August 4th, Day 47: Little Falls, NY to Latham, NY: 75 miles, 2060 ft. ascent

We’re counting down the days to the Atlantic, with only 3 left now. After a careful day’s riding we’re a bit more optimistic that the front left cylinder may not blow a head gasket on tomorrow’s hills. But we’re definitely crossing all available digits and digging deep into our supply of lotions and potions.

Another selfie from the bike as James and Chris whizz down the bike path The bike path with lake and trees in the background
James and Chris whizz down a bike path near Latham

Bumbling along at 12.7 mph today, I reflected on the special technology I use to do my job, to engage with the world around me and to ride the bike.

The Job

For my job I rely incredibly heavily on email, which is pretty accessible using a speech synthesis screen reader on my laptop or my phone. I would presumably prefer to use more current technologies like Slack, Trello, Google Docs and so on. But sadly, blind accessibility features are almost invariably sacrificed (understandably) in the race to release the next version of bleeding edge technology. I say understandably because blind users account for a very, very small fraction of any mainstream product’s user base. So, however well meaning an organization, when push comes to shove, the product manager invariably has to decide whether to ship the product now, or delay the release in order to fix a few accessibility issues, it is not hard to see what wins the day. For some products, such as the iPhone, this is a temporary two steps forward, one step backward sort of dance. In principle, Apple accessibility has been exemplary, it’s just that every time they release a new general purpose feature of questionable benefit into IOS they seem to break at least two previously perfectly working (and much more basic) features for the blind. 

Much worse, some new technologies have even actively (albeit unintentionally) excluded blind people from significant social shifts. For example, when text messaging was first introduced there was a massive shift in social behaviour amongst teenagers, but mobile phones in those days did not include speech synthesis, so blind teenagers were completely excluded from this new method of communicating, this new method of arranging to meet up and this new method of flirting. Speaking of flirting, I imagine that the user interface to Tinder poses some challenges for blind people who are still at that stage of their lives.

The World Around Me

I seem to have drifted from tech for my job into more generally rambling about tech for interacting with the digital world. Basically, my approach is to find apps with a subset of function that is reasonably accessible either via my iPhone or my laptop and not worry too much about the 10,000 other apps and features I cannot use.  Fortunately, this approach probably means I waste considerably less of my life on gratuitous digital crap than most sighted people.

As for interacting with the physical world, my main technology is surprisingly still the trusty white stick. Over the last 20 years, there have been innumerable attempts to build blind navigation aids using GPS, iBeacons, wifi hot spots, smart phone accelerometers and image recognition, but they all so far have failed the ‘95% is not good enough’ test. Specifically, the 5% of the time when these technologies fail could be life threatening, or at the very least so inconvenient, that we just stop using them and revert to the low tech solution.

The Ride

And finally, as for the ride, I use absolutely no special technology at all. I just hop into the passenger seat and let my captain do the rest.  


I am incredibly lucky to be able to afford the outrageous £1,000 license fee for the bug ridden screen reading software on my laptop. I am equally lucky not to face material financial hardship when Apple turn my iPhone into an expensive brick via an irreversible IOS upgrade that then requires me to buy a new phone with enough horsepower to drive the VoiceOver accessibility tech in the latest release.

In comparison people without sight in India, Ghana and other developing countries almost never have access to technology to mitigate their blindness. This is just one more way of highlighting the incredible value of a £30/$40 surgical intervention that entirely restores their sight and includes them back into society. If you haven’t contributed to my fund raising for these surgeries yet, then please do click the Donate button in the top right.

Dr. Helena Ndume embraces a patient after the bandages come off - Oshakati, Namibia
Bandages are removed from a patient in Namibia - for more information see Use of Funds