Tag Archives: visual impairment

Today is World Braille Day

Today (4 January) is World Braille Day, https://www.un.org/en/observances/braille-day.

I have been a braille user since approximately 5 years of age.

Braille is made by punching dots into paper or other materials. For example, when you next go shopping you may well come across braille on bottles of bleach or other cleaning products. In addition, many medications now have braille labels enabling people such as myself to identify them.

As a child who was unable to read print, braille was one of the main ways in which I accessed the printed word. I can still remember the first fully contracted (grade 2 braille) book I read. It was entitled The Story of Pets, and being able to access it independently of sighted assistance gave me a profound sense of achievement.

Despite the massive advances in technology (for instance the availability of text to speech on almost all titles in the Amazon Kindle store which enables those unable to read print to access them), braille still remains extremely important.

As mentioned above, braille enables visually impaired people to identify household cleaning products such as bleach. In addition, I continue to read braille books. Whilst I gain enjoyment from listening to audio downloads (for example of poetry books), the advantage to braille (as with print) is that it enables readers to put their own interpretation upon a work, rather than being influenced by the person narrating the audio book. I come across some readings and think to myself “that is not how I imagine the poem/other work in question should be read/interpreted”).

A number of my own books are available in braille from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), https://kmorrispoet.com/2020/06/23/braille-editions-of-my-books/. In addition, all of my works in the Kindle store have text to speech enabled, enabling those who are unable to read print to access them.

In conclusion, braille remains a vital means for braille readers to access information and to enjoy the written word in the form of literature. Braille displays can be linked to a computer allowing braille users to read the contents of the screen, https://www.rnib.org.uk/sight-loss-advice/technology-and-useful-products/technology-resource-hub-latest-facts-tips-and-guides/braille-displays-and-notetakers. Consequently braille will, I believe remain relevant for many years to come.

Training with My New Guide Dog Apollo

On 4 November, I wrote about the impending arrival of my new guide dog Apollo, https://kmorrispoet.com/2021/11/04/my-new-guide-dog/.

Apollo and me posing for a family photo

Apollo arrived on Monday 8 November, and I have been bonding and training with him since then. Thus far we have walked to my local Sainsburys supermarket, which is located some 10-15 minutes from my home. Initially the walk took place with Apollo on the lead with me using a white cane whilst accompanied by the trainer from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Later walks occurred with Apollo in his distinctive guide dog harness with me accompanied by the trainer. Under UK law (the Equalities Act) guide dogs are allowed entrance into supermarkets and other venues where pet dogs are prohibited. This means that visually impaired guide dog owners can enter such places in the course of their daily lives.

I love Apollo’s soft ears

To reinforce the work of Apollo and other guide dogs, food is used as a reward for stopping at kerbs, finding pelican crossings Etc. The daily intake of food is adjusted to take account of food given as a reward thereby preventing the working guide dog from becoming overweight.

Apollo in his bed after a hard day training me.

My thanks to my friend Brian for taking the photographs above.

Confusion over Text to Speech on Kindle Titles

As many readers of this blog will know, most Amazon Kindle titles have a facility known as Text to Speech enabled. Text to Speech enables the contents of Kindle titles to be read aloud to readers, and is particularly useful to people with certain disabilities, for example those who are registered blind and who are not able to read print. You can find details of how to enable Text to Speech here, https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201829850.

I am myself registered blind and unable to read print. Consequently I rely on the Text to Speech facility on my Kindle or Voiceover (Apple’s screen reader which works with the Kindle app on Apple devices) to read Kindle content.

A week or so ago I noticed that product pages in the Amazon Kindle store had messages saying “Text to Speech not enabled”. This concerned me and I visited my own pages on Amazon only to discover that they also indicated the unavailability of Text to Speech.

As someone who is themselves visually impaired, I wish to ensure that my poetry collections and other works are accessible to all readers. I therefore contacted Amazon.

Yesterday I received a message from Amazon’s Tech Support advising me that most Kindle content has Text to Speech enabled and advising as to how this could be turned on. They did not respond to my point that titles (previously shown as having Text to Speech enabled, now do not do so).

I have checked several of my titles, which continue to read aloud using Voiceover in combination with the Kindle app on my iphone. In addition I downloaded another title (not my own) which is shown as not having Text to Speech enabled. Again this works fine on my iphone.

In conclusion, the problem appears to be not that Text to Speech has been disabled. Rather the issue centres on the fact that accessible Kindle titles are being shown as inaccessible. This could cause those who rely on Text to Speech, not to purchase books in the belief that the content is inaccessible (when, in fact it can be read aloud).

Kevin

A Short History of the Paperback

An interesting history of the paperback book, including information regarding “collectable” paperbacks, https://www.ioba.org/standard/2001/12/a-short-history-of-paperbacks/.

As a child growing up in the city of Liverpool, I well remember a glass bookcase full of paperbacks, in my grandfather’s house in Speke (a suburb of Liverpool).

Most Saturdays my Grandfather and I would go into W. H. Smiths and buy a paperback, often by Enid Blyton, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enid_Blyton.

I lost the majority of my vision at 18-months-old due to a blood clot on the brain. Consequently my grandfather would spend hours reading to me, as I was unable to read print books.

I think of my grandfather whenever I pass by a branch of Smiths. The scent of books and magazines eminating from the store brings the memories flooding back.

Sadly I no longer have the books my grandfather bought for me, Some of which where, no doubt collectable. However, where they still in my possession, I would not part with them as some things possess value which can not be measured in monetary terms.

The Future of my Blog

The purpose of this post is to let you know that on or around 1 June, there is a possibility that posts on this blog may cease for a time. If this happens, I wont have been assassinated by readers angered at what they (rightly or wrongly) perceive as the poor quality of my verse, (or kidnapped by a crazy fan who wishes me to write poetry solely for them). No, it will be down to the replacement of the WordPress Classic editor by the new Block editor.

Since the inception of this blog, I have been blogging using the WordPress Classic Editor. Classic works well with my accessibility/screen reading software, Job Access with Speech or JAWS, which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer/laptop.

From 1 June 2020, the Classic Editor will be replaced by the WordPress Block Editor (although the Block Editor will, I understand still containe, somewhere within it the facility to use Classic). You can read more about this change here, https://wordpress.com/blog/2020/05/18/say-hello-to-the-wordpress-block-editor/

I have tried the Block Editor using JAWS and it doesn’t work for me. I’ve raised this issue with WordPress and a helpful employee assures me that, given my circumstances the Classic Editor will remain the default on my blog. Whilst I am grateful for this assurance, I remain apprehensive about the change from Classic to Block editor.

If, on or around 1 June I cease posting for a time this will be down to the change from Classic to Block editor. I hope that Classic will remain the default. However, in life things do not always work smoothly.

However, whatever happens on 1 June, kmorrispoet.com will remain active and any teething issues will, I am sure be resolved.

Kevin

The World Book Encyclopedia in Braille

One of my memories from my time at the Royal School for the Blind (Wavertree in Liverpool), is of reading articles from the braille edition of The World Book Encyclopedia. It was in the school boardroomm and was wholly separate from the books which stood, shelf after shelf in the library.

I well remember being fascinated by articles on a variety of subjects, including one on ghosts.

At the time of my attendance at Wavertree School, there was no internet, consequently the only way in which those who, like me, where unable to read print could access the world of printed literature, was via cassette tape, talking books, having books read aloud by a physically present person and, of course braille. The internet came along much later.

To me being able to access an encyclopedia unaided was a truly wonderful thing and I spent many happy hours looking through the braille World Book.

I remember the encyclopedia being extremely bulky, however it was only on coming across this webpage yesterday that I was reminded of the bulk of that vast tome:

“Only one encyclopedia was ever produced in braille. It was the World Book Encyclopedia, transcribed and embossed by the American Printing House for the Blind in about 1962. The main encyclopedia comprised 144 thick volumes, and was placed at many schools for the blind and some other institutions. Each annual supplement was about 5 volumes long, and only one or two were done. The project required massive amounts of federal funds, and it taught us all how bulky braille could be.
(See https://lbphwiki.aadl.org/braille_encyclopedias_and_dictionaries).

Of course few (perhaps no) visually impaired individuals would have possessed the funds, or indeed the space, to enable them to own their own edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I suspect that it was wholly confined to schools for the blind and other such institutions. I did nonetheless dream of owning my own World Book Encyclopedia in braille.

Today of course its easy to access a multiplicity of free reference sources online, including The Oxford Dictionary. I do, however still feel a sense of nostalgia for the days of braille encyclopedias, indeed I still possess the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (all 16 volumes) in braille. Many of the entries are dated, but I am reluctant to consign it to the great reference scrap heap.

“The Selected Poems of K Morris” is now available in braille from the Royal National Institute of Blind People

On 15 November, I wrote a post in which I said that my “Selected Poems” would soon be available in braille, from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, (RNIB), https://kmorrispoet.com/2019/11/15/my-selected-poems-will-soon-be-available-in-braille-from-rnib/. I am pleased to announce that “The Selected Poems of K Morris (Braille edition) was delivered this afternoon (Saturday 30 November).

I am, of course, delighted that visually impaired people (those who read braille, for by no means all sight impaired individuals do so), will have the option to enjoy my poetry in this format. In addition, text to speech is, of course enabled on all of my books, meaning that those who (like me) are unable to read print, can listen to my Kindle titles.

For links to all of my books please visit my blog’s “About” page, https://kmorrispoet.com/about/.

Is your blog accessible to blind computer users?

My thanks to Chris Graham (AKA The Story Reading Ape) https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com, for drawing this article on why much of the internet is inaccessible to blind people to my attention, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49694453.

As many of you who follow my blog will know, I lost the majority of my eyesight at 18-months-old. I am unable to read print and use software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer or laptop. For anyone interested in finding out about JAWS, please follow this link, https://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/.

The article linked to above, details a number of problems faced by blind users of the internet, many of which I have experienced whilst navigating the World Wide Web. For example, the piece explains how blind computer users can be faced with unlabelled links on a webpage meaning that what is heard is next to useless. I have myself been faced with a page where JAWS reads “link, link, link”, meaning that the only way in which I can ascertain what the content of a particular link may be is by clicking on said link. This is, obviously a very tedious undertaking and, in many instances I have given up on the site in question and visited a more accessible alternative.

Turning specifically to sites hosted directly on WordPress (such as my own blog), these are, on the whole accessible. For example all the social media sharing buttons on kmorrispoet.com are labelled so anyone using a screen reader such as JAWS will hear “Twitter, Facebook” etc voiced by JAWS. Likewise the comments form is clearly labelled as such meaning that anyone logged into a WordPress account can easily post a comment.

In contrast I have found that many of the self-hosted WordPress sites are not as accessible as those hosted directly on WordPress. For example I often come across unlabelled sharing buttons on self-hosted sites so the only way in which I can determine what the button in question may be, is by actually clicking on it.

Whilst some comments forms on self-hosted sites are labelled with fields such as “comment”, “your name”, “email address”, others are not. In the latter instance the JAWS (or other screen reader user) is forced to guess what each field is or, more often simply to give up on their intention of posting a comment and navigate away from the site/blog in question.

In my experience the vast majority of bloggers care about their readers and wish to ensure that everyone is able to access their sites equally and enjoy the same ability to participate in discussions. However, unless a blogger is themselves blind (or knows a blind screen reader user), its perfectly possible that they have little (if any idea) as to how blind web users access their site/blog.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has links to useful guidance explaining how webmasters can ensure that their sites are accessible to those with site loss. For anyone who is unsure whether their blog and/or website is accessible, you may find it helpful to visit here, https://www.sightadvicefaq.org.uk/independent-living/accessible-website.

Kevin

Breakdown

When my landline rang earlier today, I was in 2 minds as to whether or not I should answer it. Other than my mum, few people call me at home, most of my arrangements to meet with friends being made either via email, face-to-face or, occasionally via text message.

My home number is not in the Directory so no one (other than those I choose to give my number to) should know it. However, for whatever reason, my number has fallen into the hands of scammers who entertain me from time to time with their antics.

Returning to today, I determined to answer my landline:

Me: “Hello?”
Unidentified individual: “how are you today?”
Me: “OK”.
Unidentified individual: “your breakdown cover has expired”.

I was, of course concerned that the breakdown insurance I have for my guide dog needed renewing. How could I have been so absent minded as to forget to pay my annual premium for breakdown Cover to Dogs Are Us Breakdown Insurance LTD. I knew that I ought to have set up an automatic direct debit so as to ensure that the cover renews without me having to take any action, but chose not to do so.

I was, of course deeply concerned that no mechanic from Dogs Are Us Breakdown Insurance LTD would come out where my guide dog to develop a mechanical fault, consequently I reached, straight away for my bank details and provided them to the nice gentleman at the other end of the line.

I must go now as I need to check whether my bank account has been debited in favour of Dogs Are Us Breakdown Insurance LTD …

The Meteor-Eyes Book Club enabling visually impaired children to read large print books

A great video about the Meteor-Eyes book club, which enables visually impaired children (those who are able to read large print), to enter into the pleasure of reading. The Guide Dogs charity produce large print books specifically tailored to the requirements of the children. You can see the video here,