Going mobile

Are you reading this on your phone or tablet or similar portable device? There is a very good chance you are. This week I’d like to share a little bit about my own experiences with such devices.

I have mentioned previously some of the challenges I faced commuting in the days before mobile phones were commonplace. When I eventually got access to this technology, it seemed like a huge leap forward. I remember the first time I travelled on my own with a phone. I was finally able to let my family know that the coach I was on was running late. I also felt a wonderful sense of security from knowing that I could contact someone if I were in trouble.

I shared that first mobile phone with other members of my family and it wasn’t adapted in any way to my particular needs. I simply learned which buttons to press to make a call or answer one. A short while later, the RNIB (Britain’s “Royal National Institute of Blind People”) produced a very simple phone which could handle a few saved numbers. This was a step forward in some ways, but the big drawback was that you couldn’t dial numbers that weren’t already saved.

It wasn’t until I purchased a Synaptic phone a few years ago that I really began to explore the joys of having a mobile. This was an Android phone which a company had overlaid with their own bespoke software. This was done in such a way that the menus were very logically laid out and easy to follow. I learned how to use YouTube and BBC iPlayer and got a lot of use out of it.

There was still a down-side, though. You could only use apps for which the company had written software. I felt I wanted to progress a little and be more adventurous, so I bought another Android phone, a SmartVision2 with Kapsys software. This allows you to use any app, provided it is accessible. In other words, the manufacturers don’t claim that all apps are accessible for visually-impaired people but, if they are, you can use them on this phone.

Which has been fun.

Some apps are easy to use. I love playing a game called “Seven Little Words” and I can text and read emails and have discovered emojis. I have even dipped my toe into the world of social media, but – and I’m sure you knew there was a “but” coming – there are some aspects of social media which drive me absolutely crazy.

Yes, I’m talking about Facebook.

I thought it was time I launched myself into this world where I would know immediately when my family went out for tea and cake!

The idea is fine, but my experience of Facebook is far less satisfactory. The main problem is that it is so cluttered. It is designed for sighted users but what is probably a wealth of visual detail for other users is often impenetrable for me. Each time I open Facebook, I have to wade through the names of endless people I might or might not even know. Eventually, I find “Notifications” and open that, but if I click on a notification, all I get is a long list of things I can do in response to a post which I may or may not have found and read.

Sometimes messages from weeks before pop up for no obvious reason. I was recently confused to find a post from my brother-in-law which he had made while he was on holiday, a holiday from which he had returned two weeks previously. Why?*

(*Editor’s note: it’s because someone had just commented on his post, so the comment was recent, even though the post wasn’t.)

I can’t even be sure that the same screen will come up each time I go into Facebook. Sometimes, instead of “Camera”, “Friends”, “Groups” et cetera, I find an invitation to create a post. This will be followed by a long list of options which I have to wade through before getting to somewhere I recognise.

And, of course, there are adverts. *Sigh!*

I have to ask myself, is all this effort worth it just to find out about my family’s eating habits?

I do know visually-impaired people who are happy with Facebook and it may be that my software isn’t the best from an accessibility point of view, but any app that requires you to scroll through a lot of useless information or irrelevant options is frustrating when you can’t see. You have no idea if, having wasted ten minutes reading this stuff, you are even going to get to your desired destination.

The same is true of web pages. Yes, there are shortcuts I can use to speed up the browsing process. For instance, in Jaws, my screen-reader, each time you press “H” it takes you to the next heading, but without some idea of the layout of the web page, you can spend a lot of time wandering about only to discover that you were on the wrong page all the time!

But I digress. Back to the mobile phone.

I recently tried to use BBC Sounds and BBC Sport. I downloaded the apps but was told that before I could watch anything I had to register. The apps claim, somewhat misleadingly, that this is easy to do.

No, it isn’t!

Finding both the password box and the email box has proved impossible. I shall have to wait until sighted assistance is on hand. It’s a good thing Radio 5 Live Sports Extra was broadcasting the men’s final at Wimbledon from start to finish. If I had had to rely on the app on my phone, my neighbours would have been reeling from the screams of frustration coming from my lounge!

Information technology is a wonderful thing. I couldn’t live without it now and certainly couldn’t run my business. But, as I’ve tried to explain, there are times when it drives me nuts!

Next time you are getting ready to throw your phone out of the window because it is driving you crazy, just spare a thought for those of us who are suffering that frustration without even being able to see the screen!