Adding Technology to the Mix: Remaining the Master of Your Tools

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger, Karen Gourgey, is the director of the Computer Center for Visually Impaired People (CCVIP) at Baruch College, an agency of the month for VisionAware.

Observations on Technology

I read with interest Dianna Noriega’s blog post Confessions of a Reluctant Technology User published a couple of months back on the VisionAware site. She and increasing numbers of individuals who are blind are using mainstream accessible technologies as their primary tools for access, especially in the work place. Our technology center CCVIP at Baruch College, City University of New York, boasts a team of outstanding instructors whose business it is to share their knowledge and expertise with students ten years old and up. To date our oldest student was 95 years young.

We also run a Demo Center, where people can learn about the latest in accessible technology through individual appointments, workshop presentations for the community, and our online offerings that include video recordings of those presentations and short video clips on a wide variety of apps and tools.

My Journey with an iPhone

I, however, am not a superquick adapter to the newest of the new. I find that the process of integrating a new tool is time-consuming and often frustrating. Still, it’s worthwhile, and it’s possible to do it and even to have fun, as long as I keep things in perspective. When I purchased my iPhone at the end of August, I was so psyched — especially when I learned that I could make a phone call or send a message without ever having to interact with the phone’s on-screen keyboard. I was able to use the personal assistant Siri to do both those tasks for me! Wonderful, off to a great start!

Next, I was thrilled to have my phone alert me that there was a flash flood watch in effect. Of course, when I opened that message, I was told to check local media to get exact location information, but at least it told me to pay attention.

Lately, I haven’t been able to give the phone the time it deserves, so my learning has been somewhat stalled. I will need to get back to it, and I have no doubt that I will.

Other Tools I Use

In the meantime, I am fortunate to have plenty of other tools in my toolkit that allow me to accomplish what I need to on a daily basis. As I write this, I am typing on what might now be called quite an old fashioned installation — a PC using the JAWS screen reader. I often like the clarity of a land line phone better than what one gets on a cell, though I obviously wouldn’t be without a phone that can travel with me. People use the iPhone for reading books, a great idea, and I look forward to being there at some point. However, for the moment, I very much enjoy using the new machines that the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped makes available for the reading of audio books.

Incidentally, don’t be put off by the word “Blind” in their name. If you or a family member have vision loss that impedes your ability to read a standard ink print book, you are eligible for the service. The digital player has high quality audio, a simple and logical design, and excellent instructions that you can easily access from the machine itself.

Be Aware of What You Need to Accomplish and the Best Tool for You

The point is that in my experience, there are often several ways to accomplish a task, and you don’t necessarily always have to use the latest piece of technology that’s coming down the pike. I find it always important to keep my focus on the task at hand. What exactly is it that I would like to or need to accomplish? And, what’s the best, most efficient tool for getting it done?

Of course, the more I gain facility with new technologies, the more options I have for accomplishing any of the goals I might have for a particular day, week or month. I look forward to becoming much more fluent in the use of the iPhone; in the meantime, I am fortunate to have sometimes older or simpler tools that allow me to work, play and generally be in touch with the world. Smart vision rehabilitation service can support anyone trying to identify low, medium or “high tech” tools to help with your employment, educational, or personal interests and goals.

Editor’s note: This month, VisionAware is focusing on technology. Be sure to read other peer advisors’ posts about their experiences with technology and share yours.