Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kelly and Company Nov 3 Introduction

Hello everyone. I'm Michael Feir. I'm 42 years old, happily in my second marriage, and living in Mississauga Ontario. It's been an interesting life. While I haven't found employment, I have a work ethic, a whole lot to be thankful for, time and talent to explore and share my discoveries. Instead of continuing to beat my way into a labour force which dismisses around 70% or more of us, I've chosen a different path. While unapologetically enjoying my life's many blessings, I look for ways I can help others enjoy their lives more. Over the years, I've volunteered at an organisation called The Dam which seeks to help troubled youth. I've also worked to address diversity and disability issues in the church I attended prior to my second marriage. I know what it's like not to have enough money to do what I want to and I've long tasted the frustrations of not being able to get around as easily as others.

Despite the efforts of governments and a whole lot of good people, attitudes take time to change. Our marginalisation and the prejudice of those who just can't imagine how they'd live without their sight won't just disappear any time soon. Some of us will have both the talents, gifts and connections to overcome this and find ways into the work force. Despite our best efforts, many of us will simply not have that experience. Just because we can't find ways to earn our livelihoods in the traditional sense doesn't mean we can't find ways to contribute meaningfully and live enjoyable lives. This is the information age. The Internet can give us a sphere in which many of us can make our presence felt at little or no financial cost beyond equipment such as iOS devices like an iPHONE. iPHONEs are particularly valueable since they combine so many things we as blind people can use to improve the quality of life. Just because you can't find work doesn't mean you have no value and doesn't mean your efforts to be a good person and contribute to society aren't deserving of respect. I've been able to find some truly extraordinary friends over the years and help people who others don't have the time for. We can despair at how fragmented our communities and society has become or we can be part of the glue which repairs it making the kind of communities we want to live in. Regarding the despair trip, I've been there and done that. Being angry all the time, even if it's justified anger, will push people away and leave you profoundly drained and utterly alone. I want as many of us to avoid that bitter fate as humanly possible.

The better path is one of engagement. Look for places where your particular interests or knowledge can help other people. Learn about what technology can help you do on your own and with others. That path lead me from the one around a man-made lake near my apartment which my iPHOnE guided me along via GPS to an encounter with a curious lady. That discussion lead me to a six-month volunteer opportunity at at multicultural centre helping older immigrants to Canada understand technology like Skype, smartphones, and Twitter. It has also lead me to contributing weekly to Kelly and Company. Kelly and Company provides a an excellent opportunity for people to contribute their expertise and talents. I hope to do a lot of good with my segments on air and through the blog entries I write to accompany them.

While I haven't given up finding ways to help in my local community, my major successes have been in helping people in the expansive online community learn to use and enjoy their technology. Around 8 years ago, I published a guide called Personal Power. Rather than approaching accessible computers from the employment angle as blindness agencies typically do, I took a different path. All that effort aimed at employment wasn't working for enough of us. Also, it left people with very little motivation or knowledge they could use to pursue fun and personal interests with their computers. I've encountered many people who have gotten and then totally forgotten very costly training because it simply didn't interest them. Their technology sat hardly used at all. Meanwhile, sighted people use their technology in all aspects of life. They have grown up playing games and having fun and don't regard their computers as mere engines of drudgery which might possibly give you more than a ghost of a chance at a job. Sadly, many blind people do. That can lead to a very bad relationship with technology. Skills and comfort with technology learned having fun pay off big time at work and throughout other spheres of life. Technology may not enable all of us to find jobs. It hasn't for me. However, through technology, I've been able to have a real impact on countless lives. The Internet has given me a place where I can share my time, knowledge, interests and talents in a far more unhindered way than in the less accessible so-called real world.

In a nutshell, the philosophy behind the Personal Power concept is as follows: People need to be personally motivated and engaged in order to truly absorb and make optimum use of technology. It's just as important to give people a clear sense of the possibilities a new technology offers in their everyday lives as it is to explain how to use that technology. Manuals are good at explaining the how but don't usually do justice to the why. This also holds true for the often rushed and narrowly focussed training cash-starved agencies give you attempting to meet narrowly defined goals which are not your own. The end result is that you simply don't know enough to care about what you're missing out on. The approach I take with Personal Power is to be certain to give you a sense of the possibilities and how they have impacted my own life and people I've known or heard about. This is included throughout the guide along with the explanations of how to do things. Stories help us learn better so I try to give personal examples wherever it makes sense to do so. The guide is written to incorporate aspects of what you'd have if you were fortunate enough to have an enthusiastic friend wanting to share what he or she has discovered with you. I was blessed to have such friends as I began my journey with my first iPHONE. Their excitement and patience took me places I might never have gone otherwise. I like to share blessings which I myself enjoy. Sadly, I can't physically be there in person to help all blind newcomers understand what they have in their hands by being that enthusiastic good friend. The Internet does allow me to write and publish a guide which is at least a big step in that direction. Combined with the ability to communicate at no cost, it's the next best thing to being there.

Personal Power was utterly ignored by the CNIB and other blindness agencies. However, people spread it around the Internet to those who needed it. The emails poured in after I published the guide making it freely available and sharable on the Internet. Emails from countries I had never heard of. I was written about in a South African newspaper. A lot of completely unexpected consequences happened. I was recently told that the original Personal Power guide was responsible for one disenchanted lady learning how to use her computer. She subsequently met and married her husband and now raise a daughter. Emails like that one are absolutely priceless. When you know your work has had results like that, the insults from people who equate unemployment with having no value to society hurt a whole lot less. Closer to home, I was interviewed on Contact, a show which you can hear on AMI all these years later.

My latest big project is to write a guide which takes the same Personal Power approach to iOS. My iPHONE has become one of my most useful and valued possessions. It lets me carry a thousand fully accessible books in my pocket. I can use it to shop, play games, navigate, listen to all sorts of stuff, write, communicate, and so much more. Had you told me that I'd be in this situation back in 2008 or so, I would have laughed long and hard at you. I still marvel at how a device with so few buttons and so much featureless flatness has become so indispensible. Apple has done a marvelous job making it possible for blind people to use their flat touch-screen devices. However, it has done badly at making it easy for blind people to learn to use them. Apple computers come with a tutorial that activates when the built-in Voiceover screen-reader is first run. It explains enough to get people started well. No such facility yet exists for iOS devices. This often leaves blind people at a profound disadvantage. Before you can obtain the user guide for your device, you need to be able to either browse the web or know how to use iBOOKS in order to read it on your device. The iOS experience for blind people is different enough from that of sighted users that it can be hard for them to offer assistance. Not all apps are accessible even when their description would seem to make it likely that they would be. These things can be large impediments for blind people wanting to learn.

All sorts of help is out there but you have to know where it is and how to reach it. Unfortunately, many blind people simply aren't connected enough to learn where to go and what they can do. By creating Personal Power: the iOS Edition, I hope to change that. Many people were very helpful to me as I made the leap to a flat touchscreen. As my way of paying that forward, I will create an ebook which serves as the friend and teacher people need to make the conceptual leap necessary to derive the maximum possible benefit from their iOS devices. The original Personal Power was over 50000 words. I fully expect this second guide to be far larger. There's a whole lot of ground to cover.

If you do nothing else, check out:

It is by far the best resource for blind users of iOS devices. Have a look through the app directories, podcasts and tutorials. Take advantage of an entire community of kind souls who have shared their time, enthusiasm, enjoyment and expertise.

While I'm working on the guide, I hope to use my time on Kelly and Company to share my knowledge and experiences using iOS. Areas of focus in my guide will inform the things I talk about in my segments. However, I'm very much hoping that feedback I receive from you, the audience, will serve to inform my work on the guide making it even better for everyone when it is at last ready for release. Creating the original Personal Power was a two-year journey. I'm hoping this one will go much faster but will take as long as necessary to make it as comprehensive as I can. Given the tremendous untapped potential of these devices and of blind people in need of affordable accessible connective technology, I feel that working on this project and contributing to this show are the best uses of my time and talents. Too many people are getting these devices and aren't able to make optimum use of them in their lives. With your help, I hope to change that in a big way.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and doesn't exactly do wonders for my frame of mind either. Intersperced with iOS talk, I'll be sharing information about things I enjoy in life beyond very supportive wonderful friends and family. For decades, I've been an avid collector of modern audio dramas. Folks, I'll happily let you know where the good stuff is. The same goes for good Internet radio, podcasts, and of course, accessible games. I'm perhaps still best known for creating and editing the Audyssey Magazine which covered computer games accessible to blind people. A community which grew out of the magazine readership still thrives online to this day. From 1996 through 2004, I was editor and community leader. I learned a whole lot about life in many countries, about responsibility, how to settle disputes and most importantly, make certain that those who contributed knew their efforts were appreciated. I take a more low-key approach to the accessible games community these days but step in where I think I can do some good. Games are a big part of my life and always will be. They're journeys of the mind which teach us about the world, ourselves, and those with whoom we choose to play. I learned to type around 80 words per minute by playing text games on my very first computer, an Apple II E. I did so because I wanted to find out what happened next in the stories the games put you in. We learn well when we're personally motivated and in pursuit of our own interests. However, we learn best when we're having so much fun we don't realize it's happening at all.

To keep things simple, I'll focus on games and other entertainments which can be enjoyed through using iOS devices. If you hear about it on my segment of Kelly and Company, you can get it for your iOS device of choice. Due to the widespread adoption of iPHONES, iPADS and iPODS, developers can and often will go out of their way to making their games and other apps accessible. There have been some spectacular audio experiences. Also, many games popular among sighted people have been made accessible to blind iOS users. For starters, look up "Delight Games", "Blindfold Pinball", "King of Dragon Pass", "Papa Sangre II" and "Diceworld" in the appstore. Have a blast. When you come up for air, please feel free to give me feedback. I welcome your input. You can reach me on Twitter by following @mfeir. Email is a good way to get me. I'm at:

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