Can’t See? Do The Math

I hope that it’s okay for me to take a slight break from technology. I was listening to a podcast earlier today that talked about the power of subtraction. The idea was that sometimes our best option is to take something away when we’re having difficulty handling some problem or situation. The specifics of the argument aren’t particularly important here. The point I focused on is that we can make things too complicated to deal with.

I think this is especially true when we can’t see. We have something we want to do or maybe even need to do. We start thinking about it and consider this problem or that issue. It’s probably just human nature for us to start listing all of the things that might go wrong, problems that might come up, reasons why it might be better to just avoid the pitfalls all together. Maybe we will put it off till later or perhaps chock it up to another one of those things we can’t do since we can’t see.

The result is that our can’t do list keeps getting longer and our can-do list gets shorter. It’s easy enough to see where that gets us, how we end up doing less and less, while avoiding new experiences and opportunities more and more. The circle of our world gets smaller or perhaps never expands beyond our comfortable chair and limited living area. Concurrently, we convince ourselves that we actually like it better this way. Well, we don’t actually convince ourselves, but we get pretty good at covering up our depression and disappointment. We believe that it is what it is and unlikely to get better any time soon, if ever.

There is a mental health disorder called agoraphobia that has some similarity to what I’m talking about. It is an extreme condition, but the people get quite anxious and upset with even the idea of leaving home or needing to interact with strangers. The condition is a lot more complicated than that, but the main point here is that they are afraid. That’s the part that applies to us when we keep the circle of our worlds small and safe.

So, what are we afraid of? Actually, it’s a short list. It starts with being afraid that we will get hurt and, if we leave our safe area, we might get lost. It also includes being worried that we will make a mess we can’t clean up or cause other problems that we don’t want to deal with. Add not wanting to be embarrassed over doing or not doing things as most people who can see do them, you have come to the end of the list.

Now we see the formula. We start with a world of options and possibilities. We first subtract most everything where we might get hurt. Next goes any situation where we might get lost, even if only temporarily. Now take away actions or activities that hold the potential for making a mess or causing problems that we either can’t or don’t want to handle by ourselves. Finally, subtract those situations or encounters where we think we might embarrass ourselves and then calculate the remainder, figure out What’s left.

Have you done the math? Sure you have and so have the rest of us who can’t see. The fact of it is that we do the math every day. We calculate the risk of getting hurt or lost. We calculate the odds of making a mess or causing a problem that we can’t or don’t want to handle by ourselves. We assess the likelihood of embarrassing ourselves and debate with ourselves about whether this or that goes on our can-do or can’t-do by ourselves list. Here’s the good news. So long as we are still doing the math, we are still in the game. If we have stopped calculating, it likely means that we have given up. Not seeing wins.

There are a lot of conclusions and inferences one could draw from all of this, but I suspect you have already figured them out for yourself. Pointing out the obvious, we would do well to develop better strategies not to get hurt, better strategies not to get lost and strategies for handling it if we do, better ways to do what we want to do without making a mess or causing unwanted problems, and improved ways of engaging with people and situations in ways less likely to result in embarrassing ourselves. As a bonus, we can also work on developing techniques and methods to do stuff for ourselves that usually require asking someone who can see to help us or do the stuff for us. Or, if math is too hard or just not our thing, we can sit quietly while the circle of our world continues to shrink.

I’m thinking that I should have some pithy close or succinct advice for you, but I don’t. The best I can do is to encourage you to do the math. There is one notion that’s probably worth tacking on here though. The circle of our world either expands or shrinks over time. As much as we might hope that keeping the status quo is an option, it isn’t. It’s expand or shrink. The choice is up to each of us.

Can’t See? Be My Eyes and AIRA are not Favors but Services

In the last episode of Blind How, I suggested  whenever you need to have someone who can see to look at something or tell you about most anything. The AIRA helpers will also give you visual assistance while you are doing something that you want to do. Although the service is free much of the time and in a lot of situations, to be sure it’s there for you consistently, whenever you need it, you do need a paid subscription, especially if it’s going to take more than five minutes.


There is an alternative and totally free option for getting live help from someone who can see. It’s called Be My Eyes and has two parts. Download the Be My Eyes app from the app store. Poke around the app and you will figure out how to sign up. Once you have done that, you can either call a volunteer or talk with a specialist from any business on a long list of companies that are available through Be My Eyes. If you talk with a volunteer, the possibilities are more limited than with AIRA but work really well for most things where having someone to take a look and tell you what they see is all you need. They will also help you do something that you are doing while they watch through the phone’s camera.


If you use the option to talk with someone from one of the companies on the extensive list, you will be talking with an expert. Once you have explained your problem or issue, they will stick with you until you have the information you need or have the problem or issue resolved. For example, I was having an issue with my Windows computer. There was no speech and I had no idea what to do. The Microsoft expert had me point my phone’s camera toward my computer screen and then told me exactly which keys to press on the computer keyboard. In about two minutes, my computer was again talking and off I went.


Both AIRA and BE My Eyes are amazing services and always there, just a tap or so away on my iPhone. Still, I find myself reluctant to just make the call. I’m bringing this up since I suspect that you might have a similar reluctance. Here’s what is going on for me.


Whenever I ask someone to help when being able to see is necessary, it feels like I’m interrupting them and certainly inconveniencing them. Both feelings are in fact legitimate, much if not most of the time. The good news is that most people are okay with a small interruption or temporary inconvenience now and then, so long as I don’t overdo it or impose too often. The bad news is that I haven’t figured out a good way to always know where the line is between okay on the one hand and overdoing and too often on the other. For me, the best solution to this dilemma is to just not ask, unless I’m fairly certain that this specific request will not be disruptive or particularly inconvenient. I try to save up the good will for those infrequent times when I have a serious problem or issue that I just can’t handle without help.


There is another frustration that comes up at least once or twice most days. There is some little thing that I want to know or want to do that I wouldn’t even notice, if I could see. What color is this shirt? What’s in this can? What does that bird I’m hearing look like? Is my computer screen on or off? Where’s the door to the store? Where’s the ball I through for my dog that he didn’t retrieve? I’ll bet you can join in. It’s just one little thing after another, with an even more frustrating thing thrown in now and then.


But what to do? Unfortunately, I usually just move on, doing without that little bit of visual assistance. That’s easier than bothering someone or waiting until they have time to help.


So, what does all that have to do with not making the couple of taps it takes to connect with an AirA agent or a Be My Eyes volunteer? I have difficulty getting past the feeling that I’m interrupting or inconveniencing. Also, I’m so used to just letting the little things go that I give little thought to what the bird looks like or what color the shirt is. Most any color will go fine with my jeans.


What advice do you have for me? I’ll bet it goes something like this.


The AIRA agents are being paid to help me, no matter how important or how trivial the need right now. What’s more, they want to help, whenever I want help. And if I don’t call, they miss out on the chance to do their job. If that happens too often with too many callers, they lose their job and it’s partially my fault. If I’m reluctant to do it for me, I should always make the call for them. Should you think that is silly, just keep not calling and see how you feel about it when there is no longer an agent there to call.


Yes indeed, the same applies to the Be My Eyes volunteers and the experts at the various companies that answer calls. The volunteers are not paid, but they will likely quit volunteering their time if calls stop. The companies that provide the experts will likely stop making them available if no one accesses their services. And who is the biggest loser? That would be you and me.


It takes a new mindset. The old mindset for me was that I was asking someone for a favor (An act of gracious kindness) when I asked them to stop whatever they were doing and help me. Indeed, it might only take a second and little effort, but a favor, nonetheless. Sure, they were happy to do it, but still a favor.


The old mindset still applies, just not when calling AIRA or Be My Eyes. When accessing those services, “favor” no longer applies. It is now a mutually beneficial transaction. I benefit by getting the assistance I need and the agent, volunteer, or subject expert benefits by having an opportunity to provide the service. For sure, it’s hard for me to get my head around that mindset shift, but I’m committed to making the shift and hope you are too.

Can’t See? Let Aira Take a Look

When it comes to technology that can help those of us who can’t see do what we want to do, there are at least two ways I could go about letting you know about the possibilities. First, I could give you detailed descriptions and step by step instructions for using each app or gadget. That type of tutorial is very useful and makes learning to use the app or gadget, if not always easy, at least doable. The good news is that tutorials like that are out there for many apps and gadgets and for most all of the popular ones. The bad news is that they are only helpful if you find the particular tutorial you need right now.


The other way to get you up and running – and the one I chose – is to encourage you to develop the skills you need to figure out for yourself how to use the apps and gadgets available to help with what you want to do. The good news is that there are only a few basic skills that you need to do most things you want to do. The bad news is that it takes time and practice to develop those skills, a lot of concentration and frustration to improve your skills, and a good measure of imagination — along with trial and error — to perfect them. But as your skills improve, you will be doing more and more of what you want to do by yourself and finding it easier to locate those step-by-step tutorials to learn how to use the apps and gadgets you want to use to do what you want to do.


This is episode 30 of Blind How. You have already listened to episodes 1 through 29, haven’t you? You have been working on the skills and strategies included in those earlier episodes, haven’t you? I sure hope so, since we are about to jump into the really fun stuff with your cell phone. If you haven’t kept up, it will be really hard to stick with us; not impossible but really hard. If you have kept up, it will still not be easy, but is doable. Even so, it’s always easier to hope that someone who can see will come along and do what you want done for you.


Enough of that. What if I were to tell you that there is always someone who can see who is ready and usually able to help you with those times when you need someone who can see to “take a look” and provide visual assistance with doing what you want to do? “What will they help with,” you ask? Good question. What do you want to do that being able to see would make easier? Whatever that is, the assistance you need is a couple of swipes and taps away.


The app on your iPhone or Android phone is called “Aira.” I have no idea what Aira means or why that is the app’s name, but the app is sort of magical. This is one of those times when I’m just assuming that you have been keeping up and have been practicing. Download the app to your phone and open it. Flick around to get familiar with what’s on the screen. As I recall, all I needed to do was enter my phone number to get started. If you want some tutorial info, visit Poke around on the site. There is a lot of helpful stuff there.


You’ll find out on the app screen how to call an Aira agent. On your first call, the agent who answers will talk you through how to use the app and the Aira service. Basically, you point the back camera on your phone toward whatever is of interest to you. The agent will help you get it into the picture so the agent can see what you want him or her to see.


Just tell the agent what you want to know, want to do, need him or her to do. Along with telling you what is in the picture, the agent will go ahead and do things for you such as making an order, taking a picture, looking up instructions, helping you figure out how to do stuff yourself, and on and on. I think most anything within reason is on the table. It’s like having someone who can see follow you around, always ready to lend a hand, or an eye.


I’m going to discuss other ways to get visual assistance with your phone in future episodes of Blind how but start with Aira. In many situations, the service is free; and calls of less than five minutes are usually free. But check the website so you know when you will be charged and how much any charges are. Sure, you can also just ask an Aira agent when you call.

Can’t See? Let’s Communicate

[Here, I focus on your iPhone, but if your phone is Android or Samsung, read Voiceover as Talkback and Siri as Google, as in OK Google. For example, say, “OK Google, how do I … with Talkback?”]


There are a few things those of us who can’t see can do with our iPhones that are rather boring but necessary. I’m going to spend this episode of Blind How looking at them, but it would be more fun checking out ways we can use our phones to get people who can see to help us whenever we need someone who can see to give us a couple of minutes to just look at something for us. I’ll get to those options in the next episode, but for now, let’s get to the more boring stuff.


Yes, we can make and receive phone calls on our iPhones. Let’s start with the simple way. Just say, “Hey Siri, call 555-555-5555.” Of course, use the actual number you want to call instead of all of those 5’s. From there, it’s like any phone call: the phone rings and someone answers, if there is someone there to answer the phone. For now, always include the area code when voicing the number.


If our phone is ringing, simply tap twice quickly with two fingers anywhere on the screen. It’s called a two-finger double tap, or “magic tap.” Wait a second or so and then say, “Hello.”


(I’m assuming that you always keep Voiceover turned on.)


You can also flick around until you find the “Answer” button and then double tap with one finger anywhere on the screen. But why would you, when you can just use the magic tap?


If you would rather dial the number, you can also do that. Flick around until you find the Phone icon on your phone’s screen. It may be on the bottom row of icons. Once Voiceover says “Phone,” do a one-finger double tap anywhere on the screen. The Phone app will open.


At the bottom of the screen, find Keypad, and double tap.


(I’ll just say double tap when you should tap twice quickly with one finger.)




The keypad is much like the keypad on a regular telephone. Touch toward the top of the screen, and then flick right until Voiceover says the first number. Now double tap. The first number makes a sound, and you are ready for the second number. Flick left or right to find the second number and double tap. Repeat the steps until you have added all 10 numbers in the phone number. Finally, find the “Call” icon and double tap.


(You start with the area code. Starting with a 1 like with a regular phone is not needed.)




That will get you started making and receiving calls. Even so, this is a good time to use your search skills that we considered earlier on Blind How. Start with asking Siri. Say, “Hey Siri, How do I use the phone app with Voiceover?” Siri will tell you that this is what I found on the web. Explore the screen with one finger or swipe down from the top with two fingers. Touch the screen with two fingers to get Siri to stop talking.


When you hear something that sounds interesting, double tap. Siri will open Safari where the information is. Swipe down from the top with two fingers to get Voiceover to read the web page.


(Hint: You can also ask Siri, “Hey Siri, how do I use Safari with Voiceover?”


You can also send and receive text messages with your iPhone. You do this in the Messages app. Open the Messages app and check it out. Once the app is open, swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen. This will let you know what’s there. For now, you will need the phone number of anyone you want to message.


(To practice, you can send a message to yourself, using your phone number.)


Sure, you can also say, “Hey Siri, how do I use the Messages app with Voiceover?”


You also can say, “Hey Siri, how do I type using Voiceover?” For now though, you just find the letter or character you want to enter and then double tap. Nothing goes in until you double-tap. Since you are sending the message to yourself for practice, you don’t need to be concerned about typing errors.


You can send and receive e-mail too. That is done with the Mail app. Find the icon and check it out. Unfortunately, you also need to provide your e-mail information such as the provider, your username and password and such. That is done through the Settings icon on your phone. If you are up to an adventure, double tap on the Settings icon, and then find “Mail” down the list. Double tap on that icon, and then find Accounts. Double tap on that icon, and have at it. If you are patient and know the information that is needed, I’ll bet you can figure out how to register your email account. After that, you need only open the Mail app on your phone’s main screen. The app will automatically check to see if you have any new e-mail. If so, the new e-mails will show up in a list on the screen.


If all has gone well, you can now send and receive phone calls, text messages and maybe even e-mails. If not, keep practicing and keep asking Siri how to do what you want to do using Voiceover.


Let me leave you with one easily overlooked fact. If you want someone who can see to do something for you on your iPhone, turn off Voiceover before you hand them your phone. It’s a quick triple-tap on the home button if there is one, and if not, a quick triple-tap on the power button toward the top on the right side of the phone. When you get your phone back, you turn Voiceover back on the same way. The issue is that your phone does not work the way people can see are used to its working, when Voiceover is turned on.


There you go. You now have three ways to communicate: phone calls, text messages


(Very much the same as iMessages, but don’t worry about the differences for now.)


, and e-mail, if you have gotten it set up. You are making really good progress.

Can’t see? Safari and the App Store Have You Covered

Almost nothing about technology in general and cell phones in particular is either obvious or intuitive, especially if you, like me, can’t see. There are very good cell phones that use buttons instead of fingers on the touch screen, but it still takes time to master their use. If you want buttons, you will be missing out on many, if not most things you can do with your iPhone. Even so, a good button phone may be all you’re up to right now. Here’s a suggestion.


Call the folks at Mystic Access: (716) 543-3323 or visit on the Internet. Ask about the BlindShell phone. The phone is completely usable with buttons and comes with an excellent audio tutorial that tells you everything you need to use all of the features on the phone. When you are talking with Chris or Kim, ask about their other tutorials and services. Hint: they can teach you how to use your iPhone.


Back to your iPhone — In the last episode of Blind How, I suggested that you check out the Podcast app. It’s pretty easy to find a podcast or so and start listening. Here though, I need to recommend two more apps that I think are essential for getting started using your iPhone. They are “Safari” and the “App Store.” Safari enables you to search for almost anything you want or want to know. The App Store gives you access to apps for doing most anything you can do or want to do on your iPhone. (Android’s app store is called the Play Store, but also has apps for doing most anything on your Android Phone.)


To open Safari, find the Safari icon on your iPhone. It’s probably on the bottom row of icons. Touch the icon or flick right until voiceover says “Safari.” If your phone makes a clunk sound before you find Safari and you can’t go right any farther, flick left until you hear “Safari.” Now, anywhere on the screen, double tap quickly with one finger. This is the double tap that opens apps or activates virtual buttons anywhere on your phone.


Although you will need to learn how to use the Safari app at some point, here’s a quick way to start. Let Siri search for you. Take a minute to think about what you want to know or do. Put it in the form of a question. Now, just ask Siri. You always start with “Hey Siri,” or by holding down the home or power button until you hear a quick double beep and then letting go. Now ask your question. For example, “How do I use voiceover?” Siri will then either answer your question or display the answer on the screen.


If you activate Siri with the button, ask your question right after you hear the double beep. If you use “Hey Siri,” you don’t do anything except talk. You just say, “Hey Siri, how do I use voiceover?” Siri will then talk to you.


If Siri says “Ok, here’s what I found on the web,” your answer is on the phone’s screen. Touch the screen near the top with one finger. Next, swipe down quickly with two fingers. Voiceover will start at the top and read everything on the screen, including the answer or answers. To stop voiceover from talking, touch the screen with two fingers. You can also move your finger around on the screen to find something that interests you. Once you find it, double tap with one finger. That will cause Safari to open where the information or answer is on the web. Until you learn more about how to use Safari, touch at the top and swipe down with two fingers. Voiceover will read the whole page. That will likely be way more than you want to read, but too much is better than nothing for now.


Now for the App Store – It’s a little like going to the mall. Even if you know what you want, it can be confusing. There is an app called “Wayaround” that is a very cool way of labeling your stuff. I’ll be discussing it in a later episode of Blind How, but for now, let’s see if we can find it in the App Store.


First find the “app store” icon on your iPhone. Now, double tap to open the app. Now find the search icon in the bottom right corner of the screen and double tap on it.


Touch the screen in its upper left corner. Now flick left until you can’t go any farther. Now, flick right until you hear “dictate.” Listen to what voiceover is saying. You first hear “dictate,” and then in a second or so, you are instructed to double tap to start dictation and then double tap with two fingers to stop dictation. The second part is called a hint. You will frequently hear hints when you tap on something on the screen. They usually tell you what to do with the icon or button or what it does.


Double tap with one finger on the dictate button and you hear a sound. Say, “WayAround,” and then double tap with two fingers. The search page will  open, with “Wayaround” already in the search area. Start at the top and flick right until you find the Wayaround app. Since it’s free, you can just double tap the “get” button following the app’s name and it will install on your phone, ready to be used.


The fun part is that you can now open Safari or the App Store and explore. You can explore by moving your finger around the screen or by flicking right or left. You can also use the two-finger swipe down from the top to have the whole screen read to you.


You can also use “Hey Siri” to ask whatever you want to know or do. Sure, that includes asking Siri to open any app on your phone. “Hey Siri, open Safari.” “Hey Siri,  Open the App Store.” “Hey Siri, where can I get a pizza?” Or even better, “Hey Siri, open Podcast.” Why is that even better? You can now double tap “Search,” and enter “Blind How,” where you can then “follow” so you never miss a new episode and can explore the past episodes.

Can’t See? An iPhone and Podcasts are For You

Ok, you have your iPhone or perhaps you went with Android. If it’s Android or maybe Samsung for you, that works as well as an iPhone, just not quite as easily. Either way, I’ll start with the screen.


If you can see some, the screens on all three phones (iPhone, Android, and Samsung) are quite good, although I’m told that the Android phones may have somewhat better screens. Since I can’t see, I’ll need to take their word for that. At any rate, the phone screens can be customized to fit your preferences. You can adjust the colors, the amount of motion and the size of the text that shows up on the screen. To make those kinds of adjustments, you need to check out the “Accessibility” area in the phone’s settings. Most of the resources I mention in this and future episodes of Blind How have tips and suggestions for “low vision” users of the phones.


With that important point covered, having our phones talk to us is where it’s at for me and others who can’t see. On Android and Samsung phones, the talking feature is called Talkback, although on older Samsung phones, it’s called Voice Guide. There are also “talk” features on most modern tablets and TVs. The “talk” feature is normally in settings, under accessibility, regardless of the type of device you are using. The name for the “talk” feature is different for each brand, but the idea is always the same: it talks or reads the text on the screen, including menues on TVs.


Let’s get back to your iPhone. It has a “talk” feature that is called Voiceover. Unfortunately, if you just search for “voiceover,” you will mostly get results about the voices we hear behind other things going on, such as commercials or other things where there is an anonymous voice in the background. Those voices are called voiceovers, but should probably be called voice-unders. Even so, if you want to learn about Voiceover on your iPhone, search for “iPhone voiceover,” or some such.


You can turn Voiceover on either in settings, accessibility, voiceover or by pressing the home button or the power button if there is no home button. To do this, press the button three times quite quickly. You can turn it off the same way.


In the last episode of Blind How, I suggested some resources for learning to use your iPhone. I hope you have checked out those resources and can now flick around on your phone and open apps. If not, this episode is not going to be very useful, unless you’re satisfied with knowing about the possibilities, but not interested in actually making them available to you to use and enjoy.


Let’s start with podcasts. What are they and why would you be interested? They are audio (and sometimes include video) shows or programs, like on the radio or TV. They can be about anything, including dramas, comedy materials, news, information, or most anything else people dream up. There are many different types and categories. For our purposes, I’ll stick with educational podcasts that focus on technology that is useful for those of us who can’t see, and especially on those podcasts that are useful for cell phone users who can’t see.


To start, you need an app that was made for finding and playing podcasts. Good news. There is already one on your iPhone. It’s simply called “Podcast.” I’m not going to try to teach you how to use “Podcast,” since there is already an excellent podcast that does that very thing.


The podcast is called Applevis Podcast and the episode is called Learning to Use Apple Podcasts for iOS.


If you want to listen to the episode now, Click Here.


To finish this episode of Blind How, I’ll suggest a few podcasts that you can listen to in order to expand your knowledge about and comfort with accessible technology in general and cell phones in particular. It’s important to understand that podcasts are the show or program. Each podcast then has episodes, individual audio instances of the podcast or program. You search for the podcast. Once it is located and shows on your podcast player, there will be a list of past episodes of the podcast. You can then pick those episodes that sound interesting or useful for you. Just double tap the episode title to play it.





There you go. Just like there is usually an app for that, whatever interests you, there is usually a podcast for that. Here’s a tip to get you started. In the Podcast app on your iPhone, open the search tab and then search for the single word Blind. You will get a list of podcasts with “blind” somewhere in the title. I suggest listening to the most recent episode of each of those podcasts. You are sure to find a few that you want more of. Just be sure to subscribe or follow. That way, you will get all new episodes of the podcast. Also, take a few minutes to look through the past episodes of the podcasts that interest you. You will very likely find some really good stuff. And the good news is that they will all talk to you.