Despite the dubious suggested vocational path of politician, the one other consistent theme buried within my otherwise unremarkable school reports was the phrase ‘good communication skills.’ Diplomacy aside, born out of a passion for reading and a love of words it is fair to say I liked to talk, to write, to be heard and, more than anything, to connect.  After all, none of us are an island onto ourselves, and without that human touch, that meeting of minds and ideas, the world can be a very dark and lonesome place. In these times of the all-pervasive social media, the ability to engage has never been more essential. And yet for me, a middle-aged man with middling vision, this brave new world of smart phones and tweeter often felt bewildering and out of reach, just another barrier that, ironically, left me feeling more isolated than ever. Where to start?

Luckily the perfect first step came in the form of a communications class run by the good folks of the Southampton Sensory Team, held here at Southampton Sight. Targeted at the technological challenges faced by the visually impaired, the class aims to tale the uninitiated novice and walk them, one baby-step at a time, through the basics. From set-up to display and speech options, apps and practical demonstrations, what had been a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle soon became not only usable, but remarkable. My vision has long since fallen below the level required to read such small screens, but with a little help and advice it was no longer an issue. Within no time at all I was texting, taking pictures, writing notes, and answering emails all from one device. Apps specifically catering to sight loss allow me to scan documents, identify people and colours in my surroundings, and even read the barcodes on goods whilst shopping. And more than anything, my love of books, so painfully curtailed over the years, has been ignited again with the aid of Audible – a simply beautifully-bewildering choice of audio books now merely a finger touch away. Heaven in my hand!

The virtual world of the handheld had, from a distance, felt like a poor replacement for reality, one I neither understood nor could begin to penetrate. Now, after several weeks of patience tutoring, half a dozen cups of coffee and the odd chocolate croissant, I realise my mistake. Smart phones may not be the answer to all my limits, but what they offer is a way back in, a way to reconnect and once again lift my head above the parapet. Face Time, Facebook and the rest allow me to easily chat and catch up with friends and family, while the more specialised apps make life just that little bit easier. I would encourage anyone who has crashed upon the rocks of modernity in the past to give the class a try, give the smart phone one more go as I did. It has been a revelation.

You may even make a phone call or two…

Kris Gibson

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