“One of the hardest things to do with a smartphone is actually for a blind person to make a phone call,” explains Gillian.
When her Distance Computer Comfort instructor was trying to teach her how to do so, Gillian had accidentally pressed the 911 button.
“I didn’t even know there was a 911 button!” she exclaims.
Gillian and her instructor had to stay on the line, and explain the situation to the 911 operator. While she found it to be an embarrassing experience at the time, it’s a story she tells in jest now.
“I will never, ever forget that.”
Gillian, who works in a hospital in a small town in British Columbia, was born with low vision, and is now blind. She had heard about the Neil Squire Society’s Distance Computer Comfort program at work.
“I didn’t grow up with computers, so I had a lot to learn,” she explains. “I haven’t got a huge interest in technology, but I love to learn, and I need to use a computer at work, [and] increasingly in my home life.
“I get very frustrated when I can’t access things on my computer.”
Most importantly, she wanted to learn how to use her smartphone that she had purchased a year before. Gillian was surprised at how easy it was to start the program. And since she did her intake over the phone, she didn’t need to fill in any paperwork, which she finds difficult due to her blindness.
“What I loved is that I didn’t need a doctor’s referral, or to go through an agency,” she says. “And they took me right away to teach me how to use a smartphone in the comfort of my own home.”
Having made specific goals for her training, Gillian had wanted to be able use email, to be able to shop online, to look up articles for work, find directions to places, and look up phone numbers.
Gillian took her lessons over the phone and on the computer, allowing the Neil Squire Society staff to work with her despite the distance. Her smartphone was connected to her desktop computer, a refurbished computer she had received free from the Neil Squire Society, so that her instructor could see her screen and guide her.
“My teacher was extremely patient with me,” she explains. “I was very grateful to the attitude of the staff there. They looked at the person first and the disability second.
“From where I was standing, it looked impossible. They showed me it was possible,” Gillian continues. “Through perseverance, I really made progress and gained confidence.”
That confidence has gone beyond just her computer and smartphone, as it has inspired her problem-solving abilities and her learning abilities in other areas.
Now, she wants to be an advocate on disability matters, specifically for people with low vision or who are blind.
“I would recommend [Distance Computer Comfort] to anyone who has a barrier to learning technology,” Gillian says. “It’s a phenomenally good resource.”