Saturday, 29 August 2009

VoiceOver in OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard

Just installed 10.6 today, after nearly mugging the postman for my copy which arrived this morning. I recovered about nine gigs of disk space, and my macbook pro (2006 model) is much more spritely.

One of the new features I have been playing with is the ability to label items that are not labelled in applications, or indeed relabel items that already are. Not being able to find any evidence of how to do this - most of the reviews I've seen so far from so-called accessibility experts have basically just rehashed what Apple say on their website, with very little evidence that they've used 10.6 at all - plus the fact that there is no VO 3.0 manual available (that I can find) yet, I had to delve into the VO help (VO+H) to find out how to do this.

Basically, find an item that you want to label or relabel. Press VO and / (foward slash). A dialogue box will appear asking you to enter a label for the current item. Enter one and navigate down to "ok". This works on dock icons too, but it seems system icons in the menu bar for example can't be relabelled. You'll hear the "not available" ding in this case.
This also works for some items on webpages (but not all, seems trial and error right now but there's probably a rule to it) - for example now my online banking customer number input field invites me to "input number here to see how much money you've squandered this month..."

I'm sure I'll get tired of relabelling buttons with witty (to me anyway) ditties, but for now is it not only useful but can add a touch of personality to your mac - for those of us who are still children at heart anyway.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Windows of the Soul, aka Why I love my iPhone.

Here I am, lazing about in bed, with Jalen the German Shepherd Dog lying beside me - well, in reality the leggy bugger is taking up three quarters of the bed and I'm left with a strip about a foot wide right on the edge. And he's shedding like a thistle down too. But he is an affectionate, if a tad slobbery with his dog snogs, companion for a weekday lazy morning. And he doesn't complain if I tip tap away on my iPhone 3GS like a blue tit with a milk bottle.
I've got the most advanced acessible little computer literally in the palm of hand. It's playing me "Lost In Your Eyes" by the late, great and extremely lamented (in this house anyway) Jeff Healey, and allowing me to have the wierd and wonderful of the web available at any time for my immediate perusal. It is a shiney, smooth, beautiful little thing. It feels like an expensive polished stone. Yet it is warm to the touch and oddly enough, smells - close up as i am - a bit like a car my dad used to have when it had been used for the supper run down to the local chippy and then stood in the evening sun for a while. Why this should be I have no idea.  It's strange but true. That or the fibro is giving me phantom smells again. And it speaks to me. Not just aesthetically but literally.

I gesture to it and like a good little computer it does as it is bid, telling me all I need to know of its actions and processes in a polite and business-like voice.
Sometimes it may sit there and wonder what it is I want from it, but that is because, like a small but eager to please animal, it needs gentle and consistent handling. And although I am gentle, I am too brain addled thanks to fibromyalgia to always remember how many fingers to use to do what. But it's a game beast and usually forgiving.

My Nokia E90, on the other hand, was not such a willing beast. I had it in the six months before I got my 3GS. It needed the Frankenstein modifications that are Talks or Mobile Speak to be of use to me, add on screen readers which hit me in the pocket to the tune of what I paid for the actual hardware of the iPhone 3GS. I also had an O2 Mini SDA or whatever it was, which ran on WIndows Mobile. Oh, the horror. It was a coupla years ago but I still remember the utter refusal for the damn thing to be consistently accessible to me however hard I tried and whatever Code Factory spells I cast on it.
The E90 itself, whilst having a full qwerty keyboard hidden inside, can only be described as a brick. It is neither shiny nor beautiful.  The expression "candy bar" when applied to such mobile phones surely must be the kindest way to describe them - "brick" is what they really are. Mobile Speak made my E90 pretty accessible, but I never did get the hang of web browsing with it. Everything just took sooooo looooong. Except actual typing on it of course. The minature keyboard fairly flew to the tune of my frenzied clatterings.

I think that is my only real hurdle with the iPhone - typing. With VoiceOver on the phone one has to double tap each letter as you select it - or split tap, selecting the letter with one finger, then tapping with another whilst holding down the first. This was my first method of typing, as when gotten right it seemed quicker. But as I have long(ish) fingernails, I was tending towards rolling the pad of my selection finger as I tapped with the other finger, which was causing me to actually type the letter either side of the one I wanted. I have now figured that if I'm going to have nails, I have to type differently. I now choose the letter with one finger, wait for it to be announced, then lift that finger and double tap somewhere entirely different with the other finger to enter the character. This seems better for me, although possibly slower - but I'm making less mistakes, which surely must make the whole text inputting thing quicker overall. This will become a moot point when I go ten pin bowling next however, as all the fingernails on my right hand are bound to be ripped off during the first frame, and thus the left ones will have to come off for the sake of symmetry also.

Other than that small pebble in the road to a happy relationship between me and my iPhone, there has been nothing else to marr the honeymoon period. The bloom is very much still on the rose for me and it - well, I'm not sure what it thinks of me, but I know I am very pleased with it. I am about to take delivery of a dock cum speaker arrangement for it, to put on my bedside cabinet, which surely must be the most definite sign of acceptance - only the very loved things go there: 
My Harmony 525 remote - still going strong despite being cracked and injured after being turfed unceremoniously off the sofa by my fiance when he wasn't paying attention to its whereabouts. 
A picture of my beloved GSD, Bindi, who I lost last year to cancer.  
A little card from my mum telling me how glad she was that I was back in town. I can't read it but that's not the point.
And that's the end of the list.
You get the idea - this is where Important Things live when I am asleep. 

Although I obviously use the 3GS at all times of the day, I especially like using it when I wake in the mornings and the day is hardly begun - when I should really be trying to go back to sleep. It is small enough to let me dip into Twitter or the news headlines or whatever I want, without meaning I have to either sit up as I would with my netbook or even get out of bed - shudder ! hell no - as I would if I wanted to use my iMac. I can see what's going on with the world (which helps focus my mind on less personal thoughts that might otherwise prevent me from continuing my slumber), then drift off back to sleep again. Or I can listen to some music until I start snoring again. And that's another great personal joy of mine too - the ipod aspect of the iPhone.

At home, all my media and music lives on a mac mini connected to the plasma tv and surround sound system downstairs. If I - or my fiance - play anything on it, everyone, well me and he,  has to want to listen to it. Same with my imac or the macbook in the bedroom which serves as a media player. They involve everyone else in the house in your music. I could use headphones with any of these of course, but they hurt my ears. And despite the ratbag nature of my neighbors who plainly couldn't give a rat's bum about they affect my life (see earlier posts) listening to music at half four in the morning could be seen as being a tad unsociable, and I am basically a nice considerate person. So here's where the iPhone comes in - it's my personal little song box, for me and me only. I guess with the dock and speaker arrangement, it will be everyone in earshot's little song box too - but it doesn't have to be. I can snatch it off the dock and it's all mine again.
I wonder if this is an aspect that the (primarily) kids who blast their mp3s out on buses and trains and in Maccy Doo's and so on are missing. Having been a club and radio dj for a living some years ago, I don't feel a need to broadcast my tunes to everyone. And if I did, I've got a band who can make as much noise as one likes. So I value the privacy of the iPhone - it's for me only. I have no great desire to hide anything from anyone, but I don't want to literally broadcast it either. And I can enjoy my tunes without doing that. And I don't have to worry that anyone else around might not like them because they very likely are not going to hear. In my iPhone, they're all mine mine mine.

Of course, the privacy aspect is true of any mp3 / music player if we so desire - but my iPhone has everything I need to define me inside it too, and I don't need to stick that in the faces - or ears - of anyone else. Tunes, podcasts, Torchwood radio plays and dramatisations of Watership down, the names and numbers of people I care for, those who I need to speak to, my calendar which keeps me where I need to be and not wandering off doing something else (essential when one has such a crappy memory as I do). Pictures of my dogs, my fiance, my mum and her cat, of flowers and random animals. Apps that I find useful, like Navigon or fun, like Simon Sings and iPity.
All that stuff defines me, and I have somehow found great pleasure in having it all in one place, on hand at all times. If I meet someone on the bus and get talking, I can show them a picture of my dog. If I need to explain what I have in mind for a particular arrangement of a song to the rest of the reprobates in the band, I can whip out the iPhone and play them the ideas I put together in Garageband. And if I were to be knocked flat by a bus, whoever were to find my iPhone would at least be able to vaguely know me - before they called my next of kin, or stole my lovely 3GS for themselves of course. 

There is a saying that tells us that "The eyes are the windows of the soul." They may well be, but the iPhone is the windows of this woman's soul. And even better, there's no evidence of the computer variety of Windows anywhere. How do you like them Apples, Bill ? ;)

Monday, 6 July 2009

Twitter on the iPhone...

Many native apps exist for Twitter on the iphone, and it seems that Tweetero takes the prize for accessibility for VoiceOver users. But in the rush to get to the App Store and get our dose of appy goodness for our new blind friendly toy, we sometimes forget that there are web apps - i.e. apps for the iphone and other mobile phones - that live on the internet and are accessible through the Safari browser on the phone. These may well afford an even better accessible experience for those of us using VoiceOver, because they are basically webpages.

One I have stumbled upon that ticks boxes for me is called Logpost. It is essentially a front end for Twitter designed for the mobile phone web browser. Just visit the url, sign in with your Twitter details, and off you go. It's designed to be viewed on a mobile screen, so is not cluttered or confusing, which makes it all the better for a screen reader. And so far, from what I have tested, all of it is accessible with VO. You can do most anything from it that you would do on the usual Twitter site on your desktop or laptop, including searching for trends, which is a feature that seems lacking from the accessible apps I tried on the iphone. It can be used in the landscape format too - better for typing in my opinion.

 Of course, it is not as quick to respond as a dedicated native app as web pages have to physically load from links for Twittering tasks, but it is very functional none the less. Result.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Voice guided turn by turn for the iphone from Navigon.

Well, I said I didn't have the cash to try out any of the voice guided turn by turn software for the iphone 3gs just yet. However then I saw the British Isles version of the new Navigon app  for £37.99. The app can be used in portrait or landscape mode, and without an active data connection, which is pretty handy as you don't incur any more sneaky charges once you've bought the thing. Navigon say they will be updating the app with more features in the future, and there is an American version on the way. 

A session of googling the likely forums revealed this app has a pedestrian mode (as well as car, bicycle, motorbike, lorry - but no public transit yet). The price goes up on the 30th of June to sixty quid (all bar a penny) so I bought it on a whim, because I don't own any gps software or hardware already. And guess what ? The app is ninety nine percent (in my experience) accessible with VoiceOver. 

If I were to go through every nuance of the app I'd be here all night, and dear reader, you would die of boredom. The highlights include being able to set your home address and having the app take you home with a handy Take Me Home button right on the main menu. The ability to look up contacts from your address book and navigate to them by car, bike, lorry (heh !) or pedestrian modes. Let's be honest - the Shank's Pony mode is the one we're interested in as visually impaired people afterall. And being able to browse for Points of Interest such as atms and restaurants nearby.

The only unlabeled buttons I've found so far are in the search for point of interest section. However I expect I haven't explored all the in and outs quite yet so don't quote me on that being the absolutely only unlabeled buttons. There are three direct access buttons at the bottom of the search for p.o.i. screen which VO reports as "button", which one can customise in the options to search for your choice of p.o.i., such as atm, train station, shopping, whatever, for quick access. It becomes obvious that they are for this purpose when you fiddle with the options on this screen because you can set them up yourself. You'd just have to remember what you set them at.

As I expected, VO will not read street names when you pass your finger over the map. You can show a map rather than have to put in a route if you want to see what is round you, but VO isn't going to tell you any of the visual info sadly. This is going to be down to the map rather than VO - basically the map in this case is just a big picture afterall I guess. And we all know how screen readers treat pictures. 

But putting in routes via an address is ok once you get the hang of it - it requires a town or city first, then a road, then the number. Below the text field for inputting the info are choices it thinks you might want, for example if you put an N in the field when putting a city or town in, a selectable list of towns and cities beginning with N will appear below the text field. There's a Next button down on the bottom right of the keyboard to advance through this process, or picking one of the list choices advances you automatically.
Picking contacts to navigate to is a matter of choosing the contacts button from the main menu, and picking one out of your address book. 

Once the app accepts the address to navigate to there will be a More button at the bottom of the screen where you can pick what the app calls a Route Profile. A screen asking for a Speed Profile will appear - this is where you choose pedestrian, car, whatever (you have to do this to get the right mode, so to speak, if you're walking it). There's also a save as a favourite button for the address you've put in - a sort of customisable point of interest if you like. Once you've picked your route profile (you will only have to do it once unless you want to change it in the future, the choice sticks if it's not changed), go back to the previous screen and press Start Navigation (top right of screen). Then get going !

The polite female voice gives you accurate directions - in my test from my house to my fiance's anyway. She piped up to tell me to turn right and left as I was on the corner of roads (very useful), told me how many meters to walk and then turn, what roads I was turning onto, when I was on the road featuring my destination, and when I was approaching my destination, and when I'd gotten there. "You have reached your destination" rang out within about ten feet of my fiance's garden gate I'd say.
And when I had reached home again on the return, she informed me pretty much within two feet of the turn to my gate, as my fiance's guide dog indicated the turn. 

Unlike Trekker you can't browse the route beforehand (so far), and it won't tell you the roads coming up on the left or right unless they are on your route (so far). However in the map screen (Show Map from the main menu), the name of the road is displayed at the bottom of the screen - and this is read by VO. It's alot bigger an area to tap in too, than the current location button in Google Maps. So if you were to make a turn and wonder what road you were on, tapping there would cause VO to tell you.

Whether it's for you or not will depend on your own individual perceptions, but what I can say is that the app is accessible in all the right areas. There are no nasty blank areas that are vital to putting in routes or making choices. Once you figure your way around the app, I reckon it's a winner for the money personally when faced with other accessible choices. 
Your mileage, as ever, may vary - if you'll pardon the pun !

Thursday, 25 June 2009

OcrNow ! Lite for iphone 3GS

Whilst trip trapping through the app store yesterday, I happened upon a free trial of an OCR program for the iphone 3gs called OcrNow ! Lite. There are others, but this one had a free version which gives you ten goes to see if it works for you. "I'll have some of that", I thought.

OCR, for those who may not know, stands for "optical character recognition", or reading words, to put it simply. Us visually impaired types might have more experience with this than most because it's software which allows us to read printed letters and the like which we maybe wouldn't normally be able to read. You pop your letter on a scanner, scan it, and the software takes a picture of the letter and converts the words in the image into plain text, which you can then read with a screen reader, edit, or whatever else you like - put straight into the trash bin (as is the case for me with junk mail) or run around the place screaming in horror (as is the case for me with household bills).
The iphone 3gs has an improved camera over the previous models (although the app does work on the previous iphones too) and finding this app gave me a thought about what use I could put it to, being a nearly blind bint and all.
Basically, the software takes a picture of your real world item containing the text you want to convert, uploads it to an online server, and then emails it back to you as an attached file in whatever format you choose - options being, pdf, plain text or rich text. You can also have the image itself included if you want. There are similar things floating about for Symbian phones, so I gather, though I've not played with them. Obviously to use this you need an active data connection.

The ocrNow ! app is very accessible via VoiceOver on the iphone 3gs. Hooray !

On opening the app, flicking from the top gets you the app title, an "add" button (this is where you go when you want to get started), and then a set of instructions which tell you what happens and how to do it.
At the bottom we have an "ocrnow" button (the "go" button for when you're taken your picture, basically), a delete button, and an options button.
The options button takes you to a screen with a "using ocr now tab", a "connection details" button, and a "jobs" button.
The using ocr now section gives you some tips about how to get the best results out of the program, more on that later. The connection settings department is where you will find the nominated email address for converted text to be sent, and the ocr server address (I advise not to fiddle with this bit, lol). The jobs button shows you a list of your jobs, how they were interpreted - for example how many characters and words the program recognised, and how many words of those were in the dictionary, plus any "suspicious characters", lol, the program detected. This doesn't mean how many dodgy reprobate types the program might have scanned your surroundings for (though wouldn't that be a triumph of an app ? heh heh) but how many characters the program couldn't quite suss. More about this section in a bit.

Now, here's where I have to point something out. When I started to fiddle with this app, I didn't have the idea of actually reviewing such things. It only occurred to me that my messing about with such things could possibly benefit others when I'd fiddled with a couple of programs and found my way around them already. So when you start this app for the very first time, you may well get a setup screen that tells you what to do and asks you for an email address to send the output to. I can't remember - it was yesterday when I first met the app and I have serious memory problems much of the time. I will try to remember to document the next program I "review" right from the off though.

So, to the meat of the matter.

On the first screen of the app, you have your add button as I said. Press this to get started scanning your text. The camera opens and tells you "viewfinder, image". Here is where the tips the program gives you in the using ocr now section really help. It recommends keeping the item flat, for example on a desk or on a wall. It recommends good light (well, we'll have to chance it on that one I guess). It recommends holding the phone about 13 inches away from the paper if you're doing an a4 letter, for a3 about 20 inches. Try to keep the border of the picture in line with the border of the paper, it says. Well, those of us who can see abit might have better success with this one - but it is worth remembering something that caught me out a few times - the camera on the iphone is on very top right corner of the rear of the phone if you hold it facing you with the home button at the bottom. I guess most of us would imagine it was in the middle of the phone, but it isn't. This makes lining stuff up abit less instinctive but there you go.
Once you think you've lined up your paper, gently double tap the screen somewhere in the middle. This focuses the camera on the item below it. You'll hear a sound when it focuses. I say do it gently because whatever movement you put on the phone will likely mess with the position of it and thus the focus. Double tap the take picture button to take a picture (or use the split tap method if you prefer - I reckon this is better for taking pictures, as it moves the phone less). It's probably worth messing about with the camera if you're so inclined beforehand to find your way around it.
When you've done this, you will get a preview of the image and a "retake" button at the bottom of the screen, and a "use" button. Double tap the use button to use the image (or retake if you've loused it up).
Then you're taken back to the previous screen, which will be showing a preview of your image, and giving you the magic "ocrNow!" button at the bottom left of the screen. Activate it !

You're now taken to a screen which allows you to set the options for your output. From top to bottom, you got the subject text field where you will likely want to put the subject of your email.
Then flicking past that gets you a choice of pdf, text or rtf buttons - then you're told this is the output format you're choosing. Ass backwards I know but you can't have it all. Your previous choice of format is remembered and indicates as selected.
Flicking by gets you a yes button and a no button, then a "return image" description - again backwards. Check yes if you want to have the image emailed to you to.
Then you have your ocr now button, which is where the magic happens (or a cancel button next to it if you have given up all hope by this point).
Activating the ocrnow button sends the image to the server. The screen changes to a progress bar but doesn't say anything when it's done so, give it a wee while. If you've got push notification for your email (assuming you're sending it to yourself and want to get the result on your iphone) you'll know when it's done as an email will come in. If not, about thirty seconds should do it. There's a button at the bottom of the screen which changes from "cancel" to "continue" when it's finished, so if you're light of touch this is a good way to find out when the magic's happened. Double tapping continue takes you back to the screen with the add button for further excitement (or boredom, depending on your point of view.)

Fire up your email on the iphone if you want instant gratification and you're not near your pooter, and look for an attachment right at the bottom of the blurb that the company who make the app write you when they send you your output. Flicking through this take a while. Double tap the attached file to get your outputted text, where you can read it at your leisure.
I have to admit I totally missed the attachment hiding at the end of the blurb to begin with and even emailed the company asking if the text could be sent inline with the email as opposed to attached, as I couldn't read attachments using my iphone (though in the back of my mind I recalled that you could - I just couldn't find them). What a silly cow I am ! They were very kind and said they would definitely consider this option in future version of the app, by the way. They must have thought I was a right eejit though.
If you don't want to wait for email, in the jobs section of the ocr now app you get a list of the jobs you've done (in the program, not in real life, heh) and options to delete them or download them. Choosing download gets you an option to view the output - which will then go to a screen which will read it all to you, but is not interactive so it will read it in one big lump (keep up at the back there, lol) or to email the output, and you can choose where to email it this time as opposed to having a default address set up.

So - does it work and how well ?

Well, yes, it does work. I snapped a letter I had been sent on a4 paper, and after a few tries of lining it up I managed to get an output that sent the entire letter back to me in a format I could actually read, with very few mistakes or missed characters. Anyone familiar with ocr will know that sometimes you do get a few letters wrong here and there, but you know what the word is supposed to be by context and common sense. I tried a book cover - pretty successful but not quite as easy to line up as the letter. I got real words out of it though, and they even made sense ! And a miniscule chocolate wrapper than even sighted folks might struggle to read I'd wager. I got enough to know that it was 54 percent cocoa solids and made by Kraft Foods. I have no idea where I had lined it up in the viewfinder though.
I suspect this concept might be more successful for those with some remaining vision than those without. I have some left so I was able to line the letter up ok with a good light and contrasting background, but not the smaller things I tried. All of this will depend on one's level of sight and perseverance. I imagine some enterprising and inventive types could make a frame for the iphone and the items to be scanned which makes the process of lining up and focusing a snap, but that would rather destroy the on the go nature of the app. Still, if you don't have a solution already, that would be an idea worth considering I reckon - because compared to scanning software and a camera for your computer, or a flatbed scanner and software, or a standalone solution (that's my credit card I hear screaming in the background at the mention of such things !), the app is dirt cheap.
The beauty of it is that there is a trial version which will do you ten goes, and the program is fully accessible with VoiceOver on the iphone, so you can try it yourself and see if it works for you. To buy the full version is £7.99.
I'm going to give it a go tonight at the pub and see how it copes with menus and the like.

If you've got some residual vision and don't want to spring for a mobile magnifier, or don't want to carry one around in addition to your iphone, ocrNow ! may well be what you are looking for ... pun intended.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Accessible turn by turn voice guided navigation on the iphone...?

As the turn by turn navigation apps start to roll in now that Apple has opened the doors to development of such things, voice guided navigation is now available for the iphone. AT&T have got one going for a monthly subscription in the US, so will O2 follow suit in the UK ? And even more importantly, will such things work with the iphone 3gs accessibility feature, VoiceOver ?

Often it's the maps that make such apps for mobile devices cost and arm and a leg, but I can't help thinking that those of us who are visually impaired and who need an accessible solution for navigation tend to get even more shafted by and large.
A prime example being Wayfinder Access.

In order to use Wayfinder Access, one has to have Nuance Talks or MobileSpeak on your mobile.  Talks is £150 for an IMEI based license, or £280 for a sim based license. MobileSpeak was £149 from Enableeyes last time I looked. Wayfinder Access itself is anything from £150 upwards depending on what maps you want. You need a data connection to use it. And of course you'll need your mobile phone to install all this on.
Wayfinder Navigator (which isn't accessible, so this is the version the "normal" people get to use) however, available on a 12 month basis (or a 36 month basis) is £49.99 for 12 months. You need a data connection for this too.
Having messed about with both of these, I wonder what Wayfinder Access provides, with regards to actual information to guide you, that Navigator doesn't. In my experience, nothing. It just works with a third party speech solution. So why is Wayfinder Access three times the price ? Oh, sorry I forgot - because it's a limited market (the stock answer). Perhaps if it wasn't so bloody expensive more visually impaired people would buy it.

Trekker Breeze from HumanWare is £485. Brilliant though it is - an all in one device about the size of a tv remote - a friend of mine who has one says the gps signal often drops out on buses. Dearie me. For that money I'd want it to be bulletproof. And don't even go there with the original Trekker, a bastardized Dell pda cum braille / tactile add on with extra bluetooth receiver and speaker. For the £1300 my fiance paid for it three years ago, it is fugly, and the development and support of it now very likely orphaned by HumanWare. And you look like a tit with all that gear hanging off you. Don't mention the 100 quid they would like to charge you for a new speaker - merely a rechargeable clip on effort with a run of the mill 3.5 jack to connect it to the pda headphone port - should yours crap out at the first sign of ambient moisture either.

Loadstone is a wonderful concept, free, and accessible (and coded by two blind blokes) - however as the "map" data is actually provided by users previously sharing route and area data with the program (PointShare), it's use is limited to those of us who live in an area already explored by other Loadstone users. Or those of us who are adventurous, or who have access to sighted guides to help us go over our routes prior to needing to traverse them alone. I wonder if an iphone version will surface ? I hope so. The iphone platform could offer so much more data provided by users for such an app, as there are so many of the sleek little Apple beasts out there.

For our sighted friends, we have an assortment of wonderful gps systems with voice guided navigation. Without voice guided navigation in car sat nav would be pretty unwise afterall, so voice guides are neccessary (and these days, usually standard). A quick look in Dixons reveals gps systems from 50 quid upwards, maps pre loaded. And you get the physical device included and ready to go !
Stick one in your silent but deadly hybrid car, listen to the dulcet tones of Celia (as my dad calls the mournful lady imprisoned in his TomTom), pootle blithely along and confuse a blind bod trying to cross the road today, why don't you.  lol.

I understand that just because most of my friends are visually impaired, it doesn't mean the rest of the world is too. I know I am in a minority. I know assistive devices are a limited market - but what sticks in my craw is that the tech for the things we need is already out there and being used in devices for the fully sighted every day. Yet the same thing is in an accessible form, it costs a shed load more. And often the very people who could use this assistive tech are the people who just don't have the money for this sort of thing.

I have been delighted to find that the majority of third party apps I've tried on the iphone 3gs have been at least partly accessible with VoiceOver. Some of them are completely accessible, and most of them entirely usable even if they don't speak everything on the screen. This is great because - ah, heaven ! - the visually impaired amongst us aren't charged any more than our sighted counterparts when we buy them. Perhaps, thanks to Apple's taking the accessibility bull by the horns with the iphone 3gs, the days of blind bods getting held over the proverbial barrel that is access to mobile phone software and given a good rogering are over. I really really hope so.
But I can't help fearing that when it comes to an accessible voice guided turn by turn gps solution, we may find ourselves yet again bent over and  looking at the rough ground of harsh reality whilst a company like Wayfinder Systems takes advantage of us. Here's hoping I'm wrong. Currently I don't have the money to give the current iphone turn by turn offerings that feature voice guidance a try on the accessibility front. If anyone else does, please let me know !

Monday, 22 June 2009

More on Fring for iphone with VoiceOver

Ok, it seems I am yet again taking back wot I said before - Fring ( does accept voice calls on the iphone 3gs, with VoiceOver active. The Fring app itself seems mainly accessible, except it does not speak the status of your buddies, so you have to guess if they're on line or not. I gather the online status is shown by a green icon as opposed to a grey one for offline. The accessibility is good because Fring has a Skype add-on, and you can make calls to Skypers straight from the Fring app without having to have your Skype buddy call you first (as documented below in my murmurings about Skype).
At the bottom of the Fring screen you get a buddy list pane icon, a history pane button, the dialler pane button, the goto pane button, and a more pane button.
Fring starts up with the pane you had in the session before - so on first use it will be the buddy pane (as I recall). 
The more pane is where you actually add buddies, and add ons for Fring such as Skype, to enable you to make Skype calls - result -, or if you like, to add AIM or ICQ plugins, and a few others. If you've not set Fring up before this is where you'll want to go first, to add plugins for the services you need. Once you add in, say, the Skype plugin and set it up with your username and password for Skype, Fring automatically imports your Skype contacts. Ditto with any other plugins you add in.

The buddy pane (first on the left at the bottom) is where you find your buddies, and  activating a buddy by clicking their name reveals (from top left travelling right) a back button, their name and user id, then two buttons. The first on the left is the "chat" button (VO just says "button"). The second on the right (both about in the dead middle of the screen) is the "call" button (again VO just says "button"). Sometimes I have found that you have to flick back and forth between these to get VO to say "button" for some reason, sometimes it merely clicks.
Activating the call button - well, calls the contact - if the contact is on a service that support voice calls through Fring. Skype does. I haven't tried the others because I only have Skype contacts. 
Flicking around the screen that appears when in a call gets you the contact name, call in progress, the time of the call in minutes and seconds, and the final button at the end of the right flick is the end call button, which sometimes reveals itself in VO as "end call" button, or sometimes just "button". It's directly above the tactile home screen button anyhow.
Activating the chat button chats the contact - no surprises there. You get a back button to return to the previous pane, the contact's name and the date and time of the chat, and then the messages in the chat (if there's any, if it's a new chat you get "empty list".) Flick along to the right to get a text field (approx half way down the screen), and after double clicking to activate, type your chat message on the keyboard which pops up (bottom half of screen, where the keyboard usually is on the 3gs).
 There's a clear text button to the right of the text field (if you mess up typing your message or decide not to send it afterall I assume), and then the send button. Guess what that one does ? Heh.
You'll get a tone on the receipt of any chat messages from your contact, but the text they send is not read out automatically. You have to either flick left of the text field to read the latest chat message, or head for the top third to top half of the screen to find it by finger, where it will be displayed ina timeline of the chat along with the previous messages in conversation form.  

The history pane shows your history of chats and calls. It reads ok.

The dialler pane in Fring isn't accessible at all, so if you were hoping to dial cell contacts from it you're out of luck. This is what the dialler pane is for apparently.

The goto pane reveals your current chats or calls, if you want to switch between I imagine.

That's about it I think.

Sometimes, as in a few iphone 3gs apps I've tried, VO will read content on Fring panes that you might have used previously. From what I can gather, it acts as if it's reading a pane which is underneath the pane you're using as opposed to the one you're actually using. Odd, but I suspect there are a few bugs that Apple need to iron out in the next os update. Coming out of the current app and then back in seems to sort it out.

Update on Skype for iPhone accessibility

I tell porky pies - I got ti wrong yesterday. Skype for iphone is semi accessible with VoiceOver and will accept and make calls. 
The only parts which aren't accessible are the contact list and the chats pane, which is a bummer because if you can't access your contacts you can't make calls. However this can be gotten around by having that contact make a call to you first, then they appear in your history list, which is accessible. You can then call or chat them from there, but you can't read their chat replies. Boo hoo.

So - there's hope for it if you can get your contacts to make contact with you first. This is what works for me, anyhow.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

iPhone 3GS Accessibility thoughts.

I got my shiney new iphone 3gs yesterday. After some messing about with o2, being on hold for hours, issues with my credit card (that were not of my making fortunately), I finally managed to order a 16gb black version. It turned up yesterday morning at quarter to nine in the morning. I imagine the dogs' few barks at the courier will have pissed my neighbors off no end, but there you go.

Playing with it, I have a few observations about the in and outs of VoiceOver on the 3GS, which I will rabbit on about - starting with the issues I have with it first.
The rotor control does not work exactly as described by Apple, well, for me at least. The way I read the instructions seems to imply that one puts two fingers on the screen and rotates them together as if turning a dial to switch between the various options that the rotor controls. 
I couldn't get this to work no matter what - but what does work for me is to put one finger on the screen and keep it touching the screen, and then put another finger next to it and rotate that finger, keeping the first finger still on the screen. You will then hear a twisting dial sound, and the characters, words or whatever options (which change depending on what app you're in) will be read out. Just stop turning when you get to the one you want.
As for selecting items, I favour the split tap method - passing one finger over the screen, touching it lightly, and when the item you want to use or select is read out, I then tap anywhere on the screen with another finger to open or activate it. It is important to keep the first navigation finger, as I call it, touching the screen and on the item you want whilst tapping with the other, or activation finger, as I have christened it. If you move your selection finger before tapping with the activation finger even slightly you may find the item you wanted isn't selected anymore, as items can be very close together.
There is a bug in the Notes program that intermittently does not activate the on-screen keyboard when editing the text, so the audio prompt will say "Double tap to edit", and you will double tap, then the keyboard will not appear and you'll be left wondering what is going on. Exiting the Notes app and then reentering it seems to sort it out ninety nine percent of the time.

I had the original iPhone 2G when it came out, but had to stop using it as my remaining vision become too poor to use it (I went onto a Nokia E90 with Mobile Squeak, what a nightmare). Before I gave it up I imagine people got some very odd and garbled text messages from me however. But I have retained a vague idea of the layout of the iPhone keyboard, apps, and so on, which is helping me now. Having a vague idea where things are helps I think.
My bf, who whilst being lovely has the patience of a gnat (and no sight at all), finds the iPhone likeable but frustrating as he finds it hard to visualise the layout of things. Whatever I do to try and explain it isn't helping. It seems hard for him to not accidentally touch the screen and put his navigation out, if that makes sense, which means he often activates items he didn't mean to and sometimes moves the insertion point of text without meaning to. And he has bigger fingers than my little fairy-like fingers. Heh heh.
This is why I'm using the navigation finger plus activation finger method - it works better for me as the selection finger is always safely on the screen. Perhaps, being a pianist is also helping here - I'm used to the left and right hands doing different things in tandem.
Inputting text is easier in landscape mode I find, and here I can rest the phone in my curled fingers as if I were holding a game controller. I use the left hand thumb to navigate and select the left keyboard keys, and the right thumb for activation - and the right thumb to navigate and select the keys on the right side of the keyboard, with the left thumb to activate. It takes abit of getting used to but I am fairly flying along now.
I have yet to figure out how to copy and paste (although I have done it accidentally, lol) - VoiceOver changes all the standard gestures, and how to do this whilst using VO doesn't seem to be documented yet. 
Disappointingly, Maps doesn't read the names of roads as you pass your finger over the screen. I thought it wouldn't, but I had hoped. But it will read your current locale, and directions can be gotten in a list which makes them easy to flick through. I have yet to go outside and see how the program actually works on the street, and how much voice feedback one will get.
Everything else built in I've tried so far works without a hitch.

Some of the third party apps I had on my old iPhone don't work with VO on the 3GS - Ocarina for one. I imagine this is because the iPhone doesn't do multitasking and VO uses the audio driver, meaning it isn't available for such things as Ocarina, Zephyr, and Stylophone. Skype is accessible, and one can receive chats and reply to them, but not initiate them. Fring and Skype seem not to be happy about voip calls - possibly because of the audio driver issue. So far they've all crashed on me when attempting to receive a call.
Twitterrific works great - it all seems to be accessible, though I have only just downloaded it so I am still finding my way around it.

As often is the case with Apple, the VO documentation for the iPhone is abit sparse and not totally complete right now - better than for the original VoiceOver on Tiger though. That really was flying blind back then. I'm sure as time goes on, more and more people using the 3GS with VO will appear and we will share tips and tricks. Meantime I'm playing and learning, and waiting for a review to cover the bits I am having trouble with from - I gather Josh is going to write one soon.

I'm very pleased with the iPhone 3GS so far. It is very responsive and sleek. And the voice - a version of OSX's Vicky I imagine - is quite passable, rather than the robotesque Nokia voices I am used to, though not quite up to Alex on Leopard. It is very encouraging to see a mobile phone that is accessible out of the box - more importantly, one that doesn't look like a brick or is designed for a special need that is accessible out of the box. This is a mainstream phone, accessible to us blind buggers, without having to pay out a hundred and fifty notes on separate software on top of the price of the phone and contract. Perhaps other phone manufacturers will follow suit, though I am not going to hold my breath on it.

All in all, the iPhone 3GS is - in my humble opinion - well worth the money and the eighteen month contract I have just signed up for. It has surpassed my expectations already. Result.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Shit Happens.

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing today. I had my guide dog matching visit on tuesday 19th of May as promised, with the lovely Quasia. My meeting the dog and the practise walk you do went extremely well. The instructor reckoned I'm a natural guide dog handler - he even started the basic training right then and there. It felt wonderful and right and me and Quasia hit it off right away. A perfect matching visit in other words.
However ...

The meeting of my gsd Jalen and Quasia did not go so well.

In the past Jalen has had issues with other dogs - he can be fearful and combative to some dogs, yet ignore others. He has been like that all his life, right since he was old enough to go on his first walk. However, when he met my fiance's guide dog two years ago, he fell in love immediately. 
We introduced them - Jalen and my fiance's dog Otto - in my back garden, both on leashes, with Jalen muzzled, at either end of the garden. Jalen and I slowly approached my s.o. and his dog, over the space of fifteen minutes or so. Jalen needed to know that Otto wasn't a threat to him and to get used to his presense. Eventually we met in the middle and they sniffed each other, and all was well. When they were released from the leashes there was abit of posturing from Jalen, but Otto stood his ground and then they clicked. The muzzle came off Jalen and they picked up a tug toy and played tug o war - with my elder gsd Bindi (who had already met Otto, ignoring him completely as he always did with other dogs !) who I sadly lost last year. They've been best mates ever since.

The guide dog instructor recommended we let Quasia and Jalen - and Otto of course - meet off leash, which I was pretty doubtful about as  Jalen can be unpredictable with other dogs off leash. I told the instructor this, but he insisted it was off leash or nothing as he didn't have the authority to do it on leash. 
Jalen's got issues with human strangers too, the little (sorry, hooning great) love, but he's good at heart. He warms up eventually, but it takes patience. I had assumed that the instructor would have to come and meet Jalen and get to know him first, and be accepted by him - but he said it wasn't neccessary for him to know Jalen and that we could do this with him watching through the kitchen window. I was pretty surprised at this as I thought he'd want to be there, but hey - I wasn't in charge here.
 Jalen is the sort of dog who needs to be told how to act in fearful situations, he sees me as security and wants to be close. He needs to be able to check in with me to see what to do, as these days he's without his moral compass, if you like, in dog form - Bindi. Some dogs don't like to be restrained on a leash when they meet other dogs, but Jalen reacts better if he is. But I went along with the instructor despite my misgivings - what choice did i have ? -, which proved to be a mistake. 
Jalen ran over to Quasia. After a second or so he postured and barged her. He was muzzled so he couldn't nip her. I called him back and told him to leave her alone, which he did immediately when I gave him the command, so I made him sit a few feet from me and let her wander around. If he moved towards her threateningly I told him to "leave it", which he did - but the instructor said to let him go and see what happened. Jalen totally didn't know how to react without my guidance so he barged her again, and she squealed. From then on he either ignored her or rushed at her randomly, he just didn't know what to do. The instructor then said for me to give them some titbits, which Otto and Quasia could eat, but I had to feed Jalen his through the muzzle and he was frustrated, which made him even more aggressive to Quasia, and to Otto too, who got a telling off for picking up treats from the floor. It was a total disaster - Jalen was very confused and looking for me for guidance but the instructor kept telling me not to intervene. This was not what my fiance and I experienced with Otto and Jalen meeting - but that was done on terms we knew would be successful. I knew this approach would not work, and I had said so !  

Eventually we called a halt to it, and the instructor told me that this was not good (I know this - I'm not dim). I was very upset because it was such a difference between Jalen meeting Otto and then meeting Quasia. I felt the instructor had got it wrong and should have done it on leashes as we did with Otto as we described to him, and the instructor admitted he'd got it wrong too. No shit ! Too late now though.
 The instructor said we needed to see improvement in Jalen's behaviour towards Quasia in order for them to place her with me. I said I understood, so we agreed to meet again after he (the instructor) had asked advice from his manager. He could have just done what we said we knew would work from past experience of course, but the damage was already done.
He took Quasia off and left us, and I cried all afternoon, I was so upset and disappointed. My fiance blames the instructor for it failing - I just didn't know what to think.

The instructor called me back later that day, saying his manager had expressed doubts that it would work, but that they were willing to try again as long as my fiance and I followed some very strict instructions. I felt like saying, "Well, you method didn't work when ours might have !" but I didn't, of course. It's a learning process for everyone and I don't think the instructor had come across such a situation before. They can't always get it right.
So he brought Quasia back next day and we had our instructions given to us. We were to put Otto in the workshop out back so's not to complicate things. This didn't go down too well with Otto as he doesn't like it in there and he doesn't like being separated from my fiance, so he barked up a storm.
We were to have Jalen on a leash with my fiance in my front garden. I was to approach the gate with Quasia on a leash, and wait to see what Jalen would do. We weren't to give either dogs any commands at all, just let them bark or sit or stand, or whatever. Then I was to walk past Jalen with Quasia into the house, and sit in the front room. Jalen and my fiance were to follow, and sit in the dining room where the dogs could see each other but still on leashes. My fiance and I were not to tell Jalen to quieten down or to sit or to do anything - we were to let him do what he wanted, but restrain him from lunging towards Quasia if he tried.
So we did this - Jalen whined and barked in a high pitched voice as Quasia and I approached, but stopped when we stood still. He let us walk past without a word. I went into the house and sat down, my fiance and Jalen followed and sat in the dining room. Jalen barked and whined but eventually calmed down and lay down on the floor. My fiance said there was no tension on the leash - Jalen was not lunging or pulling towards us. He obviously felt better having the security of the leash - which we knew would be the case all along. Quasia just looked at him. Then she got up and sniffed the tv next to us, so Jalen got up and barked. She sat down again. He sat down again. I tickled her belly and Jalen whined in protest, or interest, one out of the two.
This went on for half an hour or so, with Jalen barking or whining on and off, but not showing any aggression towards Quasia at all, and in the end we said that it was time to stop for today. My fiance and Jalen went outside into the back garden and I took Quasia out to the instructor at his car. We were encouraged as the situation showed promise.

Now here's where it gets even worse !

My neighbors, as reported in other posts, can be total arseholes. As Quasia was getting into the back of the car, my neighbor drove up in his car, shouting my name at me. I ignored him, as he has been agressive to me in the street before for reasons only seeming to be know to himself and whatever I say to him doesn't help. He persisted - he kept on shouting at me. So I said, "Hello."
He then yelled, "You've got one dog in the house barking and one in the workshop !"
So I said I knew that and that we were doing some guide dog training today. He yelled, "Well I don't have to listen to it !" So I said, "Ok, thankyou - but can we not do this now ?" He then said, in a very threatening tone, "You don't want to go down that road with me."
I said, abit taken aback "Ok, but let's not do this now please." And turned to walk away. I know what he's like - I've experienced his intimidating behaviour before and quite frankly, there's nothing that says that in the course of being neighborly and listening to someone's complaints that says you have to stand there and take it whilst some aggressive man shouts at you from the safety of his car. The instructor followed me and we walked into my garden. The neighbor followed into his garden and kept pace with us, saying, "You don't want to go down that road with me !"
In the end I said, "Ok, whatever." I'd got to my front door by that time.

I was pretty unhappy when I got in. The instructor was very confused about what prompted the neighbor to be so aggressive and threatening. I explained that it wasn't the first time. 
The insructor called me back the next day and said that guide dogs felt they couldn't add to a situation with my neighbor by placing a dog into a situation where there might be barking which could make the neighbor aggressive, for my sake and the sake of the guide dog, and my dogs. Basically, what I understood from him was that they wanted to call it off. I asked him what he would do if he were me, and he said  he didn't think this situation was going to work with all the outside pressures on it, and that if it were him he'd give it up.

This neighbor has threatened me before - he once said if I didn't stop my dogs barking, there were "thing I could do to sort it, but I won't do them -- yet." His exact words. 
I had been trying at that point, which was two years ago nearly, to come to some solution to make him happy as I want to be a good neighbor, but he has complained about every little thing I've done or any little barking the dogs do either in the house or even playing in the garden. Any barking seems to annoy him however little it is. But his own dogs are allowed to bark left at home all day, but he doesn't see that as a problem and dismisses it if I try to get him to see that it cuts both ways. I've only ever mentioned his dogs to him when he's complained about mine - my point being, we all have to get along and there is going to be noise from each other's houses when we live in a terrace, but we just have to live with it now and then. Jalen isn't a barker and Otto only barks now and then, so now and again surely isn't grounds to get a cob on. But he becomes aggressive if I don't immediately cave to his demands and nothing I do (and I have certain;y bent over backwards to accomodate him, however unreasonable he has been) placates him. I've done all I can to minimise my dog's barking and I'm at home most of the time anyway, unlike him and his wife (and noisey baby), who leave their two dogs barking all day long from about eight in the morning til late afternoon. Jalen doesn't bark at all when I go out - I know this because I have audio recorded him every time I've been out for the last six months (call me OCD but I want evidence on my side !) so this nasty individual had a problem with a couple of minutes on and off barking for only forty five minutes in one single day ! My perfectly reasonable and polite explanation wasn't enough for him, as he plainly sees life as one rule for him and another for everyone else. The irony of it is - if he hadn't been on holiday from work that week, he wouldn't have even been home to hear it !

He's also complained about the conifers in my garden being too tall (doesn't affect him as they don't overlook his house and don't block the light), about a walnut tree in my garden being apt to grow really large - which again doesn't block his light as it's far enough away from the houses not to do this and is actually on the other side of my garden to the boundary with his garden - which is incidentally full of trees too, not that I care. And he's also complained that I make too much noise "running up and down" my stairs because he knows (he says) I have no carpet on them (true). However due to the fibro I can't say I've run anywhere for the last few years - I may lump about abit as I struggle with stairs, but I'm in bed by ten thirty every night, for pity's sake. And it's not like I live above him - I live next to him ! And how many times can one go up and down stairs in one day, exactly ? I've got a bathroom downstairs so I basically come down in the morning, at about half eight (by which time he's gone to work), and go back up at about half ten in the evening. I might go up and down a couple of times during the day but - I mean, whatsamatter wiv yoo, you silly man ? He's not even there during the day - neither is his missus most of the time.

However - I can hear you thinking, "Surely there must be more to it than that." And I agree - and the more to it is that he treats his wife like total dirt, and his child the same. I have heard him shout at them in a manner that many people would feel is inappropriate. His idea of disciplining his own dogs is to pull their ears (I have witnessed this first hand, and even had his wife cry out in shock at him doing it to confirm I really did see what I thought I saw). He thinks all people a shade darker than white are dole scroungers and gamblers - he once told me, when I first moved in here and didn't know what an arse he is that he often drove to the coast and saw "these muslim benefit scroungers putting our money into fruit machines all day long. It shouldn't be allowed". He also told me that his step daughter (who doesn't live with him) who has severe learning difficulties and a mental age of eight (she's in her late teens) needed to "grow up  - I don't cut her any slack."
What can you say about someone with views like that ? 
I imagine he sees me and knows I'm on disability benefits and thinks I should be put out on the street or something. Never mind that this house was bought with money that my ex and husband I actually earned !

I don't mind admitting if I've done something wrong and making amends - and I don't mind not knowing if I've done something wrong and making amends when I am told about it - but what I do mind is aggressive tactics. I'm not there to be treated like dirt. If you want me to hear you, I'm all ears if you're polite. If not, I'm afraid I am not going to stand for it. I will walk away.

Coupled with the previous intimation that he'd sort the dog barking issue if I didn't in his own way and the fact that he's also trespassed onto my property to alter lighting to suit him without my permission, his method of delivering said threats - which is to scream up to me and whoever I am with in his car when I am out in the street (very scary for someone who can't see - for all I know the car could mount the pavement) I was concerned enough to call the police. As for the trespass - he had complained that my sensory support installed assistance lighting in my garden was too bright and that it reflected off my workshop and woke him up, so I said no problem, I'd get them back to reposition it. A couple of days later he came round, handed me the bulb and said he'd come into my garden and changed it for a lower wattage bulb when I was out. I said that he'd not given me a chance to get sensory support so sort it out and that I needed the brightness of the light due to being nearly blind (he knows this, though). He just handed me the bulb, said, "Well, it's done now." And walked off.

The police have been and logged his actions, telling me basically to ignore him and that I have a perfect right to have dogs barking at my house now and then - he would only have grounds for compliant if a "statutory nuisance" were proved, which forty five minutes on and off or so of barking for a very good reason plainly isn't. Ditto dogs barking when they play in the garden, or dogs barking at the door when someone comes to it. This is all that ever happens from my house - however his own dogs bark constantly when they are out, which is pretty much every week day. 
The copper recommended I don't bend over backwards to accommodate this man as I had been doing - he said I should live my life, I'm doing nothing wrong. If my dog barks hello to me when I get home at half ten in the evening should I go out now and then - tough luck. If they bark when someone comes to the door - tough. It's allowed. If they bark in the garden now and then when we play, so what. Again, it's allowed. It is the nature of dogs.
A chat to the environmental department after the instructor from guide dogs left confirmed the same  - they were very sympathetic and said I had nothing to worry about. I was within my rights and within the law. End of.

 The police said that they would go around and have a chat with him and let him know that antisocial behaviour such as trespass and intimidation in the street was not acceptable however, but I didn't want them to. If anything similar happens again I will call them back and ask them to though. 

A couple of days after this encounter, a letter from the local council turned up, informing me he has made an official complaint against me. Sighted help lady didn't have time to read it all (it arrived as she was leaving) so I phoned the environmental department up for another chat. They told me not to worry, the letter was only a formality that they had to send out when someone made an official complaint, and that I was totally within my rights and was doing nothing wrong, as they had said before. They told me the neighbor would have to keep a diary of when my dog/s barked and send it to them within five weeks. They advised me to keep my own diary in case he tried to make stuff up, and to keep a diary of his dogs barking too in case I wanted to make a counter complaint, as they felt his dogs may actually be causing a statutory nuisance - due to the regularity and constant nature of the barking from them when the neighbors go out - where mine (by which I mean Jalen and Otto when he is at my house - Otto isn't mine, but he's my responsibility when he's here) aren't ! I said I'd keep the diaries but didn't want to counter complain - it would be petty. 
I asked if a letter from guide dogs to support that the barking was only for forty five minutes or so, under their instruction and part of the process involved in my getting a guide dog would be appropriate, and they said a letter would be great but it wasn't essential, they were happy with my information as it stood. They said that when he wouldn't be able to turn in a diary that showed a statutory nuisance - by which is meant a constant barking for long or regular periods, not just one offs - , the file would be promptly closed and any further complaints he might make to me or them could be used as evidence of harrassment of me by him, in view of his previous actions. They were very sympathetic and said this sort of thing happens all the time - a neighbor gets snotty and complains in during a hissy fit, only to have their bubble deflated pretty quickly when the law shows them that they have no cause for reasonable complaint. They recommended I tell him, should he say anything to me in the future, that I could just as well complain about him too if I liked with likely more success - so to "grow up and live and let live" was the chap on the phone's words. ;) But they also recommended I take care if he roared up to me in the street in a temper again, and log anything like that with the police.

So the upshot of it all is this -

Guide Dogs wrote to the environmental department supporting me and saying the barking was their fault and only for forty five minutes or so on one day.
My fiance's guide dog instructor has since said she felt that introductions off leash between new dogs do not work, and she would not have done it that way. She can't say alot I guess but I get the impression she thinks she would have been successful where this instructor wasn't. She said, rather cryptically, that "things had been learned" by us all as a result of the hoo-haa.
I have suspended my application for a guide dog at this point - this whole trauma of it has been too much for me. I am going to let the dust settle before I think what to do next.

So - there you go. A years and three months worth of waiting for a guide dog was brought to naught in the space of 48 hours. Sens-fucking-sational. :(

I have thought long and hard about posting this - I am aware that some might say I am slagging guide dogs off and blaming them. Not true - I am just saying what happened. It was a shitty thing for all of us, instructor included. I imagine he went home at night doubting himself just as much as I doubted myself (and Jalen too). Sometimes things just don't work out. No lasting harm was done - nobody got bitten, Quasia didn't seem bothered by Jalen after it all happened and the instructor said she seemed fine with other dogs afterwards, if a little more aware of them. She'll be placed with someone else and go on to make a great guide, I'm sure. And Jalen forgot about it all come the next morning. So the only one to lose out of it all was me, and I can wait. I've been fucked up in the eye department for the last thirteen years without a guide dog - if I waited a few more years until Jalen was no longer with us rather than try again, for example, it wouldn't matter too much to me. I'm disappointed, yeah, but I can live with it.

I am also ware some might say I am being indiscreet about my neighbor. However I haven't said anything here that isn't common knowledge if one knows the man in question (his step daughter, his opinions, etc are all known about the neighborhood so anyone reading this who knew me would already know about all this. Slander and libel only apply to untruths, I believe).
 And I am entitled to my opinion that the man is an arse - just as he is entitled to think I am an arse (as I'm sure he does). And he can complain to the council about me all he likes - I know my rights and so do they. No harm no foul. If they told me he had cause for complaint I'd do something about it. But they haven't said that.
What he isn't entitled to do however is try to intimidate me, so I will be keeping tabs on this situation and keeping in touch with the police.

  Apologies for the length of this post - if you've read this far, I salute you ! 

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Small Victory in the Parking on the Pavement War

The hooning great truck I mentioned earlier in my BADD post that is always parked on the path outside my house finally got a parking ticket on thursday. It's only taken the relevant authorities two or so years to do this !

My neighbor let me know it was there, plus a trailer on the back. A trailer on the back of a flat bed truck - I mean, ffs ! And there's never anything in either of them ! So I went out to investigate. Interestingly this time a poke about with the stick and a grope revealed it was only slightly on the path, which I am usually prepared to ignore - but it was parked slap bang across my driveway meaning nobody could get into it. There were other neighbor's cars parked at right angles to it on the grass between the pavement and my house, which means access to my house was completely blocked off. Which meant that Darryl, my other half, would have been screwed when he got back from his thursday night noise making sessions with the bands he's in - him and his mum would have been lumping amps and guitars around for many yards more than they should have to in order to get them into my house. All because some arsehole can't be bothered to park in his own driveway.
So I phoned the police - as I have been advised to by the very rozzers themselves on every occasion I have ever tried to bring dangerous or selfish parking to an authorities attention - and told them.
They were more interested that it was blocking my driveway than that it was on the pavement and thus a potential hazard to visually impaired people or those in wheelchairs or with prams. I explained that it had been going on for some years now and despite the traffic warden coming out (who did diddly squat and might as well have not bothered), it had gotten worse and worse. As I explain every single time I have to call them up.
 I was told that they had received complaints about the truck that very night from someone else because it was also directly opposite a junction and causing a hazard (I would love to know who that was, but of course they weren't about to tell me) and promised that an officer would be despatched forthwith to ticket it.
And ticket it they must have, because the following morning saw the truck gone, and it has not appeared in that position again so far. And we're into some days later now.

A small victory methinks. I wonder how long it will last ?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Matching visit news

Andy from Guide Dogs called me this afternoon. He is coming out to do the matching visit with me next tuesday morning at eleven. 
This afternoon I happened to be in a computer workshop with a lady called Annabell, who happens to have a flat coat retriever guide dog called Amy, who is of similar size and weight to Quasia. I told her about my matching visit and she said, "Well, you can baby sit Amy for this afternoon !"
So I was treated to the company of lovely Amy for a few hours. She was extremely affectionate and licky and fun, I loved her instantly. I have known her for a year or so but this was the first time I got up close to her for an extended period of time. She was either giving me a right dog snog or laying on my foot, which was fine by me. I don't mind dogs licking my face - some people don't like it, but I am fine with it. I haven't been sick - as in, thrown up - for many years - and that was from enjoying a night of extreme refreshment if you catch my drift (and then eating some rubbish from the local salmonella burger van outside a nightclub). So I'm not overly worried about dog germs. However she also wandered over to Otto and sniffed his bum, so I wasn't so keen on the kisses after that ! It's one thing knowing they do that, we all know they do it - but having them do it right in front of you then trying to give you a big sloppy tongue lashing a second later is something I'm not nuts about.

If Quasia is anything like Amy I'll be a happy bunny, because she's lovely.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Ooooh, guide dog news !

I called the Guide Dog people today. Probably because it's nearly three weeks since I heard from them and I was so fed up today that I was desperate for some good news. I also had my hair cut today and god know what my hairdresser was doing, but she has cut my fringe (bangs to you guys across the pond) so short that I look like a total mong. I don't need to be able to see myself to know this. I feel like a total mong. My hair isn't hanging in my eyes so therefore, to me, this equals mong-ness. I hate it when they do that - but they seem to want to tidy me up or something. Pity their efforts make me look so stupid ! They might as well shove a basin on my head and cut around it at the front for all the style I have when I come out. If I could find somewhere else to go that was within walking distance I would. Perhaps it's time to scour for a mobile hairdresser.

Anyway, the phonecall could have back fired on me big time if the chap in question had told me the doggy he had thought he had for me was a non starter, but luck was with me. Which was nice !

He said he was just going to get around to calling me anyway next week, to set up a matching visit. He feels the dog is the one for me, and the next step is to match her with me on a walk to see how we all get along. If all goes well I should start to train in the middle of June, at a hotel in Ipswich. He didn't have his diary on him at that point but he will call me back at the beginning of next week to set a date.

The dog in question is a girl dog called Quasia. All guide dogs in a litter get names beginning with the same letter, so I guess her siblings were puppies by the name of Queenie, Quentin, Quincy, and er ... yeah, other names beginning with Q.  She is a black flat coat retriever slash golden retriever mix. Apparently she bonds very quickly with her handler and needs consistent handling from someone who is very dog oriented, and who wants to work very much as a team rather than just to follow along. She has the bounciness and happiness of a flat coat retriever but can be abit stubborn like a golden retriever. They feel she's the one for me because although I've never had a guide dog, I am well known to them as a "doggy person" with lots of dog experience. My pet dog, Jalen, is full of personality and needs a consistent level of discipline to keep him in line, so I'm used to being the alpha dog.
She's what they call a medium sized dog, weighing in at twenty seven kilograms. To me that's a small dog, as my Jalen weighs nearly fifty and Bindi, who I lost last year, was sixty at his prime. But in guide dog terms, she's a medium. She has feathery legs and a longish coat, and of course I am in love already without even having met her.

The matching visit can be abit of a shock for first time guide dog owners, so I am told - and I can only imagine how true that is. I am well used to pet dogs, but being guided by a dog in harness is a whole new kettle of fish. How a potential first time guide dog owner is supposed to tell if the dog is right for them after a ten minute walk around the block is beyond me - they have no frame of reference (and if they do happen to pin a pet dog experience on the event as a frame of reference, in my opinion they'd be pretty unwise.)
The matching visit is to see is you can get on with the dog, whether the dog can get on with you, and presumably whether the two of you can walk down the street without getting killed or seriously injured - albeit in the company of the guide dog instructor.

I've talked at length about the matching process to my bf, Darryl, who has had five guide dogs. He agrees that even if you do have a guide dog before and have a frame of reference, it's pretty hard to tell if the dog is right for you after ten minutes unless you have a very definite criteria for the dog - for example, it must not sniff around at all, or it must not lick your hand, or something else very obvious from a first impression.
I have none of those criteria - I want a dog to guide me and have very little idea what to expect in that regard, despite having known Darryl (and Otto) for two years, and having travelled along behind them in all sorts of environments. Otto guides Darryl and I trot along behind in their wake with the stick - it's the safest place in town ! I make much better progress with them than I do on my own - with a guide dog, you sail by the bins, cars, people, etc - as you are doing the overall navigating and the dog is taking care of the immediate surroundings, for the most part - unless the immediate surroundings are unexpectedly hazardous or challenging, like for example, if some knob parks a huge truck on the path and you have to figure out whether to try and inch past it or go out into the road (what guide dogs call an "off kerb obstacle," and what guide dog owners call "the driver being a twunt"). 
With the stick, you're doing both the navigating and the immediate surroundings interpretation - usually in my case by bouncing off things.

I can't really describe how I feel about the prospect of getting a guide dog. I have never been a happy stick user - I just can't get used to the idea that people are watching me bounce off stuff and are  thinking, "Poor cow." With a dog, most people see the dog first, and then you - if they see you at all. They usually think, "Aww, look at the doggy..." and you're just incidental. Which can work against you if they are not savvy in the way of not distracting assistance dogs. But the dog is often a good ice breaker if you need help, or if people want to help you. And of course, you're never alone with your guide dog. Getting around with the stick can be a damn lonely process.

So to say I am made up as a made up thing is an understatement. I am also nervous as hell !