Yesterday, Globe and Mail columnist Russell Smith wrote about coping with impaired vision after surgery for a second detached retina: How art's vision heals when eyesight fails. I found the challenges that Mr. Smith describes in his attempts to continue enjoying the arts – music, drama and books – devastating. It got me thinking about the myriad ways those with vision loss can, with the right help and knowledge, fully participate in life.
So, here are four ways art lovers can find out how their enjoyment is not over and can still grow.
1. Soup up your technology. You can still use your computer and cool devices to get music and podcasts, including podcasts for CBC Radio One. Find out about adaptive software that can magnify your screen and mouse, change the colour contrast or read the screen aloud to you. If you have a smartphone or tablet, it might have a synthetic speech option. For example, on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, it's called VoiceOver and you can turn it on under General Settings - Accessibility. AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) has a good guide to assistive technology.
2. Watch described television. You can do more than rely on the soundtrack during an action flick. The Accessible Channel (TACtv) offers audio description of what's happening on screen during pauses in the dialogue so you get the whole story. Some DVDs also have a description track under language options. You can also borrow these DVDs and older VHS tapes from the CNIB Library and some public libraries.
3. Read accessible audio books and ebooks. Try audio books that have been produced with accessibility in mind and read ebooks with a device or app that enlarges the text or speaks it aloud.
Audio books: If you can't read print because of a visual, physical or learning disability, you have access to DAISY books through the CNIB Library and its Partners Program in public libraries. DAISY (fully accessible) books may include audio, text or both. If you're listening to the audio, you can navigate at a much finer level than most commercial audio books allow – by subheadings and phrase, for example. It's easy to find your place again if you drift off or return to that lyrical phrase you so admired! You can also check the table of contents and jump right to the page you want. There are specialized DAISY players or you can also buy DAISY software or apps for smartphones and tablets.
Why not start with Mr. Smith's excellent books, available in DAISY audio through the CNIB Library.
Ebooks: Try an e-reader device or app with a read-aloud feature. Although a synthetic voice might not be the nicest, it doesn't interpret the text for you in a way that a human narrator might. Your reading remains 'purer.' Be aware that devices, apps and ebook sources vary widely in terms of accessibility, as this article about accessibility and ebooks by Sue Polanka of No Shelf Required explains. You can buy ebooks or borrow them from many public libraries through services such as OverDrive.
4. Visit a museum. In the world of accessibility, exciting things are happening at museums, too. Since Mr. Smith is in Toronto I'll recommend the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum). The ROM is an example of a museum that now builds tactile elements into its major exhibits. It might be a cliff wall that lets you feel the effects of water erosion, or it might be a model of a Mayan temple. Ask for an Access Tour to get the most out of your visit.
The great thing is that these four to-do's are just a start. When you're ready, contact CNIB and ask how we can ensure you have the confidence, skills, and opportunities to fully participate in life.