Gadgets

My washing machine is making a new noise, a worrying groan underlying the Concorde-like crescendo of its final spin cycle. A groan which gradually fades to a rattle as the drum rumbles to a stop. A groan which sounds expensive. However, it's not just the replacement cost which worries me it's whether I'll be able to find a machine I can actually use. Both my current washing machine and dishwasher are old enough to have dials. The only adaptations I have had to make are strategically placed fluorescent blobs and dots to indicate the position of particular programmes as I birl the knobs. At the moment, all machines seem to have wee screens with menus. So if my machine is in its death throws, it looks as if we're soon going to be very dirty!

And there are so many other essential items. For instance, my bread maker has a neat, grey screen set amidst its buttons. Apparently, this tells me which programme I've selected and how many minutes are left before I can turn out a loaf. Dark grey digits on a pale grey screen. Apparently. Not much use to me. I've had to memorise a favourite recipe and the sequence of button presses. And as for knowing when a loaf is ready, I go by smell, a series of clicks which become more frenzied in the final twenty minutes or so and, if I'm indoors, a final beep.

Yet I'm not asking for rocket science. Even a Latin speaker such as myself knows enough about chips and computers to realise that a basic speech programme could be available on a scrap of silicon as an optional extra. The cost could either be incorporated into the price or be an add-on. Just as the space for the chip and its button could be an easily removed blank built into the design. And this option ought to be as heavily promoted as any other, not left to languish unknown and unused, on specialist web sites. As I keep saying, so-called normal people are often commenting that a gadget, such as my talking phone or my talking alarm clock would be so useful, but where are they available? Certainly not in high street stores and supermarkets. But then, I forgot, us disabled aren't supposed to go out.

Perhaps if these “specialist” gadgets were better advertised, then they wouldn't be, on the whole, so expensive. It's not funny that adapted items which would make life easier for disabled folk are often impossible for them to afford. Remember, most disabled people are unemployed or low paid. Not many of us have ever been in the Cabinet. Okay, a talking microwave is available, but if I want one, it will cost nearly £200.00 whereas most folk can buy one for less than £50.00! That's just not fair, especially when you realise that that particular machine has been that price for years while the price of regular models has steadily reduced. I don't want to harp on, but this talking Nokia phone is the same price whether it has the speech facility or not. Someone must still be making a profit, so it can be done.

But even if you have scraped the money together or devised a way round using the screen, more and more household items need a good working knowledge of computers. Although I've tracked down those toty MP3 players which don't have a screen, I haven't indulged because I'm not sure how I'd transfer Aberfeldy, Springsteen et al. from CD to MP3. I understand the wit behind calling a CD-Rom burning program Nero, but I haven't a clue how to use it! Yes, I know there are plenty of visually impaired folk plugged into their I-Pods as they exercise their Guide Dogs but I'm a wee wifie in a Scottish backwater. I have an extra disability, distance from information. And know-how. Whenever I listen to BBC's “In Touch” or any of the tape magazines on computers which I receive, or read the Ouch! Web site, hollow laughter can be heard. Out here, few of the able-bodied over the age of forty have experience of I-pods and Wap phones, never mind the likes of me. Whenever I do buy a gadget, such as my current mobile or wristwatch with the vibrating dial, I have to sit down for a few hours and swear a lot as I try to master the blessed thing. There is no circle of like-minded gadget freaks at hand. I mean, the nearest screen reader user is over thirty miles away, for heaven's sake!

Galloway may look, sound and smell lovely but it's not exactly the best place in which to discover how best to access a Bramble when that word refers to a digital assistant rather than a wee, purple fruit!


© Charlotte Bennie 2007