UNDERHEARD: Eating Out While Deafblind

If you are like me, you wonder how and among whom the restaurant custom started. The idea of eating out in a place humming with activity, where all sound seems to merge into a full-on roar at times and you are left at the mercy of the wave as you, hopefully, enjoy some good food.

And of course before continuing, I fell down a rabbit hole and discovered, via a website on The History of Restaurants that they were supposedly started in France in 1765. I cannot attest to the veracity of this story, and wonder if some other culture might also lay claim to their origins. Anyhow, it’s good food for thought.

However they started restaurants are a venerated tradition of U.S. holidays and continue to bounce back after the dark days of Covid. Well, sort of. I accompanied my wife, her parents, sisters, and my niece and nephew by marriage to Red Lobster. That particular establishment does not seem to be faring as well, with many having gone into temporary closure and the business as a whole in bankruptcy. I guess they served too many shrimp.

We went to celebrate Father’s Day on Saturday, as is usual for us. It’s often less crowded on this day than if we wait till the day of, though going to eat at Fullers, a delicious local (to Fayetteville, N.C.) eaterie that serves just about everything Southern you can think of for Mother’s Day on the Saturday before, the place was brimming. I joked that it felt like someone was drilling a hole in my brain, because there’s just no really good setting on my hearing aids to help me handle such ruckous. But I made it through, as I always do.

Red Lobster, by contrast, was relatively quiet. We arrived at just prior to 2:00 and departed just after 4:30. I conversed some with those in my immediate vacinity, and ate my fill.

Ok first I had one of those delicious cheese biscuits, which according to my last doctor’s visit I don’t really eed to be eating. But hey, I offset that with a side salad. When I chose to order that salad, I expected to get basically a bowl of lettuce with bleu cheese dressing (another of my guilty pleasures). But actually it was loaded. Little flecks of meat, another kind of cheese (I’m not food afficianado, though I did apply to a food magazine as editor and they told me my resume was good once), croutons, and other stuff. Hey, my wife and I joke that my food critique is as follows: Real good, Good, Ok, not good, nasty! So there you go. Anyway, I had to stop eating before I became full off just that serving.

As we broke bread, talking about work, home, and life, the main course arrived. As I had on my previous Red Lobster visit, I’ve only eaten there twice if you can believe that, I had stuffed flounder (real good) with some kind of seafood sauce) and fries. I decided to walk on the wild side and went for a glass of mango lemonade, (good, I guess)? I don’t eat a whole lot of seafood, but I suppose it can be good on occasion, and I know it’s generally healthy as well.

The last sort of interesting thing I want to think about as a blind person is how we handle visiting the restroom. I needed to go before hitting the road, and it just made me think about my general strategy for finding what I need to find in there. When I enter through the swinging door, I immediately move toward the right wall and make my way around in a counterclockwise direction. This is because, at least in most of the men’s rooms I’ve seen, the sinks to wash hands are just to the left of the entrance with toilets in front. If I move in that direction, I usually manage to locate a stall, exit it, and get to the sink without any embarrassing mishaps. This time? Well, it was sort of strange as I did bounce off of someone as I made my way to the sink. Naturally, he then began providing assistance. It didn’t go completely sideways at least.

So there you have it, a little look into my mind as I work to negotiate the social norms that surround a typical holiday in my family. I enjoy it mostly, and by this point I know that most of the concerned parties know about my challenges and do not think any less of me. But sometimes having these hearing problems can be a struggle. Like when I find myself on a paratransit vehicle with a new driver who loves to talk, but I can’t comprehend him over the engines, as happened recently. I’ve learned though that the best, and really only, thing I can do is make the other person aware of this and take it as it is. More of my shenanigans as the summer time unfolds.

Why a Blind Man Watches Spacecraft Launches

And yes, I used the word “watch,” as it commonly refers to consuming video content. I “watch” TV or YouTube, or what have you.

I tried to watch the launch of the new Starliner spacecraft yesterday, but unfortunately they still haven’t been able to get it off the ground. Of course because it is a new machine, I’m sure they have to take every caution in putting it into the skies. But I find it particularly interesting to catch it, as this will be only the sixth different American craft created since the U.S. space program began.

My earliest memories of humanity hurling things out of Earth’s atmosphere are the same as many of my generation: the very sad Challenger space shuttle disaster. Because a teacher was going into space, all of the schools had us tuned in to watch this spectacle unfold. I think I only partially understood what had happened that day, because I was only 6 years old. But it gave me my first taste of a desire to explore and the dangers that could come with it.

This desire was deepened, oddly perhaps, by the little-known sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (one of my all-time favorite books by the way) called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In this one, Charlie ends up riding the elevator, I think from the factory, into space where he encounters aliens called Vermitious Knids. I guess they were a sort of stand-in for bad kids? Looking back on his writing, it seems maybe the author Roald Dahl didn’t like kids too much. Anyway, I remember the aliens smelling like eggs, and I was rapt by this nonsensical story. It even awoke in me a need to meet people not of my background who brought different perspectives and lived different lives.

As I got older I watched many of the shuttle launches, always feeling a thrill as all that audible power thrust them up, up, and away! I’ve read nearly every story written about the Apollo missions, and was most focused on how the astronauts felt as they left our planet, a slow ride at first with increasing G-force and speed until suddenly you go slack and float off of the couches. How I would love to experience that.

My interest in space and space travel went through the roof (clouds?) with the Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, which I got to catch in theaters. It was even more awe-inspiring to hear that power projected through a good sound system. And obviously getting those folks back home safely after everything unraveled is one of the best examples of the good we can do when we choose to work together.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the second-to-last shuttle flight. I sat in the lobby of my graduate school department building, feeling ho hum as I faced an insurmountable workload and had no clue how to deal with it. So I took a break and listened to the shuttle blast off. When I finished, I met a wonderful Lebanese woman who helped me get through that last, bumpy year and a half. I have an entire entry about her if you’d like to read it, but it again showed me the power of meeting and getting to know people from different backgrounds.

And as we are still stuck in low-earth orbit, I have read and am reading some sci-fi novels that take me many parsecs (I learned that a parsec represents roughly 3.26 light years) away and years into the future. The Noumenon series, by Marina J. Lostetter, is one of the most imaginative series I have ever read, and I’ve read many of them (the Frank Kitridge Mars series is also excellent). In Noumenon, she has them awake while traveling incredible distances rather than being frozen. I like how she takes care to represent all kinds of people, including multiple cultures and even people with disabilities (a deaf woman and one in a wheelchair play significant roles.) The books, three of them, are long but worth it. So if you get the chance, check them out.

So yeah, my interest in spacecraft launches and space travel overall stems from all kinds of experiences. Hey, maybe I’ll do as I told my mom and be the first blind man on the moon (I’ll plant my cane there!)

IN CASE OF BREAKAGE: A Needed Accessory for My Mantis

First, I shall note that I’m not getting anything for promoting this website because… I’m not that big of a deal. Yet! Ha ha. I’m just writing about it because the product I acquired is something I’ve been needing for a long time and I figure that someone else may need or just want it too.

I listen to a biweekly podcast called Mystic Access. It’s run by a blind couple who also oversees a company that makes tutorials on blindness technology products. On their show, they do demonstrations of some of these products, along with many mainstream solutions, and talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that come with living as blind individuals.

As I listened a couple weeks ago, I heard them mention having acquired a case for the Mantis Q40 from a company called Turtleback Low Vision. As an assistive technology training specialist, I have to carry my Mantis up and down my hallway at work. To this point I had been holding it against my body in its default case, which is little more than a plastic shell affixed to the back, and hoping not to drop it. I also like to take it with me on impromptu car rides and would prefer not to have to lug my backpack on these often short journeys. So intrigued, I took a look.

This case does cost a pretty penny, $145 worth of them in fact. But as you may remember in my post about the NLS display, I dropped the Mantis in my office, broke it, and had to shell out a cool grand to have it repaired. So my calculation is that having a case that adequately protects the unit and allows me to move around easily with it was worth the investment.

And thus far it definitely has been. I ordered the case on a Wednesday and was told via the auto-generated email that it would arrive the following Wednesday. It actually got there by that week’s Saturday, only 3 days later. It’s a sturdy-looking leather case with a rubberized bottom that keeps it from shifting when on a table or even on my lap. But what makes me happiest is there is a good-sized zipper pocket on top of the case into which I can fit my iPhone and even my hearing aid batteries. So I no longer need to take the backpack everywhere I go to make sure I have my most critical items. I only wish the USB port area were a little more enclosed, as I worry that in a significant downpour the ports might be in danger. But this isn’t a really big deal as I could just bring along a waterproof bag in the hopefully rare cases I find myself in soakers.

And finally, I like the magnetic clips that hold the case shut. Older cases often used Velcro, which wears down rather quickly. With the magnetic option, this isn’t a worry. I would say overall that I have been very happy with this purchase.

#GAAD: On CAPTCHA

Today, May 16, is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Its purpose is to increase awareness of and understanding around why sites and components of sites need to be accessible. Of course complete accessibility refers to much more, ensuring that all areas of life are available to persons with disabilities. But I think this day has a primary focus of digital and web accessibility. In that spirit, I want to show what can happen when the various accessibility issues have not fully been addressed.

I made a post way back in 2006 in Live Journal, (remember that? Almost 20 years ago now!) In this post, I railed against CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (Taken from This site.) First, that’s a mouthful. And second, it has been the vain of my existence since its inception. In those days, those of us who were totally blind were pretty much left out of the experience entirely. This meant that, for example, we could often not sign into websites that had put CAPTCHA in place, because we couldn’t “type the characters you see on the screen.”

Eventually, and I’m sure with a lot of elbow grease and advocacy, web developers began to understand that there were a significant number of individuals who were being barred from accessing their products because of this spam-fighting tool. So they answered the call by creating audio CAPTCHA, where words or numbers are spoken aloud, often with some kind of noise in the background to make it harder for computers to pick up what is being said. The voice is also usually not completely clear. And this works for a lot of totally blind people, meaning they are able to “pass the test” and get done whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.

The problem? What happens if you have little or no hearing and partial or total blindness. I am totally blind and significantly hard of hearing, so even the clearest spoken language can be hard for me to follow. If they deliberately make it hard to understand what is being said, I will be lucky to get, say, two of the five words they say correct.

I had this happen just yesterday. While trying to complete a recovery of my Microsoft Outlook account (I locked myself out because I couldn’t remember the password, another issue about which I could write an entire entry,) I encountered one of these lovely CAPTCHA. I switched from visual to audio and must have tried eight different sets of words before I gave up in frustration. I’ll have to get that sorted eventually, but at least I’m still receiving email to my account. I assume it will be lost if for some reason I log out of my Outlook.

Ovviously, this can cause much bigger issues if one cannot access a site that uses either visual or audio CAPTCHA, and as far as I know deafblind individuals don’t really have a way to get past it without sighted assistance. I did try to have some of the various AI solutions locate and read the characters on the screen, but I don’t think they are easy enough to discern.

I guess I’m wondering why we even use these methods, in the age of two-factor authentication. Maybe a code could be texted to a user’s phone? I know this would not be a complete solution as some folks do not have phones that can read text, but it would allow many more to have easy access.

Alternatively, I’ve seen some sites that ask relatively easy math questions for the person to solve to prove their humanity. Whatever the case, I hope people continue to be aware of this issue and the very real stumbling block it puts in some people’s path.

SHIFTING SANDS:My Much-needed Trip to Myrtle Beach Part 3

Friday, May 3. I awake a little after 8 AM, because I love listening to a local radio morning show as this is one of the best ways to get a feel for the area. I can kind of simulate this on my phone with apps like OoTunes, although it’s not quite the same given that I just go in and select the city I want and find a station. And it can be hard to tell if the station is actually in Myrtle Beach and not, say, Wilmington North Carolina. Ah, sometimes I miss my good ol’ analog walkman. I suppose I need to poke around and see if I can find something that simulates that closely enough.

Anyhow, I find a station, Mix 97, that I think is local to Myrtle Beach. The only thing they really talking about was the latest celebrity gossip, but this probably stems from the fact that I didn’t find it till nearly 9. The earlier you catch the show, the better.

We head out of our hotel room just after 10 to one of our Myrtle Beach favorites, Hot Stacks. It’s an area chain of breakfast restaurants that, as far as I can tell, only operate in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. On this trip, I go with the sausage omelet and plain grits, eschewing something they have called Trash Grits. I would get these grits on Saturday, and they were actually much better than the plain grits as they had sausage gravy and flecks of some kind of meat in them. I joke with my wife that if they’d shredded napkins and straw wrappers into the grits, we the customers couldn’t really be surprised. We have that weird sense of humor. Hot Stacks also has delicious coffee, nearly on par with that found at Waffle House.

After eating, I get to explore again with my GPS apps as my wife heads over to the Carolina Pottery to check out some arts supplies. She’s made quite a business making rag wreaths, wooden signs and the like in particular and selling them via Etsy and Her website. If you’re into that sort of thing, check it out. At this location, she finds some hard-to-locate ribbons.

After a short jaunt back to the room to get ready, we head down to the beach with my cousin and his wife for the best part of the trip. The sun is dealt out in just the right measure, with clouds thrown in so we don’t become too toasty. My cousin and I sit on the shore and chat about our similar fields of employment. He is also an assistive technology training instructor, as many of us blind folks fortunate enough to have good jobs are. I just hope our work is starting to give people the skills to open more doors, though the larger change must happen at a societal level, as still too many think non-working eyes means incapable of work.

Anyhow, our wives frolic in the water as the tides roll in. Mine says she is nearly knocked down by a big wave and decides to migrate inland. I join her briefly in the surprisingly warm surf, heard the news say it’s unusually warm which portends a bad hurricane season. Let us hope not.

We wrap up our time waterside in a deliciously warm hot tub. Only I, genius that I am, neglect to take off my shirt as I enter the water. This made for a fairly cold, drippy walk back to the room. Y’all, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Beach time is chill time, so we sprawl on the couch a bit while watching the news before heading out for supper. We join our other couple for dinner, tonight at Giant Crab. They mainly have a buffet, which is kinda pricey at $48 a plate. But it is also pretty good. I have two crab cakes, two servings of mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and shrimp. As we eat, we all allow some of our unique marital inside language and jokes to come out. This is one of the joys of being with someone for a long time, the unusual way we come to understand the world and create our own world.

And finally, we head to my cousin’s room on the 16th floor, where we spend a little more time on their balcony and then inside of their much nicer suite. The balcony is up so high that the ocean is a little more muffled. And that cool breeze starts to get to me after a while, because yup, no long-sleeved shirt. But overall, the night and my trip were just the vacation I needed. They help to reset my perspective as I continue to try and help people broaden theirs.

Freeing Refreshable Braille for More Access

Many in this era worry that the advent of digital audio technology will mean the end of braille as we know it. And there is already some truth to this, as very few totally blind people know or read braille as it is. But and I’ve seen this frequently in my training, those who depend heavily on audio to consume written content often are less able to spell correctly, which may well affect their ability to gain employment. Given the degree to which the cards are already stacked against us when it comes to getting jobs even without this challenge, we need to gain every advantage we can in any area.
These days, the answer to being more able to read materials in braille without having to produce the paper and take up the space this medium requires is to use a refreshable braille display. I’ve had a few of these devices, from the Braille Lite I got way back in the late 90s during my college career to the Brailliant BI 40 received from the I Can Connect program for deafblind individuals. And in 2020, I of course got the Mantis Q40 display I’ve written about a few times in this journal. And each of those devices opened up more of the written word in ways I could not have imagined.
The problem with these displays is and has been their expense. Most of us blind folks can hardly afford $2, 3, or $4,000 to get even a low-end display. Happily though, at least in the U.S, the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) is making refreshable braille available for any eligible blind individuals. You have to be enrolled in the library for services, as I am, and call your regional library to request one.
There are two models of NLS Ereaders, as they are known: one provided through Humanware and another through Zoomax. I think you get the brand of reader that your library has available, so I received the Zoomax machine.
These models contain 20 braille cells, which is as much space as I had on my Braille Lite but only half the 40 cells on my other units. Reading with 20 cells is certainly doable, but it requires a lot more pressing of the panning buttons to advance through a single braille line. I’ve found though that as I practice I’m already getting better at it. My Mantis is currently on the fritz and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever see it again, so having this option so quickly available is vital to me being able to continue my work. I also like that it has a handy carrying case with magnetic snaps that keep it closed, which is kinda cool!
This reader is primarily designed to download and read NLS BARD books. However, it can connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone, and USB to the PC. It’s got an SD Card reader, and USB C port for the PC and a USB A port for a flash drive. I love that such a small unit contains so many ports.
It’s a pretty good device on the whole. The only issue I really notice, and this may be only in my unit, is that the battery gauge is unreliable. It says I have 50% charge, then 77%, then 19%, then 54%, so I can’t really tell how much juice it actually has. This is not a big deal though, as I’m usually close enough to a charging port at all times. I even have a portable battery I can plug in.
I am happy such a program exists. If you would like to take advantage of it, again just call your regional library and ask if they have an NLS Ereader. There was a slow roll-out, but they were at least hoping that all states would have units by the end of 2023. And happy reading!

“The Sign for Home” Examines Life and Challenges for a DeafBlind Individual

Recent high-profile cases have shone a spotlight on issues regarding disability and independence. To what degree should one make decisions about one’s life, even if not fully able to perceive the world in what is deemed a “normal” way. Should family be able to basically dictate how a person is to live, simply because they believe they are protecting the individual from harm, thus possibly denying access to choices that other adults expect to have?
In his debut novel The Sign for Home, Blair Fell addresses this issue in a novel way. First, we have Arlo, a DeafBlind individual who resides with his devout Jehovah’s Witness uncle and receives information via a Tactile American Sign Language (TSL) interpreter who professes to believe the same. Arlo, wishing to explore possibilities in writing, enrolls in a class at a Poughkeepsie (NY) community college where he meets Cyril, another interpreter who accidentally or on purpose opens Arlo to a whole new world.
This writing class, taught by an unusual professor from St. Kitts, leads Arlo to explore parts of his past that he had been forced to shut away because his uncle deemed them sinful. These included an encounter with a deaf girl while he attended the School for the Deaf that led to his being sent to live with said uncle in the first place.
As the story unfolds, we learn that things with this girl are not as they seem. Arlo had been told one story about “the event” that ultimately ended their blossoming love affair, but… well as it turns out everyone has their secrets and lies. As the truth is revealed and Cyril and his associated cast of characters make Arlo more aware of possibilities regarding independence, he begins to push back against his uncle and Molly, the initial interpreter. This eventually leads to his seeking total freedom from his uncle’s guardianship.
Arlo and Cyril are primarily featured, with Arlo’s perspective being second person present and Cyril’s first person past. Both of these methods allow the reader to connect deeply with what is going on, offering a different set of feelings based on each. The former seems designed to ensure that one feels the experience of DeafBlindness and coping with a world neither heard nor seen insomuch as one can truly experience this, while the latter aims to allow access to the complicated emotions involved in helping Arlo deal with change.
At points during this novel, I as a DeafBlind person worried that the portrayal of Arlo made life for those living with these disabilities seem too simplistic and/or sad. Arlo knew little about how to operate in society when it came to moving around by himself and being willing to explore the wider world. The first part of this of course is that for some individuals who are DeafBlind, just as for those with other challenges, this is a true outcome. If one is not exposed to people and services such as Orientation and Mobility and Vocational Rehabilitation that are designed to help a person with a disability learn what is needed to thrive, one might indeed have a hard time. Even so, I appreciated that Fell included people who were functionally independent and who knew enough to teach Arlo, Cyril, and all in their circle some basic strategies to make his life easier. It is realistic, after all, to show that one might struggle with life as a DeafBlind person, but I believe it is equally if not more important to show that life can still be lived well with this or whatever condition one finds oneself.

Wordle’s The Word: On Internet Trends and Accessibility

In a recent NPR story on what they called Garbage Trends, they noted that these sorts of trends arise on the Internet all the time and are often gone within a week or so. They are, I suppose by their nature, very visual and lack features that would make the accessible to blind and low vision people, as well as to folks with other disabilities that might require modification for full interaction.
But I think one of the cool things that is happening is that so many within our own community are learning how to create software or code that can render something usable far more quickly than an app’s developers, who are often hesitant to “look into the matter,” are willing to do. Such is the case with this new Internet word game called Wordle.
I remember the first time I saw someone’s Wordle post on Twitter and all I hear was something like “White square? White Square? Green Square” etc. I wondered hat on earth was that, becoming curious because I do enjoy playing word games, despite rarely being any good at them. I slowly saw more and more of these posts dotting my timeline, even among big-time folks, and yes I guess they’ve already hit that point of saturation that generates a lot of annoyance from those who no longer care to see such silliness. I can understand that, but I also wanted the ability to participate in the fun a little bit, especially driven by, as noted in that NPR story, the constant drudgery of the pandemic and related bad news.
So when I saw a Blind Bargains article detailing how one might set up the computer or phone with accessible code that someone created that would allow one to play Wordle, I bit. As one can see from clicking the above link and then the accessible Wordle page from within, getting things going with anything other than Google Chrome, which allows for simply adding an extension, is complicated. So I opted for the easy route and had mine up and running in a matter of moments.
The Wordle site generates one new word a day, and you have six attempts at guessing its five letters. It then tells you if you have correct letters, letters that are in the word but in the wrong place, or absent letters. I think I took five out of six guesses to get the first word and four out of six to get the second.
I just look at it as good, clean fun that allows me to feel like I’m “in it” with everyone else for the short time that this trend will likely last. And the implications of such nimble accessibility solutions being possible are not to be overstated either, namely in the potential for quicker adaptation to needed software for one’s job. So I’m delighted to see that we are able to come up with such powerful community-based solutions, and wish I were versed enough in their background, coding, scripting, and the like, to do some of that myself. Even so, I will just appreciate the efforts of others and hope that it inspires the initial creators to start taking wide-ranging access needs into consideration at a product’s creation, rather than it having to be built in later.

IOS Game Review: Swordy Quest

When selecting games to play on my iPhone, I usually have a hard time either because they are too challenging or they rely heavily on sound for direction and orientation. Naturally, the latter is going to be the case in those that are designed at least to some degree with blind people in mind, but they tend not to work as well for those, like myself, with significant hearing loss. If I have to put on a pair of headphones to fully perceive what is happening for instance, well I may as well not bother.

On the other hand, games that are say Tex-based are usually too abstract for me to follow and/or don’t have as many cool sound effects. The effects are what really make things come alive for me. Or if they do get all of this stuff right, they lack some key accessibility components that make it difficult for all but the most expert blind player to execute.

So imagine my surprise when I downloaded a fun game called Swordy Quest from the iOS App Store after hearing of it on the Blind Abilities podcast. (I guess it is only available on iOS, but do not know for sure). Before starting it, I figured it would be too involved for me to figure out what was going on and that I would quickly lose interest. But I’ve found that it very well walks the fine line between being too challenging and so simplistic that accomplishing anything offers little pleasure. The addition of a “spirit guide,” who tells you which moves you might want to consider next helps with that.

As best I can tell, you’re on this island in a world called Fonetazia (like Fantasia? Haha). You fight all sorts of strange animals and travel about the island gathering resources that you can use to build stuff and trade. The story behind what you’re doing slowly unfolds as you unearth clues by solving fun puzzles that involve matching pairs of items. The sound effects are rich, especially as you fight and defeat the animals. And I’ve found that turning the in-game music volume down to 10% allows me to hear VoiceOver speaking and yet leave said music on to enhance the game’s mood.

And on the subject of hearing, and accessibility in general, I do not know if this title was built specifically for individuals who are blind but the accessibility is top notch. You are even told how to best use VoiceOver’s features to navigate among items within the game, and there are buttons that allow you to quickly revert to the top of the list after skimming your inventory items, for instance. I would even say that, while it might be kind of clunky to do so, one who is deafblind and fully relies on a Braille display could play this game. All of the prompts appear in text, and you would only need to touch the screen to hold down the button for gathering stuff. You can feel the phone’s haptic engine causing it to vibrate in your hand, and if the alert duration was set high enough, say at 3 seconds, you could read in Braille which items and how many you’ve collected. I have encountered very few games of this complexity that also reach such a high level of access for everyone. For this reason, I am certainly inclined to support it financially to the extent that I can.

I started playing on Friday night, and well we probably shouldn’t talk about how much time I’ve already put into it. But it’s a great way to kill rainy summer days, and it makes me feel more motivated when I do sit down to do the work that needs doing. This is the best iOS game I’ve seen since the makers of Dice World began working with us some eight years ago to improve accessibility of that platform. If you like that sense of adventure, I would say you’ll love Swordy Quest.

App Review: EXPRESS Yourself

I was trolling around in the app store a few weeks ago, in response to one of the Emails that Apple sends out, and found an amazing product that does something no other app has, at least that I’m aware of: it makes the face visible to me! What do I mean? Read on.

First, it never ceases to surprise me the extent to which this one piece of metal? plastic? whatever your iOS device is made of, has brought to my life as a blind person. And yes I know, Android is nearly there, and maybe surpassing iOS in some aspects, but I’ve not yet played with a device running this system so I can’t say what I would think of it.

Anyway, with my trusty phone stowed safely in pocket and Braile display on my lap, I can use programs to read, write, listen to music, and even navigate successfully on the bus. And thanks to some enterprising individuals and organizations, there are even apps that allow me to do more complex things, such as take my own photos, (no guarantees as to their correctness but I can be pretty sure I’m at least shooting the right thing), and read my own mail. All great, life-changing stuff.

But what about that most elemental of human interactions: the ability to communicate. More specifically, that communication which occurs nonverbaly, which studies have repeatedly shown to be far more believed than mere words. While some of this is passed along through other body language cues, much of it happens through that most natural of transmissions: facial expressions. Blind folks prove its innateness in fact, as we too are able to call up a smile, frown, etc when it reflects our inner emotion, or even if we want to kind of fake some inner emotion. These expressions tend to be more believable though, since they are harder to “make up” than spoken language.

Enter Express, a powerful engine that can, through quick analysis of pictures shot via a discretely placed camera, provide unprecedented information regarding one’s possible thoughts, as displayed on that facial window to the soul.

How It Works

The Express app can run in the background and even with a locked screen, so long as it is launched and the camera activated prior to use. If you think you’re entering a situation where you might wanna know what is being unsaid, simply open the app and tap the “Start” button. You are then presented with two options: Constant, or Summary Analysis.

If you pick Constant, the app takes a shot of the face you’re “focusing” on in adjustable intervals, and alerts you through a series of vibrations as to what the likely expression is. The list of vibrations and their meanings can be found in the “Demos” menu. It is important to practice these repeatedly, so that you know what you’re getting when it comes across. It wouldn’t do, after all, to think that she’s smiling at you when you’ve actually made her quite angry!

(DISCLAIMER: The app developers assert that the rendered interpretations are reasonably accurate, but cannot guarantee 100% certainty. In field testing however, very few errors were reported. Use with some caution, and act on this info at your own risk.)

If you choose “Summary” the app will still take pictures of the person’s face, but instead of vibrating regularly it will generate a report of overall mood: how often did they fluctuate, were there sudden changes, and the like. This might be a good idea if you don’t want the person to wonder why you keep vibrating.

“Goodness! Are you just crazy popular or something?”

Equipment/Accessories

You can, in theory anyway, use the phone itself to snap these pictures. However, the developers suggest that this might introduce unnecessary error into the results. How will you know, for example, if she still finds that joke you’ve told for the fourth time amusing, or is just wondering why you’re sitting there holding your device aloft for no apparent reason?

So, for an additional $45.99, the user can get a specialized camera made of a strong, thin material that matches the color of the wearer’s skin so as to significantly decrease visibility. It is fitted with a revolutionary adhesive that bonds to the skin, probably the forehead, at the molecular level, making it water-resistant. No worries though, as it can be taken off by simply scrubbing with a finger in a circular motion, as it responds to a bacterium that all humans carry.

The camera charges using kinetic energy, that which is generated from movement. So if the battery begins to run low and you for whatever reason are unable to engage your entire body, just nod your head a few times. It is recommended that care is used in so doing, though, as this too may alter the interaction and lead to inaccuracies.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Are you actually agreeing with me, or just really sleepy.”

My Final Thoughts

I’ve used this app for about 12 days now, and it has unquestionably changed my life. As I sit here on this warm day at the beginning of April and write this, one of my friends is playing with it, sitting across the table from me and informing me that it reports that I have a big, silly grin on my face. I love it! Now for something to come along that can clean my apartment. MMM.

So, have any of you gotten this thing yet? If so, what do you think of it. If you wanna find it, do a search in the app store for Express, o yes! for iOS (Don’t ask me who decided to call it that, and let me know how it goes.