Monday, 11 April 2011


There has been a good deal of research about what most or many people carry around with them. Keys, money and the mobile phone come top of the list. But we blind people are expected to carry a reading aid, a GPS navigation system, a guide dog, a white cane, a computer and a braille display as well. And each bit of kit costs us an arm and a leg too. And if you have a bit of sight like me, well a magnifier comes in useful as well. . So to cut down the load and lighten the wallet as well, we have been working on creating a mobile app which already works pretty well on an Android phone and will sell for just a few quid. In the not too distant future, there will be an iPhone version too.

It tells you where you are and your direction whether you are still or walking. It reminds you of your nearest landmarks, (points of interest) but it is not about road names, house numbers and all the things that Google maps or the Sendero or TomTom systems give you already. Our map is designed to give you that precious personal meaningful information which you need as well as the mainstream stuff. So what happens?

On the first journey, you walk with a seeing mate. As you pass and agree meaningful landmarks, you speak them into your phone. Without pressing another button, you hear what you have recorded and that landmark is now in the system. We have odd things like ‘dog bin’ ‘Trevor’s Lane’ and ‘hump’ and we know what these words mean to us.
When you later pass by on the same route, your landmarks are spoken to you along with an indication of their direction and gestimated distance . At any time you can interrogate the clever little beast and it will tell you your first, second, third fourth or fifth nearest landmark, depending on which key you press.

The whole thing has been especially designed with big on-screen buttons and, if you have a little bit of sight, you can choose the colours .
Oh, and incidentally, it is a great little talking phone anyway with the same clear buttons, easy use and a bit of easy texting thrown in too.

We enjoy what we do at but if you want to know more detail about this smart phone venture, well, you will just have to wait a month or two until it is ready for trial and release. In time, we will add lots more easy to use features so that in the end you and me might just be carrying around one smart phone with many low cost functions.

VI young People Creating Their Own Websites

‘Have Your Say’
Multi- Media (Web Aware) Training Weekend
provided by and LOOK
19th 20th 21st March 2011

So many times, you find yourself with a crowd of young people who inspire you. Just so this last weekend when I found myself amongst ten people with severely damaged sight but mighty brains and personalities. With funding from BBC Children In Need, and masses of planning and organisation from the LOOK team, and the fabulous services and environment of the Think Tank, Birmingham Science Museum, We all came together to focus on providing these young people with the tools to create high quality audio, create a basic website and get their voices heard over the internet. And all in two days!!! Impossible? Well yes but we did mighty well.
First, they were introduced to the idea of putting their own stuff up there on the web. Without actually doing it, they were shown the steps to create their pics, docs or audio files and put them altogether in a folder. A special piece of software had been created for them by Granite 5, a Cambridge-based web company dedicated to accessibility and inclusion. This eGenius software makes sure that everything goes in the right place and looks good even when a blind person creates the webpage and it all works well with screenreader assistive software.
After coffee, their attention switched to interviewing techniques, using digital recorders and, on the following day, real live creation of what they wanted to say amongst the Think Tank environment and its many interesting exhibits and demonstrations. The final session was a bit of a rush but, at the end, each young person had received his or her Press Pass, a certificate and a hand creating in the five websites that were up and running. I might guess that we all went home with a bit of a headache and a little confusion but everyone took away a sense of excitement, achievement and, to be practical, a copy of the instructions an tutorials covering the weekend’s activities on their laptops, or in braille or big print.
We were all proud to be part of the small beginnings of what could develop into a great adventure for each participant. It is so vital that these young people are ahead of the game in the digital age – and they are.

We are grateful for the project being part funded by Children in Need. The Parenting Fund for children in Nofolk have agreed to fund the proportion allocated for Norfolk children. The total cost of the project £8,387.91. Please find below the outline of spend for the Children in Need proportion and receipts are available for inspection if required, of course.

Receipts for Expenses
Equipment for 7 people 1,260.00
Proportion of evening meal 12 people 201.34
Contribution for travel 10 people 241.30
Contribution to stay for 11 people 894.43
Materials for people for 10 people 94.69
Cost of web license proportion 8 people 400.00
Cost of training proportion 8 people (Include internal LOOK training at £150
And Screenreader training at £150) 520.00
Cost of training room proportion 8 people 896.00
Sub Total 4,507.76

LOOK have provided the following services in addition to all of the above.
Prep Time Contribution: 2 workers. First worker 42hours, Second worker 25hours £683.30
LOOK Staff Delivery Time contribution (plus overnight support) £822.96
Sub Total £1,506.26

Total £6,014.02

Vicky Smith, Youth Development Officer, LOOK & Roger Wilson-Hinds Director,

Friday, 18 March 2011

Revolution In The Air


Whatever your political views, you might to some extent, agree with me that times are tough for less able people. Some of our blind mates too, are losing their jobs, having their benefit cut and noticing their local services diminish. Yes, so is everyone else or rather others who can’t defend themselves and their way of life. We still hear that decisions about us are being made by wealthy people who can’t possibly know what it is like to struggle financially, socially or physically. So all this begins to raise questions about what, if anything, we can do about it.
In North Africa and the Arab world, we have witnessed an outpouring of expressive anger. People are thinking they could manage quite well without their greedy, wealthy despotic rulers who have done so little to better the living standards of their citizens. In the day of the internet, no one now believes in the divine right to rule and our brothers in the Arab world have shown great bravery in standing up and putting their very lives at risk.
So how does all this affect blind and other disadvantaged UK citizens when things don’t seem to be fairly going our way. Can we strike like a trade union? Can we fill a major London square for days? Can we refuse to cooperate with local or central government totally and not pay our dues or have our forms filled in? Can we rely on and trust those who claim to speak on behalf of us? Should RNIB, GDAB and Action For Blind People indeed speak for us? And what about the wealth issue? If my mate is now on £60 per week after a lifetime of work, should the people who claim to speak on his behalf receive salaries from £25,000 right up to over £100,000 when they don’t really seem to be making so much difference to his life?
With these thoughts in my mind, I read recently that the cost of blindness in the UK is a massive £20 something Billion each year. I have no idea how this is calculated but I am sure that a huge chunk of this represents the salaries of the many professionals who do good things on our behalf. The cost of blindness that does not and never can appear in the accounts is represented by the unpaid efforts of our families and friends. In the Big Society and the Smaller State, there is little reason to suppose that human unpaid-for support will diminish. Allowing for human nature, a good deal of the whinging and squealing from professional bodies might jus be at least partially motivated by the threat to their own jobs and status in society. But there is an even more interesting aspect arising out of the current challenging situation. Maybe now is the time for blind people to relearn to stand on their own feet, make their own stories and successes. Here are just a few examples: Instead of relying on Incapacity Benefit and no work, why not supplement the new and lower benefits by doing a little paid work but not telling the world about it. Instead of waiting to be taken to places, why not actually finding and asking a travel buddy to show you the way once or twice and then being brave enough to travel alone. Instead of of joining the general moan about UK transport not announcing stops and stations, why not make the effort to speak up and say, once or twice, ‘where are we’ or ‘Please could you tell me when we get to my stop’. And lastly and much more controversially, why not speak up and say as blind individuals what we ourselves really want. Do we want millions each year to go to large national charities or would we prefer the balance to shift to local provision and services? Do we want our big charities to involve with technology or would we prefer any public money that is going be spent encouraging small private companies to develop what we need? Of course, the argument can work the other way. Would we prefer to shut down some local dominos clubs and better spend the money on nationally significant projects.
Back then to the stirrings in the Arab world and North Africa. For my part, I have seen no evidence of such stirring spreading to the blind world so maybe we just need a mechanism to make our voices heard. This coming weekend, I am playing a part in a weekend which will teach ten young blind people how to make their own websites to get their young voices heard. A very small step, I agree; but we don’t have to sit silent and be told what to do by seeing wealthy people unless we choose to or can’t be bothered to change things. I will report on the kids weekend in another blog.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


We have been running the Thunder project for over four years now and we rightly from time to time think about the future of Thunder and free screenreader software for blind people in general. Mind you, the idea of running something is interesting in itself with all the turbulence in North Africa and the Middle East. Maybe those that run things are merely figure-heads who need respect and support to stay in charge. Maybe it is the ordinary people that actually keep things going as indeed it is with Thunder users. So thank you to the many who have enjoyed Thunder and helped other blind people to do good things on the computer.

So what about the future? We are not closing down and we know Thunder has its place for years to come. NVDA is much loved by techies but it is not so good for beginners and home users as Thunder and I have no difficulty in making use of both products on my machine and totally respecting and admiring what the NVDA team have achieved.

But there is much more now at stake than the desktop and laptop, NVDA and Thunder. We are witnessing a move from PC to mobile smart phone and the touch screen. There is budget shift towards ever lower costs which even manufacturers of specialist stuff for blind users can’t escape from. A word processor like MS Word used to cost well over £100 whereas now there is Pages for the iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard, Braille or QWERTY, and Pages only costs a few pounds.

Sticking with the smart mobile concept, you no longer have to memorise lots of obscure keystrokes or pay out a week’s wages for the latest upgrade. Instead, you quickly download a free upgrade in minutes. This is a huge advantage for newly blind people but something of a challenge to those of us versed in the old PC Windows ways. But I for one no longer sit at my PC in the evenings to catch up on news, music and technical updates like I used to. I am now comfortable on the couch with the iPad by me and a pair of high quality headphones over my bald head.

And the smart phone does far more than word processing, the web and phone calls. It tells me when the next bus is due and what street I am in and what landmarks and road crossings are nearby. Maybe the accuracy is not quite there yet but its good and will get better. It won’t be long before I shall be able to mark up with seeing help my personal local landmarks just like is done on the expensive commercial navigation aids of today.

So where is all this leading with reference to the Thunder project? Probably you have begun to work it out already. In fact we are going to continue to support Thunder by email, telephone and with our manuals and tutorials which we are just now updating. But we would be foolish not to be putting more effort into the smart phone, iPhone and Google Android, simply because this is what our blind and visually impaired customers will want and need to keep pace and stay mainstream.

Keep enjoying WebbIE and Thunder and we will still be here to support you. Watch this space for development and please do talk to us about what works for you, what does not and what you want of us.