What questions do six year olds have for deafblind people?

A seated man with a group of students, seated on the floor
Steven Morris with the Year 2 students

Last month, I went back to school… well for an afternoon at least!

Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to one of my local primary schools, Chepping View Primary Academy in High Wycombe – where my wife works – to talk about living with a sensory impairment.

My visits have helped the children to understand more about the work Sense does, and the people it supports. As a result, the school council decided to run ‘Sense cinema day’ just before Christmas, raising more than £800 for the charity.

Each year, I speak to the Year 2 children about braille, certain technology that I use, and then I brave their questions!

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How accessible and useful is the Amazon Echo?

Two men seated by a table with a black cylundrical device
Tony Lodge and Steven Morris with Tony’s Amazon Echo

You may have heard about Amazon’s Echo, a hands-free, voice controlled device that uses Alexa (Amazon’s version of Siri, a talking digital assistant) to perform various tasks such as play music, control ‘smart’ home devices, read the news, set alarms, add items to shopping lists and more.

I met up with Sense member Tony Lodge to learn more about using the Echo and how it might be of help and accessible to disabled people. Tony brought one with him and we and put it through its paces.

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Pairing a landline phone to my hearing aids

A man holding a landline cordless phone
A DECT phone being discussed at a Sense technology training day

As a user of hearing aids, my latest technology experiment has been to hook up a new Bluetooth cordless DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) home phone to my Oticon Streamer Pro – this is a Bluetooth streamer allowing the sound to be transmitted directly to my hearing aid.

I have always used an ordinary cordless DECT handset and have sometimes struggled to hear the person on the other end of the phone line clearly. In the past I’ve resorted to plugging in wired headphones with a boom microphone connected to the handset. However, even this was prone to problems with quiet connections, and I couldn’t increase the volume level any further.

This is why this new setup, using the Bluetooth wireless technology is so brilliant. Not only in removing those pesky wires, but it also has the ability to increase the volume level. Even better, I can turn off my hearing aids’ own microphone to cut out all background noise and boost the clarity of the incoming call. This means that I can now have a complete hands-free operation and have perfect clarity of sound of whoever is talking to me.

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Cochlear implants six months in – There have been no eureka moments, but I’m told I’m doing well

Steve with his guide dog Kasper
Steve with his guide dog Kasper

In November last year I wrote about my first experience with cochlear implants. I have now had my cochlear implants for six months and it’s official: I can hear better now than I could prior to implants.

At least that’s the result of the tests from a few weeks ago, where I had to retake the tests. I was tested with very low sounds to see exactly what I could hear and random sentences to see how much I understood. Finally I could make out individual words. The results showed a marked improvement over what I was hearing a year or so ago.

When I last wrote four months ago, I was hopeful that things were going to get better. While they have, there have been no eureka moments, it’s more a case of suddenly realising that I am doing something I haven’t done before.

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Why I set up my own technology group

Hands holding a smartphoneHello my name is Sarah Leadbetter and I’m one of Sense’s Digital Champions, which is part of the Online Today project. I started to run a tech group in Leicestershire for people with sight loss and other disabilities, to discuss and support using accessible technology.

I’m partially sighted myself, and I wanted a group to discuss different types of technology, for example, what apps are good to use with voice on my smartphone.

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How accessible are Apple’s devices for people who are deafblind?

Steven with a man who is discussing an iPad
Steven discussing his iPad at a Sense technology workshop

For many people who are deafblind, smartphones and tablets can offer a lot in terms of accessibility features. Whether it’s a screen reader like Voiceover on an Apple iPhone, or an iPad or Talkback on Android models, it’s great to see that manufacturers are considering accessibility at the heart of what they do.

That said, the vast array of features can be bewildering. As an Apple user, I make use of several online resources to help me get the best from my devices.

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Technology is not just for life – it’s for Christmas

Technology gadgets, including a smartphone and Trekker Breeze GPS
A selection of technology gadgets

Technology plays a big part in my Christmas – and I’m not talking about an Xbox, iPad or smartphone in my stocking! There are a range of gadgets and accessible technology for blind and deaf people, that help me to enjoy the festive season to the full, and ensure that I don’t miss out on all the fun and games. I’ve written a short ‘day in the life’ blog to illustrate how technology helps me to get into the Christmas spirit.

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Hearing things differently

Steve Bingham with his guide dog
Steve Bingham with his guide dog Kasper

Back in July, I underwent cochlear implant surgery. I had decided that, after 20 years of my hearing deteriorating and using hearing aids that brought as many problems as they solved, something needed to change. This is my experience of the process – the positives and the negatives, and what it’s like having to learn to hear again.

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VarioUltra braille display

BAUM Vario Ultra Braille Display with 20 and 40 keys
BAUM Vario Ultra braille display with 20 and 40 braille cells

The personal views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not represent a product endorsement on behalf of Sense.

For people like me who are deafblind, braille displays can be an invaluable tool to help us access information and keep in touch with family and friends. There are an increasing number of braille devices currently on the market – we’ve written about some of them in previous posts. One of the newest Braille Displays available is the VarioUltra braille display and notetaker, manufactured by BAUM.

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Keeping in touch with the outside world

Tablet demonstration at a Sense technology training day
Chris Fox undertaking a tablet demonstration at a Sense technology training day

For over three years Mum, who has Usher type 1d, has been using an iPad and it has improved her ability to communicate and interact with the world around her.

I first made contact with Sense three years ago, when I realised that Mum was struggling and I was out of my depth. Some of our first visitors were the Usher and technology teams.

When Chris Fox from the Sense technology team came to demonstrate the tablet she was immediately hooked and bought one two days later. She was interested in computers right from the start, she often used her grandson’s BBC Archimedes after he had gone to bed! She was amazed at what a tablet did and it gave her more independent access to the outside world.

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