Ode to Germaine

My beautiful, smart, and ever faithful guide dog, Germaine, made it across the rainbow bridge yesterday.  How much I learned from her!  She was ever patient, lying under tables while we ate, enduring many long hours of meetings!  She perfected a technique to peak out from under the table so  she could encourage our friends to end the meeting! 

 

She went all over the country with me, even to Hawaii which was quite the feat!  She also went on a cruise, our helper mistook our cereal snack mix for her food, much to Germaine’s delight! 

 

Germaine brought so very many friends into our lives, for which I am eternally grateful!  I now like to think of her playing ball with my Daddy, and jumping through ocean waves!  I always said it is a good think I didn’t have to walk by the seawall going to work as I would never have made it—Germaine truly loved the ocean! 

 

Thanks to everyone who had a part in training and loving on Germaine, I miss her terribly but she left a wealth of wonderful memories! 

 

Weaving without Sight

I have been a weaver for at least 40 years.  My first exposure was shortly after loosing the limited vision I had and transferring to our school for the blind.  They had a large rug loom that was already threaded and I learned how looms work and how to weave on one.  Fast forward many years, I used a small table loom where you do all the weaving by hand, learned some specialty stitches and enjoyed getting to design on the go.  I also learned hoop weaving which I enjoyed using yarns of different textures so I could keep track of the colors.  I have also woven on a large triangle loom again where the weaving is all done by hand.  But my go-to is my four harness floor loom.  

 

I hate crafts where I need a lot of sighted help as I seem to always arrive at that spot when no help is available.  So, I was conflicted about spending the money for a floor loom afraid that it would turn out badly.  My husband and his parents surprised me with one for a birthday gift and I’ve been weaving ever since. 

 

I have only taken a few classes but I understand the principles and have figured out my own adaptions.  I plan to post about various approaches in case other blind folks want to take up this activity. 

 

I find that using yarn that is knitting worsted weight is easier to feel than thinner weights.  Also many of my practices are to put tension on the yarn so I can more easily feel what is happening.  I often hold the yarn with my last three fingers leaving my first finger and thumb for manipulating.  I usually use a six dent reed which mean the beater bar has six slots per inch.  I tried a 12 but could not feel the yarn as well and found it to be stressful.  I thread my own loom, very carefully and with lots of time.  At the moment I am part of a prayer shawl ministry so I weave shawls, tying onto the previous warp to skip rethreading the loom.  I like this as I dislike threading. 

 

I modified the threading tool making it about four inches shorter so that I could hold it and still feel what was happening at the end of the tool.  this means that when I thread the loom, I first thread everything through the beater bar, and then through the heddles. 

 

I am sorry for the weaving jargon but anyone who is a weaver or wants to be will know these terms. 

 

More in a future post about yarns and patterns and some other adaptive techniques. 

 

I am also willing to talk with anyone embarking on learning to weave without sight..  Just drop me a line. 

 

Guide Dog No. 2 — Iris!

Pat's Dog #2 in Portland

Well, It has been so long since I worked on this blog that I have retired my wonderful 14.5 yer-old guide dog, Germaine, and went to Guide dogs for the Blind in boring, Oregon to get Iris, a much smaller lab.

She as been with me just over a year now and is settling into my routines and our family nicely.  As for me, I am amazed at the quality training changes Guide Dogs has made and am also loving having a small dog—45 pounds!  I am able to bathe her myself, and she fits much more easily in planes and cars with tight quarters!  She is a delightful playful girl but totally dedicated to getting guide work done well.

Fortunately she and Germaine get along well together, so we’ve made it through our first year of getting Iris accustomed to our home and family.

Creative use of voiceover labels 

In this post I will explain how Apple demonstrated true UX design in the way they chose to label controls in the native iOS calendar app. To get a perspective though… just imagine if you had no way to write on a portable calendar. Blind folks struggled with this as the only way was to make a Braille list which was impossible to erase and revise. So, as smart phones progressed we became interested in using electronic calendar apps. At that time, few if any computer calendar software was user friendly to blind folks using a screen reader. Enter Apple with Voiceover in the iPhone, a true demonstration of universal design! But not only did the phone screen reader Voiceover work well, most of the native apps were accessible! This includes the calendar app! As I began using the calendar on my iPhone, I was very excited to see that Apple had truly watched how blind people used the app and made some creative use of the labels and hints they chose as they made it accessible. They did not just describe the icon. For example, for the plus icon used to add an event, one might label it as “plus”. This would seem logical. However, Apple chose to label it as “add” making it more intuitive to know the function of that button. 
When looking at a whole month on the calendar, one might think the numbers would be labeled as —well, numbers. This would work fine until a blind person desires to know what day of the week that day falls on. When trying to navigate back to the top row to find this out, one may or may not travel directly upward meaning you could easily get off and find the wrong day of the week. So, Apple came to the rescue. They labeled each day with the day of the week, month and day. So instead of three, I hear Tuesday, May 3. Thank you Apple! 
Another good example of quality UX is the “back” arrow button used in many Apple and third party apps. Apple doesn’t just say “arrow” or “back” but rather “back to settings” or whatever the back key returns you to. Again, what great service for the user! 

Water Aerobics and People who are Blind or Visually Impaired

 

 

Since we all need to integrate physical activity into our daily lives, it’s important to examine various activities to find ones we can truly enjoy.  For me, this is water aerobics.  I am totally blind and have done water aerobics for about five years now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.  Below I describe some of these insights in hopes they will help participants who are blind or visually impaired and/or instructors in this most enjoyable activity.

 

Find a Pool
First, explore what gyms or pools are near you or on public transportation routes.  Find out if they are heated and/or open year round, and what times they offer water aerobics classes.  Pools differ even within national fitness clubs so it is important to research the options before you join.

Learn Your Way around the Dressing Room
Depending on what type of mobility aid you use, you will want to figure out the layout of both the dressing rooms and the pool.  Ask whoever is orienting you to describe and show you physically where things are in the dressing room, including, locker areas, water fountain, toilets, hand/hair dryers, showers etc.  Also ask if there are any hazards such as step down area meant for drainage in the showers so you’ll know to be especially careful to avoid these.  Examine the locker layout since they will all look alike to you.  You can tie a ribbon or rubber band to your lock in order to more readily identify your locker.  Once you become familiar with the layout, you will most likely use a locker in a similar location when available.  Most lockers have hooks inside to hang your clothes.  If you have a guide dog, look for areas where they can lie while you dress and shower that are convenient for everyone, and where they are not an obstacle.  Also look for hooks where you can hook your dogs leash both while you are dressing and showering and also around the pool and deck area    while you swim. 

 

Get Oriented to the Pool Area
My dog does best when she is near me  so I tie her leash around a bench foot and she lies on the deck beside the outer lane where I swim.  You will want to consider the pathway to this location as often there is lots of water equipment on the pool deck.  I find that shuffling my feet allows me to push it away rather than tripping on it. Also, friends most often get my equipment for me which greatly facilitates my movement meaning I don’t have to walk back and forth on the deck.  When you choose a location to swim for water aerobics, consider the depth for your height, and the proximity to the teacher as it is often quite hard to hear in the pool. I sometimes ask classmates which exercise we are doing if I don’t hear, or just keep active and out of the way until the next one begins.  I prefer to be nearest to a pool corner    as that way there’s only a person in front of me but not behind.  I also tell the person in front to let me know if I am drifting too close because when floating I may not be able to tell.  I also sometimes work out a system with the teacher to raise my hand if I didn’t hear the call of the exercise. You will also want to learn landmarks that are used during class, such as “turn toward the dressing room, the clocks, back or front”. 
  
Learn Water Aerobics Lingo
I found that spending time in the water with the instructor or someone knowledgable about the teacher and their classes was a great benefit.  By doing this, I learned the names of the exercises and could much more easily follow during class.  It is also most helpful if the instructor is verbal about your starting position such as “face the clock”, “with palms facing each other”, or “with your head toward the steam room”.  Below are a couple of examples of exercises and how to describe them that may be helpful both to swimmers who are blind and to water aerobics instructors.  

Cross Country Ski
Start with your left foot forward and right foot back, both flat on the floor.  Sliding your feet along the floor, chage places with your feet.  Now add hand movements by moving the opposite hand forward.  So, when your left foot is forward, your right hand is forward. 

Many water aerobics exercises have variations.  In cross country ski for example, instead of moving your feet along the floor you can vary it by raising your feet and bending your knees.  Pretend there is a rock on the fllor right below you and you are lifting your feet over it. 

Another variation is to add intensity by pushing your hands out to 10:00 and 2:00 o’clock respectively. You can also bring your knees up during this variation.  Sometimes instructors will have you suspend your actions, meaning without touching the floor.  For example, they might indicate to do four on the floor and four suspended. 

Elbow to Knee
Put your hand on your shoulders, now bring one knee up at a time, touching your knee to the opposite elbow.  This can be varied by touching the elbow to knee on the same side alternating or at the same time. 

 

Coinclusion
As you get acquainted with people in your class you will learn that often they do not do every exercise as it is called by the instructor.  So, if you are unsure what is happening, just keep moving, doing exercises you know that are beneficial and where you won’t be in the way of others.  Often there are class systems like e-mail lists where you can get information about pool closures, potluck lunches and other class information.  Additionally, you may learn how others use additional water aerobics equipment for enhanced exercise. Making friends in class is a definite motivator to keep coming as you encourage one another.

Tips and Tricks for Website Accessibility Testing with the Screen Reader JAWS

BACKGROUND

I have had many occasions to “look” at web sites with a screen reader.  These informal tests have come at the request of developers to help them understand, in practice, how accessible these web sites may be.  In my own experience, and talking with other screen reader users, I have observed some practices that screen reader users routinely do that non-user testers sometimes do not.  This document shares some of those practices to give developers and testers a better understanding of how screen reader users interact with web sites and some tips on how to make those interactions easier.

Continue reading

Three Non-Fiction Favs

 

I’ve always been a voracious reader but the increased availability of accessible books continues to dazzle me.   Maybe near book depravation is the cause!

Let me explain.  Recorded books for folks who are blind have been available for many years, you sign up and selections are mailed to you on loan.  The service is very functional today but years ago I recall getting my December magazines in July, not very effective for making Christmas cookies!  (Thank goodness for freezers)! 

 

 

Also I recall when I was pregnant the most current prenatal information I could find was 20 years old.  My OBGYN told me not to read it! 

So, maybe you can understand why, with books on Kindle, Nook, and iBooks apps all available, I am reading like never before!  I still can’t shake the feeling that I should grab a cool title and read it before it disappears!

 

 

My first accessible electronic   book purchase was “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild”,  by Lawrence Anthony. The Author, noted conservationist, takes in a herd of “troubled” wild elephants and recounts gaining their trust and learning how they communicate across distances. I’ve always loved elephants but never so much as when reading this book! 

  
Another fascinating read is “Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal.  The Premise is basically that people feel rewarded when playing games and that games can be developed and used to solve family and societal problems.  She gives many intrigueing examples of “crowd-sourced” energy being harness by games to tackle family problems like doing the laundry, issues in science and energy policies,   and learning vocabulary.  I re-read parts of this periodically and brainstorm about ways to apply her thoughts in the disability world. 

 

 

Another interesting book, “The Riddle of the Labyrinth” by Margalit Fox, presents a fascinating account of the deciphering of pictograms on clay tablets from 1450 B. C.  The language is unknown and it takes many years and several involved investigators to crack the code.  It’s a good thing I’m blind because I would have lost major time to the deciphering challenge!

 

 

Well, I must go look at the latest e-mail hawking cheaper electronic books — I might miss something!!

 

My Favorite Non-Fiction…