BlindSquare App

When I was at the Summer Academy a couple of people mentioned they were navigating with an app called BlindSquare. They asked if I used it and I was almost sheepish to admit my vision is still good enough to navigate with plain old Google Maps.  It is surprising how social norms change from place to place.  I felt like being blinder would have given me more ‘street cred’, but what the hey, I got by.

BlindSquare appears to be the app VIPs (Visually Impaired Persons) in the know use to navigate. According to its advertising BlindSquare is the “world’s most popular accessible GPS-app developed for the blind and visually impaired.” It is said to describe the environment, announce points of interest and also alert you to street intersections as you travel.

The home page says BlindSquare is self-voicing and has a dedicated speech synthesizer, whatever that means. There is an audio menu that can be accessed with the buttons on the side of your phone. Seeing the screen is not required.

BlindSquare announces your progress towards your destination. It marks your spot (sounds like Beastie Baby!) and can lead you back should you want to return. The app opens with voice over. BlindSquare ‘understands’ a variety of languages. These include many of the most ‘popular’ European languages as well as some others like Finnish and Romanian. The farthest east they go looks to be Turkish. The farthest south they go looks like Arabic.

Reading the comments it seemed to me the developers of BlindSquare are awesome people. They responded in the affirmative to just about all of the suggestions and have been adding languages right along.  Updates are added regularly.

Now for the bad news. BlindSquare is $40.00 in the App Store. There is a free version called Blindsq Event  available in the App Store but it is seriously pared down from the for a fee version. The pay version featured three or four pages of options and Blindsq Event featured one. I would say what  do you want for nothing, but my answer would be ‘the World!’ so I know better than to ask that question.

I just downloaded the free version and will play with it later. As always, I would love to have others’ opinions. Please download it and let us know what you think.

Those who have the pay BlindSquare, please chime in!

written August 2nd, 2017

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Timeline Part 1: Advances in Treatment & Care for People with Macular Degeneration

It’s Lin/Linda.  I created this page to go with Sue’s page Not Your Parents’ AMD.  Like some of you, I had a loved one with AMD.  It was my father who was diagnosed with AMD in 2005 at the age of 82.  At the time, I was living 700 miles away and I did not know much about the disease or at what stage he was diagnosed.  He progressed to geographic atrophy (GA), that much I knew.  He was the sole caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s Disease.  He continued to drive (not safely), take care of her and the house.  He was never referred to vision rehabilitation or offered any help other than being told to use handheld magnifiers.

I wondered how things have changed since then which led me to do this timeline review.  Not only have there been advances in the medical end of the field but also in the technology that is allowing people to remain independent for as long as possible.  That is if a person learns how to use the various devices and apps available.

I’ve based the categories of time on an article Age-Related Macular Degeneration
1969 –2004: A 35-Year Personal Perspective by Stuart L. Fine, MD published in 2005.  He says “In 1969, patients with AMD constituted a small part of a typical ophthalmic practice. From 1969 to 2004, the prevalence of AMD has increased, and the methods of evaluation and treatment have changed dramatically.”

I know I have missed many events that have been critical to the history of the treatment & care of AMD.  There is SO much information out there and I’ve tried to use the most significant dates I could find.  Have a suggestion of what to include? Did I get a date wrong? Let me know in a comment or send me an email at light2sight5153@gmail.com.

1st Era: 1969–1979
  • Emergence of fluorescein fundus photography: test used in diagnosis of retinal diseases
  • Development of ‘hot’ (high power) laser photocoagulation, first treatment for wet AMD
  • Relationship of drusen to age-related macular degeneration
  • Other developments:
    • 1976-1977 first personal computers affordable for home use
    • more low vision aids:
      • 1960s large print books became available
      • 1976 large print calculators became available
      • 1969-1970 CCTV (closed caption TV) for reading aid
2nd Era: 1980–1994
  • Clinical trials to evaluate new treatments, especially laser photocoagulation (1979-1994)
  • Development of risk factor data from large and small epidemiologic studies (epidemology is looking for patterns & causes)
  • mid-1980s term ‘senile macular degeneration’ becomes ‘age-related macular degeneration’
  • Other developments:
    • 1982 Vitreous Society was founded; 1983 first meeting attended by 44 retinal specialists
    • 1991 OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) test used in diagnosis of retinal diseases
    • mid 1980s name changed from ‘senile macular degeneration’ to ‘age-related macular degeneration’
    • 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    • 1983 first cell phones
    • 1991 World Wide Web for ‘surfing’ the Internet with easy-to-use browsers
    • low vision aids:
      • MaxiAids catalog of aids for orders from people with low vision & other impairments
    • technology/low vision aids:
      • 1982 DragonSystems founded Dragon NaturallySpeaking, speech to text
      • 1988 ZoomText was released which is software to magnify text on a computer screen
3rd Era: 1995–2003
  • Evaluation of radiation therapy for neovascular AMD, not proven to be effective
  • Assessment of pharmacologic interventions for neovascular AMD; Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) “cold” (low power laser) with Visudyne (first drug treatment;  2001)
  • Prevention trials: results AREDS released 2001
  • Other developments:
    • 1995 Amazon sells books online (1998 expands beyond just books; e-books 2000)
    • 1996 Google released
    • 1998 first e-book reader The Rocket
    • 2000 GPS available for civilians; 2001 personal navigation systems available like Garmin and TomTom
    • 2000 Microsoft & Amazon sell e-books
4th Era: 2004 – 2017
  • Completion of ongoing trials for neovascular AMD: FDA approval: Macugen 2004; Avastin 2004; Lucentis 2006; Eylea 2011
  • Earlier identification of eyes at risk: regular use of OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) and other diagnostic tests
  • Prevention trials: results AREDS2 released 2013
  • Increased number of retinal specialists: eg, American Association of Retinal Specialists (ASRS), formerly Vitreous Society (see 1982 above), has 2700 members representing 60 countries.
  • Other developments:
    • 2011 First baby boomers turn 65
    • 2004 Facebook
    • 2013 first ‘bionic eye’ retinal implant, Argus II approved by FDA
    • technology:
      • 2007 Amazon Kindle e-reader; iPhone & Apple IOS
      • 2008 Android 1.0 & Android phone
      • 2010 Apple iPad
    • technology/low vision aids:
      • 2005 Apple VoiceOver for Mac users
      • 2009 VoiceOver added to iPhone IOS
      • 2010 FDA approved implantable telescope
      • smart glasses/wearable technology
      • 2014 KNFB Reader app for Apple & Android; 2017 for Windows 10
    • ongoing research areas:

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Lions & Tigers & Bears…Oh My!

Home from ‘the City’ safe and sound. I was really no help with sign reading. None at all! However, I was able to program the phone’s GPS and help in areas I did know. I was also able to read site maps with my reader. [Lin/Linda: ‘the City’ is New York City.]

At The Met Cloisters I could use my telescopic glasses to look at the art ‘close up’. Beautiful tapestries, paintings and carvings.

I talked to one of the guards about whether they would be more handicapped accessible any time soon. The Cloisters is built on multiple levels and my companion for this jaunt has hip and heart problems. As far as vision is concerned, the descriptions were still on printed signs.

Many museums are going to QR signs. QR stands for quick response. They are the little ‘barcode’ squares you can scan with an app on your iPad or iPhone and get amazing amounts of information, even videos! Since you don’t have to actually stick you nose against a sign – your iPad will tell you the information – the system is much more low vision friendly.

Museums using the QR system include the Smithsonian and the National Museum in London. There are also a number of more local museums using the system. You can get the QR reader app from the Apple app store. I was going to try mine yesterday but The Cloisters is not fitted with the system. [Lin/Linda: there is a QR Code Reader for Android from Google Play.]

Since the rain was coming down in buckets – so much for that forecast!- we opted for the Bronx Zoo rather than the gardens. Unfortunately the zoo does not yet have the QR system either. However, for you who also have mobility issues, the zoo is very handicapped accessible and allows scooters and wheelchairs.

I saw the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! We also saw the gorillas who were incredible. With the more humane construction of zoos, I several times could not locate a creature in the foliage. Telescopic lenses helped some with that, but not a lot.

Bottom line on this? We had a successful day in the city. People were incredibly kind and friendly and we struck up conversations with maybe a dozen people. The museum and zoo have ways to go to become more accommodating for us with disabilities but all together it was not too bad. Since my companion had to do all the driving, I paid for gas and lunch.

Would I go back? Yes. Probably not The Cloisters because that was my second trip there and it has sort of ‘been done’ for me. We only got through about half of the zoo. I did not see the snow leopard or get my camel ride! Those things can happen another time. The Botanical Gardens could be that day, too. Some day it is sunny and pleasant.

What have been your experiences with different venues as a low vision person ? Any praise or pans for a place? Any suggestions for a traveler? Let us know!

written June 18th, 2017

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App Update

Back to the Daniel Roberts article. Actually sort of back to Roberts himself. I just watched a video of him using the LowViz Guide.  [Lin/Linda:  we published Sue’s page Comparison Shopping on June 5th, 2017, where she talked about Dan Roberts.]

The LowViz Guide was basically Roberts’ brainchild. It is an indoors navigation system. Can’t find your way around the hospital or the cruise ship? The LowViz Guide may be able to help.

I say maybe because the venue – be it conference center, hotel or hospital – has to have been tricked out with iBeacons. Your smart device ‘talks’ to the iBeacons, the iBeacons talk back and your device tells you where to go.

(I find that only fair since I have told my devices “where to go” on numerous occasions!)

In the video Roberts demonstrated the app has not only VoiceOver capabilities but also gives you ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ signals. The ‘cold’ signal is very irritating as, I guess, befits a message that is saying “wrong way, buddy!” It would make me want to go the proper direction just to shut it up. (A perfect example of negative reinforcement for you psychology students.)

There is an informative article on the LowViz Guide on the American Federation of the Blind website. It does not say where the iBeacons have been installed and I got the impression the cost of installing these things is not small.

The LowViz Guide app is downloadable for free from the app store. [Lin/Linda: I don’t see an Android version yet.] If you can get a list of places with iBeacons and you are actually going there it might be fun to see how it works.

Another new technology I found interesting was Aipoly. The ‘Ai’ in the name stands for artificial intelligence, of course. Funded by Google, according to Natasha Lomas in a 2015 article, Aipoly uses computer vision and machine learning technology to recognize what is going on in photos you take with your device. Aipoly is supposed to be able to identify multiple objects in a scene. It is also reported to be able to identify the relationships between things in the photo. For example, Aipoly would say something like girl eating ice cream. It is sort of like Be My Eyes minus the thousands of volunteers.

The whole process can take as little as five seconds to have a scene described. The longest time is said to be about 20 seconds.

The most seriously cool feature of Aipoly -and one that will undoubtedly interest our readers in Massachusetts – is the system has the beginnings of the ability to identify facial expression!

As of the writing in 2015, the system was starting to be able to recognize very exaggerated facial expressions! It is not yet ready to describe subtle expressions but there is hope.

Be aware this system does not work in real time, but they are trying to get there. They are also trying to get it into as many hands as possible. I am downloading a free version from the App store even as I am writing this. They have also come out with an Android version. Not sure if there is a cost for that or not. [Lin/Linda: It is free, too.]

I will let you know how it works later. Taking some time to load. And, by the way, I don’t have to be the only product tester. Feel free to download it and experiment yourself. Continue reading “App Update”

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How Many Favors?

One of the problems with being a cockeyed optimist and a Pollyanna is I always expect good things and relatively easy sailing. When that doesn’t happen, frankly, I become perturbed. I HATE to be thwarted.

Last evening I started downloading Golden Prey (book by John Sandford) from BARD. It has stopped several times since then.

I think it has to do with too much in my iPad memory. My ability to clutter up my environment extends to technology and cyberspace!

Another case of “do as I say, not as I do”. Deleting books you have already listened to is fine. You can always get them again. FYI for you non-technical savvy folks, your devices will run faster if you do.

My schedule is changing for the summer and I have to figure that out. Transportation will only pick up until 7 pm. After that my coach turns into a pumpkin! (Of course, for some of the ‘lemons’ I have ridden in, that would be an improvement!)

I have been picking up signs a woman who has dutifully transported me up for the last 15 months has gotten tired of it and needs a break. Changing my schedule so that I can ride my bike at least some of the time and take up some of the rest of the slack with transportation should work. I also have a co-worker who has started to take some of the same classes and who has offered to haul me. Also another gym friend.

People truly are wonderful and generous but they are not saints. Problem becomes they hate to let you down and will keep on helping even when it is no longer convenient.

I am starting to think I need some sort of rotation system. I already try to limit how many times I impose in one week. I try to keep it under three rides – counting someplace and back as two – a week for any one person. Except my husband, of course. He drew the short straw when he married me!😜

Once again there needs to be some sort of etiquette book for this! Any ideas about the ride dilemma? How many favors for the old, visually impaired chick is too many?

Still haven’t got the new pool liner. Got that call at 7 am as the rain poured down.

And my frustration that you may actually care about….Aipoly, or at least the free version I downloaded, did not live up to its hype! My diet Pepsi bottle was “a wine bottle” (however, that is a thought!) and my glare glasses were “one string of headphones”. I got too close to my sandal when I took the photo so that was “a basket” although when I pulled back and tried again, Aipoly got it right.

Now, in all fairness, I am cheap. The word free can be music to my ears. There is an Aipoly version for slightly less than $5 per month. That one is supposed to be much ‘smarter’. Since I am cheap and not in need of such a service yet, and since I can never remember to cancel those damn ‘free’ trials, I’m not downloading it. If you are in need of such a service and can remember to cancel a free trial, try it and get back to us please.

Type at ya later! Continue reading “How Many Favors?”

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Parts Is Parts

Today was sort of an ‘eye day’. Spent most of my day talking about vision or dealing with my ‘toys’. “Mama said there would be days like this.” [Lin/Linda: I don’t know if Sue intended this but this song came to mind!]

Toys first: my CCTV is broken again.

Apparently when they say portable they don’t mean what I mean: hauled everywhere and set up and torn down twice or three times a day. I lost another pop rivet so my document tray does not slide properly.

Also, my vertical hold comes and goes. Remember Outer Limits? “We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical.” Whoever is controlling this is not me. It gets flipping enough to make me sea sick!

For future reference should you have this problem, we think it might be a loose wire. When I flipped the camera to distance viewing and brought it back, the flipping stopped.

Needless to say, it is going into the shop. It is going into the shop as soon as I get a loaner; that is…..Oh, and I am not paying the $50 diagnostic fee either. The cursed thing has a two-year warranty.

What can I say? I am hard on parts.

[Lin/Linda: if you were wondering about the title, when I read the above sentence, my mind went to the Wendy’s TV commercial where the catchy line is “parts is parts”.  Click here for the commercial.]

Today was also the vision loss support group. As anticipated, I was the youngest one in the group. I was also the most informed. I am half ashamed to admit that I ‘held court’ and lectured on my toys and some of what I considered to be AMD basics. The ladies – and they were all ladies – seemed receptive and asked me back.

I was a bit disturbed that several of the ladies admitted to owning iPads and having shoved them in a drawer!  They have no background or understanding of computers and they are afraid of them. The lack of knowledge about basic electronics – especially things that can make your life 100 times easier – was scary.

When I said you could get things in the app store I was asked if that was in this town or a town nearby! Oh my….

Which made me think some of you may be in the same boat.

The App Store is a blue and white icon on your desktop. It has a big A right in the middle.

Touch the icon/symbol and you will get a page of whatever apps they are featuring, often games. In the upper right hand corner there is a gray box that says search. Touch that and you should get a keyboard. Type in a keyword or phrase and then touch enter. Examples of keywords might be magnifiers, low vision apps, or knfbreader. Remember many apps are free but some like the knfbreader are for a fee. The ones for a fee you will need an Apple account. Actually, I think you need an account no matter. I always have to put my password in to approve the download. Lin, what do we have about opening an Apple account? [Lin/Linda: I’m posing that information below.]

That is about it for now. I have to email the group leader and remind her about passwords. Next month they are bringing their iPads!


Click here for a good place to start learning about your iPad.

Click here for instructions on how to create an Apple ID.

Click here for the ‘Dummies’ series For Seniors: Use the iPad Online User Guide.  There are also topics on this website about iPhones and Android devices (smartphones & tablets).

Continue reading “Parts Is Parts”

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Can An Old Dog Learn Braille?

A reader made a suggestion I could learn Braille. At first it sounded sort of fanciful. I am 63 years old and she wants this old dog to learn new tricks! I am sure it is REALLY hard. I am sure it will take me FOREVER.

Then I thought I should practice what I preach. Turn the mind and be willing. I could at least look into it….besides, it is good for a page and I am running out of ideas. Anyone else out there willing to share? I could use a little more, wonderful help like we got from Lara, Jennifer, Rick and Andrea.

VisionAware has a page on All About Braille. They tell us Louis Braille invented the system in France in the mid-1800s. Braille ‘cells’ are made up of two columns of three rows. Each letter and symbols is made up of a pattern of one or more dots.

The letter ‘s’ is dots in the second column-first row, 1-2 and 1-3. U is 1-1, 1-3 and 2-3. E is 1-1 and 2-1. There! I spelled my name!

I probably would want to learn alphabetic Braille first. That is letter by letter Braille. There is also a form called condensed Braille in which whole words are represented by one cell of dots.

Being part of the special education system, I know a little bit about sign language for the deaf. American Sign Language is not just standard English you ‘speak’ with your hands. It is its own language with its own rules and specialized characteristics. Condensed Braille reminded me of that. It is also just one of a number of systems, just like ASL.

Problems with learning Braille as an older adult include finger sensitivity. Some people are blind because of complications of diabetes. Diabetic nerve damage may interfere with learning Braille.

Right now, I really don’t see Braille as an option for me. Not totally because it would be difficult and time consuming to learn, although those are factors. The major reason is right now I have options that work for me just fine.

I have magnification through my CCTV, reader and iPad, as well as ZoomText on my work PC’s. My computers and my phone also have options that allow me to be read to. I don’t use those options simply because they are so dang irritating! However, if I get to the point I cannot navigate around my desktop or my phone, I may be happy to have them.   [You can review how Sue uses these by going to her pages A Day in the Life and A Day in the Life: Work Day.]

And speaking of being read to, don’t forget my KNFB Reader. Then there are BARD books and the newspapers on my phone.

If I want to write as opposed to read, I do have a few touch typing skills. Speech-to-text is also available to me. Of course, we all know some of the things that happen there.

For example: I tried to speech to text the text “we find our adventures where we can” and the message my friend got was “we find our dentures where we can.” Took a while for her to stop giggling.

OK. Gotta go. I have a staff party tonight and I still have no idea what I am going to wear. Could be worse. At least I don’t have to find my teeth!

Click here for an article on how Braille is useful on the job in case Sue changes her mind. ::smile::

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