***UPDATE*** kindle for iOS now supports VoiceOver! and it works fantastically well. I have left the instructions in place below as they may be applicable for OS X Mavericks and iBooks if Amazon do not relase a VoiceOver compliant version of Kindle for Mac.
Being blind access to books is difficult. In an age of digital content you would of thought it would be easy, but no. it is increasing difficult thanks to things like DRM and odd restrictions imposed by eBook retailers.
There are a number of options below that I have broken down by company.
Has a wide rang of audiobooks with a great monthly price. If the book is available as an audiobook this is a fantastic option and I cant recommend it enough.
The books are only truly accessible in two scenarios
1. Kindle app for Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD.
2. Kindle for PC with accessibility plugin. More…
Around november last year a researcher got in touch with me to talk about how I use my smartphone. It turned out there were looking for individuals to feature in micro documentary commercials for Carphone Warehouse. Because I rarely say no to an opportunity I agreed to do it. Rather strangely in the same week another reseracher also got in touch asking if I would be interesed in a commercial for SKINS.
After a couple months of speaking to SKINS it fell through. I am still not to sure why, I don’t know if the campaign was cancelled or they went with someone else. However as the SKINS commercial fell through Carphone Warehouse got back in touch. I was still very interested in doing the commercial as my smartphone really has enabled me to do great things. In total it took around 6 months from initial talks to actual filming.
So where do these opportunities come from?
It all began with a single blog post. I began talking about what I do with smartphones and running. For the past couple of years I have continued to talk about my loss of vision, technology, running and my general life. This has meant I am ranked quite high on google for a lot of search terms. So when researchers are given a task to find an individual that meets a certain criteria I am ranked quite highly. This has the effect of me being featured on news sites and other blogs. In turn increasing the ranking on google and other serach engines. So essentially it just boils down to me talking about what I do and saying yes to every opportunity that comes along.
In order to make the commercial have a nicer “look” it was decided to shoot at multiple locations. So instead of focussing on the route I use near my house we travelled around the local area and a little beyond to feature more locations.
The shoot began at my house in Doncaster. We had previously chatted about what apps I use on my phone to allow me to achieve daily tasks. The idea was to feature these apps in use at home. Using ColorID and the weather app we shot a few scenes of me identifying the colour of my clothes and accessing the weather forecast. While this may only take up a few seconds in the commercial this took around 4 hours.
Before heading out to film some running shots we popped into the local village for a quick bite to eat. I still had the Galaxy S4 in my running short pocket. To stop it slipping out and breaking on the floor I placed it on the table. This turned out to be a bad idea as a crew member spilt a cup of tea on the phone. So now our pre release phone had a dodgy speaker. The speaker is essential to my use of a phone, but thanks to the powers of post production all the audio could now be added later!
We then headed out to the familiar stomping ground of where I learnt to run: the closed road. We shot a number of scenes here including a time lapse of me running up and down. The idea was to show the transition of me going from the closed road to learning to run on the open road. This however presented a health and safety problem. Despite the fact I do it all the time we were not allowed to film this scene, just incase I was hit by a car.
So instead the plan was to wait for the road to be clear and use a crew vehicle to simulate traffic. This wasn’t as easy as it might sound. As the road I run on is a dual carriageway, so it was a long wait until the road was clear enough to shoot. Then finally an opportunity! so I ran down the road, the crew car passed me by and we had the shot. Except we didn’t, the crew were visible in the background. So again we waited for a break in the traffic, it took 3-4 takes to finally get the shot. That concluded the shooting for the day and the shooting in Doncaster.
Today included shooting at the university library and Western Park (the park I walk through to get to the Psychology department). I arrived at the library in the morning and waited for the crew. No one turned up. I rang the producer and asked where everybody was, “we are at the library”, really? Whereabouts?, “just outside”, I am just outside can you see me?, “No?”. This went on for a while. We were at different libraries!
After we all ended up at the same library, the idea was to shoot the interview portion of the commercial that would provide all the audio. This took a couple of hours of sitting around and asking questions. Then we did a few walking shots in the park demonstrating me using accessibility features of the phone.
Time for lunch and a change of venue. We dropped Ascot off back at home and headed up to Whitby and the surrounding villages. We began by doing a quick shot of me running down a bridal path with a guide runner. This didn’t take too long and we moved on pretty quickly.
Heading to the beach we planned to do a few shots on the sand and also show how I get down stairs using touch. This was a great chance to run on the beach. I was running up and down the beach solo as there isn’t much to run into. I didn’t realise how energy sapping running on loose sand can be. It really sucks your feet in and depletes energy quite quickly. We spent an hour doing various bits on the beach then called it a day.
Day 3 was the real fun day of filming. This was the day we were using the helicam. The helicam was an octocopter with a HD camera attached. We headed to the Yorkshire Dales and closed a road for me to run on. I spent a short while learning to run up and down the road alone. The road was heavily cambered so it was relatively easy to run down the middle. Or at least click on when you weren’t running down the middle!
The helicam only has a short flight time so we needed to do each scene quickly. So instead of the usual stop start of filming I ran continuously up and down the road as the helicam chased me. The helicam was a little disconcerting as I couldn’t see it but I could hear it, it sounded like a swarm of bees chasing me. The operator was able to get it close enough for the rotors to move my clothes, so it really was a little scary.
Everyone was incredibly impressed with the helicam so we headed to another road to shoot some more. Again I spent a little while learning the road before running solo. This time I had to repeatedly run up and down a steep hill. So it was a great chance to get some hill training in!
We then headed to a forest to shoot some impressive flybys. The helicam would be at one side of the tree with me at the others, and track me as I ran through the woods. At least that was the plan. We couldn’t get clearance to film. So unable to turn the cameras on we headed to a small village for lunch.
After lunch we headed to some fields and shot a few scenes of me running up a little hill. This was relatively easy to learn as there was a defined dip in the field where people had been walking. After this we headed back to the village and did a few quick runs up and down the main street of the village. With the day drawing to a close there was time for one more shot.
We found a little fjord and the director asked if I would run through it. This was a bit tough for me as I would lose all idea of where I was while running through the fjord as there wasn’t really anything underfoot for me to follow. So we decided to break it into two shots. One of me running towards the fjord, breaking, then lining me up to run through the fjord. Again the wonders of post production tidies all that up!
The fjord scene was the final shot and the commercial was wrapped.
Opportunities like this offer me an opportunity to have a retrospective and introspective look at what got me to where I am. Its something I wouldnt really sit down and do otherwise. I didn’t appreciate at the time where the decisions I was making would lead me to. Its only when I sit back and think do I realise how big an effect small decisions have had on my life. I am very thankful for these opportunities and appreciate how they have helped me examine what I have achieved.
I have attached the finished commercial below!
As part of the commercial people are able to win prizes. If you head over to Smarter World and submit your story of how you used a smartphone you can win lots of prizes! So head over there now and claim your prize
We have been back from our holiday for a while now. We had a really nice time, Grayson got to do all his favourite activities. Including riding a steam train, he loves trains. It was nice to get away as an extended family and Grayson really enjoyed spending a lot of time with his cousins. They all played together non stop.
Ascot also loved his time away. His puppy walker really enjoyed having him back for a while and Ascot loved playing with the guide dog puppy in training.
The roughest thing about being away was the fact we all became ill. Sian, my mum and I all came back with a terrible chest infection. I didn’t get out of bed for days, it was the illest I have ever been. While we are all now recovering I unfortunately lost a large amount of vision while I was ill.
Being away from home you don’t really notice that you may be losing vision. You are in unfamiliar surroundings so put down an increase into bumping into things or struggling with vein in a new location. Then with my illness on returning home I was bed bound, so wasn’t really getting up to much to notice my vision loss.
It wasn’t until I got out of bed and started getting back to my normal daily life that I noticed just how much vision I had lost. I didn’t have much vision anyway but this recent loss of vision is the largest I have suffered. It seems so sudden, 2 weeks ago I could see outlines of things that I no longer can. It is making life a little harder and making university even more so.
I had a plan of what I needed to get done for exam time that is now slipping away from me. I have to adapt to this most recent loss and that is eating up my revision time. So yet again it looks like I may have to move some exams about stand a chance of receiving a decent grade.
I was really hoping m vision would of held out for a little longer. We are expecting another child later this year and this new marked sight loss will make things even more difficult.
I am quickly trying to adapt and adjust to get back into the swing of things though. Just going to take a month or so to get everything working smoothly again.
Sian, Grayson and myself are off on our first family holiday. We have been away for a couple of days before, but that was just to support me on runs. This is the first time we are going away with the sole intention of it being a holiday.
Grayson is particularly excited as we have bought him a special Thomas travel bed. He loves it; just not as a bed. It’s a slide, a ramp, a bouncy thing and a weeping. Basically anything but a bed. So the chances of him settling down are minimal.
You may have noticed I didn’t mention Ascot (my guide dog) going away with us. Well that is because he has gone on a very special dog holiday. I didn’t want to take him away with us as we are doing so many activities that aren’t dog friendly he would of spent a lot of the time in kennels. So I decided to arrange his own holiday.
I contacted the people who originally had Ascot as a puppy. They were delighted at the thought of having him back for a week. So we dropped him off today and for 2 hours he played non stop with their new guide dog puppy. He is going to love it, he rarely gets the chance to play with other dogs. There is also another dog and cat to play with, so he really will have a lot of animal fun.
The puppy walkers seemed so happy to have Ascot back for a while too. They are planning to take him to visit all the people that new him as a puppy to show them he is now a fully qualified guide dog. He is going to get so many strokes and being playing so much I don’t think he will want to come back!
With my plan to compete in The Grimreaper in early August I have just officially begun a training cycle. I have been working on a little base mileage the past few weeks, peaking at the 15 mile mark on long runs. But now the long trawl of improving every week begins!
Historically I have always run splits. When I first started running I went straight to the 100 mile distance. I had never even run a 5k before. So in order to increase my mileage consistently and rapidly I decided to run splits. I would run for 25 mins and walk for 5; repeating this until I had achieved my distance. This also had the added benefit of allowing me to time my food intake. So every 25 minutes I would aim to consume something, it differed for each split but I would always eat something.
The downside of this was the fact I was terrible at anything below ultra distance. I could rack up the miles but I couldn’t achieve shorter runs at speed. As a result my half marathon and marathon times were terrible. For this training cycle I have decided to do away with splits and just run.
This is in an effort to improve my shorter distance and manage my time a little better. It has also resulted in my average pace increasing by 1mph. Which is quite a chunk at the ultra distance.
I am hoping I can maintain the lack of splits as my cycle continues. It will certainly improve my times come race day. I will however switch back to splits if training becomes too difficult. After all splits serve a great purpose and is still something I intend on using for 50+ mile races. Its just nice to get those brief recovery periods to allow you to throw down a GU!
A friend sent me a tweet the other day to a video of Dean Karnazes (featured below). It was a nice reminder of why I decided to go down the path of the ultra distance.
Years ago I was still able to read books. Even though I could read books I rarely did. It would usually be through necessity, so either a manual for work or a Time Out guide for somewhere I was planning to visit. It never really occurred to me it might be an idea to read a lot of books before I was unable to.
So when I did read a book it really stuck in my mind. The only books I can remember reading are near to the entire work of Hunter S Thompson and one book by Dean Karnazes. The Thompson books could certainly explain why I drank so much back in the day! The Karnaze’s Ultramarathon Man really stuck in my mind.
I read it at a time when my vision was beginning to severely deteriorate. I hadn’t realised it at the time but it would become the last book I was able to read. Due to the fact it was the last book I ever read it held a special place in my heart and mind and created something. Something that would re surface years later.
When I had become so bored with waiting for college to start; I had began to run. Once I had mastered the art of running alone I felt I needed a challenge. I had done something I didn’t feel was possible a few months ago so what do I do now?
I remembered Karnaze’s book and thought: If he could do it, why can’t i?
With recent rumours of an Apple iWatch its been a hot topic amongst my friends. Woill Apple release a watch? I am not convinced. It just seems a little far from Apple’s path to me, I also can’t see Ive designing a watch.
Now I would love to be proved wrong and Apple release a watch with a beautiful face. Using the swiss railway face that they licensed would be a great start. The number of features a watch could introduce could be interesting too. Controlling your phone from a wrist device is a nice idea, which is one I ordered the Pebble. More on that later.
All the talk of an Apple iWatch reignited my love for watches. Before I lost my vision I collected watches. I particularly liked watches with unique faces with a penchant for unique ways to tell the time. Hence my collection had a lot of Tokyo Flash watches. I also collected a little higher end with a few designer watches a classic gold faces watch and the prize of my collection my Breitling Cosmonaut.
I love the Breitling for 2 reasons. As a child I dreamt of being a pilot and Breitling has a strong connection to flight. The Cosmonaut also has a 24 hour face. Quite unique for a non digital watch! It is something that I treasure and something I will pass down to Grayson.
Despite losing my vision though I still love watches. I still yearn for a Hublot Big Bang with a black ceramic dial. It is certainly far out of my price range and I wouldn’t really be able to read the time from it. But that doesn’t stop the fact I would love to own the Hublot. I just love watches that much, I don’t care if I can’t see the face anymore I can remember what it looks like!
Now I have lost my vision my choice for a functional watch is dismal. Cheap plastic watches with even worse bands are all that is really available. No space age metals or ceramic for me anymore. Just cheap plastic.
So the Pebble, why did I buy the Pebble? For one thing, controlling RunKeeper. I am sure once I finally have one and apps are released I will find more uses for it.
But for now my wrist is bare. The cheap plastic watches kept breaking. Hopefully soon it will be replace by the Pebble and one day the Hublot. I just need to figure out how I can afford one….
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to give a talk at a school a few miles away from where I live. It was healthy living week and they had asked if I could give a talk on running and nutrition.
Now if you have been following along, my original running nutrition was diabolical. With little money for sports nutrition and the limited knowledge of sugar powers you! I ate rubbish. I would power runs on chocolate bars, Mr Kipling and anything else that was cheap and high in sugar.
The interesting point was when i transitioned from this terrible sugar intake to sports nutrition and eventually something lower in sugar. My initial foray into sports nutrition saw the obligatory gels (which I still use) to my transition into “normal food”. Just eating fruit, nuts and sandwiches.
So I had a little I could detail on nutrition. I began the talk by giving a brief introduction to what ultra running is, which was then followed by my ASICS commercial. Viewing the commercial was the first time these hundreds of students would know I couldn’t see.
My speech then revolved around the challenges of running blind with a little bit on the nutrition. People are always keen to hear how I do it blind and how far I can run.
As I continue to give public talks I find myself feeling more at hom and being able to give a truly natural delivery. It seems practice really does make perfect. Or it may just be the fact; unable to see the audience I dont really get nervous!
The school have asked me to come back this time tailoring my talk to be “inspirational”. So this will have to include the initial obligatory slide of my stance on inspiration. It is a label I will never assign myself as being inspired by someone or something is up to the individual. Perhaps at some point I can find a label I feel comfortable with.
As a side note if anyone would like me to give a talk at a school/business let me know. Would love to gain more experience in this area.
Despite losing my vision I still enjoy watching television. My viewing habits haven’t changed too much I still enjoy watching everything from cartoons, documentaries and dramas. It is however a little easier to follow shows that are story driven and rely less on visuals. The reliance on visuals is why I find a lot of modern day films difficult to follow.
ONe of the most annoying things however those is navigating through the channels on television. While Audio Description was introduced to describe the actual shows there hasn’t been a great improvement in navigating channels. There are one or two screen reading free view boxes. But it isn’t something I have really invested in to date. The reason being my Apple TV.
The Apple TV supports VoiceOver just like the rest of the Apple line. The great thing about this is it reads menus and the full description of the media. This has made selecting shows an absolute breeze for me. Now when my son asks me to put on “choo-choo’s” I dont have to tell him to wait for mummy. I can just flick the Apple TV on and navigate through the menus to find Thomas, or Chuggington or Dinosaur Train any of the shows he loves with trains in them.
This is made possible thanks to a couple of subscription services on the Apple TV: Netflix and Hulu Plus. Netflix is an absolute breeze to setup, turn on your Apple TV enable VoiceOver and simply start Netflix. The Netflix account is attached to your Apple ID so it takes care of the subscription for you. Hulu Plus is much the same, you just subscribe through the Apple TV.
You can even access your own media located in your iTunes media. This is another great feature. All those DVD’s you own that you have no idea which one to put in. Put them all into your iTunes media centre and navigate through your collection with VoiceOver.
VoiceOver really has changed the way I am able to access media. I am no longer reliant on asking my wife which channel a particular show is currently on, or which DVD a particular film is. I can simply flick on the Apple TV and navigate through all my media myself. It isn’t restricted to video either, I often use it to stream audio from my phone as an AirPlay stereo, or even access music services directly on the Apple TV. It is truly a great device and for under a £100 an incredibly cheap piece of accessible hardware.
Inspiration is a label that has often been applied to my running exploits. I have always struggled a little with this and have never self assigned the label. Being inspired by someone is so personal anyone who sells themselves as inspiring is just a little to arrogant for my taste. So I have often distanced myself from the labels “inspirational” and “motivational”.
When I started out running I certainly didn’t think about inspiring others. I just set out to try and achieve something for myself. To see where I could push myself too. Running alone was initially more by necessity than the challenge. I hadn’t considered how difficult it would be at first, I just thought I didn’t really have an option if I wanted to run. So I went out and learnt to do it.
Pushing how far I could go came when I decided to see if I could take what I had done and sustain it for long training sessions. It turned out I could, I really enjoyed those early days of training finding out what was possible.
By some wondrous stroke of luck my story has been featured in the media. As well as the commercial I posted the other day I did quite a few interviews for print. Then today I got a wonderful tweet. It mentioned someone had written a letter to the editor of OUtdoor Fitness and I was mentioned.
On another happy note, my son, who is $I has just joined an athletics club after being inspired by Simon Wheatcroft, the blind runner and real-life hero in the same issue, thanks for inspiring and fixing. Nichola Sperrlng, Bristol
Hearing that I had inspired a young boy with a sight impairment to take up running really touched me. I am happy I have inspired someone with a sight impairment to take up running. I hope one day I can run with him and his mother. If you are reading this get in touch!