A Brief Review Of the Retevis RT8 Handheld DMR Transceiver


It’s been a while. Sorry about that.

Today, I am reviewing the Retevis RT8 DMR handheld transceiver. My thanks to Retevis for providing a review unit. The question is, is this something that a blind ham can use? The answer is yes, and it’s probably most easily used with the third party MD380tools. In this podcast, I will outline the how this works. There are much better tutorials on this, and I encourage you to use those for a lot more detail. For an explanation of how the morse output works, see Wolf’s original RT3 modifications page.

New Truths To Learn

Honest self-assessment:

Much of my stress, though certainly not all, and certainly what’s related to my job, is self-induced. To put it simply, good enough is never good enough.

There is one simple truth I’ve known for a very long time. I will always work twice as hard for half the credit. Always. That’s just the life we lead. With the deck stacked against me, blindness being as feared and misunderstood as it is, I have to be superior to be perceived as equal. Tell me that this is not true and where my perception is wrong, please. The fact is, we can’t be as good as anyone else to achieve the same results, we have to be better. Just as an example, in order to do the job I’m currently doing, I have to be absolutely, intimately familiar with the technology. There are no shortcuts. You can’t learn to navigate your screen on the job and expect to keep up, you simply can’t. Because you’ll get behind. Even if you *are* a very good screen reader user, there are times when the struggle to keep up is very, very real. These are absolute truths in my world. No two ways about it, I have to work harder just to keep up. It isn’t good enough to be “good…for a blind guy”. That simply isn’t acceptable. In this world, and I’ve learned this loads of times, there are no excuses. You can either hold your own, or you can’t.

And here is where my current employer is different. They’re mainstream, yet they also are giving all of us the best opportunity to succeed. yes, we have to perform, and we have to maintain standards, and yes, we’re expected to do the job we’re hired to do. But we’re given the grace to learn, to improve, and to address problems, along with all the support we need in order to do so. In many, if not all, of my previous jobs, I was my own tech support, my own problem solver, my own advocate…I did it all. It’s kind of nice to offload some of that, at least a little bit, to people who really have a heart for supporting all of us to succeed. Rather than “Do better”, we get “This could use improvement, here are some suggestions, how else can we help”. Apple really is a different kind of company.

And yet…I still put all of that pressure to do better, to be better, no…to be superior…on myself. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be, especially when it isn’t in its proper proportion. Which, in this case, it is not.

I don’t have to juggle all the balls.

I don’t have to fix everything.

I don’t have to *do* everything.

It’s OK to let a ball drop sometimes.

There are people who will catch them.

These are the new truths that I have to learn.

I have Angie to help with the selling the house and helping me keep my sanity.

I have my managers, my coworkers, my work colleagues and friends, to keep me encouraged and tell me that yes, we all are, and have, had the same struggles coming to grips with all the newness.

I have all of my friends, meatspace and virtual, near and far, to prop me up, tell me I’ve got this, that everything will be all right, that it’s always just one foot in front of the other, one moment to the next. Oh, and to help me look really, really good, and better than I really am.

And family of course, even the ones that make me crazy. It’s what we do.

So…thanks y’all. The struggle is real. But so are all of y’all.

Dotbuds IP10: Initial Impressions

Earlier this month, I ordered Dotbuds IP10 after seeing a Facebook ad for them and reading (mostly) positive Facebook comments. Dotbuds are sold by a company in France, but manufactured in China (what isn’t?), perhaps as a white label version of something else manufactured under other names. I’ve seen several similar things on eBay in prices ranging from around $20 to around $50, but I don’t know if they’re the same, similar, rebadged versions of this same set, or what, and, well, sometimes, you pays your money, you takes your chances. I bought the actual set labeled as Dotbuds from the Dotbuds site.

Anyway, their 4-8 day postage timeline is a bit optimistic, but in my case, I got them fairly quickly, considering they ship via China Post with no real rush. But hey, it’s free shipping, so I’m not very worried about that.

So what are they?

While they may not exactly call them this in so many words, Dotbuds IP10 are billed as something like a poor man’s Earpods. At less than 1/3 the cost of the Apple product, well, it’s sort of a bold comparison. Sure, you don’t get the super easy almost instantaneous and effortless pairing, pairing to multiple devices across iCloud, automatic stereo to mono switching, or any of those things, but really, what do you want for $50?

Dotbuds IP10 are a pair of small, wireless earbuds. The package comes with the two earbuds, sets of earbud tips in three sizes, a short micro USB charging cable, and a really tiny user guide, also available online. The USB cable might be a foot long, which is better than some micro USB cables I’ve gotten. The instructions can be found on the Dotbuds website, here,. As instructions go, these are brief and straightforward, if not 100% complete, i.e. little to no mention of voice and audio prompts.

Melanie and her aid both say these things look like hearing aids. That may or may not be a good thing, but they’re not terribly huge, and they fit in my ears well enough.

While the instructions say something about lights flashing to indicate pairing status, there are plenty of audio cues to alert you to this as well. The pairing process takes some time initially, as you first have to pair the Dotbuds to each other, then to your device. For the best flexibility, I paired them twice; I’ll explain why in a minute. But the process goes like this:

  • Stick the Dotbuds in your ears.
  • Press both multifunction buttons at once, one on each ear, and hold them down through the power on and pairing announcements. Note the voice of Allison.
  • You’ll hear tones confirming that the Dobuds have paired to each other.
  • Press and hold the button(s) again to get the “Power off” message.
  • Power one bud on by holding the button to get the “Power on”, then the “Pairing” message. Then hold the other button down just to the “Power on” message.
  • Pair from your phone or computer settings as you would do for any other set of bluetooth headphones.
  • Power off again, and repeat the last two steps, but reverse the ears you turn on and pair. This will mean that your Dotbuds will show up twice as “Tws Earbuds”. Don’t worry, this is normal.
  • To use them, turn one on, then the other, by holding down the button until you get the “Power on” message. Holding either button will turn both buds off.

OK, so why pair them twice, once for each ear, when they’re connected to each other?

It’s a fair question. Here’s the answer. When listening to most audio, these earbuds play in stereo. However, when using the phone app, or for that matter, apparently, any VOIP application or anything that uses the microphone, only mono audio is supported. That means that only the first bud powered up will get audio during your call. Thus, if you’re listening to some tunage with both buds and get a phone call, you’ll only hear your call out of one side. If you turned on the right Dotbud first, that’s the one that gets your VOIP audio. If it’s left first, you’ll get VOIP audio from only your left ear. The good news about this is that the audio is really quite clear, and you don’t get the degradation that sometimes occurs with other headphones, so your voice over LTE calls, Skype calls, FB Messenger, and the like, will come in without the lovely limited frequency response and just general phone sound you get from some headphones, if that makes sense.

These are traditional earbud design, which means they stick in your ears. That means your hearing will be blocked. If you want to use these while walking, for goodness sake, just use one of them and keep the other in reserve. Their outside noise blocking is quite good, which is definitely not compatible with walking. Especially in traffic. Be careful out there, guys

Charging is claimed to take one hour. I’m unclear whether that means for the Dotbuds in the charging box, or for the charging box itself. The manufacturer claims up to four hours running time for the Dotbuds, with another three (or maybe four?) charges in the charging box. Sorry I don’t recall which, but it’s pretty respectable in either case. I haven’t run down either the Dotbuds or the box yet, so I can’t tell you what actual run time looks like.

As for sound, it’s surprisingly good, at least to my non-audiophile ear. You likely aren’t going to get room thumping kidney pounding bass, but it’s well enough defined for my ear, with crisp enough highs and mids, again, to my ear and with the brief time I’ve played with them. In any case, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, especially not at the price. Voice quality is good as well, if, again, only in mono for applications that also use the microphone.

Mic audio might be another matter. The one phone call I had, my friend told me that the right ear sounded muffled, while the left ear sounded fine. I need to investigate further; this could be just something funny about my face and ears, or who knows? I’ll need more time to nail this particular report down, and maybe get some more calls in to check out what’s going on.

What about Siri? There’s no way to access Siri from the multifunction button. That only turns the Dotbuds on and off, play/pause, skips to the next track, answers and hangs up calls, and rejects calls. However, “Hey Siri” works just fine, noting the same mono behavior as with other apps that use the microphone.

Fitting the Dotbuds into the charger box was straightforward, as the box has defined cutouts shaped just like the Dotbuds, and they only fit in properly one way. The lid closes and has a magnet to keep it shut. Easily fits in a pocket, too.

One final thing. Yes, you can use them one at a time if you like, which is why I recommend pairing both of them to your phone. Doing this effectively doubles their useful running time of course.

Over all, I like them, and better yet, I like that I didn’t pay $160 for them. Sure, they don’t have all the Apple frills, but for a decent set of small wireless earbuds with a basic feature set, they’re good enough and sound fine to my ear. I can’t speak to latency and am not sure how one would measure that, sorry.

An Interesting Electronic Travel Aid

A couple weeks ago, something came to my attention that, if it really lives up to what they promise, could finally be something actually innovative in electronic travel aids.

For a while now, we’ve all seen that next great new thing that will promise to reduce or even eliminate the need for a white cane or guide dog, or so the popular press surrounding such announcements would usually have it. These things always had one really glaring problem. Well, a couple of them, but one huge problem. They would detect obstacles, but that didn’t help much for things like steps, curbs, dropoffs, holes, and terrain changes, things that a cane, or a guide dog, alert to in the natural course of their use. I’ve said that whole time that if someone can crack that particular problem, I’d be interested in listening, but until then, I didn’t consider any of these supposedly helpful products terribly interesting. Especially since many of them would take up a hand, and you’re already using one of those for a cane or guide dog.

A couple weeks ago, a startup in India started following me on Twitter, and I started looking at what they were doing. Oh, look, it’s another electronic travel aid. But, wait, they claim what? That you can *run* without the need for a cane? Color me skeptical. I asked for more information, and got it yesterday. I also called and managed to have a chat with the CEO of the company, Live Braille (or Embro…I see both names, but it’s livebraille.com). Here’s what I’ve found out.

For the past year, this company has made a wearable electronic travel aid called Live Braille Mini. Very like other similar things, it uses sound to detect obstacles at up to 3.5 meters away in long range mode, or 1.5 meters in short range mode. That’s close to 12 feet and about 4.5 feet, respectively. But then, it gets interesting. First, it really is wearable, as it’s a ring you wear on your finger. I expect it’s a rather large ring, but nonetheless, a ring, massing 29 grams, or weighing just a smidge over an ounce, according to Google. Using various vibration patterns, they claim something like 117 distinct patterns, and sensing at 50 times a second, the company claims one can not only detect the distance from an above ground obstacle, but also its speed, and even what kind of obstacle it is, as you can get an idea of your environment by waving your hand. There’s apparently a video of a blind kid chasing a sighted volunteer using only the Live Braille Mini. Pretty impressive, especially for $299.

But here’s the really interesting bit. I’m told a newer product will ship in July. The Live Braille Walk Pro is also a ring. It’s smaller than the Mini, runs for two hours on a charge, but comes with a charging case that extends that by quite a lot. Like the mini, it uses vibration to indicate speed, distance, etc. Unlike the Mini, however, it uses light rather than ultrasound. This means it’s water resistant, perhaps even waterproof, and, I’m told, the performance should not degrade over time as a device using ultrasound would. It also will detect ground level obstacles like steps, holes, curbs, and the like. The cost for the new device is considerably higher, at a retail of $1499 and a preorder price of $1199, but it comes with insurance and a lifetime warranty, as well as a personal setup and orientation call. “Think of it as like buying a high end luxury car”, said Mr. CEO.

So, putting my money, literally, where my mouth is, after saying that an ETA that would detect steps and such would be worth something, I bought one at the preorder price. I’m the ninth person to order one, so this is pretty new. The company tells me that there are 10,000 or so Live Braille Minis out in the world, in the hands of blind people inIndia, the UK, and South America.

The website is clearly not designed with a thought that blind people might use it. There is, for example, a video that autoplays but has no nonvisual content that’s useful to tell what it’s showing, just music. There are unlabeled graphics. There are tables used for layout. Even so, I was able to place my order and do a bit of reading. The site is at

If you’re the adventurous type and want to buy either a Mini or preorder a Walk Pro, you can, and you can even get a discount. There’s a bit of a misprint if you select to preorder a Walk Pro. It says the preorder price is $300 on the radio button to select the preorder, but it corrects in your cart to show the actual price of $1199. Payment is through Paypal, which means you can use Paypal Credit if you want to pay it off over time.

For $59 off the preorder of the Walk Pro, use this coupon code:

For $29 off the purchase of a Mini (which is in current production), use this coupon code:

If, on the other hand, you’re justifiably skeptical but are interested in what happens when it releases, I’ll definitely be sharing my experience with the Walk Pro when it gets here.

By the way, no, I’m not planning to give up my guide dog. This does, however, appear to be the year for technology, since I’m also getting Aira in June, and then there are these low cost braille displays. And also the Tap virtual keyboard. …

You can read the brochure for the Walk Pro here.

ARRL Responds

In the person of Steve Ford, WB8IMY, QST’s editor, I have received a response to my email from Thursday evening. You can see that email in the previous post.

I forwarded the email I sent originally to Mr. Ford, along with aRRL’s, president, CEO, and first and second vice presidents, and received the below response about 20 minutes ago. Well, I read it about 20 minutes ago, I received it earlier than that.

Needless to say, I am truly angered by his response. SO accessibility was merely an unfortunate casualty of a cost cutting measure? Maybe it will be accessible in the future, because HTML5 is better than flash. Which it is, but HTML5 is not inherently inaccessible. The fact is that accessibility is not, and has never been on ARRL’s radar, in spite of the fact that the issue was brought to its attention.

I’m a lifetime member, but had I not been, I would definitely have to consider keeping my membership, even at the “blind” membership level. As I said before, if I had access to QST, the full QST, when everyone else gts it, I would definitely join at the full membership level and not the “blind” one. But now that I see exactly what my membership organization feels about me, well…

Here’s Steve Ford’s response:

Buddy: We made the transition to the PageSuite platform as a cost saving measure, and also because it offers us the ability to expand and upgrade our e-newsletter offerings, something we have been very eager to do. After careful research, we determined that PageSuite was the best choice to balance cost and features.

Unfortunately, there must always be compromises in a situation such as this. Compatibility with reading software for the visually impaired is just one of them. PageSuite could no doubt create a customized package to address every shortcoming, but the cost would be such that it would eliminate any savings. Unless ARRL wishes to divert the necessary financial resources to create a customized solution, I’m afraid we must work within the capabilities of the standard PageSuite package.

Since PageSuite is based on HTML5 rather than Flash, it is possible that compatible reading software may exist. If that doesn’t prove to be the case, there is still the possibility that such software may eventually be developed. HTML5 is becoming the standard and Flash is in decline, so I suspect we will see increasing software development in this area.


Steve Ford, WB8IMY
ARRL Publications Manager

Regarding Access To Digital Publications: An Open Letter To the ARRL

Several years ago, the ARRL, our country’s ham radio organization, began publishing its monthly membership magazine, QST, electronically, both on the web and in a smart phone application. Unfortunately, the web version was Flash based, and the iOS version just plain didn’t read with Voiceover. Naturally, the blind ham community was pretty disappointed, because, while we do get QST from the NLS talking book program, it’s delayed from the printed and electronic edition, and doesn’t include advertising. (It used to be even more delayed and not include a bunch of other stuff, too, so that’s improved.) Parenthetically, of course we want to see the ads. After all, it’s the best way to learn about new gear, right?

Back in 2014, my friend Rob and I had the chance to talk to QST‘s publisher, steve Ford, about this problem of their inaccessible magazine. He told us then that they would look into it more, that a publication usable by us was possible, they just had to figure out the best way to handle it, words to that effect at any rate.

A week or so ago, we got word that the electronic QST was changing formats, and since this new one was HTML 5 and not Flash, maybe i would be usable. I was pretty hopeful anyway, as HTML5 is not inherently problematic in the way Flash is.

It was not to be, however. First, we got suggestion that it should work, because it worked with this thing that I’d never heard of. Then, this evening, we got another note saying that no, it didn’t work with JAWS or Zoomtext. Sure enough, I tried the sample provided, and it didn’t work on the Mac either.

I wrote the below email a couple hours ago and sent it to the person who was in touch with another blind ham. Apparently Allison Mclellan works with Steve Ford on QST.

Anyway, here’s my reaction and what I wrote to the ARRL via Allison. Some may think I’m overreacting. That’s OK. But the fact is that the ARRL had offers of assistance. Even if they didn’t, they know who in the membership roster signs up for the blind membership and could have asked. (They didn’t have to, I know I’m not the only one who offered to help or asked about this.) So what other conclusion can I have drawn?

Hello Ms. Mclellan,

Please feel free to share my comments with whoever should see them, including the general membership if you so desire.

Thank you for corresponding with Tom Fowle and others on this issue. I was excited, if apprehensive, about the changes that are going into effect for the new digital QST. I remember talking to Steve Ford about the issue of access to the digital QST by blind hams during the 100th ARRL anniversary convention. At that time, he told me and my friend Rob, KB5UJM, in his office, that accessibility was possible, they just had to figure out with the publisher how to implement it. I was disappointed to see no real movement on this, but I understand how slowly change can be brought about.

I really must express my extreme disappointment, therefore, at how the issue of accessibility was, or rather was not, handled while implementing the changes ARRL has. While I’m pleased that you have apparently been tasked with dialoguing with our community, it seems to me that this is playing catch up, at best, and a token effort at worst. Here you have an untapped resource that is willing and able to assist you: a group of tech savvy blind members, and I know at least a few of us had volunteered our assistance directly. Untapped, yes; during these developments, was any effort made to reach out to your tech savvy blind members to ask for help, even with testing to see if the solution you had could be made to work? I was certainly never contacted, and, judging by your response, neither was anyone else.

Before I go on, you’ve hit a couple of the major accessibility tools. Voiceover on the Mac and iPhone, and the free NVDA screen reader, are a couple more. I had a quick look with Voiceover with as little success as you had with JAWS and Zoomtext. I don’t think the accessibility tool in use will make much difference.

Here’s the real question. Are we or are we not valued members of the amateur radio community in general, and the ARRL in particular? Does the League, an organization to which I have a lifetime membership, consider me fully able to contribute to the hobby, or am I just a charity case that this great hobby can only serve to be a little bright spot in my otherwise pathetic little life?

Of course we all enjoy the recorded version of QST. We’re pleased that we now have very little of the content removed now. We enjoy it several weeks after everyone else. While this has certainly improved since I first became a ham 29 years ago (now we have, say, a three-week lag instead of a six-week or more lag), even that lag sometimes leaves us scrambling to keep up with events, not to mention being left out of the conversation when all the other guys in our radio clubs are discussing the new QST that just landed on their doorsteps. I understand completely that this used to be unavoidable, and the recorded version was, and still is, a great solution. But now, with the advent of readily available (and cheaper) hardware and software that we can use, we should have options, and many of the barriers to full inclusion are becoming more and more artificial. Including access to digital publications.

Of course we’re willing to help make better access happen, but we can’t do it without the ARRL first asking for help and providing us with the ability to help. Of course we want to be full and equal members of the ham community. And, for my part, I’d happily pay full membership price, not the blind rate, for full, equal, and timely access (yes, including all the ads, we want to drool, too!) to QST.

Cane or guide dog?

In honor of White Cane Safety Day, I offer this…

On another blog,, Jena asks her readers what they would choose and why, after telling her own story. Here’s my response.

I don’t see this as an either/or, but I’m weird. Always have been. Also contrary.

I’m a good cane user. I have no problem with the cane, nor with the fact that it very definitely marks me as blind. When I use a cane, I prefer a rigid one (one that doesn’t collapse or fold), because I haven’t found a collapsing one that gives nearly the tactile feedback a rigid cane does, and that’s much moreimportant to me than the ability to tuck the thing out of the way.

Back in 1995, I read a whole bunch of articles in a now infamous issue of *The braille Monitor*. Some had a definite anti-guide dog bias. Some of the ones that were pro rubbed me wrong. Remember contrary? Yeah, after reading that, I decided I’d like to do this guide dog thing. Four dogs later and, well, here I am, four dogs later, and that fourth was the first one I have trained myself. That should tell you where my preferences lie.

Why though? It’s really simple. I just plain like working a dog. Does it “enhance my independence”? Does it “give me freedom”? Not especially. I’ve traveled as much and as widely before I got my first dog as after. I’ve visited two more countries without a dog than I have with one. I just plain and simple like working a dog. I like seeing how they work a problem. I like the ease of crossing wide open spaces, like parking lots. I like the way they’re so proud when they’ve found the door that you asked them to find. Sharing my life with an intelligent being whose intelligence is far different from yours is pretty amazing. My dogs and I are very close and share real rapport. Are they “my best friends”? No, I have human friends, thanks. Do they ‘take care of me”? No, they’re always late with the mortgage payments. It’s a partnership, and like any good partnership, it isn’t, as Dr. Phil says a 50/50, it’s a 100/100. They give me their best, and they get my best in return.

Are dogs a lot of work? Oh,goodness yes. There are food and vet expenses, and you can’t just fold them up and stick them in a corner. Training my own was rewarding, too. But I tell you, my life is full and rich and lovely with my dogs. Oh sure, my life would be full and rich and wonderful if I didn’t have them, but it would be different somehow, different in a way that I can’t really describe.

So, yes…I think, as long as I am able, and can find enough meaningful work for one, I’ll have a guide dog.

Here are some additional thoughts that I didn’t post in response.

After my first and second guides retired, I did the same thing. I asked myself, “Do I really want to do this again?”

Ultimately, we all know what my answer was, but why would I have asked the question in the first place? If guide dog use is, as many guide dog users would have it, superior to cane use, why is this even a question?

Everything is a tradeoff. Canes are not wholely good or bad. Guide dogs, likewise, are not wholely good or bad. Each has very definite advantages and disadvantages. Most people know what the advantages are to a guide dog.

  • A guide dog is a constant, reliable companion.
  • A guide dog navigates open spaces with ease, even where sometimes a clearly defined path does not exist. Think of parking lots as the most obvious example.
  • Guide dogs remember and cue on familiar places, thus making familiar routes and destinations very easy.
  • Guide dogs offer an additional safety check for that car you didn’t see, and didn’t hear coming in time.
  • Getting through crowds and obstacles is often very efficient, since a guide dog will avoid obstacles as a matter of course.

All great, right? So what’s to put someone off? There are disadvantages, too.

  • Dogs require feeding and vet care.
  • Doggie doo. Need I say more?
  • You can’t just stick a dog in the corner when you’re not using it.
  • Dogs consider useful landmarks as obstacles to be avoided.
  • Learning a new route with a dog takes a while sometimes, and, until the dogis patterned to a new place, finding said new place is often time consuming and not as easy. Finding, for instance, the fourth sidewalk on the left, or second door on the right, takes a bit more effort and a different strategy. And sometimes a cane.
  • Dogs argue. If you go somewhere and intendon going somewhere different from where your dog thinks you’re going, well, the arguments can be pretty epic. Silent, but absolutely real.
  • Complaints about dog hair left in homes, in cars, on clothes.
  • Related, getting a cab or an Uber or Lyft can be a real problem. No matter what the law says, there are jerks who somehow think that it doesn’t apply to them.
  • I’ve even heard of people who lose friends, or whose interactions become severely limited, with friends who just don’t want your dog in their car or home or general vicinity. (I’ve been very fortunate in this regard, and the friends I have who don’t want my dogs around them have actual real life allergies and are very respectful about asking, so not really a consideration for me.)
  • And the big one, public interference. SOme call it “social icebreaker”, but I call it “damnedably annoying”. I really don’t want random people interrupting perfectly nice lunches with friends, or reading books on the bus, or crossing the street, to demand that I gie them my life story, or tell me about the dog they had just like mine, except it was a completely different size, color, and breed, and also refuse to talk about anything else. and distract/pet/talk to/make stupid noises at/otherwise distract my dog. The people who say that people don’t ignore them anymore the way they did when they used a cane, I have to disagree with. We’re ignored just as much whether we have a cane or dog…it’s just that with a dog, your dog gets all sorts of attention you (or at least I) don’t necessarily want.

But even with all those disadvantages, I still believe that having a guide dog is nicer than not having one, and so I’ve had four so far. And that doubt? Yeah, it never lasted very long.

Oh, and the other thing. Trust. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the hardest part for me, putting my trust in a new dog. If the people who just automatically and immediately trust a new dog really exist, I’m not one of them. Learning to trust a new dog is a real effort for me. I want to be in control, and i have to learn to give up some of that. I have to learn it every time. Imagine this transition as Hilde goes from student to not student anymore, and I go from teacher to…whatever it is you are after.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Audio Demo: Samsung TV With Accessibility Features

Recently, several people have been talking about TV’s, set top boxes, and the like, that have accessibility features built in. So far, the only major cable company who has implemented anything like this is Comcast, and they aren’t everywhere. Supposedly, the rules for this stuff to be accessible to people with disabilities kick in at the end of the year, but it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s exactly scrambling to make it happen.

Enter Samsung. A couple years ago, they came out with some accessibility features on some larger televisions. These were well outside what I was willing to pay for a TV, given how little TV I watch. This week, however, I got wind of a 32-inch TV from Samsung with these accessibility features built in: talking menus, talking program guide, the whole ball of wax, and for under $300.

A call to Samsung was disappointing. The guy on the phone tried to sell me a 49-inch TV, and couldn’t find one smaller. Samsung doesn’t exactly go out of their way to highlight these features, that’s for sure, but eventually, a couple folks came up with a model number. Online chat with Samsung confirmed the accessibility features, as did the manual. So, thanks to Jeff Bishop and Randy the big R for alerting and tracking down model numbers.

So on to the show. Here we go through the setup of the Samsung UN32J550AFXZA. It went fairly smoothly, and I reckon it could have been done completely independently, though that may have taken some time if I got totally stuck. Backspace doesn’t tell you what characters you delete on the on-screen keyboard. That’s probably the biggest gotcha. Another thing. If you get this TV, you may get some nice music during the setup. I did, once. The talking menus duck the music down pretty nicely though.

Anyway, there is, no doubt, more to explore, like the apps in the Hub, but this should get people started. And maybe excited, because we have an accessible TV that’s actually affordable.

Response to “16Benefits of Being Blind”

Well, it appears to be my lot in life, at least lately, to rain on parades.

Maybe I should quit reading Twitter, because that, again, is where this all started. I came across this article, and I was interested to see just what these advantages might be. Sure, I wouldn’t say blindness is horrible, and there are advantages to be had in everything.

Unfortunately, the advantages listed here aren’t, at least to my mind, advantages at all. Most of them are perceptions I see as actually harmful to our struggle for equal treatment and equal status.

I suppose it’s possible that I’ve had my sense of humor amputated. Read the article for yourself, and have a look at my thoughts below. You be the judge.

I hasten to add that I bear no ill will toward Max. I actually like Max and respect his achievements. He’s done a lot of interesting things. It isn’t everyone who brokers deals on amusement park rides, after all, among other things. I certainly hope Max doesn’t take my comments too personally.

OK, here we go.

16 Benefits of Being Blind

1. You don’t get asked to help people move.

You also don’t get asked to do much of anything else. Because apparently, there’s some disconnect between eyeballs and muscles involved in carrying and toting, at least as far as moving goes. The extension to not being asked to help move, or really much of anything else, is that it can make a fella feel kind of useless. When your job is to “Sit over there out of the way”, that’s hardly an advantage. You’re not asked to help because you’re not expected to be able to help. In fact, you’re probably incapable of being of much help at all. If you can’t help with something like that, how can you be expected to hold down a job or contribute in any other meaningful way? In short, you can’t. Not being asked to help move is more a symptom of a much larger problem of low, or no expectations.

2. You don’t have to be the designated driver… ever.

Well, you know, I guess it’s all right, after all, blind people can really put it away. Just go to a blindness convention if you don’t believe me. Unfortunately, you can’t be the designated driver. No choice there.

3. You can read in the dark – if it’s in Braille.

I really can’t argue with this! Now if only we could get more braille, not to mention cheaper braille, and a higher literacy rate. 10% literacy would be deemed absolutely unacceptable were it any other population, but it’s OK for us for some reason.

4. You don’t have to buy light bulbs or have a night-light on your bedside table.

My sighted family members, and even my legally blind ones, would object most vociferously to this! I guess this would be an advantage if you also never had visitors. Sure, it’s probably true that we’re so scary that we don’t get lots of visitors (seems to be the case at my house, anyway), but it’s only polite to accommodate the light dependent.

5. You save money on your Hydro bill.

I don’t! If you mean because of the lights, well…that will be less a thing with LED lightbulbs. On the other hand, I’ve got a whole pile of gadgets that unfortunately require electricity.

6. You get special treatment or bonuses.

I’d really rather not have either. You get special treatment because society feels sorry for you. I’d much rather society not feel sorry for me and treat me as an equal. That means that I wish to accept all of the rights, and the responsibilities, that this entails. I’d really rather not be allowed to cut lines or employ handicapped parking, for example. My legs work fine. I’d trade all of these “perks” for a much lower unemployment rate.

7. You don’t have to be the map-reader when traveling with friends on a road trip.

Because your friends don’t expect you to be. They don’t actually expect you to do much of anything besides sit your ass in the car. The really great news is that you can be the navigator now, with talking GPS and iOS and Android-based GPS and all manner of GPS. Not to mention your own perhaps formidable knowledge of how-to get around wherever you live. If I’m familiar with a place, I must say I can give pretty good directions.

8. You can avoid looking at unpleasant things, like a gory accident, or something else that’s disgusting.

While it’s true you can’t unsee something that’s been seen, assuming you’re sighted, not being able to see it doesn’t make those things less real.

9. You’ll never get asked to paint or wallpaper a room during home renovations.

I have been. Of course, I won’t be picking out colors, and I’ve never done it before, but I still have been. Actually, the same person who asked me to help move some stuff around her house has also asked that I help with some other bits of home improvement. I’ve already warned her that whatever I help with had better be unskilled, because I don’t have any skills, but it’s sure nice to be asked all the same, because my friend actually believes that I can contribute something. Really, it’s pretty nice to not be told to sit over there out of the way for a change. Again, it’s all down to general expectations. I’d much rather someone have some expectations for me, rather than thinking I’m incapable of contributing.

10. You’ll never get asked for directions.

Oh, how not true! See the map reading question above.

11. When you ask for directions, most people will be friendlier.

Really? Are people really friendlier to blind people who ask for directions? I don’t know if this is true or not. If it is, it sucks for others. Whether it’s true or not, the downside is that most people can’t give directions. “Over there” or “That way” are definitely not advantages.

12. You don’t have to decorate.

Nice to accommodate the light dependents. Decorating is certainly not my forte, but I fortunately have friends who are better at that than I am!

13. You save money when buying a smaller TV or phone, because all you really need is the sound, not a big screen.

Well…there’s actually some truth to this, assuming again you’re living by yourself and don’t have other people who like television.

14. You can’t see that spider on the wall. You know, the one that’s inching closer to you right now.

OK, that’s pretty funny right there. Until the spider bites you.

15. You can use your blindness as an excuse to get out of doing certain chores (even though you are perfectly capable of doing them yourself).

OMG. For real? Really? I know you didn’t actually say this. Say it with me, ladies and gentlemen. Low expectations. Do you really think that having people think you’re pretty useless is an advantage? I sure don’t.

16. You don’t have to put up with dirty looks from others. How can you? You can’t see them!

So they don’t much matter. They sure don’t to me. It’s not an issue.

Benefits of Having a Blind Friend

You can roll your eyes as often as you want, and not be judged.

You can flip your friend the bird (give him/her the finger) when you get frustrated with him/her… and you can even laugh about it.

OK, so essentially, what you’re saying is that you can be a rude asshole, and your friend won’t know any better. That isn’t very friendly, and I’d be very, very disappointed in any friend who treated me with so little respect or regard, because I never would do that to someone else.

You can lie to his/her face about the new outfit he/she loves, even if you think it’s hideous.

Again, you can be a rude asshole. And disrespectful. And, in the long run, hurt your friend’s feelings by lying to him, rather than tactfully saying that the outfit s/he loves is probably not appropriate or is ugly or whatever. You really think that’s OK? You’re a shitty friend, and eventually, your blind friend will hear the truth and be really hurt by the fact that you’re a shitty friend.

Benefits of Dating a Blind Man

You never have to worry about a bad hair day, or wearing make-up.

Hell, you don’t have to worry about those things anyway. It’s a choice. While it’s true that the blind person will love you anyway, it’s equally true that unless you’re going on a date to a cave because you’re embarrassed to be seen with a blind person, you’ll be seen by lots of other people. Do you care what they think? Again, your choice, but do you really think so little of yourself, or your partner?

Your socks don’t have to match.

My friend Andrea tells me that this is actually a thing these days. Do as you like.

You can walk around naked without being self-conscious.

What’s stopping you anyway? And why should my presence make any difference?

You can pretend to be taller by wearing heels.

Really? Shallow much?

You can say you’re a blonde, even if you’re not. How’s he going to know?

And who cares? Again, you think he’s not going to talk to other people ever? Damn…I’m sure glad you’re not my girlfriend! Grow the hell up…this is high school shit.

Benefits of Dating a Blind Woman

They are pretty much the same as the benefits of dating a blind man, but when you date a blind woman, you don’t have to wait forever for her to fix her make-up or her hair, or try on 50 different outfits before she decides upon one that is simply “perfect.”

I ask you. How many blind women have you dated? I’m here to tell you, blind women are as obsessed with their appearance as sighted women are, maybe more so because they’re expected to not be put together very well.

You also don’t have to wait for her to apply polish to her fingernails. She’ll have already had someone do it for her. (Of course, that person might be you!)

Umm…really? So blind women don’t do their own makeup? Many do, and without your rotten help, thank you very much. Again, low or no expectations. Definitely not an advantage.

If you have a lot of pimples on your chest, you can play a game (or trick) on her. Just tell her you created a special love message in Braille for her, and see if she can decipher it!

This seriously doesn’t even merit comment, it just doesn’t. It isn’t even funny.

You will never awaken to screams for you to kill a spider. (Unless she feels one crawling on her!)

What’s with the spiders anyway?

Anyway, lest you think I have no sense of humor, could be you’re right. I sure get a chuckle out of boneheaded things I do, or things that happen to me. I think my friend Holly said it best:

I also think that the distinction is between being able to laugh at things that are actually funny, and things that are always, no matter how you look at it, damaging. If I walk into something I might laugh with my friends, it was a mistake and I was being careless. But a lot of these things, like, people never asking you to help, they actually prevent blind people from having employment opportunities. If someone doesn’t think I’m capable of helping them, am I also not capable of working? Of getting an education? The fact that people don’t ask us to help them move, or to do chores is a direct result of them believing we are less able, which, as we know has very real implications.

Couldn’t have said it better.

By the way, my friend BlindBeader wrote this blog post sort of indirectly addressing this same topic. She’s a lot less ranty and has a lot more class than I have.

Update #2: In the interest of full disclosure and “fair and balanced”, Max has responded to my post, which I sent a link to on his blog. He rightly points out that just sending a link with little commentary (I just said my reaction was different than others on his site) would probably be labeled as spam and not read by most bloggers and would be marked as spam. He’s right of course, but I also didn’t think he’d like me putting my whole response in a comment. Anyway, his response is on the comments section of the blog, linked above. For your convenience however, here’s his response in its entirety:

Hi Buddy; I actually read your post objectively, and you will notice that I haven’t deleted the link to it. Most web masters would have seen this as spam as the point to comment luv is you enter your url and then your latest post is automatically displayed. However, my point is that you wrote a great post. You gave me credit for my own achievements and then spotlighted the flaws you see in it. I should mention two things. One the post was written in fun. It was never intended to be a serious look at advantages and disadvantages of being blind. And since posting it I’ve had many people tell me that they will no longer omit their blind or otherwise apparently disabled friends when needing to move, getting directions, choosing colors, etc. I should also mention that I used to help move a 45 by 75 ft. roller coster 40 weeks out of the year so everyone in my family knows I can help move. They actually look for me first when heavy lifting is needed. They leave me out when fragile delicate items are involved. 🙂 I chose the colors for my website. They were exceedingly bright but lead to conversations rather than getting in the way of sales. I get your point. I’ll try to be more serious, you try to be a little less so? What do you say my friend? And don’t get down on twitter. Blogs need comments and twitter is one of the best ways to get them. After all would you have seen this post without twitter? Many blessings to you, Max

I should note here that it’s highly unlikely that I would actually stop reading twitter. Sometimes doing so is a bit like watching a road accident, admittedly, but other times it’s not and generates interesting discussions.

Sorting Through My Feelings: Can’t I Just Be Happy?!

I have a couple of things I want to write, and that I’ve been intending to write, but this one maybe can’t wait.

Reading through twitter, I came across this article. Mind you, it’s not the first sort of article I’ve seen like it, but I had a reaction to it.

OK, I had a couple reactions to it. First, I hated the headline, because it just sounds icky and like inspiration porn may well be coming.

That really wasn’t all though. I read the article, and I thought, “I think that family’s going to be disappointed”.

Wow, I’m usually not so negative about things.

I’ve seen other articles about the next big thing that would offer some sort of sight for some kinds of blind people, and usually, I think, well now…that’s interesting. Usually, the people who benefit from these things are those who have had sight before and have lost it due to accident or to a genetic condition like RP. So what’s the deal with this one? Why the negative reaction?

Before I go on, I want to say that I hope I’m wrong. Being wrong would make me very happy, and being right would not. If these glasses are everything this family hopes they are, I will be the first (well, second maybe) to be happy for them.

There are probably several things going on here. First, I think it’s an expectations setting problem. If this kid’s sight is bad enough that he really can’t read print, I’m fairly sure that learning to do so will at least take a lot of time, at best. In any case, at least the way the story is framed, it seems they’re hoping these glasses will solve all of his blindness problems, and I’m thinking that it just isn’t so. Anyway, everything I’ve read suggests that, if you don’t learn to integrate sight when you’re very young, doing so later isn’t easy, and may even be fairly traumatic. Maybe my reaction would be less negative if this family had different expectations. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m discussing this article with a friend who happens to be sighted, and she asks me something that I thought about just a little bit before she asked me. “Could you…perhaps….just a little bit….be jealous?”

This is indeed a possibility, and it’s a possibility I kind of hate. You see, I’m just not the brooding, bitter, jealous type, not at all. I’ve got a full life, with friends and a family. I’ve traveled, not only to many of the states, but to other countries. I’ve shared my life with amazing people, not to mention amazing animals. I’ve had fulfilling jobs. (I’ve had the soul sucking kind too. And, really, there are aspects of sight that I find, frankly, kind of frightening and overwhelming.

OK, so yes, there are things I wish I could do but can’t. I wish I could enjoy the sunsets and pictures and the silent bits in movies where everyone’s laughing uproariously and I have no clue why. I wish I could drive. I wish I could read printed things without either asking someone or relying on sometimes unreliable technology, even just to pick up any book I wanted whenever I wanted. I wish I didn’t have to work twice as hard for half the credit. But you know, these are the cards I’ve been dealt, and I’m fine with that. Usually. Most of the time.

So…Is there some jealousy there? Because this kid may have something that I likely never will? Even though it’s not necessarily something I’ve really spent a lot of time missing?

Maybe. And I hate that.

But what I hate more is that I can’t be happy for this family’s joy and hope for this new thing. And I really wish I could.

Update: oh dear. Thanks to Holly, or maybe no thanks…anyway…I read their fundraising page, and I think maybe I don’t feel so bad about feeling so bad. Actually, now I’m a little bit disgusted. Mom is saying that her son can’t, can’t can’t, can’t, can’t, unless he gets eSight glasses. Can’t use a computer, which he’ll need to do for high school. (My question is, why has he not been getting access to a computer by now? Somebody ha failed this kid.) He can’t go to college unless he gets eSight glasses. (Really? Blind people were doing that before the advent of lots of really useful technology.) And lots of other can’ts that just aren’t so. Yeah. Somebody really short changed this kid and his mother, and they apparently either don’t really know what’s possible or they’re really pulling at the heartstrings of other people who don’t know what’s possible. Sadly typical.