Join us as we take a dive into the features of the BlindShell cell phone.
BlindShell Part II
Presented by Ricky Enger
Ricky Enger: Welcome to Hadley Presents. I'm your host, Ricky Enger, inviting you to sit back, relax, and enjoy a conversation with the experts. In this episode, we discuss using an alternative to a touchscreen smartphone, and our guests are Bari Azman and Diane Ducharme from BlindShell USA. Welcome to the show, both of you.
Diane Ducharme: Thank you.
Bari Azman: Thank you so much, Ricky. It's great to be here.
Ricky Enger: It is fantastic to have you both and we're going to have a lot of fun exploring some information about just some alternatives to the traditional smartphone. And of course, because you're both from BlindShell, we'll get to learn about that phone specifically. But before we do any of that, why don't we get a bit of info about each of you. Bari, we'll start with you.
Bari Azman: Sure. Thank you so much, Ricky. So, it's great to be here today. I got involved in the low vision blind community just under nine years ago. My father, who is a low vision specialist, was the catalyst for me to get involved, and that's where I started my chapter within the sight loss community. Starting off in the low vision practice, learning so much that I never even knew about, understood, when it comes to sight loss, because growing up in an eyecare family, you think you know everything. And then when you get put into this low vision practice, which I never even knew about, things really changed.
And so here we are almost nine years later. I've been fortunate to be involved in numerous technology supporting the sight loss community. BlindShell USA was established in 2022, and we've been super excited as far as all the progress we've been able to make and to be able to provide communication options for individuals who are looking for an alternate option. So it's exciting times.
Ricky Enger: Love it, and it's always super cool to hear how people came to do what they do. I'm always fascinated by that. Diane, how about you? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Diane Ducharme: I have always been visually impaired. I have retinoblastoma, so I've always been legally blind. It's a roundabout way how I got here because growing up I was the only blind person that I ever knew.
As I grew up, went to college, I met some other blind people and I'm like, "Wow, these people are really cool, really innovative, fascinating." And things went on, went to college, graduated, got my master's degree in counseling, ended up being a case manager for people who are blind and low vision, then transitioned into voc rehab, went into outreach for a telecommunications company and ended up at BlindShell USA. It’s the best decision that I ever made, working with people who are blind and low vision, because I love the energy and the enthusiasm and it's just a great population to work with.
Ricky Enger: Fantastic. I can relate, it really does feel good to work within a group that you personally identify with and you learn from each other. I think we all do that as a community. I'm learning new things every day, and hopefully I'm teaching new things as well. So we think of smartphones as this little piece of glass, has our entire life in it, or there are apps coming out every day and it seems like the smartphone is touted as the best thing since sliced bread. But not everyone uses a smartphone and not everyone should. So I'm just curious, whoever wants to take this one, what are some reasons that people might be either unable to use a traditional smartphone or maybe they just don't want to?
Diane Ducharme: What we find is that there's a couple different categories of people who choose not to use a smartphone. One is because as you said, it's a flat piece of glass, there's nothing tactile about it. And as blind people, we do like our buttons. So handing a flat piece of glass and saying, "Swipe this, tap that, make your hand into a rotary and spin this," and they're like, "It's a flat piece of glass, I don't get it." And that's perfectly understandable.
Then you have another group who, for dexterity reasons, can't do it, they try to double tap and they end up tapping it three or four times because they don't have the ability to control maybe tremors in their hands. So we also have people who just have never been involved in any kind of technology, and you hand them this flat phone and they just don't know what to do with it because they've either lost their sight later in life but they've always had a flip phone, a landline, stuff with buttons.
And now, not only can they not see, which is a whole other kettle of fish in their life, now you're going to give them this flat piece of glass and say, "Okay, make a phone call." So they prefer a phone with buttons as well.
Ricky Enger: That's a great point, and it's actually a nice lead into my next question because we do have a lot of people who are in that very situation, so they're losing their vision and they're not accustomed to technology.
So if you're in a position where your whole life you've used a landline phone, and those tend to be a little bigger, they're nice, large buttons that are easy to see, there might be some spacing between the buttons that make it easier to just navigate that keypad, and then there's the whole thing of those don't tend to talk a lot. You might get a caller ID, but other than that, it's not really going to talk to you. So do you have some tips for somebody who's getting used to number one, "Okay, gosh, I've got to use technology beyond this landline. How do I get accustomed to this and how do I get accustomed to this talking to me?" What's the easiest way to transition into a phone like a cellphone from a landline?
Diane Ducharme: Take some time. Just sit there and explore stuff. And that's with every device that you have. Any new piece of technology as a blind person, just take time when you're not pressured, when you don't say, "Oh, I have this report, I have to get it done in a half an hour." That's not when you want to learn your technology. Take your time, if you have an hour when there's nothing going on, just play.
Ricky Enger: Yeah, I think that's great advice, as you said, for any piece of technology. So, I mentioned earlier in the episode, I think, that BlindShell is not the only option out there when it comes to alternatives to smartphones, but it is a fantastic option, and it happens to be the one that the two of you are really qualified to talk about. So I think we should dive into some specifics about the BlindShell for people that are curious about it and thinking, "I don't want that piece of glass, but I honestly do need something beyond my landline or beyond my tiny flip phone that doesn't talk and that I really have a hard time with anyway." So why don't we just start with a description of the BlindShell itself.
Diane Ducharme: The BlindShell, it does have that piece of glass, but it's for display only. touching it is not going to affect what's on the screen. You can't mess it up if you picked up the phone and accidentally touch that display piece of glass. Under that you have navigation buttons, and then under that you have your standard keypad with a very pronounced dot on the number five. Now, BlindShell also has a standard headphone jack, and it has a flashlight, and these are on the top of the phone. On the bottom of the phone is your charging port. On the back of the phone you have a camera, and you also have a designated SOS button that you can program for 911 or a family member. The phone itself is about a little over five inches tall, about two and a half inches across, and a little less than half of an inch thick. It comes in midnight black and cardinal red. And the phone will speak everything.
Underneath the screen and above the keypad, you'll find buttons that allow you to navigate through the menus. And it's all menu driven. There are two bars, I call it an equal sign. One will take you up, one will take you down through the menus. You select 'Okay', which is a tactile button above the number one when you want to go into a menu, and you hit the back slash button, which is above the number three, to get out of it. And that's the same way you answer and hang up a phone call. You hit that tactile button above the number one to answer it and the slash to hang it up, which for me, that is the hardest thing with a smartphone, is hanging up a phone call. So, it's so nice to have an actual tactile button that allows you to do that. Now, you can also dictate with the BlindShell classic too. So, if I wanted to, I can dictate opening up an application, I can dictate a text message, and I can dictate an email if I wanted to. Anywhere there's a text box that will open, I can dictate.
Ricky Enger: That's a really nice feature because I think that's one thing that all of us have some issue with, is whether you're typing on a phone that's a flat piece of glass or whether you're trying to press buttons and do texting that way, it can feel really laborious. But I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, so I'm going to back up just a little bit. If somebody is saying, "Okay, I'm going to take this dive into a cellphone. What I really want to do is use the phone as a phone. Can I make and receive phone calls? Can I text people? And really that's about it." So how long is it going to take a person generally to get up and running with those very basic things?
Diane Ducharme: This is one of my favorite questions. I would say within half an hour somebody will have it down, how to make a phone call and how to do a text message. However, I get that a lot. "I just want this phone so I can make a phone call, or I can send a text message." Great, okay. So, teach them how to do that. Next thing you know, within a couple of weeks to a month, I'm getting emails from people with YouTube link attachments and podcasts that they found. They take the phone, they make their phone calls, they do their texting, they sit down and they're like, "Oh my gosh, I can go on YouTube?” "Holy cow, I can listen to this podcast." "I can put a described movie on my phone." "I can listen to my BARD books." And the world just opens up for them, and they love to share that with us.
So, they're always communicating with us saying, "I did this, and I did that." And I just love that whole eureka moment that they discovered.
Ricky Enger: Yeah, that is amazing because you start out in one place and think this is where I want to be, and I have no interest in going any further. But it sounds like it is easy enough to then branch out into those things like doing a web search on Google or learning to use email on the phone. So, for people who do want to do that, the texting and the phone calls just isn't quite enough, are there resources for learning how to do that or do people just make their way around the phone and it's intuitive enough to pick up, or maybe a little bit of both?
Diane Ducharme: So, it is intuitive, however, there are multiple ways that people can learn how to use their BlindShell. There are many YouTube tutorials, and there are podcasts. That's one way that somebody can learn how to use the phone. The second is there's a built-in manual into the phone, there's also manuals that you can download, there's also Listservs out there designated specifically for the BlindShell where people will ask questions and then they'll get 50 different responses from other BlindShell users explaining how to do something. And then we also provide customer service and training. So, somebody gets their BlindShell, they take it out of the box, they have no idea what to do with it, they can call us, and we'll walk them through.
Ricky Enger: Awesome. It's great to know that the manual's right there on the device if you don't want to branch out from there or you're not ready or able to do that. And the fact that there's a human on the other end of the phone ready to answer your questions is a really nice point in your favor. So, as we wrap up here, I do have one last question. And this is something that actually makes BlindShell unique among smartphone alternatives, and that is you are adding things to it all the time. So, when I think about a smartphone, I think of something that has a lot of apps and you can install new ones when you think about it. And when I think about other phones that aren't smartphones, that doesn't tend to jump to mind, I'm like, "You get what you get." That's not the case with the BlindShell. Bari, I bet you're really excited to talk about this part of things.
What things are you most excited about that you’ve recently added or even some that are coming up? What features have become available on the phone that are most exciting?
Bari Azman: Thank you, Ricky. Yeah, I'm definitely excited to talk about this specific topic. And I think it's important to say that at BlindShell USA, there is no such thing as status quo. And I think at the end of the day also is that there are pretty much an infinite amount of apps available today, right? So, our focus is to work with, collaborate, and partner with applications that can really enhance independence, quality of life, and be able to give end users the best capabilities when it comes to forms of communication. For example, we partnered with Aira to bring the Aira app to the BlindShell Classic 2. That was an incredible accomplishment, being able to provide that added benefit.
Ricky Enger: Right. And if people don't know Aira, that's when you can use your phone and the camera in your phone to get visual information from a human. So, they'll be able to see what you're looking at and you can ask specific questions, whether it's, "What temperature is my oven at?" or even doing a little bit of navigation, “I’m looking for this particular building.” So yeah, very cool to have that on the BlindShell.
Bari Azman: Absolutely. Going back to the applications, we want to be able to provide greater independence, and that's what it's all about. So being able to bring applications like BARD to the BlindShell Classic 2, where people can download their audiobooks, people can listen to other content. We launched that earlier in 2023 because we realize how vital it was to the sight loss community. And so, bringing on additional applications, we have Alexa, which is another fantastic app where you can do so many things beyond your wildest dreams.
For example, Diane and I were on a recent flight, we connected the BlindShell Classic to inflight, and Diane was able to bring up, through Alexa, her music playlist. There are so many things that you have with Alex. For example, someone who happens to live in Florida, they're a Chicago Cubs baseball fan, they have the MLB Audio subscription, they paired it up with Alexa, and now they can listen to their Cubs game on the BlindShell Classic 2. I mean, there's so many things out there that you can do. So, the list goes on as far as what the phone offers today, very powerful. And we see the device as an all-in-one communication device, whether it's talk, text, stream and so much more.
Our focus is to continue to bring more applications to the platform. We are working with the rideshare folks, that is something, it is also very, very popular as far as requests. We are focused on bringing some healthcare applications to the phone as well. Think about glucose monitoring. Hearing aids is a common request. And so, we're now compiling a list of compatible hearing aids for the BlindShell Classic 2.
It's truly exciting to know that we are at the forefront, we are on the front lines of providing communication to the sight loss community, being able to allow people to choose how they want to communicate. Again, some people are going to pick things up faster, some are going to go a little slower. But at the end of the day, this device can provide someone with basic functionality, all the way up to a lot more sophisticated capability. So there really are no limits as far as what someone can accomplish and use with the BlindShell Classic 2.
Ricky Enger: Wow, love it. This really goes back to when I think of smartphones, I think of exactly that. The possibilities are endless. And when I think of a phone that doesn't have that moniker, this is not a "smartphone", then I always think the capabilities are not quite there yet. It sounds like the BlindShell really blurs those lines between what is a smartphone and what is a phone that wouldn't be classified as that. I think this is, again, a great blend of those tactile buttons that are easy to feel, easy to use, a consistent menu system and new functionality coming all the time, which is awesome. So, for people who are listening and they're on the edge of their seats now and going, "I want one of these, I need one now," what is the best way they can get more information and start the purchase process?
Bari Azman: Absolutely. You can visit BlindShell USA, that's B-L-I-N-D-S-H-E-L-L-U-S-A.com, where you can learn more about the phone, its capabilities, and the latest applications as well. If you are looking to purchase, you can purchase directly through blindshellusa.com as well. Furthermore, if you're using the desktop version on our site, you can, first of all, scroll down on our homepage. There are links as well to our livestreams that are weekly and bimonthly. They are complimentary. We have Talking Points and BlindShell 101, both great places if you are on the fence and you want just to hear more from what the community is saying. Under the About section, there is a link there, where it says, where to buy BlindShell. You can find all of our certified retailers and organizations throughout the country. All that information, again, blindshellusa.com.
Ricky Enger: Fantastic. And what if somebody just wants to speak to a human? So that lovely customer service, how can they get in touch with you in that regard?
Bari Azman: You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That is one way for a person to connect. And then we also have a toll-free number where someone can give us a call. That's 833-972-2020. I just want to add also, if there are any veterans who are listening, I do want to say that the BlindShell Classic 2 is readily available and quite popular through the VA clinics throughout the country. So don't hesitate to speak with your local VA if this is something that you are interested in.
Ricky Enger: Excellent, thank you for that. I just want to thank you both for stopping by. It's clear that both of you really love what you do, and that's always a good sign. I've really enjoyed hearing more about the BlindShell phone. We'll have info on this in our show notes if you want to check that out. And once again, thanks to both of you for stopping by.
Bari Azman: Awesome.
Diane Ducharme: Thank you so much.
Ricky Enger: Got something to say? Share your thoughts about this episode of Hadley Presents or make suggestions for future episodes. We'd love to hear from you. Send us an email at email@example.com. That's P-O-D-C-A-S-T @hadley.edu. Or leave us a message at 847-784-2870. Thanks for listening.