Lessons Learned from Lockdown

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

It was a Thursday morning, and I was teaching a seminar to first year undergraduate students. I divided the students into three groups, then sent each group into a separate room to spend fifteen minutes discussing the material. Ten minutes later, I was still in the main room. My usual practice was to visit each room in turn, to listen to the students' discussion, answer any questions, and prompt them if everyone was a little too quiet. On this occasion, however, I couldn't find the entrance to the rooms. I'd never had this problem before. At this rate, the time would run out before I'd had a chance to check on any of the groups. I could only hope that the students would be too engrossed in their discussion to notice that I hadn't visited them. What could I do? Each seminar had three of these discussion sessions. Would I be able to find the secret entrance before the next one? Had the students locked me out because they had treasure they wanted to keep from me? Or was it a secret weapon? Were they plotting to take over the university? The world?

Just before the time was up, I found the way in. It occurred to me that the "5 participants" button might in fact be the button that had previously been labelled "join breakout room 1". Sure enough, when I activated it, I was prompted to join breakout room 1. All was well, and I, and the students, lived happily ever after. I did wonder why the Zoom developers couldn't have retained the more informative button labelling, but I suppose they didn't want to make my quest too easy.

I have learned many things navigating through these strange rooms. I learned to use Zoom, first on the iPad, and then, when the iPad app couldn't do everything I needed, I got up to speed on the Mac. I committed many of the Zoom keyboard shortcuts to memory, and tried not to mix them up with the keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Teams.

When I began teaching online, I learned how to set up my audio on the Mac. As a seminar tutor, I was given lecture videos to play to the students. For the other tutors, This could be accomplished by the relatively simple process of screen sharing and then playing the video. For a VoiceOver user, however, it's a little more complicated. I wanted the students to hear the audio of the lecture, but I didn't want them to hear VoiceOver constantly chattering about software updates that couldn't be installed and other such things that were entirely irrelevant to the course material. My solution was to connect my Aftershokz headset to the Mac, set the sound output in system preferences to the external speakers, then set the sound output in VoiceOver Utility to the Aftershokz. That way, VoiceOver would come through the aftershokz and everything else, including the lecture video, would come through the external speakers.

This solution wasn't perfect. Zoom sends some of its announcements to the text to speech; it uses one of the VoiceOver voices, but doesn't use VoiceOver itself. With the audio setup I had, when you start or stop screen sharing, or invite people to join breakout rooms, or if someone joins or leaves the meeting or sends a chat message when any window other than Zoom has focus, it'll be announced over the speakers. To deal with this, I muted my audio when I knew I was about to hear one of those announcements and spent as little time as possible away from the Zoom window, just enough to start playing the video. I taught six seminars online over one semester. Over that time, I was learning as I went along and adapting to changes to the Zoom software. If I had been teaching for longer, I would've tried an app such as Sound Source so that I could send only the Quicktime Player audio to the speakers, and everything else to the Aftershokz.

I have also learned, and I hope we have learned collectively, how much more accessible life can be when we make the most of our devices. During lockdown, I chaired the question and answer session for a talk given by one of my fellow PhD students. Every week, one of us gives a talk to the rest of the department and then answers questions from the other postgraduate students and staff. When we give these talks in person, audience members raise their hand if they have a question, and the chair, always a separate person from the speaker, calls on each of those people in turn to ask their question. Chairing was not something I could do. The procedure for online talks was for anyone who had a question to send a chat message to the chair. Much more accessible. I've been to zoom parties with the other PhD students where I wandered from breakout room to breakout room, without having to ask for help getting around, or get familiar enough with the space to get around it independently, or wonder where the toilet is. Aside from the button labelling incident with which I began this post, those breakout rooms worked well. In my teaching, I was able to mark/grade exams, which the students completed online rather than with pen and paper.

I don't want to minimise the huge problems the virus and the lockdowns have caused for disabled people, and everyone else, or people's need to be physically together again. But I hope, in the rush to normality, we won't completely forget the new ways of working and playing we've learned, as many of them work better for visually impaired and other disabled people.

Have you had to learn to do new things with your Apple devices during lockdown? Has our greater reliance on our devices made life more, or less, accessible to you? Please let us know in the comments.

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Comments

Submitted by Dawn 👩🏻‍🦯 on Thursday, July 1, 2021

I have to agree with you on all counts.

Not only did I deal with lockdown and a pandemic, but in 2016, my Braillenote was taken away from me 2 weeks prior to my Hs graduation ceremony. On top of that, with the braille code changing, not having a way to learn it, and not being able to get a teaching degree or job with out a Braillenote, I became depressed. This will be important later.

Fastforward to mid-september of 2020. By this time, I was inrolled at Hadley taking their transitioning to UEB course. By Oct. I had started participating in their Embracing Braille discussion group. Soon after, I found other groups I love! I started using Zoom on my ipad. While I wish I had an audio tutorial to give me a jump-off point, I managed to learn it. I grew to love it! Then, by Nov. I found Braille Institute's workshops. So, I started learning how to use Microsoft Teams. Luckily, I was able to take a workshop on that in Jan. of last year.

Now, I'm loving it! I'm embracing webinars! I feel like I get so much out of them! I look forward to attending meetings with Hadley every month and week! I love attending Braille Institute workshops too! I attended an APH. webinar yesterday, and I want to attend more webinars from them if possible. My goal is also to try and start attending the ACB community calls.
I've met so many wonderful people, that I wouldn't have met otherwise. I've gotten to know a lot of people in Hadley discussion groups. I even met someone with a similar background to mine, being blind since birth, started learning braille as a baby, and living in the same state as me! Among other things. Now, we're friends on Facebook, and I've had the opportunity to mentor him and help him, as he takes the Transitioning to UEB course from Hadley! While I wouldn't want to give out personal information like my phone number, I still consider them... for lack of a better word, friends.

I don't have any visually impaired people in my family, or friends. Having webinars and meetings has allowed me to connect with people that are visually impaired, from the U.S. and beyond. I find myself looking forward to seeing my fellow group members and classmates if you could call them that. I've been able to learn so much from them also, whether it's resources, or ways or things that can make life with visual impairment, a little bit easier. This works both ways. I've had a lot of people thank me and say they've never heard of a resource or thought about using something in a particular way. So, it works both ways.

Plus, I have access to many more learning opportunities that I might not have access to, such as workshops with Braille Institute. They're in California and I'm not. Plus, I live in a small community, and a rurral area, so access to transportation is pretty limited. With Zoom and Teams, and other meeting platforms, those mountains have been moved! I just need my ipad, and I'm good to go. I hope that these types of opportunities will continued to be offered! Because I will take full advantage of them.

I'm also looking at it this way. When I do start attending college, I'm sure they will have some stuff that online that wasn't before COVID. such as lectures, and they may even record them, and post them somewhere. So, if I can't get to a lecture for whatever reason, or I want to listen to it again, I will have the ability! I feel like there will be other stuff like this with colleges too. Plus, when I'm ready to jump into the employment pool, I feel like I'll be more ready for that. Because I feel like using meeting platforms such as Teams and Zoom are skills that they will want their employees to be at least somewhat familiar with. Especially in the job I'd like to go into, teaching inglish high school students with multiple disabilities. I'm sure there will be some stuff still done online with schools as well.

I don't think I would've embraced this stuff if not for this, and my other circumstances that I mentioned earlier. I feel extremely blessed and lucky to be able to take advantage of opportunities like these, that to think, just a little over 2 years ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to. Add to that, the connections that I feel like I'm making in places such as the Hadley discussion groups. Even though they are virtual connections, you still never know what could happen! You could meet them in real life or hear about a job opportunity from someone you went to a webinar or group meeting with! You just never know. As they say, every thing happens for a reason.

I feel like I've come away with, and am still coming away with, a lot of personal lessons, self-discoveries, etc from this. I think we all have. But, I'm also getting experiences that I possibly might never have been able to have. While I wouldn't want to live through this again, I also wouldn't trade it for anything either. If that makes sense.
Thank you for the great article, I highly injoyed it! I like you, hope that these kinds of things, opportunities, and experiences continue to happen as well. Because while it may be isolating, it's also way more inclusive.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Thursday, July 1, 2021

I agree with everything said. Because of lockdown, I was forced to learn more about my iPhone, some of it on my own, some through virtual training, and Zoom was one of those things I had to figure out a lot on my own. I really hope that we continue to use technology as we have been over the past year, because it's been a great tway to meet people, and for those of us who can't get out as often as we'd like, it's been a game-changer.

Submitted by Ekaj on Wednesday, July 21, 2021

I think my experience in this regard mirrors the others posted here. I've gotten used to Zoom on the Mac, and it's quite good with VoiceOver in my opinion. I don't have their iOS app, but I hear that's good too. In addition though, I've been exploring my iPhone a bit more. A neighbor and I have been sharing my wi-fi, and the connection doesn't appear to be good enough to have all or most of our devices going at once even when we're not streaming or downloading something. So consequently there have been times when I've had to restrict my device usage, but I'm still a very happy man with what I've currently got.

Submitted by SeasonKing on Thursday, July 22, 2021

I've enrolled in classes and degrees which otherwise I wouldn't have been able to take due to traveling constraints. Just wishing that my degree finishes during the pandemic so I don't have to travel to the physical classes 😂. Though I am now confident that traveling won't be a problem if it happens.
I've learnt audio editing and loving it. I've joined online classes and made some really nice friends. I also tried Mac OS for the first time.
I've dabbled in the world of coding, and the cool things I am able to do for myself is simply amazing. Just few days back I programmed my Bluetooth headset buttons to tell NVDA to start reading or to pause. Very useful for Reading books on the laptop while lying down on the bed or while exercising. I can also get it to emulate enter and arrow keys, virtually controling the laptop through my bluetooth headset.
It simply amazes me that for a world who otherwise insisted on physical presence, we are getting by Zoom calls and meetings. I wish that this continues after pandemic, as it will really bring down usage of transportation, saving time, environment and my sanity.
And for the OP, you seem to be living an academician's life. I am tempted to ask about that as I am planning about career as a college lecturer, but won't ask as it might be against this forum's guidelines.