Blind student uses iPhone to enrich education

Courtney Dickson, Roving Editor Ω

Stephen Lovely, 21, at the Sensible B.C. tour stop in Kamloops on Nov. 20, 2012.  - Photo by Travis Persaud

Stephen Lovely, 21, at the Sensible B.C. tour stop in Kamloops on Nov. 20, 2012. – Photo by Travis Persaud

Many claim they could not live without their smartphones. For some, that may be true.

Smartphones act as a primary communication tool, arguably more so than face-to-face interaction. For some, the invention of the smartphone was also the invention of a new kind of independence.

Stephen Lovely, a student at TRU, relies on his iPhone to read assignments to him and to get him where he needs to go. It can even tell him what colour shirt he has on.

Lovely is blind. He was born only able to see lights and shadows, but no detail.

Visual impairment is defined by the American Optometric Association as “a functional limitation of the eye(s) … A visual impairment can cause disability(ies) by significantly interfering with one’s ability to function independently, to perform activities of daily living, and/or to travel safely through the environment.”

Lovely can’t remember what he did before the iPhone.

“I guess I just did what I did.”

VoiceOver and Siri are iPhone applications that are essential in allowing Lovely to connect with the world.

VoiceOver is a tool that Apple developed with their sightless customers in mind. It is controlled by simple gestures that let users physically interact with items on screen. Users touch the screen to hear a description of the item under their finger, double-tap that spot and drag or flick to control the phone.

Siri is also a clever resource created by Apple that Lovely uses regularly. He can ask her to do simple tasks for him, as well as have a complete conversation with her, if he really wants to. One day he told her he was sad and she said, “Two iPhones walk into a bar. Does that help?”

Lovely attended a boarding school for the blind (W. Ross Macdonald School) in Brantford, Ont. for grades five to 12.

He moved out of his parents’ home at 16. He attributes his ability to survive to Karen Solde, who has been a strong maternal influence in his life since he was just three years old.

With only one week’s notice, Lovely moved to Kamloops with Solde and her family in August 2011 from Oshawa, Ont. He was happy to come to Kamloops and now has no intentions of ever leaving.

At 21, he began his first year of post-secondary in September 2012 at TRU. Though he is studying theatre, Lovely (like many students) is unsure of what he wants to do post-graduation.

“There is no point in looking towards the future. You’ve just got to live every moment.”

According to Lovely, he is by no means suffering because of his disability. At 18, he was entitled to start collecting Canadian Pension Plan Disability Benefits. Through that funding he is now collecting $906 per month, which he can comfortably live off.

Government grants pay for Lovely’s tuition, books and the $50 monthly bill for his iPhone that is essential to Lovely’s success. This academic year, Lovely received $2,800 in grants for fall semester and $1,200 for winter semester.

The iPhone is truly essential for TRU student Stephen Lovely to interact with society. - Photo courtesy Yutaka Tsutano/ Creative Commons

The iPhone is truly essential for TRU student Stephen Lovely to interact with society. – Photo courtesy Yutaka Tsutano/ Creative Commons

Professors, students and administration haven’t been required to make many accommodations for Lovely. Lovely requires no more than two simple modifications to the regular classroom in order to enable his learning experience. First, he wears headphones in class so VoiceOver can read his assignments to him. The only other variation sees Lovely write his exams in disability services.

“There aren’t many accommodations that I need. I’m kind of using more than I need to. I only need to be able to use my electronics in class.”

The TRU community has been kind to Lovely, though the dense population can cause issues for him.

“People get tripped. Not me though, because I’m the only one with a stick.”

Because sound plays an increased role in Lovely’s life, his appreciation for something as simple as television differs greatly from those who are fortunate enough to be able to see.

Though described video is an option provided by most television stations, Lovely generally chooses not to use it. He said it interrupts dialogue and listeners can actually miss what’s going on. For this reason, he enjoys television that is narrative without the help of descriptive video.

Dexter, a Showtime series about a serial killer within the Miami Metro Police Department, is his favourite. Because it is told from the killer’s perspective, a visually-impaired individual is able to understand the setting and emotion within the story.

“It’s such a unique show,” he said. “It’s like descriptive video without being descriptive video.”

Aside from Dexter, Lovely enjoys TV shows that have enhanced, suspenseful music.

“Just by the music you can kind of tell what’s happening.

“I like shows like The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time. I am a sucker for the Vampire Diaries, I guess.”

Of course, blind people survived before the innovative applications created by Apple and enjoyed television before the sophisticated story-telling techniques employed by the producers of Dexter. But for Stephen Lovely, these tools have made it easier for him to enjoy and understand the world around him.

One Response

  1. Karen McGillivary Feb. 16, 2013