How Technology Is Besting My Blindness
Years ago, I feared my disability would sharply confine my world. It hasn’t. by Michael SchumanJanuary 19, 2017, 4:30 AM ESTFromSubscribe Reprints
“I was hurtling through Shanghai in a cigarette-scented taxi, not quite sure where I was headed. Cab jaunts through unfamiliar places can be a bit stressful for anybody. You feel vulnerable and too dependent on a driver you don’t know and can’t necessarily trust. But for me, such trips in rickety taxis rattle my nerves even more than my spine—because I’m almost blind.
I have a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which is causing my sight to deteriorate over time until there will be little, or possibly nothing, left. Even now I can’t see in the dark and have almost no peripheral vision. As my taxi sped through Shanghai, I couldn’t read the street signs or building numbers. After the sun began to set, it became difficult to tell one street from the next. And I couldn’t read the taxi meter. I’ve gotten ripped off before by unscrupulous cabbies, and I prefer not to rely on them to tell me how much I owe.
So that night I experimented with some technology. I have an app on my iPad that transforms the camera into a powerful magnifier. I use it mainly to read small text on business cards and restaurant menus. Could it help me see the taxi meter, all the way from the back seat? I aimed the iPad at where I thought the meter might be, tapped on the app, and zoomed in. There was the fare—bright, large, and clear enough on my screen to read. Disaster averted.Advancing technology rescues me again and again, and on matters much more critical than a taxi ride. I’m writing this essay on a PC I’ve customized to enlarge icons and fonts, letting me write and work as efficiently as I could if I were fully sighted. Thanks to the revolution of digital media, I can read newspapers and magazines on devices that allow me to fine-tune the size of the text and brightness of the screen so I digest information as quickly as ever. Economists’ reports and academic papers arrive in my in-box as easy-to-adjust PDFs. Simply, emerging technology has given me the opportunity to maintain my productivity, even as my disability has grown worse.”