AirPods, The Most Accessible Headphones

Headphones are an often overlooked but essential piece of equipment for the blind. Accessing a screen reader in the privacy of your own home in a quiet room is a simple affair, you can just use the loudspeaker of your phone or computer. Add some environmental noise, head outside or dare to venture into a coffee shop and the loudspeaker is no longer functional.

Headphones enable me to use my iPhone both indoors and out and about, i literally couldn’t use my iPhone without headphones. Therefore, over the years i have amassed a rather substantial collection. Everything from a cheap pair of JVC up to a rather expensive pair of active noise cancelling Bose. I am rarely seen without a pair of headphones and have them stuffed in every pocket and every bag.

I am constantly looking for the perfect pair of headphones, the pair that will make using my iPhone that much more accessible. Now i have found that elusive pair, the Apple AirPods.
The AirPods are Apple’s truly wireless earbuds. Two single ear pieces that fit snugly inside their own charging case.

They solve many of the problems a blind user has with headphones. Cables. Cables are a nightmare. Get them tangled in your pocket? Try untangling them when you can’t see. It just takes that much longer to untangle them. To the point where if I quickly need to access my phone i would prefer not too. The time taken to untangle the headphones ends up being greater than the time i needed to use the phone. So often i would either ignore a notification and vow to take a look when i got home, or place the phone close to my ear to listen. After all with a screen reader the only way you get privacy is by using headphones. Imagine if all your texts were read aloud? That embarrassing one from your friend is even more embarrassing when everyone in the lift hears it too!

So the wireless nature of the AirPods truly makes them more accessible. I can just quickly and easily slip them in. No cables to un tangle, just flip the lid of the storage case and they are in my ears for that quick check of my phone.

This brings me to one of my other favourite accessible features. Only using one of the AirPods. When you rely on sound to understand what is happening around you, having one ear focus on the screen reader frees up the other to environmental noise. Handy when walking down the street and handy at home or in a meeting. Previously if i received a notification in a meeting and hadn’t worn headphones upon entering i am left with three options. Ignore the message, go through the messy untangle process or interrupt the flow of conversation by having everyone hear your notifications through the loudspeaker. Now.I have a fourth option, just slip in one AirPod and i am away.

While out and about another side effect of being blind is generally having only one hand accessible. To navigate around i either use my guide dog or a long cane. This basically gives me no way to untangle the headphones, so i would often go for the loudspeaker approach. This is gambling with the possibility of dropping your phone as you attempt to juggle it around with one hand.

Now i just slip out one AirPod from the case, pop it in my ear and activate Siri.

There is one other fantastic bonus of using one ear piece. I double the battery life. Not to mention whenever i remove them from the case they are fully charged.

The AirPods truly have increase the accessibility of my iPhone by enabling me to use it in more daily events. I no longer have to remove myself from a social space to use my phone, these AirPods are increasing my social ability.

They truly are the most accessible headphones.

Good News

After my previous post on the lack of disabled funding I sent an email complain to my local college.

I received a repsonse instantly, “Could you please come into the college so we could discuss this?” So on monday I had a meeting with Mary from the disability department. We discussed what had happened on my previous visit, turns out the finance department were mistaken.

There was indeed funding for accessibility, we discussed my needs and I highlighted I simply needed an iPad. The college had their own idea of some custom Dolphin devices, 2 devices one of which cost £1600. I explained this solution was incredibly expensive and the iPad would achieve everything I needed, at a smaller price point.

After around 30 minutes of negotiation I was left with the answer, “I will speak to my manager”. This morning I received an email giving the OK for an iPad. YAY!!!

The cherry on top? I bought an OpticBook 3600 on eBay for £38! The scanner arrived today, a quick test and it works like a charm.

So the previous cost has been reduced to a acceptable £38. This is far lower than even my dream scenario.

Now time to get back to compiling these post process tools.

College Bound

Yesterday was my scheduled interview for college entrance. I had already passed the entrance assessments and this was the final stage.

My wife works at the college in the Learning Resource Centre so I headed into work with her to be prompt for the interview.

To burn a little time I listened to an audiobook, SuperFreakonomics. Despite criticism I do enjoy the series. I gleaned some wonderful insights about India. A little tap on my shoulder from my wife, interview time!

On arriving at reception I was informed it would be conducted in groups. Now I don’t get nervous about the group dynamic in fact I usely perform highly in competitive group tasks. But I realised receiving assistance in this scenario for things such as mobility would be difficult.

A quick chat and one of the staff agreed to assist me upstairs to part 1 of 3. Moving around the college was far more difficult than I had anticipated. I certainly need to learn the routes and memorise layouts.

Part 1 of the interview lasted all of 60 seconds, as soon as they confirmed I was educated and knew basic maths I was rushed to part 2.

Now this is where it became a little more interesting. I was handed a sheet of paper by the next assesor and told to choose a timetable. I informed him I was blind and would be unable to read the timetable.

“Well I don’t have the time to read it to you”

“How about you run me through the main points and we can go from there.”

Then the penny dropped, he had just refused to read the timetable for a potential disabled student. We worked together on the timetable and quickly came up with a lesson plan that was a good fit.

We began to talk about my vision loss and what I was able to see. In another misguided moment of his he questioned how a blind person would be able to complete this course.

I pointed out a few of the adaptations myself and the college could make and this quenched his negativity. As we continued to talk he asked about my past education and career.

This is the point where people generally stand to attention. People are shocked when informed I am well educated [in my previous field] and held down a managerial role.

Part 3 went without a hitch, so timetable complete I am officially starting in September. With one little caveat of finance, I will be speaking to Learner Services next week about this.

After the interview I met with my guide runner Scott and we headed into town to play with an iPad. Quickly turning on the accessibility features I gave iBook a twirl. Testing VoiceOver, Zoom and White on Black, made reading books a dream.

In an effort to make me jealous Scott ordered one. I will have mine soon!

AARRGHHHHHHHHH

**Update – Deal reached YAY!**

With my money raising going well I was all excited about purchasing my iPad.

Then I read this. So no books on the UK iBook Store. Fantastic, I was ready to order my iPad and start ordering books.

Thats right publishers I actually wanted to buy YOUR products. The publishing is renowned for dragging its feet when it comes to the digital era. Lets hope they don’t follow the path of the record industries. P2P would not of been the success it is today if they had jumped on the digital age in the late 90’s early 2000.

So come on EU publishers get on board, I want access to your books. I want to be able to read again, to be a consumer.

The iPad is Nearly Within Reach

With the recent sale of all my old unwanted goods I am nearing the goal of being able to afford an iPad.

My wife and I sold all our old books to FatBrain. Its an excellent service that allowed us to sell a large number of books simply. Understandably the sale price is lower than selling on eBay or amazon. But the ease of use is unbeatable.

The money from our book sales and random eBay sales has brought me very close to being able to afford the iPad.

My wife is already planning the books she will read to our unborn child. My vision issues don’t allow me to read standard books and reading to my child is not something I want to miss out on. The accessibility features on the iPad allow the high contrast and brightness I require.

Access to books again for my own personal use is something I look forward too. Instead of looking at our bookshelf and being tortured by memories of my reading ability, once again I can read.

The accessibility features of the iPad are fantastic. With a triple click of the home screen you have access to a screen reader, zoom features and white on black. I am thankful that Apple builds these features into their devices at no extra cost.

The screen reader will be me goto tool for college and university as my eyes tire. Assuming of course I manage to get all those textbooks in digital format.

For now I eagerly await access to the iBooks store and continue to trawl the internet for fun apps to play with my nephews and own child.