Patrice Maginnis: How Tech—High & Low—Is Changing the World of the Blind & Visually Impaired

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Patrice Maginnis has experienced life as someone who can see, and as someone who can’t. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa and gradually went blind, losing all usable sight at age 60.

Patrice has learned to adapt and to thrive. And she helps others do the same, through her work with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nonprofit with locations in Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and San Jose, California.

She has volunteered at the Vista Center since 2015 when she retired from the University of California Santa Cruz after 29 years on the music faculty.

Vista Center’s mission is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired “to embrace life to the fullest.”

Often that involves technological solutions that a sighted person might never think of. A smart phone, for example, takes on a whole new meaning, for example by providing a means of “seeing” everyday objects like groceries or currency.

And sometimes, the Vista Center’s approach is very low-tech — like clients being made to feel welcome in a supportive community.

Patrice Maginnis

Patrice Maginnis is on the Board of Directors of the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and is the volunteer coordinator and access technology specialist at the center.

Maginnis was one of three people selected countywide in 2017 for recognition by the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center’s Be the Difference Awards for her volunteer work.

She was on the faculty of UC Santa Cruz for 29 years before retiring in 2015. She taught voice, opera production, repertoire, and recital preparation. As a performer, Ms. Maginnis has sung leading roles with Opera San Jose, Ensemble Parallele, the Santa Cruz County Symphony, New Music Works, the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, and the Santa Cruz Chamber Players. Ms. Maginnis has also been a featured artist on many recordings, including the opera Rapunzel by Lou Harrison in which she sang the title role.

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[00:00:00] Spencer: Dastardly Cleverness in the Service of Good is produced by Boots Road Group, a marketing firm for organizations that make impact. Boots Road Group creates branding, campaigns, and content, including websites without limits. More on Boots Road Group at

Welcome to Dastardly Cleverness in the Service of Good, the podcast for people who make progress. I’m Spencer Critchley.

We’ve heard a lot of bad stories about technology lately: privacy invasions, hacking, fake news, and more. But for people who are blind or visually impaired, there are some very good tech stories. They involve seeing the world in a whole new way. This time on Dastardly Cleverness in the Service of Good.

Patrice Maginnis has experienced life as someone who can see, and as someone who can’t. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa and gradually went blind, losing all usable sight at age 60.

Patrice has learned to adapt and to thrive. And she helps others do the same, through her work with the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a nonprofit with locations in Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and San Jose, California. She has volunteered at the Vista Center since 2015 when she retired from the University of California Santa Cruz after 29 years on the music faculty.

Vista Center’s mission is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired “to embrace life to the fullest.”

Often that involves technological solutions that a sighted person might never think of. A smart phone, for example, takes on a whole new meaning.

And sometimes, the Vista Center’s approach is very low-tech — like clients being made to feel welcome in a supportive community.

I spoke with Patrice Maginnis about all of this recently, and I invite you to listen in now. I think it’ll be well worth your time.

You can find notes, links, and a transcription of this episode at And if you like it, please remember to give it a rating on iTunes or wherever you listen. It really makes a difference.

Here now is my interview with Patrice Maginnis.

[00:02:11] Patrice: Thanks for having me.

[00:02:12] Spencer: I wonder if we could start by you giving me and listeners a picture of some of the ways that life is different for someone with little or no sight, especially ways that we might not have thought of?

[00:02:23] Patrice: Well, I’ve been without sight for a long time, but I think I’m going to focus on what it’s like for someone who’s losing sight and what they experience as they, you know, suddenly I have to get feedback from other sources, as it were. For instance, there’s a great feeling of isolation– that’s not a great feeling. But there’s this sense that you’re isolated because you’re used to living in a world where the visual is king or queen, and suddenly you’re having to rely on other senses, including touch, smell, and hearing. And a lot of times people think that blind people or visually impaired people have better ears. They don’t. They use them in a new way. They’re vital, as all the other senses are, to trying to glean some sort of information about what’s around you. And so you’re isolated because a lot of times you’re not sure what’s going on from all those visual cues, those meaningful glances that you miss, all of that. And I think it’s also dealing with feeling embarrassed because people tend to treat you differently. You’re losing your eyesight. You’re not losing your identity, but often you have to form and make sure everyone else is forming with you the identity that you are, who you are with a disability, that you are not the disability. So I think getting places; transportation seems to be from the most difficult thing. Just the daily tasks. We figure out systems for getting around, trying to communicate with people in public where they grab you and try to pull your different ways. Don’t do that. Well, we will tell you how it works. You know, I’ll ask to take your elbow, but there’s a lot of that sort of thing that goes on so your natural boundaries are often on pierced. So you you have to be a warrior, especially at the beginning, because you’re not used to it to go out there and try to live your life as as you used to.

[00:04:42] Spencer: That so striking to think about both of those aspects that you mentioned there, the isolation and the sense of who you are as a person on on isolation. I think that it’s so easy for us to not be aware of the fact that the space we all live in and the awareness we all live in is predominantly visual. And if you take that away, just understanding where you are, what’s going on, as you say, and just forming a sense of presence and belonging, where ur must be very difficult.

[00:05:15] Patrice: It is very difficult, especially when you’re not used to, You know, the game They came just changed. And now you have to figure out how to play the new game while again maintaining some sort of equilibrium emotionally, physically, for sure.

[00:05:33] Spencer: And then the identity. Of course. One of the failings of human nature, I think, is that we instinctively classified people based on how they look. You know, these surface characteristics on We have to really remind ourselves all the time that a person is not how they appear or how they are moving or whether they have a disability or whether they can see or not. And, as you say, coming down to just the simple stuff we take for granted, like respecting people’s personal space, and if you could see somebody can’t see that doesn’t necessarily give you the license, grab them and

[00:06:07] Patrice: no, and that’s more common than you can imagine. And people are just trying to help. Sure what they don’t realize is that they’re upsetting your sense of balance and what’s going on. Emotional balance I’m referring to sometimes physical. But it again you know, someone like me is going to say, Please let go of me and I’ll take your elbow or I know what I’m doing Thank you. I can cross the street by myself, Thank you and to be polite, but to be clear and have boundaries. But at the beginning, it’s very difficult. And I think that’s where I feel like the Vista Center is so important. Two people who are new to visual impairment because they all understand all the staff, all the clients, all the teachers understand what you’re going through by experience it experiencing it, but vicariously as a staff member who’s around blind people all the time, and also by being able to connect with other blind people who get it, who get all of the emotions that go along with it

[00:07:22] Spencer: and whether you want to or not. I imagine that you’re in part of the put in the position of having to educate sighted people.

[00:07:30] Patrice: Yes, you do have it to educate side of people that that goes along with it. And most cited people are very happy when they find out that there is a protocol and they are, you know, they feel like they’re in the know, so they’re more relaxed around like people because they understand, you know, don’t push somebody from behind. Don’t There are all kinds of things, and once they understand the rules of the road as it were, they’re much more comfortable. And that’s the thing. We want people to be comfortable together, regardless of impairment.

[00:08:08] Spencer: You know, I think also, there’s probably a role here for the education system in the culture generally, because I know people who are in any minority group often feel like, you know, how long am I going to have to keep telling people about this, you know, for example, people were protesting the birth of a nation when it was released in nineteen fifteen, and and we’re still having people expressed surprise that blackface and cake uniforms air offensive. I’m sure that it’s it’s similar in some ways with someone who has limited or no sight, and I wonder if there’s a role just for the regular school system to as part of the curriculum to just let kids coming up know about disabilities and help equip people for life and recognize that the group of people you’re going to be interacting with throughout your life are going to include people with various kinds of disabilities.

[00:09:04] Patrice: I think through the school system, the public school system, this does exist in terms of the there is help for students who are impaired. And there is also training, mobility, training, some Braille. This’s of course I’m referred to by students. But there is that in the public school system now engaging with kids who are perceived as being normal, you know, you’re always the the wear kid who’s blind. And so to reach out beyond that and connect with other kids, I think that can be incredibly difficult. Or you figure out a way. You know, I figured out that if I was really funny, people would get over the fact that I’m blind and on DH. I irritated many nuns in my day. It was because of it. Joke’s on what you know and and everybody would laugh and you know, So I was the funny blind kid, So just a blind kid and it really helped me. I don’t recommend that, but But there are. You know, you find ways of coping, and that was my way, because I happen to be a child with a disability, whereas a lot of people who are coming to the Vista Center some of them we have a great youth program, actually where it started last summer, where kids are introduced to a bunch of technologies, but they also related to each other and what they’re going through. And so they they have community right there amongst themselves.

[00:10:48] Spencer: And I also feel, though that way unconsciously sort of assumed that it’s the person with the visual impairment that needs to learn how to cope. And, of course, they they need to be helped and taught the various ways they can cope. But I think some of it could be the rest of us Write that we we shouldn’t automatically assume the way a lot of school kids would and even teachers might, that the blind kid needs to make the special effort to help fit in right. They’re going to have to do that one way or the other anyway. I’m sure it’s going to be unavoidable to some extent. But just by letting all the kids know, ah to help them expand their range of empathy. To imagine what it’s like to be a full person who happens not to be able to see or has some other disability would just help them in their general education. I think because I think the way kids were traditionally educated was that nobody ever thought about it.

[00:11:42] Patrice: Nobody ever thought about it. Are you worked at that school? You know, I was more or less mainstreamed. I think I hope I should say that these days in the public school system. I think that because a lot of students with disabilities or Main Street, there is a more open approach to talking about it in the classroom to exchanging ideas about it, from, uh, from the teachers of the class. You know, to, just trying to make everyone is comfortable is possible and create that empathy. So I think it’s better than it used to be. A trip there. You know what, Spencer? Every day, as long as you’re blind or impaired, whether it starts as a child or an adult, it is part of the gig. It’s part of your job just to accept. It’s frustrating. You know that sometimes people are ignorant, and sometimes they’re even root. I’m frustrated because you have a problem and you know it’s your job to stand up for yourself. Learn how to do that, let her community support you. But you know, you’ve got to adopt the warrior stance not and being aggressive, maybe, but standing up for yourself and learning how to be in the world. As a blind person, we all do it differently. Every single one of us, you know, has art like, you know, I was funny in school, or every single one of us deals with this in our own way. You know, it’s there’s not a carbon copy situation here.

[00:13:24] Spencer: Can you tell me how it works at Vista Center? When you have a new client, what’s the transition like for them?

[00:13:29] Patrice: Usually what happens is that our clients are referred to the center or by word of mouth, and the referred by ophthalmologists. If they have low vision needs that even though maybe they’re prescription on their glasses is a strong as it can ever be. There are other helpful changes that a lot vision doctor can prescribed, as in better lighting, different tinted colors for the sunglasses, all kinds of things that help a person with low vision to exist easier. And. Then we just have people who, by word of mouth here Oh, there are classes going on Vista and that’s kind of how we started out. I started teaching an iPhone class for voice over and there were four people. And then suddenly there were others who already knew how to use the iPhone but wanted to see what was going on.

[00:14:28] Spencer: And if you could just explain voiceover for people who don’t have an iPhone

[00:14:32] Patrice: voice. Silver is the screen reading program that is embedded in all of the apple devices, and it was really kind of revolutionary, and that when you bought your phone, you had something embedded in the device that you could start to use the phone, I would say, just like everybody else, but not at all like everybody else. In fact, you you interact with your phone by gestures that you touch the phone with like gestures like a little single finger double tap will open an application swiping to the right. You’re going down a menu swiped into the left you’re going up on, then you little sort of things. So it is interacting with the phone and using gestures, and you get a lot of the same information that people who are using an iPhone use and also we use Syria lot handy,

[00:15:29] Spencer: Siri, the voice assistant on the iPhone. What kind of difference did that make for you when when used for started using voiceover in Syria,

[00:15:36] Patrice: I I was a changed woman. I was so blown away by the fact that I could easily have a calendar. You wouldn’t think that’s a big deal. That is a big deal. And even if you could put a pellet calendar on your I don’t know your your computer. I had a screen reading program for a computer. You know, somebody says, Are you free Friday and then a Wait a minute. I have to, you know, go through several different routines to get to my calendar. And so but the fact that I could do that, that Siri could just put calendar events in my calendar for me, that I could just ask her him, you know, my free that day, Yes, you have no effect.

[00:16:22] Spencer: That’s just fascinating. I mean, this, I think, is an example of what we were saying earlier about our assumptions about space are almost all visual. You know, we get cues from our ears with things like, If we hear a big echo, we might guess that we’re standing next to a canyon or we’re in a cathedral or something. But most of us are interpreting space and forming a model of space based on visual cues. And just what you just said about the calendar. I think the average sighted person it would never occur to them how critical it is to be able to see and how a calendar in many ways becomes, I would think, close to unusable or extremely inconvenient until you get something where it’s not just that, as you say, it’s a screen reader and a screen reader is software that reads out what’s on a computer screen or any any screen. But as as you’re describing it, if you’re doing it with a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa, for that matter or voice over, as you say, it’s actually creating a space that’s auditory in away, right? It’s it’s it’s communicating you with auditory cues with language, and you’re now in a language space instead of a visual space. Is that right?

[00:17:31] Patrice: That’s right.

[00:17:33] Spencer: Just a, I think, a critical shift. And I think also an example of how empathy works Where Oh, yeah, I get what it must be like to be blind, but not until you really engage with this sort of detail. I think can you start to engage your imagination and start to get some sense of how different the world might be?

[00:17:53] Patrice: And what’s what’s really wonderful is that most of the research development is going toward creating third party apse on the phone for people who are visually scared, you know? So I have a money reader. I have a scanner on my phone. I have a bar code reader on my phone. I have a color identify WR on my phone. I have a really quick recording app that comes in very handy. So there, I mean, I’m just that’s not scratching.

[00:18:32] Spencer: Well, I’d like tea. Just touch on a couple of those because that that again, you know, a money reader who who would have thought of that? Well,

[00:18:41] Patrice: you know America’s. So I went to Europe for the first time and I went, Wait a minute, because in Holland all the money the paper money I’m talking about is each Phyllis a different sides. And each bill had attacked a ll symbol. So I knew if I felt a rectangle that was, you know, twenty guilders. This was before the Europe and I thought, Wow, why don’t we do this in America? What? We really like our money and it’s all the same size and that’s a good thing. And, you know, even though many, many, many different agencies and groups who lobby for the blind tried to change this, they never change. So somebody got smart, and basically you’d use your camera on your phone, you slip the money under the camera, and it happened so fast, Spencer, it’s usually before you have a chance to open the money supposed to twenty five. You know, one hundred

[00:19:41] Spencer: terrific

[00:19:42] Patrice: is really is. It’s really

[00:19:44] Spencer: mean. In effect, the phone camera becomes a knife for you.

[00:19:48] Patrice: Absolutely. That’s what happens.

[00:19:51] Spencer: And you mentioned a few other APS. If you could just mention those again for me,

[00:19:54] Patrice: I remember I said Ah, scanner. This is This is really interesting. There’s a scanner that is called the K and F B reader and the case downs for because, Well, who was it? One of the first people to develop scanning materials for the blind.

[00:20:16] Spencer: I’m familiar with rakers well, from the world of musical instruments. He created a lot of very well loved digital musical instruments, and I know he’s been quite an innovator in multiple fields.

[00:20:26] Patrice: Yes, and in this one, too. And I think the original one was fifty thousand dollars and it was the size of a dryer, and now it’s on my phone. It was one hundred dollars because I didn’t get it on sale, and it will scan and start reading any, you know, printed material immediately. I don’t wait for ten minutes till it’s, you know, humming and hawing around. It’s right there, and it starts reading it to me so I can also save that into a document file. And so when I you know, I can scan things at a meeting and refer to them throughout the meeting because it’s on my phone has been scanned as a document onto my phone, and you know it’s hard at meetings when there’s a whole lot of material to be covered and you don’t have access to it in an easy, quick way. That scanner has been. You know, most of my friends have found a way to get that scanner on their phone.

[00:21:32] Spencer: Yet another example of imagining one’s way into a different way of being in the world. You’re in a meeting as a matter of routine people will pass papers around. What am I going to do with this and and and and do you want to, you know, pause the meeting and asked people to explain to you what’s on each piece of paper? So it must be just a huge difference.

[00:21:51] Patrice: It ISS and also self defecating, saying, Could you please send me those materials before the meeting in electronic form so that I could go over them and then have them at the ready on my computer or my phone? And you know that, of course, is another way to do it. But if you’re on the fly and somebody just hands something, it can happen very quickly, and you can use that. Also, Microsoft has come up with this incredible free app called Seeing a guy. It also has a scanner for documents is not a sophisticated yet, as can be reader, I’m sure it will be. It has a bar code reader. So if you find the barcodes sounds like sonar, you know it goes you, too too when you’re near the barcode and then it starts, you know, reads the barcode and tells you what the can is. This is beans. This is a suit and so that is really handy to have. They also have a money reader in that app. They have a facial recognition kind of channel. They call them channels on that app where you take a picture of someone and then the name it and the phone saves it. And then if you hold your phone up, you know, entering the room, it’LL say, Joe’s over on the right.

[00:23:14] Spencer: Oh, my gosh, that’s That’s like being the president or the Queen. And having The assistant is shadowing you and whispering in your ear. This’s Senator Smith’s husband,

[00:23:28] Patrice: you know, And it doesn’t work as well as that a person on right in your ear. But if you really, if you really have the time and can take the time you have to open that up. You have to go to that town all you have to, you know? Then you know, turn your phone focus on the room. It’s not. It’s not the most practical things, but you can’t tell where it’s going. It will work like that assistant. You give them another year or two, and it will have no doubt, no daddy.

[00:24:00] Spencer: Well, there’s so much financial and intellectual horsepower being devoted to applications like artificial intelligence and facial recognition sometimes, of course, s and frightening ways. But you know, really what you’re describing kind of sounds like the construction of ah, sensory. Um, for people who have vision problems or hearing problems, I’m sure is also coming

[00:24:24] Patrice: here Comes and tap it’LL problems.

[00:24:27] Spencer: Yeah, so that this technology can help too. Either replace or augment. Ah, you know, natural human capabilities. And that’s a big part of the work at Vista, right, that you use technology toe help. People have the improvements in their lives that you’ve experienced. I’m sure if people have have lost their sight later in life, then they must be just unaware about these possibilities and Vista. You help introduce people to these sorts of things right in and trained them and how to use them.

[00:25:02] Patrice: We do, and we are also very sensitive to the fact that change is difficult at any time in one’s life. But I think in particular as you age were very sensitive that when somebody comes in, they they not always, but sometimes our phobic about any kind of tech. And usually we can woo them just with Siri into realizing this could be helpful. But we really tried to be sensitive. As I said before, to how much they want to learn, and and usually, once we break through that first kind of resistance, people start to really get excited about learning new things. And we have, Ah, no vision iPhone class, which is terrific for people who can still see the phone, but not easily So in this iPhone class of for low vision, what we do is create a combination love devices or or technique people help that is, on the phone like zoom magnification. There’s another thing you consent your settings to call, speak it, and these are things that aren’t necessarily accessibility features, but the students use a combination of those that are on your phone, your phone settings for any smartphone, and then they also use some of the voiceover. Or, if you will, their talkback, which is this force over sort of screen reader help that Iran Android phones right now, and so did they use a combination of those so they can use what site they have? I think that’s really important because it gives them a sense that they can still use what they have. But they also have the sense that they know if they lose more site, that they have an idea of what they could do with more silver. But, I mean, the thing I really want to say about what’s terrific about these classes is, you know, a lot of centers for the blind teach one two one on these devices because they’re very complex and there’s a pretty steep learning curve. But we took the model of class instead because very, very quickly what we noticed this. When people come into classes, that’s kind of chaotic. They mostly pick up some information. If they want more that come one on one. But there is this magic thing that happens where people start laughing with each other and figuring out, Hey, we live in the same neighborhood, let’s go to lunch And we actually had to develop a social events committee because the clients wanted more community activity, not just the classes. So the classes are wonderful, but the community to fight that isolation and to get that support is, I think, maybe the greatest thing about our approach in Santa Cruz.

[00:28:15] Spencer: What an interesting point. I think that, you know, technology can be many things right, and these days we think of technology meeting computers and mobile phones and satellites and that sort of thing. But culture is a technology. Ah, a group of people. Talking, in effect, is a technology because it’s augmenting what any individual can do on their own.

[Ad] Dastardly Cleverness in the Service of Good is produced by Boots Road Group, a marketing firm for organizations that make impact. Boots Road Group builds powerful, beautiful websites with open source tools like Drupal and WordPress. More at Now, back to our interview with Patrice Maginnis.

[00:29:15] Patrice: Exactly. And I know you know, a lot of times people think of the tech is being isolating of, I think for blind and visually impaired people, it’s a connector. It’s not an isolator. Suddenly you’re on Facebook. Suddenly you’re texting people. You know, these these things didn’t happen twenty years ago. And now, you know, I I feel like if if the clients in the iPhone classes get nothing else, they are dedicated to texting. Hey, Siri. Oh, yeah,

[00:29:52] Spencer: yeah, yeah. But

[00:29:54] Patrice: any text go out to each other, and I really appreciate that because some some people aren’t sure they want to use e mail, but they’re not afraid of texting. And I love that. That seems to be with people grant first and it and it makes sense that it would be so that he and the people you learn to put contacts in their phones so that they can text each other

[00:30:21] Spencer: on that often seems to be the case that even people who think of themselves as technophobes the technologies they adopt, are the ones very often are the ones that connect them to other people?

[00:30:30] Patrice: Absolutely.

[00:30:32] Spencer: You know, I I know that at least the larger tech companies are very aware of how they need to meet the needs of people with various disabilities. And I’m sure you experience this day by day. They’re taking this into account when they designed the interface is for all of their products. And, as you say, introducing software like scanners that convert text from images into readable text and the money readers and all of these things you’ve been describing. Ah, do you interact with the tech companies in at all in giving feedback in how things work

[00:31:10] Patrice: we do. We have a very amazing adaptive technology manager in our branch named Stacie Grijalva, and she is one of the great connectors of our time. And, you know, she has made contacts with Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and we many of our clients. I say we, as being a client and also a volunteer teacher, have participated in studies to develop new technologies or to improve the ones that they’re using. So and also over in Palo Alto, Alice Turner is very wonderful at getting these kinds of studies that I went over there and did a a study for Facebook.

[00:31:55] Spencer: And this is that you’re Palo Alto Vista location?

[00:31:57] Patrice: Yes, that was at Palo Alto. But all of this, the locations these two in particular is we just have a new one, that is, we just merged and have another location in San Jose. And I’m sure that they will be doing the same thing with, um, Ernie Molina, who is their tech manager.

[00:32:17] Spencer: And of course, Palo Alto is just down the road from Menlo Park, where Facebook is headquartered.

[00:32:23] Patrice: Exactly. And you know, an Apple and Google are, you know, in spitting distance as it were. Vista as an entire entity, has a great relationship with the tech companies in the area and there there’s a grate, reciprocal kind of relationship.

[00:32:39] Spencer: You mentioned screen readers earlier, and a lot of what we’re talking about these things that happen on the Web, whether people are looking at it on a phone or a tablet or on a computer. And this is something I happen to be familiar with because my firm builds a ton of websites, and I’ve seen this change over the years since the beginning of the graphical Web. Nobody used to think about accessibility on websites. That was just amazing, that you could have images and text on a computer screen and just click on links. But over time, people started to realize that not everybody who uses the Web can see. And so ah, set of accessibility standards have evolved. And now you know. Certainly my firm and many Web development firms observe those accessibility standards in their federal regulations that you need to meet in some cases. But we all try to do it anyway, because it’s just good practice. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about using the Web, as a non-sighted person and what it’s like when you’re dealing with a website that works well for you and one that doesn’t

[00:33:37] Patrice: well. I really am thankful that there are standards now and that I was just talking with a friend this morning about this, that there is case law that supports accessibility to all devices, whether they be computers, keyboards or, you know, not just for the blind, but for hearing impaired and touching haired that there is a standard now, and it is case law and these things were covered by the

[00:34:09] Spencer: the Americans With Disabilities Act.

[00:34:11] Patrice: So going forward it has. It’s been much better. Recently, I would say you’ve been like three or four years ago. If you went on a Web site that was inaccessible, they had this blanket response that, you know, we are trying to improve our accessibility. Please understand that we really mean to do that, and that was there. Bid toward accessibility. Then you go into the website and it’s, you know, it’s very frustrated because things like buttons don’t show up. The way things are organized on the page is random. You know there’s no standardization. So what might work on the Bard system for the Analyst Library for National Library Service? Uh, for the for the talking books that people can download for free. It is a great website. It’s very clear you can move around on it very easily. They obviously designed it with visual impairment or visually impaired people in mind, and you can go to your favorite sports team and go to their website. And Kim, you know you may not ever be seen again. Eyes. It’s prison really hard, and I would say that what’s great about some of the developers of access technology is that they are. It’s like a game. It’s game of thrones game of ah, websites. What they do is they figure out more ways to kind of carve up a website into lists and buttons and menus and everything that’s on. And if they started put, you know all the buttons are in one place. They can just divide the whole thing up so that you can more easily access what you’re low looking for.

[00:36:13] Spencer: That’s a fantastic idea,

[00:36:15] Patrice: and and it’s again every time another date comes. You know, people are scared to do it, because maybe it’LL be worse or be bad for the stability of your phone and your computer. Usually the screen reader is better. It usually in my experience that I can have, you know, for other black people in the room start yelling at me right now. But in my experience, every time I do in update, things got easier, especially in a Web site navigation, because it’s not for the weak of heart. Lots of people do it on the phone because it seems like it’s simpler to navigate websites on your phone. I

[00:36:59] Spencer: interesting, yes, because what’s called Responsive design, which is where you have a a modern website that adapts itself to display on the phone. It doesn’t just shrink, but it actually re does the layout, so it works better on the phone. It has to be simpler, and things have to be more list oriented.

[00:37:17] Patrice: It’s interesting because I get books from and they have accessibility help if you want to call on the phone. But they are always changing their website and turned to make it even more interesting. And you know. So I switched to the phone when I’m getting books because it was simpler, I’d go on the computer and think, Oh, no, it’s you know, it’s all different now when I finally by the book and go to the library, I have to, you know, figure out the whole other system that they thought was really cool s Oh, it’s really not something that you know when people are trying to constantly make the websites more sexy, more interesting, it can often be a bummer. I mean, that’s everything. If you everybody uses technology as a blind person. You also really need to accept that it is going to constantly change. And you know, it is difficult for people because they think Okay, I know now how to create an email and sent it to people, or how should you know, created document and save it. Then suddenly you do the update, and I’m still saying it’s usually better, but it’s different.

[00:38:33] Spencer: It’s as if you know your car. Suddenly you no longer have a steering wheel, you’ve got leavers or something, and that could happen from one week to the next. And you know, a lot of people these days build their own websites using easy tools like wicks and square space, or slightly more difficult ones like WordPress. Ah, lot of small businesses create their own websites, and they may not be aware of these accessibility standards. S o. I think it’s this is really worth highlighting for people because in the old days this would have been of interest just to, you know, tech people, Web developers. But so many people are doing this themselves these days. So I think it’s good for us to highlight this and perhaps suggests that people Google accessibility standards. Something as simple is using what’s called the altar tag with images. When you put images on a Web page, a lot of people leave that field blank when they’re adding the image. They might not even understand why it’s there, but you need to enter a helpful description of what this is. A picture of rights for something. You can’t actually see the picture because otherwise the screen reader is just going to say something like Image right, and you have no idea what it is

[00:39:40] Patrice: where you end up with this incredibly long list of numbers and letters and then, you know, J pick at the end of it or something like

[00:39:48] Spencer: that terribly hopeful

[00:39:50] Patrice: figure. This must be a picture this nonsense, must be sure,

[00:39:56] Spencer: and then the layout of the layout of the screen as well. This is something we’ve learned is a lot of times you want to do something that you think is just visually going to be really beautiful and innovative. But if you don’t bear in mind that you might be messing up an understandable menu structure for people who can’t see if they’re if they’re screen reader now is not going to be able to make sense of your menus structure they now can no longer navigate,

[00:40:20] Patrice: I think with the way case law is being read. Now that all of these things are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people can be sued. And so it’s important when you are learning how to do code are, you know, creating it that you keep that in mind. Oh, and you know those kids I was talking about last summer? Apple came and actually helped them to start to learn how the coat. There are some terrific code designers who are completely blood, and the computer industry is, you know, populated with many, many, many people who design websites. They also consult to make sure that the websites of accessible and you know, as I said, it’s an even more even playing field that it used to be.

[00:41:17] Spencer: You add Vista also have a youth technology program,

[00:41:21] Patrice: so the youth program is called Vision for the Youth of Tomorrow, and it is designed to help students who were in middle school and high school to get ready for higher education or the work force by being introduced to technology a lot of them already are. But what happened to this? The program we started last summer’s If there were five people in the program, they all got iPads and they got Bluetooth keyboards. And they also got a.from Amazon. But what happened? Wass? These students learned to pear that Bluetooth keyboard to their iPad. They learned how to create an email address with their parents. Consultation. Of course, they learned how to type on that Bluetooth keyboard using some basic voice over. It was just a phenomenal week, and and they were supported by all the local tech groups. And, um, what is exciting to me is that when a kid starts out at the university or in the work force, but they are connected. They know you know what it is to use technology. And those kids are so fast that corset, you know, they learn it much faster than any of us could ever imagine. All that they really took to it. It was a state secret hollow spring child, and it really when I heard about it, I just, you know, brought tears to my eyes because I thought while where was that? When I was in school. I, uh I just I’m I’m just so happy those kids got that kind of boost on DH. You know, we had it was a pilot program. We got funding from it from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and we’re hoping to continue this program because it was so successful and again life changing. And the community that was developed amongst those kids was also wonderful. You know, they they were with people who’ve got their deal.

[00:43:45] Spencer: That’s as you say, just inspiring. And I guess the natural next question is, since we’re talking about young people, what do you see? Coming in the future?

[00:43:54] Patrice: In the future of assistive technology, it keeps getting simpler. S o what used to take a long time to figure out. And I’m like a dog with a bone. I want to figure it out. Now. I keep thinking, it’s so much simpler and you know, now I’m wearing an apple watch because I think it’s really handy, and I never thought I’d be doing that. And I just feel like things were getting better and better. I have a lot of no, there’s a researcher of U C. Santa Cruz named Roberto Manduchi, and he uses a lot of us for his test subjects here in the area. He’s developing navigation for the visually impaired indoors inside buildings where you don’t have GPS by using disks that you know you can find with your phone to orient you to where you are. And some other programs for the using the watch to count your steps so you could retrace how to get back from where you went to that. That seems like a

[00:45:06] Spencer: no

[00:45:07] Patrice: simple thing. It is that you

[00:45:09] Spencer: know, the

[00:45:10] Patrice: bathroom and never find your way back to the office where you were having an interview first

[00:45:14] Spencer: thing, and I have trouble I have trouble with that

[00:45:17] Patrice: s o he and he does much more. He’s working actually with the public transportation over in Santa Clara Valley to develop ways to read the bus schedules that air there to figure out when they’re going to be coming in and things like that. Anyway, the reason I got and I phoned to begin with this because he said, all research in the area of blindness and visual impairment, it’s going toward developing apse for the iPhone. So get one you know, don’t pass, go get the iPhone. So I did and I was blown away, and this is before I want to stay. Androids also have something called talkback, and they, you know, they have cut on and are really moving forward with great help. So it’s not just about the iPhone, but it was first, and and I don’t think that many of us, we give up our iPhones, we’LL have them, but it gets simpler. And the more I mean, I’m always shocked at what is out there to help me, and I can’t even keep track of how fast it’s moving sensor. So I have great hope.

[00:46:31] Spencer: Well, with all of all the bad news, we’ve been getting about technology lately. Privacy and ah, hacks and fake news. And it’s wonderful to hear some really positive news about it like this.

[00:46:45] Patrice: Yeah, and and I you know, I’m aware of all that as well, but I’m still not giving you my iPhone because it’s always in fact. Now I have to wear clothing that has pockets. I didn’t used to speak a big deal. Now they must have pockets, so I have my iPhone. It’s It’s that you know, parties. Like an elected appendage.

[00:47:12] Spencer: Sure. Well, you know, I think really one of the one of the trends as we move into the future is that this technology becomes more and more literally extensions of our brains and our bodies, Right?

[00:47:23] Patrice: I think that not, say, ten years for now wouldn’t surprise me. There are developing devices like the or Cam. Where you wearing A camera mounted on a pair of glasses and IRAs. Another one you can call into an alive person will direct you, You know, to where you’re trying to find, and it’s amazing what’s going on.

[00:47:45] Spencer: Oh, of course. It’s sort of like the old OnStar system in cars. Right? But be with you all the time,

[00:47:51] Patrice: exactly. But I do feel that I’m going to be able. Maybe not in my lifetime, but soup. Someone’s going to put on a pair of glasses, and I think that it’s going to be able to tell them everything that’s around them of what’s going on.

[00:48:06] Spencer: Well, that is a very hopeful vision, and let’s hope it comes as soon as possible.

[00:48:10] Patrice: I agree.

[00:48:13] Spencer: Anybody out there thinking of investing in startups, maybe This is the thing to do in instead of the next photo filter or for game.

[00:48:20] Patrice: Exactly. And this dissenter and our clients are there to help you out by trying it.

[00:48:26] Spencer: All right, so there you go. Just get in touch with Vista and they can help you do that. Patrice, thank you so much for taking this time with me. It’s just been fascinating. I really appreciate it.

[00:48:36] Patrice: You know, Spencer, I am so happy to let people know what’s out there for them. And I hope that people who are in the Bay Area, who you feel like they don’t have any help, that they know that the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is there, and we will help you. We will help you to get your life into some sort of order that you can survive with.

[00:49:06] Spencer: And what’s the url?

[00:49:07] Patrice: The url is

[00:49:10] Spencer: All right. Well, thanks again, Patrice.

[00:49:13] Patrice: Thank you, Spencer.

[00:49:15] Spencer: You’ve been listening to Dastardly Cleverness in the Service of Good. We just heard my interview with Patrice Maginnis of the Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. If you liked it, please give it a rating on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts — it makes a big difference.

The podcast home is at On Twitter we’re @DastardlyClever, and on Facebook we’re DastardlyCleverness.

The podcast is produced by Boots Road Group. I’m Spencer Critchley. Thanks for listening.

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