Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public Speaking in the Dark....

“Good morning!” I said to the attendees at the Elderly Club gathering at the Malaysian Association for the Blind. As I was walking to the front of hall I was told by one of the committee members that there were about 50 people in the audience. “We are all here today because we chose to come, thus, starting off my talk about choices and decisions in life, leading to the other interesting topic on ‘How cars work’. Yes, I was a guest speaker at the event. I accepted the invitation to give a talk and I knew that, to me personally, this was going to be a test and a challenge, as part of my personal rehabilitation program in regaining my confidence in public speaking following the sudden loss of my sight in January 2008.

“How am I going to prepare and remember the contents of my talk; how am I going to gauge the reaction and response from the crowd?” I simply could not find an answer to it and it got me quite concerned over the few days prior to the event day. Nevertheless, I told myself that the show must go on and I would just have to be my normal self and speak from my heart and perhaps, engage the crowd in the talk, making it an informal and a 2 way channel ‘dialogue’.

Now, when I was handed the microphone, I was told that I could sit down comfortably on the chair while giving the talk. I chose to stand as I knew from past experiences standing would make me more at ease and relaxed. Moreover, this would provide me freedom to ‘walkabout’ and checked the reaction and response from the audience during my talk. I shall always remember the first few moments, standing and looking out in the dark, despite knowing fully well that the hall was bright and well lit up. Standing tall while sharing my experiences with this special group of friends, I was looking and glancing all over the hall, not seeing faces but hearing voices. When I started to introduce myself, I could hear the silence and this gave me the signal that the crowd was giving me their attention. With confidence, I shared my first topic on how I had coped with my loss of sight, and going forward with life during the past 12 months, making choices and decisions, relearning new skills and making new friends.

During the talk it dawned on me than I did miss seeing the body language and facial expressions/reactions of the audience as this would normally helped me to amend or add more ’juices’ to my talk. Standing while giving a talk, also allowed one an authority over the audience and taking charge, so to speak. I was glad that I made the decision to speak from my heart and my talk proceeded well.

Being a graduate of Automotive Engineering, I was able to share some information on cars with this group of blind audience who will not have the opportunity of steering a car in their life. It was a challenge for me to explain in the simplest layman’s terms about the car’s technical descriptions, how the car engine work, etc. It was certainly an eye opener for the audience, even for the sighted volunteers, as I was told later. I had to be on the same wavelength as the audience in order to explain and more importantly, get them to understand, appreciate and learn some basic facts about cars in general. I could hear all the oohs! and aahs! I was moved by these sounds of positive engagements, indicating the audience attention to my talk. The intelligent questions asked caught me by surprise as they were from people who had never driven before. I was very glad to have answered all the questions to their satisfaction.

At the end of my presentation, gauging from the excitement and response from the audience, I knew that I had done a satisfactory job, my first public speaking in the dark, an art that still has to be fine tuned and lots more to learn. Personally, this invaluable experience is another milestone in my quest of moving forward in life. Another barrier crossed, another skill relearned.

More challenging times ahead!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Meetings in the dark!..

“Alright! Let’s begin with a roll call” I said to the recently elected Cyber club committee members of the Malaysian Association for the Blind, MABCC, as we sat down comfortably in the meeting room for the first official meeting. Yes, I was chairing the first official MABCC meeting and was conducting the business of the day, so to speak! The new Cyber club committee was elected at the recent Annual General Meeting held in late March 2009. I was elected as the Chairman for the 2009/2010 term. Now, back to the roll call, it was important for me to know the respective exco member by names and their sitting positions. This would definitely allow and enable me to picture the overall scenario in the meeting room. It too, has always, been my good cultured habit to always look at the persons I am talking to, and vice versa. So despite having lost my sight, I would continue to do the same..a totally new experience.. chairing a meeting in the dark!..

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous and unsure if I was able to chair/conduct my first ever meeting in the dark, without the luxury of having any written notes, visual aids and to top it off, a meeting with a committee of seven visually impaired members. It was truly a challenge and a case of full focus and concentration game that had to come into play!

The meeting proceeded with interesting sugggestions and creative ideas thrown in for the brainstorming cum meeting session. The key objectives, to assist and promote IT literacy among the blind community through various programs/projects targeted for the year were highlighted and discussed. Another important task agreed then was to set up an internet chat forum to keep all members posted and updated about the happenings of the MABCC. Undoubtedly, the chat forum would help create a virtual platform and a cyberspace ‘meeting room’ enabling the MABCC blind community to come together to highlight and discuss IT related issues, learn new technology, exchange information, etc. Since the launch of the MABCC Googlegroups chat forum in June 2009, there have been positive responses and active participation from several members.

“Hello, are you still here?” I coolly asked, noting that there was a total dead silence in the room when I was halfway briefing and delegating the tasks and roles of each committee member, the rules of engagement that needed to be adhered to by all MABCC members. My quiet concern was..”Hope the elected secretary would be able to remember and jot down all the issues highlighted and discussed in the meeting as she would be preparing the meeting minutes for follow up action in the next scheduled meeting” I said to myself.

Now, fast forward, a month later.. Again, we sat down for the another monthly meeting, the secretary passed around the copies of the past meeting minutes for all to refer. Well, the minutes were in Braille! My Braille literacy had yet to come of age, still learning the ABCs of Braille, so I had to rely on the secretary to read out the agenda for the meeting, the various matters arising that needed follow up, etc. This inconvenience got me to quickly put on my thinking cap to think of alternatives, etc and perhaps, initiate another new format suitable to all. “Yes! Let’s go ‘paperless’ I said, explaining that we need to move with the technological advances and utilize all the assistive tools available to help us along. So, the minutes for the next forthcoming meetings were circulated to all via electronic mails and I had it downloaded into my mobile phone and was able to read it during the meetings if required, apart from the notebook screen reader being used at the meetings.

Fast forward again, Another initiative plan mooted was the online meetings via Skype conferencing which has progressed well since. There were some minor hiccups initially but now, it’s a breeze. The committee could come together and have a online meeting from the comfort of one’s home..

More Challenging times ahead!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Accessible iPhone 3GS

The touch screen technology has come a long way since and has certainly created excitement and impact in the area of accessibility, a common talking point among the blind community in this modern technological era. My initial highlighting of this iPhone discussion in a local blind community chat forum has certainly ruffled the feathers of some members of the community who have had mixed reactions. At the pace the access technology innovation is progressing, the skeptics may soon find themselves left behind. However, there are still others, like myself, who have vocally voiced the opinion that, sooner rather than later, this technology would be available to the blind community, and that, like it or not, we will have to adapt to it.
The recent release of the new iPhone 3GS, Apple has released not only the most powerful in its line of iPhone handsets to date, but also the worlds first gesture-based screen reader mobile device, as well as the first screen reader that relies solely on touch screen user input. VoiceOver, first available for the version of OS X that runs on modern Macs, has been integrated with the iPhone with elegance and style
Recently too, I had the opportunity to be among the first few visually impaired persons, to have a first look at this remarkable iPhone 3GS, just a few days after it was launched locally. My first look and personal brief review of the device is as follows:

"I had the opportunity to 'test drive' this latest iPhone today at NCBM, National Council of the Blind, Malaysia. The iPhone was brought in from Singapore by the New Straits Times, NST and together with Moses, Ms. Wong and the NST journalists, the iPhone was the topic of discussion, particularly in the area of accessibility to the blind community.

My personal brief reviews about the iPhone 3GS:

General featureand Physical outlook:

The iPhone has a large screen which covers almost the entire length and width of this palm size phone. The large screen offers the distinct advantage for the 'touch and tap' modes and functions providing greater flexibility/mobility around and about the screen. There is only one key button at the bottom of the screen device, the Home key. However, the advantage of the large screen size has its negative side too. For a person with a small hand or palm, for example, some ladies, to hold such wide bodied phone may not appear to be comfortable.


The moment one touches the screen with the tip of a finger, the response from the screen reader is instantaneous. reading the word, menu list, folder name, etc. Similarly, in learning to use and operate any other newly acquired gadget, one needs to spend time exploring and familiarising the various modes and functions available on the phone. The female synthesized speech did not sound audible or clear at times, particularly certain pronounciation which will not be an issue after some time However, the phone's audio sound quality test drive today was somewhat disappointing, a bit of distortion from its built in speaker. It is simply amazing that one can just use one's finger to touch and activate the various modes and functions, making and answering calls, creating and sending out text messages, surfing the internet, etc.

This phone is a marvellous technological creation. In spite of only having a short and brief 'test drive' of this latest iPhone, I will definitely like to have one once the price becomes more affordable."

Since then, the New Straits Times press has published the full article and I was pleased to learn that there was a video clip on it too. Please follow the link below to read the NST article.

More challenging times ahead!