Archives - April, 2011



25 Apr 11

by Randy Pierce

“No offense, Randy, but how in the world are you going to use a touch screen given your total blindness?” I’ve heard that question a few times already, despite barely owning my iPhone for a week, and still the truth is even more amazing than I anticipated! Touch screen technology has not enhanced the barriers but has instead introduced an entirely new and powerful means of accessibility.

Adaptive Technology is a mixed blessing in that the powerful options are incredible, but so too is the cost, given the restricted market for such things. Speech technology has added thousands of dollars to the cost of items in the past, yet as our world of technology strives toward “eyes-free” for the benefit of drivers, (primarily) the results are clear. In the case of my iPhone, accessibility and usability are both highly available using just the pre-installed features! No additional cost is fantastic, but the reality of the potential is the greater achievement. The Android platform is not far behind, though full accessibility is not present with their Talk Back program. The expectations have been set, however, and most devices will begin to come standard with this new approach.

Randy using his new iPhone

Voice Over is the installed accessibility feature on every iPhone (Settings, General, Accessibility), which converts the phone to a means of interacting non-visually. Touch any point on the screen and the phone speaks the name of the Icon or feature present at that location. A single finger flick, left or right, and it advances through the options back and forth with ease. There’s a vast array of easy-to-learn hand gestures that bring the power of the product to life. Even the on-screen, touch-typing keyboard seems a quickly learned and mastered process! The impressive number of accessible applications can quickly enhance the device as a money reader, text scanner, color identifier, and GPS system – at no or minimal additional costs.

I spent a bit more than a month following some online discussions about the product before making the plunge, as my previous Smartphone slowly began to fail me. As such, I found the learning curve tremendously quick and discovered the most powerful aspect of this new technology. As a blind person, the delivery of information is always linear through a screen reader. We get an intricately displayed visual page as a series of single points without any appreciation for the impact of the layout. I may be told that a row across the top has a list of headline options, or similarly, a column down either side of the screen, but understanding the reason for the layout has previously been lost upon me. Things are placed with a prominence, which has meaning for usability. Now, due to the touch screen alerting of actual location points, a blind user can benefit from the size and location of any item in a way that is very close to a sighted user’s experience. We can also skip the fine print with ease just like our sighted counterparts. Do you think that’s a small detail? Imagine the clutter all across your Facebook page and how quickly your eye can focus on the significant details. Finally, we have a means to do so, and it’s all built into this powerful device!

It would be an extensive report to share all of the power and revolutionary change brought to us by this advance in technology. I’ll spare that extensive detail for this post and note that many of my blind and sighted contacts shared my apprehension on the accessibility of touch screen technology. As with nearly everything, awareness, education, and exploration have demonstrated that change, in this instance, may indeed be a tremendous benefit!

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18 Apr 11

by Randy Pierce

As this blog is posting, I’m in Boston for Patriots’ Day, aka Marathon Monday. Quinn and I plan to run half of the Marathon as “Bandits.” This is a controversial topic; we’ve done a fair bit of research about it alongside with our training for the race itself. After having examined all the angles, we believe ourselves to be “Responsible Bandits” and thus choose to undertake this incredible experience. We welcome comments on the topic and only ask that people read, consider and in turn give us material worthy of our doing the same.

Boston Marathon 2011 Logo

It's Boston Marathon 2011 race day!

What constitutes a Responsible Bandit? In our case, we are taking three significant steps above and beyond what the more than 2000 other bandits who typically run Boston are likely to do. First, each of us running will make a monetary donation to the race organizers, Boston Athletic Association. Second, we are starting at the half-way point, and only after all the qualified entrants have passed that point. This will be roughly 1:00 PM given the qualifying times required for the race. Last, we will decline all of the race-sponsored items such as the Mylar blankets and other expendable resources intended for qualified entrants. By taking these measures, we believe we are minimizing any negative impact upon the race and racers.

Why run the Marathon? Boston is a unique event with an unparalleled community of support along the route. We believe in undertaking positive experiences and supporting a community effort. It is my hope that by running with Quinn this year we will pave the way to run it officially and fully next year if we find the challenge appropriate in all ways. We look at this as a safe test run, undertaken responsibly, and we hope to share all the positive aspects of the accomplishment.

So as an entire city and region come together to celebrate an incredible day, we hope to take an active part. I do believe some may still disagree with the choice and I’ll be interested in sharing our reasons and learning theirs. Bandits are a long-standing part of the Boston Marathon. At the same time, it’s our hope that we will encourage an approach slightly different from the tradition, by supporting those who undertake the race as a Responsible Bandit.

UPDATE: Sadly, due to a tenacious cold, Randy had to cancel his plans to run the 1/2 marathon. We expect the dynamic duo to try an equally challenging run, later this summer.

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11 Apr 11

by Randy Pierce

As the blazing red sun slowly slipped below the last range of mountains to our west, the purple, blue, and green hues of several mountain ranges ever closer to us provided radiant beauty to the scene. High upon the shoulder of Mount Washington on July 4, 2010, the striations of the wispy clouds, which reflected red to pink, capped the magnificent splendor of an amazing sunset that unfurled beneath us while at Lakes of the Clouds hut. Close your eyes for a moment and try to picture that scene we so well appreciated. Now consider this, if you did picture it (and many report they can), you did so without ever seeing it. In fact, you did so because someone, who also never saw the scene, described it to you. How can this be? Sight is only twenty percent eyes, and an impressive 80 percent brain, which collects the eye data and formulates the image. We use neurology to craft imagination to vision, and along with the benefit of past visual experiences, create our individual interpretations of a picture.

In short, you experienced it precisely the way I did, despite my total blindness. Without question, I am in debt to the descriptive enhancement my many friends gift unto me as we share our journeys together. People are often concerned that their detail isn’t sufficient, but the simple fact is that each person provides the detail that stands out for them, and through the amalgamation of all these unique interpretations, I am able to create in my mind the richness I would likely lose otherwise. I “see” through these descriptions, and the meaning of my life is unquestionably enhanced as a result.

July 4th, 2010 at Lakes of the Clouds

So in the frequent discussions of what it is a blind person cannot do, which a sighted counterpart may accomplish, “see” is the most obviously correct answer. I think the inspirational detail above might just call into question that very answer. Meanwhile, allow me to give thanks for the past, present, and hopefully many future descriptions that will enrich my life! More specifically, thanks to the many people who provide, in their own way, the essential descriptive details through which I see!

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4 Apr 11

by Randy Pierce

It’s time for a peek into the hiking side of our project, though the ramifications of this topic are relevant to all of society. The principles of Leave No Trace (LNT) are simple and well articulated at this site. The video, impressively with audio description, is a fantastic start to a quality education on the topic! The challenge comes in each individual’s personal interpretation of how LNT will apply to them. A second and equally powerful challenge is the compromise necessary to meld these personal choices into an effective strategy with a humane approach.

On the 2020 Project, we’ve already faced the discrepancy of approach, and fortunately it was managed by calm and reasonable discussion, education, and consideration – but that is sadly not always the case. I encourage everyone to learn the basic principles of LNT to ensure we are tending the well-being of not only our hiking environs but our entire planet. A green-aware world can benefit us all in many ways. We hikers can each see immediate positive, or negative, impact by the decisions made in our forest and mountain habitats. We may also benefit tremendously in how we approach these topics with our fellow humans, and respect the quintessential points of LNT while keeping in mind the subjective ‘gray areas’ that exist.

Let’s examine the Gray Jay magic experience that we shared last year. By feeding the birds even a nominal amount of dried fruit, are we adjusting their behaviors and putting them at more significant risk? Answers to that question may vary, even from the experts. The first step is awareness of a potential impact, which at the time of our experience, we did not even consider. That was a mistake, and part of the reason why we want to emphasize education and planning as a successful approach.

Hiking blind, and with Quinn, I increase my potential impact in several ways that are difficult to avoid. The extreme of leaving no trace suggests that I not even partake of the wilderness experience, but I’ve obviously made a different choice there. So, the next recourse is ensuring that I have the techniques that minimize the negative potential of my presence, and to those I will remain dedicated. I hope all of you will do the same, including the polite and appropriate sharing of concerns with each other as we all strive to enjoy an incredible experience while preserving it for all who come after us!

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