Nystagmus Network Open Day 2011

The Nystagmus Network annual Open Day has come around again – it’s next Saturday (22nd October). Each year, the UK based charity hosts an open day where they bring together people with a stake in nystagmus, from around the country. In some years, people have even flown to the UK for the weekend from distant parts of Europe.

I highly recommend attending if you can, for the following reasons:

  • Meet real people with nystagmus, their families and friends
  • Meet professionals, discuss benefits, support etc
  • Find out about other people’s experiences
  • Talk to the people at the forefront of nystagmus research

To find out more or to book tickets, visit NN’s Open Day page.

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CAPTCHA nightmare

Last weekend, one of the nystagmus.co.uk forum‘s main contributors, Larry, started a topic entitled ‘Spam sandwich‘. The topic discusses some of the spam issues we have been experiencing behind the scenes on the forum. On most websites that allow users to register or make posts, you will almost certainly be faced with a CAPTCHA.

CAPTCHA – Completely Automatic Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart


Traditional alpha-numeric CAPTCHAs are difficult to read

For those that don’t know, the most common CAPTCHA is generally a computer generated series of letters and numbers, which are frequently distorted in order to prevent ‘spam bots‘ from accessing forums and other interactive services. Sadly, for most people with nystagmus (and other visually impaired surfers), they make it impossible to register on some websites!

Whilst reading about CAPTCHA techniques, I found a very disappointing example – one where the user is asked to trace around a silhouette in an image. Here is an example. I tried this and failed 2 out of 4 attempts. Something tells me that it’s not just the visually impaired that would find this difficult. One user group that developers often forget about is those with cognitive disabilities.

Fortunately, some web developers have thought about the visually impaired. reCAPTCHA is such a considerate project. Whilst the style of CAPTCHA is the traditional one, it provides an audio version of it, thus allowing even blind users the ability to pass the challenge. This is still not an ideal solution.

As the the acronym suggests, CAPTCHAs do not necessarily need to be an exercise of trying to decipher the characters in a distorted image or indeed enter characters named in an audio file. A CAPTCHA could be as simple as asking a relatively simple question, like ‘How many eyes do humans have?‘. The problem comes with composing the questions because our forum employs this type of CAPTCHA and spambots still manage to register by the dozen!

Question and answer style CAPTCHAs are a great solution; they are accessible. The questions need to be composed to ensure that the range of answers are kept to a minimum. Questions need to be such that 99% of users will respond with the same answer. Preferably, answers should not be numbers and kept to a single word. It’s difficult.

At the end of the day, CAPTCHAs exist to enhance the user experience by maintaining a friendly environment, however, for some users, they can achieve quite the opposite!

If you have any ideas for suitable challenge question and answer sets, please contribute them to the ‘Spam sandwich‘ forum topic.

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Is my haircut any good?

The majority of us tend to get our hair cut on a regular basis. We either visit a hairdresser or have one come to us. I tend to go to a hairdresser and when I find one I like, I tend to stick to it! 

I grew up going to the same hairdresser on more or less a monthly basis. They were always very good and I never had any complaints. They knew my name and most importantly, they knew my haircut. I never had to describe how I wanted my hair cut – if there was someone new, another would explain it to them. All I needed to do was walk in! 


When you're in the chair, can you see what's in the mirror?

I have moved homes twice in my life, and each time I needed to find a new hairdresser. Suddenly, my ‘comfort-zone‘ was gone. In both instances, I found one and stuck with it, however, something that I’d never really given importance, instantly became very important! 

What happens when the hairdresser believes they have finished cutting your hair? They want to show you right? Sure, there is generally a mirror infront of you, but I can’t see my hair in enough detail to tell whether or not I’m happy with it. I can obviously tell there is something wrong if I can see scalp, but otherwise, it’s very difficult to tell! 

At the end, the hairdresser will often hold up a mirror behind you, with the objective of obtaining your approval. Obviously, we are meant to look in the mirror infront of us and see the image in the mirror they are holding up, again, I can’t see that well enough! 

So… what do we do if we are visually impaired? 

I would be keen to here your thoughts… post them in this topic on the forum.

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Supermarket sweep… not so easy for some

Shopping Basket

What is the total cost of your basket?

It’s likely that you have filled a basket at the supermarket at least once in your life. When you get to the till with that basket, do you have a rough idea of how much it should come to? If you’re anything like me, you like to have a rough idea, but how do you come to that estimate?

Of course, most people can make a reasonable guess by looking at the price labels on the shelves beneath each item. Well, many visually impaired people, including myself, find that difficult. Yes, in some cases, the prices are printed in large font sizes, but that is only usually the case if the item is on sale and the company wants you to know about it!

When I am actually able to read a price, I generally have to bend down or get what must appear as unusually close to the label. Even then, I make an assumption, which I am certain most people make – the price is beneath the actual product it is referring to! Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, but I guess that’s just irritating for us all!

I always have a rough idea of what I expect to pay for products that find a place in my basket on a regular basis. How? Generally because I take a close look at the receipt when I get home, again probably not very accessible for most people with worse vision than mine!

Supermarket Sweep

Shopping can be difficult for the visually impaired

So, could there be a correlation with the ease of being able to read prices of items on offer with what ends up in my shopping basket? Quite possibly, but might it have more to do with such products being placed in promient point of sale locations, e.g. the ends of aisles? I believe it is a combination – after recently moving  and having to navigate a new supermarket, I quickly realised just how difficult it can be in a new environment and new shop layout! Yes, supermarkets layouts are generally reasonably similar, but having to look at walls of a sea products when you’re in search of something particular can be quite a struggle!

My eyesight is not dreadful and I know people with worse vision than mine. I can manage to read best before dates in a supermarket without any visual aids (when I can actually find them on the product). I wonder how those with lesser vision than my own cope. Do they have to use visual aids? Do they actually use such equipment or do they find that too embarrassing? I hope they don’t just trust the supermarkets because I have certainly found out of date food on the shelves before!

I wonder if the supermarket sweep will become anymore accessible, anytime soon…

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Nystagmus is no obstacle

apl.de.apFor most people I know with nystagmus, it’s no hurdle too high to jump. One well known Filipino pop star is no exception. Allan Pineda Lindo, better known by his stage name ‘apl.de.ap’ was born with nystagmus and has undoubtedly led a successful career.

In the last few days, some of the world’s press has suddenly learnt what nystagmus is – all thanks to this Black Eyed Peas band member. The recent frienzy of articles, including Black Eyed Peas star blind by The Sun, all seem oblivious to the fact that it’s been known for sometime that this pop legend has nystagmus…

The Apl That Gave Back to the Tree was published back in November 2008. It outlines how Allan Pineda Lindo, as a struggling child was adopted, through the help of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation and brought up in America. This lifeline allowed Allan to follow his passion for music and later live the dream.

Born with nystagmus and registered as blind, the rapper bluntly describes his vision as:

“[being] good with shapes. If I’m not close, even if it’s big, I can’t read it.”

Admiration for Allan’s attitude is understandable. Perhaps explained by one of the rapper’s favoured quotes.

“All things are possible until they are proved impossible – and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.” – Pearl S. Buck

This star in the limelight can only serve as inspiration and proof that anything is possible – the world is your oyster. Nystagmus is only an obstacle if you let it be; it can be overcome with positive determination and perseverance – do not give up! 

“I doubted myself for a long time… I’m comfortable not using my vision. I weave around my problems” – Apl.de.ap

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This nystagmus community is back online!

CelebrationAs some of you may have noticed, the website has been offline since Christmas, well, it’s back! (Just in time for the New Year)!

As you will see, the website has a new look and feel to it. There is still a lot to do, but I wanted to get the bare bones up and running again as soon as possible. If you have any suggestions or ideas for new content or features, please do comment on this post!

Look out for changes in the coming weeks and months!

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Undergoing changes!

nystagmus.co.uk is (finally!) undergoing an essential refresh.

It will be unavailable until the new year. In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas!

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