I am featured in the Smorgasbord blog magazine. See the below post. My thanks to the community there that has engaged with my post. Please keep the comments and questions coming.
Sacheta and I were at the supermarket. We were standing in the checkout line when she remembered something, told me to hold our place and was gone. I was wearing my glasses and had the vOICe running. My first thought was “Woo hm”, how do I keep our place? My second thought was “hmm, I am sighted so lets see what I can do.” I studied the view in greater detail and moved my head a bit to the left and then to the right. I could see a constant shape in front of me. I heard the rustle of a plastic bag ahead of me and confirmed that the constant shape was probably the back of a person.
I then turned my head to the left and checked the view. I could see more objects. I did the same on the right and the view was similar. I now knew that I was focused on the right object. I stepped a few paces in front until almost the full left to right panning was filled by that constant shape. I did not want to invaid the stranger’s personal space so also used other blindness skills like passive echo location. The individual moved away and the view opened up. It was my turn at the cash counter.
The key takeaway for me was the checking I did. In this situation, the narrower view given by the glasses helped because I was able to associate a physical action with the change of the scene when I turned my head sideways. I could have done the same thing with a wide angle view but would have had to pay more attention to perspective.
It was another weekend family outing we were at the DLF Place mall.
I was sitting at the back of the car, with the back of my head resting on the headrest. I was able to look out the windscreen and was able to see the traffic outside. This is a good way to get used to the looming effects of the vOICe. Objects come into the foreground as they come closer and move away as you and or they drive away. Pay attention to the volume and the way the sound moves to determine what is in the foreground. In addition, imperfections on the object will show up as small objects.
At the mall, I spent most of my time in a shop called Food Hall which sells a variety of comestibles. Mom and dad were supervising the grinding of fresh turmeric therefore Sacheta and I had a fair bit of time to look around. Most of the food is in packets though things like bars of chocolate are kept as is on the shelves. There are also freezers that contain a variety of meat, vegetables etc.
The OCR kept reading out snippets from labels and other signage so I was able to find something with coco at the biscuit counter and look at some of the chocolate bars at the chocolate counter. The OCR was particularly handy when I was standing at one place waiting for Sacheta to finish studying something like the counter in front of us. A quick note about looking at the chocolate counter. Beware of the OCR because chocolate bars have a lot of text on them so there is a fair bit of information to absorb and the OCR will take its time. I had a similar experience with signage. There is a restaurant called the hard rock cafe next to Food Hall. It has superb signage which I can read from at least 3 to 5 feet away. The same does not apply to Food Hall. I spent some time looking at its sign but I could only read the word “food”. One more thing, words on packets and signs may be positioned one below the other therefore be ready to scroll and pan by moving your head. The panning is needed due to the large fonts that are used.
Another handy thing that I was able to do was to determine if shelves contained bottles or packets. I use the term “bottles” to include jars and other cylindrical containers. This is important information because I was extra careful near these shelves. Those bottles tend to fall easily and if I am lucky, break. Not that this has ever happened to me but this gives the bottles some extra security and my credit card a lot of peace. The way to check this is to get the shelf into the foreground and focus on what shape emerges. Practice at home with bottles so that you know what they look like. You can hear the rising circular shape or a circular shape that has a near uniform pitch indicating a jar/. Stay about half an arm length away from the shelf for best results.
I had the leisure to study packing. Each packet had labels in different fonts and with different font sizes. I don’t know how manufacturers decide the fonts and sizes of labels. However, if any of you are reading this, please use large fonts and keep them standard so that they are machine and human readable. Take the case of a packet that contained “premium almonds;” I was able to read the word “premium” but not the word “almonds.” I suspect this was a font and perhaps a camera placement issue though the word “almonds” was in a large font but Sacheta told me that its styling was different. Small fonts do not help.
If you hear a lot of hard surfaces in the soundscape and or a tropical bird like call, you can be quite certain that you are looking at shelves of packets. If there is space between the hard parts of the soundscapes and you detect a cylinder, then you are looking at shelves of small bottles. You can better experiment with this at shops that sell makeup.
Looking inside the freezers did not yield much information. There were things inside them but I was unable to read their labels and the lighting was variable.
Where is that milkshake?
Once we had finished shopping, we went to Big Chill for beverages and bites. I had ordered a Swiss chocolate milkshake. The waiter placed the glass on the table saying “Swiss chocolate” and vanished. I usually ask someone where the glass is placed. This time, I tilted my head by a few degrees, increased the volume of my bone conduction headset and studied the table to look for that cylinder. I found it and got the glass without mishap. Thanks Dr. Meijer for emphasizing grasping exercises!
Talking about the volume control, it is important hat you can regulate the volume of the soundscapes. An external control is the best for this. Set the vOICe to a volume of 7 or 8 if you are in a noisy environment like a mall and then use the hardware control on the headset to tweak the volume based on your needs.
Finally, if you detect pixelated soundscapes in a shop, it could mean that the lighting is positioned above the shelf or there is a single light source shining down on to the shelf. In this case, get closer to the shelf and do what you can, else ask the staff for help.