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Disability Technology: knowing when your glass is half full

half empty glass


I’ve been thinking about how much technology and disability aids play a role in my day-to-day life. Living with my disability can sometimes be hard but technology makes it so much easier. I’m going to write about some of mine and my friend’s experiences of using technology that has helped us, but also some of the simpler gadgets and tricks that you may not expect to be as transforming as they are. 

Firstly – the Technology Stuff 

Technology helps many people in their day-to-day lives to live independently and the smallest of gadgets and gizmos can make things ten times easier. For example, I struggle to see when pouring a cup of tea so I use a liquid level indicator. This is a small device that clips onto the edge of a cup that beeps when the liquid almost reaches it’s limit. This is really useful, not to mention that it eliminates the safety hazard of me burning myself. The first time I saw one of these was when I was on a young people’s holiday with RNIB at 16 . I wish I’d seen it earlier as I thought it was the coolest thing EVER and my Mum allowed me to make cups of tea on my own at home. Result! 

Computers are also lifesavers, whether you have a disability or not, but particularly if you do. My friend who I recently interviewed for another blog, who has cerebral palsy, has a tracker ball mouse which she uses to access the computer. She has also tried out some software on a memory stick which types out words for you as you speak the first few letters, to take away the strain of typing. I’m not sure if she found this useful though. She loves her tracker ball though and has often said that without it she’d be unable to access the computer at all. 

She also uses a computer (mainly Facebook) to communicate because she finds talking on the phone so difficult. This is mainly because she worries that others will not understand her – and people who don’t know her well and haven’t learnt to recognise the way that she speaks, often don’t. This means that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and access to a computer, are a life-changing experience for her and she loves talking to me and her other friends  using Chat on Facebook! 

I’ve said before that I use a Mac computer which has the Internet and my beloved Garageband on it (software that allows you to record and play back your own music through the computer!). The Mac has lots of adaptive features (see my blog on the Mac to learn more), but I find the VoiceOver and Zoom features really useful. It really is a life-changing piece of technology that I use daily. I’d be lost without it. I’d go as far as to say my Mac helped me to get my undergraduate degree! 

I use an electronic magnifier to help me read. I also have a Kindle and these are really helpful and make things so much easier. If I’d have had access to a Kindle at GCSE my Mum would have had a much happier 16-year-old on her hands! 

Lastly, phones. I’m dependent on my phone even though this isn’t a technology aid that’s specifically designed for disabled people’s needs. I have a BlackBerry (I know some people love iPhones but I find accessing them difficult). I find having a physical keyboard much easier than a touchscreen. Also because of my visual impairment, going outside makes me very anxious so having my phone there means that I actually go out and socialise – definitely life-affirming! 

Different types of phones can make things easier for people with other disabilities too – for example, people who are deaf can use textphone services which are becoming more and more technologically advanced all the time. Someone who can’t hold a phone can still make calls and send texts using a computer.

Little, Simple Things 

This blog is mostly centred on life changing technology for disabled people. But I think it’s also important to realise that the simplest of changes can make the biggest difference to disabled people’s lives, through aids that are not necessarily technology-based. For example, when I was 16 I switched from a symbol cane to a long cane and the effect was immediate. I started going out more and it felt easier to ask people for help because they could see the cane rather than barging into me and knocking it over! I’d been offered a symbol cane when I was eight and used it because I knew that I needed to  -but what I didn’t like about it was that it was a ‘look at me I’m vulnerable and need help’ symbol, whereas a long cane to me gives a sense of ‘I can do this but I might need a bit of extras help.’ I use my cane a lot, but I’m working on using it more, as I know I should and my friends have been fantastic at nagging me to use it! I’m even looking into getting a new pink one from the RNIB now, something which a few years ago I’d never have considered. As disabled people, we shouldn’t feel the need to blend in all the time.

Although it is often technology that shapes our lives, through our use of phones, laptops and tablets,  sometimes it’s the little unexpected changes – like from symbol cane to long cane – that make just as much of an impact on the lives of disabled people. If you’re thinking of trying out a new gadget  -technology or otherwise – have a go and see how you get on. You never know – it could be the making of you! 

Have you tried any new gadgets lately? Let us know what you think! 


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