A A A Accessibility A A A A
Blog | Accessibility & Usability Consultant | Molly Watt
Monday, 23 January 2017 13:46

Is your window open to inclusion?

Accessibility - Able to be reached, approached or entered via Oxford Dictionary 

I found myself in the world of accessibility almost by accident.  I did not even realise I had specific accessibility needs until I began to go blind.

In real terms I have accessed the world very differently to most because of need, however, I wonder how many really understand that they too use lots of features in accessibility.

It seems that until things become "trendy" or "cool" they are sadly not in the majority of mindsets, so do we try to make accessibility trendy or just hope it becomes a part of early training and education?

Can we really wait for "trendy" as our ageing population increases and their reliance on the ability to access life independently increasingly looks toward technology?

Accessibility is not just about those with disabilities, it is for us all.  

I myself have life changing disabilities but also have very unique abilities that have given me an interesting insight into the term accessibility.

I speak at various events to differing audiences and find the general take on accessibility to vary.  

At charity events there is a great need to keep those in need not just up to date with available assistive technologies but also in many cases the need for training.

At digital events I often find accessibility considered 'dealt with' using a check list and something considered simply for the minorities!

Maybe it is because I see (excuse the pun) things very differently because I have to!

If I ask a room full of people young and old with disabilities do you use accessibility features or assistive technology? the majority would raise their hand.

If I ask a room full of developers and designers young and old the same question usually few hands are raised until I probe a little further - do you wear glasses? have you used zoom on your phone? have you ever watched a film? studied or maybe watched YouTube in a public place and used captions? Used a lift or escalator instead of stairs? virtually all hands go up.

I have also spoken at several events for Y3A and their membership use all manner of assistive technology and would use so much more if they were made more aware and trained on what is available.

My own sister would say she doesn't use any accessibility features and yet she studies Spanish as a foreign language and watches Spanish films to assist with her understanding and verbal ability and this is assisted with Spanish subtitles - she describes it as a way of "enriched learning" not accessibility and of course she is right (she is always right at 17!).

Of course accessibility for people with disabilities takes on a different meaning, phrases like 'special assistance' 'special needs' 'supported needs' each term indicating a need over and above the norm - to have very specific accessibility needs is different to accessibility as defined in the Oxford Dictionary and therefore why the apparent stigma to admitting the need for basic accessibility?

Over the past 10 years I have discovered just what is possible both with and without useable accessibility features and the results are astounding.   

My education confirms this without a doubt:

A senior school without a clue of what to do with me and worse a 'specialist school' for the deaf knowing even less in comparison a mainstream college with a positive can do attitude - who chose to listen and learn exactly how I could access information and the desire to see me succeed followed by a university with a poor attitude towards people with needs over and above the norm and not just deafblind.

I am very aware that the way I personally access the world is as a result of my condition and different to many, however the way I do lots of things is very similar to our growing ageing population and indeed I have set up many an iPad for the older generation exactly the same way as I set up my own, I think that tells a story in itself!

So please, when designing and developing pretty isn't always best, think about accessibility as a tool for the majority to be built in right at the beginning rather than something of a hassle or something simply for minority groups, accessibility is enablement for us all so "Open your window to inclusion".

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 06 January 2017 13:44

Bali - Sound Sensations

At the end of my work and networking trip to the other side of the world, Mum and I made a trip to the beautiful Bali to spend the last 10 days relaxing.

Arriving in Bali was surreal, it was very dark outside, I hate arriving anywhere in the dark as I see so little.  

Our body clocks were already extremely confused! The intense humidity hit us as we looked for our taxi service. 

We were met at Denpesar Airport by a sweet Balinese gentlemen dressed in traditional Bali attire, I felt quite important when Mum pointed out this man who was stood waiting for us with a banner with our names on it.  This lovely man spoke perfect English and without much of an accent too so I was able to understand him quite easily, accents can be a problem for deaf people, thankfully for me, not this time. 

The hour drive to Ubud for me was exhausting, it was really dark so I could not appreciate Bali's ornate beauty. Looking out of the taxi at night was quite disorientating and made me feel sick.  What I could see was darkness amongst blurred street lights the lights that hurt my eyes so I put my dark glasses on and turned my focus to communicating with the gent and his colleague who was driving us to our destination, thankfully with no communication barrier it was pleasant interacting and finding out more about Balinese culture. 

On arriving another surreal experience, I was guided by my Mum up some large steps, the lighting was low and I could hear water fountains, both left and right of the rugged steps but I couldn't see them in the dim light.  I stopped on the steps holding onto my Mum’s arm, I had not experienced the still yet peaceful sound of water flowing before - I have to admit I felt quite emotional and incredibly lucky to have hearing aids to provide me with such beauty I couldn't see but my imagination filled in the gaps.

As we carried on up the steps I sensed we were “inside”.

However Mum informed me whilst we were at reception we were still actually outside.  Mum gave me a quick audio description which helped me form a picture of serene beauty and tranquility in the middle of a jungle.

There was water all around us in the lobby/reception.  I felt frustrated I couldn't see it all, but so grateful to hear the flowing water, to smell the natural smells, flowers, damp trees, the smell of the Balinese countryside and to hear new sounds, I’ll come back to those sounds, the real feeling of peacefulness.

At the reception we were once again greeted by more incredibly sweet welcoming Balinese staff.  

After check in and a complimentary sweet fizzy drink (was not totally sure if it was alcoholic or not!) all my senses were truly tested! 

Mum soon grabbed me and guided me back down the steps and to what I was told was a golf cart already loaded with our luggage, we were escorted to our chalet, what service I thought!

On opening the wooden gate into our private chalet I could see a little light coming from within, I couldn't wait to get inside, get some better lighting and really see where I was.

WOW, I was not disappointed, we were shown around our chalet like VIPs, I felt incredibly humbled. The bed was draped in what looked like sheer sheets hanging from the ceiling, the floor was made of large man made concrete slabs, small tables were decorated beautifully with Balinese flowers. The whole decor was ornate and stunning. The bathtub was almost the size of my double bed at home, and then a door opened to what was our outdoor shower! Again everything beautifully decorated with flowers, plants and everything ornate. I was quite overwhelmed and still I could hear noises, noises I hadn't heard before!

I was really tired that night but I couldn't sleep, I never sleep with my hearing aids in but on this particular night I didn't want to take them out.  I was enjoying hearing the sounds of the jungle, I knew I could hear birds outside and some running water but really couldn't decipher the other noises, I was fascinated by the sounds, it still amazes me that I can hear outside with my Linx2 smart aids, something I could never have done previously.  I went 20 years thinking you only hear sounds in the same room as you! 

I fell asleep for the first time ever wearing my hearing aids!

The following morning was an out of body experience! I woke to morning sunlight shining through the sheer drapes from the ceiling and around the bed, fortunately the drapes stopped the bright glare of the sun so I wasn't blinded by the brightness.  

I hadn't noticed how many large windows with blooming large leaves growing in and out of the chalet met with the primitively made roof in our ornate and beautiful chalet. It all felt incredibly natural, the outdoors reminded me we were in a jungle in Bali.

On opening the patio door and I couldn't quite get a grip! 

Scanning around I discovered a pool, overlooked by a Hindu God statue fountain, ahhhhh, that was one of the sounds I’d fallen asleep to.  The statue was also decorated in beautiful natural Balinese flowers, two sun beds on a small decking adjacent to the pool, and then a straw roofed hut with two massage beds also decorated with flowers. On the patio was a huge chaise lounge, a sink a table with a large bowl of tropical fruits on the top along with four chairs, what more could we need?

A trip to the spa I thought, that really would be paradise, so we booked for that evening.

I was desperate to see what I had missed the night before so Mum and I tested out the outdoor shower, quite an experience and again I was taken aback by the smells of the hand made shower gel, soaps and shampoo it really was something I'll always remember.

Dressed and ready we left our part of paradise and ventured up to the hotel reception area where the restaurant was to be found.

My Mum was chatting to me on the short walk but I wasn't listening, I was still fascinated by the sounds coming from all around me, I could definitely hear birds and definitely more than one kind, I could hear running water.  I was trying to concentrate really hard on what I could hear.  The sounds were all quite relaxing, I'd never experienced these particular sounds before.

Mum guided me to reception and this time I could see the ponds of water either side of the walkway and I could see huge fish and again fountains shaped like Hindu gods and decorated in tropical flowers.  There were also burners that smelt tropical, it really was a feast of the senses.

The receptionist greeted us and offered us a local hot drink whilst we decided on treatments for later that day, finally I felt able to relax after a very long and busy couple of months.

We had a breakfast of fresh fruits and local produce then headed back to our private paradise to enjoy the sunshine and warmth of Ubud.

I was able to lay in the sunshine and unwind listening to the unique sounds of the jungle.  My headache lifted and I felt good.

After a day of sheer relaxation and room service I was looking forward to some pampering.

On arriving at the spa we were offered drinks, haven't a clue what they were but they smelt of ginger but tasted of something else!

Two ladies showed us into the private room overlooking the jungle.  Inside were two massage beds, the view was stunning. 

It was amazing, the whole room overlooked the jungle, ornate frog statues were everywhere, beautiful flowers, I couldn't believe the colours, the smells and the sounds, sheer peace and tranquility.  

Having been massaged with magic fingers and hands from head to toe, we were then covered in a seaweed wrap and then before long told to shower and then soak in the jumbo sized free standing bubble bathtub which was full of floating flowers with an aroma I'll never forget surrounded by candles and overlooking the jungle, it was truly heavenly.

After the masseuse's left mum and I looked at each other and smiled, a long time since we shared a bath! Fair to say we laughed.  

'Where should I put my hearing aids Mum?' 

I couldn't see anywhere safe to put them without losing them in the jungle or the water! 

Mum took them and put them on a shelf near the towels. 

After our glorious soak in the huge bath overlooking Bali's outstanding nature, I remember feeling happy that it was still light outside so I could appreciate my surroundings even though it was in silence, it was absolutely stunning. 

Getting out of the bath we felt completely fresh and relaxed. 

The warmth on our skin dried us in no time, though being wrapped in a towel was somewhat refreshing. 

We sat quietly in rocking chairs looking out watching the sunset and darkness descend upon us before getting dressed. 

‘I need my hearing aids mum’ Mum's glowing face frowned, she couldn't see them, I was of no help in fading light so sat still and safe whilst Mum searched and then the horror, surely they have not fallen into the giant bath of scented flowers and bubbles!

Mum put her hands in the deep water and horrified she fished out one hearing aid, followed by a second we were both speechless.

My mind was racing, 9 days without hearing, 9 days to not appreciate the beauty my hearing aids provide me, the unique and new sounds of this beautiful place and the everyday things like conversation, chatting with my Mum, conversing with the locals, communicating, there'd be none of that accept on those rare occasions when my sight is at it’s best and I can lipread.  My mind was racing.  I felt physically sick the thought of being blind and not being able to hear filled me with horror, how would I cope?

Mum was speechless, in shock, she knew 9 days without me being able to hear would be tough on us both and would definitely have spoilt the holiday.

Mum insisted I take the batteries out and throw them away.  We got dressed in record time. 

Mum wrapped my tiny hearing aids tightly in a tissue and put them in her purse.  

The walk back to our chalet was in silence.  I hung on tightly to Mum’s arm, I felt very disorientated in the dark and very vulnerable. I couldn't see or hear a thing, yes I am deafblind but I have grown used to the outstanding hearing aid technology I have been fortunate to wear and rely on.  Silence and darkness is quite terrifying.

As soon as we got into the chalet Mum unraveled the now drier hearing aids and placed them in a cup while Mum found the hairdryer going on to use it aiming its heat into the cup for 15/20 minutes, it felt like a lifetime after which she asked me for new hearing aid batteries, neither of us felt very positive but it was the only hope we had.  

I took the first hearing aid, fitted it in my ear and switched on and there it was the short signal sounds to say it was on and it worked, I was beyond happy, I felt elated.  One working will be better than none I thought as I reached for the second hearing aid, put the battery in and again those switch on sounds and hearing aid two on and working WOW, I was so overwhelmed I was tearful - these tiny hearing aids are a huge part of what makes me tick.  

I didn't want to switch my hearing aids off again that night, not only was I afraid they may not come back on but I wanted to continue to enjoy the sounds of paradise.

Thankfully my hearing aids did not let me down and continue to work and I appreciate them more than ever.

The following day we talked a lot about the sounds of Bali and that one sound I kept hearing but couldn't identify.

sat at the bar after a tropical shower I asked Mum and the barman what the strange, louder than normal noise was ‘ah’ said the barman, ‘that is the noise of the frogs, they are always noisy at night and even noisier when it rains!’

I was wide eyed, anybody who knows me knows I have a bit of a thing for frogs and yet I had never heard a frog before!

How I love the sound of frogs.

That hour or so of shock was a reminder to me just how important hearing is to me and why others like myself should have the opportunity to use such impressive technology, it really is life changing.

There is no doubt in my mind, if my hearing aids had not worked after the accident at the spa without a doubt I would have struggled, the holiday would have been ruined and my confidence shattered.

Hearing is my access to people and without people and sight I fall into isolation, how obvious that became that day in paradise.

I have written and spoken extensively about my GN Resound Linx2 smart hearing these aids over the last 20 months and what they have given me but that day in Bali, the fear I felt at not benefitting from hearing made me very aware that praise I have given them is little compared to what they give me every single time I switch them on.

NB  I would not recommend having your hearing aids anywhere near water or where they could be damaged but am thankful my pair stood that terrifying ordeal.