Accessibility Article: Why do gyms make things so difficult for blind people? The Guardian, Feb 26, 2018


Why do gyms make things so difficult for blind people?


When smartphones, TVs and even washing machines are set up for visually impaired people to use, why isn’t exercise equipment?


Amar Latif


The Guardian, Feb 26, 2018 07.00 GMT  Last modified on Mon 26 Feb 2018 12.18 GMT


If, like me, you want to keep fit and healthy, your first port of call is usually your local gym or health club. However, if, like me, you are also blind, keeping active can be a minefield of inaccessible technology, awkward conversations and frustrating barriers. And mine is hardly a rare issue:

more than two million people in Britain are living with sight loss, and the RNIB predicts this will double by 2050.


When I was four years old, doctors broke the news to my parents that by my mid-to-late teens, I would become incurably blind. I remember waking up one morning, aged 18, and not being able to see the poster at the end of my bed.

I was walking around crashing into things. By this time, my mother had already banned me from riding my bike – though that didn’t stop me – until I rode headfirst into a skip, somersaulted and landed in the rubbish. As I was flying through the air, I realised it was probably best to call time on my cycling career.


Throughout my life, I have had to learn to overcome barriers. People told me I couldn’t become an accountant because I was blind, but I ended up overseeing a team of sighted employees as a management accountant for BT.

People told me I couldn’t travel as a solo blind traveller, so I set up Traveleyes, a travel company that pairs up blind and sighted travellers to explore the world together. I lead a lot of these trips as a blind tour manager, often the more active and adventurous ones, so I need to keep fit.

If on a trip, I am going to be taking a group cycling for 50km or spending eight hours walking through the Bulgarian mountains, I need to be in good shape.


Exercise is therefore very important to me, as it is with so many of us. But it’s harder for blind and visually impaired (VI) people to walk and exercise freely; jogging in the park or cycling outdoors is impossible on your own.

That’s where gyms should come in. Sadly, however, they are often woefully inaccessible and can be daunting for those with sight loss. Let’s start with

equipment: exercise tech nowadays is incredibly advanced. All-singing, all-dancing machines can be found in most gyms and they track everything from heart rate to calories burned. Clearly, millions of pounds and thousands of hours have gone into their development and production. And yet it would appear that not a second thought has been given to users with sight loss. Touch screens, inaccessible buttons and lights are all commonplace.

Great for you light-dependent folk, but for us VIs, it’s a struggle.


‘It wouldn’t be hard to put some braille on the buttons.’


And there really is no excuse – all manner of tech these days, from iPhones to TVs, calculators to washing machines have accessibility built in, so why not exercise machines? It wouldn’t be hard to put some braille on the buttons or have a headphone slot or Bluetooth compatibility for audio, like on most cash machines. Indeed, the simplest solutions are often the best.


But the tech is just the start. Getting from one machine to another, selecting weights and getting proper instruction are all barriers for the blind gym-goer. Not to mention yoga, pilates and spin classes. My sister is taking legal action against her gym for not allowing her to take a class because of her blindness.


Lots of gyms offer a free pass to someone, usually a friend or relative, who can assist you during your workout. This is all well and good, but I can’t always find someone willing to come with me. It’s not fair on me, or my potential guide, to have to compromise on times and dates.


For me, exercising is a very personal thing. I like to listen to music and let my mind wander on a treadmill, or when lifting weights. According to the Royal College of Physicians, if you keep active, you are less likely to be depressed or anxious and more likely to feel good about yourself. And this can be even more pivotal for those with sight loss. A study in 2016 found that more than four in 10 people attending low-vision clinics had symptoms of clinical depression. But inaccessible hurdles leave lots of VI people unable to use the gym to its maximum potential. It’s no surprise that an RNIB survey in 2015 found that 31% of blind and partially sighted people felt moderately or completely cut off from people and things around them, and 50% felt they were frequently limited in the activities they could take part in. Yet nearly two-thirds said they would like to do more physical activity.


At Traveleyes, we are constantly busting myths about what blind people can do. From skiing in the Alps to climbing mountains, sailing and skydiving, we challenge these preconceptions. One initiative we use to help us achieve this is our international schools programme. We take students, aged from 14 to 17, from large schools across the world, and partner them up with our blind travellers to be their sighted guides. This gives them a first-hand experience of blindness, will help to challenge any stereotypical views they may have and hopefully take this experience into later life.


I’m stubborn, though. My philosophy is that if things aren’t accessible, don’t wait until they are. So I roll up my sleeves and work until I’m in a place where I can help change the system. When it comes to fitness, I often work out with a friend who is at a similar level to me, and I also work out at home – expensive equipment is all very well, but you can just add some weights or cardio to your routine.


Working out and keeping healthy works best when it’s also fun, so if you are struggling to keep to an exercise schedule, try something a little bit different, such as paddle boarding or boxing, or take part in a group activity or challenge, to give you that bit of motivation you need. We all live busy lives, but I learned that it is easier than you think to fit exercises into your daily routine. And if there are any gyms or health clubs out there that want pointers on how to be more accessible, or any VI people who want to talk about exercise, working out or keeping active, I am always happy to talk.



Guest Post: Update will put iPhone slowdowns in users’ hands;

Eli Blumenthal USA Today


Apple CEO Tim Cook announced fix in works after news of ‘batterygate’ was met with flood of outrage


Don’t like your iPhone slowing down to protect your battery life? You soon will be able to turn the feature off.

Speaking with ABC News following the company’s announcement that it would bring back billions of dollars in profit stored overseas, Apple CEO Tim Cook said a new iOS developer update will arrive next month that will allow iPhone users to see their battery’s health.


It also will give them the option to turn off the throttling feature the company instituted last year to prevent older devices from shutting down when batteries became too weak.

“We don’t recommend it,” said Cook, stressing that the company took the actions it did in order to help users prolong the battery. “Our actions were all in service of the user … maybe we should have been clear at a point in time, but our actions were always the purest.”


Cook says the update will also give notifications to users before it starts throttling their phones’ performance due to weak battery health.

Developer updates, or betas, are how Apple tests out new features and software updates before broadly rolling them out to the public. While no timetable was given for when the public update will be released, the fact that Apple is planning to test it so soon suggests that it isn’t far off.


The “batterygate” issue has been met with outrage from users. Apple has since apologized and announced it would be dropping the price of replacement iPhone batteries from $79 (U.S.) to $29 throughout 2018.

But that has not done enough to quell the public criticism or stop dozens of lawsuits from being filed against the company. Several U.S. lawmakers have also sent letters to Apple seeking answers on the issue.

Cook seemingly addressed the issue in his ABC News interview, stressing the company’s apologetic tone.

“If anybody out there believes we did something nefariously, we apologize for any kind of thing we did or did not do,” Cook said.


Eli Blumenthal USA Today


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Guest Post: This is the Year: Making Big Things Happen at the American Printing House for the Blind

This is the year: Making big things happen


by Craig Meador, President, APH



As another year unfolds, the world anticipates with eagerness — or maybe some trepidation — the changes that lie ahead. Here at APH, we’ve been talking a lot about change for the last 18 months. You might feel like it’s been a lot of talk, but we’ve been hard at work preparing to implement changes that will make APH a stronger organization and give people who are blind or visually impaired even more innovative tools to achieve their full potential.


This is the year we’re going to deliver. We’re ready to make big things happen in 2018, and I’m excited to tell you about the bold steps we’ll be taking.


This is the year when BrailleBlaster makes it possible for unprecedented numbers of people to use braille — at work, at school, and at home. This revolutionary software tool translates text into braille quickly and accurately, so students can have braille learning materials on the first day of class along with their sighted peers, instead of weeks or months later. But it’s not just students who will benefit. BrailleBlaster is free and easy to use, making printed materials more accessible at work, at home, and in our communities. With the broader availability of braille materials, we think we’ll see even more people of all ages taking advantage of the literacy benefits only braille can provide.


This is the year when Graphiti will change the way the world thinks about accessible graphics. The device  — which uses 2,400 movable pins and image software to create tactile displays of any image — will revolutionize lesson plans and classroom experiences. Students who are blind or visually impaired will finally have real-time graphics alongside their sighted peers, closing another educational gap. People of all ages will be able to experience graphics with Graphiti, including maps, charts, graphs, photos, and drawings.


This is the year when APH expands Indoor Explorer and Nearby Explorer to communities beyond Louisville, which is leading the way in creating accessible cities. In sites across the city, including Louisville International Airport, the Indoor Explorer program places low-power Bluetooth beacons in public buildings, which feed information about amenities and points of interest to APH’s Nearby Explorer app and its new Indoor Explorer feature, which turn a user’s smartphone into an audio guide. Indoor Explorer empowers people who are blind or visually impaired to find their own way to ticket counters, boarding gates, baggage claims, emergency exits, restrooms, and more, when used with a white cane or dog guide.


This is the year when the Orbit Reader 20 becomes the lowest-priced refreshable braille device on the market. APH partnered with Orbit Research to develop a rugged, low-cost display that allows information from a variety of digital sources to be displayed as mechanical braille, generated by computer-driven pins. We’re proud to have dramatically decreased the cost of braille access to electronic files, which is essential to literacy in the digital age.


This is the year when we’ll see more companies committed to accessibility so they can harness the vast potential of a diverse workforce that includes people who are blind or visually impaired. We’re better prepared to be part of that revolution than ever before thanks to technologies like BrailleBlaster, Orbit Reader, and Graphiti.


This is the year when APH will unveil our new brand identity and website that reflect our proud history, but also demonstrate that we’re a forward-thinking organization that’s breaking down barriers to accessibility in every area of life. In addition to being more informative and easier to navigate, our redesigned website will be more accessible than ever before.


Throughout 2018, APH will be introducing new products and innovations. I’m enthusiastic about what lies ahead for APH and the people our products and services benefit, because I know what we have in store — and I know what we’re capable of doing, along with our partners.


At APH, we’ve spent the last 18 months laying the groundwork and implementing our plans, and 2018 is the year we’re going to make big things happen. We’ll keep our partners and supporters informed as these things unfold, because we could not achieve our ambitious goals without you.


This is the year when APH takes a giant leap into the future of our organization, and we are proud to have you with us every step of the way.