Catherine Harris has two great passions in life. One is her husband Mike and the other is the vast assortment of gadgets that she uses to help her navigate her way through her very busy days. The couple are both totally blind and want to share their knowledge of technology so that other people with visual impairment can also benefit.
In fact, Catherine is passionate about many things in life and her enthusiasm is infectious, but first those gadgets.
“I love my technology. I have an iPhone , an iPod, an iPad Air. I also have a PC and I have speech software on that. I am always wanting to know about the latest developments and always finding something new.
“I use the iPhone and iPad so much for email, texting, games, surfing the net, listening to podcasts and e-books. I have an app called Chimes which goes off every 15 minutes so I can keep track of time pretty well. There are so many apps out there and I am learning how to put them all in folders.
“We have talking clocks, a talking microwave - you don’t burn things because it tells you, a talking DAB radio that tells you what channel you are on, a digi-box which tells you what is on TV and at what time. We have audio described films and I love listening to my big hi-fi system.”
“We also have Milestone 312, a little tiny thing like a packet of cigarettes which you connect to the computer to download music, phone numbers, addresses, shopping lists. It’s useful for so many things. When we want to go out we put the prices the taxi firm charges on it then we know how much it is say to York for example, when we want to go. Mike puts his horse racing on his.”
Just listening to Catherine talk about the ways she uses all her apps and gadgets is fascinating. So she must have incredible recall to remember how they all work.
A relatively new one is called Be My Eyes which connects on a live stream to a volunteer who can tell what colour shirt you are wearing, or read the date labels on food or if you are out and about look at your surroundings and tell you if there is a bus stop or a post box nearby, for example.
Catherine and Mike also have something called Trekker Breeze which is like an audio SAT NAV which directs them and tells them what street they are on. That’s a big help even though Catherine has a guide dog.
Mike is also into making technology work for him. He explains that some of the help that’s available has been there for a while, such as talking books but it is all a lot more portable now – and sophisticated.
“I can lay a newspaper on a table open the KNFB Reader app on the phone, hold it above it and it will read the page to you. Simple as that. It’s brilliant.”
Apps like the Racing Post one on his phone are a massive boon to Mike pursuing his passion which is horse racing. He travels all over the country attending race meetings when he can.
A lot of the time they travel by train – and of course use their equipment for their scheduling and timetables.
Mike lost his sight in a very serious road accident when he was just four years old. He was in hospital for six months. Catherine was also born sighted but lost the vision in one eye when her brother hit her when she was only a toddler and the other eye was damaged as a result of a cataract operation. She went totally blind aged 22.
The pair met in America where Catherine is from. “I tell everyone it was like a fairytale. It was love at first sight even though neither of us can see! We have so much in common we’re like Siamese twins – joined together at the heart,” said Catherine. She and Mike were married on New Year’s Day at the start of the new millennium.
When Mike told Catherine they needed to move to live in England her response was, “Yes please, on the next plane!”
The couple are regular clients at SRSB. “I really like it. When I lived in the States we never had anything like it. There is so much to do arts and crafts, creative writing, baking. I like the activities centre and Lesley who runs it is really good, and I love the bingo. “
Mike and Catherine are both keen members of the SRSB Singers and Mike does Tai Chi at the centre on Fridays. “I did martial arts at school and I was introduced to Tai Chi about six years ago, it’s a nice gentle relaxing sport and I feel much better in myself for doing it.”
As well as using the facilities Catherine is also keen to share her experiences and help other people. “I like to talk to people. Word has got round that I am into technology so they ask me about things. And when new people come who are totally blind I like to meet and greet them and tell them more about the centre.” Catherine has even earnt herself the nickname of ‘Gadget Guru’ because of her enthusiasm for technology!