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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 Amazon.ca 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 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.