Getting Ready with OrCam

I am still putting OrCam to the test! This week I had great fun working out how it can help me with tasks in my day to day life- like getting ready. The OrCam can tell the difference between two face cleansers in near identical packaging within seconds. It can also tell me the name and shade of the foundation that I need to pick up at the shop. It feels so good to be able to do this kind of task independently again. Fully sighted people take for granted that they can identify anything with minimal effort.

I was amazed that the OrCam could read the tiny information stickers at the ends of my lipsticks. From colours to finishes- It’s the little things that make me the happiest! 

Sometimes with the OrCam you have to refocus the camera and point again before it gets the text’s wording exactly right. In the case of the lipsticks it was easy to tell when I needed to retry because the OrCam would read numbers (presumably from elsewhere on the sticker) or beep.

OrCam are hoping to bring colour recognition in on the next software update, this will be the icing on the cake for me! This device allows me to be curious and to explore the things that I wouldn’t feel were important enough to ask someone else about. When you’ve got stacks of brown envelopes you need to go through, queries like: “what is this nude lipstick shade called?” Slip into the ether of unimportance.

This video is short and sweet but I wanted to show how versatile the device is and how, albeit with some perseverance, it can read even really tiny text! More OrCam findings to come! 

Trying the Orcam for the First Time

I have been following the developments of OrCam since 2013 when I first contacted Dr Yonatan Wexler wanting to know more about this peculiar gadget he was envisaging. Dr Wexler kindly kept in touch with me over the years as OrCam developed and grew. Last week I was loaned an OrCam MyEye to wear for a month, in order to test it out and review it from the point of view of a young blind person. It is a four year dream to get my hands on this technology and I can’t wait to share my findings with you.

OrCam MyEye is a tiny camera that is positioned on the top right edge of any pair of glasses. A black wire runs behind your ear and to a box which contains the device computer. It is light and can then be clipped onto your belt or clothes. When turned on the OrCam MyEye can recognise pre-saved objects/faces and read text to the user via a bone conducting ear piece. The device is discreet and excels in recognising text- both on screens and paper.

Below is a video of myself and OrCam trainer Judy as she introduces me to the device for the first time. As you can see I was sceptical at first as to whether it would read my favourite poetry book accurately. A week on and I am still amazed at what OrCam is able to do. I am so excited to be able to share this ground breaking new technology and to provide a realistic and grounded review of the product. From what I’ve experienced so far, I firmly believe OrCam could be instrumental in the lives of many visually impaired people around the world. I will be putting the device through its paces in the life of a young person with sight loss. In the UK there are already over 600 users of OrCam and worldwide there are thousands. So, are we looking at the beginnings of artificial vision?

 

“God will give you your sight back”- Why I’d Be Pretty Peeved.

I am currently staying in a Christian community house. It’s a long story. Up to twenty people live under this one roof and many more pass through the doors on a daily basis. Being here has the feel of being a part of the world’s biggest family and I’ve met so many interesting people with amazing stories to share. I will write more about living in community on Saturday… But for now here is a good old-fashioned Thursday cuppa blog…

My week has been mostly spent walking, sleeping, cooking, playing and (sort of) praying. It has been hectic. On Tuesday evening, a few nights into my stay, I was approached by J. J is a young man from Africa who has come here as a refugee. He is one of the most passionately religious people I know and is a lovely person to be around. I was eating my nightly satsuma at the table in the community room whilst having a theological discussion with him when he said this:
“God is telling me that if you follow him you will be healed, you will regain your sight.”
My heart instantly dropped. I will admit my respect for him then faltered.
I’ve been here before, in fact at one point my own Dad used to hide pictures of saints under my bed asking them to heal me. When I told him politely that I didn’t actually want to be healed he seemed slightly shell-shocked.

The truth is, though I have only had sight loss since the age of eleven, I can remember far more of the past few years than I can of the ones where I had full sight. I think you do the most growing in your teenage years, and I’ve done that now as a VI person. It is what I’m used to. I would have to relearn things if I got my full sight back- what is pretty/ugly, how to understand shower controls with my eyes rather than my hands, how to look for somebody in a busy place.

In all honesty I like being sight impaired. I feel that the world is more beautiful through my current eyes. The way colours mix and blur together, the way I can see through my hands and the way I am not constantly bombarded with visual distractions. I live in a calming blur, the kind most people need pricey drugs in order to achieve.

Now don’t get me wrong- having sight problems is by no means ideal. I’d love to be able to read normally and not have to worry about mobility and vision aids etc. But the truth is… If God gave me my sight back I would be pretty peeved. I am happy just the way I am.

So thanks, but no thanks.

This Thursday's cup of tea

Inspector ‘Poireau’ Saves the Day…

Day Four in Lyon:

Straight after breakfast we went into an English language lesson inside the secondary school. These were older children doing an English listening activity. I found it hard not to laugh because the audio was something which you could imagine being on Radio 4. All the characters had impeccable English accents and had stereotypically British names like ‘Poppy’ and ‘Luke’. It surprised me that some of the words in the activity were unusualy complex- such as lawnmower. It reminded me of studying French before my GCSE and learning unusual words in the lessons that I could never imagine being useful. But who knows, perhaps one of the French pupils will become a horticulturalist and move to the UK.

A classroom poster explaining english negatives

Next we had a session booked to practice our speaking exams. The English students had topics to try out on us and we had ones for them. I was in this session with my friend C who is studying A2 French. We both found the session very difficult because we weren’t clear on what the French students were saying to us. Worry quickly set in as we realised that we would be doing this exam in a weeks time and we were nowhere near ready. Though the students were lovely I felt rather put back on the confidence scale because they didn’t seem to understand what I was saying and I didn’t understand them either. Myself and C did however help them on their topic of Margaret Thatcher because we both have very opposing views.

My language flunk continued into the next session which was ‘Torball’- the French equivalent of goalball for VI people. I was really wanting to get the flow back that I had the day before but every time I tried to speak French to someone they told me they could speak English. I had a go at the sport and I was lucky because no balls came my way. England won 3 – 0, literally beating them at their own game.

J, K and P playing Torball

I don’t think I have ever said the phrase “I was saved by a leek” before. But today it certainly applied. We were doing a sensory activity with the pupils studying gardening and landscaping. This involved wearing a blindfold and trying to identify different smells, tastes, textures and sounds. I was shown around the activity by a lady who didn’t speak much English, she was very friendly though and laughed at my extreme facial expressions when sniffing the strong smells and touching the odd textures. I was doing my best to tell her what I thought the items were in French but my language ability seemed to be really fluctuating. That is when I was handed a leek. I was surprised because there is nowhere in the Edexcel syllabus which describes it as necessary vocabulary for the AS course- yet I knew it. ‘Poireau’ instantly came up in my mind, accompanied by an image of a leek as an inspector. When I gave my answer of ‘Poireau’ to the lady and she said it was correct it felt like my fears had been lifted. If I know the word for something as bizarre and specific as leek I can’t be that bad at French right?

A hand drawn cartoon of a leek dressed as inspector Poirot

After lunch we went to the Lyon football stadium. It is a huge arena which used to be a velodrome, but a replacement stadium is now in the process of being built because the current one is too small. We saw the VIP boxes and the changing rooms- we even chilled out in the team’s pitch-side chairs! The tour didn’t last long so we went on to do some shopping in a huge mall which appeared to be neither inside nor outside. We only had a short amount of time before we had to go to our meal reservation so we all had to prioritise which shops we wanted to go to. Myself and French teacher C were the only ones who had book shops at the top of our list so we went together to ‘Decitre’ which is a very large book store. There were so many books to admire and I loved finding the French translations of books that are currently popular in the UK. C got herself a very nice copy of Les Misérables which I loved because it was so chunky, and I couldn’t help but get a copy of Wonder by R.J Palacio (a book which isn’t hard to fall in love with). I also got an audiobook called ‘La Mécanique du cŒur’ which nearly every worker in the shop told me is an amazing story.

The group sitting in the team seats

As it was the last night we all went for a meal out in a huge restaurant. It was very grand and had mirrors on the walls making it look even bigger than it already was. French teacher C (after a glass of wine) decided that she would tell us some swear words in French so that we could ‘avoid situations’. Much laughter ensued. A few of us tried snails and most who did liked them, though I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After coming out of the metero we got a tiny bit lost. We couldn’t work out which way we were supposed to go to get back to CSRP and it was another late night. R ended up running up and down the road (which was quite funny considering he had already had a rather strong rum cake by this point) in order to try and find our turning. We ended up reading one of the large maps which seem to be scattered everywhere in Lyon and eventually we crept back into the internat where we were staying. All the pupils here go to bed with lights out at 10:30pm sharp. I can’t imagine that working at our college for some reason…!

The Monster from Fish and Chip Land Settles In

Day Three in Lyon:

There was a very heavy tiredness over the group. We had all returned home from the family dinner at around midnight the night before and were subsequently hugging our duvets yawning when it was time to get up. For the brave few who managed to move for breakfast it was chocolate brownies, which prompted a discussion as to why the French eat so much at mealtimes but somehow stay slim! On our way out R went to elaborate lengths to sneak some sugar cubes out of the dining room; we were fast running out and didn’t know how to ask for some more in French.

Our group then split to do one of two activities- one group went out on an excursion to a beehive and myself and the others stayed to do some drama. The children in this class were practicing poetry with a visiting workshop leader. They were talking through the many aspects of successful poem recitation including: breath control, stance and intonation. At some points in this session I was the only French speaker so I had to translate for my group. I was really surprised at how much I could understand and I really enjoyed doing it. I also found that it is a real buzz when a French person speaking English looks to you and says a French word and you can give them the translation that they are looking for. At the end of the lesson we took it in turns to recite a french translation of a strange haiku about a frog which jumped into the water making a ‘plock’ sound. When I had a go the teacher running the class comically remarked: “I do like the English plock”.

We had a break between activities so we headed onto the playground for some sun. The other students sat down on a bench beneath a tree whilst myself and R, on a whim, decided to see if we could join in a game of football with the French primary school pupils. At first they looked at us like we were giant aliens from the land of fish and chips, however with some persistence and some French from me we were soon involved. R was immersed into the football and I was pulled aside by a little girl. She preceded to introduce me to all of her friends and involved me in a very complex imaginary game involving a ‘big mouse’. In return I taught them ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and how to spin a hool-a-hoop on their arms. The highlight was definitely when the little girl (with her arms wrapped round my neck) told me that my french was ‘very good’ and asked me how I know French and English. It occurred to me that with children you don’t really need to speak the same language anyway. The language which will get you the furthest is the one you learnt in your own childhood- one of imagination, ball games and make believe. Being with the children made me more confident because I wasn’t so scared of making mistakes around them because I felt that they would be a lot more willing to bare with my clumsy errors than adults might be. Talking to them and them understanding and talking back made me feel on top of the world and it cemented in my head the fact that languages are certainly for me.

Me turning a skipping rope with a small boy jumping

For lunch we had a meal at a catering college. This was at the other side of the city and involved a short journey on the metero. We had all been given day tickets so I retrieved it from my pocket when we reached the machine. I held it up to a member of staff to check it was the right ticket, but she burst out laughing. It was then that I was told that I had very nearly fed a plaster into the metero machine instead. When the ticket was found and we were on the train I was next to a French student called A. She was listening to James Arthur’s ‘impossible’ and singing along.
“Is that James Arthur?” I asked. She looked puzzled.
“James Arthur?” I tried again. I was about to try for a third time whilst beginning to regret my question in the first place when my French teacher ducked down to our level and said: “James Arthur?” In a thick French accent. It is at this point that A’s face lights up and she says: “Oui!!”. It is amazing what difference an accent can do. The students at the catering college are learning how to become cooks and servers and the food was delicious. As we were now in an unknown part of the city after lunch we decided to go out to do some shopping and tourism. Once we had separated from the french students who had lessons back at CSRP staff member J did an impression of an enthusiastic tourist in order to get us to where we needed to be. His charade even included a very large map held at arms length and a puzzled expression. We decided to go up to the basilica on the hill, to get to which we went on the small tram which goes up the incredibly steep incline. The priest inside the basilica was very kind and said that we could touch everything and anything we wanted because there were so many beautiful things to see. He was right- there were ornate chandeliers and carvings to explore and we enjoyed taking the time to just sit in the calm and take in our surroundings.

The basillica roof held by ornate collums

A sculpture of the cruxifiction

A stained glass window with the sun coming through it

Outside the basilica there was a fantastic view of the whole of Lyon. E, a french student involved in the trip last year, was able to point out her house in the distance below. I had been squinting through my camera at the beautiful view but I was delighted when we found an amazing tactile map of the scene with Braille and representations of all the tiny houses and monuments. We spent several minutes exploring this and taking our fingers on journeys through the maze of miniature apartment blocks. Next we went to the FNAC- a ‘buy anything you can think of’ kind of shop- in search of audiobooks. There were no titles which particularly caught my eye in the audio section, but I couldn’t help myself from buying a print copy of the ‘fault in our stars’ in French. I will have to try and scan it or put it under a CCTV magnifier, not the easiest way for me to read by a long shot, but ‘Nos étoiles contraires’ has a very firm place in my heart. Even if I can’t read the words I am so glad to have it.

The view of Lyon all the way to the horizon

The metal tactile sculpture of the scene

French supermarkets are similar to English supermarkets in the sense that there are a lot of things which are just too good to buy! We ended up buying far too much food for all of us to eat, even with our dinner guests from the college. When we got back we had the food in a big picnic style with drinks of Cola and Grenadine syrup squash. We relaxed on the sofas and myself and P played a complex game of chess with many missing pieces. This game’s complexity was increased by the fact that we had to use alternative pieces for different missing figures, meaning there was always an element of confusion over what we were actually moving. The night finished with us all discussing how much we have become like a family over the last few days. And it is true, we really are like a family now.

Myself, C and P sitting on the sofas playing chess

The Language Nerd is Unleashed

Day two in Lyon:
After a night sleeping on slightly bizarre cylindrical french pillows we were very excited to encounter our first French breakfast. Breakfast appears to be a big deal here, with tables littered with platters and jugs of hot drinks. As an ad-hoc breakfaster myself I was initially wary, but I can never refuse a hot chocolate. A few people in our group were fascinated by the concept of brioche: “So it is like a cake without fruit or chocolate or anything?” They asked before grabbing another slice.

After eating far too much we headed over to the CDI. It stands for: ‘Centre d’Information et Documentation’ and is the equivalent of a learning resource centre with computers, books and desks to work at. It was here that I attempted to write the blog I published yesterday using the french AZERTY keyboard. This wasn’t overly successful so I ended up, despite initial deep reluctance, buying some roaming data from my phone company. The things I do for this blog…

books in the CDI

One of my favourite parts of the day was when a few of us helped out in an english class. The pupils were preparing their speaking exam texts (something I have just finished for my own oral exam in a few weeks time). The language nerd in me was thrilled with the task and I was soon on with editing an essay about Rihanna with a pupil. I know myself that there is nothing more frustrating than someone correcting your work without any reason as to why you were wrong in the first place; I therefore made it my personal mission to explain every correction I made to her in French… No matter how hard I found it to translate. This however did make me realise how complicated English is as a language, and how little attention I give it on a day-to-day basis. The past tense for example: I ate, I have eaten, I did eat. How do you justify one as correct but not the others? I found myself desperately rummaging in my language knowledge for anything but “It just is” as a way of reasoning. It was fascinating- and after all the mental language analysis explaining in French was the easy part!

After that we went into some classrooms and spoke to some students. They were all very friendly and we got to see the “Iris”. The Iris is the equivalent of the Humanware Braillenote which is a Braille computer that is very popular with VI people in the UK. The Iris also has a LED display so a teacher/parent can read in characters what is displayed in Braille on the refreshable display. It was very interesting and the pupils clearly found it vital to their learning.

After lunch we had a talk about traditional Lyonnaise food and then we went out to an Art Deco 30’s style apartment. It was set out exactly how it would have been in that era and it was fascinating to see all the furniture. The flats were used like council flats, with rent at a subsidised rate. They were very popular with massive waiting lists. I especially loved the giant communal balcony looking onto the busy main road.

the  view from the 30's apartment

The final adventure of the day was a family meal. I was very nervous about this because I was worried about my French not being up to scratch and also being faced with a lot of unfamiliar food. Myself, K and staff member R went to a lovely lady’s house a couple of stops down the line on the metro. She made us a wonderful chicory salad followed by creamy oven baked potatoes. I really surprised myself with my French and found that it was getting easier as the night went on. By the end I was barely thinking before replying to something in French- a big improvement on my usual ‘I have to get it right’ attitude.

R, K and Me at the dinner party

Bonne soirée!

“We Can Take Teabags… Right?”

“Twas the night before an adventure, when all in my room
Not a guide dog was stirring, she’d gone after one last groom.
The backpack was hung by the door with care,
In hopes that the morning would soon be there.”

Tomorrow I am going on a trip to France with my college- this is currently resulting in me having that tingly feeling in my toes which only comes with pure excitement. Whilst we are there we will be staying at the ‘Cité Scolaire René Pellet‘- a school like my college here in England, which provides for visually impaired students. We will be exploring Lyon, meeting the students and getting immersed in the culture for five days. I am studying the language for an AS level at the moment, so I am looking forward to trying to overcome my fear of offending people by accident when I speak a foreign language. It also gives me the opportunity to practice for my french speaking exam which discusses gay marriage in Francophone countries.

During the last few weeks we have gone over the details of the trip as a group several times. In the most recent I voiced my growing concern on whether we would be allowed to take teabags in our hand luggage through customs. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in my pondering and yes: teabags can go through airport security. After all, we are British and therefore need our cups of tea like we need oxygen, Radio 4 and Stephen Fry.

We were only allowed to take hand luggage and I have just about managed to squeeze my essentials (tea included) into my big ‘for every occasion’ backpack. There will be seven visually impaired students and four staff members going on the trip. I am hoping (internet dependent) to blog as I go. Anyway… I have a 5am wake up call to look forward to in the morning so I better be getting to bed!

Bon Voyage!

Map of France with Lyon Marked On

Music:

Rusted Root – Send Me On My Way

Cœur de Pirate – Ensemble