What's it like to be a blind parent: part 2

Written by Mike Taylor 09/09/2016

Introduction

Welcome to our second series of blog posts about what it is like to be a blind parent. In this post I give an overview of the past 3 years of being a dad, and some circumstances which my wife and I have experienced.


When my wife was pregnant we had a series of meetings with her midwife, who introduced us to social services who were very positive, and put our fears at rest. It is still the case that some professionals believe that blind people cannot be good parents. I know this from speaking to other blind parents who have told us of their experiences, and we were initially getting ready for a fight about what we can do, and what we may or may not need support with. Thankfully we couldn’t have been more wrong, our midwife and social services representative were focused on helping us to be the best we could be, and being as independent as we could while having the option to ask for support if we needed it. Like many parents we ask questions of the health visitor sometimes, and we have had nothing but great support and advice when it’s required. I can honestly say that we have needed limited support, and mainly rely on our family network which is at a minimum rather than a maximum.


Being a blind dad is a mix of emotions ranging from frightening, exciting and rewarding; I have learned so many things, and I learn something new every day. My wife and I are both classed as blind, however this doesn’t stop us from doing our best for our little girl. At the time of writing she is 3-years-old, but in the early months I did the bottle washing, and much of the formula preparation during the night, as my wife was primary carer during the day. Nappies were one of the duties we shared, while bath time became my job, and we still share the bed time stories. Like my colleagues I can adapt many stories and even make up my own some times, but my memory of the ‘3 little pigs’, and ‘goldilocks and the 3 bares’ have come in useful as these are her favourites.


Audio-based toys really help, as I can fully interact with what she is playing with at that particular time, at the moment we are doing a lot of drawing though which is interesting yet really enjoyable, as I am asked to draw all sorts of animals. This is fun as it requires my interpretation of what the shape of a dog would look like on paper, leading to much laughter from my daughter, I don’t mind though as it’s time with her that is priceless. I remember the layout of our house so when it comes to daddy playing a horse, and my little one sitting on my back as I crawl around the house, I know which areas are safe enough should she decide to climb off and then swiftly move on to hide and seek. Now that she is learning the alphabet we have some print letters which have a braille label attached, this helps us to get her familiar with the few letters she is still getting to grips with, which isn’t many as she is doing great at nursery and school.


My daughter knows that mum and dad’s eyes don’t work properly, but of course she won’t attach any name to it right now, this will come, and at the moment she is amazingly perceptive. If she wants to show me something she will take my hand and show me the item, and while walking she now even tells me if there is a car on the pavement. I should add here that my daughter is not a small version of a carer, my wife and I want her to be the best she can be, inevitably there will be things she wants to help us with though; and sometimes I have had a tantrum on my hands when I wanted to do something myself so it’s all a matter of getting the balance right.


When administering medicine we found that using a teaspoon for very small measurements is ideal, and the 5 ML syringe is another option. We make a tactile mark where the half-way point is if administering a 2.5 dosage, so we know exactly the amount to give if required. To keep track of times in between doses I use my iPhone to set reminders, actually the reminder app has never been used so much since I became a dad.


When it comes to dressing, we make sure that all clothes are already colour co-ordinated so that we don’t dress our daughter in colours which clash. When my wife and I shop for clothes or shoes ETC, we always take a sighted relative so we can get items which match her wardrobe until she is old enough to do it herself. Because we have been told the colours of her clothes from recent purchases, we can tell a member of staff what we need if doing this ourselves.


Before I became a dad, I was unsure how to respond to the question of having my sight back if I could. At the time of writing my eye condition cannot be cured, and I have been blind since birth as my blindness is a result of being born 3 months early. I would need to learn to read and write all over again if I had sight, as I would need to recognise print as well as other things and I would require support while this happens. In all honesty I would have thought this to be more of a hindrance than a help. Since being a dad though I would love to see my daughter, I would go through the process of training and some kind of rehabilitation if the support was offered, and in the event that my eyes could be repaired. Although this isn’t possible at the moment, I get the interaction in other ways. My little girl loves to show me her dress and shoes when she is off to school, and there will of course be a time when she won’t want to do this, so the memories again are something to keep hold of as much as possible. I do have some pictures on my iPhone so that I can keep them with me, although I sometimes record the odd nursery rhyme so I have some audio memories as well.


When we are out and about I have to say that the response is mixed. While the majority of people are great and treat us like parents, some have been very hurtful in their comments. Questions like ‘Why are you parents’? Or ‘Shouldn’t you have someone with you’? to statements like ‘well at least she will look after you’ are simply strange to put it politely. In general though I think the majority of people are genuinely interested, which is why I would encourage people to ask questions as assumptions are equally not nice to deal with, and learning through talking is the best option. I am happy to answer any question, I think that some questions which wouldn’t be asked of a sighted parent though such as ‘how did you become parents’ is one for the ‘simply strange’ category I mentioned above. The opposite to all this is when 1 person said ‘I think your both brilliant, she is happy and you can clearly see that’. While it is not necessary for people to say we are brilliant, let’s face it all compliments are gratefully received so I will be more than happy with the positive and ignore the negative. I will remember this person and the lovely comment she made for the rest of my life, and as long as my daughter is happy and healthy, that really is all that matters.

What is it like to be a blind parent?

02/09/2016 Edited by Mike Taylor

Introduction

What is it like to be a blind parent? Over the next couple of weeks 2 of my colleagues and I will give our experiences of how we do the same job that every parent does, and how we adapt to the job in our individual ways. Our first post comes from a father of 2.


My experiences of being a father of 2

In truth being a blind parent is no more hectic in my opinion than being a sighted parent, you just have to adapt and find work arounds. These become so commonplace that you tend not to notice until they are pointed out, and my kids are just as happy and cheeky as any other parent’s. My little girl askes for a puzzle, and when I can’t find the right one I just lift her up to pick her own. It really does work and with the great family network we do have for the odd bit of support, such as family trips where a car is required we have lots of fun. Interacting with the kids in relation to my sight has given me some of the funniest moments I can remember, for example when asking my nearly four year old “Is the baby in here?” I received the answer “No”, only to find that he was sitting right behind her after searching most of the house growing increasingly frantic! Saying that my daughter usually is fantastic with the fact that I cannot see, and really puffs out her chest when Daddy takes her to school.


Luckily for me my wife has some sight although is visually impaired, this can make some things difficult for us with the kids in particular as neither of us drive. On the whole we do cope really well with some adaptations for my part. Generally I tend not to use any assistive technology on a day to day basis, this is largely because my wife is able to do such things as bottles and other measuring tasks, while Daddy gets the fun of nappy changing for the baby and dishes. Feeding time is fun for obvious reasons if Daddy can’t see the baby’s mouth. Daddy has to feel for it while trying to hold the bowl, and get food on the spoon while the baby moves. Although messy it’s really fun and I have found that the older the child gets, the easier it tends to become.


Although I do not use any technology for food or bath time, I do use my iPhone or iPad to do a range of activities with the kids. I have found Spotify incredibly useful to play music both of the soothing and kids variety, not to mention the children’s stories that occur on this platform. I also use Audible on my phone to enable the kids to cuddle up with Daddy for a classic story such as the Tiger that came to tea, although for bedtime I tend to find that I tell the stories myself. I am lucky enough to have a good memory and can adapt many fairy tales to the purpose of the occasion, meaning that my little girl is used to having Daddy tell a story without any book to look at, although on nights where Mummy takes her up there’s always a picture book of some kind to read. Otherwise no technology is used that all parents of young children have not encountered, namely the television!


In terms of the support generally available this is trickier to define. I would not say that the support is not out there, but the people who give the support do not always understand disability and subsequently treat the parents differently and as unfit to look after their child. This is of course not true for all professionals in this sector, but on more than one occasion we have discovered that we have been treated differently from other people that do not have a sight impairment. For example during my wife’s first pregnancy our midwife insisted on repeatedly offering support without listening to our answers of what a great family network we had, before proceeding to send us to every consultant she could reach even though there was no medical need.


There was so much red tape surrounding that pregnancy that my wife was scarred for a long time, and did not believe that she could be a Good parent when of course she was. When we discovered we were expecting our second child, I had to go to significant lengths to avoid the same midwife because there was the constant fear that we would be pressured into support we did not at the time require. I do not believe that this was through malice but due to a significant lack of knowledge surrounding visual impairment. I am not trying to say that support should not be offered as in many cases it is needed and is often welcome, but the person with the impairment does need to be listened to and the support does need to be given on a case by case basis according to the persons needs generally in all walks of life. It was clear in the case of me and my wife that the midwife had a pre-conceived opinion of what disabled people would be able to achieve as parents, and carried on that opinion regardless of any evidence to the contrary, causing both harm and a prejudice towards any form of support which could be dangerous for some people who really do need it. I’m not saying support should not be offered, in fact I’d be worried if it wasn’t; it just shouldn’t be forced on people.


In terms of society there are a thousand anecdotes I could tell that would amuse those hearing the stories, but what I’ve found is to expect the unexpected and to never stereotype anyone in society. I’ve had people stare at me in shock and ask “Is she yours?” This is perhaps the most shocking as it is clear they really don’t think you could have children, let alone should have them. When I walk my daughter to school, there’s the other end of the scale. In a small community everyone knows us and it’s surprising how many people will both greet and help in the mornings, and although often not required it’s always nice to know that people are looking out for you. I’ve found that in general people shy away from myself and my wife as parents, I think this is because they are afraid and it’s something they don’t often encounter. Like working in the world of assistive technology, the world of blind and visually impaired parenting isn’t on the radar of most members of the public, so when it is encountered it is often scary.


Many people can get over this barrier and are absolutely fantastic, but sadly many people avoid me and especially my wife once they learn that she has a sight impairment. This is a shame and can often leave you feeling isolated, although for me as long as my kids are happy and healthy I don’t mind this too much. I’m happy as I am, my kids have grown up with my lack of sight, and are adapting really well to the point where my daughter asks why the man with glasses doesn’t have a cane if he can’t see very well!

Being constructive about accessibility.

12/08/2016 Written by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst DAC.)

Introduction

As a user of assistive technology I often experience, and know people who experience some accessibility problems when using a website or app at least once a week.

Often, like many users, I feel frustrated by various access-related problems and usually just switch to a different website or app. Although my position in the field of accessibility means that I am able to clearly explain any issues to an organisation and hopefully move towards resolving any difficulties in the future, it can sometimes be difficult to approach an organisation when describing a problem and sometimes, I have just been so annoyed that I haven’t been bothered to make the first contact at all.

The problem with this approach of course is that if no one tells the developer that something isn’t working, nothing will get resolved, because the very people who should know, simply don’t know or may not understand the problem in order to provide a solution.

Following is a guide giving an example of what a company would benefit from when explaining an access-related problem and how both user and company can hopefully come to a resolution.


Try to relax

Sorry if I come over as patronising but if I send an email just explaining that a website doesn’t work with my assistive technology, or get frustrated with a customer service agent because their development team haven’t got an alternative method of reading an inaccessible document, they haven’t got much to go on in order to help me. If I give myself time to get over my initial frustration and come back to the problem later, I can think more clearly. Even if I write down my difficulty I can come back and maybe edit it in to a well-constructed email or points to consider if I need to call the company involved.


Explaining the problem

To identify and work towards a solution, I need to tell the company what I was trying to do, what I couldn’t do, and what document, app (including the screen title or tab which was being viewed) or web page I was viewing when the problem occurred.

If possible it would help further if I could tell the company what web browser (including the version) I was using, the operating system, and assistive technology I am using (again including the software version.) If I am using a mobile device, the type of phone and operating system, together with the assistive technology used would help the company to get the information to their developers.

Even if only some of the information provided is possible, such as what assistive technology I use, it’s better than no information at all, and most large organisations will be able to tell you what they need and where to find it when asking for browser or device information.


What next?

It isn’t always easy to keep track of such things during our busy lives, although it might be worth keeping a note of your contact, or keeping the email conversation if conducted via an online contact form. Hopefully a company will get back to you and in my example I think of when writing this, they apologised for the inconvenience and thanked me for the information.

If however the experience is different it would be an option to contact the company again in a month to ask for an update, and hopefully this will move things in a positive direction. What if it doesn’t resolve anything?

If you believe you have tried and explained as much as you can, now maybe is the correct time to inform a company that if something is inaccessible it means that you are not able to use their particular service.

Informing them that under the Equal Opportunities Act 2010 there is now a legal requirement for users to be supported by a reasonable adjustment, or in this case an alternative option if not possible.

I would usually look for an email address on their accessibility page if they have one, or alternatively a customer services or help email address to send any queries through to.


The end result

When I have approached a company in the past, I have to say the majority of organisations have been positive and tried to implement a fix, even if it has taken some time. This is of course another important factor, things don’t get resolved overnight, it takes time for the developers while they try to identify and resolve the problem.

Digital Accessibility Centre has a solution tailored to address this issue. AccessIn is an accessibility maintenance tool which the user can report issues with sites as soon as they come across them. If you are reading this and you work for an organisation who would benefit from the AccessIn service, you can find out more about AccessIn by selecting this link (link is external.)


Office Telephone: +44 (0)1792 815267

Address: Llan Coed House, Llandarcy, Neath, SA10 6FG, United Kingdom

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From my point of view: Enabling independence for a better life.

05/08/2016 Written by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

In this final post for 'my point of view' series, I have put together my personal views on how accessible online banking is for me at the moment, and given information on how things can change to be more accessible and usable in the future. The following post gives information which will make apps and websites more accessible to all user groups, which gives greater independence to the end user as a result.


I am a tech-savvy person, and use technology almost every minute of every day and thanks to the developments in technology I enjoy much more participation in the digital world than I could have ever hoped for. I am totally blind and rely on my assistive technology to enable me to manage my finances securely and independently, which gives me the confidence to play an equal part in society and not be limited by my lack of vision.


Knowledge is the key to empowerment

I learned how to use the assistive technology by some basic training many years ago, and then trained myself on the rest. Like many people it’s word of mouth and just getting my hands on the software, which provides the best lessons, but of course this is not the best for all users. My ability to use a touch screen phone for example was learned by reading the software manual, listening to podcasts and speaking to friends; as well as making mistakes. Many devices now include built in software with a quick tutorial to help people get going.


If I can manage my money easily and be as independent as possible when carrying out my various banking requirements, I can make informed decisions about my finances, get in to the savings habit as we are all being urged to do, and access important information and statements about my accounts. Like many people I got my first account when I was 16, but only had braille statements to make the account truly accessible to me. Moving forward 20 years and I no longer have braille statements, it’s just my preference though as I now prefer electronic information through various sources such as the bank website or via the mobile app. Most of us have a credit file but we don’t always view it, some people may never view their file at all. I consider myself to be lucky though, as I can use my assistive technology to view my credit file and keep track of my credit score, and resolve any errors if they arise. I am able to view my latest statement from my pension provider, and hopefully make the correct decisions about my future. I am able to put some money away for my daughter for when she gets older, so as we can identify, the possibilities are endless with regards to what can be done using the technology which is now available to us.


What about cash machines?

Cash machines for me personally can be confusing, while some provide a tactile keypad in the form of braille or embossed print letters such as an ‘x’ on the ‘cancel’ button, I need to remember which buttons to press once I have entered my personal identification number (pin.) I also need to remember where the ‘cancel’ button is if I make a mistake, and of course where the cash dispenser and card slots are. My memory gets a work out every day, and yes there have been times when I have become confused, and need to rely on a hopefully trust worthy member of the public to tell me what is on the screen; or just hit that ‘cancel’ button and start again. Does this stop me from getting my money? No but each time I go to the cash point I am extremely cautious, and I need to be fully alert with my memory muscle working.


The current landscape of apps, websites and assistive technology

The assistive technology I use is called a screen reader, there are many different screen readers on the market today; some cost from £550 for a standard licence, while others are free, or pre-installed on to a user’s computer or mobile device. Screen reading software will announce through synthetic voice what is on the screen, and depending on the device being used; a user can interact with their device using keyboard commands or touch gestures if using a touch screen. Screen reading software will work as long as the information it is announcing is clearly structured, and where websites, apps and programme user interfaces are concerned, the information needs to be clearly coded with regards to what button performs what action and so on, as well as responsive to keyboard or touch gestures when they are used.


When using my bank’s website I find that many things work as expected for a blind user, although when I log in and view my statement for example, the table which contains the relevant information is not clearly structured; making it difficult for me to navigate. In this instance clear column and row information to tell me what part of the table I am viewing will improve this experience. Enter the mobile app. While using the app I generally find that while it is significantly easier, some items don’t always indicate if they are a button which can be selected such as different accounts for example. Thankfully though my bank has improved their button labelling a lot so this problem is now significantly diminished.


Inaccessible verses accessible

My job gives me a unique advantage where I am able to check websites and apps to ensure they work with the assistive technology that blind people use, as well as providing training and helping the web and app developers to identify problems so a fix can be implemented. I walk 2 paths, that of the end user, and that of the analyst and developer. Many aspects of an app or website can either improve, or inadvertently create barriers to accessing the content with screen reading software. The big areas of confusion are typically forms which do not clearly convey what data should be entered, error messages which do not clearly indicate what information should be corrected after a form has been submitted with errors, or links which don’t contain clear information relating to what action will be performed when the link is selected. It is difficult to list every problem in this article, although I personally and professionally encounter the issues above at least once a week.


A lack of a headings structure causes navigation problems, as users will not be able to move through a page section-by-section easily and it will take longer to complete a task when looking for information. Although they are implemented to reduce security risks, CAPTCHAs can cause a significant problem for blind people online. The prompt to enter the letters from an image, or to hear an audio challenge both have their limitations. An image-based CAPTCHA is inaccessible by default, as blind people will not be able to identify the letters in the image; while some audio-based CAPTCHAs are difficult to hear due to the heavy processing applied to the audio. Content which automatically updates without the user being made aware of it can confuse users, and reduce their confidence as well as their independence when attempting to carry out a task. An app or website which has unclear button and tab labelling, or contains items which do not respond to keyboard command or touch gesture can make the difference between someone using it, and not using it at all.


An accessible offering is to have all items respond as expected when a user implements the use of a keyboard on a desktop computer, or equally responding to a touch command from a tablet or mobile device. Including consistent labelling for all items, which can be selected such as links, buttons, drop-down boxes and form fields will make all the difference. Including an alternative method of verification such as SMS or email in place of a CAPTCHA, would be another option. Another alternative such as the ‘honey pot’ option, where a hidden field if completed will not allow the form to submit, while other options include the ability to stop a form submition if it was completed too quickly. The ‘honey pot’ option is particularly indicated here as blind users (like all other users of online forms) will typically take longer than a few seconds to view, understand and submit the form. A clear and logical headings structure makes the difference between difficult and easy navigation, which is a win-win on any page. Implementing such fixes as indicated above improves the lives of not just blind people, but all users, giving the ultimate freedom of choice and independence to all.

From my point of view: a low vision user perspective.

02/08/2016 Edited by Mike Taylor Senior Accessibility Analyst (DAC.)

Introduction

Welcome to the next post in our series of ‘my point of view’. The point of this series is to give a true indication of how we believe society and the technological advances have improved our lives. Our post this week has some comments from one of our low vision analysts, as he gives us his own experiences of his use of assistive technology.

Assisted Technology, Does It Work… Yes but with a little trial and error thrown in. It’s not always the case that a user finds the assisted technology that suits their requirements and needs first time round. With the best of intentions a potential user is left up to the ability of an assessor to understand what a user needs but most importantly, how they cope with the varying nuances of different technical platforms and assisted technology.

My personal experiences were that I tried JAWS and Supernova with little success, however, when trying out ZoomText I found an instant connect with the software and was able to understand quickly how to best maximise the available options of the software. How has assisted technology helped me? By allowing me to access the outside world via my laptop. For example, being able to access local news, local council services, also having the independence to search and order a take-away. Simple tasks that for many can be taken for granted, but for those facing a sensory or physical impairment challenge on a daily basis nothing can ever be taken for granted.