Lesson Learned: iPhones and Orange Bugs

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Sometimes, I suffer from a serious case of the "Stupids." When I was 16, the year when NASA engineers were preparing a lunar rover for the next moon landing, I had enough remaining vision to legally obtain my own Texas Drivers License. Although I knew I was going blind and could no longer see at night, my day vision was still reasonably intact. There were some caveats. Seeing clearly in shadows cast by buildings and trees might prove problematic. Getting stuck in traffic at dusk could be dangerous. However, I was under the influence of too few birthdays, too much testosterone, and the deep-seated need to push my right foot to the floor and go fast.

Perhaps it was a bit of serendipity that my parents owned three cars and that I was the oldest of five children. My dad's car looked good in a corporate parking lot. My mom's car was a van, handy for ferrying kids and groceries. The third car was my father's toy. An old toy. An old, rusty, 1955 Volkswagen Bug toy. He let me borrow it.

Our Bug was distinctive. In the grand familial tradition of doing things on the cheap, my father hand-painted the Volkswagen exterior using an old brush, and buckets of bright orange Rustoleum paint. The very visible brush strokes resembled the furrows left by a gap-toothed comb dragged through really oily hair. This was not a car you could lose in a parking lot. Even if you tried.

The inside of the Bug was decrepit. All gauges were dead. The speedometer, odometer, and gas gauge never twitched. There was no radio. You could watch the road pass by beneath you through the holes in the floor. The rearview mirror was about the size of a business card and the rear window could be totally obscured by a deflated football. The seats were stuffed with straw, not foam. My first car wasn't pretty, and it wasn't elegant, but it worked. I could putter my way to high school and try to look cool. It was my first mobile device.

I drove the orange Bug every chance I got, always careful to get home before dark. I was very aware that my time as a driver would be limited by the progression of my eye disease. Cognizant of my future, I thoroughly enjoyed those special moments in time.

At 17 and still driving, I was preparing to leave town and move into a university dorm. I remember being outside my parent's home, standing next to the Orange Bug, when my Dad walked up to me and asked, "So, what do you think of the car?"

Thoughtless came easy at that age. I responded like a little snot, "It's junk."

My Dad paused, looked a little hurt, and then quietly said, "I was going to send it with you to college."

Sometimes, we forget just how lucky we are.

Within a few years, the day came to hang up my car keys for good. I learned to drive a white cane. I took classes in Braille, abacus, and "Cooking without looking." Higher education became more challenging. Library research materials were sometimes limited to dusty old Braille encyclopedias. Textbooks used to come on audio tapes that might, or might not, be ready before the start of a semester. Class preparation was often on hold until you could find someone willing to read critical material, often mispronounced and painfully slow. We made it work, and we were thankful, but it was all we had.

Today, information accessibility fits into my shirt pocket. My iPhone has replaced everything except my guide dog. My Braille note taker has been retired. I no longer try to keep track of loose cassettes. Even my recent Mac mini remains silent for weeks at a time. My iPhone is my primary computer, book reader, news source, word processor, audio editor, email and messaging station, AppleVis portal, social media hub, phone, and more. Earlier this month, I performed with my violin in a small concert for the first time in more than 45 years. My iPhone played the music I needed to learn, recorded my practice sessions, directed me to the recital hall, and provided me with a very convenient violin tuner. I can do almost anything with this device!

Even so, I still whine about my iPhone. I often forget the lesson of the Orange Bug. I gripe about how music or the voice synthesizer can unexpectedly start up without a gesture or a keystroke. I grumble when a particular text editing feature does not work as documented. And, I grit my teeth when the unforeseen happens. I really need to keep reminding myself about all that has been done, and how much effort is still going into making the iPhone and other Apple products even more accessible. We have come a very long way.

Despite my teenage thanklessness, the 1955 Volkswagen really was exceptional. So is my iPhone. And, so was my father. Even though I should have more carefully considered my answer on our driveway so many years ago, my Dad still sent me to college with the Orange Bug. To my Dad, I would have loved another chance to say, "Thank you. This is great!" Lesson learned. And, to those who made my iPhone so accessible, I'd like to say the same.

*** G. Morgan Watkins enjoyed a long working relationship with both The University of Texas at Austin and Guide Dogs for the Blind. He is now happily retired, pondering how lucky he was to have finished the first draft of this remembrance on Father's Day. Morgan has written nine other blogs for AppleVis, including “Socially Inept: Trying to make friends with Facebook”, “Second Career: Putting retired iPhones back to work” and “Dancing In Sand: Ferrite Audio Editing on the iPhone”. He deeply appreciates your comments and feedback.



Submitted by Ekaj on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

This is a very nice remembrance piece. My father is thankfully still alive, and for that matter so is my mother. Though I don't own an iOS device, I am eternally grateful to both my parents for giving me this MacBook for Christmas in 2013. I was very skeptical when my parents approached me over Thanksgiving weekend of 2013 and my father popped the question: "Jake, how 'bout switching to a Mac?" Having used Windows for many years and prior to that DOS, I had become very accustomed with the way Microsoft did things. No Mac experience, just AppleIIE from back in the day. What's more, I had been reading only harsh criticisms about the Mac and about VoiceOver. But now I can honestly say that I don't know what I'd do without my Mac. I'd write more but I have to go somewhere in a few minutes.

Submitted by Jake on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Most of the harsh criticism is, in my experience, along the lines of "it doesn't work like JAWS does, so I hate it." Some people write it more eloquently than that, however it can often be traced back to that core. VoiceOver is different, and is not a Windows screen reader. Once you get past that, most of the really harsh criticism shows clearly for what it is: people unwilling to accept that the Mac is a different environment. There are bugs of course, as with anything, and there are in fact some really nasty ones here and there. Usually though, bug reports are not written in a harsh way at all.

Submitted by Seanoevil on Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thanks for another great Blog post full of nice remembrances and poignancy.
I am sure that we've all filed ill considered Bug Reports, as you did with your Father that day. Unfortunately, Apple haven't yet developed a real time petulance check that stops us sending the wrong message. Until that day, I guess we'll just have to learn from our mistakes and apologise as appropriate...

Keep up the great Blogs.


Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hello Morgan:

Yet another great piece. Even though I never drove an orange bug such as yours, I can most certainly relate to how we take things for granted and we forget just how far we have come, with regard to accessibility. I also had to deal with textbooks on cassette and those were probably not available on time. Juggling the problems with live readers was also quite challenging, but I did what I had to do in order to navigate to the finishline of college graduation.

As always, thanks for another great read. Keep them coming.

I opened this having no idea what it would be about. I haven't been a blog reader, at least, up to now. I'll be checking back for more comments. Very nicely said, all.

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Thursday, June 23, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I really do enjoy writing for AppleVis.

One of my younger sisters read the blog yesterday and pointed out something that I did not share in the narrative. The reason my father painted the family Bug that rather dramatic orange, and had also trimmed the vehicle with bright Rustoleum White, was because those were my high school colors. My sister also noted that I did not mention what else my father had painted on the back of our Volkswagen. My Dad documented, in large white letters on the orange background, the entire list of rivals and scores from our Fall 1971 High school football season. In two very visible columns, he listed the name of each school and the final score. And, in my senior year, we never lost a game. Anyone following my little car, or sitting behind me at a stop light, could not fail to see the names of all the schools we soundly beat that year. I am thankful that I never had to try and outrun anyone who might have taken exception to the list. Our Orange Bug was never known for speed...

Submitted by WharfRatPete on Friday, July 1, 2016

I was very touched by your story! I can relate to so much of it. I suffered from gradual vision loss due to Stargardt's and had to give up driving 20 years ago. I also love my iPhone and its accessibility features. I am so longing for the touchscreen iMac with VO gestures! Like you, I have nearly retired my Mac Mini. But I still get frustrated when things don't work perfectly on my iPhone, IPad and now my Apple watch. I often take all this accessibility technology for granted. Ironically I had just finished downloading yet another helpful app, Talking Goggles, right before reading your blog.

Thank you for reminding me to be grateful for everything! The technology is great, But more importantly the help and support I received from my blind friends and folks like you for sharing your experience. Friends and family are very helpful, but they just cannot relate to the stresses, Frustrations and fears I struggle with. Being able to relate in so many ways to your story renews my strength and hope while reminding me not to take myself too seriously!


Dear Pete,

I am really happy that the blog resonated with you. You are so right. Technology is great, but the people make the difference. We gain so much by following the footsteps of those who have traveled this path before.

Thank you for your very thoughtful message. I really appreciate your sharing.

Peace to you,too,