Travelling

I am about to make one of my regular trips to Scotland today, prompting me to offer my thoughts on what it is like to travel when you have a disability.

First things first. I need to book a flight from Belfast to Edinburgh. That in itself is fraught with hassle when I have to use a screenreader to book the flight on a website that is hostile to such software in the first place! It takes me ages to book the flight, ensuring I have ticked or not ticked the corrext boxes, and that I have checked in correctly.

Next, and probably most important of all, I have to book assistance. No I don’t want someone to shove me in a wheelchair at the airport and manoeuvre me through security. All I require is a helpful member of staff to guide me through the airport and onto the aircraft. Wouldn’t you think this ought to be straightforward? Don’t kid yourself, it isn’t. I have to make sure that someone actually turns up in the Customer Services waiting area to take me through security, and then onto the plane where cabin staff take over.

Once this is achieved, I am generally in the capable hands of the crew, who go through the safety drill with me in the event there is an accident. That part of the process scares the pants off me, and I try to think of anything else but being in mid-air and at the mercy of those around me.

At the other end, I am generally met by a family member or friend. I stay in a hotel or guest-house, so there is all the fun of finding my way around my room to contend with. I also ask hotel staff if they will bring me breakfast instead of me having to negotiate a dining-room and self-service facilities.

When you have no sight and a really painful back problem, as I do, going away tends to use up a lot of resources, both emotionally and physically. I find it hard to sleep, and always hope someone will be at hand if I need to leave my room.

I am quite an emotional cookie too, so leaving my husband and the dog behind makes me sad no matter the duration. I love visiting my son, Ian, and seeing friends or having a meal out. But I like coming home to the welcome I receive from Martin and Bumble. I like getting back to normal and my familiar surroundings. Saying goodbye to Ian pulls my inside apart because I never know when the next visit will be. Yet I also know we each have our own life, and make the best of our visits when they materialise.

Travelling can be a hassle for anyone, but when you rely on other people to provide assistance, the experience is not always pleasant.

Time For Some Hands-On With Apple Watch

After a lot of speculation and hype, Apple Watch finally arrived on 24 April. It comes in two sizes and three collections. Ultimately though, they all do the same thing, you are only paying more money for better quality in hardware materials.

Thanks to RNIB and Guide Dogs, I have been fortunate to have some hands-on with a 42mm Sport watch, pairing it with my iPhone 6. To clarify the question of accessibility, you are able to turn on VoiceOver or Zoom magnification. Press the crown three times to turn VoiceOver on or off.

Setting up the watch was quite straightforward once I paired it. There are two physical buttons on it, a round crown (which feels like a watch stem,) and a power button. The Sport version comes with a fluoroelastomer wristband in a variety of colours. Once you get used to it, the strap is quite easy to fasten.

Lots of stuff that works on my iPhone transferred to the watch right away. But one of the first things I had to do was stop VoiceOver from speaking every time I moved my hand. I found that level of verbosity intrusive and extremely irritating. But I was able to set it to wake up manually with a one-finger double-tap, or cover its face with the palm of my hand to send it back to sleep.

The main purpose for loaning the watch was to try it out with Apple’s Maps app. To input an address and postcode, I used my iPhone, then opened the watch to find information had been transferred to the Maps app on it. During a car journey I made this week, I received turn-by-turn route instructions on my iPhone, with wrist taps on the watch. The combination of voice instructions and wrist taps to alert me to every turn, junction or roundabout was quite interesting. It is possible to have this level of verbosity when walking as well. Apple Watch is also good at tapping your wrist when you receive text messages or other alerts

You can make and receive calls, and make good use of Apple’s personal assistant, Siri. In fact, I found Siri quite accurate when speaking to it on the watch.

The device needs to be charged daily, but you can save some battery life by turning on the screen curtain. A magnetic disc at the end of the lightning cable Connects to the watch for charging it.

The packaging, like all things Apple, is superb. The watch is presented in a long keep-sake box with print instructions.

I don’t think, in all honesty, I would purchase an Apple Watch until it can at least work independently of my iPhone though. While the watch has a built-in speaker, it is extremely hard to hear VoiceOver outside. Yes I could pair the watch with a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, but then that really defeats the purpose of having it. I could just as easily pair such an accessory with my iPhone directly.

Rumours are inevitably circulating about Apple Watch mark two, with analysts predicting it will have much more memory and therefore less dependency on the iPhone. I am sure it has a place among Apple die-hards, but I could think of many more uses for my £300 at the moment.