Aren’t we lucky? Just when our vision starts to deteriorate on us, there comes a whole new medium of information, entertainment, and inspiration opening up to fill our ears, and our years. This new medium is called "podcasting" but you will not need an ipod, not even ear buds, just your PC, speakers, and audio player, which probably come with the package. Add one piece of additional free software, called a podcatcher, and you’ve entered a new world. One theme in this blog is the full utilization of the podcasting medium for the benefit of Vision Losers of a certain age.
Who are this so-called ‘we’, the lucky ones, the generalization of the singular self-styled Vision Loser? who is this blog written for?
Well, there are literally millions of over-50 people with variations of macular degeneration and other forms of retinopathy who retain partial sight, enough to operate most software packages, on a decent vision day, albeit somewhat more clumsy than the multi-tasking, keyboard-glued, Internet-addicted younger generations. Many of us have been using computers for work, for communication, and for gaming for years, while some of us are newbies to the Internet and the PC world. Our ranks are growing rapidly with the baby boomer generation. Plus, others who care about the well-being of those losing vision.
The lucky ones are those who can take full advantage of a low-cost, vibrant, versatile, varied, stimulating medium especially helpful for those in vision loss transition. That’s our main message: use the podcasting medium to supplant print-based activities and to introduce yourself to the technology, people, and philosophy of the parallel world of the partially sighted and fully blind.
The quality of life we address in this blog are the "partially sighted" who have lost some significant properties of vision: contrast, color, print discrimination, or steady lines of objects. More challenging are normal abilities to read, drive, converse with facial and body awareness, Gone are many energy-saving and safety-providing actions formerly taken for granted. Being partially sighted is far different from being completely blind because the world is continually playing tricks on you, luring you to "see” but denying you all the details in your partial sight, you live with the shape shifter and Trickster archetypes.
Meanwhile, strangers, colleagues and friends and family cannot recognize your problems because, quote, you "do not look blind" — whatever that means. You are perfectly capable of absorbing and giving information through digital media, but at a loss to sort the mail and read important matters without adaptive technology. You need some help, but maybe not the full-blown, costly equipment avai able to the fully blind.
One way to appreciate this quality of life — both the losses and retained skills — is listening to podcasts by people dealing with their losses in similar situations. Aren’t we lucky that we can find and follow the inspiration of such people, without stretching our personal limits of energy and mobility? This blog will take you through a tangle of podcasts to place ourselves in a virtual crowd of like-abled people.
With our partial sight, we can avail ourselves of many PC packages with only a modest additional expense and some self-training.We clearly have one foot in the blind camp where many software vendors offer custom products, but at an expense that is often borne by employers, rehab offices, and educational systems. Being of a more advanced aged, perhaps out of the work force, some of us struggle with many trade-offs of finance, training, and frustration less faced by those with no options, like the blind. But it turns out there is a rich suite of relatively low cost packages on the market which this blog seeks to motivate and explain individually and together.
The trick is to think as a "system integrator” who identifies tasks, and processes, and quality factors then finds components that work together to provide a high enough level of productivity and quality of getting our work and our fun under control. These include text-to-speech readers of web, mail, and other documents; partial screen readers: that guide us around software tools on our screen; and magnifiers that zoom in on smudges of print we want to see but not hear.
Aren’t we lucky, that vendors have found a large enough market of people like us, or with similar needs, to produce tools we can integrate into our environments? Aren’t we lucky that a few years ago breakthroughs in speech synthesis have given us voices that resonate in personality while they clearly read for us? Aren’t we lucky that podcasting came along to give us access to many product reviews, demonstrations, and testimonials?
This blog describes a combination of free and low-cost products that can launch a Vision Loser into a more effective, still familiar, way of using our PCs. And one of these software products is a podcatcher customized for partially sighted people.
But, isn’t it strange, that we Vision Losers might have the advantage of early adoption of speech interactions with our software while the fully sighted remain with their eyeballs glued to their screens? In technology transfer terms, we can be as geeky as we like as “early adopters” while many software products are simple enough to master for those without a "geek streak”. This blog discusses many of these download-install-try and adopt or discard packages. We demonstrate that some added functionality here and a better interface there and, with practice, we can remain cost effectively fully functioning in the networked world.
What else does podcasting have to offer vision losers? While we are using podcasts to learn about technology to exploit our partial sight, we hear the inspiring words of Vision Losers like us, across a spectrum of losses. More than that, we can see how podcasts can fill the information voids caused by difficulty reading print magazines and newspapers. We will find a generation of communicators, both younger and older, using podcasts to develop a style and outlets for their cultural, humor, and intellectual interests. The early podcasters are entrepreneurial, energetic, and often fresh figures to replace TV fixtures and columnists we may have been using for years to structure our own views of the world.
Aren’t we lucky so many independent and creative individuals offer us a new way to explore and absorb a very wide world beyond our screens and speakers? We will find that podcasting offers a way to design your own stream of content geared toward your own information and entertainment needs and time available. And it is amazing how much more you can get done listening to podcasts than watching a tube or unfolding and refolding a newspaper?
Aren’t we lucky, that we have a medium so well matched to our needs, so flexible, and so cheap?
We began this blog by describing a PC environment that may help many Vision Losers with little expense or effort, namely a few synthetic voices, an application, that reads from the clipboard, and the minimal functionality of magnifiers supplied by the Microsoft XP (and other) Windows environments with an add-on mouse. We have also been using podcasts as references in earlier articles, just requiring a PC invoked with the click of a link to a .mp3 player. We’ll soon move on to harder trade-offs with other screen readers, editors, and podcatchers that bring out a tendency to collect podcasts.
No, it is not great to be a Vision Loser; in fact, it’s a very hard life with more of the same and worse for life’s remaining decades. But, really, the confluence of assistive technology, opening of independent media through podcasting and blogs, and the challenge to learn and use these as rapidly as possible during vision descent leads to the significant conclusion: Contemporary Vision Losers have timed their transition well to take advantage of technology never before available, not robbing the bank account, and poised to become one more node in a vast network of audio driven information and human connection.
As we write this blog we draw from a library of podcasts collected on vision-related topics and by and for blind and partially sighted individuals. Check this out in the blogroll and
@Podder Eyesight Podcast Library