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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. And this is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. Today a COVID-19 check-in, New Zealand remains locked down. How are things going for you? More on the way blind people are portrayed in the media and ableist language. If you’re visiting Canada, there are some new steps you’ll need to take. Really appreciate you joining me today for this episode, which is 145. Wow. We are still right across New Zealand in level four lockdown right now, this is as a result of an outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19. After a very long gap where we were completely COVID-free in the community, we now have 347 community cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
That’s not counting the ones that we intercept in managed isolation and quarantine. Anybody who’s coming into the country has to go through 14 days of that. All but 14 of those cases are in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. I’m recording this by the way on Saturday morning. These statistics change all the time. At this stage, it’s the government’s intention to take all but the Northern part of New Zealand, Northland, and Auckland, out of COVID alert level four on Tuesday evening, so going into Wednesday morning and we’ll be going into COVID alert level three everywhere else in the country.
While it’s anticipated that Auckland could be staying at alert level four, for as much as two more weeks as they get that COVID outbreak under control. It is a high price to pay, but the reward is that hopefully, we can get the virus back under control, that we can pursue the elimination strategy that has been so successful for New Zealand for so long. Of course, we’ll just have to see how easy that is given the more virulent nature of the Delta strain, but level four is one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. As I’ve mentioned, no Uber Eats, nothing’s open really apart from essential workplaces, supermarkets, and petrol stations and pharmacies.
That’s pretty much your lot. In level three, it does ease a little bit, but most people will be expected to continue to work from home and we do get the Uber Eats back. In fact, interestingly, when we were at level three last year, as part of that very successful elimination strategy that we pursued, a number of really nice restaurants that Bonnie and I enjoy visiting, delivered just for that period. They stopped their deliveries as soon as level two came back, but we got some very fine food indeed delivered during that period. I know that COVID alert level four is very stressful for a lot of people.
There are people who aren’t in optimal conditions to work from home. They’ve got young children and they’re screaming in the background and there’s not the space for a couple to work separately in their respective jobs if doing that is possible in a home environment. It is tough for many people, but I think people’s increased competency with online meetings benefits many disabled people. As somebody who’s blind and with a reasonable hearing impairment, going to new locations, making sure I’m going to be in an environment where I can hear well, it does actually create a little bit of stress so I do enjoy the uptake of online meetings.
People talk about Zoom fatigue, I don’t get that. I think a lot of that Zoom fatigue is visual. It’s interesting to hear people say, “Turn off your video if you want to.” People should feel okay about turning off their video if that allows them to feel less fatigued and less stressed about being visible. The advantage of turning off the video too is that you can put your smartphone in your pocket and you can walk around the place. After all, if you’ve been on video with someone umpteen times, you don’t need to show them what you look like. The commute is wonderful too, of course.
Bonnie has quite a long commute in her job. I see that Apple is getting into some strife because while they have had to delay returning to work, and that’s something I’ll come back to in a minute. When we look at statistics, there are a lot of people at Apple who are saying, “We don’t really want to, we’re happy working from home.” I think a lot of people really are. They want the choice and they’ve proven that they can be trusted, they’ve proven that the technology is up to it and that it’s effective. During the week, Bonnie and I normally have a pretty hectic life as you can appreciate. We both work in busy jobs. We eat well, though, we get the service called Muscle Fuel.
If you’re in New Zealand, I highly recommend that, Muscle Fuel do a range of deliveries, including some excellent ketogenic meals, which is what we get. They deliver them fresh, they’re vacuum-packed. It’s really great just microwave them. That means we get a good quality nutritious meal in the evening when we’re just zonked after a long day. Just before this COVID outbreak, it was pretty clear to me that one would come sooner or later, we weren’t going to dodge Delta forever so we stocked up in our chest freezer from a local butcher, and we’ve been eating a lot of freshly made food because there’s time and that’s been very pleasant.
There are also a range of businesses delivering online, and we’ve discovered some businesses that we didn’t know about, there’s been a website that has put out a big list of places in New Zealand that are still allowed to deliver things during COVID at level four. We’ve, for example, found this place that does healthy ketogenic breakfasts. I typically haven’t been a breakfast eater for the last few years because I practice intermittent fasting, but I can easily do the breakfast at lunchtime and it’s delicious. There these really nice low-carb mueslis and different things like that, that they deliver. I guess everything has a silver lining. Doesn’t it?
I must share with you though, I did have a classic blind moment at the beginning of the pandemic when we locked down at level four in March last year. I started working a lot in my day job from my studio, which is a great environment for me to work in. I really like working in here. Somebody said after a few days, actually of me working from home, why have you got that bottle of wine in your office? I thought, “What on earth are they talking about? I don’t even drink.” The story is that for a while Bonnie and I both worked in here. We had a desk set up for Bonnie and she would sit there and work away. It was really pleasant because we just chat to each other and things.
Inevitably, we found that it wasn’t always the best option because sometimes I was talking to people, sometimes I needed to record things, and sometimes she needed to talk to people. It didn’t really work out. Bonnie relocated and we’re actually in the process when lockdown is over of setting up a separate office for Bonnie. Now that the kids have fled the nest, we’ve got a bit more space to do that. Anyway, we abandoned this idea and Bonnie’s desk remains largely unused behind me. It’s got the Mushroom FM computer on it now, in fact. We made this decision before the pandemic and in the new year celebrations of 2019 going into 2020, we had everybody down.
If you have been listening to my work on Mushroom FM and other things for a long time, you will know that I’ve had this tradition for some years now. Well over a decade where we broadcast from New Zealand for the new year, and a lot of people wake up at stupid o’clock and listen to that new year’s celebration, which is really good of them to do that. The kids brought down some sparkling grape juice and they opened it up and we drank a toast to the new year, the final year of the decade 2020, little knowing what that final year of the decade would bring.
That was that, but it turns out that the kids just left the empty bottle of sparkling grape juice on the desk behind me, where Bonnie used a sit and where the Mushroom FM PC sits now and because neither Bonnie nor I, really used that desk for anything, neither of us felt around the desk, neither of us thought that there might be a bottle there. I have this camera that’s mounted in a way that when I’m sitting in my office chair in the place that I normally sit with my keyboard in front of me, the camera’s mounted on the wall, it focuses correctly. I know that I’m going to be in the view of the camera.
It takes that element of guesswork out because, unlike the phone, the PC does not really tell you whether you’re in the view of the camera. It just so happened that this empty bottle of sparkling grape juice was directly behind me in the view of the camera. It just looks like a wine bottle sitting there in my office. I still get people pinging me about the wine bottle in my office. This is like an urban myth now when, in fact, it was just a bottle of sparkling grape juice that the kids didn’t put away after it was emptied. That’s a classic blind moment and a bit of light relief. However, there are a lot of serious things going on and it’s been a while since we checked on COVID-19 around the world.
I know that people are just fatigued, they want to get on with it. I do find myself musing sometimes about our resilience as a generation. Certainly, in some parts of the world we are very fractured and divided, but when you think of what the World War II generation went through and what we’re being asked to do now, which is really just to get a vaccine, and maybe stay home sometimes or wear a mask. It’s not a big sacrifice, is it? But it seems like somehow society is broken down more, in some countries more than others.
I note, for example, that the COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse again in the United States so two months ago, the United States was averaging 11,000 new cases a day. Now, that’s a very high number to me, 11,000 two months ago, but it was a big improvement, wasn’t it from where the US used to be? Now, it’s back up, it’s back way up, and it’s averaging out of the 155,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day in the United States. One month ago, 35,000 Americans were hospitalized with COVID, and now 101,000 Americans are.
Two months ago, the United States was averaging 200 COVID deaths a day, so they’ve gone right down because we know that with the vaccine, you may not necessarily miss out on getting COVID altogether, but the death toll reduces significantly, the hospitalization rate reduces significantly. Now, you’ve got 1,194 Americans dying every day. I see there are some increases in the UK as well. We kind of get desensitized to the numbers, to the news. There is just so much news that we have access to now. I had an example of this not so long ago, and I think I have mentioned it briefly on the podcast where my youngest daughter was involved in a house fire.
It was a very scary thing. They were in a house. She was visiting a friend, quite some distance away, actually, in the South Island. The house caught fire because there was some issue with birds getting into the chimney of all things. They managed to get out and make sure that everybody else in that house which had been repurposed into little flats got out.
If that fire had happened at a different time of day, and they were asleep, it might have been a very different outcome and that really scares the hell out of you as a parent. One of the things that really demonstrated to me was, if I had just read that news story about the fire, I would have shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Man, that’s terrible, but that’s great they got out.”
I would have moved on, and probably forgotten about it within a minute, just moved on to the next thing in my feed. Yet, obviously, when that happens to a family member, it’s a very personal thing, isn’t it? It affects you deeply. The point I’m making is that we get so anesthetized by these statistics. 1,194 people dying every day of this virus. They had family members, someone loved them. Someone’s world has been turned upside down in almost every case. I know that there are people who get misled by mischievous people on social media, but it is so concerning when you hear, particularly in the United States, leaders, so-called leaders complaining about masks, seeking to stop people from mandating them.
People who advance the idea that horse medication rather than vaccines are going to help you. It really is a worry what is breaking down there. It really is, so I thought I would check in and find out how COVID-19 is going for you because we haven’t done a COVID-19 check-in for a while. I know that in Australia, for example, they are grappling with the Delta variant after a long run there, and many states in Australia are in various degrees of lockdown so wishing you all the best as well. If you work, are you still working from home where you are? How’s online delivery going? I know that during this pandemic, delivery of items has been a real problem.
The whole social distancing thing continues to be a challenge, doesn’t it? I also wanted to check in on the matter of apps and contact tracing. I found this really interesting article about some research that’s been done 9to5Mac is reporting this among other outlets, and they say, “COVID-19 contact tracing apps built on the joint Google/Apple exposure notification API have saved thousands of lives in some countries, but have largely proven ineffective in the United States.” A report examining data from the apps finds that many states didn’t even get as far as creating one, take-up was low, and very few users bothered to log infection in the app rendering it useless.
None of the blame rests with Apple or Google, who both played their part by making it a trivial task for US states and countries around the world to build their own privacy-respecting apps. Apple even went as far as providing sample code that could be easily adapted to create a full app, but Business Insider examined the data and found that the US failed to take anything like full advantage of the technology. It describes a cascade of failures, ranging from the federal government to individuals. The first problem was that the White House didn’t create a single US-wide contact tracing app but instead delegated it to individual states.
The article goes on to highlight a number of problems, including the fact that a very low number of people actually input their test results into the contact tracing app, which is, of course, important, because then the exposure notification gets sent out and if you’ve been in close contact with somebody who’s got COVID-19, you get notified. That’s what the Google and Apple contact tracing API offers. Some countries are not using it. I’m not sure whether Australia actually got around to using the Google and Apple contact tracing API, so somebody might be able to tell me about that. I know that they went with a Bluetooth solution quite early and that that was buggy. It drained battery life.
People were reluctant to use it, and I don’t know whether they ever adopted that new API once it was released. What a number of other countries have done is supplemented that contact tracing API with a check-in system, a little bit like Swarm or even Facebook check-in, where, when you go to a venue, you check in to say that you are at that venue, and that information is stored securely on your phone, it doesn’t go out on the internet, nothing happens to it. It usually scrolls off, I think after a couple of weeks, which is the normal incubation period of the original COVID-19 virus.
Then, if you find yourself testing positive for COVID-19, then the contact traces come calling, and they say, “Can you tell us the places that you visited? So that any public places can be defined as locations of interest, and published on a website, and any places that are not public that where they may have been exposure, we can notify people privately like workplaces for instance that the public might not visit.” Now, we have used a system based on QR codes in New Zealand, and this is quite common. I believe Australia is using a similar QR code-based system.
The idea is that when you go to a venue, there’s a prominent QR code displayed on a poster, and if you can see it, and if you can reach it, then you just snap a picture of that QR code within the app and everything is logged, the date, the time the address, it’s all done just by taking a pic of a QR code. Now, of course, the problem that we have is that QR code scanning is inherently difficult for some disabled people. Even competent blind smartphone users might have trouble locating the code independently. I can certainly tell you some horror stories that I’ve experienced directly, and other blind people have told me about.
I’ve had people contravening good social distancing practices, which are really important right now when we’re dealing with a Delta variant outbreak, to try and help me get the QR code in the view, so if it’s not obvious where the QR code is because there’s no mandated standard about where to put them, I might ask, and then next thing you know, somebody is taking your arm and getting in your space and in your face and then if you’re still not finding the code, then someone might even snatch the phone out of your hand. I’ve had that happen as well and that’s obviously a huge security risk.
The other side of the coin is that sometimes you go in there, and you want to scan the QR code and do the right thing and they tell you, “Oh, don’t bother. Don’t bother signing in, it’s not important.” That’s not the right approach either. We’ve all got to do our bit. Until recently, the New Zealand COVID tracer app for iOS, which does these two things. It’s compliant with the Google and Apple contact tracing API, so you can input a test result in there and you can release an exposure notification if you need to, had pretty good accessibility, at least on iOS for manual entry that has gotten worse in the last release or so, so it’s not as simple to enter manual information as it once was.
I am in touch with people who use wheelchairs and they have pointed out that sometimes they go into a venue and the QR code is so high up that it’s not possible for them to scan the code themselves from the wheelchair. They have suffered the indignity of similar space invasion from people who want to snatch their phone out of their hand. The phone has got all sorts of private, personal important information. Unfortunately, not everyone is a saint. What happens if you never get that phone back. Last weekend, the government made an announcement round in the midst of this Delta variant outbreak, that they were going to make the keeping of records mandatory.
You have to keep a record of where you have been. I certainly understand the uptake of the Android COVID tracer app has been pretty hit and miss. A lot of people have it on their phones, but very few people are using it regularly. I have been signaling to government for a while that they have to be careful here because they could be creating an accessibility nightmare. I was heartened that they took note of those concerns expressed by me and others. The government was very careful in its language stating that they’re not requiring the use of the app, that they are requiring mandatory record keeping.
Actually, I think who we really have to thank in this instance are Apple and Google, who as part of the conditions of use of the API have said, “If you mandate the use of this, you’re not going to be allowed to use it.” The government has not wanted to take Apple and Google on about that. Also, of course, there are people who don’t have smartphones for various reasons, but I am concerned that the messaging has to be very clear around this. Obviously, it’s going to become an issue as businesses start to open again, eventually, in New Zealand, because I think a lot of the messaging has been quite simplified and a lot of businesses think that it’s compulsory for everybody to use their QR code.
I’m concerned that this is another thing that’s going to be piled on disabled people who have issues with the QR code, that businesses are going to insist that they use the QR code when that’s not actually necessary. It’s only record keeping that’s necessary. People want to do their part. Let’s go overseas and talk to Beth Taurasi. I hope I’ve not mispronounced your name there, Beth. She says, “Dear Jonathan, first, I want to apologize for anything that might bother any listeners of the podcast, but I have some serious thoughts about the pandemic this side of the United States, particularly Denver.
It has been a challenge with stuff I would need to get done. I am involved in a choir in Denver that does not seem to represent the disabled community. I seem to be the only blind person there. It’s always the same. Always me being the only blind person. At one time the choir had three blind mice in it. It was three blind women, including myself, but two of them left for theater and other job prospects. I’m the only blind person left. This can sound like a big challenge. They’ve decided not to provide transport because of COVID to ask for proof of vaccine or a picture of your vaccine card, which I am terrible at taking pictures of objects.
I feel terrible about those who have to use a contact tracing thing on their phones because the QR codes aren’t much for me either. I just have a little thing on my phone that turns on and it bounces waves around other phones. If someone comes up positive for COVID, I get an alert thing on my iPhone, simple enough, but Denver doesn’t have a COVID app per se, for tracing contacts. My governor has actually done the blind of Colorado USA, a big favor. However, the pandemic has also been challenging because of shopping. A lot of delivery people are needed to give folks their food, but I and another girl had the unfortunate happening of our deliveries were stolen.
In my case, the delivery driver failed to read my apartment number, so now even with DoorDash, I have to constantly bring my apartment number to the forefront thus, the driver would be able to tell the difference between my apartment and the apartment downstairs on another floor. I’ve had two deliveries go where they shouldn’t. I canceled Walmart Plus, which though accessible, there was a protocol which means I had to carry heavy items into the door. This was a hardship for my partner who has a weakened left hand due to mild CP. For me, I am terrible at weight training, but I don’t see the points in it all the time.
What’s more, delivery drivers could also have treated my partner differently because of race and disability combined, which did happen with Instacart, which I reported years ago. Seems every time I try to shop for things on my own, the deliveries don’t go to the proper place. I can’t be clearer enough. I told one and another delivery driver off for delivering to the wrong place. One time by the door that leads into the vestibule of my apartment building, which is a gated community and one to the wrong floor, wrong unit. I had them both written up for this, especially the one who didn’t even show up on my floor. I’m not alone.
As for coverage of blind people in the media, I want to say something about that too. I was doing a live stream on Facebook, had some ideas for what’s called a fan fiction, which is a kind of story you write with your own characters, which could be anything from pirates to Harry Potter or even Disney characters. I had this weird idea about a law and order type fan fiction. Someone mentioned a blind mother whose baby gets taken away. One of the biggest problems with the media and in Hollywood is the lack of strong blind characters. As a girl growing up, no blind princess characters.
When I did a Google search once on blind princesses, I came up nothing European, American, and found an obscure tale of some sort from Nigeria. I don’t know if it would fly with Disney to do a movie on blind princess characters. Most princesses in Disney law, for example, are usually princess in tower types. The sort that just get married or are rescued. They did make strides for representation with Tiana, the black princess who wants to be a restaurant owner. There are lots of black restaurant owners. However, blindness is not oftentimes attributed to princesses. Blindness being feared in European folklore doesn’t help Disney’s princess culture much.
I grew up with Ariel, Belle, and all the other favorites, but did not see myself represented in fairy tale culture at all. All the blind characters were usually fortune tellers or witches or other types of minor roles. I think the blind need better and stronger coverage. Aside from Apple TV Plus’s show entitled See, there is not much of a choice of blind characters you can pick from in a fanfiction world. There were no blind people or characters in any of my favorite science fiction series shows like Star Wars and the like, except for Jordy from Star Trek. Even then he gets to see. People should know that by not casting blind people in any role in any series in Hollywood at all, they are doing us a disfavor more than a favor.
I myself did not grow up with blind role models, did not get represented in TV shows and the media. All the stuff I did see about blindness and blind people is nothing, but what we call inspiration born. You can guess the rest of it.”
Speaker 2: Like the show? Then why not like it on Facebook too. Get upcoming show announcements, useful links, and a bit of conversation. Head on over now to facebook.com/mosenatlarge. That’s facebook.com/m-o-s-e-natlarge, to stay connected between episode.
Jonathan: More on the subject of Facebook, just a brief mention that Facebook has given us a new feature now where we can publish episodes of the podcast directly to the Mosen At Large page. If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, you can like us there and listen to Mosen At Large right from the comfort of your Facebook app or web browser tab. Steve Bauer has written and to say, “I listened to the podcast The Daily from the New York times.” It was the Sunday read from the 1st of August. There’s an article written by a visually impaired reporter about a television series where the lead person is blind but portrayed by a sighted person.
NFB has protested against the series, which is if I remember correctly in its third year, the actual podcast runs 31 minutes so maybe too long to include in the Mosen At Large podcast, but might make for a good discussion segment. Not only is it long, but they would also ping us if I included that in our podcast feed.” Steve continues, “Also, soon I hope to produce a demo of a new device that will read your blood sugar and you wear it on your arm and just point your smartphone at it. It’s really pretty cool, but the is dismal.
I can get the reading when I take it, but not much else. I want to contact the company and do some legwork on my end before I put together a demo and a feature for you. Sounds like Apple is still a way off being able to offer a blood sugar reading via the Apple Watch. Finally, I got my first Opticon in 1977 and used it extensively in my job at the bank for a while. I used the CRT lens that was before computers to read the info on the screen, which I needed to contact delinquent credit card customers. Even though I am now retired, I still have three units and use one almost daily for short and simple tasks. The remaining units are safely in storage if needed. It’s interesting.
The way that people’s squirrel away these Opticons, isn’t it? It just goes to show the impact that this technology had. Thanks for drawing the article to our attention from the New York Times. Steve, I actually read the article when it came out in the times itself and found it very interesting. It is a subject that is covered in Leona Godan’s book, There Plant Eyes, where she talks about the need for blind people to play blind people and indeed for disabled people to play disabled people. I think one of the things I find troubling is that they expect blind people to look a certain way. They say, “Oh, well, if you’re blind, it’s really difficult for you to act in a way that’s suitable for TV.”
I find that really disturbing because it’s saying, “Oh, we’re happy to do blind characters, but we’re not happy to have them actually be blind.” I would recommend the Times article, I find The Daily quite hard going sometimes with their reads and the way they do them because they put all this silly music in the background, which I just find a distraction, but it is there. It will be in the podcast feed still from the 1st of August. Yes, the NFB had quite a campaign going on, last Sunday they protested outside the network’s headquarters and they had the #LetUsPlayUs. If you have any views on this, do we need to ensure that there are more disabled actors in these roles and how do we break the cycle and get them on the screen?
I do recommend Leona’s chapter on the subject in her book, There Plant Eyes, it is thought-provoking. Another item you’ll be interested in if you are concerned with this topic is an item on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row show from last Monday night, Front Row is an arts program that they have on BBC Radio 4. It’s available internationally on the BBC sounds app. I don’t know if they do a podcast, but it’s certainly on the web and on BBC sounds. They had a guy on Monday night called Jack Thorne, and I believe he is disabled himself. He is talking about this organization that he’s just founded to promote disabled people playing disabled people and also making sure that environments are accessible and accepting for disabled people.
He’s done a MacTaggart lecture on the subject as well. If you search on Jack Thorne, he’s spelled T-H-O-R-N-E and MacTaggart lecture. You should be able to find that it’s probably up on YouTube or somewhere else like that by now, but he’s also interviewed on Front Row. He had some really good things to say on the subject. I am really pleased to see more disabled people speaking up about our exclusion from these roles. Another thing I wanted to bring to your attention on the subject of blindness and its portrayal in the media before we go on to the main event as it were, which is what prompted me to raise this is a human interest piece that appeared on TVNZ, our public TV broadcaster here back on the 25th of July.
This was a little magazine piece. It’s a section they call good sorts. That’s a New Zealand expression, “She’s a good sort.” It just means good person. They were featuring a blind woman who has made a contribution over a decade or two running a walking group. It’s a really good story. They spoiled that story by saying that the woman was blind, can’t drive, can’t work. Now the fact that she can’t drive is an indisputable fact. No problem there, of course, she can’t drive, and fair enough for pointing it out, but to say in the same sentence that she also cannot work because she’s blind is pretty concerning, isn’t it?
I made a complaint to the broadcaster in my official day job capacity because obviously, I’m concerned with perceptions of disabled people working. We’ve just had some new statistics come out indicating that 6 out of 10 disabled New Zealanders are out of work. We’ve got a problem. Certainly, those negative perceptions have to be challenged. I wrote to them and I said, “The way you’ve worded this, you’re implying that blind people can’t work because obviously, we can’t drive. To say that we can’t work in the same sentence, that’s really a bit dodgy.” That is dodgy.
TVNZ has already come back and declined to uphold the complaints and in making that decision they say they were told by the person concerned, the interview subjects that because she was blind, she couldn’t work. Now, my comment was the way they portrayed it gave the impression I think to most reasonable people that they were saying that all blind people can’t work and obviously, employers watch these things. It’s a constant battle. I think it will continue to be as long as we have so few disabled people in the media. If you’re a young person and you’re thinking, “What career should embark up on that will make a difference?”
We’ve got to see more disabled people on our TV screens, hear them on the radio, not necessarily talking about disability issues, but just being there, being beamed into people’s living rooms, whether it’d be through news reporting or acting as we were talking about earlier. I have been keeping you up to date on my complaints regarding the use of ableist language by RNZ, our radio public broadcaster, who regularly equates blindness with ignorance, ineptitude, and unawareness. As I mentioned, I opted not to go down the high court route because New Zealand’s parliament was holding an inquiry into the RNZ charter.
Now, this is the document that is the strategic plan for the organization, the constitution for the organization. If you can get a strategic objective in the charter, then the public broadcaster, which is funded by the taxes of New Zealand is including the taxes of disabled people has to account to parliament for their achievement of those charter objectives. It was really good timing that this complaint was not upheld at a time when I could make a submission of this kind. Frustration is running pretty high actually among the disabled community about RNZ. I’m aware of at least three submissions, mine and two from disability organizations on the RNZ charter.
Last Thursday, I appeared before the Economic Development Science and Innovation Committee of parliament to give an oral submission. My written submission is quite detailed. Also, at that hearing was Pam McNeill, who runs Disability Responsiveness New Zealand. I thought I would play you both of those submissions and you can get a feel for how this committee meeting went. It was also streamed live on their Facebook page. Sometimes their hearings are streamed on our parliament TV channel as well. I’ll certainly keep you posted regarding how this inquiry goes and whether we do get the clause that is being asked for by a number of disability organizations and disabled individuals. Here is this part of the select committee hearing stop members.
Chairman: Next, staff members we have Jonathan Mosen.
Jonathan: Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Hoping you can hear and see me now.
Jonathan: It’s pronounced Mosen, by the way, but believe me, I’ve been called much worse, so you’re good.
Chairman: Mosen, Mosen. My apologies. [unintelligible [00:38:41] with my surname.
Jonathan: I’ll proceed if that’s okay.
Jonathan: Thank you very much for the opportunity to present this oral submission on the review of the Radio New Zealand charter. In my written submission, I cite several examples to illustrate that despite some good quality long-form coverage of disability issues, for which I congratulate RNZ, and I agree with the previous submitter, they are a treasure, a taonga, RNZ lags well behind similar broadcasters around the world in encouraging more disabled involvement in all aspects of their operation.
Their regular and egregious use of ableist language, which I’ll come back to, is causing real harm and reflects a fundamental disconnect from the disability community. This collection of shortcomings represents serious systemic failure in my view. It’ll only change with a charter clause that will require parliamentary scrutiny and accountability from the broadcaster around what they’re doing to correct the problems. At present, RNZ has no disability current affairs program for disabled people by disabled people. Given the size of the disability community, and the challenges we face, this is both extraordinary and unacceptable.
Such a dedicated program would take a different approach from news coverage, which seeks to explain disability issues to a mainstream audience. To the best of my knowledge, no one on the air at RNZ identifies as disabled while in some other countries disabled people are found in prominent on-air roles in public broadcasters. Now, this matters because when listeners and viewers have a disabled person beamed into their car or their living room, it changes perceptions and it challenges unconscious bias. A lot of employers listen to RNZ and right now, 6 out of 10 disabled Kiwis are out of work, even in this labor market, and there is a disability employment wage gap.
In New Zealand, few disabled people can be found in institutions of change, including parliament, I have to say. We find ourselves in a catch 22 situation regarding seeking to increase the participation of disabled people because to do that, we’ve got to convince non-disabled people to give us a fair go. Now RNZ seldom features the voices of disabled people going beyond disability issues and just talking about everyday things, thus making it clear that we too are people with political opinions, families, talents, hopes, and dreams. My written submission chronicles my frustrating and protracted personal advocacy efforts just to get RNZ to follow accepted practice for the accessible use of social media.
Something that if disability considerations or a Charter obligation would be a matter of policy that I’m sure would be enforced by senior RNZ staff. I accept, of course, that RNZ must move with the times and be a multimedia publisher, but they must understand the accessibility considerations for each platform that they are on because the taxes of disabled people help to fund them too. Finally, and most concerningly for me, RNZ continues to make regular and egregious use of ableist language. Many people ask me what the biggest barrier is that I have faced in my life and I tell them without hesitation that it’s not my impairments, it’s other people’s erroneous limiting perceptions of my impairments, that have at times deprived me of opportunity.
I’m sure you can appreciate it is pretty rough when you wake up to hear the morning news and you find yourself as a disabled person repeatedly insulted by our public broadcaster before you’ve even left the house. In recent years, we have made some progress with the recognition of the harm that ableist language can do. I think there is a general acceptance in informed society that describing an idea as retarded is not appropriate, yet regularly RNZ is still using expressions like falling on deaf ears to describe someone not taking any notice, being completely blind about an issue, equating blindness with ignorance or ineptitude or crippling house prices.
A day seldom goes by when RNZ doesn’t use the expression blindsided when they are saying that something unexpected happened to someone and the list goes on. Now, I know I may be accused of being woke and politically correct for talking about this, but as many women and those from ethnic minorities will confirm words matter. Words create unconscious bias. Words that equate impairments within competence or indifference have a direct bearing on people’s perceptions of what disabled people can be and do. I have formally complained to RNZ about their rampant ableist language problem.
What disturbs me greatly is that the non-disabled people who reply have shown no interest at all in engaging with the disability community about ableist language. Instead, they simply state their intention to keep right on doing what they’re doing because it’s been done for centuries. I have to ask why are disabled people treated one way and women and ethnic communities who have also been targets of harmful language treated with much more respect and empathy. I think the answer is very clear. Many of those other historically disadvantaged groups, thankfully, have a voice inside RNZ, disabled people do not.
That’s why this committee can bring RNZ in line with similar broadcasters and other jurisdictions, which are making commendable efforts to improve the coverage of and participation by disabled people. By simply adding a new clause, focusing on disability in the charter, I am confident we will then see disabled people in governance, management, and on-air at RNZ. Given that we make up over 20% of the population, I don’t think that is an unreasonable request. I thank the committee for its time and attention. I’m happy to answer any questions.
Chairman: Thank you, Jonathan. Points, very well made. Nacy and then Melissa.
Nacy: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Jonathan so much. It’s sombering reminder for us all I think this morning about the reality that disabled or differently-abled community faces on a daily basis. Just going to the details. I know we’re doing a review on the Charter at the moment. I think broadly, your submission and the points that you’re making I think it’s very clear. I just wanted to kind of tease out a little bit of the detail in terms of, would you say we should put– If this became a term in the charter, would you see it implemented in say a quota for disabled people?
Would it be some sort of standard and training for the professional training for those on air? What kind of technology is missing right now from the portfolio? Because I imagine there’s radio for those who can’t see, or there’s a website and the app for those who can’t hear, could you just walk us through? Is there any other technology that should be brought in to help those who are differently-abled to access that information from Radio New Zealand?
Jonathan: Well, thanks so much for the question. First I would just say disabled is absolutely fine because what disabled people believe in New Zealand is that it is society’s choices that are disabling us. When we talk about being a disabled person, we are essentially asking society to address those disabling characteristics. I’m disabled, and I’m really proud of that. Now regarding your question, I think the charter would have to look at this at a strategic level, obviously, and then it will be up to leadership of RNZ to operationalize that broad strategic objective, but it would be important that RNZ invest in accessible systems.
For example, I’m a podcaster, I produce a really popular podcast for the blind community globally, and I have built myself an accessible studio and all of that technology can be used by a blind person using screen-reading technology. It would be important that RNZ in their procurement decisions, for example, make decisions that ensure that people with a range of impairments can participate in the production and process of being involved in RNZ.
I think they have gotten most of the multimedia channels well covered. It’s just important that they cover them in an inclusive way. I note, for example, in DPA’s written submission, they talk about the deaf community being excluded because RNZ does not generate written transcripts of their material and I think that’s a really good point. We should expect better from our public broadcaster. That’s what distinguishes a public broadcaster from commercial broadcasters, is the inclusivity.
Chairman: Final question with submission from Melissa.
Melissa: Thank you. Mr. Mosen, Jonathan, thank you so much for your submission. I found your written submission very fulsome and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed reading it and made me feel rather guilty of the way that society has actually become so comfortable using this– I can’t even pronounce the word ableist language. I think we have become so accustomed to that. Often we are not even aware that we’re using it. Thank you for pointing that out. I think that was actually a big lesson for all of us. In terms of representation, going back, I am a former broadcaster. I used to be on TV 1. I used to-
Jonathan: I recognize your voice and I never forget a face.
Melissa: [laughs] Apparently the voice is rather distinctive. I used to do a television show called Asia Down Under. I’ve been in politics for the last 13th year this year. Yet there isn’t a replacement for a production or a program dealing with Asian content as well. When they did actually have the content, it was actually put to a Sunday morning slot and you don’t actually see. It’s sort of mainstreamed. How do you actually see the participation not only in terms of presentation, not only as staffing in terms of the ability that the board necessarily, and also the at radio New Zealand, how do you actually see that manifesting?
Jonathan: I’m sure that we will find disabled people either who have the skills now or who can quickly acquire the skills to produce a great quality show for disabled people by disabled people that talks about our issues in a uniquely different way. You’ll be aware that from your Asia Down Under days, that the way you talk to a community is a bit different from the way you talk about a community to a mainstream audience, but it is really important also. I know a blind guy, who’s a Washington correspondent for the BBC. He’s on people’s TV screens every night. I know a woman in Australia who’s blind and a news reader for the ABC. We don’t have anything like that in New Zealand and disabled people continue to be marginalized and sidelines because RNZ just doesn’t seem to care. They’re not obliged to because their Charter doesn’t require them to.
Melissa: I really appreciate your submission.
Jonathan: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Mosen. Enjoy the rest of your day. I appreciate it.
Jonathan: Thanks cheers.
Chairman: Next up we have Disability Responsiveness New Zealand.
Pam: I want to firstly, thank you for allowing me to present to you on behalf of my organization, Disability Responsiveness New Zealand, DRNZ is a company. It’s not a charity. We believe that the charitable model hasn’t done a lot for disabled people in any part of the world. That was why I had the vision to start the company. Just briefly, what we do is we provide training for non-disabled people about how to respond well to disabled people and also capability building for disabled people, and I’m really happy to take some questions at the end.
I don’t want to repeat too much of what I put in my briefs as much, but I do want to say, I completely agree with everything Jonathan has just said. I would just add one thing in terms of the charter that it would be advisable to while setting up a separate clause for looking at how disabled people can be included that Radio New Zealand would absolutely need to consult with the disability community.
When I say the disability community I mean disabled people, not non-disabled people who sometimes like to speak on our behalf. It’s essential that we ourselves are consulted. Jonathan’s talked about the fact that disabled people are the largest minority in the world. We certainly are. I think in New Zealand, we’re up to 24% now. You will see that my submission dealt with Radio New Zealand news and current affairs.
Basically similar to Jonathan, I believe that there is a lack of inclusion and mainstream stories. There are so many stories that come out that have, every story has a disability led angle because we are people first and foremost. Naturally, we’re going to have views on different things and a perspective on nearly all of the news item specific to COVID. Also there is a lack of disability specific programming.
We used to have a program called one and five, which was really very popular and I’m not sure why it was disbanded. I know that at the time, Radio New Zealand promised disabled people that these stories would be integrated and mainstreamed into the content, which really just hasn’t happened. I’m a trainer and one of the things that I often do when I’m talking to groups, is I ask them to think about roles in their lives, where they have been, or they are privileged and roles and in their lives where they have been, or are marginalized.
Now, the reason I do that, and the reason I ask you to think about that while we’re talking this morning, is that we all have been in our lives marginalized, whether we think about it day to day or not, we all want our stories to be reflected in our public broadcaster. I think that’s critical that New Zealanders see themselves or hear themselves when they’re listening to stories on Radio New Zealand.
One of the reasons I began my PhD back in 2018 was because Neil Donovan, Emile Donovan, sorry, in a program called no job, no training, no hope and in that story, he looked at unemployment level for youth mainly, and the only mention of disabled people in that story was people being cared for by young people. Disabled people as passive recipients of care.
There was no mention whatsoever about youth unemployment among the same people, which is extremely high, even amongst university graduates. The focus of my PhD is on barriers and enablers to employment for disabled people but I have now narrowed that down to our own sector, the disability sector, which is as negligent as any other sector, unfortunately. Now RNZ could help address the issues.
I know Jonathan’s talked about that and DPA’s talked about it in the submission as well, and a series on disability employment and unemployment would be awesome. It’s a huge issue. It needs to have more than one program about it. I would foresee a series and Emile’s a great guy. I’m sure he could do something with the detail, perhaps running series on disability, unemployment.
Workplace bullying, domestic violence, these things affect disabled people. I have been certainly in a workplace where I’ve been bullied and I’ve seen other with disabilities bullied as well. There are a great number of women who are disabled, who are subjected to domestic violence. One of the angles here is that there actually isn’t any women’s refuges that are accessible.
In terms of wheelchair access, nothing and there is no way that someone in a wheelchair who may need additional care can bring someone along with them to a refuge. If they’re escaping the domestic ball such much from COVID-19 hit particular or has particular meaning for disabled people who are finding it hard to get out and shop that if they don’t drive. There is a lack of PPE, for disabled people who have particular health needs.
One of the issues for blind people, is that the COVID air isn’t really accessible. You’ve got to be able to walk into a premises and see the number to write down. Now, the app’s been updated. You can’t even write it down because the screen reader won’t work with it anymore, so really what we needed there was, and the advice certainly was at the time that we must have in it, that would just automatically pin a code and that person wouldn’t even need to get the phone out, but there are other ways that we should be encouraged if it’s going to be mandatory.
There are other ways that people can write down codes, et cetera. It’s important that a disability lens be used across all programming. I said that point is that’s quite, so the charter would be, or Radio New Zealand would be huge to consider the following. Reintroduction of disability specific programming is really important. Be mindful of the language used, as Jonathan said.
Just this morning, I heard referenced to children with special needs, “What a ridiculous expression, we all have special needs, they’re disabled children simple as that.” Consider disability responsiveness training for staff and make sure that that comes from disabled people. Disabled reporters, as Jonathan said, the reporter he was talking about at the ABC is someone that I know quite well, her name is Nas Campanella and she’s an excellent reporter.
I would agree with Jonathan and in closing that the charter definitely needs a clause about disability and I would urge that that clause is worked on by Radio New Zealand and by disabled people in New Zealand. Any questions?
Chairman: Thank you, Pam. I appreciate your submission, and certainly very clear suggestions in terms of practical action points. Any questions members?
Male Speaker: I just want to say thanks for your submission and just for putting it to my attention, and our attention as a committee, because the last two submissions have been really helpful for me personally. Appreciate your time.
Chairman: Thank you. Final question from Melissa Lee.
Melissa Lee: Not quite a question, I just want to actually jump in there and actually echo what my colleague actually said. Pam, thank you so much for your submission all the way. The domestic violence situation is actually relevant in terms of the Radio New Zealand charter, but the very fact that you actually raised it actually put our minds to different space because you often don’t think about these kinds of issues. I think it would actually assist us in our work in other areas as well. Thank you for your submission.
Pam: Yourwelcome. Thank you for your time.
Chairman: Thank you. Have a good day. Appreciate it.
Abby Taylor: [music] Hi everybody. This is Abby Taylor in Sheridan, Wyoming. First of all, I would like to throw in my two cents worth on this ableist language issue. I grew up hearing words like blind faith and blind drunk and blind as a bat, and they never bothered me, even though technically I’m legally blind. I think we obsess too much over political correctness. As a result, people may be hesitant to talk to or talk about or interact in any way with a disabled person due to uncertainty as to what language to use.
Let’s take, for example, you’re visiting somebody at this person’s home, and this person says to you, “Hey, how would you like to watch TV? Oh, shoot. You can’t watch TV because you can’t see it. I’m sorry.” Well, there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying to a blind person, want to watch TV because even though a blind person is, may not see the screen, this person is usually hearing, listening to the programming, perhaps listening to audio description, or perhaps having what’s on the screen described by another individual watching with that person.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying to a blind person. “Let’s watch TV,” Because in a sense, when you’re blind, you still watch TV just like anybody else does. I think we need to be less sensitive and more open to the many connotations of words like blind and watch. Now as for this business about other senses compensating for vision loss, I believe that this is actually true.
I know for a fact that my hearing seems to be more acute than a sighted persons hearing. I have had instances where I’ve heard things that others have not heard. A friend of mine actually did some research and found evidence online to support this. I think it’s very important to preserve the other senses as much as possible, especially the hearing, because if you lose your hearing and you have little vision or no vision at all, that is not good.
Jonathan: Thanks for your contribution, Abby. I’m afraid that if you think that the term watching TV is something that people who are decrying ableist language wants to eliminate, then you’ve misunderstood what ableist language is. No one’s going to object to terms like watching TV because no harm is done, no negative stereotype is asserted through terms like watching TV when used in the context of blindness.
I’m personally not even particularly worried about terms like blind drunk. Some people are. I don’t think that quite fits the category of ableist language. I’m personally also really relaxed about blind as a bat. Somebody told me actually, that that scientifically inaccurate and that bats are not blind. I don’t know about that. When people talk about being as blind as a bat, they simply mean you don’t see very well or you don’t see at all. Ableist language has to be derogatory, has to be denigratory for it to be ableist.
It’s not just talking about blindness or blind people or watching. It has to have some negative implication. Ableist language would, for example, be this has fallen on deaf ears, which is essentially saying that because somebody can’t hear something, they can’t understand it, they’re ignorant, they’re not capable of dealing with something. It could be crippling house prices.
I know that people with psychiatric disabilities are getting increasingly concerned about uses of words, like crazy and insane in other contexts. It’s something that I must admit I hadn’t thought about before, because I guess I’ve not been really required to think about it before, until I started working in a PAN disability organization where I’ve been exposed to a wide range of impairments and the unconscious biases and the challenges that people with those impairments face.
I’m certainly familiar with ableist language around blindness.
The only example you gave that I think would qualify would be blind faith because essentially it’s using the word blind in that context to mean unthinking, that you’ve got blind faith because you haven’t thought about it. All the other ones I don’t think are particularly ableist in their language. When people talk about someone being a blind fool or one eyed about something or blind to the consequences of something that most certainly is ableist language because it’s equating lack of sight with lack of knowledge.
The good news is that an increasing number of people are getting it. I read a fantastic article recently in the Harvard business review, which is a good publication to see the stuff coming out in where they are advising leaders to stop with the ableist language already. To be more aware of the words that they are using and the unconscious bias that it causes.
Now, I’m not sure that what you did when you were a kid is an appropriate defense because depending on one’s age, it wasn’t that long ago when the term Negro was widely used to mean African American.
There were organizations with that word in the name, and of course, it’s horrible pejorative derivative, which you would never say these days. Language moves on as minorities acert their right, their fundamental human right to respect. If there are people who don’t want to talk to us because they choose not to show us due respect, then we’re better off with them not talking to us.
It’s of course, most important for us to educate where we can to explain why these terms are inappropriate. When I’ve done that’s, I’ve been meeting with a lot of journalists lately talking about the ableist language problem. Many of them say, “You know what I have honestly never thought of this before. You’re right. When we constantly use the word blind to mean ignorant, stupid, incapable, of course, it’s going to affect the way we think about blind people.
It just had never occurred to me because I don’t really see many blind people in my daily life.” The reason, one of the reasons why people don’t see blind people much in their daily lives is because the ableist language is a contributor, not the sole factor, but a significant contributor to setting poor expectations of what we’re capable of. You will have heard if you listened to the submission that we just played from the parliamentary select committee here in New Zealand, one of the members of parliament using the term differently abled because she felt concerned that disabled might be pejorative. In that case, it’s my responsibility to gently put them on the right track.
I just simply said, disabled is fine. Here’s what New Zealanders mean when we use the word disabled. We adopted the social model of disability. We say we are disabled because of society’s choices. That was an educational moment. That was a teachable moment. She’ll now feel able to use the term disabled in future interactions with disabled people. If people do use the wrong words or don’t know what words to use, we can put people at there ease very simply.
Regarding the compensation thing, well, yes, I think everybody would agree with you. Let’s look after our hearing as best we can. I know as someone was deteriorating hearing due to a congenital condition, just how insidious that is. I think there were two things going on. There is certainly some scientific evidence that suggests that the brain does do some work in terms of rewiring the visual cortex for processing different information when it’s not being used for vision.
I think in the case of hearing, what actually happens is that blind people are just more alert. They just notice things more. I’m not sure whether it’s that our hearing is more acute necessarily. It’s just that we’re using what we have to better effect. For example, even with my hearing impairment, I can tell the audio processing that various radio stations use and people with much better hearing than me just don’t listen for it.
I know of blind people. Who’ve been able to tell what car is going by by the noise it’s making probably more difficult to do now in this age of more and more electric vehicles. There is a combination of things going on I think some of that’s neuro-plasticity, but also just that we’re using what we have to the best effect possible go us.
Beth: Hello everybody. This is Beth from Virginia Beach, and I wanted to come on here and clarify something. I apologize if I was not clear in a prior voice email that I sent, I did not mean to imply or directly state that I am against advocacy, Rosa Parks or anyone or anything associated with advocacy. Far from it, I am an advocate. I send ACB, which is my organization, blindness organization of choice here in the US.
I send suggestions and articles of interest when I find them regarding advocacy. Here is what I want to say to you guys. I am not into the ableist language argument. I believe that it does nothing to impair the every day or long-term experiences of blind and visually impaired people, nor do I believe that the expressions which are abundant in the so-called ableist language are meant either explicitly or implicitly to be harmful in any way.
I do not believe that they lead to more discrimination or hardships for people of any disability, because you could also say expressions such as the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I wonder if there are people who dislike that because of their limb impairments, and you could go on and on and on with such expressions. In a recent podcast, it was stated that people are getting more and more shaky about using expressions when they are discussing life with a person with any sort of disability.
This will continue to worsen if we continue to harp on the so-called ableist language idea. Instead of going in this direction, I would bring your attention to the best advocacy I have ever seen. It is a Canadian TV station, which every Canadian cable and satellite provider must include. It is called Accessible Media Incorporated, or AMI and my favorite show on that platform is Kelly and company or Kelly co. I call it a mini today show or good morning America show, or pick your genre show of choice.
Not only do they discuss topics of general interest in the mainstream, they drop in ideas about disability as easily as you would drop sugar in your coffee. It is absolutely marvelous. Remember, this is a mainstream TV station. It is just seamless the way they discuss disability and they do get communications from sighted and blind people. This is the way to advocate and to bring everyone together.
Jonathan: I wonder why then Beth, it isn’t appropriate for African Americans to have said, let’s not complain about racist language because people might not talk to us and we won’t bring everybody together. Let’s just let people use whatever language they like, no matter how harmful or pejorative it is. We’ll just put up with it because we want to bring everybody together. I am in no doubt that AMI does a great job. I’m also pretty confident they don’t indulge in ableist language though, either.
There are many people doing this education around the world. We have to remember that a lot of young people just don’t consume any TV anymore and we do have quite a few blind people doing YouTube channels and podcasts for a mainstream audience that try to explain blindness or wider disability issues. I think that is a really important part of what needs to be done.
I do a bit of educating myself here in New Zealand with mainstream audiences about disability and impairments and what needs to be done and trying to make the point that disabled people aren’t the health and safety risk many employers think we are and all of those really important things educating in a friendly way, but that education has to include the fact that it is not right for non-disabled people to associate people with a range of impairments with negative characteristics.
I would point out that when I Googled on unemployment statistics in Canada and I got this handy dandy featured snippet from the web the thing that Google pops up from time to time and it says, “While Canada’s unemployment rate is currently sitting at about 5.8%. The rate for disabled Canadians is much higher. Canadians with “mild” disabilities are most likely to find employment. Their unemployment rate is 35%.”
It continues, “For those with “severe” disabilities, the rate jumps to 74%.” Those statistics are pretty much in line with the statistics that we see in many Western countries. The point I’m making is that ableist language is extremely harmful because it has a direct impact on the way that we are perceived in society and therefore our unemployment rate. Employment is the key to dignity, economic independence, social participation, and lack of loneliness because you immediately then get involved in a network of colleagues, social outings, et cetera.
Employment is the key to so much. By all means let’s congratulate AMI and all the others who are doing positive education work, but that work is not an alternative to, or an antidote to ableist language. In fact, the two go hand in hand education should include the harm that the ableist language causes. We’ve got to stamp it out, just like women and ethnic minorities have seen that they are entitled to dignity.
They’re entitled to respect, and they have asked, demanded that that language relating to sexism and racism be stamped out as well. We, as disabled people are entitled to no less.
Voiceover: What’s on your mind. Send an email with a recording of your voice, or just write it down. Jonathan@mushroomfm.com, that’s J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com or phone our listener line. The number in the United States is 864 60 Mosen. That’s 864 60 667 36.
Jonathan: Some thoughts coming in on the demise of the accessible flick type keyboard for voiceover users and Lachlan Thomas starts us off. He says, “Hi Jonathan, I was listening to your podcast this afternoon and thought I’d chime in with my thoughts. I bought my first iPhone, an iPhone5s in December, 2013. Within days of starting to use it, I downloaded flexi and started learning how to use it. I made a lot of use of flexi, as I found it far more convenient and desirable to use with voiceover than the standard keyboard.
Of course, flexi eventually split off into two versions what I’ll call the mainstream version and flexi VO. I believe you spoke to a developer from flexi on your Appcessible podcast in 2014. I did indeed. Of course, we eventually lost access to Fleksy and I lamented this greatly. I think at some point in 2016, I started using the newer version of flexi and found it very usable for my needs.
In late 2018, I started using flick type and very much liked it. Flick type isn’t perfect, but for me, it’s 100 times better, faster and more convenient to use than using the standard keyboard with voiceover. I cannot stand using the default keyboard with voiceover because entering characters is so very slow. It takes me far too long to enter textual characters. It’s also worth pointing out that flick type displays high contrast, large print keyboard characters on screen.
Also when you enter a word, the word you enter shows up in very large sizes, making easy for me to see what I’m typing as well as hearing the speech prompts from voiceover. Today, when I listened to your podcast, I felt rather angry, disappointed, and sad when I learned that flick type will be discontinued by the developer. As you can probably tell from what I’ve said, I depend on flick type, I need flick type and I rely on flick type.
I like it so much that at one point I actually deleted the standard keyboard on my iPhone making flick type the only available keyboard on my iPhone. That’s how much I value flick type. When I hear my friends entering text on their iPhones and they use the standard keyboard with voiceover, I always wonder how they can stand to type at such a slow speed. I suggest to them that they try flick type.
When I installed flick type, I enabled full access and have no issues doing so. You made mention of this in relation to Apple’s rejection of the keyboard app. I didn’t understand what you were talking about when you spoke of Apple taking issue with the use of full access. You were talking about voiceover and full access. Would you please explain this in detail?”
Happy to Lachlan. What they were saying was that flick type didn’t work unless you enabled full access. Now, there are benefits that you get from enabling full access and the flick type developer always advises that you do it, but it is important, obviously that the keyboard works in some form until you enable full access or you could get into a situation where you’re locked out, such as the one you described, if flick type is the only keyboard installed.
Indeed it did work when voice over was on and full access hadn’t been granted. It just wasn’t running in a fully featured way. Lachlan continues, “Whilst I was listening to you speaking, I was considering potentially switching from iOS to Android and I wonder how many other blind and vision impaired people may consider doing this because of what Apple is doing.
A friend of mine has an Android phone that is designed for the blind. I can’t remember the make or model number, but I do know it has a 12 key telephone key pad on it as well as other buttons and a touch screen. I’m wondering if this would be an appropriate phone for me.” I think that might be the blind shall classic you are describing Lachlan. He continues, “I was surprised when you said the developer of flick type did not want to be interviewed on your program.
I would have thought he would want to be interviewed to tell his side of the story in his words and to potentially answer any questions you have for him.” Well, that’s okay Lachlan. The offer’s still there and he may be busy, he may be dealing with a lot personally as well, given how much he’s devoted to the app. We can’t compel anybody to come on the podcast, but he’s very welcome.
Lachlan continues. “You’ll recall that when flexi first came out, it was a standalone keyboard app. At this time, Apple did not have a third-party keyboard API that would allow you to use third party keyboards as your default keyboard. I wonder if the flick type developer would consider rewriting flick type as a standalone only keyboard, thus not needing to be concerned with Apple’s current issues with the product.
As it stands, you can use flick type as a standard keyboard. It’s nowhere near as convenient as using it as a system keyboard, but I’d rather use it as a stand alone keyboard than use the default Apple keyboard. I’m not a Braille, with an upper case B user, I’ve never learned Braille, but have considered learning it. As I understand just how important and vital Braille is to blind and vision impaired people.
For this reason, I cannot use Braille screen input. Although I did learn to handwrite as a child and although I can still hand write well enough to write my signature. I wouldn’t want to use Apples, hand writing recognition.” Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. Let’s hope that this situation can be improved. Well as time ticks on Laughlin, I think it’s looking less and less likely.
Laughlin also sent me the email that he sent to Phil Schiller and it reads, “Dear Mr. Schiller, I write to you regarding recent announcements and discussion about the flick type third party keyboard app for iOS devices. I’m a blind iPhone user who needs voiceover to read what’s on my iPhone screen to me. I depend on the flick type keyboard app when I use my iPhone, as it is far more convenient for me to use than the default Apple keyboard when using it with voiceover.
It was recently brought to my attention that the flick type developer plans to discontinue the app. This is supposedly due to disagreements with Apple regarding the functionality of the app the developer feels he has been mistreated by Apple and is not getting the support he needs in order to continue developing the app. I’m led to understand that Apple takes issue with some methods of how the app operates and the developer wishes to address these issues.
Indeed has addressed these issues in communication with Apple, but Apple hasn’t acknowledged the developer’s responses. The developer feels he is not being respected by Apple. It would appear that Apple has rejected recent updates to the app. The developer feels Apple rejected the app updates for unacceptable reasons. The developer also raises concerns about Apple’s app store quality control and approval protocols.
For these reasons the developer sees no option, but to discontinue the app and withdraw it from the app store. Flick type is a legitimate app that many blind and vision impaired people around the world depend on need and rely on. I’m just an iPhone user and not a developer. I don’t understand the dynamics of developing and writing software, but I would trust the flick type developer knows what to do and what not to do when writing the code for his app.
When I learned about the discontinuation of flick type, I felt very angry and upset. I find flick type far easier and more convenient to use with voiceover then the default Apple keyboard. In fact, I strongly dislike using the default keyboard. When I learned of this recent news, I started to consider whether the iPhone is an appropriate product for me and I am considering perhaps switching to a competing platform for my mobile communication needs.
Please engage in dialogue with the developer flick type and attempt to understand his concerns and come to an agreement that will permit the flick type developer to continue providing the app for users like me. Thank you for taking the time to read this email.” Thank you Lachlan for taking the time to send such a respect for message and also to send in your comments to this podcast about how you feel about the flick type issue.
It is such a shame that an app that clearly has made the difference between you feeling really comfortable and productive with your iPhone and not is in jeopardy and has probably gone. It really is unfortunate as it could have been prevented. Here’s David Goldfield, who says, “Jonathan, what follows” is a blog post that I have just now published. This was earlier in the week of course, containing my email to Phil Schiller at Apple.
In my post, I also encourage others who are affected by the current situation with flick type to also contact Mr. Schiller and make their thoughts known. Please feel free to read any portions of the following post on your podcast if you feel that doing so might be at all helpful. Many thanks for your contributions and advocacy to the community. Here’s the post. “Some of you may be aware of the current situation regarding the flick type app and how the author of this app has chosen to discontinue development due to a series of unhelpful responses from Apple regarding improving a flick type update, which has sadly led to a communications breakdown.
Apple’s heavy handed approval process nearly caused the end of the blindfold games apps several years ago and has now likely resulted in the elimination of a truly unique accessibility solution for blind users. I believe that blind Apple users of this app needs to make their voices clearly heard about this. I don’t mean complaining about the situation to one another as that will accomplish nothing. What follows is an email, which I have sent to Phil Schiller.”
To quote this page there was a link to the page from Apple’s website. “Phil Schiller is an Apple fellow responsible for leading the app store and Apple events. Phil has helped guide Apple’s products and marketing for 30 years. Most recently as the senior vice president of worldwide marketing. Over the course of his tenure, Phil has helped the company create the best computers in the world with the Mac leading the digital music revolution with iPod and ITunes, reinvent mobile phones with the iPhone and the app store and define the future of mobile computing with iPad.”
That’s the end of the Apple hype David’s post continues. “I would encourage all who are effected by what is happening with the flick type app to email Mr. Schiller, by using the address schiller@Apple.com. As I spelled it out last week. I’ll do it again. SCHILLER@Apple.com. Here is the email says David, which I have sent, “Dear, Mr. Schiller? I am visually impaired and have been successfully using the iPhone with voiceover since 2014, as someone who has also been working in the assistive technology field for over three decades I have had many opportunities to provide training to other blind iPhone users and have recommended Apple as a company that should be seriously considered due to what I once believed was this strong commitment to accessibility.
However, this latest situation with Apple not allowing updates to flick type to be accepted into their app store caused me to seriously reevaluate this position. flick type is truly a unique accessibility solution. There was truly no other app of its kind. It permits people blind or sighted to effortlessly type text on their touch screen without the need to focus as to whether or not the correct keys are being pressed. For Apple to not allow those updates to be released into the App Store for totally invalid reasons is a complete disgrace and only hurts customers by eliminating yet one more important and unique accessibility option.
I used to always choose Apple over Android devices due to Apple’s unique and robust accessibility options along with the fact that Apple’s accessibility solutions seemed to be way ahead of Android. However, this is becoming no longer the case as Android is now catching up, and offering equally robust and efficient choices for customers who require accessibility solutions. If this situation is not resolved promptly, I will be switching to Android for my next phone upgrade and will be informing those in the blindness community about my decision and why I have made it. Thank you for sending that in, David.
I would say that David is a respected voice. I think if Apple doesn’t take this outpouring of concern seriously, then they really have contempt for the blind community. They have to do something about this. Related to all this to some degree is a lawsuit that has just been settled by apple. They are going to make some changes to their App Store in order to settle a class-action lawsuit that was brought against them by developers in the United States. Under the terms of this deal, Apple’s going to let developers use communication methods like email to tell customers about payment methods available outside of iOS apps and it’ll expand the price points that developers can offer for apps in-app purchases and subscriptions.
Apple also plans to create a $100 million fund for small developers as part of the settlement It will release annual transparency reports on the app review process. That will be interesting. Apple says that the settlement will make the App Store an even better business opportunity for developers while maintaining the safety of the app store. Apple says in its statement, “From the beginning, the App Store has been an economic miracle. It is the safest and most trusted place for users to get apps and an incredible business opportunity for developers to innovate, thrive, and grow.”
Phil Schiller said this, we’ve been talking about Phil Schiller a little bit so you know who he is. He continues, “We would like to thank the developers who worked with us to reach these agreements in support of the goals of the App Store and to the benefit of all of our users.” Now, when you go deep down though, and you read the seven key points agreed to between Apple and developers, there are a lot of words in here like maintain, we’ll continue to. Apple’s given developers a bit of money and there hasn’t been too much progress. I guess the most significant progress made is this email concession that only applies in the United States.
For some very good analysis on this, I recommend reading Mark Gurman from Bloomberg. Mark is probably the best journalist covering Apple that I am aware of. His sources are impeccable, his analysis is excellent. He’s basically said, “Look, Apple has done very little here. Nothing of consequence is really going to change as a result of this lawsuit.” Interestingly, the judge who has to authorize this settlement as being acceptable is the same judge hearing the Epic Games lawsuit, which is much more consequential for Apple. We’ll see how that goes.
Jonathan: We’ve been talking about contact tracing apps. One of the excuses that has been offered for their lack of accessibility in some instances is that there was pressure. It was important to get an app out as soon as possible so accessibility sometimes wasn’t as good as it could have been. Now we start to look to the future. I think it’s important to note that some apps that purport to be a result of COVID-19 are also facing some accessibility challenges. One of these is in Canada.
You use this app whether you’re a citizen or a visitor coming to Canada. To tell me about this app, Bob Fenton joins me now. Welcome, Bob. First of all, you are in Alberta. What is COVID looking like at the moment? How are your numbers?
Bob Fenton: Our numbers are increasing and they are increasing quite quickly. We started at the beginning of August with basically a handful of cases. Now, as of the 26th, we had 1,076 cases yesterday. We’ve also seen that hospital admissions and ICU admissions have been going up. If you take a combination of people who have received no vaccine or people who have had one shot, they make up roughly 95% of the hospital admissions.
Jonathan: It sounds like there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy in your province then.
Bob: I would say there’s a combination of vaccine hesitancy and an outright unwillingness to get the vaccine. I don’t know what the percentage is between those two groups, but there is a high degree of reluctance. I would say right now people who have had second doses we’re looking at around the two-thirds mark, but the bigger concern is the younger age group 12 to 19-year-olds who we’re roughly looking at around 50%.
Jonathan: People think they’re invincible at that age. Don’t they?
Bob: Exactly. That’s the problem.
Jonathan: Before we began recording, you mentioned to me that they are not using the contact tracing app in Alberta. What’s up with that?
Bob: We’re not using the federal contact tracing app. The powers that be in Alberta decided to design their own. The problem is it doesn’t work. I think the app, when they basically eliminated all pretenses of relying on it, had discovered something like 12 cases and that was several months into the pandemic. A lot of the contact tracing now to the extent that it’s being done at all is being done manually.
Jonathan: Is your provincial contact tracing app using the Google-Apple contact tracing API?
Bob: You know what? I have no idea what they’re using, but it just doesn’t work. There was horrendous media around the ineffectiveness of this. The federal app has actually received fairly good reviews about how accurate it is. It warns you when you’ve come into contact with somebody who has been diagnosed with COVID, you can take precautions, the whole works, but none of that is available here.
Jonathan: It sounds like the federal app is using the Apple-Google contact tracing API, but the provincial one may not be.
Jonathan: What I wanted to talk with you about was this app that I understand everybody who is coming into Canada will now have to use in order to either return as a citizen or visit as a tourist. Is that correct?
Bob: That is correct. It affects citizens of Canada and any other individuals wanting to enter the country.
Jonathan: What’s the purpose of the app.
Bob: The purpose of the app is to conduct a bit of a pre-screen so that the government knows who’s coming into the country, what symptoms they may have, some demographic details about who they are, where they’re coming from, et cetera. The reason they do that is they’re relying on some of the CDC data from the US indicating where the hotspots are in the world. That way, if you’ve got somebody coming in from Turkey or Montenegro, which have very high COVID numbers right now, they can take the appropriate precautions when individuals come into the customs halls and that kind of thing, and arrange the appropriate testing.
Jonathan: I take it that as part of this process, you would be required to disclose your vaccination status?
Bob: You know what? The answer to that is probably yes. I have not been able to get to that stage in the app because of some of the accessibility problems. I have not gone through the whole process because we get blocked at certain stages where we can’t advance further, which we will discuss, I’m sure, later.
Jonathan: Yes, we sure will. There’s this app, but I take it it’s also a website as well. There’s a website option?
Bob: Yes, that’s correct.
Jonathan: How about the website? Is that accessible?
Bob: I would say it’s better. It’s not perfect, but you can use it. It’s one of those situations. It’s not perfect by any means, but you can work around it if you are an experienced JAWS or NVDA user. I don’t know about large print.
Jonathan: Talk me through the problems then. What happens when you try to use the app?
Bob: Now, as of the testing that I did this morning, there have been significant improvements to the app since it was released and since I was speaking to the media about it back in July. You’re asked a number of questions about where are you coming from, flight numbers, airports, who are you traveling with. You’re asked at one point to provide a photo of your passport.
The problem that we have is it doesn’t tell us how to do it. How it needs the passport position, in what way. All it says is do it on a dark background. You don’t really have any information provided to you as a blind user in terms of what they are expecting to receive. There is no way to take a photo earlier and attach a file. You have to do it in real-time when you’re filling in your form on the app.
Jonathan: That is a bit of a concern because I know that a passport photo can be useful for various things. Some of us store them in secure locations, say in Dropbox or OneDrive with two-factor authentication but you can’t access that photo for this purpose.
Bob: You may not.
Jonathan: I was staggered by the indifferent reaction from the government official who was quoted in the media story that I read where you were quoted about this issue, who basically said, “If you’ve got a problem, ask a sighted person, a companion to help you out.”
Bob: Exactly. That problem is even further magnified because if you come into Canada without having filled in the data that this app requires, Canadian Border Services will not help you. You actually have to have either a traveling companion if you have one. I often don’t because I travel independently. You actually often have to have a perfect stranger in a foreign country potentially help you fill in the data that you’re required to turn over. I don’t know about you but when I travel internationally, I have a real reluctance of handing over my passport to a third party.
Jonathan: Absolutely. I am adamant about this. Often if I require a meet and assist service at an airport, people want to take my passport and keep it for the duration of the meet and assist. I will not let that happen. I say to them, “Look, this document is really important to me. If I lose it I’m in big trouble. It’s also very personal to me. I am holding on to this.” It’s quite concerning how much resistance I get but I’m adamant that I keep the passport.
Bob: I agree with you. The other thing I said to them too is, “Look, I’m legally responsible for this document. If you lose it, I’m the one who’s accountable not you. That’s not a good position to put me in.”
Jonathan: When you started raising this then, were you surprised at the reaction that you got? I imagine what you thought was, “I’ll raise this. This is inadvertent. People will take it seriously. We’ll get some action,” but they were just dismissive. Did that surprise you?
Bob: Yes, because one of the things the Liberal government in Ottawa has been touting is the positive relationship that it has with the disability community and the fact that it does want to collaborate with us and it does want to work with us. This is a clear indication of that not being the case. Not only have we faced the resistance that you saw in the media when the problems first came to light, their solution was, “We’ll meet with you and we’ll talk about it.”
There wasn’t any direct commitment that they would actually fix all of these things or to develop a testing procedure where people who are blind were actually testing the app and pointing out the problems with it. As far as I know, that’s still hasn’t happened completely. I know that there’s been modifications made. I don’t know who’s making them or under what testing conditions or anything of that type, but I would certainly want to make sure that people who are blind were involved in that process.
Jonathan: Have you had any meetings with officials since raising the alarm about this app?
Bob: I have not. The meetings have been held with senior officials of CNIB and Canadian Border Services and the Ministry of Health. Just to put it into context, I’m about 3,000 miles away from where these people were meeting. I’m using miles because I know a lot of your audience is Americans. That would be 4,000 plus kilometers away. It’s not really practical, especially during COVID times, for me to have a sit-down meeting with these guys.
Jonathan: Right. They could get you on a Zoom call, couldn’t they? Talk to you that way.
Bob: Oh, sure, they could. They have not done.
Jonathan: I want to talk about accessibility legislation because here in New Zealand, we’re having this discussion at the moment. Whenever it comes up, Canada is held out as this shining beacon that we should emulate regarding accessibility legislation. You have enacted this legislation in Canada now. There is accessibility legislation in force at the moment?
Bob: Yes, there is. It’s called the Accessible Canada Act. I believe it’s now three provinces that have provincial legislation as well, provincial accessibility legislation. In addition to that, we have disability protection in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and also in our federal human rights code, and in the human rights codes of the various provinces.
Jonathan: I guess the question is then, why hasn’t the Accessible Canada Act prevented this accessibility debacle from occurring?
Bob: That’s a really good question, and especially when this government said when it enacted the Accessible Canada Act that it would be designing or developing accessibility standards for the various sectors it regulates. These standards would be designed and reviewed by people with disabilities. None of that has happened to any great degree. There’s a couple of draft standards out there but there’s been no real move to implement anything.
In fact, the agency responsible hasn’t hired the two top people it needs to hire to oversee this work. There was a lot of fanfare. There was a lot of talk when this legislation was passed but there’s been very little action taken to actually start implementing for Canadians what this is actually going to mean.
Jonathan: If you lose patience with this process and people just aren’t moving fast enough and you want to take some action, does the Accessible Canada Act provide the ability for you to take some action under that legislation, or are there other steps that you could take in a legal sense?
Bob: The only individual remedy I would have now it would be under the Canadian Human Rights Act. I could bring a human rights complaint against Canadian Border Services before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. If I wanted to spend all kinds of money and take all kinds of time, I guess I could potentially issue a charter challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms but that would be much more costly and would take much longer.
Whether it would be successful or not because of the technical steps that you have to go through is open for debate. The Accessible Canada Act actually has no real enforcement provisions. It just directs you back in the case of things like this to the human rights commission.
Jonathan: It sounds like this act is more aspiration at the moment, more rhetoric than actual concrete things that are enforceable.
Bob: In my opinion, the legislation is nowhere near as strong as it should be. The proof will be in the pudding when we actually start to see what the standards look like. I think it’s really too early to tell what the final effects of this legislation will be. The concern that you’ve raised is one that has been raised by many people in the disability community as the bill was being debated and put through the House of Commons in the Senate. It is a very real concern that you’ve raised.
Jonathan: One of the other concerns I have is the idea that you might have multiple avenues to try and get your complaint resolved. We have a human rights act at the moment. If you add some other mechanism, then it can be very confusing for disabled people who are often under some pressure. When they want an issue pursued, they may not be experienced advocates, they may not be articulate necessarily, and that system needs to be accessible to everyone. If you have multiple avenues, it confuses things even more.
Bob: I agree with you 100%. You’ve probably spoken to David Lepofsky in the past on your show. One of the things that he was pushing very hard as part of this review process is we need to have one place to go to enforce our rights. This hodgepodge and mix of things makes things very hard for people with disabilities, especially if they’re not represented, especially if English may not be their first language, especially if their education is limited.
The reality is everybody in this country should have access to have their rights adjudicated as fairly and as reasonably as possible in a fashion that they can deal with. I worry that we’re going to see a lot of technical arguments made by government bodies who are challenged that you’re actually in the wrong forum. For example, if you had a issue with an internet service provider, arguably you could end up both before a human rights commission or before the CRTC, radio and telecommunications commission. You could end up in either of those, both of which arguably have jurisdiction. The question is then going to become, who’s the right one and why should people with disabilities have to sort that out?
Jonathan: Classic stalling technique because you can just kick it to the curb and say, “You’re in the wrong forum.”
Bob: Exactly. That’s not what we need. We actually need to have these cases cited on the merits.
Jonathan: Something like a Canadians with disabilities acts maybe?
Bob: Yes. I think you’ve got a framework here that you can work with but it needs some serious strengthening and it needs some clarification in some of these issues. Whether you call it a Canadians with disabilities act or Accessible Canada Act, I don’t think it really matters. I look at substance, I don’t really worry about forum too much.
Jonathan: The charter option that you mentioned in this context interests me greatly because as a citizen, you have the right to return to your country, don’t you?
Bob: Yes. The argument would be that I should have the equal protection and equal benefit of the law. The law is now with this app. I have to use this app to get into my country. That should be accessible to me as a person with a disability just like it is to any other Canadian. Arguably under an old charter case called Singh versus Ministry of Department of Immigration, it’s not just citizens. Everyone under section seven of the charter means everyone. It’s anybody who comes on to Canadian shores has the protection of certain provisions of the charter. I would argue that that would include foreign nationals.
Jonathan: Just coming back to the app. In New Zealand, we have a thing called RealMe that’s a government-issued digital ID. You get it after you’ve provided various forms of authentication, and it’s behind two-factor authentication when you use it. Do you have an official digital ID in Canada?
Bob: Not that I’m aware of. Some of the provinces are starting to do it for some of their services. For example, health records, we can sign up with the province of Alberta and get access to our health information on our smartphones and that kind of thing. I can do that in my municipality, I can sign up for services with one specific account so if I wanted to buy transit tickets, or I wanted to pay my property tax or that kind of thing. I’m not aware of any overarching federal program that would cover all programs and services.
Jonathan: To recap then, if I want to visit Canada– I must say I love Canada. I’ve been there a few times but please, I’d rather go not in October through about February because I can’t cope with a cold. I’m a bit of a wimp like that. Assuming I can go in July or June, I would call my travel agent and they would tell me that I have to use this app in order to board the plane and come to Canada. It sounds a little bit like ESTA, which we have to use. Even though we don’t need visas for the United States, we would have to complete an ESTA authorization every couple of years.
Bob: What I would do is if you’re going to Canada, I would download the app and fill in the form roughly three days before you go. I think it’s 72 hours. I was looking at it today and I could get arrival dates as late as Sunday. 72 hours before fill in the form, provide the information. You will then get a preliminary approval status, which you should screen capture and save on your phone and bring with you.
We don’t have any mandatory pre-approval process other than this. We’re not subject to this ESTA thing that you’ve mentioned, but we now have to go through this process. I have not bought an airline ticket yet to know that if you’re told as part of the terms and conditions of your flight that you have to do this. I will know that better in two or three weeks when I buy my first international ticket. I’ll find out and I’ll let you know.
Jonathan: Is it likely to mean then that before I even get on the plane, somebody at my end will check that I have this authorization that it’s all been done?
Bob: No. That’s not true because when you go into Canada, you do not do any security-type checks in the country that you’re leaving first. All of it’s done when you actually land in Canada.
Jonathan: That means then that if you turn up in Canada and you haven’t completed this process, and the people who process you are not allowed to help you, then you may just be dealing with some random person who’s next to you in line to get help with this.
Bob: I’m not even sure that’s enough because you’re supposed to do this before you arrive. I don’t know if they would accept somebody that helped you in the customs line to do it. You might actually have to have either airline personnel or perfect strangers in the country where you are complete the form, or not complete the form, but at least do the passport part of it for you. Most of the other parts of the form now are fairly accessible. For example, I couldn’t do it before but I was able to pick my airline, I was able to enter my flight number, my name, and all that stuff but I just could not get past the taking of the passport picture.
Jonathan: They are listening to some extent then at least?
Bob: Yes, I would say that the app has improved for sure.
Jonathan: That’s Bob Fenton telling us about the extra hoops you will have to go through if you want to enter Canada and some of the accessibility challenges that that poses. It’s interesting to note in some of this media coverage how many people just assume that if you’re blind, you are traveling with a companion, that you’re traveling with someone who can help you, with a carer. There’s just not widespread understanding that a lot of blind people do travel not just domestically by themselves, but internationally as well.
If you have yourself experienced this app and maybe you’ve done some travel and you want to tell us how that went in conjunction with this app in Canada, by all means, get in touch. The email address to which you can attach an audio clip or write something down is Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomfm.com. The listener line number is available as well. That number is in the United States and it’s 864-60Mosen, 864-606-6736.
Jonathan: That moving music brings us to a Bonnie bulletin. Welcome to you in lockdown.
Bonnie: Hi, guys.
Jonathan: You’re rocking the lockdown?
Bonnie: I’ve been really busy so that helps. Today, I’m really feeling it. I’m really, really tired today.
Jonathan: Oh, it’s a good day to be sleeping. It’s the weekend.
Bonnie: I know. That’s probably another why because it’s pouring down rain and that just makes you sleepy.
Jonathan: Yes. Now I have to say I went up to get you for the Bonnie Bulletin and I realized something really ridiculous.
Jonathan: Totally ridiculous. I’ve been down here in the studio and every so often, I’ve been getting up and jumping around and everything to make sure that I get my stand goal in. Even before I’m prompted at 50 minutes past the hour that it’s time to stand you see, keeps my brain going. I get up and I wash my hands and I’m thinking, “Where’s the countdown? Why isn’t it counting down?” Then I reach for my wrist-
Bonnie: You didn’t have a watch.
Jonathan: -and I realize I haven’t been wearing my Apple Watch all this time because I took it off to weigh myself on the Smart Body Analyzer and forgot to put my watch back on. Now my stand goals are going to be difficult to achieve. I should have to stay up late into the night to get mine.
Bonnie: Oh, no. At least your body has gotten the exercise.
Jonathan: I suppose but I want to be commended for it by my watch. That’s the thing. A couple of musical things to note. Ding. I mean musical things are worth noting, aren’t they?
Jonathan: You are an ABBA fan, aren’t you?
Jonathan: You will remember my sense of adulation and absolute incredulity and bliss when all the way back in 2018, that’s how long ago it was, 2018, just as I was getting ready to drift off to sleep on, I believe it was a Friday night, this push notification comes through and it says ABBA is releasing new music for the first time in nearly 40 years. I called lots of people and woke them up and said, “Mate, this is just exciting.” I was bouncing off the walls and I couldn’t get back to sleep for ages. We’ve been waiting for the ABBA music for all that time.
Bonnie: It’s like going back to the moon, add 20 years to it.
Jonathan: Yes, it is a bit like that. It turns out though that it looks like we are going to be getting it on the second of September.
Bonnie: Oh, we’ll just have to see if it actually manifests [chuckles] itself. That’s Thursday or Friday for us, I guess.
Jonathan: They’ve set up a new website abbavoyage.com and they also have a Twitter account now called ABBAVoyage, you can sign up to get more information. I feel mixed about this because I know that one of the members, I think it’s Benny, in particular, is really concerned that they might tarnish their legacy.
Bonnie: That’s the danger you run into, I think. I don’t think they will but I guess that’s a valid fear.
Jonathan: Yes. With all four members of the band having survived all this time, people have been thinking, “Why can’t they just do some more?” Now we are actually getting some more, but you think, “Will it be up to the standards we remember?” The Visitors wasn’t a particularly good album.
Bonnie: See, I liked the visitors.
Jonathan: Did you?
Bonnie: I guess it was weird, but I really liked The Visitors. I was especially happy when I found The Visitors in the dollar bargain bin. [laughs] I could get it.
Jonathan: I thought the gap between Super Trouper and The Visitors was a chasm.
Bonnie: I really liked Crossroads on The Visitors.
Jonathan: I loved Super Trouper the album. That was such an amazing album. There’s also good news for Beatles fans because we know that the Peter Jackson movie is coming out in November on Disney+. We’ll be able to enjoy that on Dolby Atmos.
Bonnie: With audio description maybe.
Jonathan: Maybe. He’s gone through all of this Beatles’ footage from the Let It Be period and I’ve got most of that. It’s pretty painful to listen to, but there are some nuggets tucked away. He’s gone through it all. He’s digitally restored it. Since Peter Jackson works not far from us, I often thought about knocking on his door and saying, “Hey, Pete, mate, do you need a little assistant while you remix?”
Bonnie: They say he’s a really nice guy, that he’s really down to earth. That he’s just a kiwi bloke dude.
Jonathan: Yes. He’s nice. New Zealand is pretty chill. I thought I might go in there and say, “Can I just have a listen?” Anyway, we’ll be listening like everybody else in November.
Bonnie: He lives in Miramar, I think.
Jonathan: Yes, he does. The Beatles have also announced they’re releasing Let It Be the album. It’s being remixed by Giles Martin. The usual suspects doing that once again. It’ll be in Dolby Atmos. You’ll also get the original Glyn Johns mix of the Get Back album. That’ll be pretty interesting. There’s so much out there on the bootlegs of the stuff, but it will be good to hear the Giles Martin mixes.
You can already hear the title track, Let It Be 2021 mix on the streaming music services. It’s very nice. You can put a plug-in in there that gets rid of the plosives that were on the original album. It’s pretty easy to do. They’ve cleaned up the mix. It sounds more punchy and I’m looking forward to the Dolby Atmos. It’s going to be good for music in the next little while after a difficult week.
Bonnie: Yes. Losing Tom T hall and Charlie watts and-
Jonathan: Don Everly.
Bonnie: Don Everly, yes.
Jonathan: Oh my word. That was terrible. Don Everly.
Bonnie: Then you lost someone from New Zealand a couple of days ago that did the children’s stuff.
Jonathan: Max Cryer.
Bonnie: Max Cryer, yes.
Jonathan: Any New Zealander who’s listening will probably know Max Cryer, or maybe not if you’re very young actually. Max Cryer was a real institution. He’s made a big contribution to New Zealand entertainment. That was really sad. I had a record of him when I was a kid that I played and played and played. [laughs] I was really surprised when Spotty Anthony told me that it’s actually on Apple Music.
Bonnie: Oh. That he remembers you playing it?
Jonathan: Yes, he does remember me playing it. What’s your take on all the COVID goings-on?
Bonnie: We’re all working from home and we’ll be for a while, at least the next couple of weeks because we’re still in level four, which is the most stringent lockdown. We are moving, at least some of the country is moving to level three on Tuesday. No, Monday night. Is it Monday night or Tuesday?
Jonathan: It’s Tuesday night at [11:59].
Bonnie: Tuesday, that’s right.
Jonathan: Effectively Wednesday.
Bonnie: Wednesday morning. Yes. On Wednesday. What that means for Wellington and most of the country is that we’re still in level four, we can just get Uber Eats or TakeAway or drive through. Auckland is where the cluster seems to be growing. Auckland is our largest city so they’re staying in level four for another couple of weeks. We’ll reassess it on Monday, September the sixth.
Jonathan: If you had a COVID cluster that was originated in a den of ill repute, what would you call the cluster?
Bonnie: Oh, dear. Never mind.
Bonnie: Anyway. Been really busy with work, which is good, and been able to work from home. Been taking eclipse on some walks in the neighborhood. The birds are getting quite brawled.
Jonathan: Yes, because it’s so peaceful out there.
Bonnie: Yes, they are like following me around and diving at us. They know the dog’s on leash so it’s like they’re enjoying torturing her or something, or they know the dog is in a harness. I know when she’ll hop at them like a bird. They seem to hang around, which is fun. We’ve been cooking quite a bit. Our muscle fuel still comes, but we can’t get Uber Eats.
Jonathan: That’s nice.
Bonnie: What would be your first Uber Eat you’d get?
Jonathan: My Thai food.
Bonnie: Oh, no, not the Thai food.
Jonathan: I like Thai food. They do a really nice salmon and salmon is full of omega-3.
Bonnie: I might have to do two Uber Eats.
Jonathan: To be honest, I’m really enjoying all the cooking. It’s nice.
Bonnie: I would like a BP coffee though. I know that’s a weird thing to want.
Jonathan: A beepy coffee? A coffee that goes beep?
Bonnie: Yes, BP coffee. British Petroleum
Jonathan: [laughs] beepy coffee. Now, what about the COVID tracing app thing? Record keeping is going to be mandatory.
Bonnie: Mandatory, which is fine. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but the trouble is our NZ COVID Tracer is not the most 100% accessible thing on the planet due to the fact that yes, it does what you need to, it will check-in for you. That’s not the problem. The problem is finding the QR codes because they can be anywhere.
Jonathan: They can be.
Bonnie: It’s like Carmen Sandiego. Where in the world is the COVID QR code? A lot of times, they are up by the cash register, but sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re on the door. I’ve even had businesses not know where theirs is. I work for Blind Low Vision New Zealand.
Jonathan: Opinions expressed in this podcast are not necessarily—
Bonnie: No, it’s a good opinion. The opinions expressed are mine. We have the QR codes in our offices. There’s the one that members or whoever’s visiting can scan in or sign in, but the actual codes someone has put puff paint. It’s probably not puff paint. There’s a square around it so you know where to line up your phone, that it has to be in that square. The phone is really good about checking in. It’s very simple. You find the raised line and your visit is recorded.
Jonathan: The tactile nature–
Bonnie: The tactile works.
Jonathan: Yes, and because you know where it is. Even if everybody did that tactile thing, but weren’t consistent about where they put the code, they’d still be groping around for the tactile thing, wouldn’t you?
Bonnie: Still would be groping around for the tactile thing. Even if they just put a button, I wonder if they could do that. We have our swipe cards at work and you know where it is. I wonder if they put like a button or whatever they have a sensor that you know was right by the cash register and you just put your phone up to it. I wonder if that would work. There just needs to be consistency.
Jonathan: Yes, I certainly sympathize with the technical dilemma. The reality is if they were going to invest in hardware, they could have put a Bluetooth beacon. That way it could have just automatically triggered when you open the app or any number of options. QR codes are simple because you can print them out. Anybody can just go to a website, print out the QR code. I get that from the perspective of scale, this is the easiest solution.
Bonnie: I think in this case, the government should really take over because they’re mandating this. Even not just for blind people, but people who don’t have smartphones. There are people that don’t. The elderly and some socially economic disadvantaged people, they don’t have smartphones. They can’t check in. Then you’ve got people in wheelchairs who can’t physically reach the QR code.
They didn’t really put a lot of thought into disability. I also think what’s happened is businesses have gotten a bit laxed about it. I’ve gone in several places and they’re like, “Don’t worry about it. No one else does.” Swarm always knows when I’ve returned somewhere because it’ll say, “You haven’t been here in 20 years.” I’m like, “Thank you.”
Jonathan: That’s what I’m hoping because the government if they want to keep their Google and Apple contact tracing API, they cannot mandate the use of the app, which is why their language was so careful. They’re saying it’s mandatory record keeping. It’s not mandatory use of the app. You could use Swarm if you’re consistent. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re consistent about using Swarm to check-in everywhere, and then if a contact tracer contacts you, you’ve got a record of everywhere you’ve been if you’ve checked in with Swarm.
Bonnie: Would they be able to pull that record if they wanted proof?
Jonathan: You can just tell them. You can show it to them. You can take a screenshot of your check-in history.
Bonnie: It was funny because the other day that COVID tracer said, “You haven’t checked in a week.” [crosstalk]
Jonathan: Yes. Why is that? I looked at my little Life360 app and it said I haven’t been out since the 16th of August. You haven’t been out since the 17th of August.
Bonnie: Yes. The way you can put manually entry, you can’t do that anymore on the NZ COVID Tracer app.
Jonathan: It’s certainly more difficult. It’s got really nasty. It used to be very, very accessible the manual entry screens.
Bonnie: You want something that’s going to be quick. When I go into work, pop on my way. There’s not many people hanging out behind me waiting for me to check in on it. If you’re in a restaurant or on a bus, people are going to be a bit impatient.
Jonathan: That’s when they start grabbing your phone off you-
Bonnie: That’s when they start grabbing your phone.
Jonathan: -or getting in your social distancing space.
Bonnie: Yes. I was at Romance Writers conference a few weeks ago and we had to check in on the QR code, which was fine. I know these people so I was fine with them. I was like, “I’ll just turn off voiceover, turn on however you do it.” I was okay with that. I trusted them. I’m certainly not going to do that with someone I don’t know because people’s directions, “Oh, a little more to the right. A little more to the left. Oh, yes. Now you got it.”
Jonathan: Left hand down a bit. [chuckles]
Bonnie: Left hand down and [crosstalk] right hand down. I don’t know. I would be curious what other people around the world are doing with this.
Jonathan: I love to hear from you. If you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or with an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N, @mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.
[02:09:44] [END OF AUDIO]