Tag Archives: reviews

Accessible Tech: Apple iPad

Obligatory disclaimer: I was given an iPad, but not by Apple, and Apple is not endorsing, paying for, or otherwise involved in this review.

Onwards!

I was initially highly skeptical when I opened my iPad. I sort of thought ‘well, what am I going to do with this?’ Then I started using it, and people have been having difficulty separating me from it ever since. It is one of those rare gifts that meets needs I didn’t even know I had; I didn’t know, for example, that I needed an ereader1. I also didn’t know that I needed a handy portable device that would allow me to step away from the computer while still retaining some connection to the Internet. And I didn’t know how fun it would be to use.

It’s superfast. It starts up at a tap and navigation is very rapid. Web pages load fast and look great no matter which way you have the thing tilted, and oh, the tiltability is a delightful feature. The screen resolution is also fantastic, much better than my laptop, and I can view it at a variety of angles and still see crisp, clear text. Which is very handy for reading in bed, something I find much more comfortable with the iPad than trying to hold up a big book at the right angle.

The ereader iBooks, a free app, is fantastic, and for those of you looking for ereaders that let you annotate/comment on/etc. your text, it has all that functionality. (Yes, I had fun leaving random notes to myself.) I’ve been using Tweet Library for managing Twitter and in my opinion it is totally worth the price; I really need filtering and organising capability and it provides this.

Controlwise, I didn’t find everything instantly intuitive, but I very rarely do, so I would recommend taking that advisory with a grain of salt. Once I started figuring things out, it came pretty quickly. Also, for some reason I find it hilarious that the icons wiggle when you’re configuring them. Seriously, if you feel inclined for a laugh, go to an Apple store and try it even if you have no intent of buying an iPad.

Accessible tech focuses on reviews from an accessibility perspective, not a fanpersoning one, though, so let’s talk about that:

I have hand tremors, so I was expecting to have a really hard time with the touchscreen navigation. That has not been the case, by and large. It’s sensitive, but it also seems good at distinguishing between purposeful movements and inadvertent ones. You can also control it with a stylus without needing to make any adaptations, handy for people who want foot, mouth, or head controlled devices. Or cat controlled, in my case: Loki really enjoys typing because it flashes and makes clicky noises (you can turn those off if they are not your style, incidentally).

The keyboard is fantastic! I am a very fast typist and while I’m faster on a full regular keyboard, I am pretty damn fast, as well as accurate, on the iPad. It also has pretty good autocorrect, although obnoxiously it only seems to have a US English dictionary; apparently other versions of English don’t exist. It also allows you to remap keyboard layouts and languages.

Magnification is a SNAP. Is the text too small? Flick your fingers and it will get bigger, and it will stay crisp and highly readable. Problem being now that every time I use something with a regular screen and want to zoom, I catch myself reaching out to magnify the text. You can also shrink things back down if that’s how you want to roll.

I appreciate the rapid toggle for sound; you can snap sound off with a single button instead of having to navigate to find it. There’s also a sound control on the side to quickly bring volume up or down, if that’s desired.

There is an accessibility menu in ‘settings’ that offers features to read the text on screen (although the whole needing to see to, uhm, do anything could, you know, be an obstacle for visually impaired users since I can’t seem to find a voice control2). There are zoom and large text features as well as a flip button for white on black/black on white text.

Accessibilitywise, I’d say that the iPad definitely meets my accessibility needs, and I can see the framework in place for meeting those of others. As with any tech, though, you don’t really know until you have it in your hand, which is why I would strongly recommend trying one before buying (or figuring out a way to get the person you want to buy it for to try it first). I pretty much knew within five minutes of starting up that I was going to be in love with it, and I suspect that conversely, if it’s something you would hate, you would know very quickly!

These devices are pretty cost-prohibitive, however, although far less expensive than ‘specialty’ devices supposedly designed for accessibility with fewer features and less configurability than the iPad. There’s no way I could have afforded one for myself, with the base model starting at $500 US. 3G enabled models start at $629 US in the Apple store. So, yeah, not exactly cost-effective. I know other tablet computers are out there and prices are dropping, though! I’d be curious to know about experiences with other ereaders and tablets from commenters.

I also want to note that Apple’s labour practices are not without controversy, although unfortunately the same can be said of most tech manufacturers.

  1. In fact, I had expressed, repeatedly and in many fora, doubts that I would ever find an ereader enjoyable or functional for me personally because I had a hard time believing I would be able to read books on a screen.
  2. I do want to note that guides can be found for enabling voice control on modified iPads and it seems like a feature Apple might consider in the future.

Book Review: Lasting Treasures by Julie Ellis

This piece contains lots of spoilers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I have enjoyed the couple of Julie Ellis novels I’ve read, but this one just tipped the charming/not happening scale a bit far. It has a really strong heroine in Vicky, who escapes the Russian pogroms to build a new life in America, trying to negotiate a difficult family situation and life as a prominent businesswoman. But there are lots of issues in this book that really grated, for example, every time a black servant is given an order, Ellis always points out how they were delighted to do it.

I’d just like to focus on the disability issues for now, though. There are many, not least with the disability-as-punishment trope cropping up at the end when the antagonist of the piece, Vicky’s son, has a stroke and is paralysed. He’s then housed in the cottage in which his mentally ill father shot himself. The very same cottage in which he kept Vicky while pretending she had a mental illness because he didn’t like the direction in which his mother was taking the company. Yep, it’s a bit of an intense novel.

But what I really want to talk about is the characterisation of Anita Roberts. Anita is married to Mark, a man Vicky falls in love with. So, naturally, she has to be a deceptive, evil shrew because that is the way “the other woman” gets sympathy in romance fiction. Except, she’s a wheelchair user, so it gets a lot more… interesting.

At first, Anita is set up as a martyr, the victim of a tragic accident who is doted on by her charming husband. They are a ‘special couple,’ Vicky is given to understand, and Anita is the darling of their social circle. As it turns out, she’s shrewd and conniving. She uses the excuse of the accident to deny her husband sex, even though the doctors said that they could have an ‘almost normal sex life’! It turns out that Anita never really wanted sex before the accident either, and now her horrible cruelty of not wanting sex has been unleashed! How terrible! It couldn’t possibly be the case that Anita doesn’t owe Marc sex, and she has become confident enough in herself to not engage with a sexual life she doesn’t really want. No, indeed. It is all about Marc’s pain and setting up his affair with Vicky. Anita’s not wanting sex gets to be the strange part, gets to be part of her evil scheme against poor Marc.

So, we’ve got the good crip who turns out to be hiding a deeply bitter and nasty nature. That’s old hat. But it was quite something to see that set up with a gendered aspect, too. Anita’s out to disparage Marc’s achievements and interests constantly, and she forces him to do ‘whatever she asks’ because otherwise he’s a terrible husband to his tragically beautiful and “damaged” wife. I suggest we identify a new trope, the Bad Shrewish Crip. The perfect mix of misogyny and ableism, out now at a bookstore near you.

But I really start to grit my teeth when we bring Anita’s Jewishness into it, because she perfectly fits the JAP stereotype. The Jewish American Princess is held to be a nagging, high maintenance woman with expensive taste and no sense of how irritating she is. And Anita is a JAP all over: she pokes fun at Vicky for having been a maid, loves designer clothing, and ends up forcing her husband to move to London as it is the only ‘civilised’ city on Earth. She’s simply set up as the most horrible conglomeration of disability, gender and racial/ethnic/cultural/religion stereotyping I have encountered in quite some time. The Bad Shrewish Jewish Crip, maybe?

So, in short: wanted to like it, feel kind of bad saying this because I like the author, but for goodness’ sake, this was one of the more frustrating reads of my year, and that is really saying something.

Recommended Reading for September 7, 2010

Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia: QT and Posting and My Inability to be Consistent

Oh, and a lot of neurotypicals learn about ADHD symptoms, and they think “I lose my keys sometimes? I lose my train of thought! I miss deadlines!” And you know, it’s true. Everyone does these things occasionally. But the difference is that you do not do them every. single. day. This isn’t what your life is like, this is when you have a bad moment – you’re tired, overwhelmed, in a hurry, and bam, a thing happens. This is what life is like every day for ADHDers, and when we’re tired, overwhelmed, in a hurry, then it’s that much worse for us. So, I can understand if you relate to these symptoms? I’m sure most people do. But don’t generalize how you experience them (as not-symptoms, assuming you do not have some other condition that causes similar symptoms – or you’re not an undiagnosed ADHDer yourself) to how I experience them (as symptoms). For me, they are a daily impairment.

K__ at Feminists With FSD: Book review — The Camera My Mother Gave Me [trigger warning for sexual assault]

The negative reviews usually contain some variation of gross-out due to TMI or frustration with Kaysen’s lack of progress in treating her pain medically. It’s TMI and gross because vaginas and vulvas are generally considered vulgar and gross – at least outside of feminist circles – sometimes even within feminist circles, because don’t talk about vaginas too much or else you reduce yourself to a big walking vagina – and thus it’s a shock to read such frank language and descriptions about the vagina.

Tammy Worth for the Los Angeles Times: Mental health parity act may affect your medical benefits

Other provisions of the bill require out-of-network coverage for mental health services, parity of coverage of medical and mental health medications, and if someone is denied coverage of a mental health service that is deemed medically unnecessary by the insurer, patients have the right to find out why.

Andrew Palma for the Golden Gate [X]press (San Francisco State University student newspaper): University loses scholar, activist

Longmore is arguably most well known for his 1988 protest outside the Social Security Administration’s Los Angeles office. He burned his book about George Washington, written word by word with a pen in his mouth and a keyboard, to protest policies that penalized disabled writers for counting royalties from their work as earned income.

Adrian Morrow for the Globe and Mail: Efforts to battle chronic pain found lacking

Some 80 per cent of people around the world who suffer from chronic pain can’t get the treatment they need and governments must step up their efforts to tackle the issue, says Michael Cousins, an Australian anesthetist and the driving force behind the first International Pain Summit [. . .] Earlier this year, he had a hand in drafting a national pain management strategy for Australia – the first in the world – and the summit, which takes place in Montreal on Friday, will draw up guidelines to help other countries follow suit.

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone.]

This post is about the book version of Wicked, not the musical (they’re quite dissimilar). There’s one minor spoiler for the musical, and I’ve tried to minimise the spoilers about the book, though this is a book review so watch out!

Wicked is concerned with the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, which is a fabulous premise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, having seen the musical previously, I was a little apprehensive about social justice concerns in the book. And we get off to a flying start with this section of the first scene:

‘[…]What a Witch. Psychologically warped; possessed by demons. Insane. Not a pretty picture.’

‘She was castrated at birth,’ replied the Tin Woodman calmly. She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.’

And the ‘patronizing speculations,’ as the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, thinks of these remarks (she’s spying on them in this scene) don’t end there. So, naturally, I was wary from there on out. Look, there’s lots I could talk about in this review: what I found to be a half-baked treatment of race, the truly gorgeous worldbuilding, many “what the pancake” moments, some of the most rounded characters I’ve found in fiction. But I think the treatment of Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, in terms of her being disabled, needs a whole review to itself.

Before I get to her, though, I should point out that Nessarose is not the only disabled character in Wicked. There’s one memorable paragraph in which Elphaba remembers the last time she sees her old school friend, Tibbett. She’s nursing him and it’s the first time she sees him since he became an “invalid”.

Then, a year ago, pale invalid Tibbett was carted to the Home for the Incurables. He wasn’t too far gone to recognise her even behind her veil and silences. Weak, unable to shit or piss without help, his skin falling in rags and parchment, he was better at life than she was. He selfishly required that she be an individual, and he addressed her by her name. He joked, he remembered stories, he criticized old friends for abandoning him, he noticed the differences in how she moved from day to day, how she thought. He reminded her that she did think. Under the scrutiny of his tired frame she was re-created, against her will, as an individual. Or nearly.

So he’s portrayed as one of the “Incurables,” far gone into hopelessness, an object of pity. Yet still with his inner strength – which, while it is conveyed with tenderness and some depth, is ultimately a vehicle for a Very Special Lesson for Elphaba. And we never get to hear his voice; he’s just here, briefly, portrayed through the voice and memory of his carer. Which is something we’ve all encountered before.

So, to Nessarose, who is described by her sister as having been ‘horribly disfigured from birth’ as she doesn’t have arms. Whose movement is described by the narrator in sinuous, snake-like terms, bizarrely fascinating to look at. Who is conveyed as so pretty and charming, but so helpless and unfortunate, poor dear. Who just can’t get a man because who wants to be with someone like her?

No. No no no no. No. And I thought the sickly sweetness of the character in the musical was bad. It’s like Maguire was trying to cram as many disability tropes in as possible.

But that’s not all there is to Nessarose. She’s a major political figure, which is pretty cool. However, she’s a tyrant, which is… on the one hand, a powerful disabled woman? That’s pretty cool. On the other, another disabled villain? Are you quite serious? What really ties the characterisation of Nessarose into a complex ball of flat out ableism and confusing hints of marvellousness is how her religiousness is treated. There is likewise a little more nuance here. All the way through reading, I was constantly wondering how it was going to play out: was she going to be the unfortunate disabled person of faith who gets manipulated into being a Very Special Lesson to one and all? Was she going to turn into a dangerous figure, driven by religious extremism and her rage about her unfortunate (unfortunates in this paragraph are sarcastic, by the by!) disability? I certainly wasn’t expecting either her faith or her disability to be treated respectfully. And you know something? I was right. She ends up being a theocratic tyrant who has some pretty nasty effects on her people. A thousand points if you too were betting on an evil disabled dictator.

I want to touch on some of the discrepancies between the book and the musical. Anyone who has seen the musical will remember the scene in which Nessarose arises from her chair in one of those “It’s a happy piece of popular culture and I can walk!” moments. Which is bad enough, but, hang on, she doesn’t use a wheela chair in the book! I’m just wondering why on earth the makers of the musical decided Nessarose should be changed to a four-limbed wheelchair user. It’s as though impairments are interchangeable and a wheelchair is a universally applicable marker of disability. I think it would have been great if they’d decided to be true to the book and employ actors who don’t have arms for the musical. I guess we can dream!

In conclusion: skip the book unless you are really into quality worldbuilding and some pretty beautiful characterisations.

Accessible Tech: Canon Digital Rebel T1i and Hand Disabilities

One of the things that really annoys me as a person with disabilities is that reviews of technology and other products I am interested in buying rarely discuss things from a disability perspective. Hence, the introduction of Accessible Tech, an intermittent series at FWD where we’ll be covering the things most reviewers leave out. If you’re interested in submitting a post to Accessible Tech, please email guestposting at disabledfeminists dot com; reviews of all kinds of technology (including technology specifically designed for people with disabilities) are welcome!

After I wrote my post on blind photographers last week, I bought the bullet and bought a new camera, a Digital Rebel T1i (aka the EOS 500D). This is something I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while, and one of the things I was concerned about was how well my camera would play with my hand disabilities. One of the reasons I went with a Canon is because I have been buying Canons for years and I’ve always been very pleased with them and because I’ve had a chance to play with other people’s Canon digital SLRs and I got an idea of how they feel in the hand.

On Monday, I took my new camera out on a little test drive to get familiar with the settings, and along the way, I noticed some things that I thought might be relevant to other people with hand disabilities like tremors and contractures who are contemplating a camera purchase.

The bad: The camera controls are very tightly packed on the body. If you are the kind of person who uses full auto settings, this might not be a big problem for you, but if you prefer full manual control, you may want to consider a larger bodied (and unfortunately much more expensive) camera from the EOS lineup; I personally ended up with hand cramps after about 45 minutes of use, but that was also after a full day of work (think typing about 16,000 words), so my hands were not at their best at that point. If your fine motor skills are not the greatest, I think you may find the T1i really frustrating because it looks easy to mash controls and some of the controls feel like they would be hard to activate if you have significant hand weakness or poor motor control.

Is it enough to make me return the camera? No, but it might be enough to make you think about buying a different camera if you’ve been weighing the Rebel against another option. I’d like to get my hands on cameras in the same class to see if tight controls are just a universal problem, or if the Rebel is particularly bad.

The middle: Changing lenses can be done one handed, with a little bit of practice, and it’s very easy, but the release button is small, and, again, if you have severe tremors or bad coordination, you might find it challenging to hit in a hurry. I do like that there are clear visible guides and a nice audible click so you know you’re not borking your lens change.

The good: Canon’s image stabilisation (IS), which is aces. What the hell is image stabilisation? Short version, from Vincent Bockaert at DP Review:

Image stabilization helps to steady the image projected back into the camera by the use of a “floating” optical element—often connected to a fast spinning gyroscope—which helps to compensate for high frequency vibration (hand shake for example) at these long focal lengths. Canon EF SLR lenses with image stabilization have a IS suffix after their name, Nikon uses the VR “Vibration Reduction” suffix on their image stabilised Nikkor lenses.

One of my concerns with the T1i was that the Rebels have a reputation for not performing so well in low light conditions, where you are typically using a slow shutter speed and hand tremors can become a serious problem. Another issue is that when you are using a telephoto, tremors can also become a significant issue. After testing the camera in a variety of lighting conditions and using the telephoto in an assortment of places, I am pleased to report that the IS came through every time. Some of my pictures came out badly for other reasons, but they were definitely not blurry! This is exciting news, because since I have a telephoto, I would like to be able to use it.

For really low light, I would strongly recommend using a tripod with this camera (or using a convenient hard resting surface). The Rebel does have limitations in dim lighting and you will notice those limitations more quickly if you have tremors, IS or no.

Cognitively, I really like the interface, but your mileage may vary. I found it very intuitive and easy to use, with settings I use a lot easy to access and things I use less frequently buried in submenus. I would like the interface more if it was configurable so that people who want to access buried settings could set them up in a quick launch bar or something. But, overall, the interface seemed to have been designed by someone who thinks a lot like I do in terms of how things should be laid out, what I would want to access, and how I would want to control and represent things.

Once I’ve had a chance to play with the camera a bit more, I will probably be posting a followup review. Alas, the weather has been conspiring against my strong desires to go out shooting.

If you’d like to read a more technical review of the T1i, I’d recommend the very comprehensive evaluation at DP Review.

Here are some photos from my Monday adventures at the trainyard:

A heavily rusting abandoned train car. The camera is looking through the windows, and the interior is filled with rubbish, while the roof of the car is missing large panels, causing shafts of light to pour into the car.

A railroa crossing sign, shot against a bright blue sky.

A diesel locomotive, shot through a chainlink fence.

This was taken with the telephoto!

Seven reactions to reviews of Rachel Axler’s “Smudge”

On-stage scene from the play. A man and woman stand looking into a pram, the woman with a many-limbed plush toy. The pram has a wild series of tubes and wires snaking out of it.

I’ve been shaking my head over the press for Rachel Axler’s new hipster-ableist play, Smudge. Here’s a lightning tour, with my response

s at the end. Emphases are mine.

In ‘Smudge,’ Baby’s disabled, and mom’s not much better, from Newsday:

Most couples look at the sonogram of their impending baby to see whether it’s a boy or a girl. But when Colby and her husband, Nick, scrutinize the picture of the life in her womb for an answer to the “what is it?” question, they are appalled to realize that they mean it. Literally.

Rachel Axler’s “Smudge,” the very dark 90-minute comedy at the Women’s Project, aims to be part horror movie, part domestic relationship drama. Their baby, a girl, arrives unbearably deformed, with no limbs and one big eye. Nick (Greg Keller) bonds with the unseen character in the pram encircled with tubes, and names her Cassandra. Colby (Cassie Beck, in another of her achingly honest performances) attempts to protect herself from the agony through brutal humor, maniacally snipping the arms off baby clothes and taunting the “smudge” until “it” miraculously responds. Or does it? […]

BOTTOM LINE The unthinkable, faced with wit but not enough depth

More, from Variety:

Title comes from the first word that comes to mind when Colby (Cassie Beck) gets a glimpse of her infant daughter, grotesquely described as having no arms or legs, an undeveloped skeletal structure and only one (beautiful, luminous blue-green) eye in her misshapen head.

More, from Time Out New York:

She is nearly indescribably deformed: a purple-grey mass of flesh and hair, with a single, disconcertingly beautiful Caribbean Sea–colored eye. Her horrified mother, Colby (Beck), describes the child as looking “Sort of like a jellyfish. Sort of like something that’s been erased.”

More, from SF Examiner:

Continue reading Seven reactions to reviews of Rachel Axler’s “Smudge”