A personal point of view on technological accessibility
- The other day, I talked with my mother about a birthday gift to my father. We were walking around the neighborhood in a hot summer evening. She told me she was going to buy my father a new iPhone for his birthday. Recently the screen was broken. I asked her why specifically an iPhone. She explained about the ease of migrating files from iPhone to iPhone. “Oh right!” I exclaimed.” It is the same with Samsung. I understand.”
I lost my phone a year ago, and it was one of the reasons I chose the same producer again. It also has a good Text to Speech and screen description features that I find very useful. But my mother continued: “And iPhone has Siri. He loves it! It is so useful to him. He asks it ‘what is the weather tomorrow?’ or for instructions, for internet searches. It is so easy to him this way.”
I was touched. And a core feeling in me said “Oh, this is accessibility issue”. My father is a beekeeper. The weather is extremely important factor in that. He has some hardships using the phone the “standard” way. Siri made the phone more accessible to him. He could do it in his native language. Siri understands and talks in Russian very well.
- I have experienced some loss of memory and cognitive abilities around 2.5 years ago. I was having memory problems, which were made intolerable under some medication for my ISB. I forgot a lot of my life. I forgot things that just happened. There were huge holes in my memory. I would forget why I opened a door, a cupboard. Why did I go out the door? I work in a laboratory. Those problems are big problems. At first, I coped. I had a number of coping mechanisms I picked over the years, or developed with the help from a program I am in for disabled through the social services. I stopped that medication. I had a big bad self-harm session sometime around that all, and I thought that the damage finally caught me. Things got a bit better after I stopped that medication, but they didn’t go back to normal.
- I was worried about the memory loss, and the hardships are an ongoing challenge, so I started another medical investigation. I got a CT done, and a battery of tests to test the changes in my memory.They were hard to measure, although I had some psycho-diagnostic and psycho-didactic tests some years before, I do relatively well in tests. This is uncontrollable. If you put a test in front of me, I will try to do it as well as I can – in any cost. Since high school I was frequently coming out of the test shaking. My brain were usually going to overdrive. I would be extremely drained. Put a hoop in front of me and I will jump before I understand what is in front of me. You had to see me struggling to remember all the words the tester just said to me, while I did a second battery of those. I tried so hard! I felt that I can’t but try my hardest. But those tests are not like life. I can’t use that amount of effort for this long. I wouldn’t be able to hold on this much. In the end, it was concluded by the professional with whom I talked with that the reason for the problems is psychological. I think there is some truth to that. But my memory problems are still there. And another one: I forgot how to use search engines properly.
- I still knew the technicality of the use. I knew how to type words. I knew I had to put words and press “search”. But I started to struggle to find what I was searching for in my searches. I couldn’t find the right words. I could articulate them to a person, but when I typed them, I was not getting the relevant information. It wasn’t always the case, especially not for simple searches, but when it came to anything more than surface level information, just…wasn’t working. I was trying to change the words and still getting irrelevant results. I started to feel like I don’t know the right way to talk to the search engines. I knew that I have to type, but I didn’t knew what words will work. I felt like my words stopped working for the engines. I didn’t knew how to Google thing properly. I felt so much shame. When people around me said “educate yourselves. Everyone can use Google!” or “It is just a Google search away!” I felt pain. I was also for a time a bit like that. A long time ago, during my failed nursing education, I was the best in using Google and computers around. I wasn’t especially good at it, I never was very good with computers, but I knew my way around a bit more than the people around me in those days. I was around people who were good with computers, and some of it rubs on you. You learn to read the manual, address the FAQ, you observe some of their tricks. I even got a nickname around it, which I disliked, but also was a bit amused by. And suddenly – I forgot how to do some of these stuff. But now the world is different than it was 10 years ago. It is funny to think anybody ever called me “Bob the Technician”.
- For some time during the last year, I was actually afraid of using the computer. It sounds silly now, but I was. The phone was relatively fine. Using the computer at work for work stuff was also fine (I don’t use it much anyways). I was just afraid of the computer. I was afraid of being stuck in front of it. Which happened in the past, and is a tendency that I have. I worked specifically with my psychologist on that fear, and did a small change in my working area that allowed me to get out with more ease. I built up with using it. I started with playing The Sims Medieval, which has very closed missions that are relatively short, and can’t be prolonged too much. Later I discovered the wonder that is “audio description” on Netflix. For the first time in my life I could understand why some scenes were funny, because now there were a voice saying “She frowns” to what was a blank expression to me. I prefer cartoons because I have hard time with facial expressions. I didn’t knew I was missing them sometimes even in cartoons, till I watched them with audio description. This is the first long text that I type on my computer, in a long time.
- At some point, I understood that I can’t go on like this. I have to get better at using search engines. It might not be easy, but I have to do it. I reached out to my friends, and got some pointers. I decided to start right away. My first searches were about how to use Google better. I didn’t find what I searched for, but I still, I tried[i]. I have to push myself to do searches nowadays, but it seems like the pointers were good, and I can use search engines to some capacity. But I am still not good at it. But I try more now. It is hard for me because English is not my native language. Google doesn’t understand Hebrew very well and I read really slowly in Russian. But I was inspired by the words of my mother about my father, and started talking using Google assistant more. Usually I ask it to tell me a joke; Google assistant has different kinds of humor in English and in Russian! But I also found that is a bit easier sometimes to ask Google like it is a person, and sometimes it find the right information. I am not as fluent as I was before, but I found coping mechanisms.
- One of the points in the way of using search engines was always hard for me, is the issue of translating thoughts to words. Especially non – verbal thoughts. I frequently refer to writing as “drawing with words” because it feels similar in a way. I use my markers to put colors on a page in patterns that are seen as other things. You can see it is a drawing, but you also see the ideas depicted. I can put words one near the other, and depict ideas. But it doesn’t exactly work like that in talking to others, even when done in writing. My ability to draw a picture or a story in words doesn’t fluently translate to my ability to speak or have a conversation. When I draw with colors, it is also unlike drawing with words. It is also unlike speaking. And sometimes I have a concept in my mind that I don’t know which worlds to use to describe and ask about. Sometimes I don’t know what is it called, or what words to use. Sometimes I have way too many words, that don’t mix into a question that I can ask. I can describe the issue, but only in many words or feelings. Sometimes I just don’t know the words because of language barriers. I still try to push myself more into using search engines. It is hard, but I know I have to make effort. But when someone says “just use Google”, I feel a prick of pain and shame. I don’t say anything, but inside me, I know it is not always easy.
- Recently I found a YouTube video where the host actually showed how he searches Google to learn about a topic. It was a bit mocking at points, but the demonstration actually helped me. The hard time I had was that I wasn’t even familiar with the words that he used in the search. I know that I don’t always try my best. Sometimes I choose what is comfortable. I am very privileged to even be able to write about it. I have a phone, a computer, and internet connection. Technology comes at costs we don’t like to think about, and intensifies the power of those who hold them[ii]. Still. I am happy to see the technology becoming more widely accessible to its users. Navigation apps are a great tools for people who struggle to navigate around them. The navigation system will show them the way every time, never to get angry or impatient because of a wrong turn. It will find a different route. It doesn’t matter if they don’t remember the way or get confused easily [iii] – If they can use the satellite navigation app on their phone, it is very likely they will get to their destination.
[i] (One friend told me something about algorithm change that happened some years ago, but all I found was changes for website owners, nothing about user experience.)
[ii] But this is a different conversation, and a topic I don’t know enough in to talk about it.
[iii] I am don’t struggle with navigation, but I have my weak spots. At times I was too confused or dissociated and made some questionable bus choices. There are buildings that for some reason, some parts of them just flip around my internal compass (I sort of feel directions?), and it is flipped quite easily.