BLINDED by the DISABILITY:
A dear friend and buddy, Prof Kevin Johnston (Phd UCT) requested me
to write a short piece on my disability, blindness and the
technology I use as follows:
Prof Johnston has kindly invited me to speak to his students on
many occasions over many years. He is also God farther to our late
I was totally blinded in a car crash in 1988 and in the course of
time, and by accident, became a professional public / Motivational
Dr. Kevin talks of technology and for this I have a definition…
Technology is absolutely anything that improves and/or simplifies
ones life. eg, A hat can be described as technology as it prevents
ones scull from getting cooked by the sun!
The technology I use in my daily round are things like:-
1. Long Cane:- A 1.3m white stick that can fold up for storage.
It is used to feel ones way when moving about, mostly when walking
on the way to and from work, shops, pub etc.
2. Guide-dog – Vixen is my constant companion and is trained to an
extremely high level to guide me through all the pit-falls that
befall a blind person on their daily round. In the past 6 years of
working together, she must have flown over 150 times on aircraft in
the course of her and my work. Guide-dogs and Long canes are never
used simultaneously. It is either one or the other.
3. Senses: (Feeling, hearing, etc)
Over the years, I’ve learnt to use my senses to the fullest. I use
the sounds to detect what is going on around me. eg, if I am
walking around my garden, I can tell what is underfoot and detect
open spaces like door ways. The feel of the sun on my arm will
tell me if it is day or night and the direction it is shining.
Constant concentration is required to make the “senses information”
reliable. eg if I am not focused, I’ve often found myself in the
1. Wrist watch:
Many blind people prefer a talking watch which has an in-built talk
mode which voices out the time and date, however in my case on the
conference stages of SA, I prefer my watch to be silent for obvious
reasons. I use what is known as a “Braille” watch. This looks just
like an ordinary watch except its face clips open and I can check
the time by feeling where the hands are pointed.
I’ve been asked by young boys, “How do you tell the time sir?” I
say “By using the sun” and put my hands behind my back and tell
them the exact time!
2. Talking calculator:
A standard stand-alone device which is the
same as any calculator, except it has an in-built voice which
“speaks” out every key stroke and the result of the calculation.
Essential in working out my over draft!
3. Digital Memo voice recorder:
This little device is about the size of your thumb with a small
screen and some keys. It is my constant companion and is used to
make little “remember” voice messages to myself. Particularly
useful when taking a booking on the phone and noting the address
and various other information I require.
4. Talking cell phone:
Currently, this is a Nokia C5. A standard phone used by millions
all over the world. The only difference being that mine is
converted to “talking” mode by the addition of special software.
This software allows me to operate the phone completely
independently like finding contacts in the number directory, typing
and reading SMS and emails, amongst many other functions.
Unfortunately, this technology is changing rapidly as Nokia have
moved to a Windows mobile platform and the talking software has not
kept up with the new trend. This is forcing almost every blind
person using the latest cell phones to move to “touch screen”
either the Apple I-phone or the Sam Sung Galaxy series… and at a
large extra expense! The reason for this is that if a blind person
needs to be at the “cutting edge” of technology, these 2 makes are
the only ones that have developed in-built talking software. Kudos
to them for thinking of us!
I have a fully sighted friend who is that dyslectic he can’t read
his phones screen and uses this technology to program the phones
talking software to tell him who is calling.
5. Talking computer:
These days virtually any computer can be converted to “talking” by
the simple addition of specialised “Screen Reading” software. The
2 top and popular developers in this regard are JAWS and GW Micro’s
Window-Eyes. Again the expense of this software is prohibitive to
the average South African blind person.
Personally, I use a very old version of talking software, working
in DOS! It is cheap, simple, quick and easy to use and is working
for me at the moment. (In fact, I am using it as I write this)
However, quite soon, I’ll be forced to up-grade to a windows based
6. Talking CD book reader:
I use a device specially designed to read books on CD. Called a
Daisy reader (Digital access information system)
This is supplied to the “Print handicapped” in SA by the Library
for the Blind in Grahamstown, free of charge, who also supply the
books on CD.
It is about the size of a regular laptop with no screen. It is
portable (rechargeable Battery/ 220v powered) and the latest model
has the facility of saving many books to the SD memory card. My
8gb card is full with 34 books on it.
The key pad is used to navigate within each book and the software
will take you straight to where you last finished reading.
7. Talking wife:
Not a device for all blind persons but in some cases, a necessity.
I use mine to great effect and enjoy this technology immensely.
Julie version 1.only, is an asset in my life with many and varied
functions, far too many to be mentioned here but, with the big
proviso, she can’t be switched off!
Blogger Barry: Thanks for your time. Hope you enjoyed. Please
use the comment button.
Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
Professional Public Speaker, Trainer and Corporate Entertainer,
Motivational speaker, Guest & Key note speaker, Seminar &
Conference speaker, Team Builder, Comedian, Master of Ceremonies,
For your Strategic Planning sessions, Management or Sales meetings,
Conferences and/or Seminars, Award functions, Year end parties,
Cape Town, South Africa.