a manual chair (if I can ever get the funding) so I can get more arm exercise by pushing myself in the chair, and I'd need both hands free to do this.  Well, I finally came up with a design I thought would work, and brought my design to Tetra to see if someone could make it for me.  One of our volunteers did just that, and he did a great job!  He even made a few improvements to my design where I went wrong, and got some parts donated.

I just got the finished product Wednesday night.  After putting the red and white reflective tape on it (so people will hopefully recognize it as a cane for blind people), and tinkering with it a little, it was ready for a full trial run.  It worked pretty good, but there were still a few kinks to work out.  I thought and tinkered some more, and gave it another try.  Even better, but still a couple problems.  A neighbor helped me fix one problem, and I fixed another one.  Now it's almost perfect, and ready to go again!  Whoo-hoo!

I don't have any pictures to put here, but basically the cane system is made of two upside-down T shapes connected together at the bottom.  The vertical tubes of the T's sit on my seat and lay against the outside of each leg.  The horizontal tubes (or what would be the tops of the T's) have wheels and roll along the ground a few feet in front of me, across the width of my chair.  The system lets me feel what's coming up ahead of me (obstacles, curbs, steps, changes in ground texture, etc.) through the vibrations that travel up the tubing from the ground, while leaving my hands free for other stuff.  It is pretty noisy, but I hope it won't bother people too much.  In fact, the noise actually seems to warn people that I'm coming so they get out of the way faster.

Anyway, I'm hoping that once I can put the finishing touch on this baby it'll work perfectly for me, and that a device like mine will help other people like me too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Response letter to Brenda Millson's neighbor

Brenda Millson is the grandmother of an autistic boy named Max, and last week her lousy excuse for a neighbor put a hateful letter in Brenda's mailbox just because she didn't like the noise Max was making when he played outside.  I'm sure this noise, by the way, is much more tolerable than construction noise, really loud music blaring, the loud, high-pitched screaming a lot of non-disabled kids do, or any number of other "normal" noises we hear on a daily basis.  When my attendant read me this woman's letter in the paper this morning I had to release all my pent-up anger by responding to this woman's hateful spew.  So yes, there's a lot of cussing in this letter, but my brain doesn't have all the words to compose a letter like this without some cussing.  To find out more about the letter I'm referring to, visit http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2013/08/20/autistic-boy-family-receives-euthanize-letter-ontario-newscastle.html.  Here goes:

Dear Nasty, Evil, Small-Minded Slimeball (Nessie for short),

First of all, you call yourself "one pissed-off mother" but what you really are is a piss-poor excuse for a human being, and a mother-fucker rather than a mother.  I hope your so-called "normal children" haven't been permanently warped by your mind-polluting garbage.  Yeah, I understand that if you didn't spew your hateful crap all over the place you'd either explode or self-combust, but I'd much rather you burned your own rotten self up with your hatred than have you spread your horrible disease to everyone else.

Yeah, I know you're angry Nessie.  I really do know what it feels like to be eaten up inside with lots of pent-up anger, believe me!  I was born both blind and physically disabled, and I'm far from what you'd call "normal".  I've always wanted to do something good with my life and help people even though I've never had money and never had the help I really need, but I've never been able to do the things I really want and need to do because assholes like you think people like me don't deserve any help.  There are unfortunately a lot of people like you out there, Nessie, who think people with disabilities shouldn't get the help we deserve because we won't make much of a contribution to "society".  But given the right assistance, equipment, encouragement, and yes even love, there are a lot of people with disabilities like Max, myself and others who would contribute a whole fuck of a lot more to this world than you ever did.  For that matter, the world can be made a better place even by those of us who didn't get the help we needed and grew up surrounded by cretins like you.

Yeah, maybe your mama didn't love you, and maybe even dropped you on your head a couple of times when she realized what an ugly piece of work she gave birth to, but that's no excuse to make other people feel like crap.  Who the hell is going to care for your nasty ass when you get old -- or get a crippling stroke or illness -- and can't take care of yourself anymore, especially when everyone around you realizes what an evil scumbag you really are???  Personally, I think the police should take you into custody and let scientists study what passes for your "mind", and in your case ma'am I use that term loosely.  You call your neighbor's autistic grandson "retarded", but I say you're the one who's retarded, since you're too lazy to use the brain you were supposedly born with!

Do the entire world a favor and euthanize yourself, or at least have the courtesy to crawl back into whatever hell-hole you oozed your way out of at birth.  MOVE!!!  VAMOSE!!!  SCRAM!!!  And if your so-called "normal kids are as rotten as you are, please take them with you!  Go live in the zoo or the wilderness with the rest of the beasts -- wait, I'm sorry all you guys in the zoo and wilderness, you animals aren't nearly as mean-minded as this bitch!  I'd love to meet you soon ma'am, so I can release some of that pent-up anger I mentioned earlier in this letter, and ram your hateful, disgusting butt into a wall with my power wheelchair!  Maybe once you become disabled yourself you might be a little more sensitive to people like Max.

I'm not perfect either Nessie, I have my own pet hates I need to deal with too.  For example, I really can't stand lazy people, most of whom have never worked as hard in their entire lives as I've had to work just to accomplish small things.  I also hate abusers of all kinds, including people who deliberately make life hard for people just because they enjoy seeing other people suffer.  I've sometimes thought, wrongly, that maybe they should be euthanized.  I'm sure it's wrong to kill anyone, even evil scumbags.  They should be put away where they can't hurt anyone, and maybe studied (as long as this doesn't pollute the minds of the people studying them).  So yeah, Nessie, I have to deal with my own share of hatred just like you do.  But I at least will try as hard as I can to not let that hatred and anger eat my insides up, so I won't become a despicable specimen like you.

Sincerely,

Maria Cruz (one pissed-off human being)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Review of 2012

Happy New Year! Well, I still don't have any New Year's resolutions, except to keep trying to be the best person I can be, but I thought I’d recap some of the good, the bad and the ugly of 2012.

The good:

  • President Obama got back in for another 4 years. Even if he doesn't do anything spectacularly good, he hopefully won't do anything as bad as a Republican government might have done.
  • I got some of the stuff I needed in 2012, like a new chair, physiotherapy, helpful info, and some neat natural stuff to help my muscles work better.
  • BlackBerry's coming out with some new stuff, including a more secure platform and some new devices. I know RIM's made some accessibility improvements in their devices in the past couple years, and I REALLY hope they'll make their new devices even more accessible for people like me. OK, I can't even afford a BlackBerry, but I'd like to know that if I had the bucks to afford one I'd actually be able to use the damn thing.

The bad and the ugly (not in any particular order):

  • Luka Magnotta was named Newsmaker of the Year. OK, why are we giving scumbags like this guy attention they don’t deserve? Yeah, we need to know people like him exist, but to give him a title like that is just plain stupid.
  • First Nations Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike in Ottawa, along with at least one band elder, to get Canada's PM Stephen Harper and the Governor-General to meet with First Nations leaders. This is because after Stephen Harper came to power, he put through an omnibus bill that took away laws protecting waterways running through First Nations lands. Chief Spence is still on her hunger strike and not in good health, so if you’re out there Stevie, get your butt in gear and fix the mess you helped make!
  • Mass shootings are happening far too often. Shooting anyone is bad enough, and killing yourself isn't great either. But if you have a beef with someone, why not take it up with that person and leave everyone else out of it? And if you're going to kill yourself, why take a bunch of innocent people with you? What's just as scary is that after the school shooting in Connecticut a lot of people went and bought the same type of gun as the asshole who shot up the school. OK people, what the hell are you thinking?
  • SuperStorm Sandy was definitely bad, along with all the other hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and other nasty disasters that have hit different areas of the world.
  • It's freezing out! But it's winter after all, and in Toronto we've been spoiled for the last few years, so we're due for some nasty weather.
  • Violence and repression are still rampant in the world. Let's see, there's the gang-rape on the bus in India (and probably lots of others we don’t hear about), the violence persisting in Syria and other countries, bombings, wars, corruption, poverty and all that good crap. Oh yeah, and from what I understand, Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, declared himself to have absolute power. Can you say "out of the frying pan and into the fire"? And I'm sure there's a lot more ugly I've either forgotten about or just haven't heard about yet.

And the weird:

  • I heard on the radio last night that Kim Jong Un's wishes for the New year were not only improvement in economic development (which is a really good one by the way), but also more advanced weapons. Uh, Mr. Kim, doesn't North Korea have enough weapons already?
  • Polar bear swims - WTF? OK, I like swimming, but why would anyone want to swim in the freezing cold? I totally don't get that one! At least Habitat For Humanity did its polar bear swim for a good cause, to raise money to build new homes for needy people. That's really good, but couldn't they think of an event that's a little less masochistic?

OK, after all that doom and gloom, I figured I'd make my own New Year's wish list. It's going to sound REALLY Pollyanna-ish, but here goes anyway:

  • To put all kidnappers, killers, rapists, and other really nasty assholes away where they belong. OK, I could suggest something much more violent, but that would be a bad idea.
  • For all national leaders to do the right thing and help their poorest citizens, as well as citizens in other nasty situations besides poverty. And I know people need to defend themselves, but do we really need so many weapons?
  • For people to use their brains (to the best of their abilities at least), not be so freaking lazy, and stop being assholes in general. OK, is this one even possible?
  • Laptops, smartphones, websites, software and a whole lot of other stuff I can actually use. I get the feeling a lot of manufacturers and designers figure people with my combination of disabilities don't actually think about being productive, but we really do. I want to be productive, help people, help myself, be able to make some money, and maybe even have a little fun once in a while. Is that too much to ask?
  • For my skin not to be so itchy and my sinuses to stop producing so much mucous. It would be nice if the rest of my body worked right too, but I guess I can't have everything, huh.
  • And for everyone (who's a decent person or at least trying to be one) to have a happy, successful 2013 and beyond.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Some cool natural stuff

I'm back again, and not only do my muscles not feel as soor, but I also have a slightly better range of motion.  The physio helped for sure, but I also stumbled on something else that really helped too.  I forget exactly what I was Googling at the time - I think it was something about baby oil because at that time I was trying to find some way to keep the chlorine from getting to my skin when I go swimming - but while I was surfing the U. of G. I somehow found out that eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil were antispasmotics and pain relievers, as well as having other great benefits.

I'd just bought some baby oil and also had some peppermint oil from the grocery store, so I splurged and bought some eucalyptus oil and vitamin E gel-caps from the drug store.  I mixed some eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil and vitamin E into the baby oil and voila!  As well as a big old oil slick to clean up, I had a body oil that moisturized me, kept the chlorine from absorbing into my skin, and also made my muscles feel good and easier to use - WHOO-HOO!!!  I have to shake the bottle before using it to mix up all the oils, because the vitamin E and peppermint tend to separate from the other oils, but it's worth it.

So then I started putting the eucalyptus, peppermint and vitamin E into my body wash for an extra kick.  This is especially helpful for me on weekends when I don't have an attendant to put the oil on for me.  So, although I don't consider myself a nature buff exactly, it was really great to learn about some of the natural remedies out there.  Here's just some of the stuff I learned so far:
- Olive oil is just as good as baby oil for keeping that nasty chlorine off your skin, and even more moisturizing and better for your skin.
- Vitamin E helps the healing process as well as moisturizing skin.  If you're using vitamin E capsules, just pop them open with a CLEAN pin or paper clip and squeeze the contents into your mixture.  You may have to shake each time to mix well.
- As well as eucalyptus and peppermint oils, grapefruit essential oil is also good for stiff muscles.
- Lemon, lime, and other citrus essential oils are good for cleansing and other stuff, but don't use any more than 2% in your mixture, because they can make your skin photosensitive.
- Essential oils are much stronger than the stuff you might buy in the drug or grocery store, so if you're using essential oils only use 10 drops per ounce of mixture (that's about 0.5ml per 29.57ml).  Otherwise you might irritate or damage your skin.

So I got to say, thanks God, for making all this cool stuff!  Oh yeah, by the way, I now have a funnel, so now when I mix up my stuff I won't make such a big mess and waste stuff.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Another Step Forward - Whoo-hoo!!!

Well I can't believe it.  In early June I started getting physiotherapy and some other stuff I should have had as a kid.  I'm finished sessions with my speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist and social worker now, but they gave me some great info and tips to help me out.  Everyone I've worked with there is great and really supportive!  Thanks guys (you know who you are)!!!

I'm still doing physio, and it's exhausting but I'm actually feeling some improvements.  I've always been used to working my butt off and not getting many results, if any at all.  But since I started physio I've noticed my trunk (torso) getting stronger - I don't get sore as quickly when I'm sitting up or standing, and my upper body doesn't sway back and forth so much when I walk.  That's the main improvement I've noticed so far, but there are others too, and I'm sure there's more to come!  I've been at it for 7 weeks now, and have 2 more weeks to go.

And last year I even got new leg braces that are really supportive and keep my feet nice and straight.  These are custom-made braces from an orthotist (who's also great, by the way), not the cheap off-the-shelfe braces I blogged about in 2011.  These suckers are way better!

So, I'm still tired most of the time and stuff is still hard to do, but now I don't slump as much or get sore so quickly, and my balance is getting better too.  So, any chance I could run a marathon some day, huh?