Friday, April 23, 2010

iPad Review (with people with disabilities in mind)

I've had my iPad for a week now & have to say, I'm loving it! I haven't gone nuts downloading a ton of apps, but I do have a variety that I think are worth mentioning. There are a few things I'd definitely like to see in the next generation of iPads and a few flaws, that Apple could probably address with software updates.

Overall, the functionality is pretty intuitive and I can do most things that anyone else could. There are a few multi-finger gestures that I can't do, but for the most part, I've been able to navigate quite well, using my stylus. Certain functions can be done in multiple ways, for example, you can enlarge or shrink pages by pinching and pulling at the corners or you can double tap. I have noticed that the iPad is very particular and is programed to sense tiny differences in movement, pressure and the duration of your finger or stylus is on the screen. Because it is so sensitive, it does seem to work more accurately and consistently with fingers, versus the stylus. There have been many times that I've been using it and I have to try to push the same area two or three times, before I get it just right. It can be annoying at times. I think the easiest solution would be, for Apple to design a capacitive stylus with a more precise tip. All of the capacitive styluses that I've come across (including the Pogo that I'm using) have a thick tip, about the circumference of a pencil eraser. If they could somehow narrow the tip to a point, it would make it easier to be accurate.

As far as accessibility to goes, I really think Apple should include some sort of override setting for the stylus. It would solve the problem of not being able to do multi-finger gestures and it would help the iPad to recognize the difference between stylus and fingers. I haven't tried the Voice option yet, but the ability to change font size and adjust the volume and brightness, in the settings menu is helpful. I'm very pleased that there aren't many external buttons. The only other "problem" I've come across in concerns of accessibility is that, some apps rely on movement and/or do not self adjust the orientation. In terms of being accessible, Apple should consider the fact that many people with disabilities cannot pick up, or move the iPadthemselves. I realize that there are only a small amount of iPad users with this unique problem, however, it is a concern to those of us dealing with paralysis and motor skill deficiencies. It's a minor issue that could most likely be easily resolved by giving users the option of shutting of kinetic features and/or individual apps could give users alternative means of controlling the device. 

The iPad technically, has no "correct" orientation, and is supposed to adjust itself based on the movement of the iPad itself. You can choose to lock the orientation if you wish, however some apps (mostly games) rely on kinetics, such as Nintendo Wii. In the game Sims3, for example, you need to shake the iPad as part of earning cooking skills. Since I can't shake, or handle my iPad, I'm destined for virtual cooking failure. It would be simple for creators to allow tapping as an alternative; just as lazy people have the choice to play their Wii from the couch. Kinetic gaming features are cool, but I don't see any justification for them being absolutely necessary. Many of the current apps already allow for customization, so I don't see why Apple couldn't make the kinetic features optional.

A lot of the iPad apps are iPhone apps that Apple has tweaked for use with the iPad. The one glitch I've encountered in several apps, is that they are only setup to work in the "portrait" position. This means, you're forced to use the iPad vertically, and depending on how you have to position the iPadin order to use it, vertical might not be the most convenient orientation. I for one, use my iPad in the horizontal orientation, because the height is shorter than the width, thus making it easier for me to reach/touch the entire surface.The current apps that only work vertically, could easily provide updates to rectify the issue. Some of the TV sites like, ABC, TLC and Discovery Channel do not (yet) automatically self adjust, or the home page is vertical, while the videos can be watched in either portrait or landscape. I'm hoping more apps will update the iPad apps to work in both orientations. I find it ironic that there are (at times) unnecessary kinetic features embedded into games and yet, apps that should respond to movement, to auto-correct the orientation of the iPad don't always work. 

My only other complaint is the inability to view or use anything to do with Flash. I think this is a big mistake, as tons of very popular websites use Flash and aren't accessible on the iPad. No Flash means only having a limited access to the web; which stinks. I'll be using my iPad primarily from home, so I rely on my existing wireless network for internet access. However, I'd be ticked off if I was one of the thousands of people that are paying extra for 3G (access on the go) service. I can't see paying full price for internet services, if you don't have full access. Some of my favorite sites rely on Flash, like HULU and Facebook games (like Zynga and Slide games). You can also forget about playing huge multi-player games, like World ofWarcraft and Maple Story. I can't even access the social section of my own website, because it uses Flash. If I really want/need to access Flash websites, I can switch off to my laptop. Apple would like you to think that the iPad is a smaller, more convenient version of a laptop PC, but that isn't true. The iPad has the potential to replace traditional laptops in the future, but currently, there are too many missing capabilities to make the switch from a PC to iPad alone. Right now, iPad's capabilities are stuck in between the versatility of a PC and the limitations of specialized mobile gadgets, like e-books. That said, the things the iPad CAN do are pretty sweet!

Two of the best features of the iPad are it's compact size (smaller than the average magazine) and its full touchscreen. The iPad is definitely easier to lug around than a laptop, and easier to read, and operate than smart phones. My dad is always complaining about the ever shrinking size of electronic gadgets; he says, "they're designed for Leprechauns." I know myself, that trying to use my cell phone or other electronic devices are difficult to use, because of my limited mobility. I no longer have the dexterity or fine motor skills required to push buttons that are a quarter inch in size. I'm sure many people with disabilities, and the elderly, find it frustrating, not being able to read or accurately press buttons. The iPad is great, because it allows for customization. You can increase the size and type of font of text and easily zoom the screen in and out, which makes for much easier reading. The lack of buttons is also a plus. The touch screen is far easier to operate than pushing keys or having to scroll and select things with a mouse. If I want to type on a PC, using Microsoft's on-screen keyboard, I have to use mouse to select and press each key. The process is so tedious that it's not worth it for me to use. My iPad's on-screen keyboard is huge and I touch each key directly, as if I were using a traditional keyboard. Being able to type laying down gives me more time in the day to write, answer emails and surf the web. Before I owned the iPad, I was limited to only typing if I was sitting and only being able to use the mouse, if I were laying down. Now, I have more options to how I spend my day, because I have extra time to write. 

The other great features of the iPad are: e-reader, social networking, productivity, gaming, music, videos and creativity. Even though there are limitations to surfing the web, it's great to be able to check e-mails and keep up with social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. The e-reader feature is awesome, and has all the best qualities of the top three competitors. iPad gives users the freedom to download and purchase books from a variety of sources, so you can shop around for deals and freebies. The fact that it has a full color touchscreen, makes it feel more like you're reading an actual book or magazine. The advantage is, you can store thousands of books into it's small size, customize the font and look up words, with it's built in dictionary and search features. Not to mention, for someone like me, that has to turn pages with a stick and has an elaborate set-up (tables and book stands), every time I want to read, the e-books are a godsent. My iPad has taken out all the stress that comes along with reading and made me more motivated to want to read. 

If you get tired of reading, there are tons of fun games, which are all operated by touch, similar to the Nintendo DS. You can also save space withiTunes, since you can store tons of your CDs and movies. It's pretty amazing how much stuff you can carry around in such a small device. There's also lots of great productivity apps, that give you the ability to work on the go, manage/organize information and jot down ideas. One of my favorite apps is Sketchbook Pro, which lets me create art. I haven't had the freedom to sketch in a long time. For me, the annoyance of having to ask for help every two seconds, (for an eraser or changing colors) takes away the enjoyment of drawing. The iPad sketch book gives me the freedom to switch colors and textures, as well as to make corrections on my own. It's amazing how well the program simulates different mediums and it gives you the ability to create work in layers. I'd say it's a must have for any artist.

I realize the iPad is a bit pricey, for the average middle class person. The good news is that it does come in several versions; the cheapest runs around $500. If you already own a smart phone, you might want to wait and see what (if any) changes they make to the next generation of iPads. The originaliPad is sure to drop in price as newer versions get released. If you don't own a laptop or a smart phone, you really should take a trip the Apple store and check out the iPad. Also, if you're thinking about investing in an e-reader, it's well worth the extra $100-200, considering everything the iPad can do. I'd highly recommend the iPad for people with disabilities, especially those people that enjoy reading and/or writing. It can take the place of bulkier, assistive devices, that aren't as versatile or easy to use. Plus, the iPad gives the user freedom to switch between tasks independently. I'm always grateful to have anything that gives me back a sense of freedom or independence.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm currently writing from my new iPad. I'm getting used to how to use it & how much pressure is needed to access features. Right now we have it rigged on a book stand & bed table. It's harder for me to press the top two corners than it is for the rest of the surface. I bought a generic capacitive stylus (Pogo brand), since Apple doesn't have one (yet) for the iPad. I ended up going to the Apple store to try out the stylus, before I ordered one. While doing my research on the device, I couldn't find any mention of being able to use a stylus.

Initially, I called Apple to speak with one of their "geniuses" about the probability of me being able to use the iPad with my mouth stick & possibly the iTouch stylus. The woman I spoke with said that most likely the iPhone/iTouch stylus wouldn't work because of the amount of sensors used in the iPad surface. Luckily, my brother in law is a tech wiz & encouraged me to try any old capacitive stylus. As the name suggests, capacitive styluses (do I need to pluralize that word?) some how mimic our fingers by altering the electric current on the touch screen surface. Other touch screens, like on Nintendo DS, respond to pressure, so you can use your fingers or almost any inanimate object. After reading a couple of articles my bro sent me, which even showed people using sausages to control their iPhones (I'm not kidding), I figured it was worth trying.

As some of you know, I've been looking into getting an e-reader for some time now. I'd read tons of reviews on Kindle, Sony Reader & the Nook, and was leaning towards the Kindle, when I first heard about the iPad. The more I read about the iPad, it seemed like the perfect choice. It already has all the positive features of the three e-readers (audio book capability, built in dictionary, limited web access, touch screen & the ability to share information) plus it can do a host of other things, that none of the e-readers can. Granted, the iPad is more expensive, but I think the versatility of applications justifies the added cost.

The iPad is not (yet) a replacement to a laptop, because it doesn't support Flash (program that online games, like Farmville & a lot of websites use), has limited multitasking capabilities and has no webcam. That said, the amount of things it can do is pretty impressive. I'm limited to what I can do o a laptop, because I have to use a mouth stick to hit the keys & control the trackball. The full touch screen of the iPad allows me to do a lot of things laying down, that normally require me to sit. Just being able to type laying in bed is amazing. I so often have ideas or things I'd like to say, but can't because I'm stuck in bed. I hardly ever have enough time in the day to write. I have to prioritize my time sitting up, so that I can be productive. Once I've answered all my e-mails & paid bills, there's little time (or desire) to write for fun.

Hopefully, I'll be posting blogs more frequently, now that I can write in bed. I'll write a more detailed review on my iPad, after I've used it for a few weeks.

-- Post From My iPad

Friday, April 9, 2010

Going Out

As many of you know, I don't go out much these days. I basically stay inside all winter, as it's near impossible for me to withstand the cold weather. I'm usually colder than everyone to begin with, so even with the heat on at a normal level, I'm shivering. My inability to move around and poor circulation make it very hard to warm up. Unless it's something very important, I try to avoid making plans with friends that require me to leave my apartment. Luckily, there's plenty of holidays and birthdays to keep me busy. Every year it seems to get a bit harder to meet up with friends, due to the fact that almost all my friends are married and/or have children. Although, I'm grateful that my friends make the effort to visit me, given everyone's hectic schedules. I have a reasonable excuse for staying indoors during the winter; it's the rest of the year that I struggle and to force myself to go out.

Before my accident, I was on the go non stop. I spent a great deal of time in my car and juggled a lot of responsibilities, in addition to hanging out with friends and family. Spring 2005 was probably the most hectic time in my life. I was always pressed for time, but none the less very happy. At the time, I had my full time teaching career, my apartment, traveled back and forth to PA (to visit friends and boyfriend) almost every weekend, put on three art shows for my students, joined a gym, was attending bar tending school, and taking a graduate course. I still managed to go out and enjoy my free time and genuinely looked forward to spending time with my friends and family (especially my boyfriend). I loved to shop. Even when my down time was scarce, I'd hit the mall and do a little shopping. I never ran short on reasons to buy new clothes! Despite all my spending, I was responsible with my finances and had no debt. I just enjoyed giving gifts and having new things. I was not married and had no children and was making a good salary, so I had no regrets treating myself. I'd have to say, I hit the mall about once a week. Buying clothes was my all time favorite thing to do at the mall. I enjoyed seeing all the latest fashions and had fun trying on clothes. It was always fun and exciting for me to have new things to wear.

I was comfortable with going out by myself, but I preferred being with friends (or boyfriend) most of the time. I'm a people person. Crowds never bothered me, in fact I kind of liked the hustle and bustle of the city. The more people there are, the more interesting things there were to see. I used to go to Manhattan regularly during my college years, for assignments. I could spend the entire day just seeing the sites and watching other people. I loved the diversity of the city and the fast paced nature of the people. Even simple things, like taking the subway, were interesting and fun for me. I could spent hours wandering around the museums. It didn't seem to matter how often I went; there was always something new to see and favorite areas to explore.

I've always enjoyed dancing. I missed out on parties and dancing during my college years (due in part to an ex-boyfriend). I say "missed out" because there were many opportunities and invites to go out that I turned down. I would've loved to be more social in college, but my choice to be with my boyfriend (during college) kept me from going. The positives to staying at home more were having good grades and tremendous focus. However, once I was single again, I found a sense of freedom and exilleration that I had been missing. I went to clubs and bars occasionally on the weekends and had fun dressing up and letting loose. Hanging out with some of my friends required along drive, but it was worth it. Dancing was a perfect stress relief and I had a lot of laughs with my friends. I was usually up for doing almost anything and perferred to go out versus staying at home. Apart from shopping and going dancing, I enjoyed seeing all of the latest movies and spent a lot of time eating out.

I've always piled a lot of responsibilities on my plate, but somehow managed to balance everything fine. I was rather good at time management and being organized, which made it possible to have a life outside of career. When I was still living with my parents, I can remember them getting annoyed at the fact that I was hardly ever around. They felt I treated home as a hotel, and only stopped by to sleep and shower. For the most part, they were right. I've been on the go almost my whole life, bouncing back and forth between divorced parents. I had moved out once, before I had my own apartment. Moving back wit my parents after having lived independently felt awkward and suffocating. I didn't waste much time planning on getting my place. It's not that I have anything against my parents, I just prefer to be free andindependent. I liked the feeling of not having to depend on anyone and the freedom to come and go as I pleased.

The thing my parents didn't realize was how many extra hours I stayed at work, or how many projects I was working on. I was usually the first teacher to arrive, and the last to leave. I never minded putting in extra time, because I loved my job. I was never asked to do a lot of the extra things I did, but they were important to me, and I was happy to sacrifice my time. I wanted my classroom to run a certain way and I wanted to be flexible in helping with responsibilities around school. The year of my accident I put on three art shows, worked on two murals and ran the yearbook club. I attended school even and maintained an ever changing display of my students' work. I don't think anyone in my life (apart from my boyfriend) realized exactly how much I was balancing at the time. I was stressed out, but I was also very proud of my achievements and was happy with my life.

As you can imagine, my life changed drastically after my injury and there are countless aspects of my "old life," that I've lost, or no longer enjoy. My desire (or lack there of) to go out is a perfect example of how my injury has had an impact on my life. Since my accident, the thought of going out is comparable to having a root canal; something you have to do, despite the pain. My apartment has become a safe haven for me, where it is easier to cope with my situation. I have more control over what I let in and it's easier to block things out. In the nursing home I had no peace. I wasn't happy at "home" and I was scared to go out. My computer was my only window to the world and even that was bittersweet. Everything I see reminds me of what I had, what I have and what I want. Every good memory has become painful, to some degree. Every time I leave the security of my apartment I risk being bombarded by reminders of my past and feelings of jealousy, shame and regret over what I lost. I can't help but compare myself to all the people I see. I can't help but feel embarrassed by the help I need and jealous of all the things I see other people doing.

I force myself to go out, because I feel like it's the right thing to do. I have been given opportunities to help other people in my situation through my artwork and I feel obligated to do what I can. I know it's not healthy for anyone to be a hermit. We (humanity) all need to socialize and share experiences with other people. I realize that the only way to keep my friends is to be a part of their lives and contribute what I can to my relationships with them. My grandma sometimes gets sad when her friends tell her about all the wonderful things their grandkids are doing. I understand the resentment she sometimes feels, because I know how hard it is for me to feel happy for other people, while I'm feeling miserable about myself. It's those times that I remind her (and myself) that the world is not gong to stop, just because I got hurt and that friendship is about give and take. Yes, it sucks that I'm paralyzed, but my situation shouldn't over shadow everyone else's happiness. I can''t expect people to mope around over what happened to me, nor do I want them too. I try to put my sadness aside and be happy for my friends, because I realize that everything is not about me. I can't expect anyone to want to be around me, if all I ever do is cry, complain and focus on the negative. I often do things that make me uncomfortable for the sake of my friends and family. If I gave in to my emotions and refused to hangout because I didn't feel up to it, I'd never go anywhere. I could easily isolate myself within a bubble and eventually people would stop inviting me and making an effort to include me. I wouldn't blame them.

My aides, nurses, family and friends all encourage me to go out more than I do. It's not to say that I get no enjoyment from going out; it's just that every experience comes with it's own level of sadness, embarrassment or anger. I try to balance pros and cons in my mind before I decide what to do. There are just certain things that are so uncomfortable that the small amount of fun or excitement I might have is greatly out weighed by my discomfort. Events like weddings and baby showers are outings that rank high on my discomfort list. Therefor, I avoid them, unless the people involved are extremely important to me and worth the inner turmoil. A perfect example of this would be my best friend's wedding. Not only did I attend the wedding, but I had to face multiple fears and tackle new experiences. It was my first time traveling by airplane after my accident. It was my first time to Florida, since my accident. It was also the first time I had to spend a night away from home, since my accident. The trip came with a lot of emotional discomfort, stress and anxiety. I put my feelings aside and committed myself to going, because I knew how important it was to my friends (bride & groom). They had both made a lot of sacrifices for me and supported me more than anyone, the first year after my accident. I refused to let my situation be an excuse and met the challenge head on, for the sake of my friends. There are times when I feel like the outcome is more important than my personal feelings and that I'd be selfish to not participate. I try to remind myself of the bigger picture. If I can give something back to those that are constantly giving to me, I put my feelings aside. If I feel like I can help others by letting people into my comfort zone, I do it.

I think it's easy for people to forget or make light of how different everything is for me. I think it's hard for people close to me to understand why I seldom go out. They compare me to the "old Christina," that was super outgoing and always on the run . That Christina no longer exists. My accident has changed the way I see the world and my desires to interact within it. It's often the activities I used to love the most that now bother me the most. The average, some times mundane things can be stressful and not worth doing for me. Things like going to the mall, grocery shopping, doctor visits, hanging out with friends and going out to eat are common activities that most people take for granted, because they don't have all the extra concerns that I do. In some aspects, I know I can't expect people to understand things from my perspective, because they haven't lived it and often don't know enough about paralysis to consider it.

Every time I leave my apartment I have a long list of things to worry about. Not to mention the fact that I can not just pick up go, on a whim, like before. I can't just pop in my car and go. I need help getting ready. I need special equipment and a modified car (ideally) to help transport me. I always have stress and worry over my catheter and the possibility of incontinence. I also have to consider who can accompany me, or help me at my destination. I have to consider accessibility; whether or not there will there be stairs where I'm going. If so, I have to find an alternate entrance, ramp or elevator. There are places that I can no longer go, because of my limitations. Climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty comes to mind and luckily I have no interest in doing that. However, even places that claim accessibility are often clueless and poorly suited for wheelchairs.

The average person over looks things like curbs, doors, and the dimensions of most things. I don't have the luxury of ignoring small obstacles, like curbs. Dining out also has the added stress of having to be fed (like a baby) in front of countless strangers and most tables at restaurants are either too high or too low to sit close to everyone else. I find shopping a headache, because most stores cram too much stuff into a space and it makes it near impossible to navigate a wheelchair, without knocking things over, crashing into people (who tend to be oblivious to presence wheelchairs) or access areas all together. Try wheeling around Claire's if you don't believe me, or 90% of women's clothing stores. These days, I much rather shop online than go out. Seeing all the cute things I can't wear, like shorts, skirts, bikinis and high heeled shoes, just irks me and the fact that I can't try anything on takes out all the fun for me. Many of my friends in chairs make light of things and are less sensitive and have the mind set that people in chairs can do everything, just in a different way. While there is some truth to that way of thinking, there is also the reality that there are things that people that can not walk, just can't do. Personally, I put quality before quantity and recognize the fact that no matter what I "do" it will be a compromise. I refuse to put myself through discomfort unless I feel the outcome is worth it, or because I have no choice. Everyone deals with paralysis differently and their personality and life before paralysis plays a big role in their life with paralysis. I think it's important to recognize everyone as an individual and realize that every person's coping skills are different.