Critic, novelist, essayist, men’s-style correspondent, and self-styled language authority Russell Smith has suffered a recurrence of retinal detachment. He’s having trouble coping. He’d have less trouble if he’d reached out to people who knew something about it and could help him.

  • There is not much entertainment for the sightless.

    Does this strike you as the epitome of self-involvement and refusal to do one’s research?

    Even music you have to type and click to download. CBC Radio One is still the most dependable and stimulating companion, regardless of all the clever other podcasts that people tell you to listen to. Those too, remember, require good eyes to seek out and download on a computer screen.

    You can use any accessible device (like an iPhone, any Macintosh, or a Wintel computer with extra screen reader) to download or just listen to streaming radio and podcasts.

    I see now that one lapse in Smith’s stellar record of good taste – his choice of crapola Windows laptops – has come back to haunt him. If he wanted to start using a screen reader because his vision left him no other choice, in any case he’d have to learn how to do so. That would take a while; there would be a learning curve. But what he’s faced with now is going out to a specialized dealer (like Frontier Computing) and paying over a grand for a horrendously complex program like Jaws that will work about as well as Windows itself does.

    If he had a Mac, all he’d have to do is press Command-F5 and start using VoiceOver immediately. At no extra cost.

    The course of action would be quite different if all Smith needed were screen magnification. The free magnifier built into Macs is still better than the one on Windows (especially under Lion), but it’s a much closer call.

  • Television, it turns out, can be followed from the soundtrack alone without any loss of subtlety. And it is not at all bad for me to be forced to understand more about the complexities of television drama, its finely-honed narrative conventions.

    The other day I watched/listened to the final act of one of our most famous and successful Canadian-made cop dramas, a show I had always heard massively praised. […] The patient officer, using uncanny psychological ability, guessed the code and disarmed the bomb with seconds to spare. This narrative device is I believe known as the “ticking time bomb.” Those are about all the lessons from television I can withstand for now.

    Surely he means Flashpoint. Anyway, Smith can easily listen to not-very-good audio description of this and essentially all other Canadian dramas. All he needs to do is turn on SAP, usually by just hitting the audio button on the remote control until described audio starts playing. (Doesn’t require cable or satellite. HDTV settings are much trickier and always require vision.)

I apologize for being harsh, but if Smith had actually known the facts (computers work just fine for blind people; you can sightlessly follow TV shows without guesswork), he wouldn’t have had a column this week. Those columns too often read like reactive, last-minute affairs dashed off in response to something he read on a blog.

A case like this is perfect for the Twitters: “X just happened to me. I want to do Y. Tips?” At the very least, Smith could have posted again to the Toronto Freelance Editors and Writers mailing list.

The use of one’s bully pulpit to complain about the impossibility of tasks that are actually possible and the narrative failings of programs that are actually narrated seems a tad embarrassing.

Nonetheless, there is one person in town with fingers in Smith’s pies (journalism, linguistics, accessibility) who would be happy to help out – with only mild scolding along the way.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.08.25 14:50. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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