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Wednesday, 29 April 2015 09:04

My Apple Watch after 5 days!

Having known about the Apple Watch for some time and knowing lots of my friends were planning to buy one, I was sceptical as my needs are quite different to that of those of the sighted and hearing. 

I have to rely on specific accessible features.

However, I was curious as Apple products have been more than just up market gadgets to me, they really have been my access to the many things most take for granted but that those of us with deafblindness, particularly struggle with.

I was born deaf and registered blind when I was 14.  The condition I have is Usher Syndrome Type 2a. I am severely deaf and have only a very small tunnel of vision in my right eye now so I was concerned not just about the face size but how busy it would appear to me and also if there would be an uncomfortable glare.

Curiosity got the better of me so I ordered one but I wasn’t excited, so not disappointed when informed I would not receive mine until mid June!

I should explain that I wear two digital hearing aids and communicate orally – not everybody with usher syndrome communicates orally and there are not two people with the condition the same, but there are similarities.

I had been wearing a Bradley Timepiece since last summer and love both the retro look and the practicality of a completely tactile watch brilliant and stylish, quite a rarity when it comes to anything designed specifically for people with disabilities.

I can read the time by touch completely independently with my Bradley and I still love it.

I decided to order the Apple Watch Sport 42mm (the bigger face size) with white strap so I’d not lose it quite so easily.

The white strap, silver casing and black face would be a workable contrast for me. 

I was surprised to receive an email the day before launch date to say my Apple Watch had been dispatched and you guessed it “I was excited!”

I was delighted when the long white box arrived on Friday morning as I was heading into London that afternoon.

My first impression on opening the box was it was nice to hold, smooth rounded edges and the face size felt right on my wrist.

The watch strap on the “Sport” felt nice and was easy to fasten by touch alone.

The Apple Watch App had appeared automatically on the iPhone some time ago and it certainly made the set up “pairing” of the Watch simple, literally took a photo of the Watch face on my iPhone and that was that.

I am already very familiar with the iPhone settings so fiddling around with the Apple Watch App was easy. I was able to adjust, fiddle and play with a few settings.

It was great the Apple Watch App to exactly what I need “Accessibility Features”

Black background with white writing, I personally prefer this as white background gives off a glare that is even more blinding to me and actually hurts my eyes.

Whilst this works for me, I do prefer the colours and contrasts on my own website as they are less harsh on the eye.

The default settings I have on my iPhone are set to large text and I was pleased to be able to have this on my Apple Watch.  I also use Zoom large text set to the largest.

The new setting “Prominent Haptic” is perhaps my favourite in accessibility.

On putting the Apple Watch on my wrist although on my small wrist it appeared large, it felt light and comfortable.

After a little playing I discovered by holding down the face of the watch you can vary how the time is displayed, a standard clock face but typically Apple quirky or large numbers and digital.

For me personally the ‘home screen’, even with the bigger of the two watch face sizes is small to see and sometimes a little tricky to select certain apps.  However, through the Apple Watch App on the iPhone most things can be set up.

It is possible to change your ‘Glances’ (shortcuts) by swiping upwards.

I chose the weather, my calendar, my activity board, my music and my location.

I have found this facility very useful and has made accessing the watch very quick and easy.

On the same day I got my watch Mum received hers too. This benefitted the trial use of communication between us. Just by selecting the button underneath the digital crown, you reach your favourite contacts.

To contact any of my favourites, which are already selected on my iPhone, is incredibly easy.  Either speak into the Apple Watch or just sending an ‘emoji’ is also very easy. The speech to text is very impressive.

I personally would not chose to read long emails or text messages on my watch, so although I want to be alerted via the Prominent Haptic setting I can choose when and how to access them that suits me best.

Before getting my Apple Watch I would have my phone either in my hand or a pocket nearest to my hand I would rarely feel the vibration from my iPhone and often missed messages.  With the Apple Watch on my wrist, I am being notified via Prominent Haptics without issue and I really like that.

Another important safety point is the Apple Watch is very secure on my wrist so far less likely than an iPhone to be swiped from me.

I am fortunate to have a few friends who also have the Apple Watch and together have devised ways of communicating in ‘Code’ when out, particularly when out at night and in dark situations when I am completely blind.

Useful codes in the event I need help of any kind, for instance if I am in a badly lit and noisy environment and struggling to be included in something I can get message to friend I’m uncomfortable or I need assistance or help of some kind or “I’m bored” can we do something else!

For instance I can communicate using my Apple Watch screen using a small sketch, a “tap” or even send my heartbeat, each can be sent to another person with an Apple Watch and appears as a distraction, a vibration on the wrist and immediately I look to the watch.

Mum has certainly found benefit in the ‘tap’ for getting my attention when I am in my bedroom without my hearing aids on, I feel the nudge to get a move on or she wants my attention for something.

There is a vibration when a text message is received too – Prominent Haptics is definitely awesome for me as a deafblind person.

So far for me the most useful App on the Apple Watch is Maps – on my iPhone I can plan my journey from one destination to another, for me it will be on foot with Unis my guidedog.

This is where Haptics really come into its own – I can be directed without hearing or sight, but by a series of taps via the watch onto my wrist – 12 taps means turn right at the junction or 3 pairs of 2 taps means turn left, I’m still experimenting with this but so far very impressed – usher syndrome accessible!

I have not reached the stage yet where I am fully reliant on Voice Over, though I have tried it. It is fairly good for navigating the watch. If at home, the Voice over is great, though if like me you are dual sensory impaired, it would be a real struggle to hear outside or in public. Though I have been told with Bluetooth hearing aids, there could be a solution.

These are my early findings and I’m now sure there will be much more for those like me who need to rely on technology.

The positives far outweigh the negatives for me personally. The audio could be louder and the price more accessible for those with sensory impairment and reliant on the sort of accessibility features Apple offer.

I am now very happy to own an Apple Watch and look forward to making it work well for me.

I will blog again in a few weeks when I’ve had time to use it more but so far very happy with it.

Friday, 29 April 2016 18:00

My Applewatch after 365 Days

A year ago I first blogged about my applewatch, link below, the reaction was unbelievable.

I fully intended to return my applewatch within 14 days, however, it transported me on a journey into a new world of accessibility, confidence and independence.

In three words I’d describe it as 'Accessible, Enabling and Empowering'.

I guess the best way to explain why it has been a game changer for me is to give an idea of what I deal with on a daily basis having 

Usher Syndrome (deafblindness). 

Besides being severely deaf, blind and deafblind and the obvious not being able to hear or see well there are the added extras people often don’t consider.  Communication, mobility and little awareness.

As a result of my condition I have suffered with anxiety and depression, mainly because of lack of understanding.

I rely on technology, for me it isn't simply about having the latest gadgets its about enablement and inclusion.

As difficult as life has become since going blind and becoming deafblind I am fortunate to have been given access to the most amazing technology, thanks in the main to a very supportive family.

As a teenager, my ability to see went and along with it went my ability to access text and written information which was very traumatic.  I was at school and although I was assigned support assistants most didn't really understand my needs and as a result I was let down.  Sadly relying on other people rarely worked well for me, unlike technology.

Technology allows me to be independent.  My first MacBook was my first step towards independence.  

Once I had worked out the built in accessibility features I had access to a lot of what everybody else had and most importantly at that time I could access text and my school work on my own, I could have larger text, I could zoom in and invert colours, something so useful to me as my window of vision shrunk and my aversion to glare grew.

Then came iPhone, iOS and apps.  Back then I couldn't use the phone as a phone very much as I really struggled to hear however it was a fantastic tool with fantastic built in accessibility, brilliant again and very simple.  FaceTime was a revelation for the deaf, allowing signed conversation.

However as grateful as I was for the support and technology I had access to, I still remember feeling quite different to my peers, I felt isolated and unhappy.   I remember watching my younger sister become a much more independent teenager.  I regularly made comparisons to her which exasperated the way I felt about myself.  Despite the 5 year age gap it was clear she was far more independent than I was even though I'm the 'older sister' I found it very upsetting and it made me feel both depressed and cut off from normality.  I craved independence.

Then last year came, for me, one of the most enabling pieces of technology.

Applewatch offered me more than I could have imagined and was simple to use, literally mirroring my iPhone. 

Built in accessibility including, for the first time prominent haptics which have enabled me to get out and about, to go outside of my comfort zone, giving me a new sense of confidence and independence.  It allowed me to push my boundaries. 

Prominent haptics enabled me to get from a to b relying on sense of touch alone, with cane or guide dog, day or night.

Feeling taps on my wrist meant a new and reassuring way of navigating, receiving text messages, calls and various other reminders.  

It also pleased my family as they could contact me and not just hope I would hear the call or text, so real peace of mind for them.

The anxieties of going out, possibly getting lost, missing texts or calls have gone which is a great feeling and great for the confidence.

I was not a total recluse before applewatch as I had my guide dog, Unis, however for those not aware guide dogs learn regular routes which is fantastic however when it comes to going outside of your comfort zone it is not easy.  For me it wasn't helped by a series of discriminatory scenarios, all too common for those of us using guide dogs.  Being denied access to the places most people enjoy without issue does nothing for the confidence.

Being able to follow instructions by sense of touch is something my condition cannot take away and a very natural way of accessing information for me. Prominent haptics have been very empowering.

Unis and I began travelling further afield, my confidence grew and as time has gone on the anxieties I used to feel about being out and about have subsided.  

I have travelled all around the UK, to Boston, Miami and San Fransisco, maps is incredibly accurate and I completely rely on it because of haptics.

Whilst travelling I have used several apps on my applewatch, Citymapper, Foursquare, Moovit, Trainline and Tube Map also Hailo and Uber.  Uber isn't an app I use anymore since hearing about a few cases where guide dogs have been denied.

applewatch allows me to feel very safe, I can glance at it for lots of things whilst my iPhone stays safely tucked away.  

applewatch wallet means I don't need to fumble around at cashpoint machines or in my purse for money I cannot see.  

I remember how vulnerable I felt holding my iPhone and my purse, I don't have the need to do either so much anymore thanks to Applepay which is brilliant.  I used to really struggle, particularly in the US where all bank notes look the same to me, the embarrassment of holding up a queue, thanks to Applepay on applewatch these situations are now avoided.  I hope over time the £30 limit is increased and that more places take Applepay as this would make life easier, even though it wouldn't be safe for my bank account!

Accessing my bank account details on my watch is also very useful and stress free. 

I have also started using Siri much more and on the whole I'm very pleased with it.  I feel this feature has definitely improved a great deal.

I still have 5 degrees of vision in my right eye so the applewatch screen suits me well, meaning I don't have to scan such a large area like with iPhone, as a result I'm not getting as much eye strain or headaches.

Siri has become a great friend, so much easier to ask Siri than to strain my eyes looking for things online. 

My applewatch has allows me to not use my iPhone as much as I did. I happily rely on haptics, meaning my eyes are rested and I feel more relaxed.

Since having Unis I had to learn to trust her to make decisions, this can be hard for someone who is registered blind but still has a little remaining vision.  My applewatch has become like a security blanket because with haptics together with my four legged friend I feel I am in good hands or I should say paws.

Back to Siri, speaking into applewatch or iPhone to ask basic instructions or so I thought.  

It is, however, not as basic as I initially thought!  By saying the words, 'Hey Siri,' followed by (for instance) 'I would like to order Dominos,' it brings up the number for me to call and order my dinner. All without even using my fingers; without needing to scan to find numbers on a cluttered website. 

So that's on iPhone. Brilliant right?

On the applewatch it's one step better for independence. 

Saying the words, 'hey Siri,' into my watch, followed by 'I would like to order Dominos,' it takes me to maps, and directs me to my nearest dominos via prominent haptics. How's that for independence? 

Again, all this whilst resting my eyes.  I do have to confirm my location and pick which dominos (though it lists the nearest dominos in order, so I always tap the top on the list without reading too much - that's trust!).

The comparison would be me attempting to navigate a cluttered website, my worse nightmare, with many images, the Siri route is far easier for me.

Over the course of the year lots more apps have become available on applewatch which again makes life easier.

I began monitoring my exercise, with the activity app and was surprised at how many miles I walk in a week with Unis. I can also say that over the year of monitoring my heart rate both before and after exercise I have become so much more calm.  

I do still feel anxious from time to time, however nowhere near as much as I used to.  

On the whole I feel much more comfortable with my new found confidence and independence. 

Usher Syndrome is an incredibly tiring condition.  Concentrating so hard on listening and using whatever sight I have along with my  memory is exhausting and can make me clumsy and forgetful.  Thanks to applewatch I have become so much more organised.  

Accessibility on the watch meant I was using calendars much more, however I recently found Fantastical, I do think it is too expensive for an app however it is very accessible and easy to use. There are many similar apps, typically the better ones cost!  

I like lists, lists are so much easier for me to access and lists keep me organised. 

The tiredness, often exhaustion can make me feel unmotivated, however lists give me a meaning to get on and once I'm started those lists give me focus.  

Routine has always been very important to me, if I feel in control of a situation I feel calm so this new way of organising myself has given me the feel good factor. 

Spark is another app I like, it makes accessing email nice and easy on the go.

I look forward to more apps becoming available on applewatch and to finding my uses for them.

The year has flown by and as a result of that first blog I was able to make contact with GN ReSound, the manufacturers of the first hearing aid, the Linx2 to offer complete connectivity not just to iPhone but to the applewatch.  Connectivity to applewatch has made a huge difference to my communication skills when I'm out and about.

Linx2 hearing aids enable me to access telephone calls for the first time in my life and via my watch.  I can answer a call on my watch and the sound is streamed direct to my hearing aids.  I have experienced a completely new hearing and listening experience.

Being able to use a phone is something that has been hugely enabling and it has given me huge confidence so much so I have been interviewed live on radio over the phone and I have taken part in several conference calls something I would never have been able to do with my old hearing aids.

I have experienced new sounds, music, lyrics and spatial awareness.  I always liked music, I couldn't hear the words but felt the rhythm.  I now love music, I love the story telling, the atmosphere, mood it can create, I certainly now know what I was missing.

I can also ask Siri to play my music on a wireless speaker I bought recently, it's all just amazing.

Very importantly I can now hear the sounds of danger and know where those sounds are coming from when I'm out with Unis. 

Not being able to see or hear can be very frightening.

That first blog brought me lots of opportunities to meet some amazing people, to discuss accessibility for people with sensory impairment, deafness, blindness and Usher Syndrome and to raise awareness of needs something that gives me personal satisfaction.

365 days on my overall health is better, I'm fitter and in the main much happier.  I do still suffer with bouts of anxiety and depression.

Being deafblind will always be challenging however I have faith in technology becoming more inclusive and more enabling.

My hope is that more people needing it have access to it.

I bought my applewatch because I was curious and with the intention of returning it within 14 days.

Instead I have been so impressed by what it has done for me that I set up a fundraising campaign to help fund applewatch for others living with Usher Syndrome, positive feedback available on my charity website and of course if you could help enhance and enable the life of another with Usher Syndrome www.globalgiving.org/projects/deafblind-need-access-to-life-enhancing-technology/ Thank you.

I absolutely would not be without my applewatch today and look forward to more apps coming along to assist with daily life.

 

Wednesday, 06 January 2016 14:16

My Applewatch Experience 8 Months On

I thought it fitting that my first blog of 2016 should be an update on "My Applewatch Experience" after 8 months and to mention the project set up to fund it for others.

I’ve read lots of posts about applewatch, some very technical, some good and some bad.

For me it has been more personal, more about accessibility and inclusivity and how it has changed my life, enhanced it in ways I didn't believe to be possible.

Who would have thought a watch could bring independence, aid mobilty, reduce isolation and along with it confidence.

In my first blog http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days I talked about maps and safe navigation using taptics, my world has opened hugely and I have used this feature a great deal not just around the UK but also in Boston and Miami. It is very accurate and very impressive. 

I’ve now found applewatch apps for public transport which have taken a lot of stress out of getting around independently.  I can now access information via the watch like train platform numbers and departure times, this is something I could not do before, unable to access moving information boards or hear muffled tannoy in noisy crowded stations, I can also flag a taxi without any hassle using my watch.

Stress free navigation has been huge for me.

Applewatch is simply part of my everyday life, its features have eased my daily challenges.  I have invested in a couple of new straps which allow a little variation on the look.  I personally love the look, shape and size of my Applewatch, I think it’s chunky look is quite trendy.

Usage wise and from a health and wellbeing point of view I am no longer using my iPhone as much as I did which has reduced eye strain and migraine, I’m able to rely more on what my watch offers.

I enjoy the Activity feature, I walk a lot with guide dog Unis and find a satisfaction in knowing I have achieved certain goals.

My life in general is also less stressed than it was.  

Usher Syndrome is deafblind however deafblind is only part of this disability, mobility is a major issue and cause of much stress when you cannot see or hear properly and this has been well addressed on applewatch as detailed above.

I have found voice to text very useful and fairly accurate, I would however like any text or message sent to state ‘sent via applewatch' just so the recipient is aware should the text be slightly out rather than possibly assume my English questionable!

Alerts via taptics is brilliant and over the months I have realised that text messages, whatsapp, tap, sketch and phone calls all have customised vibrations which means I only look at the watch if I feel I want to, again resting my eyes more than I’d previously been able to.

I still use taps as a quick and easy way of getting attention if I need to, very clever and easy on the eye too.

I use the Starbucks app regularly and also love Applepay as it means not only do I not need to carry cash but I don't feel the vulnerability and stress I used to at opening my purse and struggling with money and change.  Being able to access my bank details on my watch is also so useful as cashpoints for the deafblind are very challenging, pretty inaccessible and something I would dread.

I personally don't use my Applewatch for accessing email preferring a bigger screen for anything long, however I have recently found the App Spark which I think would work for me if the text was bigger.

Applewatch is hugely convenient for anybody, even more so for somebody deafblind like myself for whom it becomes a reliable friend.

In my first Applewatch blog I wasn't using Voiceover just because of personal preference however, I have started using it on my other iOS devices and have found some speech preferences.

For those not aware Voiceover is a built in accessibility feature in Apple products which is a navigation service that reads aloud EVERYTHING you scan with your fingertip.

I feel there is room for improvement on Applewatch, it doesn't work in the same way as on other devices because of its much smaller screen.

on iPad and iPhone one finger is used to scan and listening to what is being said is fairly easy for somebody blind, for me, thanks to my Linx2 hearing aids I too can hear if I’m in a quiet environment, however, scrolling down a whole screen using Voiceover you have to use three fingers, this does not work on Applewatch.

The small screen of the Applewatch works well for somebody with very limited vision like myself and able to access text, however if reliant on voiceover I’m personally not too keen.

On the home screen the icons are very small, I struggle to see them, if you scan with your finger Voiceover will read them to you which is very useful however, moving the screen to see hidden icons whilst on Voiceover, is a real challenge, in fact, I still haven't sussed this out!

I personally would recommend setting up glances if available on your iPhone as it is much more easily accessed this way and then mirrored on the watch by swiping rather than straining your eyes to see tiny icons.

I set up as much as I could on my iPhone and it has definitely made using applewatch very easy.

There are lots of apps on my iPhone that would be very useful to be on Glances, I’m hopeful more and more will become available.

 Looking back to before applewatch I used my iPhone all the time, I worried it would be snatched from me as I couldn't see or hear things around me particularly outside, I worried about battery life, would rarely venture out of my comfort zone, I really felt very vulnerable.

I had to hold the phone or have it very close to me to feel a vibration indicating a text or call and even then often missed them.

 I am now easily contactable, I am well connected because of state of the art accessible assistive technology.  

It has made me feel independent and confident and such a long way from the isolation I once felt and sadly so many others with Usher Syndrome still feel.

Technology does change lives and it will only improve, it needs to be available to all. 

I feel so passionate about this technology that my charity The Molly Watt Trust has set up it’s first GlobalGiving project to fund applewatch for others living with Usher Syndrome https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/deafblind-need-access-to-life-enhancing-technology/

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