Visiting An Apple Store

Whether you like Apple or not, there is no doubt in my mind that they are extremely customer-focused at their stores. Yes, the cynic in me says that they can afford to be given the money the technology giant has amassed. But I have to hand it to them for fantastic customer service when you visit one of their shops. As a blind person, this is incredibly important to me. If a sales staff member is happy to spend time with me, answers all my questions, and makes me feel I am the most important person who has walked through the door, then that is worth a swipe of my credit card any day.

There is also something really nice about walking into one of their stores and purchasing something rather than buying it online. Whether it is the hubbub of noise around the place, or the excitement of buying a new tech toy and walking out with it in a carrier-bag, I’m not sure. Whatever the thrill, a friend of mine went with me to the Belfast Apple Store on Friday 24th July, and I loved it!

For a start, the gentleman who served me couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful. Secondly, he went and found a stool for me to sit on throughout the visit as I just cannot stand around for long because of my back problems. When someone makes that kind of effort for me, I can assure you it is much appreciated.

As usual, the place was heaving with people on both floors. But this didn’t seem to bother the nice gentleman who looked after me. I wanted some hands-on with an Apple Watch, and he brought over a tray of dummy versions to let me feel. While I didn’t buy one, and made it clear I just wanted to get an idea of size and how it worked, this didn’t seem to bother the salesman. After that, we moved onto the new iPod Touch and Beats headphones. I spent quite a long time listening to a pair of Beats Solo2 on-ear headphones, I was in my element!

My guide dog Bumble was with me, so the friend I was with took her for a walk while I played with all the Apple tech.

It was a shopping experience I loved, thanks largely to Apple’s customer care. And of course there was the fantastic shiny packaging to dismantle when I got home. Yes, I bought a pair of Beats headphones!

If you have always wanted to visit an Apple Store, but wondered what sort of reception you would receive, my advice is to try it. They will always turn on VoiceOver for you, or find a colleague who is more clued up on the screenreader. Staff are really helpful, and will do their best to answer your questions and let you have hands-on with their products. Even when I don’t want to buy, I still love the Apple Store experience.

What Wimbledon Means To Me

There will be thousands of people around the country right now sighing with relief that the Wimbledon Championships are over for another year. The pop-popping of the balls, the excessive grunting of some players, the English tradition of polite applause, and the complex scoring system to a novice viewer, will be a distant memory within days.

But not for me. Like all good things, the tournament has come to an end for another 12 months. Yet like the previous 40 years of being passionate about the sport, I was still sorry to see the greatest tournament in the world come to an end when the final ball was struck on Sunday evening.

Many people have asked me how the hell I follow tennis when I can’t see to watch it. Over the years, I guess I have conjured up my own image of the game as it is being played out on the court. I know what a tennis racquet feels like, and people have described how a player holds it in their hand. And I have felt a tennis ball that makes the familiar popping sound when it is struck in earnest.

As for volleys, slices, drop-shots and going down the line or using spin on the ball, it is jargon I can’t grasp terribly well because I simply can’t see. Nevertheless, it has never stopped my enjoyment of the game. Once I know who is serving, I find it quite easy to follow. I know, for example, when a player serves an ace because I do not hear the returner smack the ball back. And many players have their own grunt as they serve. I get to know a player by the noise they make, and this is another indication of who is serving. I am sure that my interpretation of a match is quite different from what really happens, but I love the atmosphere and the tension that builds as the tournament progresses.

My dad taught me the rules of tennis, and I think my first interest in Wimbledon was aroused in 1975. After that, I was hooked. I even have strawberries and cream every year, just to pretend that my living-room is in SW19.

The closest I ever got to Centre Court was when I went to Wimbledon for a tour round in 1998. The Championships were not in progress at the time, but I got a sense of what it was like, and how big it felt, just by wandering around with a guide. My dream is still to sit on Centre Court for a live men’s final one day. I don’t care that I can’t see what is going on, but just to be part of the atmosphere is something I would love to achieve.

Throughout the tournament, I listen to commentary on BBC Radio Five Live, Sports Extra, and on BBC TV. Radio commentary is always better for a blind person because there is much more dialogue. But I listen to TV as well to keep abreast of everything going on around the grounds.

My favourite players over the years have been Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash, Monica Seles, Chris Evertt, Martina Navratilova and, more recently, Rafa Nadal, Andy Roddick. But the player I love most of all is Roger Federer.

When I worked, I nearly always took the Wimbledon fortnight as annual leave. If it was not possible to have both weeks, I would opt for the second week, but I found missing any of it was torture!

While people say tennis is an elitist sport, prize money is ridiculously high, and TV schedules go out the window during the fortnight, it still has to be the two weeks every year that I enjoy most. If you gave me a couple of thousand pounds and asked me to name my holiday destination once a year, I would still choose Wimbledon with all its upper-crust traditions instead.

Catalogue Of Errors

The RNIB launched its new online Talking Book catalogue earlier this year. The organisation decided the old catalogue was no longer fit for purpose because there were several limitations for users wishing to order Talking Books and manipulate their bookshelf.

The former catalogue at
had a simple but easy-to-navigate structure. Each title was set in a table comprising title, author, synopsis, category, reader, book length, date it was added, order number, and series (if applicable.)

Even searching for a title was straightforward, with a series of edit fields in which you could type what you were looking for.

Not now. RNIB has decided, in its infinite wisdom, that the new catalogue at
is the way forward for customers to choose books and add them to their list of titles.

So what’s wrong with that? Well, where do I start? First off, searching for a title is quite time-consuming. Your best bet, I have found, is to put the name of the author you want inside quotes or you will have to wade through lots of irrelevant material to get to the person you are looking for. If that isn’t enough, you must then navigate your way through your search results, choosing whether to add the book to your wish list. It sounds simple, but it isn’t.

Why was the new catalogue not laid out sensibly like its predecessor? In order to move between elements on the site now, you need to use an x to jump to titles which is actually the keystroke for finding checkboxes. Why could each book not be placed in a table or heading to make it much simpler for any screenreader user to navigate more efficiently?

There are other aspects of choosing or removing books from your list that still require you to contact the RNIB library team by telephone which rather defeats the purpose of having a self-service website.

Personally, I am rather put off using the new service. I love reading and choosing new titles for my bookshelf, but I find the new website clumsy, time-consuming, and not designed adequately for its intended target audience by the organisation who claims to know what is best for blind and visually impaired people.

When I add a title to my bookshelf using the new site, the book is put at the top of my list rather than appended to it. Although there is a dropdown list to give you some scope over where you want the title to be on your shelf, all books still seem to go to the top of the list.

If there is a series of books, and you choose one from it, the entire collection is added. So you need to again contact the library team to stipulate the particular title you want from that series.

And the current system does not allow you to remove books you no longer want on your list either. What a farce, you couldn’t make it up in our sight-dominated world!

RNIB says the new website is a “work in progress,” and that new features will be added. I can’t wait!

It is concerning that so much money donated to RNIB by the public is wasted or inappropriately spent on the implementation of services that have had so little consultation by those who use it most.