Sunday, July 26, 2015

Anti-Social Media - AAARRRGH!!!

OK, I finally bit the bullet and got a Facebook account.  I started a crowd-funding campaign a couple months ago and they say it won't come up in the public search directory unless you have your campaign connected to Facebook.  This makes absolutely no sense to me at all, but eventually I caved in and tried to set up a Facebook account.

And yes, Facebook is almost as much of a pain in the butt as I'd thought it would be.  I at least managed to set up the account and put some good stuff on there, and I've even started to check out a couple people's profiles, but man it's just one more social media site that's basically a hassle to use.  Since I'm almost totally blind I use a keyboard and screen reader to access the computer, and aside from having to slog through all the links and clutter before I find the link I want, I found I couldn't even open the links that had submenus.  I'm lucky I have a little bit of sight so I can try to use the mouse to open them, but it's still damn hard to do.  Having said this, Facebook's still more accessible than I expected it to be.  At least my screen reader reads out all the links that don't have submenus attached.  There's no way to read people's photos and stuff, but it at least reads the text that isn't contained within an image.

I'm not much of a social media user and probably won't be one any time soon.  But I also recognize that social media can be used to do positive things, and that's why it pisses me off even more when my screen reader slows down or crashes every time I try to use social media (whether it's my blog, my Twitter account, LinkedIn or Facebook).  I've e-mailed at least a couple of these companies to try to improve accessibility for people using screen readers, but although they sound like they're interested in fixing the problems nothing's happened yet.  So guys, could you PLEASE hurry the fuck up and make your sites more accessible for people with disabilities?  I'm about ready to run over someone with my chair from sheer frustration!  Not that I think violence is the right way to solve anything, but this social media crap is making me even more anti-social than usual.  AAARRRGH!!!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Google and Apple Are Watching Us

I just heard on the radio today that Google and Apple are watching us via our smartphones - GASP!!!  OK, I know I sound kind of flippant about this, but do you really want to tell me you've never figured this out before now?  Our smartphones have GPS systems. They keep records of our usage, preferences, and lots of other stuff.  There's a security feature that can locate your phone if it's stolen.  Our phones use something called "background data" so we end up getting charged for data usage even when we're not actively using the phone's network to access the internet unless, that is, you've turned off that particularly nasty feature.  And there's probably a whole lot of other stuff smartphones do and keep track of that we don't know about yet.  So does it really come as such a big shock that Google and Apple and who-knows-who-else is tracking our location and other stuff?  The only thing that really surprised me about this "news" was that smartphones can also tell when we're sleeping, like an expensive, portable, electronic version of Santa Claus.  I honestly don't know how that works, except maybe for the phones with heart monitors, if our heart rates change when we're asleep, and that's if we're messed-up enough to sleep with our smartphones in bed with us.

It may sound like I'm totally OK with this stuff.  Well, I'm definitely not.  My idealistic and unbusinesslike mind says that unless you're the police and you have a really good reason to believe someone's doing something they really shouldn't be, I don't see any valid reason to track someone's location etc., and even if you are the police with a damn good reason for suspecting someone of committing a crime (or being about to commit a very serious crime) you still should have a court order to do that stuff.  Companies like Apple and Google aren't the police, and I don't think they should be collecting data on us without our explicit knowledge, and preferably consent.  But that's just my idealistic mind talking, and I know that's not really how the world works.

So I actually have an advantage over most smartphone users, and amazingly it's because of the fact that my disabilities make smartphones really hard for me to use, plus the fact that I don't have a lot of bucks and can't afford to have my phone running up data charges on me when I'm not even trying to use the internet or GPS.  You see, I'm not glued to my phone the way other people are, I see it as more of an encumbrance than an extension of my body or brain.  But despite the fact that my phone's hard for me to use, I have a curious mind and wanted to know about all the options on my phone so I managed to go through all my phone's menus etc.  I got especially curious when I started getting hit with data charges when I wasn't even using the internet on my phone without WiFi.  So I eventually found out how to turn off the phone's ability to use "background data".  I also found out how to turn off my GPS and other stuff I don't need and don't use anyway.  Not that I have anything to hide, but I'm glad I can at least keep some of my info away from prying assholes who have no valid reason to know where I am and when.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fighting Terrorism - What's The Best Way?

OK, I know I haven't blogged about this before, but terrorism really pisses me off.  I have to say I do know what it's like to be so angry at something you just want to smack someone in the head or shoot someone, but I, unlike terrorists, try to calm myself down and don't act on my momentary violent thoughts.  I'm all for people fighting against oppression and trying to make everyone aware of what's wrong in the world, but terrorism isn't the way to make the world aware of the problems out there!  In fact, killing or kidnapping innocent people only makes the world fear, hate and want to kill you, not want to help improve your situation.  Furthermore, killing or kidnapping innocent people in the name of any religion or cause makes people hate or fear everyone associated with that religion or cause, no matter how valid or just it is.  I don't get why terrorist groups like ISIS/ISIL, Boko Haram or Al-Qaida don't see or care that they're making things so much worse for Muslims.  I think a lot of people believe Islam is responsible for terrorism when the real problem isn't Islam or Muslims but the fucked-up way some people interpret the Qur'an and twist it to suit whatever sick ideas they have.  In fact any religion can be twisted to suit the sick ideas of a few assholes -- it's been done with Christianity and I'm sure it's been done with other religions too.

And although I'm also not a big fan of a lot of the actions the military has carried out, it's still wrong to kill military personnel or anyone else, and the attacks on the soldiers in Ottawa and Montreal last week were totally horrible and unjustified.  I'm really sorry for the families of the military guys who were murdered, and I really hope there aren't more assholes like those terrorists waiting in the wings to kill more people here.  But I don't just want to see an end to terrorism here, I don't want innocent people killed here or in any other country.  I don't want innocent kids anywhere kidnapped or harassed just for trying to get an education.  What I keep wondering is how to stop this shit from happening.  A friend sent me a YouTube clip of an interview with Malala Yousafzai at the Forbes Under 30 Summit, and you can check it out at  in this interview she said the best way to prevent terrorism from perpetuating is to make sure all kids have an education, not to kill terrorists.  She said that although killing a terrorist might prevent one attack from happening, that terrorist might have a kid who grows up to become a terrorist because the kid's father was killed.  I can definitely see her point, especially if the child becomes poorer with no father and doesn't get the opportunity to go to school and learn that there are other ways to deal with stuff.  Although that doesn't account for a lot of middle-class people who are well-educated and have parents that are well-educated but still get sucked into this shit.  I wonder if those people are like messed-up sponges that just suck up and act on whatever crap people tell them.  And exactly what do you do with those idiots?

I'm sure there's no cut-and-dried answer to this stuff, but it seems to me like we need some way to stop and prosecute current terrorists while educating kids to keep them from becoming terrorists.  I don't have any training or anything, so I have no fucking idea what's the best way to do this, but I hope someone will come up with the right answer soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My First Smartphone, OMG!

OK, after lots of research via Google and Bell Canada, and some other cell phone carriers too, I found a way to possibly make a smartphone work for me.  I was told the iPhone was the best for accessibility, but the iPhone (and other newer Android phones that also have built-in screen readers) only comes with an expensive plan I can't afford.  Bell had one older Android smartphone that came with a basic voice plan, so after doing what research I could on the old fart I bit the bullet and got it.

As you can probably figure out from a couple of my previous posts, researching the accessibility of smartphones and other cell phones was in itself an exercise in frustration.  The next step was to find a decent case for the little guy that would be reasonably shock resistant, easy for me to grip, and affordable on a low budget.  While that wasn't easy for me either, I did find a really cheap ($5) TPU gel case on from Skypillar that I thought might have some texturing on the sides for a better grip, and when I got it I wasn't disappointed.  This case has a pretty good design and its material and texturing makes it easy to hang onto (beats the crap out of Bell's $20 gel case that was slippery and not-so-easy to hang onto).  I modified my new case with some rubbery stick-on Braille dots and some rubbery, cushiony 3M grip tape to make it even more shock resistant and grippy, so my new case might look a little weird but it should protect my new old-fart from drops and bumps -- I hope.   I also had to search for a portable Bluetooth keyboard that have concave keys (the kind that are shaped to your fingertips instead of flat), so I could actually type on my new phone reasonably well and as quickly as possible.  Yes, this was another exercise in frustration, especially since it seems like all the cheaper Bluetooth keyboards have flat keys I can't type on (my fingers just go sliding off home row whenever I try to press any key that's not on home row).  I was lucky I'd been able to save a little bit, because the keyboard I figured would work best for me was about $80, and that was only because I got a really good deal on it.

So the case works well, and the keyboard works pretty good too, now for the phone itself.  When I got the phone almost 2 weeks ago I had the store staff turn on the screen reader for me, and then the fun started.  Although the screen reader works pretty good a touch screen is still a touch screen, meaning it's hard to know what you're pressing until the screen reader decides to tell you what your finger's on - another exercise in frustration, as I expected, especially since the screen reader doesn't always decide to talk when you touch something.  Also I have wide clumsy fingers that sometimes double-tap by accident or jerk away from what I want to tap, and that makes things even more interesting (well, interesting's one word for it anyway).  But once I got it home (where hopefully no one could hear my constant cussing) I did manage to get it set up the way I wanted, and even managed to put a strap on the little sucker so I can wear it.  Since then I've been learning tricks to make it work a little better.  I'm lucky I have a little bit of sight, otherwise it would have been even more frustrating and tedious, if not altogether impossible.  I spent the first week or more trying out and tweaking some basic stuff like the Contacts list, memos, texting, calling, and refining my settings.  Once I got familiar with the device I went online with WiFi.  I tried opening the web browser and accessing my GMail account.  While the phone's GMail app's pretty accessible so far, I couldn't read anything on the web browser until I found out scripts had to be installed from the phone's Accessibility menu.  Then it was doable, although not too easy.  Even before then I'd been looking into apps that would make my phone more useful.  I didn't want to get too many apps and clutter up my system, but I did get some good ones that were free.  The best app I got was a talking compass, and a couple of the apps aren't usable for me yet because of either accessibility issues or some other software glitches.

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about the on-screen keyboard.  It's just as frustrating and slow as I expected!!!  I had no luck with the QWERTY keyboard, even in landscape mode, but luckily Samsung has a 3x4 keyboard that's kind of like the keypad on a regular phone.  It's still really hard and slow to use, but I can get by with it if I have to.  That's why I'm really glad I was able to get a decent Bluetooth keyboard that I can stick in my bag and take with me.  I can't type very fast on a physical keyboard, but I still do way better with that than with the nasty on-screen keyboard.

My conclusion: I still want to strangle, punch and shoot whoever got the bright idea to design touch screens, and a few smacks upside his/her head would be pretty cathartic too.  But at least there are options for making at least some smartphones usable for at least some things besides making a phone call.  I'm hoping it'll get at least a little easier to use this thing and that the apps I downloaded and can't use yet will get updated to something I actually can use.  But at least now when I'm out and waiting for the bus or occasionally having a coffee I can do something more productive than listen to my iPod.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Rediscovering Smoothies

In April I got a NutriBullet blender, thinking it would work better than the blender I had that didn't work so well and was really hard for me to clean.  The NutriBullet has a way more powerful motor and is supposed to liquefy fruits and veggies.  Well, it doesn't exactly liquefy them, and it doesn't break down seeds nearly as well as I thought it wood, but it does at least make it easier for me to get healthy fruit/veggie smoothies.  I'd been making smoothies with my other blender, but they mainly consisted of things like Nestle Breakfast Essentials or protein powder, juices or milk, yogurt, liquid egg, and other stuff that wasn't too hard to blend.  Although my smoothies aren't as big as the ones in the NutriBullet recipes (those are way too big for me), I at least manage to get a pretty healthy dose of fruits and veggies into me most days.

It was pretty tough going at first, and even now it's still not what I'd call enjoyable, but at least I learned something about the trouble I've always had with swallowing pulpy stuff.  My first couple NutriBullet smoothies were an exercise in sheer frustration, since they were much too thick for me to drink, and even after I thinned them out with more liquid I found it too hard to get the berry seeds all the way down my throat.  That's when I finally started to wonder why I'm able to eat solid foods as long as I can chew them up finely but I can't drink pulpy stuff.  So next time I was eating solid food I tried to figure out what I was doing differently from when I was drinking.  I finally figured out that my tongue is almost always at the roof of my mouth when I'm eating and that the food goes down the sides of my tongue to get down my throat.  OK, I'm sure that sounds really weird to a lot of you, and I don't know how to explain why this would affect my being able to swallow solid stuff, but I'm thinking maybe the center of my throat opening is more closed off than the sides.  Anyway, the next day I made another smoothie and tried drinking it with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and it worked!  All the pulpy stuff went down without getting stuck.  I tried another smoothie with berries, and I was able to get the seeds down too.  I still have to run the blender for a few minutes to get it to a consistency I can handle (I only let it run 50 seconds at a time though and wait a couple minutes between so the motor doesn't overheat).  I've tried to run the blender for less time and use a strainer for the rest of it to cut down on my power usage, but I'm exhausted by the time I'm done and there are still too many seeds left (I stopped trying to do this when I got a raspberry seed stuck in my throat).

Although the NutriBullet's a little easier to clean than my old blender it's still not that easy for me to clean. And I can't say I've been feeling any better with all those fruits and veggies inside me like the other NutriBullet users say they do.  But at least I'm getting healthy stuff into my stomach, and maybe it takes a long time before you actually feel the results.  I've also been really lucky to find lots of frozen veggies and fruits in my grocery store that aren't too expensive, since I'm afraid that fresh fruits and veggies would hang around my place too long past their prime.  Well, gotta go now and have my lunch smoothie (1/2 cup of spinach, 1/2 cup of carrots, 1 cup of blueberries and some orange juice).

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 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.