I thought that I’d write another prompt-inspired, or at least partly inspired, post today. It’ll probably be long, so get yourself something yummy to drink and a snack and brace yourself.
The prompt I chose comes from one of my two books of journaling prompts – The Goddess Journaling Workbook by Beatrice Minerva Linden, and goes as follows:
“I can deal with it. You can. (…) Think about something which overwhelms you and imagine your life when that issue is resolved.”
I thought I’d twist it a little, or maybe a lot. Instead of writing about something currently overwhelming, I am going to write about something the perspective of which was always incredibly overwhelming for me, and I never thought I could deal with it, but, as it seems, better or worse, I can.
This thing is using my iPhone. As those of you who know me well or are regular readers know, I’d been loyal to my good old Nokia with Symbian OS for over 10 years, and I don’t even mean Nokia as a brand but one particular Nokia phone that I wasn’t changing as there was just no need for it. It was my first phone that I ever got and the only one until June this year. It was possible because, while in the past, my Nokia was through all sorts of things with me and survived a lot, in the last five years I used it very little. The people I usually text or call are my family, and now that I live with them there was little need for me to text or call them, and as I hate phone calls and always have the computer or Braille-Sense with me, I was always telling people that it’s easiest and fastest to reach me via email anyway. So it had very tranquil and idyllic retirement years with very little to do. I always joked that I stick to it because of my undying love for Finland (as Nokia is from Finland). But in fact I simply felt like, since Symbian had died, I had few alternatives.
As many of you also may know, the reason why I didn’t have a smartphone unlike a lot of blind people do now was that I had rather poor experience with touch screens when playing around with phones of other people, whether Androids or iPhones, they seemed extremely abstractive to me as I have poor spatial orientation and a coompletely flat surface doesn’t help you feel more oriented, and my coordination/fine motor skills are also a challenge – it’s generally a very mild and apparently not even diagnoseable problem, yet at the same time challenging enough that it affects my functioning in some ways and is evident for those who know me closely in real life. At the same time I had a terrifying feeling, that after all, at some point my Nokia will eventually die, and I felt clueless what I’ll do then. I contemplated buying another, used Nokia online, the same model as mine, or perhaps, what I would truly hate to do, get myself one of a few smartphones that have been developed with the blind (especially older blind people in mind). Why was it such an awful thought for me? Well, because the target market of these products is pretty small, they’re very expensive compared to their actual abilities and specs. They’re Android phones and run some pretty outdated Android versions, have very few capacities so you can barely call it a smartphone really, can be very sluggish, but they do have a physical keyboard and typically come with a screenreader onboard and running from the start, as far as I know. Apart from the physical keyboard, such a thing wasn’t really what I’d need. If I have to have a smartphone, I’d rather have it actually smart rather than just pretending to be smart and cost more than an averagely smart phone. I also contemplated on and off purchasing the dreaded iPhone and just using it to an extend that it would be possible for me. Which still felt far from satisfying because I didn’t feel like I’d be able to do more with it and iPhones are not the cheapest, and I’d probably be a little frustrated having a premium phone and not really being able to use its full potential, just because there wasn’t a better alternative for me. Yes, I’d of course heard that you can use iPhone with a Bluetooth keyboard, but I’d also thought somehow that the things you can do with it this way are limited quite a lot. But at least, I figured, I could learn iPhone better than I could Android phone, as I’ve heard about a lot of blind people who were less tech savvy or perhaps had some coordination issues like me or other motor problems, and were scared of the big wild world of smartphones and it took them a lot of time to make the transition, and found it easier to find their way around iOS rather than Android as it’s more accessible and kind of friendlier for this group of people.
So I was happy while my Nokia was still alive and clinging to it for dear life and praying that it would last for as long as possible, as I couldn’t make up my mind for years and felt mortified of the after-Nokia life. Deep down I knew I should change my phone or at least attempt to change it already while Nokia was still alive so I could see if it’s actually doable for me or should I better stick to archaic Symbian phones but I couldn’t get over my anxiety and doubts and thus had no motivation.
Despite that, it wasn’t my trusty Nokia’s death which finally prompted me to make a decision, which was good as otherwise it would probably be a little traumatising. I can’t really pinpoint what exactly it was, perhaps I just matured enough and ruminated it through thoroughly enough to be ready to make the big jump, or, which I personally think is more likely, it was a combination of different things.
My Nokia was visibly (or rather audibly) doing much worse, or to be more exact it wasn’t really the Nokia itself but its charger deteriorating. Whenever I plugged it in, it constantly emitted a high-pitched, ultrasound but nevertheless audible peep, just like a lot of obsolete chargers do. It was annoying but, worse still, it wasn’t even me who was most annoyed by it, but Misha! What better motivation for me to change my phone than have Misha tell me that he doesn’t like it! 😀 Very unfortunately, the power strip with the charger was right next to my bed, and on its – the strip’s – other side was Misha’s snack bowl, so whenever he had a snack, or slept in my room (his bed is up on my bed) and I happened to have the charger plugged in, he was clearly upset or even avoided coming near, and it took some time to figure out what was the problem. Well I’m still not perfectly sure, he didn’t tell me, but he always calmed down a bit when I switched it off and after I ditched the charger the problem magically disappeared so…
All the cool kids in Sofi’s class have iPhones. Sofi doesn’t aspire to be cool, I mean she already is in a way but doesn’t meet all the requirements, the key one being that the cool kids don’t really like her and are jealous of something about her, I guess it must be her confidence and perhaps that she’s so tall and has her own fashion style, but nevertheless the appeal of iPhone was huge for her. So last school year my parents prommised her that if she’ll have a certificate with honours, they’ll buy her an iPhone. She didn’t really, because there was lockdown and she had remote schooling and she didn’t do really well with this grade-wise, but she said that she sort of did and my parents didn’t double check, and bought her an iPhone, although a used (very heavily, as it seems) one and not in the best condition (so typical of my Dad 😛 ).
Sofi kindly let me play around with her phone and VoiceOver (the built-in screen-reader in most Apple products) a lot, and I asked her tons of questions while she was also figuring out how to use it so I could get a better idea what it’s like, though Sofi wasn’t really particularly knowledgeable or exhaustive at answering my questions nor was she a good teacher. The whole idea was scaring me big time but at the same time I was feeling more and more like I’d actually like to try it out for myself and have my own iPhone, at least for a while, to see how much I can get out of it, how much I could achieve.
Finally, some time later I read about the new iPhone SE and that it has a physical Home button, unlike most other newer models, and read a review of it written by a blind guy who actually has… er… apraxia? (I guess, or something similar) and so definitely has coordination and motor difficulties bigger than mine. He seemed a long-time iPhone user and really liked the new SE, and that made me think. ‘Cause if he has apraxia and can deal with it, why can’t I? I mean, yeah, it’s possible that I can’t, because even if my difficulties are milder than his we’re still different people and there may be things that I find more difficult than he does or just differently difficult, but isn’t it a huge miss not to try it if blind people with apraxia do? I would probably regret it my whole life if I didn’t, especially that for most blind smartphone users, their smartphones are more than just devices for communication and such but also help make things easier in daily life, like recognising bar codes, to give you an example off the top of my brain, or doing other things that otherwise may be only doable with some fancy specialised devices.
So, all jittery, on 12th June I went to the nearest Apple store and got an iPhone with all the necessary accessories plus a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard.
It was all very different than what I imagined it to be.
My Mum helped me set it up even though she didn’t have an iPhone in her hand for longer than a few seconds ever before, and it all went well. I remember my cousin was staying for the weekend at Sofi’s and I had a proper cheerleader team consisting of Mum, Sofi and Dominika – my cousin – supporting me morally and helping practically as I tried to familiarise myself with iPhoneland. The first few days were so hectic and all over the place and it was all so abstractive, but, and it was very much an uphill struggle all the time but at the same time a very rewarding one and I never had weird problems like you sometimes do when acquainting yourself with a new device/technology that something is not working and you have no clue why, whether it’s your ignorance or the thing itself being so buggy or glitchy. Here the only things that went wrong were only down to me not knowing something which made things less stressful and easier.
I hate any major changes and typically don’t deal well with them, and to add to it I had a fresh but really nerve-wracking experience of transitioning computers earlier this year – and that’s only a Windows 7 laptop to a Windows 10 desktop, and it was harrowing! I may be not a tech geek but I’m also not totally clueless, but found it difficult to adapt probably because the whole process was very much over-extended and there were a lot of major glitches and other stressful stuff going on with this new computer thing.
The leap from Nokia to iPhone felt much more intimidating, and the change in terms of how my whole life could change due to this felt infinitely more significant, and so I expected being just the same bundle of nerves this time, especially that the level of difficulty of this challenge was waaay higher, but perhaps because there weren’t any major problems that would be beyond my control, and I didn’t feel pressured that I needed to learn it quickly, I wasn’t a bundle of nerves. Yes, I was anxious, I couldn’t sleep, I bit my nails raw as I always do when things are a-changin’, but the dominating feeling I had was some sort of healthy excitement, rather than pure freak out mode which is typical of me with huge changes. What surely helped me was that, as I said, I didn’t feel the pressure. I told myself that there’s no rush with it and if I decide that iPhone is not for me, it’s okay, I can sell it, I can give it to Sofi, I can throw it in the loo, I don’t have to feel obliged to anything, no oone can make me like or use it other than myself. I gave myself a month for at least the initial figuring out whether it’s worth exploring further or whether I want to give up on it. Already after a week or so, even though I was still struggling a lot with learning to use it, I was sure that I was not going to sell it and that I’ll stick to it, even if my usage of it will be limited by my limitations. I quickly grew to like it, probably largely because it provided me with the possibility of finally being able to listen to my music at night on something else than my loudly humming computer and because learning new things about it was (and continues to be) quite rewarding.
My Mum helped me a lot in the first days and then later with various tests and experiments I was undertaking, as did Sofi (I really don’t think it’d go as smoothly as it did if I didn’t have Sofi nearby to consult with sometimes).
I struggled, and still do, with some gestures. Actually, to an extend, I struggle with all gestures, even basic flicking/swiping and can get lost on the screen, which can be frustrating, but not hugely because I use a physical keyboard most of the time anyway, and even if I don’t, with more basic activities it’s usually somehow manageable and I do try to use my iPhone just via the touch screen and not run for a keyboard in every single situation when I don’t have it at hand and I need to do something on my phone, or for Mummy when something is not doable from the keyboard, although it does take me significantly more time than with the keyboard, and even with the keyboard I still do things way faster on the computer so I don’t have the experience of many people that it’s more convenient and faster to do things on the phone, it’s just totally the opposite for me. Longer writing/editing is the prime example. I mean from the on-screen keyboard it’s a torture but I don’t really know why it’s such a pain in the brain for me to do it from keyboard, but it’s really a lot of hassle and a good patience training.
But I consider myself a fairly efficient iPhone user by now nevertheless, perhaps not necessarily advanced but I do know where everything is in it, how to use things properly, how it works in theory, dare I say better than some sighted users I know, what all the settings do and how to change them, how all gestures work in theory, how to do everything with VoiceOver etc. etc. Though it’s not a huge achievement in itself because, apart from learning the touchscreen for me, the system itself is very intuitive in my experience. A huge help and source of knowledge in this for me was AppleVis, which is a website with all sorts of information on accessibility of Apple products for visually impaired users.
One of the more difficult things for me at the beginning was the so called rotor in VoiceOver (this is a feature that makes it possible to change different settings of VoiceOver), and it seems like I wasn’t alone with it at all. To move between different rotor settings you have to move both your hands in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion, people often explain it that it’s like turning a door knob. It felt very abstractive to me at first, then it made sense to my brain and imagination, but my hands responded with: “What the flip are you saying?!” I just couldn’t make it happen in the outside world for the life of me! But then I learned that you can change the gesture for rotor and that saved me. These days I can sort of make it with the original gesture but it’s too much thinking and trouble for me to put up with for such a vital thing because I do use the rotor a lot.
And I had to change a lot of other things as well to be more suitable for me because of what is not really doable for me and am so glad that these things actually are changeable.
My Mum says that she’s never seen it with me that I’d change my mind on something so radically in such a short time because from someone who thought smartphones are evil I suddenly magically changed into someone who claims that iPhones are the best and who likes Apple (even though I am not planning to equip myself with other Apple products any time soon but, as you can see from this post, you never know, right?…)
Despite I do have more or less touch screen trouble all the time, I use my iPhone extensively now, the more that I have set it up with my Braille-Sense, so these days more often than using the Logitech Bluetooth keyboard I use Braille-Sense to navigate on the screen and also to read what’s on the screen as I prefer to read things myself a lot of the time. And it’s easier to use it with the Braille-Sense as a physical keyboard. I only take the Logitech with me if I’m going out somewhere and really need keyboard because it’s very slim, dust-proof and not as valuable and flimsy as Braille-Sense.
I have got myself a great speaker and headphones just for the iPhone so that I can enjoy my music, especially overnight, even more. I have created Family Cloud for myself and Sofi, because my Mum is very wary of Sofi using the Internet and wants her to be safe and not overdose on screentime, and this is the only way which she agreed for Sofi to have any access to the Internet in her phone at all, so I monitor her screentime usage and do the bad guy job but also the good guy because otherwise she couldn’t really do much with her phone except for calling and texting.
I feel like I may need to start cutting down on my own iPhone screentime soon because I’ve become totally addicted to a game called BitLife lately (if you’ve ever played Alter Ego it’s something similar only more extensive and detailed). 😀 Just like Sofi is addicted to Brawl Stars.
So yeah, to sum up this elaborate post, my experience has shown that I can deal with it! And I feel really happy about it. I think I can even say proud and it won’t be a very big overstatement. I feel so especially because, except for the help of my Mum and Sofi’s, and referring a lot to AppleVis, I didn’t have any more external help, I mean, a lot of blind people have some training. I didn’t have that, and still, I figured it out. Perhaps if I did have someone who would come to me and show me things I could be better at it, but somehow I feel really sceptical.
Did I imagine that it could be this way if I managed to overcome the whole overwhelming touch screen hurdle? To a degree, yes. I knew that if I could make friends with iPhone it could potentially change my life in a good way and be very enriching. But I guess I didn’t imagine that it could be such a big change.
What’s something that you find very overwhelming and difficult to deal with, and how do you imagine your life if you could get rid of the problem? Or what was such a thing for you, and why/how did things change so that you now know you can deal with it? 🙂