My parents first realised that I had a sight problem when I was about three years old. Finding my way around in dimly lit rooms or out and about after dusk was a real struggle for me.

An optician diagnosed me with a condition called Nystagmus, and told me that I had "wobbly eyes" meaning that focusing on print for example, was very difficult. Arrangements were made for me to see an ophthalmologist at my local hospital, and I was sent home with my first pair of My Little Pony specs.

Something wasn't right though – my wobbly eyes didn't explain my night blindness. Surely enough, at the age of thirteen, I was diagnosed with a more serious eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, (RP). It was explained to us at the hospital that RP was a degenerative disease of the retina which eventually results in blindness, but I don't think that any thirteen year old really acknowledges the impact that such a diagnosis has on their future.

Now, at age thirty, my eyesight has dropped to virtually zero, and over the last ten years, I have found myself having to graduate from large print and magnifiers, to braille, audiobooks, and various talking household items and gadgets.

Cooking and baking was made possible by acquiring a set of talking kitchen scales, as well as applying braille labels on my oven dials to indicate temperature. A liquid level indicator that clips onto the side of my mug and beeps when the water level reaches the metal sensor ensures that I don't over or under fill my drink, and my talking bathroom scales let me know when I have been eating too much pizza!


mmmm pizza!

One gadget in particular that has revolutionised my life though is my Apple iPhone.

While some people may find Apple's ethics questionable, one thing is for sure; they take accessibility to unrivalled heights. All of their computers, phones, iPods and iPad have a built in screen reading software called Voice Over which can be activated by the user completely free of charge.

Voice over speaks everything that is on my phone's screen in a human sounding voice. If I swipe two of my fingers upwards on the screen, VO will read aloud the whole page from top to bottom. Alternatively, I can move one finger around on the screen and VO will announce each item that my finger touches. This makes it possible for me to read and write text messages and e-mails, and even to navigate web pages. There is no longer any need for a talking watch or timer as VO tells me the time and date at the touch of a button.

Apps are where life as a blind person gets really interesting though. Believe it or not, there are free apps that can be installed that tell you what colour an item is that you are holding up to the camera lens, and even some that can tell you what the item actually is which makes finding food packets, and items like DVDs a breeze.

Text recognition apps are getting more sophisticated by the day which means that the user can take a photograph of a page of writing and have Voice Over read it out, whether it be a till receipt, a menu, or a letter.

Mobility is a huge issue for people living with sight loss, but thankfully, there are now many apps that can make life a little easier when travelling independently, whether it is to read bus and train timetables, give you verbal directions to a destination, or even to give you live updates as to which street you are on as you walk or ride a bus.

Living with a visual impairment can be challenging, but I and thousands of others like myself, can honestly say that life is made a whole lot easier if you have an eye-phone in your pocket.


 {module comment link}