Monday, 27 April 2009

Sat Nav for Guide Dogs

A interesting link that passed me by until today is
It's a story about how a product design student has designed a sat nav, called Peepo, that a blind person can speak a destination into, then clip a device onto the guide dog harness which vibrates on the fingertips to indicate which way to steer the dog.

The Ouch article links to a Sun newspaper article, which (as I have come to expect from the Sun when it comes to blindness) gets the wrong idea and states in the first paragraph "A revolutionary sat nav that directs guide dogs for blind people has been invented by a British boffin."
It then goes on to say how the device will vibrate on the left or the right side, telling the handler which way to turn, to be fair - but as any guide dog owner will know, YOU tell the DOG where to turn left or right, not the other way around as the first paragraph would imply. Of course, Fido may well know the route already and pre-empt you, but surely that isn't what a sat nav is aimed at. If you knew the route already, you wouldn't need a sat nav, would you ?

The other amusing Sun comment in the article is that the inventor says that ordinary sat navs are dangerous for blind people as they can step into traffic. Not wishing to come across as harsh towards this attitude but, hello ??? Isn't that what guide dogs are trained to prevent by stopping at curbs ? And how does this special sat nav prevent that - does it have all the kerbs in the world programmed in as points of interest, telling you when you're approaching one ? Enquiring minds want to know.

My better half uses a Trekker sat nav to take us places we don't already know, which is admittedly more expensive at 1300 notes as opposed to the proposed 500 of the Peepo, but it works just fine. It's alot of faffing about to input routes via the tactile keypad though so the voice control of the initial destination of this appeals. However it (the Trekker) does tell you where you are by letting you know the names of the roads. Although the Peepo gives a steady pulse of vibration to indicate you are on route, what happens if you get diverted off route for some reason ?

I don't want to come across as dismissive to the concept, because I'm not - all mobility enhancements are a goer for me - but other than being voice activated and not actually speaking directions to you (useful in busy areas indeed), I wonder how much of an improvement this is on what is available already at a similar price (the Trekker Breeze, for example).

I'd love to get my hands on one and find out !

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Singing ...

I had my first one to one singing lesson today. I've been singing on and off for years, more for pleasure in casual groups and choirs than for any other reason, but this year my bf and I are organising a Christmas 'do' for our local blind bugger's social club, where the acoustic guitar and vocals group that we are in will be performing. Along with a-capella vocal group that I am also in. 
The guitar / vocal thing has five members at the moment, and all of us are visually impaired except one.
Somehow I have ended up running the group (they seem to like it that way, but give them time, I'm sure the novelty will wear off !), which means teaching parts to the other singers, deciding which songs we sing, and all manner of other stuff. So I figured I better have some lessons - as I can hardly look crap myself with that responsibility to shoulder can I ? ;)

I was put off singing at a young age, despite liking it and having some talent in that direction, - largely thanks to my mother, who told me in no uncertain terms, when I asked for singing lessons not keyboard lessons; "I've heard you sing, you're no good." Cheers mum, - that followed me around for some years like a sad little tail ! 
However I'm big enough and ugly enough to make my own decisions now so singing lessons for me it is. 
My teacher, Jenny, is an old family friend who has threatened to remonstrate firmly with my mum for destroying my confidence when she sees her next - her opinion is that I can sing, I just can't breathe as a singer ! I knew this was my main problem, which is why I asked her to give me lessons as she comes highly recommended.
I spent the afternoon being taught to breathe from my stomach not my chest, and feeling quite light headed as a result. This is not unusual I'm told - and as a head rush it beats drugs or drink, and is acceptable to do in public. ;)
None of the whining and wailing I was doing could have been too bad, as Otto fell asleep on the floor and my bf didn't run from the room with his hands over his ears.
I'm back in a fortnight for more.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The dog and bone...

I got a call from Guide Dogs this evening. I have been on the waiting list for a dog for over a year so I could hardly speak, I was so stunned.
Somehow I knew it was them when the phone rang - that might sound like a load of old squit but it's true, however it might sound.
It was an instructor I haven't met before, telling me he thinks (thinks ! argh !) he has a dog for me who would be ready to train with me in the middle of June this year.

A quick background summary - I have been visually impaired for thirteen years. I am registered blind with only vague light perception in my left eye and no central vision in the right, due to myopic macular degeneration, and cataracts. My S.O. has a guide dog, and when we met two years ago I realised that I should stop hiding away indoors, ditch the stick (which I am totally rubbish with) and get on the list for a dog who can legally crap in the street and go into restaurants !
I have a pet dog, a GSD called Jalen, who I adore, and my bf's dog, Otto, gets on famously with him. They adore each other - and we adore them.

So - back to the phone call. The instructor says he has a flat coated retriever cross lab girl who could be right for me. He picked her up with me in mind, and after asking me a few questions and telling me abit about her, he said he'd let me know if she was going to work out for me as soon as he could. 
Until he calls back and says yey or nay for sure I hardly dare get my hopes up or reveal too much about her - as for all I know he could be thinking of another candidate for her if she doesn't train up for me, and I wouldn't want to be indiscreet about her if that were so. But from what he said, I am top of the list for her, so fingers crossed.