Transcripts of Living Blindfully are made possible by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at http://PneumaSolutions.com.
Introduction and a Welcome to 225
Voiceover: From Wellington, New Zealand, to the world, it’s the Living Blindfully podcast – living your best life with blindness or low vision. Here is your host, Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan Mosen: Hello! I’ve written an open letter calling on companies that engage with the blind community to come to Mastodon. I’ll tell you why I think it’s important, and how you can sign it.
And I’ll speak with Adrian Spratt, a blind author who’s written a novel, “Caroline”, whose
protagonist is a blind character.
“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train, feeling near as faded as my cane.”
Yes, it’s 225. I’m not referring to the time. I’m referring to the episode number. And I’m also referring to first, the area code. The area code for 225 has bits of Louisiana covered, including Baton Rouge.
That’s a great song, the Me and Bobby McGee. Which version do you like the best? I think that the Janis Joplin’s the definitive version.
When I was growing up, my mum and dad used to listen to Charley Pride a lot. So I think first heard the Charley Pride version. And then I got into the Janis Joplin. Oh my goodness! That is a great version.
I think Kris Kristofferson wrote that song.
Anyway, welcome to you in Louisiana, including the bits of the area code that are not Baton Rouge.
Amazing! I remember going to the NFB convention when it was in New Orleans in 1997. Yeah, it was ‘97. And it was just such an experience, just hearing the musicians playing in the street – the amazing jazz combos.
I remember there was a family playing. It was probably a mum and dad, and a couple of kids. And man, were they good. And I was just transfixed, standing on the street corner, listening to these people playing. It was just magic!
And then they stopped. And the dad, he said, “Now, this here’s the tip jar. And over there is the ATM.” [laughs] And I did go to the ATM actually, because they were so good.
Now the country code 225 is Ivory Coast, where they have 26.4 million people. So welcome to you if you are listening to us in the Ivory Coast today.
It’s Long Past Time for Many Entities in Our Field to Get on Mastodon
I’ve written an open letter, and I’m hoping that you will consider signing this open letter if you’ve not done so already.
It’s calling on organizations of and for the blind, assistive technology companies, mainstream technology companies with accounts focusing on accessibility, entities providing essential information that may be vital at times of emergency, and any product or service that values convenient, accessible engagement with the blind community to get on Mastodon.
Opinions vary regarding changes at Twitter since its acquisition by Elon Musk in 2022. But there’s no doubt that many blind people who formerly used Twitter as their primary social network have scaled back their use of the platform, and an increasing number have abandoned it altogether. They’ve deleted their accounts. They’re just not there.
Twitter’s blind community began migrating to Mastodon in significant numbers back in November last year, following the firing of every staff member of Twitter’s accessibility team. It was clear then that Twitter’s commitment to accessibility, which has increased and yielded positive outcomes in recent years, could no longer be relied upon.
With a desire to monetize the platform and find a way to profitability, experienced technology commentators in the blind community warned back in November that Twitter would eventually cut off access to third-party apps.
You may remember at that time, I did a piece called “Why Mushroom FM has gone all-in on Mastodon”, and I made this point. It was absolutely obvious that we were heading in this direction then. So Mushroom FM decided to move to Mastodon, partly because we knew we’d have to do it eventually anyway, but also as a kind of an incentive to encourage the rest of the community to think about this issue.
And I understand at a business level why Twitter has done this – why they have pulled access to third-party apps.
It will ensure that more people see Twitter’s advertisements. And advertising numbers are dwindling there, so they need all the eyeballs on the ads they can get. It’ll give Twitter full control of the user experience for everyone.
And we’ve seen these little snafus over the years. Back in the Blindside podcast in – it must have been 2017 or 2018, we talked to one of the developers of Twitterrific (which was a very popular third-party Twitter app for the Mac and for iOS), about the somewhat strange relationship between Twitter and third-party developers.
They pulled a whole bunch of support back then, including push notifications and several other features, and the apps kind of survived in a lesser form.
And it felt like there was a thawing. Before Elon Musk acquired Twitter, it felt like the third-party app development community was being embraced again. And now, obviously, that’s all been destroyed.
That change has eliminated the most accessible, popular options that made Twitter so attractive to many blind users. For a while, some of those Windows-based. And one of them was on the Mac as well. Apps that a lot of blind people like to use, (I’m thinking TWBlue and Tweesecake in particular.), they kind of went under the radar, I guess, because of their user numbers.
But the golden weather is now over. Those apps no longer work.
There are one or two accessible options flying under the radar. I don’t think that is going to last forever. We can’t rely on that.
Even if you want to use Twitter, Twitter’s own mobile offerings have shortcomings from an accessibility point of view.
I have found, for example, when I checked the Living Blindfully Twitter account, that you can only scroll through a small number of your tweets.
It’s also very difficult with Twitter now to read in reverse chronological order. I’ve never really understood why anyone wouldn’t read in reverse chronological order. Because if you don’t do that, you’re seeing news unfolding in reverse, for example, which can be quite confusing because you have to scroll down to get context. So for me, one of the bottom-line features has always been being able to read your Twitter feed from oldest to newest.
But even if you can live with that, there are some serious scrolling issues on Twitter for iOS. I understand newer Android versions are also suffering the same thing. Using the web interface isn’t as efficient or powerful.
I know that on Mastodon, Brian Hartgen from Hartgen Consultancy has been talking about some things that he’s working on there. But it’s still, I don’t think, as convenient as using a full-fledged Twitter client. It’s a great effort and it’s pretty cool, but I don’t think it’s quite the same.
The level of migration to Mastodon by the population in general has been quite remarkable. Since Twitter’s acquisition in October 2022, Mastodon has seen millions of users joining the platform.
What seems to happen is that Elon does something bizarre, and there’s this massive spike. but even without those incidents in recent times, it’s been settling in at about a million new users a month.
Now while specific statistics on the adoption of Mastodon within the blind community aren’t available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the uptake by the formerly-Twitter using blind community is dramatically higher than that of the population as a whole.
And while Twitter has shown disregard for accessibility, … let’s not forget, as I said, they have fired their entire accessibility team. And there’ve been some incidents where new things have been tried that are not fully accessible.
Quite the opposite is happening on Mastodon. Those blindness-specific clients – the ones that were compatible with Twitter and giving us such an optimal user interface on Windows and Mac – well, they’re on Mastodon now. And they’re putting their effort into developing a great Mastodon experience. There’s a thriving ecosystem of third-party apps supported by an open API no one can take away.
Because of the culture of Mastodon, many such apps (including Mastodon’s own official app) offer exemplary screen reader accessibility.
It is long past time for companies engaging with the blind community to act. And I think I understand, having been inside some of them, what goes on. You have people making decisions who are not necessarily tuned in to these new trends in social media.
And so if we don’t take initiatives like this and essentially say, “Hang on. Why are you taking so long?”, it might take a long time for the stuff to actually register. So we have to make a noise about this.
It’s extraordinary to me that these companies are not looking very carefully at the impressions on Twitter. In other words, how many people are seeing these tweets and engaging with them. I can actually see them, because one thing that Elon Musk has done in recent times is make this impression data more public.
And there is no doubt that the blindness-specific organizations’ impression numbers on Twitter are going down. Why are they going down? Because many blind people have abandoned the platform. They have no choice. They’ve got a suboptimal experience there.
Now obviously, some people don’t use social networks like Twitter or Mastodon – these sort of text-based networks. And for better or worse, Facebook has always been more popular.
But if you’re on Twitter, now you should be on Mastodon if you’re a company serving the blind community.
The position blind users find ourselves in was completely foreseeable five months ago, – back in November, so organizations have had plenty of time to prepare. And it’s just not reasonable for the blind community to continue to wait patiently for something to happen without drawing the need for action to the attention of these companies.
The companies need to ask themselves a few questions.
Do you care about reaching the blind community? And if you do, why would you ignore a platform an increasing number of us now frequent while continuing a presence on a social network that has shown open disregard for accessibility?
Many in our community are passionate about the open, decentralized nature of Mastodon and other Fediverse services. And I think it’s important for these companies that are holding out on Mastodon to understand where that passion is coming from.
Twitter has been around a while. It started in 2006. Blind people flocked, (if I might use a bird analogy), to the platform fairly quickly, and there was a trickle of adoption over time as word about Twitter spread.
Many of us have made friends on Twitter. The blind community on Twitter is quite close-knit in many respects. Many other disabled people feel the same way.
And let’s not forget that one of the reasons why this has been so difficult for many disabled people is that Twitter was a lifeline during the pandemic. When we were locked down, when many people didn’t have company, engaging with others on Twitter provided company, encouragement, and support.
So when Elon Musk did all this sabotage, he really pulled the rug from under a lot of us.
Some people held out, thinking that somehow there was going to be a miracle. And “Surely, this wouldn’t all really happen.”, that people like me who were telling people this would happen in November were just doom merchants. And of course it happened. And it’s hit them particularly hard, too. Because they trusted that something would happen to stop all of this damage from occurring, and it did not.
And when you go through an event like that where a significant part of your social network – your community – has been dealt a body blow, you think “never again”.
And this is one of the reasons why Mastodon and all these Fediverse applications like it are having a moment – because we are determined to do it right this time, and to keep social networking under our control as individuals. Because we have learnt the hard way how fragile social networks are when they can be bought and sold, and when our tools can be taken away at the drop of a hat.
I think the jury is still out on whether Mastodon is the permanent future that we seek. I think there are some things that could derail that, including some pretty entrenched attitudes from some key people in Mastodon about features that users want.
But one thing I’m certain of is that social networks based on open standards are the future. It’s our insurance against what’s happened at Twitter never happening to us again.
If a particular individual closes an instance of Mastodon, you can just migrate to another one and keep on going.
We will support, as blind people (I feel confident) those products and services that recognize this passion and determination, and who realize that they need to be where we are.
Now I’m not saying that every blind person has abandoned Twitter. Far from it.
And these companies that I’m talking about usually have social media management tools. They’ve got Twitter plugged into them, so it’s no big deal to stay on Twitter. Knock yourself out.
Although I do think that particularly for organizations of the blind, it’s important for them to consider this from a moral perspective as well. Do you really want your content to be on a platform which has shown such disregard for accessibility?
But that’s a call for them to make.
I’ve talked to a few people over these last few months especially since this open letter was published last weekend, and I keep hearing that somehow Mastodon is complicated. And I take people back to when they first got on Twitter.
Every social network, every site like this has its own culture and its own behavior. But it’s no more complicated setting up a Mastodon account than it is setting up an email account. It’s exactly the same concept. You can be on gmail.com. I can be on iCloud.com. We can email each other.
And it’s the same with Mastodon instances. You can be on one, I can be on another. I can follow you; we can communicate. That’s what the federated nature of Mastodon is all about.
Companies have the opportunity to set up their own instance, and that is no different from having an email address that ends with your domain name. Or you can jump on an existing Mastodon server, and that’s no different from grabbing a Gmail address, or an iCloud address, or an Outlook address. It’s not hard.
has been around a while. You could jump on that, and you could be up in two or three hours with a Mastodon presence. It’s not complicated.
What we’re dealing with here from some of these blindness companies is just good old inertia. They don’t see the need. And it’s up to us to articulate that need and get it fixed.
So I would encourage everyone who wants to see a blindness company in particular, or an assistive technology company that is not on Mastodon, to contact the support address and make this point. Why aren’t you on Mastodon yet? When will you get on Mastodon? You’ve had five months now to do this.
And we will have a section on Living Blindfully where we congratulate those companies that have heeded the call and jumped on to Mastodon.
Therefore, a big shout out to NVAccess, which got on Mastodon way early. I think they’ve been on since November or December of last year. They are so in touch with their users that they could see the trend, they could see where it was going, and they got on Mastodon nice and quickly.
Also full credit to Aira, who’s been on Mastodon for a wee while now. So thank you, Aira, for doing that.
And just in the last week, Top Tech Titbits, that excellent newsletter that provides so much useful information to the blind community, also has a presence on Mastodon as well. Well done!
Where are those bigger companies? You know who you are. I look forward to being able to announce that you have gone where we’ve gone to in the next few weeks.
If you believe that it’s important that these companies are where our community is, (even if you’re not on Mastodon yet), I hope that you will sign the open letter. Every signature makes a difference. And you can do that by going to
That’s B-I-T.L-Y/BlindMastodon. That’s all one word. And the B for blind and the M for Mastodon is capitalized. So bit.ly/CapitalBlindCapitalMastodon.
Voiceover: Mastodon is the social network where the Living Blindfully community is most active. Join us there for conversation about the most recent episode, and items of news to help you live your best life with blindness or low vision.
All you have to do from any Mastodon instance is follow
More Thoughts on SensePlayer
Jonathan: Since the podcast returned from the summer break, we’ve been talking a lot about these blindness-specific audio players. It started off with the Victor Reader Stream 3rd generation, which is now available in some markets from Humanware. And HIMMS has joined the party with its new SensePlayer.
We talked about that in Episode 224, where we heard from Earle Harrison from HIMMS. And also, Vaughn Bennison gave us a demonstration.
Now back in Episode 218, Brian Hartgen had attended a webinar, was extremely enthusiastic about the SensePlayer, had ordered one, and was waiting with some anticipation for it to arrive.
And after a couple of snafus, it finally did. And Brian sent this email in this week.
With reference to the SensePlayer, I am extremely disappointed with the performance of the device.
There are many problems with it. Too many to list here. But the most significant of them, for me, makes the player unusable.
When the speed of playback is increased even slightly, the voice sounds jerky and unnatural.
The Victor Reader Stream 2 does not exhibit this behavior.
I use this feature all the time for reading books and listening to podcasts.
I have tried to get used to it, and have tested with a number of books, but it is not something I can accept in its current form.
Coupled with Vaughn’s finding that you need to work through a convoluted process to ensure the audio is output through the headphones only and not the speaker as well, (and he is quite right about that), I would suggest this device does not meet even the most basic requirements as a basic talking book player for the blind.
It should be able to guarantee private listening without having to do anything special, and you should be able to increase the rate of audio playback and enjoy pleasant listening.
HIMMS have been contacted about this. They report that they have received no complaints about this, and are using a time compression algorithm which they have been working with for some time.
I have given them a few days to come back to me to let me know if this is something which can be fixed quickly.
If they cannot remedy the problem, I shall be returning the player.
And staying in the UK, second thoughts from somebody who was quite glowing about the SensePlayer back in episode 219, and is now sending it back. It’s Ali, and he says:
I sent in an audio review of my initial thoughts on the SensePlayer a few weeks ago.
You may recall that I was largely complimentary about it at the time, but that I did not have insignificant reservations.
Alas, I spoke too soon. My short SensePlayer romance is all over.
It has been sent back to whenst it camest, and I have now learned my lesson. (No really, I have this time.), not to jump the gun and buy products based purely on the sales pitch of those who make them.
Admittedly, it was a work in progress when I had it, and probably still is, given the mobile screen reader hasn’t been released yet.
But my final thoughts, as I packed it in its box ready to return it, was that it is all very well having the ability to use a bunch of swanky apps. But a Daisy or audio player must be able, in the first instance, to rewind and forward with the minimum of effort. For the reasons I outlined in my previous audio post, the SensePlayer cannot do this to my satisfaction. And it was really starting to get my goat the more I forced myself to use it.
Even a week or so before I sent it back, I had already gravitated back to my Stream 2 even though it is quite literally in pieces and is being held together with a cable tie.
I am now waiting for Humanware here in the UK to start shipping the Stream 3, and will be ordering one ASAP.
At least I now know that the Sense Player is not for me. Even as a power user, there is something to be said for a device like the Stream which is easy to use.
As my dad would say “it is no good being a jack of all trades if you are a master of none”.
And we’re going to move on to some other comments from Ali on different topics.
“Sound-adapted tennis balls.”
Oh, alright, then.
Some years ago, I heard a podcast on which Dave Wilkinson from APH was talking about sound-adapted tennis balls for the use of blind people, which APH was selling.
The idea is that they would bounce, and that they would be audible while airborne because they would make a high-pitched pinging sound when they were hit by a racket.
I only just got around to giving this some thought, as some friends of mine are thinking about starting up a blind sports club here in the UK.
I would love to know if anyone has had any experience with these tennis balls and whether they in fact do work as advertised.
I have had a look on the APH website for some sort of audio demo, but could find nothing.
And bouncing to Google Bard which Ali wants to talk about…
a competitive chat-GPT is emerging. It is called Bard, and is made by Google. It is currently available to some users, and it is possible to join a waiting list to gain access.
I have used it extensively, and there are definitely positives and negatives.
It is not as good as chat-GPT yet, being a little behind in its development process. But I do like the fact that it gives three draft answers to every question. The three draft answers usually contain the same salient information, but are accompanied by different subordinate information.
For example, when I asked it how many goals Mohamed Salah has scored for Liverpool, the total number of goals was the same in each draft. But one draft had details of when he first scored and against whom. While another went into details about how many goals he had scored in each competition, giving a breakdown of his numbers.
It is then possible to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to the answers Bard comes back with. And if you click thumbs down, it presents you with an edit field where you can provide feedback.
On the negative side, it came back with a tissue of lies when I asked it whether the BBC planned to make any more episodes of a particular discontinued radio drama series. It said that the writer of the series wanted to make more episodes, and it even gave some quotes from the writer which had said it come from a newspaper interview.
When I probed further and asked it to give me the date of the publication, it admitted that it had invented the quote and that it was still learning.
I get that. But surely inventing quotes is unacceptable, even at this public beta stage.
On the plus side, the interface is simple and accessible.
And when I asked whether Bard was coming to the Google Assistant, I was told it was in the works.
What are your thoughts? Have you tried it?
Well, Google Bard is not for the likes of me, Ali, because I don’t live in the United States or the UK. Those are the only countries where it is available.
Google does this an awful lot. I find it very frustrating. I won’t even talk about the Google Pixel, and all the hoops that New Zealanders have had to go through who really want one, and the challenges of getting it working on 5G, and all that kind of thing.
So no, I haven’t tried it because I can’t.
The reviews that I have read, and for those following
you will have seen some reviews that I’ve posted, all indicate that Bing has such a substantial edge right now – that chat GPT AI, that Google’s got a lot of catching up to do. So we’ll see where it goes. This AI space is interesting.
And to be fair, Bing is not immune to this making things up either. It is quite a concern. For all the benefits that artificial intelligence may bring us, this fabrication of information is quite a concern.
And just circling back to the SensePlayer, if anyone has some thoughts and they are using the SensePlayer, if you don’t mind the way it sounds when you speed it up, if you’re happy with it, please do let us know. We like to share people’s perspectives, positive or not, on these products.
is the email address. You can attach an audio clip to that email, or write it down.
You can also phone the listener line number in the United States: 864-60-Mosen, 864-606-6736.
It’s important to me that Living Blindfully is fully accessible. And that’s why every episode is transcribed.
Accessibility is in the very DNA of Pneuma Solutions, and it’s thanks to their sponsorship that transcriptions are possible.
Since you’re a Living Blindfully listener, I’m betting that accessibility is important to you, too. And you’ll want to lead by example.
If you want to ensure that all your slideshow presentations are fully accessible to everyone, you’ll want to check out Scribe for Meetings.
You can upload your presentation in advance to the Scribe for Meetings server. If you’re a last-minute kind of person, it can even be up to five minutes before the presentation is due to be used.
Scribe for Meetings will work its magic and turn your presentation into fully accessible HTML. All you have to do is paste the URL that Scribe for Meetings provides for you into the chat, and assistive technology users can choose that link when you run your presentation. It’ll stay in sync all the way through.
I’ve used this. And I’ve also been a beneficiary of it, following along on my Braille display when somebody’s running a presentation. It’s absolute magic.
Check out Scribe for Meetings by heading over to
That’s P-N-E-U-M-A Solutions dot com.
Living Blindfully Plus
More comments coming in on the rebranding to Living Blindfully. And also, Living Blindfully plus.
and can I first start by saying how grateful I am for the support for Living Blindfully Plus.
It makes such a difference to be able to record an interview after having researched it and set it up, and then send it off for editing (because doing that, well, takes such a long time). Time I was finding it very difficult to find in my busy schedule, so I have more energy to put into the rest of the podcast. It really makes a difference. I cannot thank people enough for their generosity in subscribing to Living Blindfully plus.
One thing I forgot to mention when I announced the new podcast name and when I have been talking about this, is that when I came up with the name Living Blindfully, I was just so delighted and stunned that it returned zero results on Google. I thought I have to register this right away.
So I jumped onto my host which is DreamHost. (You can also register domain names on DreamHost.), and I registered livingblindfully.com quick, smart, before anyone else thought of the idea. At least, I thought I had.
I was in such a hurry to get that domain secured. And when you think about it, that’s not logical, is it? Because the internet has been around a long time, and no one had thought of Living Blindfully yet.
But anyway, I wanted to grab this thing. And I was in such a hurry, that I got my confirmation back from the DreamHost registration service, and it said you have registered the domain name lovingblindfully.com
I thought, oh my goodness! This sounds like a completely different site.
It does have potential because they say that love is blind, right? So inadvertently, maybe I have stumbled on another business opportunity – lovingblindfully.com.
I think actually, I have let the domain go, though. Because I contacted DreamHost and said “Help! I just paid for a domain I did not really want.”
And they said well, because you contacted us so quickly, we can undo your stupidity.
Actually, they were very kind, and they didn’t say that. So I got my domain that I really wanted. Phew!
Claire Amoroso is writing in. She says:
With the recent announcement of the end of some disability media websites like Disability Horizons, I was concerned that talk of the future of the Mosen At Large podcast meant it was coming to an end.
I was very relieved to hear it was continuing in a new direction, and signed up to Living Blindfully plus to support it.
Thank you very much for doing that, Claire. Truly appreciate it.
Will the future merchandise include Braille?
I collect key rings. And I think a Living Blindfully key ring or USB stick would be great with Braille.
Many thanks for all you do for the blind and low vision community – providing thoughtful, respectful discussions and tech tips.
Thank you, Claire.
Good idea. I’ll have to try and get to the merch thing.
So we’ve got Living Blindfully plus rolled out now. My next priority is to get the advertising up and running, and produce the rate card, and work with advertisers on that front. And we will get to the merch. And the trick will be finding somebody who can produce that kind of Braille merch.
I love the idea. I really do so thank you for it.
David Kingsbury’s Windows Screen Reader Primer Updated
I’ve heard from David Kingsbury.
You may remember back in episode 169 of the podcast. We interviewed David about his Windows Screen Reader Primer book.
David writes very clearly. He knows his stuff. And I find it fascinating that there are plenty of tutorials and podcasts about iOS things. But just a good walkthrough Windows, that’s harder to find. And that is a niche that David is filling.
His second edition of The Windows Screen Reader Primer is out now, and it’s been updated with changes in Windows 11 and various other expansions that have been suggested by readers.
The easiest way perhaps would be to search for “Windows Screen Reader Primer” in your search engine of choice, and it will come up. But I will also provide a link to a direct download of this book in the show notes for this episode, so you can grab it there.
You just head over to
and you’ll find a link to the Windows Screen Reader Primer in the show notes.
Praise for the ProtoArc XK01 Folding keyboard
Rebecca Skipper is back in charge. She says:
“I purchased the mini-Windows computer as recommended by the Notey Project.
I wanted a portable keyboard, but didn’t want to give up the insert key.
I bought the ProtoArc (and that’s all one word, Proto and then Arc with a capital A), XK01 folding wireless portable keyboard with numeric keypad.
There is an Amazon link for this. I’ll do my best to remember to put this in the show notes.
“Hopefully, it is sold in other markets outside the US.”, says Rebecca.
Sadly, the manual is inaccessible.
Design-wise, the keyboard reminds me of the iClever foldable keyboard.
Oh, yes. I’ve got one of those. They folded out, and they had a cool little hinge thing. They were quite nice keyboards.
It charges via USB-C, and it automatically turns on when opened.
It can connect up to 3 devices. Press one of the Bluetooth buttons to begin the pairing process.
This was the most challenging part of the setup for me. I believe the Bluetooth buttons are just above the numpad.
Yes, this keyboard actually has an insert key. Though the keys are squishy and close together. The six pack of keys are to the left of the left arrow, and are laid out vertically with the print screen key being the last key as you move up the rows.
This will not be my primary keyboard, but it would be good for travelling.
Thanks very much for that, Rebecca. That’s a good review.
Various Tech Topics Including Optima
Sabahattin has thoughts on various things.
This Optima sounds interesting, particularly the part where you can customize the type of machine you have, and recognizing developers as an audience. That’s great news.
I have the LBraille. And I agree with you that while the concept was novel, the execution was far below the expected standard. It’s a great shame, particularly given the limited hardware specs.
I appreciate that Windows Note Taker was never going to be an easy problem to solve, but it is one in desperate need of solving.
The really interesting question will be on how Optima solves the firmware accessibility issue. With LBraille, you basically had to hook a monitor up if you wanted to use the Intel Compute Card’s firmware interface to boot from another device or change any setting with sighted help.
It seems to me that will be the real challenge, together with hardware whose drivers and update processes leave us in perilous no speech or Braille available situations, with the crummy system tray applets. But yes, I love the idea.
It is not to say that I would not appreciate a more traditional Braille-first note taker with more custom software that is preferably open source and user replaceable. Ideally, even based on Linux or another simple operating system, so that many essentially text-to-speech tasks could be done effectively in the spirit of past note takers from Blazie or Humanware.
I still cherish (and especially while on holiday) use my BrailleNote Apex, but I do think having access to Windows is inevitable for an all-in-one device. There’s just nothing to match it for broad access to software and efficient keyboard usage.
And speaking of the LBraille, I’m so pleased to hear that I’m not the only one with issues with the Focus 5. Not much to add, but I’m getting just a bit tired of sending this back for this or that stuck dot to be sorted out by replacement of the entire cell assembly. And all after the warranty period is up at cost.
I’m not careless. I always use clean hands and I’m always conscious when my dear Tab is on my desk, which she very frequently is.
I presume this is a cat, but who am I to judge? [laughs]
It’s not a sin to say that the previous generation was simply superior in all important respects to the current, and I say, we should.
It’s getting embarrassing, looking forward to putting what is supposed to be my backup display back on my desk because it works, while sending the newer one off for yet another repair.
The other thing I notice is that the Focus 4 is rock solid.
No matter how many times my phone is locked and unlocked, or my Mac tickles the USB port during a software update check, the Focus 5 will frequently lock up, lose access to USB and/or Bluetooth in strange and unpredictable ways entirely, and require me to forcibly disconnect it and turn it off and on again. Absurd!
One thing about using another display that probably isn’t apparent to many of us yet, though, JAWS only provides drivers for Focus displays in the box with the ARM version of JAWS. So if you are using an ARM-powered Windows machine or a Mac with Apple Silicon running a Windows VM, you’ll want to bear that in mind.
Still, yes, Humanware is once again on the brain for my next display.
I do like the sound of the Mantis, but I’m also very fond of Perkins-style input, particularly when I’m on Linux where that works very well on the Focus just in front of my DAS tactile keyboard. So I’m thinking about the Brailliant line, too.
It may astonish you to learn that I am no longer using Apple Podcasts. though that may change.
I stress “may” because I really am falling in love with Downcast” all over again.
It is not without its flaws, certainly, particularly in the iCloud syncing department. You really need to goose-step to ensure your content and play positions sync, but it’s a power tool that I enjoy using very much.
It’s clean, there’s no subscription, and it gives me exactly what I want in a podcatcher. Also, the author actually responds to email, and has recently fixed a syncing bug of all things, perhaps even in response to my queries.
You say that you might be stuck for choice? Well, give Downcast another go.
It’s not Castro, no. But you can sort of do what you want by partially playing podcasts and then making a smart list of all partially played episodes. And there is a convenient way to mark all episodes in a podcast as played. It might work for you.
Yeah, but this is me talking now.
What I want to know, Sabahattin, is why did you desert Apple Podcasts, eh? Why did you do that?
Anyway, I’ll continue with the email.
“Now you might be wondering why I deserted Apple Podcasts in the first place, like the infidel that I am.”
Oh, that’s scary. You must be reading my mind.
“Well, simple.”, he says.
The episode filter control was inaccessible to voiceover. No idea why, but it was.
This means, for those not familiar, that there was no way to access the multiple seasons in a multiple-season podcast in the Apple directory. Because in Apple’s app, they are essentially distinct views on the same podcast feed, which is unlike most other players that just sort the feed appropriately.
Naturally, just as soon as I’d moved everything over, … (not easy because Apple makes it very hard to export your podcast list) and I have several paid podcasts, Apple goes and releases iOS 16.4. and what do you know? It has a nice new podcast app which fixes the issue entirely.
If I really want to, I can go back.
Strange to say, apart from the Siri integration for listening to any podcast in the directory and playing news bulletins, which yes, I do value and so I leave the app installed. But empty, there really isn’t a very compelling reason to go back.
In practice, I almost never use anything but my phones to listen. So perhaps this is a good thing to happen after all.
It’s not the best news for advocates of Apple’s accessibility, despite the fact that in this instance, they actually did fix it, albeit completely accidentally. But in this case, choice means there’s a way out if they break it again.
I did evaluate Downcast, Sabahattin, when I was looking for another podcatcher after the iOS 16 Castro debacle, and I tried it again.
I’ve had Downcast for a long time, and I didn’t want to continue with it. I can’t remember why. I may have said in my little mini review that I did some episodes ago when I was looking at this.
But I fully agree with you that the author of the app is very responsive.
Let’s go back to Sabahattin’s email. And he says:
Chris’s mentioning of the web player
This is certainly good news and hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s in line with Apple’s move away from iTunes on Windows.
Of course it is very basic, no syncing of playback position or subscriptions. But it might very well be the simplest way to listen on Windows.
Then again, I’ll shed a few tears if Apple Podcasts does destroy the indie podcast app scene along with all the other titans. They don’t care about sovereignty. They just want everyone to have a great experience, all tied to the platform account.
But no, thinking along these lines is already making me sad, so I’ll stop.
Abby Taylor says she thinks there’s a way to send big files using your iPhone.
There is. It’s called mail drop, and it’s an unsung feature of having an iCloud account, whether or not you use iCloud Mail. It’s on Mac too.
You’ll get 1TB a month of storage on Apple’s servers, with a limit of 5GB per attachment. Absolutely free!
It doesn’t even occupy your iCloud drive storage space, of which by default you only get a measly 5GB.
Just send your file. And if the feature is on and if the attachment is too big to squeeze through your SMTP server, it will offer to chuck it up onto Apple’s servers and put a link to the file into your message.
It’s completely transparent to other Apple device users. Really really nice.
AdGuard for iOS was very good when I last used it, and free too.
I moved to Roadblock, which is free for the basic ad blocker, but has a one-time payment for the advanced functionality. That functionality is useful to me.
I can write custom rules that aggressively filter by default, leaving me with a very fast loading web, requiring an allow list to make websites that I actually use, as opposed to just reading the articles, which would otherwise break completely.
Together with the Safari and Lear in-app reader view, AirPods Pro, and voice control, it’s actually possible for me to catch up with the news hands-free when the need arises.
And that’s my answer to the ethical question.
You run ads, and make sure that the experience of content consumption is actively hostile to your readers. Of course, you want to get paid, but the solution to that is to go get paid. Yes, we really must solve the micropayment problem instead of finding self-serving excuses to duck the issue. I’d be fully supportive of that.
Website publishers need to be honest about their reasons for reaching for their ads, and the monstrous privacy violations, security issues, and horrible user experience regressions they cause.
Finally, how do you get through all those books, podcasts, and audiobooks?
I remember the original Bookport with fondness. And it reminds me that I now listen to audiobooks more often than not, chiefly for the reasons others do, i.e. the convenience of listening hands-free, or the minimal control from my AirPods.
But why should that be? TTS is perfectly listenable, and text is much more compressible than audio. Surely, I ought to prefer reading books.
How do you do it, and do you have a preference for cranking up your audio while listening to podcasts, books, and audiobooks, too? How do you navigate or review previous material?
I certainly have plenty of reading wants doing, but somehow it isn’t getting done, and I really want to change that.
I’m perhaps, sadly for me, heavily steeped in Apple’s iBooks, which thankfully is no longer broken, but it’s never been as easy as I’d like to speed-read since the loss of that speak screen feature while the screen is locked, at least not very reliably.
Something like VoiceStream would be ideal, if only DRM weren’t an obstacle.
Your and others thoughts on this would be handy.
Love the podcast as ever.
Thank you so much for another great email.
To answer your question about content, I tend to use text to speech.
I very seldom read audiobooks anymore – and it’s interesting I used to. But I’ve just moved away from them, and I find that audiobooks have increasingly become performances rather than reading the book. I’m not a fan.
I mean, if I want to download a drama, I’ll download a drama. If I want to read a book, I’d like to read a book.
So when I’m not using Braille and I want to do things hands-free, I just use Apple Books or Kindle, (wherever I’ve got the book from), and read it on my iPhone with text to speech cranked up reasonably fast. I find that my brain doesn’t mind that. I’m totally used to text to speech, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
Every so often, Bonnie reads a book that I’m reading, and she takes a lot longer because she listens to the audio, and she convinces me that the audible performance or whatever of this book is just so good that I have to hear it.
An example of this was the book To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, which we both really liked. And I read it first in text-to-speech, and she got the audible book. And she was just going on and on about it so much I had to listen to it.
But typically, I don’t do audio books anymore.
I do often take notes, particularly with nonfiction books, where it’s teaching me something interesting. And I find that if I’m truly concentrating on the book, sitting there with my Mantis in note taker mode while I have my phone there reading the book, I take those notes, and it just focuses me and helps me retain what I’m reading.
I very seldom speed books up. Now, I do occasionally with audio, but not often.
And I almost never speed up podcasts. If I’m going through news or something like that, then I might do it if I’m really at a time crunch. But I find that I want to truly hear the nuance of a speaker.
I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on this. Do you speed your audio up when you’re reading audio books? And do you feel that that in any way affects your ability to enjoy the book? If the book is being particularly well-narrated, does speeding it up not spoil that experience for you? Or has your brain just become so adapted that you don’t even notice it? As far as you are concerned, the narration, the performance is still perfectly adequate.
And how often do you speed up the podcast? Do you speed up this podcast? Probably, given that it tends to be about two hours long every week.
Voiceover: On Living Blindfully, we hear the opinions of blind people from all over the world.
So why not share yours?
Drop us an email. You can write it down, or attach an audio recording.
Email us today.
Or if the phone is more your thing, phone our listener line in the United States: 864-60Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.
Author Adrian Spratt Discusses His Book Caroline, and Debates Ableist Language
Jonathan: All the way back in episode 142, I spoke with Leona Godin, who is author of a book called “There Plant Eyes”, which is a fascinating look at the way that blindness has been perceived over the years in literature and culture.
Now, during that discussion, Leona discussed a number of talented disability writers out there who need to be amplified, and the need for blindness to be portrayed as a part of a character’s life. There’s no need to make every book with a blind character all about their blindness.
And today I’m speaking with someone who has fulfilled both objectives.
Adrian Spratt has written a novel called “Caroline”, where the protagonist, Nick Coleman, is a blind lawyer. And we’re going to talk about “Caroline” the book, “Caroline” the person, no doubt, and other things as well.
Adrian, it’s great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much.
Adrian: The pleasure’s mine. Thank you.
Jonathan: I really enjoyed “Caroline”. And you wrote to me a long time ago, and I kind of marked this for part of my summer reading, so I’m glad I got to it.
You’ve gone and done what many people dream of doing, but talk themselves out of a lot of the time for various reasons. You chose to follow your dream.
Why did you leave the law and decide to write a novel?
Adrian: Well, let me clarify one thing. I actually haven’t left the law as such. I’m not actively practicing, but I remain a lawyer.
Adrian: And I use my license for various things.
I remember going to the office day after day, doing a job that I actually enjoyed a great deal. I used to run the New York State Attorney General’s Mediation Program. I liked the staff. I was responsible for hiring almost all of them. I liked my colleagues. I liked the people who were in the office.
But after any number of years, I began to feel that I was repeating myself over and over again, and not really progressing for myself.
Meanwhile, I’d always had the ambition to write. I wrote a poem when I was nine years old that I was in England. My headmistress published in the summer school to my surprise, and I think she helped a lot of my ambition. But it’s always been there. And I’m really, really glad that I had the wherewithal to say, “Time to take a chance and move up.”
Jonathan: I love reading, and I decided not to be an English major when I went to university because I kind of didn’t like the dissection of novels. You know, what did the author mean? What’s the underlying message? [laughs]
Jonathan: I just enjoy reading it at face value. So I’m a voracious reader, but not an English major.
Nevertheless, here I go with this line of questioning.
So in terms of the way that you’ve portrayed Nick, did you write the novel with a particular objective, or a message that you wanted to send to readers about blind people or blindness?
Adrian: Let me answer indirectly first. I wanted the book to be mainstream. Everything I do, I intend to be mainstream – even if I’m writing about an issue affecting blind people.
At the same time, I did want one of the characters, at least, to be blind. Most of my fiction has at least one blind character somewhere there. Not all of it, but most of it.
And so the message, to answer your question, the purpose in having Nick there is to show a blind person operating in mainstream society, how he functions, his misgivings, his anxieties, how the people around him react to him, his insecurities about his job, his sometimes successes, and his relationships, in this case, with women, obviously, the one who is the focus of the novel, Caroline.
I want people to be able… Well, let’s put it this way. I want people in the mainstream to see a blind person functioning more or less as any other person. I want blind people to have something of a similar experience, a blind person who isn’t perfect by any means, who doesn’t get everything right, has things that will bother people about him, but also has things I think people could also appreciate about him. A complicated person, I hope, as I think most of us are.
Jonathan: There are some people who are attracted to blind people or disabled people in general because of a propensity to be very caring and nurturing. And I was wondering when I read about the two women that stand out in the book for me. the first one is in the prologue, which is set almost in the present when Nick is so much older and more settled, and then Caroline herself.
What do you think attracted those women to just start talking with Nick out of the blue?
Adrian: Let’s see.
I can’t deny the point that you make – that some women are drawn to disabled people out of a desire to understand, perhaps to help.
In the case of Caroline, you recall, they make their acquaintance when she offers to help them leave the classroom, and then they go up together, and he leaves her at his subway station, and she goes on to her apartment.
This is not gonna be really credible, but I haven’t given that a whole lot of thought. I feel as though people are attracted to each other for reasons that are not always apparent even to the person. So I do think blind people present a challenge to a certain kind of personality.
Now, here’s someone who ostensibly has a disadvantage, but he’s walking through the streets on his own with a cane, or could have been a dog, and I don’t know anything about someone like him. I’ve never met a blind person. Or if I have, it’s only been tangential. It’s just been a casual acquaintance. I’d like to get over that. I’d like to find out what’s on the other side of that question.
Who is this person? What does his disability represent, if anything? Or if it doesn’t represent anything, am I gonna learn something just from finding that out and finding that this is just an ordinary person?
Jonathan: You’ve chosen to weave a bit of your own story into Caroline.
You were a lawyer; Nick is a lawyer. (Or you still are a lawyer).
Jonathan: Both you and Nick experience blindness in their teens.
Is the story of the relationship between Nick and Caroline in any way biographical?
Adrian: I, I want to say no. I have borrowed all sorts of incidents from different parts of my life, in the same way that I develop a character. And I may have somebody in the back of my mind who comes to me as I’m writing a scene, and maybe that person starts the first sentence, but then that character takes over in my head. They become someone different, somewhat different.
And it’s the same with the storyline. I sort of knew where the novel was going at the end. I obviously had an idea at the beginning, but it’s all pieced together, if I can answer it that way.
Jonathan: I have to say I was quite upset about it ending the way that it did, and I can’t really say much more because I don’t want to spoil the book for those who haven’t read it yet, but it was very impactful.
When I read the book, I found myself wondering whether it might have been better to set the novel in the present day so that Nick would have access to today’s technology. And I say that because I know that many sighted people still don’t realize or believe that it’s even possible for a blind person to use computers and smartphones. So there may have been perhaps some benefit in opening people’s eyes, for want of a better term, to that.
Did you give that consideration?
Adrian: It’s certainly a fair question. You’ll have noticed, Jonathan, that I have a few places there where I refer to cloud technology.
Adrian: One of the advantages of the prologue is it’s written in present day. And it enabled me to have this character, Nick. It’s written from his point of view, the entire novel. It enables me to have him, from time to time, look forward.
So there’s a story within the novel, an entire story that he wrote at the time. But later on, he transfers it to his computer so he can edit more. So I do make allusions to cloud technology. But that only doesn’t really answer your question.
I left the office 20 years ago, and I’ve been working mostly on my own ever since. So that all the life of New York that I knew back in the ’80s and in time before then, (the novel is set in the ’80s), I’m not sure that I can resurrect that degree of variety in the present-day context.
I can do it in short stories. I’m not sure I can do it in a novel.
So I’m afraid it’s my own limitation – my limited experience that’s put me in this position of writing back then.
Jonathan: You talk about writing for a mainstream audience. And I’ve always thought, because I like trying new things and keeping the brain active, it would be fun to have a crack at fiction.
But one of the things I think about a lot as a congenitally blind person who has never seen a thing is I’m not sure that I have it in me to describe scenes in a way that would resonate with a sighted audience.
I presume the fact that you have some visual memory assists there.
Adrian: It does, Jonathan. But I think you raise a really important question, which goes back to the point you’ve been making about pride in blindness.
You may recall in the novel, there’s a whole chapter of a class discussion. and when I tried to show in this novel just how necessary it was for Nick in his attempt to write his own story, (again, there’s a story within the novel here). So he is also a writer. He’s relying on his experience of vision to create imagery in his story.
There’s a reference near the beginning to the city lights in the winter promising something more than despair that winter can sometimes bring on. At the same time, there are scenes where he’s extremely frustrated that there are all these people around him, his parents and Caroline at one point, talking about what’s going on outside the windows, which he obviously can’t participate in directly, and he gets frustrated.
So his past vision, for me, enabled me to write the novel in a way that I thought might be more comfortable for sighted readers.
It does make me wonder about people who are congenitally blind. And that’s a battle I not only don’t have to fight. I don’t think I could.
I think that’s a struggle with how to write fiction for a mainstream audience that a congenitally blind person would have to fight. That is, I think, an invisible difference between people who have seen and people who haven’t. But I’d be curious about your point of view on that.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s something that I contemplate.
I thought that as a blind person reading the book, you painted some word pictures that I think were very helpful to a blind person. For example, you can tell by the sound of somebody walking often how they’re dressed, that kind of thing.
And for me, it was so unusual to find those sorts of references in a novel that resonated with my worldview. It was quite refreshing in that regard.
Adrian: Yeah, I’m glad. I’m very glad to hear that.
I cared very much about getting across those experiences. I also tried a few little hints here and there.
I don’t know if you remember this, but Nick and his friend Jack are talking in Nick’s office. Jack is across the desk from Nick, and they’ve just had lunch.
So Jack stands up, closes up his bag, and then he tosses it at the garbage can and claims some sort of basketball score – a three-pointer or something.
Jonathan: Yes. [laughs]
Adrian: So Nick stares on his chair which has wheels. He wheels over to the garbage can, and he drops his bag in the garbage can.
He says, “You know, maybe not as glamorous, but the same result.”
Jonathan: [laughs] That’s the fun part.
I was also impressed that…
Often, what I find is that authors lead us to a view of a character. You know that in the author’s mind, a character is inherently good, or one of the evil ones.
And what I thought was interesting about Nick, particularly within that story and the story that you are talking about regarding the painting of the picture – I thought that you left it to the reader to decide if Nick had a chip on his shoulder or not, and you tried to paint both sides on that.
Adrian: Yes. Agreed, I did. Because to me, it’s an open question.
Adrian: I think there’s so many open questions in anybody’s life, but certainly in the lives of blind people.
I can’t make up my mind, even my own mind as the author, whether Nick’s response was right or wrong. Was he right to assert himself that he didn’t want to be represented in a certain way? Or should he have honored the code that the artist must create, must be free to create, have free expression? I don’t have an answer for that.
Jonathan: It did remind me in some respects of an experience I had when I was about 16 years old, and I topped the country in a national exam for history.
And I guess they were looking for angles. So the newspaper came out and did a story on this. And when it came to taking the picture, they said, “We want you to put these dark sunglasses on.”
And even as a 16-year-old, I was still precocious. And I said to them, “I’m not going to do that because I’m not normally seen that way. I want blind people to be respected and seen for the way that we are. And you either take the picture with my eyes looking the way they are, or we don’t do the picture.”
Adrian: Wow! And you’re 16 years old?
Adrian: That’s impressive.
Jonathan: Well, yeah. [laughs]
Adrian: No, it sounds as though I’m joking. I’m not.
I think it’s very difficult to know how far to go to assert oneself. But you knew at that point what you were willing and not willing to do.
Jonathan: Yes, yeah.
Have you received much reader or reviewer feedback about the way that blindness is depicted in the story?
Adrian: Yes I have, in a variety of ways.
I want to say the most gratifying for me, (and you may not agree with this), the most gratifying for me is that sighted readers, – several have said that they begin the novel aware of Nick’s blindness. But the more they read, the more they don’t notice it.
Now, it’s not that I’ve hidden anything. You know, I still have him having to take the best, you know, let’s say precautions, the extra steps, whatever it might be, to accomplish certain things. But they seem to fall into the character’s mind and they’re comfortable with it. That to me is very gratifying.
On the other hand, I’ve had some very negative reactions from blind people.
There’s one man who I respect a lot who has his own radio show, (a modest one), who told readers, “It’s a very good novel, but it would discourage anyone who has psychological problems or anyone who is blind from reading it, because it could be upsetting.”
Jonathan: In what way?
Adrian: I’m not clear.
There was one particular reader group. I’m saying reader group. I wasn’t invited to this session.
One of their programs, (I think on ACB. There’s been more than one.). But in one in particular, they discussed the novel “Caroline” at one of the meetings
I listened in, even though I wasn’t a participant. And the hostility for the first half hour was really striking.
Some felt that it didn’t represent their experience.
Some (there was a whole argument about the super blink) felt that Nick was a super blink, and therefore, not real, which I think, goes to the insecurities that a lot of blind people have. I think, I would say I myself used to have, certainly for a few years after I lost my vision.
And then someone chimed in and said something very positive, and the entire tone of that conversation changed.
But the reaction from blind people has been extreme on both ends, both sides. And not so much with sighted people.
So unfortunately, my publisher gave away free copies to people who would agree to post reviews, but they had to say whatever they felt like. I have no problem with that as such, but they were not the ideal audience. Many of them couldn’t finish it. Many of them got bored. It was just clearly not a novel for them. But I don’t know how much that had to do with blindness, or just this is not the kind of fiction they like to read.
Jonathan: Yes, I was talking to Bonnie about this who’s reading it with me. She reads much slower than me. So I finished it, and she hasn’t yet.
I said to her initially, “I wonder where this is going.”, ’cause it’s not like a rollicking murder mystery or anything like that.
I was going to say it’s a gentle read, but that’s not the right term because the subject matter…
I can understand and reflect on the comment about psychological damage, because it deals with some very painful subjects, particularly towards the end of the book. And I can understand why for some people with certain experiences, that could be quite triggering.
Bonnie said to me, “This is literary fiction.”.
I said, “Is there any other kind?”
[laughs] And she thought I was a complete heathen for not understanding what literary fiction is.
Jonathan: I think it’s a little sad that people think that somebody just getting on with their life, having the ability to go to work and form relationships, and study things in their spare time constitutes being a super blink. It’s a pejorative term, I think, that tries to put blind people in their place.
Adrian: Can I just, first of all, say that that discussion you and Bonnie had is a real one?
She’s right. I’d like to think of this as literary fiction. But what literary fiction is, who can say?
Jonathan: [laughs] Yeah.
Adrian: It doesn’t fit the normal genres, and it wasn’t intended to. In fact, I was always concerned that that might make it difficult to get it out there.
In terms of the super blink issue, I can go to my own experience (and this, I’ve written about in my own unpublished memoir).
Do you know the book, “To Catch an Angel” by Robert Russell?
Adrian: Okay. I can’t be sure when it came out, probably the 50s, 60s.
I lost my vision in 1968.
I can make this a long story because we also moved from England to the States at the same time. So I was losing my vision, and I was losing my home country at the same moment. And I’ve sometimes thought about the parallels there, and the differences.
But putting that aside, my mother was recommended by somebody or other to read “To Catch an Angel” to me. Now, this is a memoir by a man who was tremendously successful. He got a degree in English from college at a time when it was fairly hard for any blind person to do well in college.
He then went on to Oxford, got a degree there, came back to the States and taught at a college in Pennsylvania for, I think, most of his life. He would do things like get around a city without a cane, without a dog.
And I was so intimidated. As someone who was in the process of losing his vision, I didn’t think I would ever be able to cope. I was upset about it. My poor mother was crying. Throughout the whole experience, it was just a miserable set of afternoons as we went through that book.
I’ve read it since, by the way, and it’s an admirable book.
But as someone who was at the early stages who found the whole prospect rather daunting, well, let me put it this way. It has enabled me to understand how certain people would react angrily to the notion of a super blink.
I’m past that, but I understand it.
Jonathan: This is something I struggle with, even on this podcast, because I’m aware that there’s such a wide variety of experience in the blindness world and opportunities that we’ve all had. And I know that some of the blind pride stuff that we discuss from time to time really does great with people, particularly who have become blind later in life, and for whom it’s been an incredible disruption, and remains so.
And I think some of it’s the way we respond to crises, and that varies from individual to individual. A lot of it is to do with the training and opportunity that we’re offered. But it is a very challenging area.
You can’t really, I suppose, represent a single worldview of blindness because there isn’t one.
Adrian: I think that’s absolutely right. That crossed my mind as I read the transcript of you and Leona talking there.
I think because there are so few blind people in the mainstream, (and obviously, many more today than there were when I was young). But because there are so few, each of us, to some degree, carries the burden of, I represent blind people. If I walk down the street and I don’t mess up and I look confident and I say hi to people as they’re passing, I’m doing a service for all blind people. If I go down the street and I’m struggling and I get annoyed with somebody because they try to help me, (which one woman in my neighborhood used to do), I’m not doing blind people a service. I’m doing them a real disservice.
I think there is this temptation for us to take on the burden of all blind people as we go through our public lives. Not all the time, but once in a while it crosses my mind that I’m doing that.
I think maybe this analogy that I was referring to earlier, by having moved from England to America at the same time, I was only 13, so I could make the adjustment in both cases, and I think I’ve done so for the most part.
Now, it doesn’t mean I don’t miss England, because I do. But if I go back to England, I miss America.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss vision, because there are certain things about vision that I do miss.
On the other hand, knowing that I could, and meaning that anyone could, overcome what seems like such a trauma to the rest of the world, and lead a fulfilling life, which I have, is tremendously rewarding. I would have never thought it, if I’ve lost the benefits of vision, but gained that insight. That’s tremendous.
Jonathan: You’ve made a couple of references, and I’ve seen a couple on your website as well, to the need for blind people to be visible in the “mainstream”. It’s an interesting term to use.
I’ve also been talking to somebody recently for the podcast, who makes the observation that more blind people need to be involved in the rehabilitation and training of other blind people, because mentorship is inspiring.
If you don’t do that, then effectively, you have people who have second-hand experience of blindness making the decisions and providing the training because the only way that they can know anything about blindness is to study us. So why not take out the middle person?
So, a bit of both might be required, do you think?
Adrian: Yes, I do.
Now, keep in mind that as a lawyer, my time was fully occupied. I was working longer hours than my colleagues, because it does take longer to do certain things when you don’t have vision.
But the way I tried to contribute in that regard was, my name was available as a resource for people who wanted to contact someone. Let’s say newly blind people, or just blind people in general wanted to contact somebody who was operating in a certain field.
So, I had people call me, get in touch with me. There were times when I was able to act as a kind of a mentor, to use that word.
One of my classmates in law school lost her vision 12 or 13 years ago, and she and I were in constant contact for a long time as she went through that process.
She came up from Maryland, spent one summer, just spent one weekend here. And I taught her JAWS as much as I could. I also arranged a mobility session for her. That got her started with orientation back down in Maryland.
And then as the summer went on, her vision got to the point where she just couldn’t function at the office.
She came back. We did three days intensive JAWS.
She went back down to Maryland, and that week in her office, she was using JAWS.
So in a very modest way, I have tried to bridge that gap a little bit. I agree with you that it’s very important to do so.
Jonathan: This segues us nicely really, into another topic, which you wrote to me about quite some time ago. And that regards ableist language.
We obviously have quite different views on this.
I would maintain that one of the barriers that is preventing blind people from taking a rightful place in the mainstream, and one of the things that is causing such high unemployment, is the constant bombardment that people are subjected to that equates blindness with ignorance, stupidity, and incompetence. And the short way of saying that is ableist language. You have a different view.
Adrian: Yes. But let me point out, Jonathan. I do respect your point of view. And I’ll even allow that you may well be right, and I could be wrong.
Speaking for myself, I think it’s more likely that what you’re saying is true. And what I think is also true, even though they’re contradictory.
My feeling is that if people are afraid to speak because they’re worried they’re going to use the wrong word, (and I encounter that all the time. I’m sure you have), they’re not going to get over the hump of how do I communicate with this blind person? How do I become comfortable with this blind person?
If every time I open my mouth, I’m going to say something that’s going to upset him, or it’s going to trigger some sort of, let’s say, ableist alarm, I don’t know how much I want to do with him. It’s too much. I’ve got other things to deal with.
Just to elaborate a little bit on that. I’m having a real fight with my alma mater, (as we call it in this country), the college I went to, Amherst, which I’m very proud of.
It’s funny I use that word proud. I was going to avoid using it. [laughs]
Adrian: Anyway, I feel very fortunate that I got into Amherst, that I got the education they gave me. The degree matters a lot.
They were not going to admit me initially because of my blindness.
They’d had experiences, felt I was a bad one with a previous blind person, who, by the way, went on to have a terrific law career. I’m not sure how much stock to put into that. But they were not happy about their experience.
They took me on anyway, once I was able to convince them I had resources back in Connecticut, where my family lived, other resources.
The Conners completely backed me up. They were great. They gave me a room at the library where I had a constant stream of readers – sometimes with me there, sometimes they were in my tape recorder, so I could listen afterwards at a faster speed. All sorts of people helped and made my experience great.
After me, they took on several blind people. So that obstacle seemed to have been overcome.
A year and a half ago, I tried to participate in a virtual reunion.
One of my friends was giving a talk, and I wanted to be there to give him support. Not that he really needed support. There were lots of other people who cared about it, but I certainly did.
Anyway, I couldn’t get access to it. The third-party vendor the Conners used had made it inaccessible. They were fired about it in the sense that they immediately got rid of the third-party vendor.
They acknowledged the problem. But it made me concerned that if they hadn’t figured out in advance that they had an inaccessible portal in place, what is it like for a blind student there? So I asked them what services they provide blind students.
They told me, “27% of our college uses our accessibility services, but we don’t break it down by disability.”
I said, “But every disability has its own accommodation requirements. How about this? How many blind and other physically handicapped students have you had in the past, let’s say, 10 years? I don’t want any personal information. I don’t want anything to compromise their privacy. Just how many have you had?”
“Well, we can’t give you that number.”
“It will violate their privacy.”
I said, “Are you saying that if you give me a number, that number has a right to privacy? A statistic has a right to privacy?”
I never got an answer to that question.
Jonathan: Classic obfuscation, isn’t it?
Adrian: Yeah, it is.
My own instinct, and I could be wrong, as I said at the beginning of this long, tedious answer. My own instinct is they’re so afraid of talking openly about disabled people, of any disability, that if we tell them, “No, you can’t use this word. You shouldn’t use that word. It’s discriminatory. It hurts. It has an impact.”, it’s just going to make things worse rather than better. That’s my instinct.
Jonathan: Is that not where we’re already at, though? One of the things that concerns me greatly is that people are now tiptoeing all around the word “blind”.
Jonathan: And they go to all sorts of convoluted hoops to try and avoid using the word “blind”.
And the reason for that is that we have allowed sighted people to hijack the word “blind” to mean completely different things, to the point that they know that when they use the word “blind”, they mean something offensive.
What you are concerned about has actually already come to pass.
Adrian: Honestly, Jonathan, I love the way you speak. The word “hijack” there is a loaded word.
Adrian: Because if I think historically… Now, I know you have a different perspective on this, too. But as I think about it historically, blind people were really at a disadvantage.
There wasn’t, let’s say, the science of cane travel. I’m sure some people figured out, “Yeah, if I use a stick, I can put it in front of me”. But as you know, there’s a certain discipline to traveling with a cane.
And then there was no technology. They had to rely on readers. Readers read at a much slower pace than people read looking at books.
Writing was a problem for them. They couldn’t edit, and so on and so forth.
So the concept of blindness is actually pretty scary. I’d almost argue that the hijacking was in reverse.
Once cane travel became viable, guide dogs… Once more and more blind people took on professional lives or got careers in other ways, we made blindness something not quite so negative.
And then technology came on. (And you’re the exponent on this.) And the whole world opened up. Things that I could never have done in my childhood, in my 20s even, my early 30s, I can now do because of technology.
I feel as though the reverse has happened. Now, does that mean that the negative associations of blindness have gone? No, it doesn’t.
I remember when I was losing my vision. Going back to when I was 13, I have a very specific memory.
We were living in the house, colleagues of my father’s. They were in Japan. They rented their house to us while we were looking for a house of our own.
I remember walking down the driveway. And at that time, I could distinguish the birds. I could distinguish where the driveway ended and the grass (it wasn’t really grass, but whatever it was) began.
So I had to follow that line down to the mailbox (because I told mom I’d go and get the mail). And then, I could see the mailbox, and I could go up to it. I could put my hand in there, get the mail, and then I could walk back following that line.
I remember saying to myself, “I know blindness is a frightening concept to people. I am not going to be afraid to use the word ‘blind’.”
But then I got into junior high school, eighth grade and high school, and people used all sorts of words to avoid saying the word “blind”.
For instance, if everyone was talking about watching a TV program, someone would turn to me and say, “Well, in your case, listen to a TV program”.
Adrian: So the verbs changed, and it was very uncomfortable for me because I felt on the outside.
And I know that you, at least I believe, you advocate the word “sightless”.
For me, ‘sightless’ is such an obvious avoidance of the word “blind”. I’m troubled by that as much as I am blind.
I don’t think there is a good word for this right now. That’s my only conclusion.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’m a strong proponent of the word “blind”.
Jonathan: I actually have some concern about sighted people in the blindness community starting to use the term “people with sight loss” as an all-encompassing thing, because I’ve never lost sight.
Adrian: Yeah, you’ve never lost sight.
Jonathan: I’m a big fan of the word “blind”. And the point I’m really making is that blind people need to take control back of the word.
We were, for centuries, denied education because we were considered too stupid to bother with. We were denied opportunity. And largely, blind people have made those things happen.
If it weren’t for Louis Braille, himself a blind person, we would be in a very different predicament. So many times, blind people have actually advanced our own cause.
And I do wonder why it’s different, why you would oppose saying, “Look, stop using the word ‘blind’ to mean stupid, ignorant, incompetent”, because it filters through. It creates subconscious bias, and we suffer from that subconscious bias when we’re in front of a job interviewer who’s been exposed to a lifetime of that negative imagery.
Other minorities have realized this. I mean, there are certain words that were in common usage in the 1960s in the United States, and I’m sure you know the sorts of words I’m referring to.
You would just be totally ostracized if you tried to use any of those words today, and rightly so. And the reason why that is the case is because the minority concerned has demanded the respect that is their due. So I do wonder why blind people are not worthy of equal consideration.
Adrian: Jonathan, first of all, let me just say you make a very powerful argument there. And I don’t want to disagree with it. I want to speak about it only in a different way.
I think anybody who confronts you, if anybody interviewed you,… (it’s not fair to make this personal).
But a lot of blind people, when they go for an interview, they overcome that prejudice right away simply by the way they talk, the way they act, the way they handle people, tell them what they need, what they don’t need. They do it in a good diplomatic way.
All the ways that blind people manage society, manage their lives, I think is what disproves the negatives about the concept of blindness.
Jonathan: I do want to interrupt there and say that I don’t think that that’s the case. I think what happens is that the super blink thing comes into play there. They decide that the person that they’re talking with is the exception.
And I’ve had this myself. I went to talk to a group of parents quite some time ago, when I was involved in the blindness agency here. I thought that it went really well.
I talked about setting correct expectations for their kids, for letting them scrape their knees and get out there and do all the things that kids do.
And I found out later that when I left that talk, a sighted professional got up and said, “You can’t expect your child to achieve what Jonathan has achieved because he’s a super blind”.
So in a way, I think that attitude, if I may say, is a little bit selfish because it doesn’t deal with the systemic problem where some blind people who are less able to advocate for themselves are going to make no progress at all with that mindset.
Adrian: Okay. Look, it’s a fair point. But let me approach this from a different angle.
You talked about other groups who have managed to affect the way people talk. We used to say homosexual. Now, we kind of avoid that word. We say gay, and I think that’s right.
Now, I was someone who initially resisted that. So I am coming from that point of view of resisting words that are imposed on us, as opposed to coming in through custom.
And I think the argument against me lies right there. But let me go a bit further anyway.
By the way, my objection to gay was just simply that it seemed like overly cheerful and not really, you know, you get my gist.
The prejudice that disabled people experience, specifically blind people, doesn’t necessarily (and we can argue about this too), but it doesn’t come from hostility.
Antioch minorities, the prejudice against them comes from hostility. Even to a degree, a threat. Immigrants are a threat to a country because they’re perceived as trying much harder. Maybe being better educated, whatever it might be. They’re a threat to people trying to get a job in the local economy. But nevertheless, the result is hostility. Black people, Asians, have suffered tremendous prejudice. I get that. It’s hostility.
Gay people, the whole notion of homosexuality, was considered kind of disgusting.
Blind people didn’t come from that place. The difficulty we have, I think, is that people are disposed to be kind to us if they’re dealing with a disorder. Most people would have, (not most), many people would avoid dealing with us in the first place. But those people who are willing to deal with us are disposed to be kind.
And so the problem we have is that once we start asserting ourselves and say, “No, that’s not good enough”, then we become the hostile blind person. Then, they get angry with us. I’ve experienced some of that.
But I don’t think the original impulse, the reasons behind the problems that disabled people have, I don’t think that comes from hostility. It comes from pity.
Jonathan: It’s a hostile act, though, isn’t it? If you deprive a disabled person of appropriate education, appropriate resourcing, and appropriate opportunity, I guess that is done out of ignorance. I agree with you. It’s not necessarily done because you feel some major antithesis towards that group. But it is still an act of hostility by not allowing somebody to maximize their potential.
Adrian: Again, Jonathan, I agree with you. I can’t disagree with that. The difficulty I have with the vocabulary, which is what is behind this discussion, is I’m not convinced that you can get rid of those. There are so many negative associations with “blind”. Ignorance, you’ve mentioned, stumbling, so many. I’ve tried to list them at some point.
Jonathan: A politician messes up, and the politician has turned a “blind eye” to it.
Adrian: That’s right. It’s all there. I agree with you. The question is, how do we overcome it? Do we say, “You can’t use the word blind in that context.”? I’m not convinced that we can succeed in doing that.
I think maybe that’s part of my problem. I don’t use those words in that context myself. In an essay I wrote, I talked about some words I’m not willing to use.
I don’t use the word basketcase. A lot of people don’t know the origin of that word. So they’ll say, “Oh, I’m not basketcase today”.
The basketcase was a guy who had been a soldier who had lost both legs and both arms. That to me is so tragic. Now, already I’m speaking about another group in a way they don’t want to be spoken about, probably. But that to me is a tragedy and I cannot use that term basketcase lightly.
Likewise, I can’t use the word “blind” lightly. I don’t do it for all the reasons you’ve said.
I just don’t know that I can stop other people from doing it. I’m afraid that if I do start trying to get people to stop using it, they’ll stop talking to me openly.
Jonathan: It’s a cyclical thing, isn’t it? It’s a very delicate thing because I understand what you’re saying too about the need to actually get blind people involved in what I like to call change agent positions. To me, it’s an indictment on the country in which I live that we have no disabled members of parliament, for instance. And we have very few disabled people in those key change agent positions, whether that be on boards, in the media, even in our own agencies that provide services to disabled people. The presence of disabled people in leadership positions is pretty rare.
But what I would argue is one of the reasons for that is the constant reinforcement of negative language and negative imagery. That means that we can’t break through.
I know that because you keep your connections with the UK, you will, I presume, be familiar with David Blunkett, right?
Jonathan: For those who don’t know, David Blunkett rose to become the Home Secretary during a pretty pivotal time in the UK’s history around 9/11.
I wondered what would change about having such a senior politician – visible, competent, presenting in Braille in the House of Commons? doing pretty well, I thought. He’s a really articulate guy, a raconteur.
What difference would that make for rank-and-file blind people? And the answer, it seems to me, is absolutely zilch because they perceive him as an exception.
Adrian: I agree. But I think, cumulatively, this goes back to the point about how much of all blind people’s lives do we shoulder each time we go out into the world. I can’t represent all blind people. They don’t want me to represent them.
I think what he did, what David did, I think, was fine. And I don’t know that we should expect more from him.
But we should expect more people like him, which goes to your point about how many people there are who can get access to those kinds of jobs.
Jonathan: Yeah. He’s incredible because he came from an impoverished family. He didn’t have a lot going for him in terms of opportunity. He’s just one of those really gifted people who broke through.
But I suppose what concerns me is that we shouldn’t have to have those incredible gifts of tenacity to break through. We should, (I don’t know what average is), but we should assume that the average disabled person should be able to achieve in similar ways to an average non-disabled person.
And so, this is where I think the language issue does come in. Because you’ve been talking about the advancements in technology that we’ve all experienced, and they are marvelous. I mean, when I consider how much information I have access to now compared to, say, 35 years ago, it’s just absolutely wonderful.
And yet, based on all the stats that I’ve seen, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high. And you have to ask why that is when we’ve got paperless offices. We should have more opportunity than ever, but nothing seems to be moving.
Adrian: I think I would ask you to think about how you would stop people from using words to mean certain things, how practical it would be, and whether there is that flip side that I’ve been trying to talk about.
I do wonder whether we are, (this really goes to another point you’re making,) I wonder whether we are adequately preparing blind people to go out into the workforce.
Adrian: You know, it takes a lot of skills – some of which are not skills that sighted people have to think about. Facial expressions, how we communicate, gestures.
You know, I remember when I was a teenager, I was with a group of local teenagers who were blind. One of them had the rocking problem. Do you know what I’m referring to?
Jonathan: Yes, yes.
Adrian: Yeah, hadn’t grown out of it.
I just don’t know the current state of education and how well people are being trained to be in the workforce. I just don’t know.
Jonathan: Look, let me come back to your first point, ’cause it’s a really important one. And I suppose when I bring this up, people get very on edge. And they do use words like censorship, and it can get quite emotive, so I appreciate the quality of the discussion that we’re having.
What I would say in response to that is you can’t, I mean, you can’t police the language that everybody uses.
But I wrote an article on this subject in one of our major national news publications last year, and it was called “Harming the Disabled with the Words We Use”. And it just encouraged people to consider the effect that this sort of language might have on our public discourse and our public policy. I mean, if public policymakers keep hearing disability portrayed in a negative light, then they’re less inclined to think that we’re worthy of appropriate resourcing. And I think that there needs to be some really clear targeting.
And so I think if we can convince the media and people in public life to start phasing out this terminology and using better terminology, the rest will follow. Some of this language will just become antiquated, outmoded. People will start to forget that it was ever used because those key information sources are no longer using it.
Adrian: How about this, Jonathan? How about maybe it’s a question of how we approach this. If I said people do not use these words to mean the following, I think I’d get resistance.
But if I do what I think you do, (and I myself do in my own writing), if I said the problem with blind is all these negative associations. I mean, just think about blind loyalty. What are you getting at there? What is it saying about me as a blind person?
Adrian: That’s the problem. If I can just show a clear example that I don’t like the use of the word without telling people don’t use the word for that purpose, I think that’s an indirect, but still effective way of getting the idea across.
Jonathan: Yes, I think that’s right. And I think also, if we can talk about the way that this language makes some of us feel, (because there’s not unanimity). And if you listen to the podcast regularly, you’ll know that there have been people who have contributed saying, “This is just way over the top.”, “This is woke.”, “This is politically correct.”.
Adrian: I know.
Jonathan: So there is no consensus. We’re not some sort of homogenous group. But the way that it definitely makes some of us feel, I think, is relevant.
We actually confronted this in New Zealand in 2019, after the atrocious mosque attacks that we endured here.
Adrian: In Christchurch.
Jonathan: And there was a really good dialogue about the word crusade.
Now, this is an example to me of how the pendulum can actually swing back. Many people would have used the word crusade without giving it a second thought, without actually having considered its origin. And now, fewer people do because of that discussion and some really frank debate with the Muslim community about “this is how it makes us feel”. So it can be done.
And I look at… We signed a treaty with the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand in 1840. So we’re kind of unique in this country in the sense that we didn’t conquer. We signed an agreement to be here.
And since then, we’ve lost our way. Now, there is a lot of discussion about the language that we use, the way we conduct ourselves. The Maori language has become integral to even the daily lives of many English speakers.
So things can swing back when we realize, “actually, we’ve taken a wrong turn here, and we need to make a course correction”.
Adrian: Absolutely, but if you think about… I’m sorry, not if you think about. But those events are crises of one kind or another. The Christchurch attack was a crisis.
I remember when George W. Bush, our president in the early 2000s… I can’t remember if he actually used the word “crusade”, but he adopted that.
Jonathan: He did, yes, I remember that. Yes, not long after 9/11.
Adrian: That’s right. And I was bothered by it. And a lot of people were bothered by it.
I don’t think there was discussion that you had in New Zealand after Christchurch, but the Christchurch example is where change does occur.
So if there, and God forbid! I mean, that was a horrible thing to happen, to bring about the change in that use of that word. I don’t know what events in the lives of blind people would trigger such a momentous crisis that would cause us to be able to say “Look, don’t use the word ‘blind’ in these contexts, really. It’s hurtful. It can be hurtful. Maybe not everybody’s hurt by it, but a lot of us are.” Then maybe that would happen.
I don’t see that event happening. In a way, I don’t want it to happen, because it probably means something disastrous.
Jonathan: Yeah. Because in a way, we’re dealing with our own personal crises with high unemployment, low expectations, and the ability to…
Adrian: There you go.
Jonathan: So it’s a catch-22, isn’t it?
Adrian: It is.
Jonathan: Because people don’t believe that we’re capable of playing our full part in society. And so, this is where I think we do need to have the public discussion.
And what concerns me is the idea that we should somehow moderate this discussion for fear of offending people because, you know, are we not entitled to the same respect and consideration as other minorities?
Adrian: I’m not worried about offending people. I’m worried about boring them. It’s engaging people that’s the problem, I think.
Jonathan: So is it about the way that we bring these things up? I mean when I do, (and I talk to our public broadcasters and things), I try to illustrate the harm that I believe that it causes. Some of the things we’ve talked about – the unemployment, the lack of opportunity, the poor public policy decisions that flow on from constantly depicting blindness and other impairments in this negative way. So it’s not so much saying, “Don’t use the language.” It’s saying, “Can you think about the consequences of using the language?”.
Adrian: I think so. In the same way that I’m trying to go after my old college, not so much for the language they’re using, but for just completely suppressing it, for not talking about it at all.
Absolutely. We find the incident, the event, the problem with which we can engage people. And then, we make the points. And then, the points are taken, I think, one way or the other.
Jonathan: See, we’ve met in the middle somewhere there. Should we go to the UN now?
Adrian: If you and I were in the UN together, it would be my delight. My privilege. [laughs]
Are you going to write another novel like “Caroline”, do you think?
Adrian: Jonathan, this is actually my fourth novel.
Adrian: It’s the first one that got published.
I was still practicing law when I wrote my first one. And again, the main character is a blind guy.
This one followed from a series of incidents on the New York subway.
Most subway lines and all subway lines today, there are gates between the cars so that people can’t step between them. But in 1982 or so, there were three incidents where blind people stepped between cars and were killed. Absolutely terrifying. The problem was rectified pretty quickly.
What I did was I exploited, I’m afraid, that situation. I created a fourth incident, which wasn’t an accident. It was actually a murder. It’s my character who knows, for whom the whole official explanation doesn’t fit. So he finds himself exploring what actually happened. One way or the other, he comes into the sights of the same guy. There’s a level of suspense there.
It got shopped around to publisher after publisher, agent after agent. I had a friend who was sort of in the publicity market herself, and she really boosted it.
But there was actually one publisher, one woman said she wanted it. Unfortunately, she got hired away to another publisher. There was a non-fiction house and the person who replaced her didn’t take it.
The comments I got from agents were frustrating to me because it didn’t address the blindness issue, but they found other problems with the novel that were not fair. The one I remember most often was, “We know from the beginning who did it. You need to have more characters involved who might have done it. Create a mystery for the reader.”
The answer to that is that this is a perfectly legitimate genre of fiction. But you know it at the beginning, and the anxiety that the reader experiences is, “Is my hero going to be the next victim?” I say that because I know I can’t be objective about my own work.
I think it’s a good novel. It was fun. At this point, it’s a bit outdated and I’m not sure I could try to sell it now.
But I got really quite discouraged at the time because I felt that they were avoiding the idea of publishing a novel with a blind character who’s the protagonist.
I could be wrong. That was my sense. That was my fear.
So I wrote two other novels that bring out different other aspects of things.
Then I wrote this one and I thought, “This one just might be the first.” Now, you want to be careful which first novel you publish. I thought, “This might be the one. This might actually happen.” So this is why I chose this one.
Jonathan: It’s interesting you say that because one thing I also like about the book is that Nick is no saint. Actually, I have to tell you, I don’t like Nick very much. Clearly, he’s got issues. And that’s good, you know. [laughs] Because so often you get this kind of blind superhero profile.
Adrian: That’s right. Yes, that was my intention.
Jonathan: So you don’t like Nick either?
Adrian: Oh, I sympathize with old Nick. [laughs]
Adrian: But I was quite conscious that in displaying his flaws, I wasn’t making him a pretty guy.
We haven’t talked much about Caroline, and she’s a very complex and intriguing person with some pretty difficult things in her past, which causes psychological instability. I don’t know what to say about Caroline, the character, except it’s a shame.
[laughs] Yeah. I’m in a dilemma here because I don’t want to spoil the book. But I felt myself just really warming to her. She had a lot of bad luck in her life, a lot of control taken away from her in her life.
Adrian: I agree with you. What I like about what you’re saying there is I’ve had two people, one of whom I really respect, say that I didn’t give enough detail about her background.
I’d like to think that I did give enough information. There’s a certain way in which she’s a holiday gone lightly, you know, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s – sort of a mysterious person with a mysterious past that only gradually unfolds. And even at the end, we don’t know everything about her because there is no way of knowing everything about her.
We can say the same thing about Nick, I suppose. But she’s mysterious by choice.
Jonathan: “Caroline”, the book, is available in many places. Your website has them all, right? At
Jonathan: Not on Bookshare, I think. Is that right?
Adrian: No. That’s another story for another day.
Jonathan: Okay. So it is available on Kindle, Bard, and also Audible, right?
Adrian: Yes. Let me just say quickly. The narrator, John Lescault, is someone I wrote to out of the blue. His work, I respect.
One reason I respected it, he doesn’t over-dramatize when he reads.
I said, “Would you be willing to record this?”
He said, “Well, let me read it.”
He read it; he loved it. He did a fabulous job. I’m so pleased that he was willing to take it.
Jonathan: Bonnie’s reading it that way.
I tend to rattle through books, unfortunately. So I read it on Kindle and enjoyed that.
Look, I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. I’ll look forward to keeping in touch and finding out what happens next for you.
And thank you for the stimulating discussion. It is always nice to have someone with whom you can have a conversation with slightly different points of view, and do so respectfully. So I’m very grateful that you got in touch.
Adrian: And Jonathan, you’re the most respectful interviewer. Like everybody else who listens to your podcast, I really, really appreciate it.
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Reading Text Formatting in Braille
Time once again to say hello to David Vander Molen. He says:
Thanks to the Top Tech Tidbits newsletter, I was today made aware that people can now, in iOS 16.4, read text formatting in Braille. It is most available in the Books app.
So it sounds like a Braille reader can now detect when text is bolded, italicized, or underlined.
Other than by using Duxbury Braille Translator, are there any other apps that allow this when running Windows 10 or 11?
Thanks so much for your valuable contribution to the blind community.
Well, thank you for your generous comment, David. I really appreciate that.
Certainly in JAWS, which has very robust Braille support, you can turn on all kinds of Braille formatting indications.
So when I’m proofing something in Microsoft Word, for example, in the old days when I was writing lengthy books, I would turn this on when I was doing a final read, just to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally left a particular formatting on – like keeping something bolded when it should have stopped, that sort of thing. And that works very well for me.
So if you’re a JAWS user, all those features are available in Braille settings. And you can set them on an app-by-app basis. And then you can set the JAWS defaults to whatever you like to do on a day-to-day basis. You may, for example, have much more Braille information displayed in something like Microsoft Word than you do in other apps.
Matt Miller is writing in on the subject of Castro, the podcast app for iOS that seemed to have a little bit of a ziz for a while, a hiatus, (or should that be an hiatus). Now it’s back, he says:
one way I deal with clearing a large number of episodes in Castro is to change the episode limit in the podcast settings. I understand this only works if you know you don’t want any of the old episodes. But if you have 50 episodes of a podcast and change the limit to 5, it will delete the oldest 45 episodes.
Thanks for writing in, Matt.
The good news is that since you wrote that, Castro has introduced a feature where you can clear the queue easily. You just triple tap on the queue button and you get the option to delete all the episodes from the queue. So that problem is solved.
Another problem I have discovered though, is that when you are in the inbox and you’re scrolling through the episodes, it no longer speaks the origin of the podcast.
So I worked with the Castro people to change the order so that you get the episode name first. That’s particularly useful if you’re scrolling through news-based podcasts, because you can just hear a bit of the headline, decide it’s not for me, and skip on.
And then if you stay listening, you get the origin of the podcast, or at least you used to. No, you just don’t. I don’t know whether it’s one of these complicated settings that they’ve introduced, but I can’t get that to work. And I do want to know where a particular podcast has come from.
So that is stopping me from switching back from Overcast. But I hope we can get there, because I really miss Castro’s efficiency an awful lot. And I’m encouraged by the fact that they seem to be back to releasing episodes on a fairly regular cadence again.
Underwhelmed by Apple Music Classical
“Hi, Jonathan,” says Jeannie Willis. “I spent a bit of time playing with the new Apple Music Classical app when it launched last week.”, which it was when she wrote this.
To be honest, I am really underwhelmed.
The good news is that I haven’t found any accessibility issues. And in layout and use, it is very like the original Apple Music app – so familiar to use.
I was also pleased to see that the songs and albums I have in my Apple Music library that are part of the Classical app repertoire also appeared in this.
I was rather surprised to see a few I wouldn’t have counted as Classical, such as Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”, Tubular Bells, etc.
But I suppose anything with an orchestra got included.
Yeah. Tubular Bells is a marginal one, isn’t it? Man that is a great album, I need to go and find out if that’s in Spatial Audio.
I’m sure the new search capabilities will solve many of my frustrations – trying to find specific works in an app that wasn’t designed to search by composer, or differentiate one Bach minuet in G from another by its various other catalogue numbers, etc.
But that is about where the liking of it ends.
Maybe they could have just added a Classical search function to the original app, as nothing else seems to have been separated.
My disappointments are two-fold.
Firstly, I expected when I clicked on the Composer category to have all the things already in my library listed here by composer, so I could easily, for example, see what I had for Beethoven across my various playlists, albums, etc.
But no! It just says, “Add your favorite composers here”.
What? Like I might forget who Beethoven is and need to look up who I like?
The original Apple Music does list all the things in my playlists and library by composer. But it is too crowded out by hundreds of names of people I have never heard of who have contributed to the writing of the various rock and pop songs I have, to be much use.
The Works category greets you with the same announcement of “Add your favorite works
The second big disappointment is that there are no settings that allow you to customize which of the two apps you want to display which items. The Classical app only picks up things within the classical genre. But as I mentioned above, there are quite a few things that are scattered through my playlists that I wouldn’t count as classical and would prefer to remove, but there is no way to remove those without also removing them from the main Apple Music playlist or library.
A simple “Hide in this app” may have been an option, or a setting that allows you to choose whether you want items added or deleted from one app to automatically add/delete from both apps, or just the one you do it in.
This also means that my main Apple Music app is still littered with people’s names in the artists list that I have no clue who they are, because they happen to have been the person who played the piano for a particular piece on an album, say, of piano exam music.
I was so hoping to be able to separate the stuff out – rock and pop in one app, and ordered by artist, playlist, album etc. – and classical on another, organized by composer.
No such luck.
If I have missed a setting that solves any of these frustrations, I would love to be proven wrong in my analysis.
I will be writing them some feedback and maybe it will improve over time.
Can You Get the VoiceWare Voices on Windows?
Here’s a name that brings back all sorts of happy memories from days when I was testing the Kurzweil 1000 with Steven Baum and a whole happy band of people.
And then of course, I went to work for Freedom Scientific, so testing the Kurzweil 1000 was no longer appropriate. [laughs]
It’s John Reel, and he says:
“Hi, Jonathan, I am blind and live in Laurel, MD.”
Maryland, right? Yeah, Laurel, Maryland.
“I’ve been a long-time super fan both of you, and your podcast.”
Thank you so much.
Your Mosen At Large podcast hits just the right mix of welcoming humor and consummate professionalism.
I’m writing to ask you and the Mosen At Large community a question for a friend. No kidding!
She recently had to reinstall her operating system on her Windows machine and lost her James voice, one of the VoiceWare voices.
James and the other VoiceWare voices were provided with Kurzweil 1000. Unfortunately, for some reason, she is unable to reinstall K1000 on her system.
My question is, do you or any of your listeners know how to obtain the VoiceWare voices for use on Windows machines?
She and I both agree that James is the best sounding voice for reading books. I know, that’s totally subjective.
Thanks for your help, and thanks for a great show.
Good to hear from you, John. Hope you’re doing well.
So these are the voices we use to call Neospeech, I take it.
I’ve got James on Voice Dream Reader, and still use that sometimes. I agree, James is a really good voice.
I don’t know the answer to your question, but let’s hope that somebody does and can get in touch with us.
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Hulu and Audio Description
Whenever I hear about the US streaming video service called Hulu, I think of that Paul Simon song, you know. “I said now Hulu, Hulu you think you’re fooling”
Anyway, I think that’s what it says.
Randy Reed’s writing in about Hulu. He says:
I am writing to share an experience I just had while trying to access audio described content on Hulu.
While browsing the Audio Description Project website, that’s at
I happened to see that the X-Files was available on Hulu with audio description.
I grew up with the show and followed the creator’s other works, so I signed up for Hulu.
When I went to watch the show, there was no audio description to be had.
I double-checked Hulu’s listings for shows offering the audio description, and the X-Files was listed there, as were Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy.
I tried both of the animated shows and got the same result.
After checking Hulu’s support pages, I was unable to find anything I was missing, so I called support.
The person I spoke with on the phone listened to me, said, “Give me two minutes to do some research.”, and hung up on me.
I don’t believe in doing the same thing and expecting different results, so I reached out through their online support system.
Even though I provided a description as detailed as what you’re reading now, I was still asked if I’d performed all the steps on the official support pages.
Once I navigated that annoyance, I was told the shows I had been trying to watch didn’t have audio description.
I told them those shows were listed, and was asked to send a screenshot.
I did, and I was told this was being communicated to their senior support staff for investigation.
Since I’d gone as far as I can there, I then contacted the ADP webmaster and let them know that Hulu’s listings were extremely inaccurate.
The site currently has a disclaimer indicating only certain seasons/episodes of shows have audio description, but I suggested they update the disclaimer to alert users to the fact that Hulu incorrectly advertises available audio-described content.
I also figured I’d drop a message here so users can be aware before they sign up.
Keep up the good work.
That’s really disappointing, especially if there’s a show there that you’ve liked all your life and you want to find out what you’ve been missing all these years, only to find that it’s false advertising.
And Rod Kahn, who often sends me emails about Dolby Atmos, has given me a tip.
Try Monster Hunter on Netflix. It’s got Atmos and audio description.
See, this is very good.
Rod sent me another email saying:
“Don’t you get audio description with Atmos on Netflix in New Zealand?”
We didn’t used to, so I gave up.
When I first got Dolby Atmos gear some years ago, you did not often get, if ever, audio-described content in Atmos on Netflix.
If they’re changing that now, (and I’ve been pinging them about it for some time, as have several other people), then that is really good.
So I will check this out, Rod.
Thanks for the tip.
Closing and Contact Info
And thanks to everyone who has contributed an eclectic mix of thoughts this week.
We’ll see you back next week.
Remember that when you’re out there working your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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If you’d like to submit a comment for possible inclusion in future episodes, be in touch via email,. Write it down, or send an audio attachment:
Or phone us. The number in the United States is 864-60-Mosen. That’s 864-606-6736.