My Apple Journey

the technology market has exploded over the past 30 years. It’s hard to believe that the first computer was the size of an average room and now we have computer power in our pockets in the shape of smart phones. But the technology for me, as a blind person is very different. I want to take you on my journey through the UK educational system and the support I received in the form of technology and how I and my computing preferences have changed.

When I was in primary school, the computers we used were the early macintoshes. I remember watching things on the screen but my partial vision was difficult to be capable with a mouse. Independent computer use was not at all possible but I was taught to touch type on again, a macintosh when I was around nine or ten years of age. There was no audio output and so I relied on my learning support assistant to tell me if I’d typed something incorrectly do other functions such as save or print.

When I reached high school, information technology was a compulsory class until year nine and again, my teachers had to be the screen reader and controller for me. Hasten to add, I didn’t learn much and my IT skills were minimum at this point.

I remember seeing the jaws screen reader when I was fourteen or fifteen and thought, wow, how cool would it be to be able to use a computer independently. But not until I was sixteen would I know how great that concept would be.

Sadly, I did not get jaws to begin with as there were other kids who would utilise the magnifiers so to save costs my local education authority purchased a licence for supernova, a basic screen reader and magnifier. at least it was then.

The internet was out of reach at this point and only when I went to the US did I discover the net and all it could offer as there were computers with jaws in the disabled student services lab. I learned jaws very fast and was delighted with what I was able to do on the computer. Sadly though, my personal computer still had supernova on it and when I got home, I struggled doing all of the things I’d been used to doing in the computer labs.

When I returned to university in 2006, after being exposed to Tiger on the mac and hating it, I was glad to get jaws and have the full accessibility again. The Tiger story is a rather sad one. I was being shown the system by people who had never used a mac before either, with a manual in their hands and no clue how the system worked let alone the screen reader. so I dismissed the mac, rather ignorantly and returned to windows and jaws.

However, I was getting increasingly tired of system crashes, viruses despite the antivirus software on my PC and the constant inability of jaws to work without a bunch of scripts. The nano was announced to be accessible and I had pined for such a cool music MP3 player for a long time then. However, I knew jaws and iTunes did not work very well together and looked into buying another windows computer and window eyes which I knew was slightly cheaper. My sony Vaio was slowing up and I needed a new computer too but when I looked at the cost, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I longingly listened to a podcast on the nano and heard the guy demoing it was a mac user. I thought, if he can use a mac, so can I. So, I researched the mac and voice over, visited the Apple retail store and played with a macbook and two weeks later I brought it home with an iPod nano.

That was almost nineteen months ago and I have never looked back. My productivity is way above what I could achieve on windows; my typing has improved thanks to voice over’s ability to inform me of misspelled words; I have access to far more applications without scripting than ever before and my headaches have been cut down dramatically. If I have an issue with the mac or its accessibility, all I need to do is contact Apple’s great customer service people or their accessibility team. No more worrying about system crashes, if it should happen I can reinstall the OS with no worries independently and if that should fail, Apple care is there to help.

The mac experience hasn’t only moved my technology preferences toward Apple for computing but now for touch screen phones. I now can openly walk into an Apple store and buy most products with the confidence that the product will work out of the box. And when I should get it home, I will be able to set it up and be off within minutes without the headaches windows and its third party screen readers presented for me.

But moving to Apple also changed my attitude about accessibility. Before, I would assume a product to be inaccessible to the blind but now, with Apple’s products at least, I have faith that they will do their upmost to make the products as accessible as possible from the start.

Once the macs became accessible with voice over, they continued to develop it. We waited for the fourth generation iPod nano to become accessible and the third generation iPhone and iPod touch but with the iPad, the first generation was accessible. It shows that Apple have committed and continue to commit themselves to their policy of universal access, delivering accessibility to all of their users to the best of their ability at no extra charge.

This is probably the greatest point for me and one that makes me extremely happy I moved to the Apple mainstream world.

Would I go back?

If Apple bizarrely took away their accessibility features, I would have no choice but given that choice, no, I will not go back. I will do everything within my power to not be subjected to the instability, virus prone, and most importantly expensive side of the blind specific world. If I can use mainstream products, I will and all of my technology is Apple.

Do I believe competition is goood?
Of course. Providing it is done well and done fairly, competition is what makes the world work so well.

Do I believe anyone else can do this?

Sure, if they wanted to but most companies do the bare minimum that is required of them.

Do I think companies making assistive technology have a place in the world?

While other companies refuse to implement accessibility, yes of course. Apple products will not be for everyone, that I understand. They work great for me and for many others but I think far too many people are comfortable with what they know and are afraid of trying something new so they bas it. Companies who provide assistive technology will deny Apple’s great accessibility to be an exaggeration to save their own skins but it is down to us as the consumers to spread the word. If someone tries it thoroughly and still wants windows, go back to it but at least give the macs, the iPhones and such a chance.

Where is my own technology heading?

At this present moment continuing with Apple. With the prospect of getting an iPad and a second macbook later this year, I can’t imagine moving away from Apple for my computer and communicational needs.

I love Apple. Not everyone does or ever will but I really wish all of those people who refuse to give Apple a chance would do so and then make their own informed opinion. And for those new switchers who continuously run back to windows, research a little, you may find the mac has an answer. With the increase of macs being bought every year, more and more developers for mainstream products are considering the mac. No longer is the world going to only revolve around windows, slowly but surely the market is shifting and with major products used within the workplace such as microsoft office being utilised on the mac, time will only tell where this takes us.

I for one think the world is ready and waiting to see what Apple will surprise us all with next.

Strangely enough, my journey began with the macintosh and I hope it continues with the company I praise so much for what they have done for me as a blind, avid, technology addict.

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