For the last two weeks, my question to myself has been: how do I cope with meeting almost no one while keeping sane and, hopefully, reasonably positive?
I have spent the last 20 years working and living in London. I was at a boarding school for the visually impaired and then at university, so I also know people from around the country. How can I keep in touch with these people and how will I cope with not meeting them?
We are all different and, in my case, I have reasonable mobility skills and I am familiar with my local area. I am able to take advantage of the fact that we are currently still allowed to go out and shop for essentials, aiming to get out of the house every day for about an hour.
I go to the local supermarket and also have a bit of a wander round to see what is open. I wash my hands before I go out and when in the shop I try to get a member of staff to go at the other end of the trolley to me so we can go round the store with some social distancing in place. This works better for me than giving the staff member a shopping list because many things are simply not available on the shelves, so we regularly need to discuss substitutions or alternatives as we go around the store.
Walking at opposite ends of a trolley is not perfect, but if you don’t have someone to shop for you, it is necessary to do it yourself. As a totally blind person I need to balance risks of catching the virus with the problem of having no food since the delivery model for supermarket food is clearly broken at the moment. Henshaw’s have put together a list of 12 tips for helping blind and partially sighted people with their shopping – check it out here.
At home, I have been making major use of the internet and related technology. I follow friends on Facebook and Twitter. I use RNIB and Audible books to give me things to read to escape for a few hours into another world. I have been using meetings apps such as Zoom for meeting friends: we can create an environment such as a virtual pub where we can all sit down with a drink and discuss a whole range of subjects.
Scanning apps such as Seeing AI, VoiceDream Scanner or Envision can be used for reading print text such as things coming through the post or identifying food. Where this doesn’t work, there is the Be My Eyes app that lets you connect to another person over an audio-video link using a smartphone. This service, run by volunteers, allows me to contact a person to help with tasks such as identifying what is in a tin or helping me read the TV screen when it is not speaking due to an accidental change of settings on my remote. These apps are all available on the iPhone while Envision is a great scanning app if you have an Android phone. You can also check out my review of iPhone scanning apps here.
Learning new skills
Many people have chosen to learn a language or read up on a hobby or an interest. In my case, I have decided to have a go at taking the JAWS certification process. You can take the exam online for free even if you don’t buy the certificate, so this learning is effectively available free of charge for me.
I can cook a bit, but I’ve traditionally always gone for the ready meal or the takeaway. Now I can try cooking more for myself, but it depends on what I can find on the seriously depleted supermarket shelves – adding an extra bit of unpredictability. Smart speakers can find you recipes and go through them step by step so you can think about what you want to cook in advance. Just ask your smart speaker to find you a recipe and it is likely that both the Alexa lady and Google will come up with something you can cook so you can do this with either product.
Keeping the house clean
I have a cleaner who comes in for two hours a week, and I am continuing to employ this person, and we stay two metres apart. Generally, he is in one of the two rooms in my flat, and I am in the other. Helping keep things clean and pleasant is also likely to help my sanity!
Keeping in touch
Lastly, my mum has little knowledge of this technology. She has a computer she uses for email and a basic mobile phone that has buttons. Many people do not use social media or digital technology; if we know people in this situation it’s always worth ringing them regularly to check they are okay. I ring my mum every couple of days though in the past we would talk no more than once a week.
So far, these measures have meant that living and working from home has been bearable even though I don’t have a garden to sit out in. Coping with the next few weeks or months is going to be challenging but if you can make some simple adjustments then it is likely to be far more bearable.
Graham Page, Access Technology Adviser, Thomas Pocklington Trust
1 April 2020
For more COVID-19 resources, visit this page.
Graham is our chief assistive technology reviewer – check out the Technology page for more of his reviews, including this one about the best iPhone apps for scanning and reading text.