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Privacy, Courtesy, Efficiency: Break out the Headphones!

Crista Earl at her laptop, using headphones

Have you ever wondered if other people can hear your babbling talking smart phone?

Have you ever wondered why the "buttons" on the screen sometimes don't work?

First, yes, those polite people at the next table can hear your iPhone or Android phone babbling as you search for a contact and make a call.

Solution? Headphones. I run into people now and then who never took the headphones out of the box when they got their device. They just didn't seem like a useful option to them. But the headphones are the key to skilled and competent phone use, discretion, and that all-important knack of doing two things at once—talk to someone in a meeting, and look something up on your phone at the same time.

But wait, there's more!

Have you ever had trouble hanging up the phone? Yes, I know you have, a hundred times I've dropped my phone back into my pocket, only to discover that the other person did the same, and I'm hearing the other person's conversation while they walk down the street. Solution? Headphones.

On the iPhone, when you are talking on the phone without a headset, the screen is disabled so that the side of your face isn't pushing buttons. But, when you want to push a button, it's a real nuisance. Skilled users learn to lay the phone flat so that it changes modes, then navigate to the button, then put the phone back up to the ear. This works alright for hanging up the phone, but if you are trying to continue to talk or listen, you cause a gap in the conversation with this maneuver. With the headphones, the screen is not disabled, and so you can hide the keypad, mute the phone, hang up, or do any of the options.

But wait, there's more. Expecting a call while you're busy doing other things? Traveling, washing dishes, using your computer... who has time to wrestle the phone out of the pocket, dry or empty the hands, hit (good luck) the answer button, all before the call goes to voicemail? Plug in your headphones (at this point you are wondering why you ever unplugged them) and put your phone in your pocket, the earpiece with the mic (you've been wondering what that flat thing with the buttons above and below was, right?) in your ear.

Now the call comes in, and you squeeze the flat part of the mic to answer the call—just a quick click, really.

There's no drying hands, only a split second of emptying one hand, then back to the keyboard, dishes, French fries, whatever you were doing (not recommending this last while talking to your boss).

But wait, there's more! Listening to music or podcasts while traveling or working out? Big pain in the neck to go to the next track with the pesky touch screen? Use the headphones with the mic. The flat part is play/pause if you just click it. If you click it twice, it skips to the next track. If you click it three times, it will skip to the beginning of the track, or to the previous track, depending how far into the track you have gotten. (Play with this; it takes a little more skill to get to the previous track, especially if you have to listen for a bit to see if you've found what you want.)

To move forward within the current track, click once, then hold on the second click. This will move forward quickly. "Rewind" is similar, but hold on the third click.

The little buttons above and below the flat part are the volume controls.

Feeling sad now because you already lost your headphones? I wear mine out pretty fast. The mic tends to break down, and I've been known to slam an earbud in a car door. So, I move the less functional pair to my PC, where they become simple headphones without a mic, and I go to the Apple store and get a new pair or two. I find my headphones to be a crucial part of my assistive technology!


Going Back to School with Helen Keller

Going back to school by Helen Keller 1934

The True Meaning of the Value of Education

by Helen Keller,The Home Magazine September 1934

It is September. Vacation time is over, and the children of the nation are going back to school.

We spend more money on education than any other nation on earth. In the last thirty years the high school enrolment increased fifteen times as fast as the population, and our college students about seven times as rapidly.

Yet thoughtful observers of our national life are appalled by the lack of culture in the people. If this is true, what is wrong with our educational system?

My answer is that parents and teachers have regarded the education of children merely as wage-earners or non-wage-earners in this or that occupation when the emphasis should have been on the ethical values; in other words, the sort of men and women they are to become.

Education should train the child to use his brains, to make for himself a place in the world and maintain his rights even when it seems that society would shove him into the scrap-heap.

Education is not to fit us to get ahead of our fellows and to dominate them. It is rather to develop our talents and personalities and stimulate us to use our faculties effectively.

If our sympathies and understanding are not educated, the fact that we have a college degree, or that we have discovered a new fact in science does not make us educated men and women. The only way to judge the value of education is by what it does.

To be influenced in our school years to love our fellowmen is not sentimentalism. It is quite as necessary to our well-being as fresh air and food to the body, and a feeling for fair play, generosity and consideration can be instilled into every normal child.

Many a child seems stupid because his parents and teachers are too impatient or too busy to care what he is really interested in. If educators tried to find out what the student especially wants to do, how much time would be saved that is now wasted in teaching things which will never mean anything to him!

May I give my personal experience as an illustration of what I mean?

When my teacher began my education, she saw that my physical limitations narrowed the range of studies which might be useful to me. She knew that I could not hope to do everything that a person with his full quota of faculties could do. Therefore she noted carefully the things I could do with some hope of success. She encouraged me to develop the sense of touch not only in my fingers but in all parts of my body, and to observe every object and sensation accurately and to write about it. Every minute of the day, in one way or another, she stressed the importance of self-expression.

I hated writing exercises. Writing was never easy to me. But my teacher pointed out that writing was almost the only game I could play on equal terms with others. “You must learn,” she said, “to find joy in self-expression; for that is the only way you can reach the mind and heart of the public.”

The simplest thing we learn to do well—even if it is only to sweep a room in a beautiful spirit of service—makes life infinitely worthwhile, and is true education.

Image: Page from The Home Magazine, September 1934, with an illustration of a young man holding books and reaching the top step of a building with a classical column. Courtesy of the Helen Keller Archives, American Foundation of the Blind.

Recommended Links

Helen Keller

Helen Keller's Love of Reading

Color photograph of Helen Keller seated in front of a window. She is reading a book in braille, 1960.

Helen Keller was a voracious reader. She describes her love of reading in her second autobiography entitled Midstream, published in 1929.

"More than at any other time, when I hold a beloved book in my hand my limitations fall from me, my spirit is free. Books are my compensation for the harms of fate. They give me a world for a lost world, and for mortals who have disappointed me they give me gods.

I cannot take space to name here all the books that have enriched my life, but there are a few that I cannot pass over. The one I have read most is the Bible. I have read and reread it until in many parts the pages have faded out—I mean, my fingers have rubbed off the dots, and I must supply whole verses from memory, especially the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Gospels. To the Bible I always go for confidence when waves of doubt rush over me and no voice is near to reassure me.

...It was while I was still a little girl that I made the acquaintance of three great American writers who are inseparably linked in my mind. All three opened for me magic windows through which I still look upon the universe and find it “many splendoured (sic.)." I mean Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Of the three Whitman is my best beloved. He has been an inspiration to me in a very special way. I began to read his poetry years ago at a time when I was overwhelmed by a sense of isolation and self-doubt. It was when I read "The Song of the Open Road" that my spirit leaped up to meet him. For me his verses have the quality of exquisite physical sensations. They wave like flowers, they quiver like fountains, or rush on like mountain torrents. He sings unconquerable life. He is in the middle of the stream. He marches with the world's thought, not against it. To me he seems incomparably our best poet."

Image: Helen Keller sitting and reading a book in braille, American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives.

Arts and Leisure
Helen Keller

Let's Play Beep Baseball!

Woman playing beep baseball

Get into the swing of things and play some beep baseball!

Beep baseball is an adapted form of the traditional sport. It consists of a ball that is larger than a softball, which beeps consistently so players are able to hit it when pitched, and find it in the field. There are two bases rigged with a buzzing sound that are triggered when the ball is hit, so the runner knows which way to go. Beep baseball is a great opportunity for people who are blind or visually impaired to run without a cane.

The rules of beep baseball help make the game safer and simpler to score. Rule modifications include:

  • There are a total of three bases: home, first, and third
  • The pitcher, who is sighted, is on the batter's team
  • The game consists of six innings

For more information on how to play beep baseball, check out Physical Education and Sports for People with Visual Impairments and Deafblindness: Foundations of Instruction by Lauren J. Lieberman, Paul E. Ponchillia, and Susan V. Ponchillia, available in the AFB Bookstore.

FamilyConnect took in a game and came away with great insights on why it's important for children with visual impairments to learn about and participate in sports.

But beep baseball isn't just for kids. VisionAware guest blogger Judy Byrd manages the Atlanta Eclipse Beep Baseball Team, made up of players aged 20 to 57. Judy shares the story of her team and their journey to the Beep Baseball World Series.

To find a beep baseball team near you, contact the National Beep Baseball Association.

Now let's play ball!

Social Life and Recreation

Take a Hike! Enjoying Hiking After Vision Loss

Closeup of three people's legs on a nature trail -- all are wearing hiking boots

Take a Hike!

It's a great time of year to get outdoors and get moving, so AFB is talking about hiking as a recreational activity for people who are blind or visually impaired.

VisionAware's Ashley Nemeth shares her love of hiking and offers helpful tips on hiking with a cane and with a guide dog.

FamilyConnect blogger Emily Coleman shares a parent's perspective on hiking with her son who is blind, and the things they learned on the trail.

Then, get inspired by Randy Pierce and his guide dog Quinn, who are on a mission to climb all 48 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Read more about the 2020 Vision Quest project and follow Randy's personal journey from a wheelchair to walking to conquering mountains.

If you are looking for hiking paths in your area, consult our Directory of Services for a comprehensive list of agencies that offer recreational activities for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Strap on your hiking boots and we'll see you on the trail!

Social Life and Recreation
Orientation and Mobility