Archive for the ‘accessibility’ Category

Disabled Invisible? Or the Government and Most Mainstream Media Blind, Deaf and Dumb?

May 13, 2011

The 11TH of May 2011 will go down in history. Sadly, only a small sector of the British population will be aware of why.

The conservative government are bull dosing a welfare reform through parliament that will effect hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled individuals. Not only are local councils cutting services to their disabled constituents but the government is putting disabled people under siege by dramatically changing the benefits they are entitled to claim.

Not only will the long term sick and disabled only be allowed to claim Employment support Allowance [esa] for twelve months but the transformation of disability living allowance will not be recognised as something that helps disabled people live their lives. Taking the mobility component from people in residential care who are able, with that extra financial support, to visit friends and families and go to social groups that improves their quality of life, will reduce them to emotional despair. With that component gone, it will leave many isolated and unable to keep in contact with relatives and friends whilst participating in social activities that keep them integrated and active.

The extremely generalised assessment process neither assists those in need or accurately assesses disabled individuals needs correctly. And if found “fit to work” physically, is not to say someone is mentally prepared or actually able. Putting disabled people in to the “lion’s den” of the commercial workplace is going to destroy people. Having rejection upon rejection, while being virtually “bullied” by job centre Plus advisors so they can meet their targets, will mean many people are placed in frightening situations and pushed into a potentially soul destroying path.

Imagine, applying for a job, being interviewed over the telephone only to be told, when you have a disability that they are not sure how they can accommodate your needs, time and time again. Regardless of laws against discrimination, some of the reasons employers cannot employ a disabled person are not always their fault. For blind people, working with money is not practical, employers wouldn’t feel comfortable with money exchanging hands from a blind person to a sighted or vice versa in case the notes are not accurately identified or fraud is being committed. Blind people’s assessment of their own money often takes longer than that of a sighted person, so time pressure would be on them. And that’s if the technology, such as a cash register is accessible. Many are not and never will be in our lifetime.

Wheelchair users can only access buildings with ramps and lifts. And in fire situations, lifts can never be used. Not many employers are willing to take a risk of putting a wheelchair user on the sixth floor in case there is a fire. Some organisations have a buddy system but even if their intentions were their, many insurance companies would not cover the company for such circumstances.

The assessment deems myself “fit to work” if all criteria I have read and been informed about so far is accurate, because I have a guide dog. With the RNIB recently publishing a statistic 92% of employers would not employ someone with a visual impairment, where does that huge misconception that employers have no issue employing the blind come from? do the people behind this horrendous attempt at assessing disabled and sick people for work take into account that despite wanting to work, many being qualified, the employers are not able to for physical or legal reasons employ the disabled. And do these great minds who have created this ludicrous test not think that just because someone has a guide dog or a wheelchair that it can suddenly change employers or insurance companies minds? Changing the “being able to walk” criteria to “being mobilised” was a very devious thing for this government to do. Many disabled could “mobilise” themselves but for how long or how successful are many other questions that are not addressed.

Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, [if she can call herself that], stated that it is a system that is not working if there are more alcoholics and drug addicts claiming DLA than the blind. Well, Miss Miller, if your government has your way under personal independent payments, there will be very few blind people claiming dLA’s successor. Not to mention the fact that the statistics tell a different story? This is people’s futures, Ms Miller, not Jack and Ori.

The media have done nothing but promote the government’s propaganda efforts by publishing in various news sources that 94% in the Mail and 75% in the Daily Express incapacity benefit claimants are deemed “fit to work”. That figure blows my mind. Take away the fact for many disabled, they want to work but are refused employment because of their disability or lack of support into work, what about those suffering from cancer, HIV, MS, chronic arthritis that physically cannot work efficiently every day? That represents only six percent of incapacity claimants? Well, of course not. As usual, the press are promoting government support for tight reform with miscalculated, misinformed, and mostly outright . wrong statistics

The media proved yesterday how much they didn’t care about this society’s disabled. The only major news programmes to cover the march were ITV evening news who did a good piece of coverage and Channel four’s news at seven. BBC had mentioned it during the day but it was missing from it’s popular six o’clock showing on BBC 1 while it was covered on it’s website reasonably well. Sky News, one of the biggest news channels in the UK and streamed around the world mentioned it maybe once but nothing on their website at all. They were able to cover all the things going on in Libya, many foreign stories, even the sentencing of actress Lindsay Lohan but nothing on its website about the thousands of disabled marching through London to protest against the cuts.

It angers me that only the Guardian have been forth coming and extremely supportive of 11TH May protests; having constant updates on a live blog and several write ups both on its online distribution and paper broadsheet. A huge thank you to the Guardian, ITV News, and Channel 4 for having some great coverage of the protest and even interviewing Liam Burns, the shadow work and pensions minister.

None of us expect to be top of the hour news, or front page in the news papers but for crying out loud, we are still here, in our millions as a disabled community! Can this government not hear us? Do they not understand? If they want to cut the deficit, which we all agree on, why target those of us who fight enough in our every day battles with discrimination! I know cuts need to happen, but why are they cutting the quality of our lives? Why are they not recognising blindness as a disability, assessing it below even the threshold to gain a place on the into work scheme under the new ESA benefit, despite having input from organisations such as RNIB who feels their input has been ignored? How can they “assume” that my guide dog makes me more employable than a cane user who may have more sight? How can they say someone with MS can work for eight hours every day if they don’t see them in pain and unable to get up for work because every muscle in their body hurts? How can an abled bodied so called health professional, who is repeatedly passing people fit to work who clearly are not, capable of assessing someone if they’ve never dealt with that disability, some even come across it? If they are not willing to understand and take a fifteen minute snippet with a rigid questionnaire to assess someone’s abilities, it is clearly just a tick in the box and one more person off the sick and disabled list, the better, right, Mr cameron and co?

They say they’ve had conversations with organisations about these changes, but if that was true, then how was it that staff from over forty organisations representing disabled people across the board were marching alongside those people on 11TH May? Richard Leaman , Guide Dogs own chief executive marched alongside clients, dogs and staff alike to protest. Do you think if Guide Dogs as an organisation had agreed to the governments extraordinary changes that he would risk his reputation and the one of his organisation just “for kicks”?

Miller talked about the drug addicts and the alcoholics claiming both DLA and incapacity, and the media have publicised that fact over and over again, but what about those who are disabled who are going to get theirs cut? We didn’t make a life style choice to be blind, lame, deaf, or feel as though our body was on fire, we didn’t abuse the system so then why are we being punished, ignored, sidelined and forced into another system that has not worked for many?

I’ve claimed job seeker’s allowance. I claimed it for almost three years! During that time, neither I nor the job centre could find work. The disability employment advisors did not understand my needs as a blind client or how my blindness would effect me in the work place. No information was accessible to me. Not leaflets, their computer systems, the forms I had to sign every two weeks. It was only through my own research that I attended the royal national college for the blind and transferred to incapacity benefit. After I’d left college, I still couldn’t get work. And despite continued efforts to search, apply for different jobs, I am still unemployed. I was never understood and felt abandoned during that time. Ms Miller speaks of disabled people being abandoned on the current system, so what is she doing then? Throwing many into a system that is not designed to support people with extensive needs; Throwing them into a world of ignorance that no government has tried to change. She says attitudes have changed toward disabled people, really? I must have missed that evolution. We’re still pitied, avoided because people fear the unknown, shunned by others because we’re deemed too needy, patronised because we’re seen to be unintelligent and treated like second class citizens as we always have been, the media have only enhanced that point this week. And society’s attitudes have changed? Just because children are being educated more within mainstream education Ms Miller, it does not mean society’s attitudes have changed just because we’re not locked up and hidden away. The stigmas toward many disabilities still exist and many VI children are segregated within VI units within their school along with other special needs children. Being taught in the same building does not make society’s attitudes toward them any different!

Last year I started a home study degree which was funded by the university so I did not have any fees to pay. Because of the increase to come in for tuition fees, the scheme was cut at the end of my very successful first year. I couldn’t afford the fees and was forced to withdraw. I have and continue to try to gain work or qualifications to be “more employable” on a qualification basis but the truth is, unless my blindness miraculously disappears, or the attitudes of society, the employer’s being educated and insurance companies not deeming disabled people high risk enough to boot premiums to a devastating price change, I will remain unemployed from the mainstream workforce. I take offence to the many headlines calling incapacity and DLA claimants “scroungers” or “lazy” as While looking for work I’ve done everything in my power to gain employment. I’ve attempted study, I volunteer to gain work experience, I blog and participate in accessibility podcasts to widen my knowledge and experience while educating and informing the world best I can about blindness, access technology and guide dogs. I do not sit around, or enjoy four or five holidays to Spain, I do not own extravagant items or go out every weekend to clubs. I’ve tried, I continue to try to make my life productive and full but I can’t single handedly change the attitudes of employers.

Unless I gain employment within a sector for visually impaired or set up my own business, which I eventually would like to do, I will be punished for being blind and become isolated because I cannot fund my disability.

I keep hearing the phrase, “Genuinely disabled,” yet I and others seemingly do not fit into that category. As I stated earlier, the current assessment for ESA would maximumly gain a visually impaired person nine points or less and fifteen is required to qualify for the into work program. So, I clearly am not “disabled” according to these guidelines and to the media who have deemed many claimants to be “scroungers” and have insinuated “faking it”. What an actress I must be, to have faked blindness all my life!

Many do abuse the system and those people need to be caught out, no one would refute that. And that is why we are not asking this government to leave things the way they are but to listen, understand and implement changes suggested to them by the people who know. Realism and practicality need to be adopted here or else the government has outrightly broke its promise to protect the disabled and vulnerable in our society.

As MP Hunt said, stop providing abled bodied, healthy individuals from pushing out three or four children at the tax payer’s expense. If people want to reproduce, they should pay for them. My parents have worked every day of their lives and have contributed to this system and they, like others who are parents of disabled people are angry that it is more socially acceptable to get pregnant and have a child for the sole cause of living off of benefits when disabled families are having support, care and benefits cut.

Miller talks about the numbers of alcoholics and drug users on DLA and incapacity benefit, well stop them claiming it! Children born with disabilities don’t have a choice, soldiers fighting for this country don’t have a choice whether they are hit or not, police and fire service people do not have a choice if they are hurt while on duty, and yet those without the choices are the ones being punished.

This past few days, I’ve felt disappointed, angry, concerned, surprised, shocked and proud for a variety of reasons. Proud of the ones marching; proud of the efforts by those who couldn’t make it who have expressed themselves on the web; proud of some journalists who have maintained their integrity by reporting the events as they are. I was surprised how quickly my MP responded to my email that I sent her only the night of the march and even more so of her support. And yet I’ve been saddened, shocked and rather disgusted with the lack of coverage by many media outlets. No need for breaking news but it still happened! It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest march of its kind in regard to the disabled people in numbers present at a protest, and that wasn’t news worthy? I was also disappointed by the lack of response by some visually impaired people I know. Some were fantastic online yesterday and others I know marched while some remained quiet and as though it wasn’t happening to them. You may not believe writing to your MP will work, or that you’ll lose followers or friends on social networks by mentioning it, but if they’re real friends or interested in what you have to say, isn’t that better than being ignored by the government? I’ve heard people say it won’t have made a difference, maybe not but maybe it will open some eyes. It’s our future and if we don’t help shape it, then we have no real future to call our own.

Miller in my book represents nothing but an empty promise and a cruel and misconceived idea of what disability and sickness really means and how it effects those with it. She was more interested in the prime minister’s question time than the people she’s meant to represent. Even in a committee meeting about the welfare reform, she was vague, unable to give detail or straight, decisive answers to questions posed to her. Cameron’s conservatives are ignorant and malicious. Despite what they’re telling the media the reality of the assessment process, changes to DLA put the disabled in poverty and isolation, stripping them of dignity and independence. No wonder their precious media won’t report it and are more interested in US politics, affairs abroad and war because it’s not affecting them. If Hunt had denied Murdock the deal for Sky, we’d hear about that all right in its entirety but a few blind, wheel chair bound, deaf and sick people are invisible to them. Why hear the cries of the needy while you’re sat eating your finest foods and enjoying your life? Why take notice of a bunch of disabled people, “We’ll get over it,” right? Why take from the rich, corrupt bankers when you can target the ones in need? It seems they have enough money to bail Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others out of debt, give money to the rebels fighting in Libya, donate millions to countries in need and all because they neglected their own people! I feel for other countries plights, but Prime Minister, you and your government are meant to be the British government, here to make Britain better, but you’d rather help other country’s people than your own vulnerable and disabled people! If you want to cut the deficit, give us a chance to live and change the attitudes of employers and society as a whole, because without those changes, we’ll remain invisible to all while we suffer.

If that’s the society we live in, then by God help us all. Because wait until they cut child services more, or petrol prices rise again, that will be top news. I hope anyone who has blatantly ignored this demonstration of courage and pride by the disabled people of Britain never finds themselves in a similar situation. Because where will your loyal government be then? Helping Pakistan, or fighting in the middle East, or bailing out European countries or lending money to some superpower, and giving you nothing!

“The Invisible Disabled,” it seems so but I pledge to you I will not go unnoticed and neither should you. The women who fought for women’s rights were taken seriously eventually , and some would argue there were many more but many were too afraid to fight the system then. Let’s fight for our right to live good qualities of life and to gain opportunities like everyone else. Change society’s attitudes for the better, Clegg and Cameron, don’t change our lives for the worst.

[note. I am totally blind and cannot comment in detail on how people’s disabilities effect them. Hope I grasped the concept of anger we’re all feeling]

Interesting entertainment links

That’s a Cut, SunnieDae1
Broken Britain’s We have A Dream Speech, hardest Hit
Hardest Hit, Day of Action, Scope for Equality

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Banks Brilliance!

May 10, 2011

In the past few years, not many would have ever thought anyone would call the banks brilliant but an experience I had today warrants such praise.

As visually impaired individuals, we often are discussing inaccessible products or services. But this morning when a package arrived from my bank, I was initially confused, then unsure and now extremely pleased and happy that a international bank would do what they have without being pushed into it by advocacy groups or implement the accessibility as an after thought.

I’ve been with HSBC since I was fourteen and in high school. I’ve always been pleased with the accessibility I have had with them. My letters and statements always having been in braille, the level of security they offer amongst the highest and overall, a good service has been experienced for me, so far.

I’ve used their telephone banking service for years and in the past few years their internet banking service which I’ve found to be incredibly accessible.

So when my peculiar package arrived this morning, which I was not expecting as I clearly didn’t really read the last letter they had sent to me, I was confused what it was for and was pretty sure it wouldn’t be accessible.

I opened a box containing a braille letter and braille instructions and a keypad that looks like the keypads we pay on our cards in stores, minus the car d slot. There was some headphones and I was truly baffled.

On a quick glance, I realised it was about security and as I said, if I’d read the previous letter, I probably would have had a better understanding of what this cool device would do.

Sitting down reading the instructions I learnt it was a security key which enhances the level of security of your online banking. Every thirty days or so, it’ll give you a code to enter and it is generated by the security key, or the cool key pad thing. So, you can imagine my scepticism. They’ve given me a device, which will generate a code and I have to read this code to access my online banking. Great, I thought, more inaccessibility. At this point, I joked that they had sent me accessible instructions for an inaccessible device. Boy, was I to be proven wrong.

I soon learnt that the regular customers have these security keys issued but their keys are the size of a credit card and I had noticed a speaker on the rear of the unit so maybe, did I dare to believe it true?

Further reading demonstrated that not only did this cool device speak but the instructions how to use it, set it up were all clear, concise and accurate. Even the point where you have to insert the security key’s serial number was accessible. Not only was it printed on the unit but it could be accessed through speech on the unit. Crazy right?

But within ten minutes, I’d activated my key, by entering my serial number into my account online and followed the online steps, inputting a random security code and hey presto, my account is now paired with a device that will randomly make me input codes every thirty days to prevent someone hacking into my bank account.

Until this morning, I’d not heard of a security key, and whether you think they’re a good security device or a pure pain in the backside, I’m ecstatic I have one that I can access independently.

New customers started receiving theirs in March of this year, current customers from April onward. So, HSBC get a huge thumbs up from me. They’ve made everyone’s account secure and made it a purely accessible process.

Part of me hopes that these devices can lead to further access to cash machines somehow. I’m impressed HSBC, it has to be said. If you can make all cash machines accessible to the blind, I’ll be incredibly thankful. Thank you for not making your blind and visually impaired customers an after thought.

Speed, volume can all be changed and it auto turns off after about a thirty-second standby.

If anyone else’s bank has done this, let us know. I’m lost for words how I appreciate what they have done. They didn’t just send me a regular security key, they thought about it, put it in place and all within the same timeline as all their customers.

So no matter what you may think about the banks and the economy of today, you have to give HSBC some credit that they’ve achieved this in the same time frame for all their customers in a perfectly easy, accessible way. Great job! Brilliant!!!

Ignorance is Bliss, for the British Government

April 4, 2011

Many knew that when the conservatives took over power, those on the lower end of the income bracket would get screwed over. Others knew that the vulnerable in society, despite repeated promises from said government would be left even more vulnerable and up the creek without a paddle. While few knew that some necessary changes would need to be put into place for the economy to recover but also knew that those who cannot help themselves would bear the brunt of these changes. Wherever you stood within these three areas, you were right.

Anyone who has picked up a newspaper, read an online article from any leading British media outlets, watched the national and local news programmes within the last year know that this country is in financial disarray. Back in October when the chancellor made his budget speech, there was a promise to protect the elderly and the disabled. This promise has recently been shown for what it truly is; a glossy lie.

We all are aware cuts need to be made, no one is actually arguing that fact but the level of which this coalition government is stampeding its path is only going to end in misery for many.

I, like many others agree there are abusers of the benefits system but it is safe to say that these benefits sustain a good quality of life for many. The new assessments being brought in for those on incapacity, while weeding out those “fakers” will put many disabled people An on the breadline and B in a severe state of vulnerability. And that’s not even taking into consideration the future preposed changes to Disability Living Allowance. And why? Because this government has not thought through how the assessments will affect a wide range of individuals with varying levels of disabilities and illnesses.

Already the assessment was reevaluated because it deemed terminally ill individuals fit for work. And even after these changes to the assessment process, many disabled organisations say the assessment is too harsh and not detailed enough to assess accurately.

For example, a lady on the national news today who suffered with a brain haemorrhage 10 months ago, who lost feeling in her right side and has limited vision has been deemed fit to work. What this government has not taken into consideration, are the many barriers that a disability will bring up for not only the individual but the organisation that will employ them.

For an abled bodied person, reading, writing, moving around unaided, being alerted to dangers or alerting others to danger are natural abilities. For someone with a hearing impairment, sight impairment or physical impairment, this is not always possible. For example, one of the questions on the test is can you pull a pen from your pocket with both hands. Many people could do this, even wheel chair bound individuals, depending on their condition. Someone with a visual impairment could pull the pen from their pocket but would not be able to use it in many situations. For those visually impaired people, many would use other formats to write and read with compared to the majority of individuals. For someone who is deaf, they may not hear the suggestion. In an assessment environment, their focus is likely to be on the assessor but in the work place, other tasks could distract and they may not hear a command to take a note.

Another aspect of the criteria to receive the new employment support allowance is if you have a guide dog. Apparently, the government foresee a blind individual capable of employment if they have a guide dog. I’m absolutely uncertain how my guide dog makes me more employable than someone who is a cane user or someone who uses neither. Your choice of mobility aid has little bearing on how you perform in a job. My guide dog will not assist my work. He’ll help me get to and from and around the work place, providing I’ve learnt the route prior, as would a cane user. Clearly, someone in government has not explained to these individuals what a guide dog does and does not do. The same apparently applies to an individual using an electronic wheel chair. So, guide dog owners, electric wheel chair users, you should know that your dog and chair clearly help you do a job. And because of these reasons, we are deemed fit to work immediately and would be put instantly on job seekers allowance.

If anyone has dealt with the job centre and has been disabled and has had a great result, I.E., got into employment that you’ve maintained, congratulations, you have to be in the minority and very lucky. Many disability employment officers, like the government, have no idea what a disabled person’s needs and abilities potentially can be.

And for one moment, put aside the assessment, the criteria and walk with me into the work place. Many, and the RNIB estimate, 92% of employers would find it difficult or mere impossible to employ a visually impaired individual. OK, government, please consider the fact you tell us a million jobs have been created in the past three months and now tell us how many of those jobs are going to be doable from a disabled person’s point of view. And not even that, how many of those prospective employers, would employ someone who is visually impaired, deaf or a wheel chair user. And not necessarily because of their own ignorance, lets face it, they’re also dealing with the economy right now. And does the government know that anyone who is disabled automatically has an increase on a risk assessment for any work place or public building? If they’re not aware of this, they should be. Because, risk assessments lead to insurance and higher risks means a higher premium. Can many companies afford a higher premium?

As much as I don’t think this to be a valid reason for a company not to employ a disabled individual, I understand it in the current economic climate.

Thus far, we’ve only talked about the physical disabilities. Does this assessment take into consideration those individuals who have mental disabilities? I’m sure someone with a learning difficulty could indeed pull a pen from their pocket when asked in a calm, controlled environment. Would that be possible in a stressful work place? Highly doubtful.

In short, the changes to incapacity benefit, although necessary to a degree are being done with such ignorance that not only is this government putting people in more vulnerable situations, they’re not helping everyone into a secure job. I do not mean secure as in financial, I mean in the practicality sense of the word. Someone who is visually impaired would struggle working in a visual environment. Likewise, someone who is deaf would find it challenging to the point of stressfulness in an auditory environment. The government want people into work, but realistically what are they going to do to ensure that happens? Many disabled individuals of working age, want to work and would give anything to work. But is putting them on the poverty line with virtually little, specialised assistance into work the right way to go? And this is before I get to disability living allowance.

Many disabled organisations understand the people they work with. Research shows getting work is not as easy as the government would have everyone else believe. Putting this aside, living with a disability, regardless of work or not is a costly affair. Again, some individuals may use little of their disability living allowance, while others may fluctuate over the months and many others depend solely on it to live day to day with their disability.

I cannot speak for someone in a wheel chair, or a deaf person but I as a visually impaired individual rely a lot on my disability living allowance to buy computer equipment so I can read emails, search for jobs, shop independently, read letters and books accessibly. I also use the mobility component to get to places I’m unfamiliar with. Despite what our oh so wise government believes, my guide dog does not have a map inside of his head and I cannot type a post code and he’ll take me there. He only works from my commands. So if I don’t know an area, he won’t know it either and we could become lost and vulnerable. So, taxis are often a way to get around. I attempt to use public transportation where possible and of the do but there are times taxis are necessary and sometimes my only option. They are expensive and on occasion I have to pay someone to assist me somewhere. For example, shopping for clothes items. I need someone to help me around the store and although shop assistants can be helpful, it is not always the case.

A minister recently said that after three years you shouldn’t need any further financial support when it comes to your disability, I’d like to see him try. You have to replace equipment, I.E., colour detectors/scales or bigger things like computers or washing machines even. People do not realise that using a launderette is not a task for the faint hearted disabled individuals. For a wheel chair user, I’d imagine it troublesome getting to the place, with all of your laundry, then many machines are probably not designed for wheel chair access. For someone who is blind, using the machines at all would be impossible without tactile access or someone helping never mind actually getting there with your laundry.

For anyone to say that living with a disability can be got used to after so many years is an ignorant and cruel statement. Without living with one, how would you know?

I’m not expecting everything to be given to me on a plate, I never would. But I want this government and any future ones to not just penalise individuals and put them on the breadline with no hope out. They need to change people’s attitudes, change legislation for insurers and companies. Make public buildings accessible to all. Put the disability discrimination act into practice and enforce it because right now, disabled people still have no rights. David Cameron talked about the happiness and quality of life for the citizens of this country, I see nothing but misery ahead for many disabled individuals. Some have said without their DLA, their lives would not be worth living. Without help into work, without changing people’s attitudes, without punishing disabled people and actually help through work experience in practical jobs and having an assessment process that was realistic for the individuals being tested and not just convenient to down the governments numbers, I don’t see life in this country worth living either. It’s a bleak future for anyone suffering with a disability right now.

The government do need to save money, they do need to get disabled people into work but not without support and not at the expense of those people’s rights. A right to live. This could be done correctly and competently but as this new system stands, they will be putting their disabled exactly where many suspected they would, at the bottom of a pile of trash.

Guide Dogs, in my Eyes

November 7, 2010

[Note to Reader] I live in the UK so all information is correct as I am aware only as a guide dog owner from the Guide Dogs For the Blind Association in the UK.
Association

Guide dogs have been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. My first memory of knowing what a guide dog was and how it related to my life was when I was seven years old and at the Adam Brooks hospital in Cambridge with my parents at an eye check up. They had a huge ornament of a guide dog in harness standing in the waiting room at the eye clinic and my dad took me over to show me what it was. I felt the smooth impressions of the labradors face, the big ears and the smooth curves of it back, on which sat a harness. I proceeded to ask my parents what it was for and they told me to raise money for guide dogs which I then asked what a guide dog was for and why it wore a harness. My parents explained it was to help the blind get around but even then, I don’t think my parents would truly appreciate the length to which a dog could assist their daughter in the future.

I was seven then, and recently had lost my sight completely and so this news that I could use a dog to get around and break free from the new prison that I’d been placed in because of my eyes made life seem a little easier to handle at my young age. I kept this memory with me for all this time and twenty years later, I’ve been a proud, successful guide dog owner for four and a half years.

Although my journey is barely beginning with the association, I feel its time I shared my own guide dog story with you all.

The rules have changed along with procedures even since I became involved with the association. And surprisingly, my journey began before I even contemplated a dog. I was taken for a visiting day to the local Guide Dogs centre that was in Bolton when I was around nine or ten. I only really remember the puppies in the kennels, jumping and being playful. My experience then was limited but I think I had already decided that I’d love to have one of those four legged companions walking by my side.

At thirteen, our local mobility service had been stripped of several mobility officers and so a long cane instructor from Guide Dogs taught me long cane work for a few years. We chatted lots about guide Dogs and dogs in general. I’ve always loved animals, their innate ability to be loyal and non-judgemental always touched me.

Friends and family continued to ask me through my younger teenage years if I had ever considered getting a guide dog and when I said yes, they automatically asked: “at 16?” I always knew I didn’t want a dog that young. I’d rather be out with friends and doing things a regular sixteen year old would do. Since then, the rules have changed and there is now no lower limit to apply for a dog. But even with that limit in place, I wanted to have freedom and wanted to go off to university with no responsibilities. Maybe if I’d had a different personality, my choices may have been different.

However, once at university, I started wondering if I had a dog would my mobility be increased? I was in a different town, with limited mobility sessions and the area was difficult to work in with a long cane. So, I called up Guide dogs and asked to have a talk with someone. That someone turned out to be my old mobility officer who worked at Guide Dogs. After a long chat with him, I knew even then I was not ready for the responsibility of a furry friend. I had plans to do an exchange programme to the US and he advised me to wait until I came back.

I heeded that advice and after my exchange a two month trip, I finally decided I was ready for the responsibility of a dog. I knew I more than ready for the mobility adjustment but nothing could have ever prepared me for the real experience.

The assessment process began with an application form which I completed in December of 2004. In the January I had a general assessment shortly followed by a mobility assessment where a trained mobility officer walked with me on a route to check my safety and overall mobility skills. After I’d cleared that section of the assessment a guide Dog mobility Instructor came out to assess how I would work holding onto the dog’s harness. The guide dog Mobility Instructor is the person who trains the dogs in the advanced part of they’re training, where the dogs are placed in harness and taught to guide effectively. A double ended handle was used with the instructor acting as the dog would. It felt strange and even that could never prepare you for the real thing. The instructor also did a further application form with me and went over information about every aspect of owning a guide dog. Feeding routines, spending routines, to things I liked to do, social activities, my level of possible work load with the dog. This is to help the team recognise when a suitable match comes in. There’s little point giving an older person a dog that wants a high work load and someone with a hefty work load having a dog with the desire to only walk to the local shops and back. The matching process is a very good one and many around me have suggested my match was perfect because of my personality.

I was twenty-one when I applied for a dog. After four months of assessment I was placed on the waiting list. January 2006, I received a call from the guide dog mobility instructor [GDMI] who had assessed me for the dog section of the assessments. She told me she may have a possible match and could she bring the dog out to meet me.

The dog and instructor arrived and we went on a route I knew well with me holding the handle of the dog’s harness. This was incredibly scary yet altogether amazing. I relished in the idea that one day soon I may have a dog at my side. This little labrador wasn’t for me though. She was sweet and not really cut out for the lifestyle she’d be living in. I liked her but as I suspect the instructor knew, there was little potential of bonding.

A week or so later, she called again and said she had another dog. In bounced Bailey. He literally jumped through the door, a ball of energy and excitement. I remember my mum saying she didn’t like him because he was so boisterous but I fell in love. He followed me around the house, even upstairs and the walk out with him was incredible. Bailey and I bonded and after a month, my GDMI called with the great news that we would be going onto class.

The Guide Dogs for the blind Association has changed over the past ten or so years in how training is done. They used to have residential training schools but the majority of teams either train in the home or train at the a hotel and the surrounding areas. So off I went to Bolton, as the old centre was still there then and waited patiently in my hotel room after eating lunch and meeting the other potential guide dog owners. And in bounced Bailey again, full of love and affection. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to start our training.

We were taught obedience skills, the voice commands of forward, down, sit, wait, stay, come, steady, and taught to control our new friends. Feeding and grooming and learning how to spend our dogs correctly was covered and a health care session was held to educate us how to take care of our new friends, filling in vet books and how to contact Guide Dogs if our dog had to have treatment outside the realm of normality. In the UK, Guide Dogs is a charity and depends solely on donations from the general public and generous businesses to keep the services and production of more guide partnerships going. Vet bills and food are covered by the association if the person is not in a situation they can pay for those things independently. You can opt to pay for one or both of these financial areas if you are able too and would like to contribute. It’s a great service and means that people are not discriminated against for enhanced mobility if they need and want it.

So, after the two weeks we were permitted to take the dogs home for a further week of training and settling in at home. I was excited and nervous. I loved Bailey already but I was uncertain if I could cope with this new responsibility once at home.

He seemed a little unsure when we got home and his instructor had left. It was just he and I until the Monday when she would return to train. I cried like a baby the next few days. We had trouble with his spending due to a heavy snow fall and unfamiliar surroundings for him. But once we were out and about with the instructor, as the dog and you are housebound until you are qualified, it felt great to get him on the harness and working in my home environment. After three days of training at home, I was pronounced Bailey’s owner, and he my guide Dog. We were fully qualified and I could now work him independently with continued checks from his instructor for around a month and working reports submitted for six consecutive months with a check annually after the six month period.

Suddenly walking down the street felt like a breeze. No more catching lamp poles, bollards, shop displays on the pavement, Bailey guided me down the centre of the path, turned left or right on command and when asked to find doors, he would. Finding the crossings to get across the streets safely was now easy as he walked up to it once asked to find it and put his nose on the pole. A quick feel for his soft wet muzzle told me the pole was there and I directed him to the kerb and we waited to cross. On my forward command he moved straight across the street and I didn’t drift dangerously or feel unsafe or uncertain with him by my side.

There are myths, or not necessarily myths but different ways of doing things in associations around the world. Our guide dogs are asked to find objects, such as doors, crossings, or post boxes, and kerbs. We don’t instruct them to go to a specific store but Bailey at least with my experience usually tries to preempt where you want to go if walking on a certain route. He often gives my secrets away and I sometimes think smells of places have him wanting to enter those establishments, pubs and Starbucks or bakeries are usually the culprits. Others would argue it’s because I frequently visit starbucks that he wants to go their but I maintain its the scent of coffee that he may recognise, as we frequent a few different Starbucks around Manchester. He’s not trained to find an empty seat, just a seat and so you have to use other senses to know if someone’s seated there already. He does not dictate when we cross the street, I’m in charge of knowing when its safe, however, if I’ve not heard something that is coming he is taught to ignore my command. He’s rewarded when he’s found something or got through a difficult section of a route with a piece of his dried food and praised vocally and physically by a pat. He is asked to lay under tables or at the side of me in restaurants or cafes and many other public places. The dog does not have a GPS system in his head and usually goes off my body language for when its time to get off of the bus, collecting things together gives him a strong indication.

Bailey helps me primarily with my day to day navigation in familiar areas. His instructor will come out if we need to adjust or learn new routes. She’ll also check on us once a year to see how he and I are doing as a partnership. The aftercare never stops with Guide Dogs here in the UK. She’s on hand with virtually any problem I may be having with working with him while the health care team are always on hand if we have a health issue.

Bailey’s worked with me for almost five years and I can’t imagine life without him now. Sadly, he will retire one day but that is still in the future hopefully. Once he’s slowed down, wanting to take an easier life Guide Dogs will assist with the process and be on hand to support all the way. I will apply for another dog as I value the mobility a four legged friend can offer but Bailey shall never be far away. Depending on my own personal circumstances will depend if he can stay with me but plenty of people, including my parents who Bailey has lived with for the whole time he’s been with me are more than happy to keep him during his retirement.

I have so much respect for this organisation. Earlier this year I began fundraising for them so that they can keep offering a number one service to guide dog owners present and future. My thanks to them for what they have given me, not only with the enhanced level of mobility, the confidence I have going places independently with him by my side but the incredible companionship I have from him and the world class service and support I receive from the Greater Manchester Team. If I ever had the money to sponsor a dog myself, I would because everyone deserves a Bailey or one of his thousands of brothers and sisters treading the pavements of the UK. Let’s hope the patter of paws continues on our UK streets and the many campaigns the association is involved with continues to blossom and changes for the way the visually impaired community move around with their furry companions is nothing but a success.

The iPad: A Review

May 29, 2010

[Note to reader; I’m assuming you’re familiar with the iPhone OS to some extent in this article].

 

Since the US launch of the iPad at the beginning of April, worldwide customers hankered for the news of their own launch dates. Just a few weeks ago, UK customers, along with those from eight other countries, including, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Japan were able to pre-order their iPads for a 28TH May release date, while other countries still anxiously await their launch date, expected to be announced sometime in July.

 

I, along with many others, pre-ordered my iPad, opting for the 32 Gig wifi model and impatiently waited for it to arrive. It came early though, a day in fact and am I glad I was home Thursday morning to receive my new toy. I created an unboxing podcast and could not wait to play with the iPad.

 

Initial Reaction

GORGEOUS!

It’s sleek and very aesthetic, even to the touch. A slightly curved back with the smooth glass touch screen we were promised. Everything about the iPad, before you switch it on is beautiful. And I don’t believe I’m saying this because I genuinely love Apple products. The keys are seamlessly fitted into the device and nothing looks out of place on this sleek unit.

 

Setting Up!

 

The setting up process is such a breeze. Literally, plug it in, register it and turn on universal access and off you go.

[Note, the device needs to be connected to a computer running the latest version of iTunes for it to work so you do need a computer to utilise the iPad.]

setting up voice over or Zoom or contrast on the iPad is very similar to the way it is achieved on the touch, iPhone, nanos and the shuffles. In summary within the iPad, or as voice over calls it in iTunes, iPod scroll area, VO to universal access and select voice over on under the “seeing” section. Once the iPad has synced, voice over will come on as I’m sure the other desired methods will.

 

You have a choice to use back-ups from any other devices, I.E. iPhone or I’m assuming iPod Touch. I chose to not do this as I wanted to customise the iPad at my own leisure and although I have put a few of my iPhone apps on the device, I didn’t want them all there.

 

First Use!

 

Using the iPad is as Steve Jobs said, “Magical”. It feels at home under your fingers and when taking the experience at a leisurely pace, you can truly appreciate the style the iPad has. It is a lot bigger than other touch devices that people may be used to using but that is an advantage. Using apps like settings, mail and safari gives an intricate experience with the iPad screen. Now, you can select a general setting in the settings app and see all of your choices without having to go back to the previous page if you want to select the mail/contacts/calendar settings, for example in Settings. Mail is beautiful on the iPad, being able to see your emails in the left column and read the message in the main screen area. And Safari definitely utilises the screen giving the browsing experience a whole new level of smoothness and realness.

 

iBooks, worth it?

 

Although the UK store is not populated to capacity, and I am realistic about this fact, it will take time to become my primary book source, it is amazing. I’ve downloaded a few free classics so far and have searched the store for some titles and found a few that I shall be purchasing soon. The search function was a little tricky at first but this is where one of the new gestures comes into its own. Although, the four-finger-swipe can be used in apps like mail or settings to jump from the selection list down the left side to the content area and vice versa, I didn’t comprehend it would work in the app or iBook store. But it does. I four-finger-swiped and was able to type my search, swipe again and see the results. A wonderful edition to the Apple repertoire of gestures.

 

Actually reading on the app is wonderful. I can lay my iPad down and let it read to me or use my fingers to scan down the page. It’s a very personal experience of reading books I’ve not experienced before. Braille has to be read word to word and audio has someone else’s voice and interpretation while iBooks utilises the voice over voice, your own interpretation is very real.

 

Twitter, IM and social Networks?

 

As I no longer have a facebook account, I shall comment on the social networks I have used on the iPad. Twitter Apps are few and far between on the iPad right now. Some of my favourites have not yet transgressed to the iPad. However I’ve found an app for the iPad that is accessible and works good enough. Not had that much experience to comment on some features but it reads your timelines, you can reply, DM, retweet and such but no list support as yet. And I’m assuming there’s multiple account support but haven’t tried so don’t quote me on that. That app is Tweet and it’s free.

 

I haven’t found an iPad specific app for apps such as Fring or Nimbuzz which I use on the iPhone so I’m using the fring app for now. I have it in full screen mode and still works nicely. They tend to only work in portrait and seen as I have my iPad in landscape for the majority of use, this can be a slight annoyance but once the app is Ipad specific, [let’s keep hoping], it’ll work beautifully. There is a slight border around the screen in full mode but it is still workable.

 

Skype works nicely on the iPad too. In the UK, still no iPad specific app but I’m told they have one in the US now so we’ll just have to wait for our version to hit the App store.

 

Typing!

 

I immediately opted for touch typing mode which I love. This can be changed while in an edit field with the rotor setting. I am finding I’m becoming quicker all of the time but will still opt for my wireless keyboard for extensive use. Touch typing will become easier and feels very natural. When I go to type on my iPhone, I hold the key down to hear the phonetic letter and it of course never comes and often forget to split tap to enter text. I cannot wait for touch typing in 4.0 on the iPhone. Typing on an almost full sized keyboard feels good and even if your finger is a letter out, sliding it to the right letter and lifting up feels great. Double tapping here will lead you to the need of a lot of deleting.

 

The phonetic speaking letters are a welcome edition to the iPhone OS and will strongly be looking forward to utilising this function on the iPhone.

 

 

Sound quality!

One Word! Awesome! The speaker sounds wonderful and the US voice I opt to use sounds incredible. Music and videos perform nicely and even though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m assuming headphones will sound just as crisp and clear.

 

Weight!

 

It is heavier than the touch and iPhone but this seemed obvious to me. Its compact and durable and I like the weight so I don’t lose it somewhere. It is not so heavy you could not carry it around with ease and yet it’s not light enough that you will forget it’s on your lap.

 

Overall Impressions!

I waited eagerly since the announcement in January and I have to say I am delighted with the product. Is it worth the money? Ask me that after a few weeks of working with it but I will go out there on a limb and say yes, I’m glad I paid for such a revolutionary product. Do I think it’s an oversized iPhone? No! It’s a different product entirely and the beauty of it is, people will choose to use their iPads for their own uses. There’s no rule book when it comes to the iPad and that is what I love the most about it.

 

 

Nambu: A twitawesome App

May 23, 2010

Twitter has become a huge part of many people’s lives. From celebrities keeping their fans up to date with their lives, to news stations and sports teams keeping us all clued in to your sister telling the world of her boring existence, twitter has truly taken off. Even within the blind community.

 

Other Twitter Clients

 

On the Mac with voice over, we have had a choice of the web, the accessibility twitter page, twitterific and syrinx as our choices for twitter clients. Adium also offers a limited service but the desktop apps are limited in their various ways and for those of us who manage more than one account, or crave to add our comments to others tweets in the form of a retweet, Syrinx and Twitterific and Adium lack functionality.

 

I am an iPhone owner and have discovered many other twitter apps that are much more feature rich than those available on the mac. They are up to date with everything that twitter offers, such as the new lists feature that allows users to group their followings into a desired list. For example, all the news tweeters to a news list so you can prioritise who you read about first thing in the morning over your cup of coffee.

 

Enter Nambu!

 

So the search continued for an accessible twitter app for the mac. All seemed relatively accessible if you didn’t feel like reading any time line whatsoever. Until this past week when after requests from several twitter users to implement more accessibility, the nambu network came through for all of those voice over users yearning for a new environment to tweet in.

 

Positives

 

Nambu is currently in public beta so many of the features are new and still improving. Here are some of the major features that attracted me to Nambu.

  1. Ability to manage multiple accounts on the fly.
  2. The traditional RT feature.
  3. The option to view your twitter lists’ time lines.
  4. Different notifications for different tweets, mentions/direct messages and new tweets.
  5. The option to translate tweets.
  6. Hide tweets.
  7. Mute hashtags or users which is a very nice contribution.
  8. The ability to read your own sent tweets.
  9. The option to search for trending topics and an across twitter search.

 

Old, familiar Features

 

Some of the features you can get in Syrinx that are not lost in Nambu

  1. Conversation view. [great if you forget what you were talking about when someone replies].
  2. Reply, dM, delete own tweets, RT, Open links all with keyboard shortcuts.
  3. Follow or unfollow and block people.

 

Design

 

I think the most wonderful thing I like about Nambu is the design and feel of the app. On http://nambu.com site they state they based it on the feel of iTunes and this is certainly true. There are two views, combination view and outline view. Both are accessible with voice over and so how you use it is your choice.

 

Combination View

This view does what it says. It combines your tweets into a timeline, including your other accounts if you have them all connected. With voice over you can move through the buffers with option and right arrow or left arrow respectively. It makes the window a little less spread out and works fine but I have three accounts running and don’t want all of my accounts in one timeline so outline view is my preference.

 

Outline View

 

Imagine iTunes, you have the sources table and whatever is highlighted there is shown in the songs table. This is true in outline view within Nambu. so for example, my personal timeline home timeline is highlighted in the first table, my timeline is then visible in the buffer section which is always labelled with which kind of buffer it is, I.E., mentions/sent, etc. It does not say which account it is focussed on but this can be found out if you jump to the first table or VO to the service pop up.

 

Other Business

 

Nambu also lets you know how many characters you have left as most other apps do. And it allows you to customise sounds if you would like to and this includes a sent sound. The option to have sound schemes may be a nice add on if anyone could find a way of doing this.

 

 

One of my favourite designs in nambu is the ability to interact with the tweet and see any hashtags you can VO-Space and it will list all of the hashtags in the timeline for you. Hitting a link will take you to safari and you can also use CMD-o to open any links.

 

Conclusion?

 

Nambu is still being worked on and so features that are currently missing or not quite complete will hopefully be updated in the future. The lists works great for reading your prepared lists but the ability to edit your lists or add new members to your lists is not currently available. I have left feedback for the developers and their continued support for all their users has been a great experience.

 

Give the app a try and see what you think and if something isn’t working then visit the feedback page and give the team a constructive piece of feedback.

 

Overall, Nambu is a clean, highly functional app with a lot of potential to take over mac voice over users’ macs in the near future.

The iPad is Coming! the iPad is coming!

May 7, 2010

The iPad is coming! The iPad is coming!

Apple today announced today, 7TH May 2010 that the iPad is being rolled out to Australia, Canada, the UK, Spain, france, Germany, Italy, Japan and switzerland on 28TH May. So far, UK pricing has been released as follows:
Wifi 16 gig, £429
Wifi 32 Gig, £499
Wifi 64 Gig, £599
Wifi + 3G, £529
Wifi + 3G, £599
Wifi + 3G, £699
All prices include VAT and can be pre-ordered 10TH May with apple. all models can be bought through Apple’s online store or their retail stores and through selective third party retailers.

The iBooks app will also be released in these countries on the same day but release dates, pricing for other countries is expected in July.

So finally we have a date. Now the choice is in your hands, if to buy, which model do you get your eager hands on?

Opening The Door with Apple’s IPad?

April 1, 2010

With the launch of Apple’s next big thing on the US horizon, it is hard to escape the many articles either reviewing or speculating about the IPad.

When it was announced back in January that the IPad, otherwise known as the much anticipated Apple Tablet, rumours began to fly about all kinds of things. For those of us interested in the accessibility, Apple did not fail to deliver, including the much loved and used voice over feature on the IPad.

Since its introduction last June, the voice over feature on the IPhone and IPod Touch consequently in september, has enabled thousands of visually impaired users to utilise the products as freely as their sighted counterparts with no extra cost. Despite everyone being uncertain whether it would be introduced last year, it has possibly become an assumption that Apple would not leave out this excellent, innovative feature. And even as the IPad was launched, we soon learned that voice over was indeed featured on there too.

However, questions began to rise in conjunction with a new Apple store launching and what it would mean for the visually impaired and dyslexic users of the IPad and its technology. IBooks promise to potentially open up doors never as open as before. As true that there are organisations in many countries around the world that offer merely a fragment of printed materials in alternative formats, the amount of that content available compared to the general market is miniscule.

Enter the IPad

At launch, this product seemed as though it could be the answer to many avid readers’ dreams. Especially those with a “print impairment”. If the voice over stretched to the IBooks feature at least. However, anyone who has been around this debate for the last year or so, will know that there has been many fights about whether Text to speech is actually a violation of audio copyright.

Most of us sensible people would state that audio books are completely different to those read by a screen reader. However, the author’s gild did not agree with that notion and filed a suit against Amazon and its Kindle reader last year to ensure a feature was available to authors/publishers to turn off the speech functionality of the Kindle if they so desired.

granted, I realise that this protects the content somewhat from hackers but as no expert in the matter I will comment no further on this except to say, while you’re keeping the hackers out you are also blocking millions of readers from accessing the material because of an impairment. Even though the Author’s gild still seem rather adamant about the reading aloud situation, I’m not entirely certain Apple will back down as easily as Amazon did.

Apple’s policy of universal access would completely be in disarray if Apple allowed the voice over feature to be turned off on certain books. Not to mention the fact that it should be an individual’s right to choose how they read a book. For those who are print impaired, walking into a bookstore and picking up a book is not an option. Audio books are only on occasion made in comparison to publication of print books so Ebooks seems like the most viable option to not only avid readers but to students alike.

Imagine, trying to study and be unable to get hold of the core text because it is simply not available in the format you need. Thousands of print editions but no other alternative and if there is, I.E. an Ebook you are unable to read it because the devices capable of doing so have been blocked access because the author’s gild deem your screen reader as equivalent to a human voice.

It does seem Apple have not gone into this with their eyes shut, they rarely do but after reading and rereading the statement on their Ibooks feature page where it says,
“iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page.” and maybe I am reading too much into this but it says can read the contents of “any page”. That suggests that the DRM ability like so many other devices has protected against the “print impaired” users accessing the books does not exist here. Apple does not state, will read all the content on an unprotected book’s page or anything to that affect. So, I do conclude that Apple have
A. Thought this through and
B. are keeping to their universal access policy.

The IPad, along with being a potentially fun and innovative way to do work on the go or watch movies in the car could also possibly open up the reading and studying world for millions of people that has remained firmly closed because of simple red tape.

Welcome the IPad and yet another product from Apple that just keeps making me and many others love their products more.

Changing How Voice Over Says things

March 26, 2010

Ever wanted to change how voice over says something? Well you can. Here’s how

Hit VO-F8 to open the voice over utility.
arrow down through the categories list until you get to speech.
VO-right and on pronunciation hit VO-Space to select it.
Now to the right of the pronunciation button is a table. Mac automatically edits the way some symbols are spoken but to add your own vo to add.
You should be in the first column where you type your word. So for example, the phrase lol should read laughing out loud. So type lol in the first column and then VO-right.
You need to hit VO-Space here to enter your new word, otherwise it just types your word in the first column. So where it says substitution, hit VO-Space to ensure you’re about to edit the word in the write column, it should make a pop sound to allow you to know its in the right place, type laughing out loud.
To add another word repeat the process.

You can change a word for certain applications, so if you want Lol to only work in your IM client then you can select that from the applications menu within the table.

To delete an entry
Simply highlight it in the table by putting your voice over cursor on it, stop interacting with the table and VO-right to delete and vo-space to carry out the action.

To edit an entry.
Interact with the table.
Find the entry with your VO keys you want to edit.
Ensure you VO-space on the entry you want to edit whether that be the word or the substitution before you attempt to edit it.

Hope this helps you guys.
Any questions please let me know

Mail App: a Quick start Guide

March 26, 2010

Quick start Guide to Mail

Mail is one of the most useful tools in modern technology. The mail app is complex yet so simple it is ironic. Like a lot of the native Mac apps it is accessible with voice over.

Setting up your mail is relatively easy if you use Gmail or AOL and is also doable on older Hotmail accounts. And there are plenty of guides around the net to help you but in this situation I will show you how to set up gmail in IMap.

From the doc hit M and mail should be the first app we come too. If not, type the letters and unless you’ve moved it off the doc it should be there as a default.
Open it by hitting enter or VO-space.
Assuming you have not yet set up an account, here’s how to do it. If you have, skip to the next heading.

Hit CMD-comma to open preferences. Interact with the toolbar and VO-space to select the accounts tab. Stop interacting with the toolbar and hit VO-shift-right arrow to skip to the end of the window, [note on a macbook this key combination would be VO-shift-function-right arrow.].
VO-left to where it says new and hit that button with VO-space.
This opens a new dialogue which will welcome you to set up your email account. It asks for your name, email and password. Mail is rather clever in that if it recognises the server I.E. gmail in this case, it uses the default settings to set up. This is great for setting up IMap and if you want to change it to pop3 later you can always edit your account.
Following the prompts are very straight forward, entering your incoming server which would be imap.gmail.com if you have a gmail account and outgoing server which would be smtp.gmail.com.
Once you’ve finished creating it should take your account online. And don’t worry if it doesn’t work, deleting or editing is very easy.

Assuming your account is set up now you can check your emails.
In the main email window there are two tables, one is your inbox table storing your inbox, sent messages folder, trash, junk, etc and if you have custom made inboxes too, this is where they would be. As the side bar acts as the top folder and whatever is highlighted there its contents are shown in the file table, the inbox table does the same thing. So if your inbox folder is highlighted in the mailbox list then your messages within your inbox/inboxes will be shown in the table. [note you can have more than one email account open in mail. All your inboxes are collected together so you can check all of your mail at once].
Each message shows you who it was sent from and subject line and date and which inbox it is located in. hitting enter will open the message in a new window. Although there is [by default] a preview mode which means whatever message is highlighted in the message table will show in a scroll area at the edge of the window [right of the message table. Some people prefer to turn this off and it can be done by doing the following.
Find the preview pane, it should say ‘message scroll area”.
VO-Up arrow and it will say horizontal bar.
Route your mouse to this by VO-CMD-F5 and then physically click the mouse twice in quick succession. On your macbook this will be the long rectangular button at the front centre of your macbook, on IMac or mac mini just double click your mouse.
This should work but some people haven’t always found it to work for them. [Thanks for my twitter friend for reminding me about this and suggesting I put it in the guide, Thanks Darcy].]
].
While on a message in the message table, you can hit enter and it will open up in a new window.

To compose a new message hit CMD-N and it will open a new window.
There is a to, CC, subject, from, Server, signature and message areas in this table. [note, mail will remember addresses you type regularly for ease as default but if you need to look up an address manually, while in the compose window, interact with the tool bar and find addresses,. This button will open another window with To, CC buttons and a search box along with a list of your contacts from address book. Highlight the address you want and click which box you want it to be put in, either To or CC. Once you close this window, your addresses should be in the selected fields].
Subject line is easy enough. From will only become an issue if you have more than one email account and this is just a pop up to help you decide which email account to send your message from, work or home, etc. The next box only needs to be changed if the server isn’t correct but providing you set up a valid server when setting up your account and its working, there’s no need to change this setting.
The signature box is very useful and again, a pop up box to choose from previously created signatures, [we’ll deal with this later on].
And finally your message area.
Once your message is ready to send, hit CMD-shift-D and away your message goes.

Replying to messages
We all need to reply or forward messages and mail makes this very easy. Either having a message open in a new window or merely highlighting the message in the messages table, CMD-R will reply or CMD-shift-F will forward.

setting up Signatures
We sometimes need to set a signature, either to let people know who we are or because we want to advertise something or merely be creative. Signatures is easy enough to do in mail, although a little buggy with voice over. But I’ve found a way around these issues.
Mail has crashed on several occasions when I’ve tried to set a signature so please follow the next steps carefully and precisely to avoid such behaviour.

hit CMD-comma to open preferences.
In the toolbar, select signatures.
First table will be a list of your accounts. If you need a specific signature for a specific account, highlight that account and stop interacting with the table.
VO-shift-right arrow to get to the bottom of the page and VO-left until you hear new. VO-Space and type the name of your signature, [not the actual signature, so for example- work]
Now you will be in the table, highlighting your new signature hopefully. If not, highlight which account you selected and VO-right to the signature table and highlight your new signature.
This next step is vital. VO-shift-right arrow to get to the end again and VO-left until you here edit text area. [its to the left of the new button].
Write your signature.
[note] if you want to enter more than one signature, I find closing the window and starting the process from fresh each signature works better. for some reason it won’t enter new text on new signatures unless you close the window first and reopen.

For those advanced users, I have found a plug in to stop mail auto-marking messages as read with the preview pane open. Here’s how.
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