Thursday, 24 June 2010

The ipad has landed

The ipad has landed

Tool or toy or both for people with little or no sight?

I noticed that the iphone and the ipad failed to make an appearance at last year’s Sight Village in Birmingham and again there was no sign of it at this year’s Csun as reviewed by Dr Mike Townsend in the May edition of this excellent magazine. Strange when there is so much interest in both products. So what is going on here and what is changing? Could it just be that blind and visually impaired people can go into Apple Stores etc in the nearest town or city and take a peep for themselves. The Apple staff know how to set up Zoom magnification or VoiceOver speech and family members, especially children, are taking a great interest and will be quick to help their visually impaired family member to do well with such a cool mainstream bit of kit.

I am old enough to remember the excitement of handling my first computer that talked to me and made stuff large enough on the screen for me to see and even slowly read by sight. It was the BBC computer and it gave me hours of fun and learning. It’s not easy to recapture all this even though computers are so wonderful for us now but the ipad has won my heart and certainly my fingers, eyes and ears. In this blog, I don’t want to do the detail but simply focus on the visual, remembering that I have very little sight by normal standards but very precious eccentric sight by my own standards. So what is it about the ipad?

It is small, thin, neat and held in one hand while your finger in the other hand manages the very responsive touch screen. Stuff on the screen is bright, extremely clear and the colours are intense. You can soften the brightness if glare is your problem. The interesting thing for me is that the ipad is handheld. If you have little sight, the great thing is being able to totally control how near things are, the ipad in this case, what angle they are to your face and eyes. How many of us have hunched over a screen, tried small screens to obtain clarity and or large ones to cope with magnification. How many of us have struggled to read print books with powerful telescopic lenses or done battle with the environment to get the lighting just right. The ipad in your hand copes with all this and, incidentally, when you buy an electronic book for it, you can quickly choose print size, the font style of the print and actually hear the book at the same time.

The ipad revolution brings with it yet another joy. The speech output and enlargement facilities are all part of the mainstream deal out of the box. No need to pay extra for your visual disability needs. The voice is clear and the pictures and colours are stunning. As a big boy, I was very excited to trial a driving game; a fast car amongst all sorts of obstacles I could hardly make out. But because the sounds were there and the pictures right up to my eyes, I felt the thrill of the simulation. I just need a driving game slow enough and with clear and spoken labelling so that I and many like me could get started. The cost of programs or apps is also very reasonable indeed, sometimes as little as fifty nine pence. Many apps are just free of charge.

Sound remains my preference though and I liked the facility to plug in my best headphones and listen to high quality music, podcasts, masses of book titles and radio stations from all round the world and all in the living room in a comfy arm chair and not sat at a keyboard. There is just so much to listen to that I would have to give up work to get time to fully enjoy it all. Sometimes one has had to decide whether or not to be a blind or a weak-sighted operator when choosing technology kit. Here, though, you can just press the buttons and hear or see large, just as you please at the moment of need.

Of course you can email, word process, cope with spreadsheets and keep your list of contacts and your calendar too. I purchased a natty Bluetooth keyboard to go with my ipad so I can quickly write documents and notes etc. There is an onboard on screen keyboard which is very usable with little or no sight, if slow. Incidentally, if you like speaking to your mates, Skype is there and very accessible and easy to use but, beware because there is a phone charge.

So would I recommend the ipad for blind and partially sighted people? Certainly not but I think you should make a big effort to go and handle one and get to know more about it and you might end up being as delighted as I am with it. Do remember too, that I have just scratched the surface and there is much more it can do. And finally, there are lessons to learn here. There is so much choice for us these days from freebies, cheapies to high class Rolls Royces. Who should be recommending? High priced products permit a sales team to go round the country and attend costly specialist exhibitions. The web is stuffed with information if you know the right key words for your web search. Your peers with little or no sight will surely have an opinion as I have; but my views are very biased and personal to my own needs and abilities. Sadly, there are very few professional so-called experts that have no axe to grind, nothing to sell, as it were. And even these trusty few must struggle to know the whole picture. For our part, at, we no longer just bang on about our own Thunder screenreader software and WebbIE browser as you can see from this Apple article. The best advice is to go, learn and enjoy the huge choice of opportunities now available to us. In the new climate of cuts and reduced spending, we have all got to do more for ourselves and that is no bad thing, maybe.