I don’t know how many times I have heard this being said. “Leave your tablet at home” or “let’s make some anti-screen time” or “no mobile phones allowed.” I hear it and my blood boils.
For most people, the smartphone or tablet is just an accessory, a thing you take with you that has movies or your work calendar or those silly games. For me, my mobile phone is a lot more than that. It’s my book reader, my mobility aid, my connection to a pair of eyes when no one else is around to help me see things, my GPS in case I don’t know where I am, and also, my Optical Character Recognition or OCR device, because heaven forbid people braille their menues or leaflets or labels on products.
I have to have my mobile device with me almost everywhere I go, not because I am an internet addict or because I can’t deal with life without screen time. It’s because since the invention of the smartphone, a huge number of apps have been invented for accessibility purposes. AS a blind person, I need apps to help me read documents such as Seeing AI, apps to give me directions like Loadstone GPS or Blindsquare. There are even apps like Aira or Be My Eyes that connect you to a sighted person, eitehr volunteer on BME or paid professional on Aira, that will tell you what is written on things when the OCR apps fail.
When I was coming home from Woodhull earlier this year, I was at the airport, the counter where I checked in was empty of people and I needed to visit the loo. There were also no people around who could have helped. I was so happy to have Aira as I could ring them up, get directions, go to the loo, come back out and go back to my seat and have someone trustworthy help me with all of these things. I couldn’t have done it without my smartphone.
There are people who would argue that there was a time before smartphones and what did people do then. I say they relied on sighted people a lot more than they do now. They just didn’t know about certain things. They did things a lot less independently than they do now. That’s what happened back then.
I’d love to go on an adult holiday. I’d really enjoy going to Desire or something similar. Question is, what’s the deal going to be with the tech that I need to get things done so that I and others like me have more of a level playing field? I’d like to have a good time and have agency and be able to consent freely. I can’t do those things if I have to rely on fellow guests or be seen as that person who needs a staff member around all the time. My tech helps me to have that level of agency and consent. People on their phones or always carrying their tablets are possibly in similar positions. Please ask and don’t assume.