ShellyBlog Shelly Brisbin's life consists of several long tails. She writes about them here.

July 29, 2015

The Face We Show the World

Filed under: Access and Disability,New Media and Tech — Tags: , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 7:26 AM

This morning, I retweeted a USA Today column by James Alan Fox, a legally blind professor. Because low-vision! Mainstream media outlet! Yay!

He writes about the experience of using airports as a visually impaired person. As I read, I ticked off each point he made, recognizing them as my own travel frustrations. I felt much more connected to this guy’s experience than I do to the usual gripes about flight delays and TSA policies. The article is mildly funny, so that didn’t hurt. I especially liked the bit about not trusting a bored teenaged kid to interpret a fast food menu to your specifications. Been there. And not just in the airport.

On reflection, I wonder whether the appearance of this point of view in the mainstream press, especially in the form of a commentary, is a good thing after all. Sure, we want people to understand how life works when you’re visually impaired, making your way in a world that imposes barriers to getting your sh*t done. But will such complaints lead to better travel experiences? And do they leave the impression that low-vision folks can’t travel effectively?

I have often said that an airport can be an easier environment for a low-vision traveler than a city street. Most people in the airport flow in a particular direction, completing steps in the same order, and following signs with arrows to numbered gates. We’re all on foot, and on unfamiliar ground, so the playing field is a bit closer to level. In the city, traffic patterns differ by road, intersection and neighborhood, and no two people aim for the same ultimate destination. Signage is random, and so are passersby one might ask for help. In recent years, smartphone apps have significantly improved the airport experience, if only in terms of providing up-to-date gate information, and providing a way to conduct transactions in an environment (the phone screen) that is accessible and tailored to your specific needs. 

So is Professor Fox’s column useful? Most USA Today readers don’t design airports or those infuriating airline kiosks. And if our goal is to maintain independent travel experiences (rather than being held hostage to the whims of uninformed employees or fellow travelers trying to “help”) aren’t our efforts better spent lobbying airlines and educating architects about what does work for low-vision travelers? 

I recently participated in a travel-related study; giving feedback about a system designed to facilitate independent travel within an airport. It wasn’t as emotionally satisfying to provide technical feedback as it was to cosign an article that mirrors my own travel gripes, but it’s a practical way to be a part of the change I want.

It’s an unspoken truism among people with disabilities that raising the consciousness of the non-disabled world can have unintended consequences. Cluing the mainstream in about “what it’s like for us” elicits sympathy, diminishing our stature as competent adults., and making it tougher to achieve the accommodations that facilitate independence. 

July 17, 2015

The One iPod Touch Fangirl

Filed under: New Media and Tech,Random Personal Nonsense — Tags: , , , — Shelly Brisbin @ 11:09 AM

This week’s announcement of faster, more colorful versions of the iPod Touch was met with:

  • a) rapture
  • b) sophisticated market analysis
  • c) indifference

Actually, the answer is d) scorn.

You see, the lowly (that one always hurts) iPod Touch is not perceived as an aperitif for those wishing to sample the iOS menu. Nor is it the logical landing place for someone who prizes small, elegant things. It is also not a cost-effective way to get onto the Internet without all the carpel tunnel. No, dear readers, the iPod Touch kind of makes people crazy. Crazy the way reality TV makes me crazy. I mean, the existence of totally made up skits featuring surgically-enhanced blonde people doesn’t affect my life, but the very idea that they exist on a TV screen is kind of irritating. So it is in the brains of the iPod Touch skeptics, who outnumber me by the millions.

An iPod Touch hater has three modes: first, he or she, probably an iPhone/Apple Watch fan person, must be unimpressed. “It’s been so long since I thought about the iPod.” Next, it is good to be a prophet of doom. “I don’t think there’s much life left in that thing.” Finally, convert that one naife you know who secretly carries an iPod, into a cultural outsider. “I can see how you might get one for a five-year-old.”

And so the iPod Touch is an obsolete, doomed, toy. Case closed!

As I’m sure you have surmised, I beg to differ.

I got my iPod Touch in 2013, when I needed a test device for the first edition of my iOS accessibility book. I justified the purchase by promising myself to sell the underpowered thing once the book was done. But like so many Apple products before, my Touch, whose name is Sea Lion, burrowed its way into my life. Soon, it had become my primary podcast listening device, text message checker, and Kodi remote.

My case for the iPod Touch is a personal one: while the disdain in which it is held by the world at large is weird, I don’t suggest that everyone take a Touch to the prom. Chances are that if you don’t have one, you have arranged your life in such a way that the Touch would be redundant. But I use the thing every day, far more than my phone. With every fiber of my being, I am fighting the urge to anthropomorphize the little bugger.

Time for the bullet points. Here’s why I am The iPod Touch Fangirl:

  • Thin n lite: Apple is thin-obsessed, as are many of its customers. You can’t beat the iPod Touch for thinness and lightness. It fits into any pocket or purse, and can be balanced between two of my small fingers for easy reading or button-tapping. Wrist strain is for iPhone users, myself included. I’ve never considered burdening the Touch with a case. I’m not sure how you could design a lighter, thinner Internet device that also includes a screen of useful size.
  • Luxuriously long battery life: Because there’s no cellular radio to drain the battery, this thing is an Energizer, doing my bidding all day without complaint. I can’t say that of any iPhone I’ve owned, especially when I navigate with GPS, listen with VoiceOver, and/or make calls. Since I work from home where the wi-fi is fast and plentiful, the Touch doesn’t need a radio. When I leave the house, it’s full of podcasts and books, none of which make many demands on the battery. The phone’s job is to tell me when the next bus will arrive, and to take calls from my mom. Carrying two devices may seem a bit awkward, but it feels more like having a 16 Gb, wi-fi-enabled Mophie for my phone.
  • Perfect podcast and audiobook machine: I know that music is all about streaming these days, and plenty of people stream podcasts, too. I use Overcast to do this crazy thing called downloading. On the go, it’s quick and easy to pull the tiny iPod from my outside purse pocket, should I need to switch from tech podcasts to something lighter. The phone slumbers on, in the inner pocket, dreaming of SMS and signal bars.
  • Um, I sleep with mine: I suffer from bouts of insomnia, but even when I turn out the lights, I like to curl up with a good audiobook. The Touch is a far more congenial bedmate than my iPhone 6, with its bulky case and large, bright screen. I’ll confess that I’ve dropped the phone onto my face while manipulating the Audible app. This is a personal coordination issue, but whatever! I’ve never seen this tested in a lab, but I assure you that an iPod Touch to the nose hurts less than an iPhone 6 does.
  • Internet for kids: Finally! Something we can all agree on. Nope. Here’s where I make someone mad. If your kid is under the age of 14 or so, he or she shouldn’t have a smartphone. And if he or she is under the age of 10, an Internet device of one’s own is too much. So yes, the iPod Touch is a perfect tween machine. If Apple stopped making the iPod Touch tomorrow, would you give your 11-year-old his or her own iPhone? I know that passing an old phone on to your kids is among the best justifications for getting yourself a new one. And without the iPod Touch in the lineup, you can continue to do that. That’s right, mom and dad. I’m calling you out! Be honest about your own gadget desires. Give the kid an iPod Touch and let him or her grow into a phone when puberty hits. You’ll save money, if that’s a thing in your house.
  • Low stakes in unclean places: My husband is the kind of guy who does not call a plumber or electrician when something goes wrong at our house. He’s also the kind of guy who built our pavestone driveway and a french drain, and who is currently digging for a retaining wall between our house and the next. Take that, y’all who need an app to turn off the lights at night! Wait, come back, I have a larger point to make. So Frank spends a lot of time out in the yard with shovels and wheelbarrows and stuff. He picked up the audiobook bug from me, and likes to listen while he’s toting that barge and lifting that bale. He also likes his phone to stay clean and dry, and inside the house. Entertainment while digging holes, along with no calls from your large family, is kind of a perfect use case for an iPod Touch, or even an iPod Nano. Cheap these gadgets are not, but replacing a lifeless one is simpler and quicker than performing the same maneuver when phone carriers are involved.
  • Lower cost/no contract: Phone companies are evil. Can we all agree on that? You hate phone calls? Can we agree there, too? It’s unlikely that you would feel comfortable not having a device that can exchange calls on the telephone network, but your Phone app probably gets less use than Messages, Mail, or maybe even FaceTime. Therein lies the genius of Apple’s broad suite of communication tools. The iPod Touch costs 250 actual dollars, not 250 subsidized, we-own-your-ass-for-two-years dollars. I’ve heard half a dozen people say “95 percent of my calls and texts are with other iOS users.” I think most of them are exaggerating grievously, and my numbers are nothing like that either. But still! the iPod Touch can do everything a phone can do that doesn’t involve a cellular connection to the Internet, and making an old-school phone call. When I’m at home, I pick up whichever device is nearest. Sometimes, that’s my iMac, which is actually kind of heavy, and I plan to stop picking it up.
  • Watch schmatch: Since April of this year, people really hate pulling their phones out of their pockets. It’s a bloody nightmare! Hence, they’ve invested $400 or more in a tiny screen that sits atop their wrists. Is it just me, or is “complication” a counter-intuitive name for something that’s supposed to make your mobile life easier? When I’m home, the battery-chewing iPhone 6 sits on a bar in the center of my house, continuously drinking the sweet nectar of electricity. When I get a text or Twitter notification, or need to dash off a quick email, Sea Lion is usually in my pocket. I possess just enough strength to pull it out. From there, I view the entire tweet or text on a single screen, and dictate or type a grammatically correct and people-pleasing email without need of contorting both arms to read and write on a tiny wrist screen. Did I mention that it’s half the price of the watch?

I haven’t placed an order for the faster, more colorful, camera-rific iPod Touch. The same stubborn, cheap streak in me that allows me to love the unlovable also keeps me from buying new gadgets right before vacation. I do have a birthday coming up, though.

July 15, 2015

Podcast Plethora, part 2

Filed under: Podcast Appearances — Shelly Brisbin @ 12:19 PM

Audio just keeps coming. Blind Bargains posted the rest of my ACB coverage, along with Joe’s NFB interviews. You can also find me on Clockwise #95, talking about whether the updated iPod Touch (swoon) portends a small iPhone, plus Comcast, Reddit, and ibeacons. Speaking of beacons, please enjoy my interview and demo (audio) of the Lowviz Guide indoor navigation system from ACB.

July 13, 2015

Podcast Plethora, part 1

Filed under: Podcast Appearances — Shelly Brisbin @ 1:38 PM

Last week and this shall be filled with podcasts. You have been warned.

I covered the ACB convention for Blind Bargains, and those stories are starting to hit the feed today. For the moment, I commend you to the BB site and podcast feed. There’s one really cool episode I want to give special pimpage when it drops, so watch for it. In the meantime, please also enjoy a really long but interesting Maccessibility Roundtable, with lots of talk about Apple Music, plus my commentary on that Cupertino company’s presentation at ACB.

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