Transcripts of Living Blindfully are made possible by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies. On the web at http://PneumaSolutions.com.
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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.
this week: we are talking new Apple things, we discussed the HeardThat app with the CEO of the company that makes it and give you a demo, what are the benefits of working with a guide dog and what do potential handlers need to know about caring for one, and when to disclose blindness to a potential or soon-to-be employer.
It’s wonderful to be here. It’s certainly a thrill. Here we are at episode 249.
And you know what? I need to go back a little bit because on episode 248, it was a special that covered the Apple Wanderlust event. And I will of course, be interested to know if you’re ordering anything from Apple. By the time you hear this, if you’re going to pre-order, you probably will have done it by now.
Anyway, we were right into it, and I forgot to mention the area code and country code that corresponded with the episode. So let’s go back.
Oh, look at that. We just went back to episode 248.
And I can tell you that area code 248 belongs to Michigan. Apparently, there is an Oakland County in Michigan. I’ve always associated Oakland with California, in my innocence. But now, I know there’s an Oakland County in Michigan.
And if you are in Oakland County, you may be in area code 248. In which case, enjoy your belated day in the sun.
Is it sunny in Seychelles? I do not know, but I know that that is country code 248.
There are around about 123,000 people there, according to the 2023 census. If you are one of them, a very warm welcome to you.
And that brings us on to area code 249. And let’s crack open a new bottle of maple syrup because we’re saying hi to Southeastern and Central Ontario, who have the area code 249. That’s in Canada, of course. A warm welcome to you. Although it’ll increasingly be a cooler welcome, I have no doubt.
When I was doing a lot of travel for the assistive technology companies, I was in Canada in October, November, early December, and even late January. And mate, there are parts of Canada that get very very cold indeed. It is character-building, that’s what it is. So we welcome our Ontario listeners who are on area code 249.
Now there are many many more people who are in country code 249 compared with 248. 249 belongs to Sudan where there are, according to a 2023 census so we’re right up to date, 48 million people. If you are one of those 48 million people, a special warm welcome to you to this episode of Living Blindfully.
Jaws 2024 is out in public beta at the moment. You can download public beta 1 from the Freedom Scientific website and take it for a spin.
I love this release. Very happy with it because it really is getting into some good quality screen reading stuff.
The thing that makes me happiest are the considerable enhancements that we’re seeing to Braille with the split Braille feature. and actually, you know, it’s in beta so there are a couple of things that I’m still finding a little bit difficult with it.
But if they get sorted out (and they probably will get sorted out in time), then I am just so tempted to see if I can get an 80-cell Braille display here in my studio. Because the idea, for example, that I can be in Reaper and also have an email that I might be reading from you on the other half of the display is genius.
Because at the moment, I have to use 2 devices. I have my Mantis where I put your emails to read. And then, I’m in Reaper. So I can do what I do in Reaper. But to be able to do that in split view would be much more convenient.
And it’s analogous to what sighted people have been able to do forever – having multiple applications in view. This is great stuff, and split view is an extremely flexible feature.
The other one is actually something I suggested all the way back in the pandemic. But better late than never. This is the face in view feature, and it has a lot of value.
I’ve been using a tool for a wee while that was developed by a blind guy in the UK. I apologize. I don’t recall his name now.
But the tool is called Can You See Me, and it’s a free download. You run this. I run it before I get on a Teams call or a zoom call, and just make sure that I’m in view. It’s a great tool.
But the face in view does more. You can have it running in the background and get some screen feedback about when you’re getting out of view. These are good quality additions from Freedom Scientific this year.
You can download JAWS, as I say, from the website. Take it for a spin. And remember, it’s a beta. There will be bugs. And Vispero, Freedom Scientific, want to know about the bugs.
So a good job by all this year.
But what else would you like to see in JAWS? If you are the kind of person who uses JAWS every day and you think gosh! I really wish it did this and it doesn’t, and this is such an essential core screen reading function, I really want it to do it. Well, you’ve got your chance now.
Because apparently, somebody has significantly increased the caffeine intake at the Freedom Scientific marketing department, and whoo! Look at what they’ve got now.
They’ve got this thing called The Next Big Thing. This is a Freedom Scientific contest. And they say it isn’t just a contest, it’s an opportunity to ignite creativity and shape the future of JAWS and ZoomText.
Freedom Scientific’s next big thing is a contest that invites users to submit their original ideas to enhance JAWS, ZoomText or Fusion. Submissions can be entered solo or as a team of up to 3. Hey, maybe we could enter something as the Living Blindfully team.
All finalists are going to receive a 5-year software license, and each member of the winning team will receive free software, as well as a $1,000 Amazon gift card. Dude!
And they want you to submit a video presentation of up to 3 minutes in length. You can make it private through a cloud storage service, or you could publish it on YouTube. If you do, I’d be quite interested to know what you submit. That’d be fun to showcase some of the Next Big Thing entries that people are choosing to make public.
I like this idea. I think it’s a good way to deal with the fact that there is a sense of community around NVDA. I think that sense of community is quite enviable, actually, because the open-source nature of NVDA means that a lot of people are contributing, they’re innovating. There’s a sense that it belongs to the blind community.
Freedom Scientific, obviously has a different business model. They’re a commercial entity, so they have to do things differently.
I think Freedom, regrettably, has dragged the chain for a very long time on community things. It would have been so easy to do. I don’t know why they have not built in a repository for scripts right into the product.
The screen reader that did this first was WindowEyes, and they had that great. They call them apps eventually. I think they used to call them set files, then they called them apps. And you could browse for WindowEyes apps and download them from within the product. That was genius, and that was done years ago.
When I look at the way JAWS is at the moment, it’s kind of like the difference between the old Symbian phones, if you go back that far, and iPhone.
There were lots of good apps for Symbian, a number of which were accessible. But if you wanted to find them, you had to fossick around a bunch of websites. There was no central repository.
Then the App Store came along. Now obviously, they’re feeling the pressure of antitrust right now. [laughs]
But the point is that when we got our iPhones, you knew there was one place to go for the apps, and you searched for them, and you purchased and downloaded. I would love to see this built into JAWS.
You know there are people who many of us know about, like Brian Hartgen, developing a lot of great scripts with Hartgen Consultancy. Doug Lee is also making a significant contribution to our community. There are others as well. But if we could just go to one place and search for them, download the ones that are free, find a way to purchase the ones that are not free, that would be so good.
Hey! Wow! Did I just do my Next Big Thing without even thinking about it? Incredible! Send me my $1,000 Amazon gift card at once! [laughs]
So Freedom has got to innovate and think in a different kind of way about how you create that sense of community around the product, how they connect with the community. And I think this is a really good initiative. No one has a monopoly on good ideas, and there will be many great ideas, I hope, that are submitted and that make their way into JAWS. But I hope this is a start of a little bit of a cultural shift, and that we’ll see some innovation in the community space within JAWS.
My sincere thanks to Pneuma Solutions for making transcripts of Living Blindfully possible.
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Voice message: Hello, Jonathan and other Living Blindfully listeners. Hope everyone is doing well. This is Bryant here.
I have something rather unfortunate to report. As of the recording of this message, the date here being September 10th, I can report that I am still having Braille display problems with iOS 17.
Now, I am updated to the latest beta and I have a BrailleSense 6.
Now, what ended up happening to me today the first time I tried pairing my Braille display, it did pair and I actually heard the pairing sound for the Braille display. However, it did not display anything other than the words terminal mode on my BrailleSense which is usually displayed before the Braille display is connected because you have to go into terminal mode.
So I thought well, okay. Something might have happened with iOS 17 because sometimes, what happens is I have to re-pair my device after iOS updates. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is.
So I unpaired and re-paired my device and this time, it did not even play the Braille display pairing sound. In fact, what happened is something very similar to what happened with your Mantis.
I was able to pair my Braille display and my iPhone. According to my iPhone, the Braille display was connected. However, the only words that were displayed were terminal mode and I could not control my phone with my Braille display. I could not see Braille. I could not do anything.
I have tried every troubleshooting method I can think of. I’ve tried turning Bluetooth off on both my phone and my BrailleSense, seeing if that would fix it. I’ve tried powering off and on both devices.
I have not tried a reset. Maybe I need to try an actual hardware reset on my BrailleSense or on my phone to see if that works.
But at this point, I’m thinking unfortunately, it’s something to do with iOS which really frustrates me because I had heard that these Braille display bugs were fixed, which is why I updated. I decided to update to iOS 17 because I was like no, I’m not gonna have any problems. But it turns out I do, and it’s frustrating because I need my Braille display for church on Sundays and I can’t use it now.
I have a backup Focus 40 that I can use, and so I need to see if that works. but if it doesn’t work, then I’m gonna be in a lot of trouble because downgrading is not easy, and you know, it’s really frustrating for blind people, deaf-blind people especially, as I am. I’m hard-of-hearing and blind, and I don’t have a way to use Braille with my iPhone anymore.
So if any of you are using HIMS Braille displays with your iPhone, have any of you discovered this? Because I know that some people have said it’s fixed, and some have said it’s not fixed. And so it seems to be an intermittent issue with certain Braille displays or something like that.
Jonathan: Oh boy! That is not good at all.
Thanks for getting in touch, Bryant.
I can only report it’s no comfort to you, of course, that it’s rock-solid now with the Mantis.
If anybody else is having any experiences like this with HIMS displays or otherwise, please be in touch and let us know. And most important of all, of course, please be in touch with Apple if you’re having those issues.
One big surprise we got with the released build of iOS 17 is a whole bunch of new ring and alert tones. And in fact, the default notification sound has changed in everything. So you can have a lot of fun going into the sounds and haptic settings of your phone, and auditioning all the different tones that they have there now. There’s quite a selection of new things.
And even some of the classic ones sound different. They appear to have been remastered. How about that? So check them out.
Christopher Wright is writing in on the Apple event – the Wanderlust event, and he says:
“As usual, the Apple announcements weren’t that much to write home about. I’m disappointed, but not surprised.
The iPhone 15 uses USB 2.0 speeds for the USB-C port. Once again, we see Apple doing the bare minimum to comply with regulations while trying to milk more money out of people with the higher priced devices. Still, it’s extremely embarrassing; an $800 device in 2023 comes with USB 2.0 speeds and the previous generation CPU.
Oh well. Most of the population doesn’t care anyway. Oh, look, it’s another iPhone and I have to get it to show my friends I’m hip and better than them.
I’ll wait for an iPhone SE, which will be half the price.
It also appears Apple will offer a lightning to USB-C adapter so hopefully, that means my lightning accessories won’t become e-waste when I get my new SE.
What’s that about the environment? Oh, wait. Profits before the environment.”
There you go. Another post so cynical from Christopher, that it goes right off the cynometer. I don’t know what a cynometer is. I just invented it. I think it’d be a good tool for measuring Christopher’s posts. [laughs]
I mean, it might actually just be, Christopher, that people don’t spend a chunk of change on their iPhones to impress other people. It might just be that either there’s some new functionality that they actually want because they haven’t upgraded for a while, or maybe it just brings them joy. It’s their own money and they worked hard for it, and they’re quite entitled to spend it on whatever they like that’s legal. What a radical idea. I mean I’d rather people spent money on iPhones if it made them happy, than you know, going around pulling the heads off chickens or something equally anarchic.
That said, there are some interesting points in this email.
Yes, Christopher. I can confirm that there is a lightning to USB C dongle. there really has to be. I think Apple’s selling it for about $29 US, though. [laughs]
I would have thought that with the iPhone 15, at least for this transitional year, they really should have put that in the box. Don’t you reckon? But they haven’t.
So if you want to use some of your lightning accessories like for example, the MagSafe battery pack, then you’re going to have to spring for a USB-C to lightning adapter. Add that to your bag when you’re checking out for that new iPhone.
The other thing you also need to be aware of (not you necessarily, Christopher because I know you will have worked this out already) is that if you do buy the iPhone 15 Pro or if it’s pre-ordered already by the time you hear this, then remember that the cable that comes in the box is not going to take advantage of the USB 3.0 speeds. It’s a USB 2.0 cable.
And this is one of the things that we’ve all got to get our heads around, unfortunately, is that not all USB cables are created equal. In fact, some are designed for data transfer. Others are designed for charging.
It can be very confusing because they feel the same. And interestingly, it’s not a uniquely blindness problem because a lot of people are starting to complain about the fact that these cables are not labeled appropriately.
And the people who manage the USB standard are saying we’ve really got to do a better job here, guys. We’ve published some guidelines. Adhere to them.
But there’s no way that they can force them to adhere to the guidelines. So it’s a little bit of a Wild West out there, and we’ve got to be careful.
And if you want the USB 3.0 capable speeds for data transfer, you are going to have to pay for a cable from the Apple Store that costs $69 US.
Now, that is a bit rude. I mean it is a bit rude, isn’t it? This is really going to get Christopher’s cynometer just so off the scale, I cannot begin to tell you.
With some justification. you’ve spent all that money on a new iPhone, and then they want you to pay $69 more for a cable to take advantage of the full capacity of that quite expensive device you just purchased?
But wait, there’s more. They have now modified the AirPods Pro – the current generation, so that there’s a USB-C case for them. But you cannot buy the USB-C case separately.
That is incredibly on-the-nose, Apple. I’m sorry, but it really is. [laughs]
If you’ve spent (what was it? – 200 odd bucks US, I think) on these AirPods Pro, you can’t just buy the charging case separately to keep up with your new fancy schmancy iPhone. They want to make you buy a whole new set of AirPods, just to get the case.
It is a bit rude, but the shareholders want what the shareholders want. And to be fair, I’m a shareholder, too.
Now, there are some really cool things about the USB-C port that we didn’t mention on episode 248 that I just want to come back to. One of them is that if you have the new Apple Watch charging pack that has a USB-C end to it, you will actually be able to plug in your Apple Watch charger to your new iPhone with USB-C (if you’re getting one), and give it some juice. That’s quite handy.
Apple’s been working on some reverse charging technology for a few years, but they’ve just considered it not ready for primetime. So I think, the idea was that you would be able to charge your Apple Watch by putting it on the back of the phone where the Magsafe bit is, but they’ve not enabled that yet, even though they’ve been working on it. I think they’ve been iterations of iOS where it’s been in the software but for whatever reason, they’ve just decided that it’s not ready for primetime yet.
However, with the USB-C port, you can do that. That’s very handy when you need some charge for your watch at a pinch. And it works with the AirPods Pro as well.
Don’t think that you can charge any old thing from your USB-C port. You’re not going to be able to plug your Braille display in and get charged, for example. It has to be specifically enabled in software. And from what we can gather, this only pertains right now to other apple products that are smaller in capacity like the watch and the airpods.
I gotta say, I was right on the edge about whether to go ahead and buy the iPhone 15 Pro Max. But I decided to in the end, specifically because of the USB-C and the fact that i use so many audio accessories. I also like how easy it’ll be to connect external devices to it. So i think it’s a worthwhile upgrade.
But I agree. It’s a bit underwhelming to have USB 2.0 on the 15. And when you combine it with LiDAR and a few other features, it really does make the iPhone Pro models more attractive which ,is of course, precisely what Apple wants. This is a mature product category. It’s hard to display innovation every year, so they want to increase their average revenue per customer. And the way to do that is to entice people onto the Pro models.
And after a wee absence, we’ve got Ioana writing in again. And she says:
I debated whether to record this or write. And as you can see, ended up writing, mainly because I enjoy how you respond to points made in emails as you read them, something less likely to happen with an audio message.”
Hmm. Maybe i should get to pausing the audio messages and inserting my little parenthetic comments.
“Firstly, 2 very frustrating iOS 17 beta bugs with Braille Screen Input.
VoiceOver is not reading the word I delete using the 2-finger flick left gesture while in Braille Screen Input mode, unless the cursor is at the end of the edit field. When at the end, it works as expected. Note that I use screen away mode, but don’t think this makes a difference. This makes any text reviewing and editing quite impossible for me at the moment.
Luckily, I’m still a great fan of the MBraille app that is still living in my dock for so many reasons.
This could be a topic on its own – the reliable spell-checking, easy text review and editing integration with Drafts and Fantastical, and text aliases and Dropbox integration, etc.
Yes. Like you, I also have problems, especially in the mail app with misspelled words. If others don’t have these bugs, it makes me wonder if it’s worth factory restoring and starting from scratch, setting up phone as new. But I can’t quite bring myself to do it.”
See, that’s the thing, Ioana.I can’t, either. I did it a few years ago for the last time. And now, there were just so many customizations. Hmm. I don’t want to do it. And we shouldn’t really have to do it anyway.
“Then, there’s one other frustration with navigating web pages using the on-screen Braille input. I loved the simulated quick nav command – typing L for links, 2 for heading level 2, etc. This stopped working for me since the beta. It just shows the first instance of the element I’m searching for, but no more than that.
Finally, some adventures with Be My AI.
For work, I had to approve some forms that have to be signed. I could do OCR or read part of the accessible PDF file, but this would not have answered my questions.
So Be My AI came through brilliantly. It told me it was a document, summarized what it was about, and mentioned it was signed on such and such a date.
I’m so impressed with this development. In only a few days, this revolutionary function has become so valuable to me in many ways.
On a funny and sad note, my husband is a sculptor. And in studio, there are quite a few sculptures of nudes.”
What? What? Nudity on Living Blindfully? I can’t. [laughs]
“I took a picture of him, but caught some sculptures in the background.
So in hindsight, predictably, it was flagged as sensitive content and not described. Less predictably, I could no longer share any pictures with Be My AI without getting some kind of error messages.
After nothing worked to fix this, I decided to reinstall the app and to my dismay, lost access to the AI function.
I registered again, and I’m counting the hours, although it might be days before i get re-admitted.”
I think this is coincidence, Ioana. And we’ll come back to this question of the sensitive content issue a little bit later in the show when we talk some more about Be My AI.
Caller: Hey, jonathan. It’s Dennis Long. I just wanted to comment on the ACB fiasco.
First of all, they’ve lost somebody that was thinking of becoming a potential member. Their flippant attitude about Mastodon and about joining an accessible platform, and then the comments of the president which appear to be a very veil shot at your podcast is a bunch of bullsoup. It’s very unprofessional, and very unbecoming of somebody in a leadership position.
And the president ought to step down, as far as I’m concerned. You don’t want to do the job, and do the research, and do what’s required? Step down. You’re not doing your organization any favors.
And like I said, they’ll never get my business down, and i’ll never recommend them either.
You’re not going to be on the cutting edge of technology, again, proven through actions, not anything but their actions or lack of actions.
When people come to you and complain and say hey, you’re not on Mastodon. Oh well, be patient. Wait for it. You know, we’ll eventually get there.
If it were a company and all their members were having an issue accessing, say, that company’s app, they’d be all over it.
But they can’t get their own cards and their own house in order. No, ACB needs a major overhaul, and it needs to start at the top.
And whoever this president is needs to go. You’re not serving your members. You’re not serving your people. And their members should be appalled by the lack of leadership of the ACB.
I’m not saying NFB does everything right because I don’t agree with everything the NFB does, either.
But I was actually considering joining ACB because of some of the advocacy work they had done in the past. They helped to get ATMs accessible. They helped to get MLB accessible. So they had actually built up good favor with me.
But they’ve lost that because they don’t want to be on the cutting edge of technology. They don’t want to do what’s right, and join a platform that is accessible to all.
It’s complex, sure. Wasn’t Twitter complex at first? Wasn’t Facebook complex at first? Wasn’t emailing complex at first? We didn’t know how to do that.
Wasn’t the first time you used an iPhone, was that not complex? Sure, it was. I mean, did you just pull out an iPhone instantly and know, oh, I double tap on what i want, you know, to open, or I swipe up with one finger to edit, to move it. I mean, did you instantly know that, or did somebody have to tell you, or did you have to read it on an email list?
If we follow the current trend of ACB’s ideology, nothing could ever be accomplished. Nothing would ever get done. Because if it’s difficult or if it’s a little different, we can’t be bothered. That’s today’s ACB model – we can’t be bothered to learn how to do it, we can’t be bothered to work with our members, we can’t be bothered to show our members because it would take precious time away from us.
And I don’t think that’s everybody in ACB. The problem is, that is the message coming down from the top.
I think there are good people in that organization that would be more than willing to help. And probably, some of them are on Mastodon and they’d be more willing to help those that didn’t know, didn’t understand, needed extra help. They’d be more than willing.
But the current president needs to step down, or be forced out. One of the two.
Jonathan: Thanks for calling in, Dennis.
I have to take a slightly different view to you on this one, and I hear the frustration.
The president is Deb Cook Lewis, as I mentioned on last week’s show. And Deb has devoted decades, at least 2, (and probably a bit more, I think, now) of service to the American Council of the Blind in various capacities. She’s done that, like all ACB members, as a volunteer. And it takes something special to donate that amount of time for that many years, for no reward other than knowing that you’re trying to make the world, or your country, a better place for blind people. So I don’t think that deb needs to resign over this.
I do think she may have misread the room, or perhaps, not fully comprehended just how much frustration was building up over this Mastodon issue, that there was a movement building that somehow, they seemed to be oblivious to. And that can happen, you know.
Sometimes, even people who are very tech savvy, there does come a point for some where technology just moves on, to a point that you’re just not following it as much anymore. And I think that may have been what happened here.
It could be just a debate, a dispute about how much priority this thing ought to be given when you’ve got staffing shortages and things.
Look. I think that this is eminently solvable. I think, as i said at the end of my segment last week, that the room has been very badly misread on that.
But that doesn’t detract from the fact that Deb Cook Lewis is a dedicated servant of the American Council of the Blind. She’s only recently assumed the presidency.
I think it would be good if she felt able to acknowledge that perhaps, there wasn’t the comprehension that there ought to have been over this mounting frustration. But that’s her call, in the end.
I think the most important thing is that this issue gets sorted. ACB has a perspective to share.
And as I said in my post to the ACB conversation list last week which I got on to post to about this subject, what happens in the United States with these consumer organizations has a tremendous trickle-down effect for the rest of the world because of how many tech companies there are in the US, how much precedent is set in the US that affects many of us around the world. So this is important.
And it also seems incongruous, really, that given the ACB’s interest in things like the Worldwide Web Consortium, and that Mastodon is based on a protocol that was developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium, it’s just odd that they’ve totally misread this.
But it’s fixable, and I don’t think it’s fixable through calling for the president of ACB to resign. Because while this is an important issue to many of us, there are lots of other issues going on.
I also feel somewhat moved to remark that it saddens me, perhaps in this heightened era of polarization and social media, that we can’t also acknowledge that sometimes, we have genuine disagreements about policy with good people. And just because we think differently about an issue from them, it doesn’t mean that they’re thoroughly dreadful people.
And in fact, in an ACB context, (You will know if you listen to this podcast regularly.), we had Paul Edwards on the show, was it last year? And we talked about the capitalization of Braille when referring to the code, which is something that I believe very strongly in, as people know who listen to this podcast regularly.
It ensures that Braille is a quarter of the same status as Morse. It acknowledges the struggles that Louis Braille, a blind man, went through to give us this priceless gift. There are many reasons why I support, very strongly, the capitalization of Braille when referring to the code. And in fact, that is now the official policy of the Braille Authority of New Zealand, after we had a referendum.
I bring this up because Paul Edwards was on. He has a very different view. Paul is a former president of the American Council of the Blind.
And I think, if you’re confident enough in your argument, you can sit down and have a robust debate, discuss the issues, and disagree agreeably, still liking each other. I mean if we all thought the same way, it’d be a pretty boring world. So I think that this is one of those issues for me.
I don’t agree with the way that ACB is dragging the chain on Mastodon. But that doesn’t mean that everybody involved in its governance who perhaps might be contributing to that chain-dragging are somehow automatically bad people. I do really regret that there’s a lot of that about these days.
Voice message: Hi there, Jonathan and members of Living Blindfully. I’m Chris Gray from San Francisco, California.
And I just thought I might weigh in a tiny bit here and say a few things about the ACB Board of Publications. It is certainly, well, near the center of some of the controversy around ACB going to Mastodon, and so probably deserves a word or two of additional mention.
I was chair of the BOP from around 1985 until 1991 or 92. I was appointed by president Grant Mack after the untimely death of Vernon Henley, and again, by Otis Stevens during his presidency. So I was on there for about 5 years so i know something about that.
And as many of you know, I was president of ACB from 2001 to 2007, so a 6-year stint, and I do know something about that as well as you would expect. [laughs]
So what about the involvement of the BOP in the decisions regarding ACB and Mastodon? It’s not as straightforward as some might think.
No question, what we would put on Mastodon could be considered under the purview of the BOP to at least some degree. No, it’s not a publication. Yes, it happens very quickly. And that’s certainly an issue. But it is something that the BOP could have a say in, in the short or long-term. Probably more of the long-term than the short-term.
Does the BOP have control over whether ACB participates in Mastodon or not?
I think the most straightforward answer is no, they don’t. The BOP really should not be involved in ACB policy.
But on the other hand, shouldn’t they have a say in our face to the public – the blind public, the sighted public, and whomever? Isn’t that part of their role?
And the answer has to be yes. It just has to be.
So am I contradicting myself?
[laughs] Maybe. But you know, the world is not an uncontradictory place. We have to deal with that. We have to understand that. And the sooner we recognize it with regard to the BOP, ACB, and Mastodon, the better off we are.
That’s my way of saying that I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this. I don’t think it’s an either/or. Most things aren’t, to be honest. I mean, do you believe they are? I have not found that to be so in my life.
Are there people who have more control than others? Yes.
The board of ACB has control about how money is spent. The BOP can request money from the ACB board. They cannot spend money that has not been allocated to them in the budget.
There’s little question that at least a small amount of money would be required, and hopefully more would be used for Mastodon. But you know, the board has to do that.
Ultimately, you want a cohesive, friendly relationship between the board and the BOP, and frankly, the membership with regard to a decision like moving on to Mastodon.
I think we’re getting there, and I think we’ll be there very soon in ACB.
I hope these remarks may have been somewhat helpful. And Jonathan, thank you for your wonderful article and remarks in your show about this, and it’s much appreciated by many in the blind community.
Hang in there, keep it up, and thank you for listening.
Jonathan: Well thank you for listening as well, Chris. I really appreciate that. And also for the contribution,because this really illustrates the point I was making before I played Chris’s message.
People who know their history will know that Chris and I have had quite major differences of opinion that have spilled out into the public arena many years ago now. But we can still talk to each other, and get on well with each other, and sit down if we’re in the same place. I wish there was more of that.
Anyway, in response to your comments, Chris, you obviously have enormous institutional knowledge so I’m a bit brave making a couple of challenges. But you know, that’s never stopped me before.
The first thing I would say is that when the Board of Publications was designed, clearly, we had no internet so we had no social media. But I think it could be argued that social media is a publication in 2023. When you post something on Mastodon or any other social network, surely, you have published something.
So I guess the question is, is it the Board of Directors’ responsibility to determine what the publications are, and then the BOP’s role to administer them and ensure that they’re kept at arm’s length from the leadership so the publications are fearless and honest? Or does the BOP have the right to say, “ACB has made a decision already to be a publisher on social media, and Mastodon is a preferred format for an increasing number of blind people. Therefore, we have an interest in ensuring that the content is available in that preferred format, i.e. Mastodon.”
Now, it’s absolutely true that the Board of Directors have jurisdiction over what money is appropriated. But if a group of volunteers could simply take responsibility for creating a Mastodon instance, does the Board of Publications have the authority to give the authorization to those volunteers to use the ACB name?
And I completely respect that you can’t have anarchy. You can’t have a situation where any volunteer chooses to set something up in ACB’s name. ACB must protect its brand and its name. I get that.
But can the Board of Publications essentially say, “Alright. Mastodon is a preferred format for many. We will authorize you, group of volunteers, to create the Mastodon presence.”
It might not cost anything. If somebody sets up a Mastodon presence on Mastodon.social, for instance, there is no cost at all. The only cost is actually someone’s time in maintaining that.
And the BOP may be able to say, “Here are the guidelines within which you can operate this, and we will monitor it closely.”
But the final thing I would say is that while this stuff is fascinating and the subject of esoteric debates between pointy-headed blindness policy wonks, (Hopefully, Chris, you won’t mind being called a pointy-headed blindness policy wonk, because I don’t mind being called one. [laughs]), in the end, if blind people care about this thing at all, what most of them will care about, I dare to suggest, is that NFB is on Mastodon, and ACB is not.
We can have these great debates about whose responsibility it is. But the fact that that debate exists at all while NFB increases its Mastodon presence (having set it up some months ago) says a lot to blind people who are on the fence saying “hmm. I wonder if I should get involved in the blindness consumer movement?”
That’s the first question. What role does a blindness consumer organisation play in 2023 when we can all be activists, thanks to the online tools that we have at our disposal?
So you’ve got to get past that hurdle first. And when you’ve got past that hurdle, if you’re in the United States, then the question becomes, “If I’m committing to joining the blindness advocacy movement, am I more at home with NFB, or ACB?”
And when you see a situation like this where NFB is getting on with the job, they’ve put themselves on Mastodon, they’re there for people to interact with, and then they look at the other guys and they see ACB having these discussions and debates about whose responsibility it is and why it hasn’t happened yet and when will it happen, it’s not a good look. It just displays a level of disconnect that is doing considerable harm, in my view.
People are welcome to chime in on this. 864-60-Mosen is the number – 864-606-6736 in the United States, if you want to leave a voice message.
You can also do what Chris did and attach an audio clip, or you can send an email. And the address to do either of those things is opinion@LivingBlindfully.com.
Michael Massey is emailing in. He says:
I look forward each Tuesday afternoon to listen to the Living Blindfully podcast on my Victor Reader Stream 3, and love it.
I was appalled when I heard the Lyft driver blatantly encouraging drivers not to pick up blind passengers accompanied by their guide dogs.
You mentioned that drivers are starting to refuse blind people using canes. May God help us all.
The unknown driver should be fired for his blatant violation of laws and his behaviour.
I am a Beatles fan like you. I am climbing the proverbial walls waiting for the release of the new Beatles song. The release can’t come soon enough. I hope that the song will be released in a physical format such as CD and vinyl.”
Oh, I’m sure it will be, Michael. [laughs] You can be sure that they’re going to make the most of what will be the very last Beatles song.
“I hope that there will also be remixes of Free as a Bird and Real Love.”
Me, too. I think that the new technology they’ve got access to now would really clean those songs up and make them sound very very different.
And there’s a little bit of AI jiggery pokery going on on YouTube to this effect at the moment. You can actually hear unofficial versions of Real Love and Free as a Bird where the vocals have been substantially improved.
“I am also looking forward to the new reissues of the Red and Blue collections.”
Joy Tilton is writing in and says:
“Wow! What a hot topic.
First of all, I’m going to respectfully disagree with you on the thought that what he said should be taken down off YouTube. This is not to say I agree with what he said, but more of being a supporter of freedom of speech.”
Well, I’m going to stop there and say freedom of speech has its limits, even in the United States. The first amendment does have some limits, and there’s the famous example of crying fire in a crowded theatre. But we also see when people advocate breaking the law, there are consequences for that.
Anyway, Joy continues:
“However, with freedom of speech, one ought to be held responsible for what they say, too.
I’m thinking that it’s now up to Lyft, if he is an actual driver for them, to decide whether he should be fired because of how he is representing the company or not.
Plus, he should be subjected to whatever commitments are thrown his way too, for that matter, being that he chose to put his opinion out there publicly.
Personally, I feel if you have such issues as allergies to animals, religious issues about animals, or you just don’t care for them in general, then simple. This is not the job for you to begin with.
But on the other hand, we’re also thinking about the fact that these people are using their private cars. And this is not a taxi service but more of a networking service to match passengers with drivers, which is partly why I feel any more that when a passenger is needing to be picked up, there should be some sort of opportunity to state upfront such things as passenger has a service or guide dog, is using a wheelchair, etc. Just as I think we should know upfront if the potential driver is deaf, or has any issues preventing them from being able to fully communicate with passengers.
There’ve been a couple of cases where I was with a deaf driver, and didn’t know it until we started moving. Luckily, I had someone with me who was able to detect some sort of visual cue indicating that the driver was deaf.
I’m thinking that if it is known upfront in the matching process, then either one can refuse right away and move on to the next match, rather than having the driver go out of his way, only to find out they can’t or won’t pick up the passenger for whatever reason, then cancel the ride whilst having someone else in need of a ride waiting because of time wasted by said driver.
It would be nice to hear from a representative of Lyft about this discrimination issue, perhaps someone in management who can give a breakdown on what’s permitted and what isn’t, along with their feelings about what this person has said on YouTube.”
I agree, Joy. We have reached out to Lyft’s media people. So far, no response.
This is going to vary. But based on my understanding, there’s a lot of similarity around the world, and that is that Lyft and Uber and taxis are treated pretty similarly now by regulatory authorities.
I know that when Uber started this thing, I guess in an attempt to spin things and say we don’t need to face regulatory issues that surround taxis, they said “People’s vehicles are private. This is just a matching service.”, just exactly as you’re putting it.
Regulators have come down and said “Oh no. You’re not going to get away with it that easily. You are providing a service to the public.”
And now in New Zealand, we talk about small passenger transit. I think that’s the term that they use. But Uber and taxis and other ride share services that we have in this country are now treated identically.
And in my view, that’s the way it should be. It is simply illegal, when you are providing a service to the public, to discriminate on the grounds of certain service animals, including guide dogs. And I think it’s a pretty dangerous precedent to say that Uber should be able to opt out, or that we should have to disclose. Once you start that slippery slope of saying “Oh well, in certain circumstances, you have to disclose that you have a service animal.”, we really are diluting our rights, I think.
I’d also point out, too, that certainly here anyway, we have a lot of taxi drivers moonlighting as ride share drivers.
We’ve got 3 ride share companies here really, that I know of, anyway. We’ve got Uber, we’ve got an Indian-based company called Ola which has a presence here, and we’ve got a New Zealand owned ride share service called Zumi. When I last checked, its app was horribly inaccessible.
And you can be in an Uber, for example, which is the one I choose to use. I travel with Uber pretty much all the time that I’m traveling. And you will sometimes hear the noise of the taxi app, where they send a little sound to let you know that there’s a job up for grabs that they want to offer you. And the taxi is also an Uber, [laughs] and the driver’s just going where the work is.
On this subject, David says:
“It’s incredibly ironic to me that African Americans are making videos on how to discriminate against disabled people. I can remember when African Americans complained about taxis in large cities discriminating against them.”
I thought the same thing, David, and it just goes to show how wrong people are who think that if you have one sort of disadvantage in society that makes you susceptible to discrimination, you’re automatically going to be sympathetic to others who experience different disadvantage.
People have said to me over the years, “Surely, blind people can’t be racist because they can’t see the color of people’s skin. And even if they could, they know what it’s like to be discriminated against, so they wouldn’t do it to somebody based on race.”
I wish it were true, but it’s not.
George McDermith continues the conversation. He says:
“I find the YouTube video of the Lyft driver to be quite disturbing and frustrating.
I have had several experiences of sending a text to a driver mentioning that I’m blind,and have a cane for identification purposes in particularly busy areas, and having the ride cancelled by the driver directly.
Of course, I have no proof that they do so due to my blindness. But I find it telling that the cancellations come so quickly after the text. I have had such experiences in both Denver and Phoenix.
I hope that this video on YouTube will be taken down, and that Lyft will provide a strong response to your email. Thank you for organizing a response to such an event.”
George has other topics to discuss. But just before we move away from this Lyft discussion, there was an item in the tech news this week that caught my attention in the context of it, and that is that Lyft is introducing some technology that will allow women to prioritize transporting other women and non-binary people. And they hope that this will increase the number of women who are driving for the platform.
I do have some concerns about this in general. But in a blindness context, the thing that concerns me about this is that if technology has been baked into the platform now that allows one type of driver to discriminate against certain types of passengers, then the potential does exist for people to claim “Oh, I’ve got an allergy.” whatever, just make up any excuse and therefore, de-prioritize the picking up of disabled people.
So I think we have to watch this with considerable interest and concern. I think potentially, it’s a slippery slope.
“I have had the opportunity to use the All Terrain cane, and find it extremely useful on rough terrain.
The only drawback is the weight. When I first used it, I got amazing blisters on my fingers from use.
[I’ve got blisters on my fingers sound effect]
Nevertheless, I believe it will be a keeper for hiking, camping, etc. Although I shan’t be using it as my daily cane.
For those who enjoy the outdoors, however, I recommend purchase, as it provides great support equivalent to trekking poles.
I have also had the opportunity to use the Be My AI from Be My Eyes, and am immensely gratified thus far in my use of it. I particularly have used it in the context of my workouts at the gym, and it does a great job of reading off the stats from both the treadmill and stationary bike. Identification of weights can be hit and miss, but that may well be due to user error. A great product that I look forward to using in the future.
Finally, regarding the Optima, I will be eager to see its pricing.”
[laughs] Weren’t we all, mate?
I loved the concept. Basically, a Mantis with a computer built in. But I will definitely need a non-orbit display for the sake of my sanity.
Thanks for your coverage. I enjoy the podcast every week.
Also, Kato the Elder used to end each speech with “Karthik must be destroyed”.
So in the spirit of that, how is the merch coming along for Living Blindfully?
Have a good one.”
To be honest with you, George, I have not had a lot of bandwidth for the merch. I’m really sorry about that. I know that you, at least, are interested in Living Blindfully merch, so I’ve just got to prioritise it. Thank you for the nudge.
With a little bit of help from AI, Kevin is writing in from Malaysia and says:
I thoroughly agree with the points Kelby raises about Be My AI. Blind people absolutely have the right to access visual information through technology in the same way sighted people can casually observe their surroundings.
The restriction on describing faces seems like an act of paternalistic moral policing on the part of the technology vendors, and I worry this attitude could spread to limit access to visual information in other emerging assistive technologies.
Blind people are just as capable of using discretion with sensitive information as anyone else.
I can easily imagine this same logic being applied to deny audio description of nudity or other content certain groups may deem inappropriate. Access to information should not be limited by censorship disguised as privacy protection. This sets a concerning precedent.
As you rightly point out, any privacy issues could likely be addressed by not retaining the images long term.
With proper safeguards in place, blind people should have the option to access visual details, including descriptions of faces. Equitable access to information is a fundamental human right. These paternalistic restrictions undermine the empowerment assistive technology can provide. I hope continuing advocacy brings policy more in line with the belief that blind people deserve autonomy and agency over how we use technologies of independence.
So far, I’m thoroughly impressed with Be My AI overall, and find the level of visual detail astonishing. Like Kelby, I’m eager to continue exploring its capabilities. The face limitation is a disappointment, but the technology represents a hugely positive step.
With constructive policy dialogue, companies like Be My Eyes will hopefully see descriptions of faces as another dimension of independence we seek, not a risk to be blocked.
I look forward to hearing more perspectives on balancing access, privacy, and transparency as this technology evolves. Please keep speaking out on this important issue.
While we understand that Be My Eyes have very little control in this area, blind organizations and advocates can push for more equitable access by pressuring OpenAI to be more accountable on what they do.”
And he did contact Be My Eyes, and got the response back that I was going to offer, which is that Be My Eyes are well on board with this. They understand the potential risks of limiting access to information for blind people.
The problem that OpenAI has is that in the state of Illinois in the United States, they have a thing at the moment where they’re quite concerned with this sort of technology and the privacy implications. So we’re all suffering because of the concerns of the state of Illinois.
I understand they are looking at some sort of check where if you’re in Illinois, you won’t get the descriptions. If you’re everywhere else, you will, since it only seems to be Illinois that’s supremely worried about this.
I mean, how do you describe someone who lives in Illinois? Is it an Illinoian? I don’t know, but blind people in Illinois should also have this information as well.
But it is something that Be My Eyes are working with OpenAI on. It’s not like Be My Eyes are in any way complicit with this, or on board with it as being a good idea, so I do hope this gets sorted out soon.
Voice message: Hi, Jonathan! This is Peggy Kern.
I wanted to talk about the Be My Eyes virtual volunteer beta or Be My AI. I have had it for the last few weeks, and I’ve really loved the descriptions. Even when I first got it and the faces were blocked, I still got a lot out of it just knowing what people were wearing or doing, or whatever.
And then a few days ago, faces suddenly started to appear which made it even more exciting and wonderful.
So I wrote a message to Be My AI and I thanked them for enabling facial recognition or whatever it is, and I mentioned other things that I thought would make it really cool. I didn’t think any more about that.
And then all of a sudden, any photos that I had with people in them, I would get a message. There was just a placeholder, and the photo couldn’t be shown because of possibly sensitive content. And I was like, “What? I saw this photo before. Why can’t I see it again? I wanted to look at it again.” And I thought, “Gee! What’s wrong here?”
And so I sent them another feedback message, and they said they’d look into it.
Well, I noticed today that it seems to be only photos with people in them. I took a selfie of myself wearing a shirt, or some outfit that I wanted to know how it would describe me. But nope, no description.
So then I went and I found a photo that had nothing to do with people, and it popped right up.
I don’t know if my thanking them for allowing face recognition did something, or if perhaps, they’re still trying to figure out just what their policy is as far as people. But according to what I’m getting on my app, they have decided that anything with people at all will be blocked.
I haven’t heard that officially, and I’m wondering what other people’s experiences are.
I agree with something that I think I heard you say, that people see pictures all the time with faces and sighted people see faces, so what’s the big deal? But okay. I can understand the AI stuff is new technology, and they’re trying to figure it out. But to block anything in a photo that happens to have people in it just seems like an extreme thing. I don’t know if that was an accident on their part. But I mean, most of my photos have people in them, you know? And so suddenly, these photos are just blank?
What would a sighted person feel like if they went into their photos on their phone and there was nothing there? It does this thing saying, “Can’t be opened, sensitive information.”
So I don’t know if this is a transition thing, or if they’re still trying to figure it out, or if because I said “Thank you, thank you for showing faces.”, they said “Oh, no. What have we done?” and blocked them.
But it seems like a lot of people are having this, so I would be interested in knowing how other people feel about this and what response we might want to consider giving them.
Once I realized after taking my selfie this morning, which wouldn’t even show up even though I was taking it of myself, I wrote to them and I said, “I think this is any photos that have people in them it’s blocking.” Even if you have to block faces because of privacy for now or whatever, this is blocking everything. I mean, it’s not even describing settings, or scene, or anything.
I just really am afraid they’re gonna shoot themselves in the foot with this kind of response. So just thought I would put that out there for discussion, and see what people might have to say about it.
Jonathan: See what you’ve done, Peggy? You’ve jinxed it for the whole blind community.
So this is the thing that Ioana was talking about earlier in the show. And I saw this as well where if you take a picture and there’s a person in it, now, it’s just not doing anything with the picture and saying it is sensitive content.
I reached out to Mike Buckley, who’s been on this show before. He’s the chief executive of Be My Eyes. He’s in constant contact with OpenAI about this.
He obviously understands the frustration this is causing. And I think, Be My Eyes is also gratified by the overwhelming positive feedback they’re getting about this tool.
He does remind us that this is in beta, so there will be issues. They’re committed to working through them as best they can.
They are obviously a third-party. And hopefully, we can see this one resolved because I agree. It substantially decreases the utility of the service if whenever there is someone in view, it simply refuses to describe them.
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Bruce Sharpe, Founder and CEO of Singular Hearing, Talks About the HeardThat App for iOS and Android
Jonathan: Our next guest is here to discuss a problem that isn’t unique to blind people by any means, but it can be worse for us. You go to a restaurant, or a mix and mingle function, or anywhere there’s a lot of people congregating, and you find it difficult and exhausting to carry on a conversation because of the noise.
In the experience of many of us, as we’ve discussed recently on this show, sighted people often underestimate the degree to which they solve this problem by lip reading.
But not everyone has that skill, and it’s not always enough. If you’re also hearing impaired, trying to participate in a noisy environment can be next to impossible and profoundly distressing.
We were discussing all of this a few weeks ago, and one of our UK listeners, Robin Christopherson, pointed out that there’s an app for that.
The app is called HeardThat. It’s produced by a company called Singular Hearing. Its founder and CEO is Bruce Sharpe, and he joins me now.
Hi, Bruce. Good to have you on the show.
Bruce: It’s great to be here.
Jonathan: Tell me a little bit about you, and what led you to found Singular Hearing?
Bruce: Well, a couple of threads came together, I guess. But it started with personal reason, which is a family member, my father-in-law, an older gentleman, had worn hearing aids for years. And everyone in the family was noticing that he was just engaging less and less in family gatherings, other kind of social events, and so on.
And the problem was the noise and confusion of multiple people talking, and so on. It was just too much, and the effort that you just described in your introduction, he was really feeling that, and it was just getting too hard.
So this was all new to me. And we thought, well, you just need better hearing aids, and went down that path.
They really didn’t help. I started exploring it some more and realized this continues to be a problem, despite the many advances that have been with hearing aids and other kinds of assistive technology. The noise problem just keeps going on and on.
So meanwhile, I’m an entrepreneur. I had sold my last company. I was kind of looking around for the next thing to do, and I was bringing myself up to speed on this new world of AI that is now upon us, and was really impressed with some work coming out of some research labs on speech processing, particularly the cocktail party problem, which is this effect where people with good hearing can be in a crowded room, the cocktail party, and have the ability to focus on just the person they want to hear and kind of tune out everything else.
But this is the ability that is affected most quickly by anybody with any degree of hearing loss. And that phenomenon was identified decades ago, and computer scientists have been frustrated by it ever since because it’s been really tough to get computers to get anywhere close to what humans can do in that regard.
But as I say, AI came along – deep learning. It was making real progress here for the first time.
So I asked myself, “Well, is this kind of technology ready for commercialization? Can we take it, put it into something that people can use today?”
And the answer was well, not quite off the shelf, by any means. [laughs]
And so we worked at it for a few years, and came up with this product called HeardThat, which uses AI to separate speech from noise is the real thing that AI lets us do that’s different from before.
So it’s different from filtering out noise. It’s different from active noise cancellation. It’s really understanding what is speech and what is noise and taking advantage of that.
Jonathan: When did you put HeardThat on the market?
Bruce: We put it out for sort of pre-release availability publicly in 2020. We kind of got tangled up in all the pandemic stuff.
Jonathan: I was going to say, it wasn’t so noisy in 2020. [laughs]
Bruce: It was not. So here we are, trying to help people enjoy restaurants more and going out with their friends in coffee shops, and nobody was doing that.
But we put it out there anyway. We sort of slow-rolled some of the marketing aspects of it, I guess, but we continue to work on the technology. And then, it was put out for sale like last year.
Jonathan: See, it’s been interesting and frustrating for me, as somebody who’s worn hearing aids for 30 years now, that the promise of hearing aids seem to overhype and under-deliver all the time. And these days, you hear from many hearing aid companies, multi-billion dollar companies. They spend enormous amounts of money on R&D, they tell you that they’re making billions of calculations every second and that they’re determining what is noise and what is not, but they don’t do what this app does.
Bruce: The difference is that our app is an app that runs on a smartphone. And a smartphone, it’s a little supercomputer in our pocket, right? It’s got a ton of processing power. It’s got a lot of memory. It’s got a huge battery. And this is what’s actually needed to run these AI algorithms.
So you’re not going to see this stuff in a tiny wearable device like a hearing aid. I agree they over-promise, under-deliver, particularly with noise. It seems every year is the year where we’ve really got a good solution for noise this year.
But I don’t want to be too critical. They are miracles in what they can do – a miracle of miniaturization, of sound amplification, and fitting to a person’s particular hearing capabilities. They and other wearables just don’t have the capacity to run these algorithms that are so effective.
But phones do. And so that’s why we decided to offload the task of dealing with noise to a device that can handle it – the phone.
Jonathan: Are hearing aid users your primary audience, or do you have a good number of people just using tools like AirPods?
Bruce: Yeah, it’s a bit of both. There are many many more people who have some degree of hearing loss and trouble with noise, than have hearing aids.
Hearing aids are available, but they’re kind of expensive. And it takes a certain amount of effort to get them and use them, so lots of people who would probably benefit from them don’t get them.
But they would benefit from something that can help them hear better, particularly in noisy situations. And lots of people have trouble with noise who really don’t need hearing aids.
So we certainly have an enthusiastic portion of our user base – our hearing aid users. And we’ve taken great efforts to make sure that we’re very compatible with hearing aids.
But there’s lots of people who will just use AirPods, Bose noise-canceling earbuds, all those sorts of things. But those also work really well.
Jonathan: When you run the app, you’ve got 2 modes. There’s a highly directional mode, appropriately enough called directional mode, and then, there’s an all voices mode.
What’s going on there? What’s the difference between those two modes?
Bruce: So it’s there to accomplish a couple of things.
The directional mode lets you basically point the top of your phone toward the person that you’re most interested in hearing, and it picks out the sound that’s coming from that direction. It also has the advantage of, it means you don’t hear your own voice because you’re behind the phone, and this is good. People usually don’t want to hear their own voice while they’re talking, and that’s fine.
If you’re in a situation, though, where maybe you’re at a restaurant and people are around the table, you just want to put your phone in the center of the table to pick up all the sounds, you would maybe use all voices mode in that case to pick up voices from all directions.
Jonathan: So I guess this is the bit where I’m sounding like an infomercial.
But I mean, I actually went to a cafe the other day. And for the first time in a very long time, I didn’t do any research in advance to find out how noisy the cafe was going to be, which is normally when I’m in a business meeting (because I’m a chief executive by day), I take a lot of care to do that.
But I didn’t feel the need because I knew that I was having a meeting with one other person, and that no matter how noisy it was, HeardThat was going to take care of this for me.
It’s interesting, though, because I forgot that it uses the top microphone. So I put my phone on the table with the charging port (This is an iPhone.) and the microphone that you might normally use for calls facing the person I was with, and I could not hear him at all.
Jonathan: And I make this point because that’s how directional this thing is.
And he told me afterwards, he was saying “Can you hear me okay? Can you hear me okay?”, and I was not responding because I simply could not.
And that’s not a bug. That’s a feature. That’s how good this directional mode was.
When I actually got my act together and faced the phone in the correct direction and set the slider, [laughs] it was like we were in my office. It was like the crowd did not exist at all in this quite noisy cafe.
Bruce: That’s great to hear.
And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to recreate a quiet room situation.
And I was kind of laughing a bit as you were telling your story, because everybody knows that the microphone in a phone is at the bottom when you talk into it. And some of our users, I’ve had to really convince them that there’s actually more than one microphone in your phone.
And trust us, we know what we’re doing with the microphones. Just point the top of your phone to the person, and you’ll be good.
Jonathan: We have a disproportionate number of audio geeks who listen to the show. And we know that there are some really good recorders for iOS out there that will do this, that will let you use different mics, and they actually have different characteristics. So that’s pretty impressive.
Now, the all voices mode is interesting because obviously, you’re relying a lot more then on algorithms to make a judgment about what is relevant noise and what is not.
And I did find that when I took it out to a Father’s Day thing, that we had in there, I think about 8 people around a table in a very noisy restaurant where fully hearing people were having trouble, I did struggle a bit there because what I found was that when I started to move the slider towards the let’s filter more out kind of mode, there were artifacts.
And I guess that this is a much more challenging environment. You could sort of hear, I mean, you’ll know what artifacts are, but they were definitely there, and it was a little bit more difficult. So I guess this is always a work in progress with those more challenging environments.
Bruce: For sure. There’s no question that you can get into extremely noisy environments where no algorithm can really cope that well. But still, we’re doing better than everything else we’ve ever seen out there.
Bruce: And there are some artifacts, for sure. I’m not going to claim that the speech comes through exactly as if there was no noise there at all.
But we’ve emphasized improving intelligibility versus sound quality. So people more audio-oriented in the audience will probably have this experience where you can clean up audio, and get rid of noise in all sorts of traditional ways.
But it actually impacts intelligibility, so we focused on intelligibility.
And of course, people who are sighted can use lip reading, speech reading, just body language, all sorts of context that is available to compensate for audio.
Jonathan: When you go into all voices mode, of course, you are then hearing yourself. And what I’m finding with my particular hearing aids (I’ve got the iPhone 14 Pro Max, which at the time of recording is the latest model) I’m still getting quite a bit of latency, just enough latency or echo, that I find myself slowing my speech down. It’s kind of a weird effect, just because there’s enough latency.
And I wondered if you’d found in your research that some made-for-iPhone hearing aids exhibit a bit more latency when paired to an iPhone than others.
Bruce: There is some variability there. And in the spirit of full disclosure, the downside of running on a phone is that you’ve got a connection (Bluetooth) to get audio from the phone to your listening device, and there is some latency.
From comments you’ve made on the podcast, I think you’re aware that if you turn the mics down in your own hearing aids, that can help the situation a lot. So you are hearing a bit of a delay coming from the phone, but you’re not clashing with what the hearing aids are doing. So that’s helpful.
I’ve been using this in so many occasions and so many circumstances. I don’t really notice the latency anymore. You do kind of get used to it.
So you do things to mitigate it. And we have a section on our website that talks about things that you can do to reduce it as much as possible. But you do kind of get used to it.
And there are studies that show that there’s a compensation or a trade-off between intelligibility and latency. If you’re improving the signal to noise or the intelligibility of the sound coming at you enough, then people can be more tolerant of latency.
So I wish I could tell you latency is 0, and it’s going to be 0 tomorrow.
I can’t tell you that, but it is a tolerable problem.
Jonathan: Hmm. It’s inherent in a wireless protocol like Bluetooth.
But actually, just sitting here talking to you about this has given me an idea. Because I’m actually talking to you now with my hearing aids wired to my mixer via a cable. It’s getting much much harder to do that now because hearing aid companies are not as interested in providing this as they used to be. And it drives my audiologist mad because whenever we look at new technology, I say, “I absolutely have to have this.”
So there’s 0 latency at the moment for me. Because I’m wired directly, it’s almost like wearing a pair of headphones that happen to be hearing aids.
And all I need to really do actually to try this out is put a little lightning adapter on the end of that cable. And then if I’m willing to have a cable dangling off me, I would actually have pretty much 0 latency, I think.
Bruce: Right, yeah. If you have a wired connection, it’s definitely helpful.
Bruce: I can give you a little bit of a scoop. We are working on some wireless remote microphones that can work with HeardThat as well.
So you talked about an extremely challenging restaurant situation. That’s a place where if you have a microphone that you can clip on to the person you want to talk to, or even just sit on the table and get it closer to the people talking, you’re going to improve your chances of it working well.
They plug right into the phone. There’s like a receiver, the wireless receiver plugs right into the phone – the lightning port or USB-C port.
And you’ll be happy to hear that we went to some effort to put a 3.5 millimeter audio jack on it as well.
Bruce: So if you want to use wired listening device with it, you can do that too.
Jonathan: The 3.5 audio jack is an endangered species. It should get protection status from some authority or other. It’s still so important. It’s so important.
Bruce: [laughs] I know.
Jonathan: It’s frustrating that we have to go through all of this. So that’s really intriguing.
How many mics might you be able to have at one time connected to that device?
Bruce: We’re going to ship in a package of 2, and they both will be connected at the same time. Or you can use one after the other if you need a longer battery life, although the battery life is quite good as it is. But 2, yeah.
Bruce: Possibly in the future, more, but 2 is a good start.
Jonathan: Yeah, it certainly is.
Do people feel a little bit apprehensive about putting their phone in the middle of a table these days?
It actually reminded me of when I got my first phone in 1989, and you’d put the cellphone on the table because you wanted people to know that you had a cell phone. [laughs] And they’re a bit larger then as well.
But I’ve had people ask me, “Why have you got your phone in the middle of the table like that?”
Bruce: We do get a bit of that. And in the hearing community, generally, there’s a lot of sensitivity about being seen with hearing aids, for example. It’s one of the things that holds people back because they’re quite visible that you’re wearing them. And so we do get a bit of pushback on that.
Obviously, times are changing. It’s not uncommon at all.
If you glance around the restaurant or coffee shop, lots of people have their phones just sitting on the table, maybe doing nothing, but still they’re there.
Jonathan: I didn’t know that. As a blind person, I had no idea that that was a thing.
Bruce: [laughs] Sorry, of course.
Anyway, for sure, yes. Take my word for it.
they wonder if it’s going to be a problem.
It really isn’t a problem. And if somebody comments on it or they want to explain it, they just say “Yeah, I’m doing this thing to help me hear better.” And that’s enough.
Jonathan: Can this be of value in a meeting environment, do you think, where it’s not necessarily noisy, but there may be people at different distances away from you? Is it optimized for that, or is it more really just for noisy environments?
Bruce: The first thing we’ve been focusing on is the noise, but people are using it in meeting environments. And I think these microphones I’m talking about will be helpful there as well. You could place it at the end of a long table, and that’s definitely one of the use cases.
Another use case is watching TV. So we launched this in the middle of the pandemic, and people weren’t going out, but they were watching a lot of TV. And it’s very common in a household where maybe you have one person who has some degree of hearing loss, and you’ve got another person who doesn’t. The hearing loss person wants the TV to be nice and loud, and the other person doesn’t.
And so what they do is they’ll just put their phone up near the TV speaker, and use that to transmit the sound to their ears. And I feel we’ve saved many marriages that way.
How often is the app updated at this point?
Bruce: Quite frequently, actually. This is an advantage of being an all-software solution. I mean, leaving these microphones aside that I’ve been talking about, it’s a real advantage that we’re providing something that is software, which means it can be updated quite readily.
And we are out there for both Android and iOS. And between those two, we’re putting out updates every month or two with some fixes or improvements.
Jonathan: So talking about accessibility, one of the problems that I’ve always had with these remote FM-type systems that hearing aid manufacturers produce is that when you switch them on, when you turn your hearing aid microphones off, you have no understanding, as a blind person, of the direction that a person is speaking from. And obviously, at the moment, that’s also the case with HeardThat.
Is that a conundrum that you’ve considered trying to solve? [laughs]
Bruce: [laughs] Yes, especially lately because when we got a mention on your podcast, we got some really thoughtful input from the blind community. And that was one of the things that was brought up.
The challenge of preserving a sort of directionality with what HeardThat is doing is that basically, the phone and its microphones are acting as your ears. And the way that your actual ears are helping you figure out what direction the sound is coming from is because of the geometry of your head, and just the way the ears work, and so on.
But now we have this phone, which is not at the position of your ears, and it’s listening, and it’s maybe turned in a certain way, and it’s sitting on a table in front of you, instead of being at your head level, that sort of thing. That makes it difficult to recreate the 3-dimensional environment that you’d expect.
So we’re thinking about that. It’s an interesting observation.
But for the moment, you get clean sound, but it’s a mono signal, essentially.
Jonathan: Yeah, and I’ll certainly take that over the alternative because it really is quite remarkable, especially in that directional mode.
It can be a little difficult. I mean, you can work it out by sound. But to just confirm with the app when VoiceOver is running, certainly on the iPhone, which mode is selected. And I presume that’s actually quite a simple software fix to make VoiceOver understand which mode is on, and which mode is not on.
Bruce: Probably, and I’ve asked the team to look at it.
I use TalkBack for the first time recently, because of the feedback from your listeners. And I could see the difficulty of trying to navigate the app. There’s a couple of key features missing, that being one of them.
Bruce: I’m sure that’s a solvable problem. Again, the advantage of software.
So I’ve got the team looking at it, and told them they should.
Are there differences between the functionality of the iOS and the Android apps?
Bruce: No. They’re pretty much the same as far as the user experience is concerned.
Underneath the hood, it’s quite different what we have to do. And of course, on the Android side of things, you’re dealing with many different manufacturers and phone models, and not nearly as standardized as the Apple line of phones.
What we’re doing – accessing multiple microphones, processing, and then putting out sound at the same time, is not a use case that the phone manufacturers have particularly focused on, and they don’t give developers great tools to work with audio that way. [laughs] And of course, it is kind of different from all the different phones.
So we’ve tried very hard to have an equally good experience on Android and iOS, and also to not require the latest, most powerful phones, but to work well on older phones as well.
Jonathan: It’s such an exciting product. I mean, I cannot tell you just how much less stressful some of these dinner meetings that I’ve had to attend lately have been because of it.
Tell me about the pricing model and how that works.
Bruce: We want to make it easy for people to try. So it starts with a 30-day free trial, and it’s free forever. You can use it for 30 minutes a week, once your free trial, all you can use it period is over. After that, it’s a subscription model.
So it’s $10 a month. These are US dollar prices. $10 a month, or $100 a year.
Jonathan: And the cool thing about that is that as you refine this AI and these algorithms that determine speech from noise, you get the update immediately when you’ve subscribed, or even when you haven’t, if you’re just using it for 30 minutes.
Bruce: Yup, that’s right. Yeah, you’re getting updates all the time.
Jonathan: Is that the only product that you’re producing at the moment?
Bruce: Yes, it is.
Jonathan: Yeah. So you’re devoted to that, which is great. Awesome!
Thank you so much, Bruce! I appreciate your time, and also all that you’ve done with this app. It’s a fantastic one.
Bruce: I really appreciate it. It was great talking to you, and so glad you found us.
Jonathan: Boldly and nobly, all in the name of research, I took my lovely wife out to dinner with the HerdThat app so you could hear what it does.
Well, I thought it would be useful to do a quick demo of the HerdThat app.
So we’re sitting in our local pub which is called 1841. It’s a moderately noisy environment, actually. They know me too well, so they’ve sat me upstairs where it’s much quieter.
It seemed unusual to say, “Please put me somewhere noisy.” But it’s moderately noisy. And what you’re hearing at the moment is unfiltered audio. So the noise slider on the HerdThat app is set all the way down to 0. So it’s not filtering any noise and we’re in all voices mode, so it’s omnidirectional.
Jonathan: I’m talking on my demo.
Bonnie: Ooh! Hello!
Jonathan: Yeah. So I guess you couldn’t hear what I was saying.
Bonnie: Yeah, I could hear.
Jonathan: Oh, okay, good. Well, welcome!
Bonnie: Thank you. Good to be here. I was just listening to the music.
Jonathan: I’ve just got the phone on the table in front of me. And as I say, it’s unfiltered.
Did you enjoy dinner?
Bonnie: I did. It was nice. I had chicken wings.
Jonathan: Very good.
Bonnie: And I’m glad I didn’t get the buffalo sauce poured over it.
Jonathan: Right. Bonnie: I just had it on the side, and it was very spicy.
Jonathan: Okay. So you’ve got an example of what it’s like when we’re unfiltered in this environment.
Now, what I’m going to start to do is slide the slider. So currently it’s not filtering any noise. We’ll just take it up.
It’s now filtering 10% of the noise. And actually, I can hear it is fractionally quieter. Let’s take it up to 20%.
So now, we’re up to 20. Do you want to say something, Bonnie?
Bonnie: So now, we’re waiting on dessert.
Jonathan: Yes. I’m not having any. Too many carbs.
Bonnie: I’m having a hokey pokey sundae. Jonathan: [laughs] So we’ll go up to 30%.
Now, it’s filtering 30% of the noise.
Bonnie: And they had kombucha tonight.
Jonathan: They do. We’ve been having some very nice kombucha. I’ll go up to 40% now.
You can really hear it starting to take effect now, with this algorithm that is sensing what is noise and what’s relevant.
What did you have to drink?
Bonnie: What did I have for what?
Bonnie: Drink, I had ginger ale.
Jonathan: Okay. Now, let’s take it up to 50%.
We’re filtering at half level now. And sometimes, it can be good, particularly in a moderately noisy environment, to hear a bit of background noise.
And sometimes, I’ve found when I’m in directional mode, it can be hard to hear when a waiter is trying to attract my attention. We’ll go up to 60.
Filtering 60% of the noise. We’ll take it up to 70.
Getting quite a bit quieter. 80.
Now, the algorithm is really kicking in. But remember, we are in all voices mode, so it will produce or reproduce some of the noise.
You can actually hear my speech starting to cut out a little bit if I talk too quietly. We’ve got 90%.
Here we are at 90%, in all voices mode.
Want to say something, Bonnie?
Bonnie: Hello! They’re playing country music in here, which is nice.
Jonathan: Okay, if you say so.
And now, let’s take it all the way up to 100.
This is 100% in all voices mode.
Now what I’m going to do is switch it into the directional mode, and you’ll get quite a big difference.
We are not sitting opposite each other. We’re sort of side on. But I’m going to make sure I’m positioned at the back microphone because both the front and the back mics in the iPhone are active right now. And I’m going to switch to directional.
Bonnie: Hello! It’s good to be here.
Jonathan: Let me just move to the front of the phone, so you can hear me.
This is a very normal situation – a table for two. The top of the iPhone is pointing at Bonnie, is just lying flat on the table.
And now, Bonnie, feel free to say a soliloquy.
Jonathan: Well, that’s not a soliloquy.
Bonnie: What was I supposed to say?
Jonathan: Well, just like, lots, so we can hear how you say it.
Bonnie: Let’s see. We haven’t been here since before the pandemic.
Bonnie: And their menus changed a little bit. We used to come here quite frequently.
And tonight is quiz night.
That’s me. Thank you.
Oh my goodness. I just got my dessert.
Bonnie: It’s very big. Well, it’s in a tall glass, like a sundae glass, and it has these two wafers on top.
So it’s very quiet now. I mean, it sounds like we could be almost in our living room. Every so often, you get a snatch of noise, but this is incredible noise cancelling.
It does kind of cut in and out at 100% a little bit. You can definitely hear an artifact. But it’s quite remarkable.
And what it does is if I’m not talking, or you’re not talking, it kind of looks for noise to amplify further away. So it’s probably got some sort of limiter that’s monitoring the audio, turning itself up if it doesn’t detect anything close.
Do you want to say any final things before we finish this demo?
Bonnie: It’s a really cool app. I’m really impressed with what it can do. And I think it’ll be a game-changer for people, even people with normal hearing that have trouble hearing in these noisy environments.
Jonathan: Yeah. Very good. So this is HeardThat, at 100%.
I’m just lowering it a bit now.
Now we’re on, say, 70% in directional mode, and this is quite a nice compromise. So you can hear a little bit of noise, but the filtering’s perhaps not so aggressive.
So you can have a play with this, a 30-day free trial, and look for HeardThat, all one Word, in the App Store.
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Jonathan: That moving music heralds another exciting installment of the Bonnie Bulletin with Bonnie Mosen.
Bonnie: Hi, guys!
Jonathan: Have you been busy?
Bonnie: Yeah. Pretty busy at work, and pretty busy with my other job.
Jonathan: Yeah, what’s the other job?
Bonnie: Oh, editor.
Jonathan: Oh, of the Romance Writers Newsletter – Heart to Heart. Bonnie: Writers’ magazine, yeah.
Jonathan: I thought I’d bring you down for this because we’ve got a couple of questions I thought you might like to contribute to.
Jonathan: So let’s read this email that has come in.
This is George.”
The first thing he says is:
“Firstly, I’d like to bring your attention to a topic that never seems to be discussed in the blind community, and that has to do with the price of assistive technology for residents of third-world countries.
While listening to the episode about the Monarch, I began to wonder how Humanware planned to give access to these products to people in underdeveloped countries, especially those in Africa.
I am incredibly fortunate in that I can afford a product, only if it’s really necessary in order to enhance my productivity. However, oftentimes, we are required to pay hefty import fees, or find cheaper alternatives that may be of good quality.
I believe that companies who develop these products and blindness organizations in developed countries should make more of an effort to provide these products at an affordable price to African markets.
I am incredibly fortunate to own a Victor Reader Trek, but would love to have a SensePlayer in order to experiment with some of the advanced features. Alas, this will have to remain a dream for now.”
That’s a very good point, George, and it’s often a quandary because these things are hard to manufacture because there’s a small number of units, and you have to spread the manufacturing cost among those units, so it’s a difficult equation.
But it’s something that I will try and remember to talk to the World Blind Union, because I think we might be having an interview with Martine from the World Blind Union at some point soon.
Bonnie: And I feel that way, too because I think that anyone in the world, whether they’re in the US, or the UK, or Africa, or Asia, they should have access to this.
There is a charity. I know of one, at least. I don’t know if they serve Africa. I know she serves Eastern Europe, Central, Eastern Europe – the Laurel Wheeler Foundation.
Jonathan: We had her on the We’re With You.
Bonnie: The Ukraine, yeah.
And I know she’s headed to Romania in a couple of months.
But I believe she takes Braille displays to get them in the hands of people, and I really think that there needs to be more of that. I don’t think that just because of where you live should hurt because the goal is to be as independent as possible. And I know that different countries have different rehabilitation type systems,but I don’t think that where you live should negate whether you can get one or not.
Jonathan: And it would be good to see if any advocacy can be done. I’m sure some probably is, actually, with some of the governments in these countries, to see what they might be able to do.
Bonnie: What part of Africa do you live in, George?
Jonathan: I’m just trying to remember which African country George is in. I’m sorry, George, I forget because I’m sure you’ve told me in the past.
But a lot of it is to do with what people expect blind people to be able to achieve. So there are some societal issues involved there in terms of, perhaps, spinning up some programs so that blind people can achieve.
But we’ll try and talk to Martine Abel-Williamson about this because I think we’re due to have her on the show soon.
Bonnie: And find out if there’s something that can be, you know, if there’s something out there.
Jonathan: But actually, it was a second point that I brought you down to talk about too.
Jonathan: “As for my second point,” says George, “I’m considering getting a guide dog in the very near future. I’ve never had one before, and I was wondering if someone would be willing to explain how walking with a dog works, and what they can and can’t do.
I’ve heard reports that they can learn certain routes, and that they can learn to predict where you may need to go.
On the contrary, I’ve also heard told that the only things they do is walk in a straight line, and watch for traffic and red lights.”
They’re not going to watch for red lights because they’re color-blind. [laughs]
“I remember getting a puppy a couple of years ago, and the work nearly killed me.”
Jonathan: “I’ve never really taken care of dogs before, so would love to know what taking care of a guide dog is like versus taking care of a naughty but admittedly very cute puppy.”
Jonathan: I’ve had a guide dog. I’ve worked with a guide dog for about 10 years.
And then, because I was doing so much international travel, my guide dog retired while I was with Humanware.
I was traveling all the time. I just decided not to get another guide dog because apart from the very very long haul flights I was taking, it’s actually quite complicated to get a dog in and out of this country because of our biosecurity.
We’re an agricultural producing nation, and we have managed to keep out things like rabies and other mean and nasty things.
So let’s talk about guide dogs. And I guess the first part of it – what’s it like to work with a guide dog? What are the advantages of working with a guide dog?
Bonnie: First, I met a little puppy. And yes, puppies are like babies and toddlers. So you’re the one that have to teach them everything, so they can be naughty and time-consuming.
But fortunately, a guide dog comes to you hopefully fully trained and socialized because with most programs, they start out at about 8 or 9 weeks old going to a puppy raiser.
And at that point, they’re just learning how to behave because they’re still very little. They’re still babies, so they have to learn like a baby would how to behave in the house. They socialize them to things outside the house like going for walks, going to the park, going to the mall, restaurants, things that they would do as a guide dog.
And they have a puppy coordinator who comes out and does some checks on them every few months, just to make sure that they’re learning. So there’s a curriculum they must follow. They must be pretty soundproof. They must not be able to spook at loud noises, must not be terribly dog distracted.
There’s some instincts that you can’t get rid of. That’s just part of it. But they can’t be too dog distracted that they would drag you across the road if they saw a really handsome black lab, and food distracted, that sort of thing.
So they work with a puppy till they’re about a year and a half old.
Then, they go to a trainer who does the guide work which is about 4 months. And then, they come to the handler, and the trainer will work with the handler for anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks, training them how to work with the dog.
The dogs, the commands they know are left, right, forward, sit, stay, and …
Jonathan: Any guide dog listening is going to be so confused.
Bonnie: Yeah, I know.
Bonnie: The best way to describe it is it is a partnership.
I think one of the big propaganda things that goes on when you see the public relations material or articles on guide dogs is oh, how inspirational. They get up every morning, and the dog walks down to the subway or the bus, then they go to work and it navigates the busy city. And they do.
Jonathan: I mean, that’s the thing that worries me in a way because I think it feeds into this narrative that blind people are helpless.
Bonnie: Yeah, and the dog does it for you.
Jonathan: And it’s much more of a partnership than people realize.
Bonnie: It is. It’s a teamwork.
So the dog technically does not know where you want to go. Now usually, most people go the same route every day ’cause there’s only so many ways you can go somewhere. So the dog, of course, gets used to it. [laughs]
But you don’t want them to actually take over because there may be a day (and a good example of that would be if you’re a university student). The end of semester, your classes change, so you may not be going to that building anymore.
And the dog’s like, “Hmm. We went here all last year. We must be going here.” So you always are the one that wants to give the commands.
They get used to where you want to go. They’ll show you things. A lot of them will.
I remember my dog, Ivana, when I was living in Morristown, New Jersey. The Starbucks was on the corner, and I would go there occasionally, maybe once, twice a week on my way to work. And so she knew we were gonna go to the Starbucks.
Well, they closed it. [laughs] So for a while, she’d stop. We’d go, and no, it’s not open anymore.
And of course, you’d have the very helpful pedestrians. “They’re not open. Your dog doesn’t know they’re not open. It can’t read the close sign.”
Bonnie: I’m like, no.
Anyway, so yeah, so you do have to have basic orientation. Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to be super duper cane traveler, but you do need to know the basic orientation on how to judge traffic, how to give directions, that sort of thing.
In terms of walking in a straight line, it’s not really a straight line ’cause they do have to go around things. They’ll take you around obstacles, pedestrians.
Jonathan: Yeah, that is one of the things about being a dog user versus being a cane user. It’s sort of a blessing and a curse in my view ’cause on the one hand, you miss out on a lot of landmark knowledge because the guide dog’s so elegantly weaving you around things that you might not know were there.
Jonathan: But on the other hand, as a cane user, you know what it’s like to constantly make contact with something, and have to navigate around it.
Bonnie: Yeah. So sometimes, you’re kind of going zoop, zoop, zoop, like a dance down the street.
Bonnie: And I remember when, again, when I was living in Morristown, I broke my arm, so I wasn’t able to work my dog for a few weeks.
But I had my cane, and I found all these newspaper boxes and all kinds of planters on my sidewalk. And I’d been living there, you know, 4 years.
Bonnie: I didn’t even know all this stuff. I was like, my goodness! This is a cluttered sidewalk.
And here, on my walk to work every morning, I go around a lot of e-scooters. And I don’t know they’re there because she’s taking me around them.
But I’ve been told, “Oh my goodness! The sidewalk is littered with people just leaving them there.”
Jonathan: I’m gonna need your Qardio Arm blood pressure monitor if you keep talking about e-scooters.
Anyway, they do hopefully walk in a straight line because you want to maintain your direction. So if a dog does go off-course, let’s say that you’re walking and they veer into a parking lot, you have to be able to orient yourself back to know that okay, the street’s to my right. We’ll just give the direction to get back on the sidewalk. ’Cause that does happen.
And once you get to a curb, the dogs are trained to stop at the curb. You give the forward command when the traffic is safe. The dogs can’t necessarily judge traffic.
But what they can do is what’s called intelligent disobedience. If there’s a car that’s gonna turn in front of you, they will stop or may not leave the curb.
I’ve had her where a car is just sitting there, and she doesn’t feel that she can cross without taking me out into traffic, so we may have to wait a cycle or two to get across. But they are taught that intelligent disobedience.
And some people will say, “Has your dog ever saved your life?”
I don’t know. If I probably knew some of the things that had happened when we were out walking, particularly in places like Boston or New York City, I probably would never leave the house again.
But they will back up if a car is getting too close. Now, as they get older and more confident, they kind of can judge, you know, the distance of a car.
But they can’t actually judge traffic. You’re the one that has to listen and make the decision when to cross, and the dog could refuse if they don’t feel it’s safe.
Jonathan: I would just like to say that my puppy walkers for Pearl, my guide dog, used to go into McDonald’s a lot.
Jonathan: And she did recognize them. And for quite a while, when I first started to work with Pearl, every time we found a McDonald’s, she’d try to turn into it ’cause she’d think, “Oh, humans like to go into McDonald’s.” So it’s kind of cute.
Jonathan: But guide dogs do know some commands, and I think it might vary from school to school.
Bonnie: It does, yeah.
Jonathan: Mine was always trained to find the lift which was really good, and also find the counter, you know, when you go into a store or something like that, so that’s pretty useful.
And of course, they all, to the best of my knowledge, find the way out of somewhere.
Bonnie: Yes. Outside, yeah.
Jonathan: I actually went into a Pizza Hut after a very long day, (This was when I used to eat that sort of stuff.) a long time ago, we’re talking 30 years ago. And I’d just been at a very long, difficult meeting, and went with a couple of people to Pizza Hut.
Now, I went into the Pizza Hut, and there was this sort of very snooty sounding guy. I thought, “What are you doing in a Pizza Hut?” He’s a very snooty sounding guy.
Bonnie: [laughs] Even the rich like their pizza.
Jonathan: And he said to me, “Is he good?”, meaning the dog.
Jonathan: And I said, “Well actually, it’s a she. And of course she’s good. She’s a trained guide dog. She’ll be no bother at all.”
And he said, “Well, we’ll just keep you here on this table, where we can keep an eye on you.”
And I thought, “I don’t need this after the day I’ve had.”, so I said, “Look, it’s okay. We’ll get something somewhere else, thanks.”
I said to Pearl, “Forward!” We were ready to storm out of the place.
Jonathan: And she went right into the kitchen.
Bonnie: Of course. [laughs]
Jonathan: So she found the door all right, but it was the kitchen she went into.
Bonnie: [laughs] Sometimes, they will make a fool out of you.
Jonathan: [laughs] Yeah.
Bonnie: They do.
Jonathan: But it is a very special partnership.
Bonnie: It is, and it’s talking about they do learn things, and they will learn lifts.
Lizzie was my retired dog, who’s still with us at 15 years old, was probably what you would call a public relations textbook guide dog. She was incredible at picking. She was almost too smart for her own good. She was very very good at problem-solving, which they all should be. But some of them, like us, are a little better at it than others.
And she knew stairs, ’cause we took the subway all the time. So even if we went in a strange subway station, I could tell her to find the stairs, and we would find it.
And she was really good about the elevators, the lift. She loved racing to the elevator and plopping her nose on the button. You know, she would show me. That was her thing.
She was a workaholic.
What I tell people when they’re considering a guide dog is think a lot about your lifestyle. It’s a choice. You know, some people prefer to use canes, some people prefer to travel with a guide dog. And neither one is right or wrong. It’s what is best for you.
And I see a lot of people who occasionally will get a guide dog because the family wanted them to get them.
Jonathan: Oh, mate. In my office, there are people who are like, “Please, Jonathan, get a guide dog.”
Bonnie: They wanna play with it? [laughs]
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
Bonnie: And that’s another thing that you have to, … that a person, not necessarily you but anyone getting a guide dog has to think about because now you’re the celebrity, ’cause everybody’s gonna recognize the dog, or you. You know, “Oh, where’s your dog today?” Or, you know, they’re more interested in the dog sometimes. I joke that I could just send the dog, and people would be very happy about it instead of sending me.
Bonnie: But I’ve been working dogs for 30 years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Does it have challenges? Of course, it does.
You’re taking care of another being, you know. It’s not something that you can put in the corner when you get home from work.
They have to be fed, and taken to the vet, and exercised, and played with, and groomed.
And also looking at your lifestyle, – you know, where you live, ’cause you do have to get out and work them. And I don’t know what country you live in. But there are guide dogs all around the world. They’ve just even started a school, I think, in Turkey.
And just looking at the societal norms in that country, the culture, that sort of thing.
I would encourage you to explore what school would be the closest to you, and talk to them. And some schools will let you even work a dog. Like, you know, you could go on a test drive, if you will. I think it’s a wonderful experience.
The biggest challenge that I have ever had didn’t happen until I moved here. And as Jonathan’s talking about our biosecurity, it’s very stressful. You can leave the country, that’s no problem. But it’s coming back into the country that can be a very stress-inducing situation, ’cause you almost feel like you can’t enjoy your holiday abroad.
We went to Europe last year. I didn’t take her, for multiple reasons. We were doing a lot of traveling more than normal, and the fact that we were visiting several different countries, and each country has its own regulations.
Europe is a bit looser than the UK. The UK is almost like New Zealand is, except they’ve given up the quarantine. So that would have just been too much.
We went to the US earlier (a couple months ago) to the NFB convention, and didn’t take her for a couple of reasons – again, getting back into the country, but also the fact that she’s never been to a large convention. And she’s fine with dogs, but it’s very stressful on them.
So we are planning to go to the US later this year, and she will go on that trip.
Jonathan: We, being you and Eclipse. I’m not going.
Jonathan: One of my favorite guide dog stories that I love is…
We had a politician who’s still around, actually, in local government. But he was a national politician, both with a uppercase and lowercase N at the time. And he was the minister of transport.
He got himself into a bit of hot water, for reasons I won’t go into.
But this is when I was doing government relations. I was doing a lot of flying between Wellington and Auckland.
And he’d been in the news for all the wrong reasons. This is Morris Williamson, for New Zealanders who know him.
And I got on a plane, and there he was.
He said, “Good morning, Jonathan. Good morning, Pearl.”
And I said to him, “That’s pretty impressive, Minister, because most people remember Pearl’s name but forget mine.”
He took a deep breath, and he said, “Jonathan, never get into politics, or people will think you’re the dog.”
Jonathan: And everybody was listening, and they all laughed and clapped.
Jonathan: So here’s the next question.
Bonnie: Oh, I just wanted to say another funny thing about dogs and travel.
I really like it because the dogs are so well-behaved, or should be well-behaved, should I say, that a lot of times, people don’t even know they’re there.
And my favorite thing is to be on a plane, particularly a long haul or one that’s lasted a few hours. And you get up to get off the plane, and the passengers will inevitably say, “Has that dog been on here the whole flight?”
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, they don’t know. And sometimes, you get that at restaurants, too, when you get up at the end of a meal.
Bonnie: Yeah. “I didn’t know there was a dog there.” That happened the other week, when we were at Portland.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
Bonnie: And I love it on the bus, because she’ll go under the bus seat and just sleep the whole time. It’s about an hour bus ride from our house to work.
And so people are on and off. And then, she’ll be on there, and she’ll pop her head out from under the seat. And if someone’s sitting next to me, they kind of like scream, “I didn’t know it was under there!” [laughs]
Jonathan: Now, the next question that we’re gonna cover is interesting to us both because in my day job, I’m chief executive of an employment agency that finds work on the open market for disabled people. And of course, Bonnie’s formerly in that area.
But she’s also written a book that’s still available on the Mosen Consulting store. What’s left of it, called “It’s Off to Work We Go.”, and you can hear Heidi reading the audio version of that. You can also download the book.
And this question comes from David. It’s a really interesting and important question.
And he says:
I love the show, and wanted to get your thoughts on the subject.
I had a remote interview for a new position. I work for the US government and got the job.”
Jonathan: “This is a really cool position – working with international partners, including Australia. Sorry. New Zealand,” he says.
Jonathan: “I haven’t disclosed my disability yet, as formal paperwork hasn’t been processed.
When do you think it is appropriate to disclose? I’m spending a lot of mental energy on this.”
Bonnie: That’s a really good question, and you bring up a few things that are very interesting.
The remote part. We’re seeing more and more remote interviews, particularly in US government jobs right now because a lot of them are still working remotely. And on a remote interview, you may or may not be able to tell.
Disclosure is one of those, it’s kind of like religion and politics. You’re gonna have so many different opinions. And you could get 10 people in the room and they all have a separate opinion.
My opinion is if you’re interviewing for the job, unless it’s really to your advantage in a cover letter or resume to disclose, we kind of hear in New Zealand tell people not to disclose until they’ve actually gotten the formal paperwork signed.
But again, a lot of it depends on your relationship with the hiring person. Sometimes, you just feel, you know it’s right to say, “Look, I’m also visually impaired. I’ll need some accommodations.”
I would hope that if it’s a US government job, particularly, that they would be okay with that.
But yeah, those are sort of my advice. It is a tough subject though.
Jonathan: I think there are a lot of variables at play here.
So if I’m applying for a job and someone looks at my CV and they see blindness-related things, you know, whether it be in my work – working for various IT companies (they’re IT companies, but they’ve got a blindness angle because I’ve always been motivated to do that kind of work) and various other things that I’ve done in my life have been blindness-related as well. So it has blindness all over it, really.
And then obviously, when you turn up for a job interview, you’re rocking your guide dog or your white cane. In that case, we would encourage deployment of a strategy that we call positive disclosure, and that is that you own it.
You go in there, and what you find is that people are so reticent about raising the issue themselves as a potential employer because they don’t wanna get pinged or say the wrong thing, spoil the interview.
So we encourage the customers that we work with to take the bull by the horns.
And at a certain point, if you think the interview is going well, say, “Look, you may have some questions about how I would do this role, or what I might need to do it effectively. And I’m happy to answer those questions. Let me give you a few bits of information that you’ll find handy.”
So we encourage positive disclosure, but I do agree with Bonnie that if you’ve got yourself into a situation where you’ve had the interview, perhaps because it’s remote, perhaps because if you’ve got a little bit of vision, you may not appear to be vision impaired on a remote interview, and they offer you the job, then sign the paperwork. And then, discuss your accommodations because it’s illegal to discriminate.
Jonathan: So it’s not like you’re hiding anything.
Jonathan: It’s illegal to discriminate, so lock the deal in. And then, discuss the accommodations.
And I mean, this is the US government we’re talking about in particular, so they are required to, and they’re used to providing accommodations.
Jonathan: So it really does depend, I think, on your circumstances.
Some of us, because of our impairment, simply can’t hide the impairment, in which case you should own it, in my view.
You should. Because otherwise, if you don’t, what happens is that people make a whole bunch of erroneous assumptions, and employer will close their eyes and think, “Oh my goodness! If I were blind, I couldn’t do this job. Therefore, neither can he or she.”, and you don’t get the chance to set the record straight.
Bonnie: Yeah. And you’re obviously very capable with being able to do this job. So even if they have questions, say, “Look, I have all these skills and things that I’ve done. This is how I’m gonna do it.”
And I find that, I mean, some employers are never gonna change.
I found, as scary as it sounds, the ones in the social service industries are the worst when you interview with them about just really being kind of reticent to it.
But if you’re there to problem solve, … And someone pointed out recently, I think it was you maybe, or a couple of people, disabled people in many ways are better employees because companies want adaptability, they want flexibility, they want problem-solving. We do that every single day of our lives.
Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. And I talk to a lot of employers.
I spoke to a big conference of employers just a couple of weeks ago, and made exactly this point.
And what was really encouraging for me was that after I finished my speech, and I give this sort of speech a lot in my job, we actually had the employer who got up and said, “Look, I wanna vouch for everything that Jonathan has said. I actually use his agency to source workers because they are great problem solvers, and the people we get from him are the best workers we’ve got.”
Bonnie: Every single day, we have to think about it. Am I gonna get a Uber denial, or taxi denial? Is the bus not going to show up and I’m gonna have to figure out how am I gonna get there on time?
So we’re always, always thinking outside the box.
Jonathan: Yeah, we absolutely are.
Well, that’s good. We seem to have a broad consensus on this.
I mean, let’s take the alternative. If you had disclosed right at the beginning of the interview, “Oh, by the way, I think you should know I have a vision impairment.”, then you can never tell whether somebody’s got some sort of misconception, “Oh my God! There’s a lot of international travel involved in this job. How’s he gonna do that? It could be dangerous.”
And so you wouldn’t know whether you’d been denied because there genuinely was a better qualified candidate, or because of people’s perceptions.
Bonnie: Yeah, you’ll never know.
Jonathan: And so I think you’ve done it exactly right.
Bonnie: I think so.
Jonathan: And you should do the paperwork, and then talk about any accommodation you might need.
Bonnie: And I think on the flip side of that, “People think I’m not being honest. Are they gonna trust me?”
But you’re not doing anything wrong. This is part of you.
Would you disclose that you were Hispanic, or black, or whatever if it wasn’t necessarily evident?
And I think it’s just part of you. It doesn’t compromise the work you’ll be doing.
And like he said, discrimination is so hard to prove.
Jonathan: Good luck, David.
And then, if you get as far as Australia, you might as well come over here.
Bonnie: [laughs] Exactly.
Jonathan: ’Cause we’re the cool kids in New Zealand.
Bonnie: Let us know how it works out.
We do have some excellent guide dog handler testimonials. We’ll get to those next week. And you are welcome to add to the list, if you would like. But let’s get out of here.
Now, thank you for another great show. Thanks to all of your contributions.
Remember that when you’re out there with your guide dog, you’ve harnessed success. And with your cane, you’re able.
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