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For me, streaks are such a powerful motivator and I have no idea why.

Originally, I was going to title this post, “My Thoughts On Streaking”, but at the last moment, I thought that just might seriously send the wrong message and draw the wrong kind of attention. :). But I do want to talk about streaks today because I’ve come to recognize that for me, they’re an incredible motivator and I’d really love to figure out why.

What do I mean by streak? You’ve probably come across them in apps that recognize you for using them consistently. For example, yesterday, I got a notification from WordPress recognizing my 6-day streak because I’ve posted to my blog consistently for the past six days. But these streaks are everywhere: My journaling app, Day One, shows my current streak which is based on my writing at least one entry per day. The app I use to help me manage weight loss, Lose It!, shows a streak based on the number of days I log all my meals. And these are just two examples, my phone and digital life are filled with many many more.

I think the first time I really started noticing and paying attention to streaks was with the old version of what is now called Swarm. Swarm is a check-in app that allows you to virtually “check in” to a location and share that check-in with your friends. I thought the idea behind this was cool because seeing the places that my friends were checking in to, gave me ideas on places I might want to visit. In fact, I’ve tried many restaurants and attended many events inspired by the check-ins of my friends. Swarm took this concept one step further though and made it possible for users to become a virtual mayor of a place if they had the most check-ins at that place. I absolutely loved this concept and collected many virtual mayorships; I was even the proud virtual mayor of a number of bus stops in Minneapolis at one point. And while these virtual mayorships didn’t have any real value, I was absolutely hooked by the gamification of it all. In fact, I was even a tiny bit sad when my little mayorship empire was overthrown after a job change no longer necessitated my visiting my usual bus stops.

And so I’m curious, is anyone else motivated by streaks? I mean I figure people must connect with them in some way as otherwise apps wouldn’t have them, and yet, I haven’t heard anyone really talking about this topic or the psychology behind it. So, what do you think, or what have your own experiences been with streaks? Let me know in the comments below. And with that, I better get this entry posted quickly, so that I hit my 7-day blogging streak. 🙂

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Microsoft To Do, my current favorite app for getting things I need to do, to done.

I’ve been obsessed with task management, or to-do type apps for years in an effort to keep my life running as organized and as smoothly as possible. Like most folks, I have many things going on in both my personal and professional lives, all requiring some degree of my attention and focus. Unfortunately, if left to my own devices, I frequently lose track of tasks I need to do, especially if my mind has jumped to something else. I used to consider this a personal failing of mine, but I’ve long made peace with the fact that where task management is concerned, relying on technology is going to work far better than relying on my brain. And so I started down the rabbit hole of trying to find the perfect task management app because surely that must exist.

Initially I discovered — and fell in love with — OmniFocus, a task management app that has just about every feature one could ask for in such an app. The thing I really loved about OmniFocus is that it is very context-oriented. So, for example, let’s say I have some time and I want to return phone calls, I can easily pull up those tasks, and only those tasks, that require me to use a phone to get them done. Late at night and I have time to get things done? I could pull up tasks that require Email or writing, while ignoring those tasks that require me to return phone calls. If I’m at work, I wouldn’t get a reminder to take out the trash, because taking out the trash requires that I be home. And vice versa, that task to complete my time sheet wouldn’t show up when I’m at home because that one requires that I be at work. I absolutely love OmniFocus for its incredibly rich features. Unfortunately for me, OmniFocus has so many powerful features that I found myself often getting lost in it. What with all the customizations and tweaks I could make to my task management workflow, I hardly had any time to actually get anything done. Certainly this isn’t their fault, I just get distracted whenever there’s something I can tweak or configure. The other problem that I ran into is that while OmniFocus is a wonderful solution on iOS, I’m not exclusively on iOS and so I sometimes found myself needing to work between two devices. Full disclosure, OmniFocus does have a web-based service now, but I encountered accessibility issues significant enough to impact my productivity.

Eventually, I got around to trying Microsoft To Do, the solution that is my current favorite. While I initially dismissed To Do because it does not have all the granular context functionality of OmniFocus, I’ve found that the lack of some of that functionality has made it much easier for me to remain focused since there’s fewer things to distract me. To Do is essentially based around task lists and if further grouping is needed, those lists can be grouped into folders. For example, I have folders for home and work. Within those folders, I have lists representing various contexts such as phone, Email, research, and other lists for specific projects. Adding a task is super simple, there’s an “add a task” button toward the bottom of each list, I tap that and can just add my task. While entering the task, I also have options to set due date and to add reminders. To Do also has a list called “My Day” which is designed to show just those tasks that need to get done, well, today. To help support that, To Do can suggest tasks that should be added to this list, tasks such as any that are past due, tasks that have a due date of today, or tasks that are coming up soon. This suggestions feature is very handy because it saves me from having to go through each list individually just to find the tasks I want or need to do today. Oh, one more very small but kind of cool thing, To Do can play a ding sound when tasks are marked as complete, yay for positive reinforcement, am I right?

I’ve tried To Do on multiple platforms including iOS, Mac, Windows, Android, and the web, and have found it to be a wonderful and accessible experience. While To Do doesn’t have all the granular context stuff I had come to love in OmniFocus, I love that I can use it regardless of whether I’m on iOS, Windows, Android, the Mac, or even just the web. As an extra bonus, my workplace uses Microsoft OutLook and Microsoft Planner and I can manage those tasks as well in To Do. Oh, one more thing: To Do is free, totally and completely free.

In this post I’ve highlighted only two of my favorite task management apps, but there are many many more out there. If you have a favorite, definitely let me know in the comments and if I haven’t tried it out yet, I’d be glad to do so. For those who are thinking that a task management app might be useful, Microsoft’s To Do is a great app to get you started. Microsoft To Do can be found on the iOS, Mac, Google Play, and Windows app stores, or can be accessed via the web at https://todo.microsoft.com

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Feeling tired and uninspired, but why let that hold me back?

OK I know that’s not my best post title ever, but as the day winds down, it’s a title that honestly reflects how I’m feeling. The tired thing is explainable, I’ve had a long work day and then I helped a friend with some technology stuff during the evening. But it’s the uninspired part I want to write about today.

Often, when I’ve asked people why they don’t start their own blog, a common response I get is something like, “oh, nobody would be interested in anything I have to write about.” This makes me sad because I firmly believe that every life contains a story and blogging is a fantastic way to tell that story. And while it would be cool to have thousands of readers — it’d be one heck of an ego trip — the reality is that a story does not require readership to make it valid or meaningful.

I find inspiration in stories, I love reading about the things people do, the experiences people have, the passions that drive them. I consider it an honor when someone is willing to share their story with me because it gives me an opportunity to have a rare glimpse into their life, to learn something new, to maybe shift my own understanding or perceptions about things and that helps me grow as a person.

So, while I might be feeling tired and uninspired, I hope that someone, somewhere, will read this and maybe be inspired to start their own blog someday. Remember, you have your own fascinating story to tell and whether you have a thousand readers or none, your story is unique in only a way that you can tell it.

So, what to blog about? I’ve blogged about a variety of things such as my experiences with Android in 2016, I blogged about how I used OneNote to help me manage a medical crisis, I blogged about the first time I drank coconut milk, directly from a coconut, I blogged about my first impressions of India when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit. I have no idea how many people read those entries — maybe nobody — but all of them make up just a fraction of the story that is my life. In short if you’re remotely considering starting a blog, but aren’t sure where to begin, don’t over-think it, just write. Write about what you’re doing right now. Write about what you hope to do. Write about a trip you’re taking, or maybe one you’ve already taken. Write about something you believe in. Write about something that has meaning to you. And if you do start that blog, let me know in the comments here or on my contact form as I’d love to check it out.

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An open thank-you to @YNAB for improving accessibility in an incredibly meaningful way..

For years, I’ve been a fan of YNAB, You Need a Budget. I love the principles behind their budgeting methodology, I love the app, I love the company, I’m just a really huge fan. YNAB has helped me to pay down debt, feel more confident about where my money is coming from, and going to, and generally feel way more in control of my financial life. Unfortunately, on 07/14, I downloaded an update to YNAB’s iOS app, an update that contained significant accessibility issues.

Tweet from Steve

I was hurt. I was up-set. I was not sure if I had set enough money aside to cover my rent payment — in short, it was not a very good day.

When it comes to making products and services accessible, it’s really important to understand that accessibility isn’t a nice-to-have, or a feature request. This is especially true if you offer a product or service that people might depend on. Sure I could have changed to another app, but I also would likely have had to change my budgeting method to one that would align with whatever new app I had chosen. That would have been especially challenging as I couldn’t put my financial life on pause while I figured it all out.

Fortunately, the fine folks at YNAB were extremely responsive and understanding, indicating that they were already working on fixes and, more importantly, were working to ensure that issues like this wouldn’t happen again.

And so here we are, roughly three weeks later, and I again get a notification that an update to the YNAB app is available. Even better, the “What’s new” section of YNAB’s App Store entry mentions:

• Two major accessibility wins:

◦ We made many improvements to VoiceOver interactions.

◦ We changed our background colors so that the Increase Contrast accessibility setting will now apply to the YNAB app and actually increase the contrast.

What’s New section in YNAB’s Apple App Store entry for version 3.01

I downloaded the app and was absolutely blown away. YNAB is now more accessible than ever, it’s a complete accessibility transformation. Because of their work on accessibility, I can use the YNAB iOS app way more efficiently than ever before.

Steve’s tweet thanking YNAB after being blown away with their 3.01 update

So, what does all this mean? Certainly this is a win for me personally, but it goes way beyond that. By

working to improve our approach to accessibility concerns to prevent instances like this in the future

Mentioned by YNAB in a follow-up tweet

YNAB has helped ensure that I remain a loyal customer: I’m happy to continue using their product, and I’m happy to continue paying for it because I feel listened to and I feel valued. And that’s a big part of accessibility that often gets left out of the conversation; accessibility is about equal access to products and services, but it’s also about listening to, and responding to, customer needs; and isn’t that a key component of many brands? When a company values me, and goes the extra mile to show me that I am valued, they create loyalty because like most consumers, I appreciate companies and brands that appreciate me.

So Thank you, YNAB team, for your work on accessibility over these past few weeks. Not only have you transformed your iOS app in an incredible way, but you’ve also demonstrated, by taking action, that you value me and others who use assistive technologies. I’m proud of the tremendous amount you’ve accomplished and am excited to see what comes next.

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It must be awful to be blind

Oh if only I had a nickel for every time someone said this to me, I’d be a very rich man. I’ve heard variations of this all my life, so often in fact that when I was younger, I actually asked someone if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t feel my life was that awful. Anyway, since this is something I continue to hear over and over again, I thought I would blog about my perspective on the subject.

Before we get started, I want to clarify that the following is strictly my perspective and may not represent the perspective of all blind people. I feel it’s important to call this out up-front because often I’ve seen that when one member of a community says something, it’s assumed to be fact for all members of that community rather than just that one person’s perspective. OK with that out of the way, let’s get started.

Imagine this.

To put things in perspective, let us go on a short imaginary trip. Let’s say you’re walking down the street, maybe going to work, your favorite restaurant or coffee shop, or just out for a nice stroll. It’s a sunny day, the temperature is just right, it’s just a great day to be outside, one of those really awesome days when it’s just great to be alive. As you walk, you come upon a pigeon. The pigeon is just doing its thing just as you’re doing yours when out of the blue it says,

“Jees, it must be awful that you can’t fly.”

How do you respond to that statement? Let’s be honest here, it would be really cool to fly. I mean birds make it seem so easy and Superman did some really cool stuff with his ability to fly. But is your life really that bad because you can’t fly?

“I don’t know”, I’d say to my new pigeon friend, “I don’t think my life has really been that bad. I’ve gotten to visit places around the world and I’ve done it without ever flapping a wing.”

Perspective and judgement

Perspective is a very powerful thing. From the perspective of the pigeon, an inability to fly might seem like something that would make life very difficult. And that perspective is perfectly valid. We all have our own perspectives on things, it’s totally normal. Where perspective turns into a really bad thing however, is when judgement is cast — when the pigeon decides that since he can’t conceive of life without flight, it truly must be an awful reality. It’s one thing to shift one’s perspective, but something else entirely to reshape what one deems to be reality.

So, is it awful to be blind? Well, I certainly don’t think so and over my 40+ years, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the question. As mentioned above, I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit including getting to visit some really cool places like Europe and India, I have a good career, I have a family, I enjoy the city in which I live, all-in-all, not really a bad life, at least in my opinion. Just like with an ability to fly, there are aspects of being able to see which I sometimes think would be cool, things like being able to jump in a car whenever I want, but even these aren’t things that prevent me from living a really awesome and fulfilling life. Take the car thing as an example: Sure it would be super convenient to just jump in a car and go, but I can get an Uber, often in less time than it would take someone to find a parking space. It’s a tradeoff, but one that is off-set by not needing to worry about car maintenance, a car payment, insurance payments, gas prices … I’m sure you get the idea. Being able to pick up and read a book or piece of mail would also be pretty cool, but with the evolution of technologies, even this doesn’t pose much of a barrier anymore. With most restaurant menus being online, I often know what I want to eat before the server even comes to take my drink order. And, with curb-side pickup offered by just about every retailer these days, shopping has gotten easier than ever. My point is that while there are times when I feel having sight would be useful, or just plain cool, there are usually ways to accomplish things without it. Do I know all these ways? Certainly not, like everyone, I’ve had to learn along the way, sometimes from friends, sometimes from family, sometimes from teachers or trainers, sometimes from books, but isn’t that how we all learn how to do things in life?

In conclusion, I don’t think that being blind is an awful thing, it’s just a thing. Just like not being tall, or just like not being able to run very fast, or, well, anything else. I know people may be curious about how I do certain things and that’s OK, curiosity is natural, it’s why we have the ability to ask questions and it’s how we learn from one another. So just know that if you’re reading this and you have questions, I think that’s great. Just please, please don’t pass judgement based on assumption because at least for me, my life as a blind guy has not been awful; I actually think its been a very fulfilling and beautiful thing.

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How I got into the accessibility field

When people ask me how I got into the accessibility field, my answer is that for me, it was more by accident rather than by design. I had just graduated from college, moved to a new state, and was excited to begin my career as a network or telecommunications engineer. I knew I would be hired very quickly because after all, I had a shiny new degree and back then, I was still young enough to know everything there was to know. And so I waited for my phone to ring … and I waited … and I waited. Eventually my phone did ring, but it wasn’t with the awesome job offer I was expecting, rather it was a friend who called asking for help. My friend had gotten a new job and was excited to begin work, however, he wasn’t sure how — or even if — the computer system he needed to use could work with a screen reader. For anyone new to this blog, a screen reader is an assistive technology that takes text that normally appears on an electronic screen and renders that as speech or braille output. Put another way, it’s a technology often used by (but not exclusively by) blind/low-vision people to hear the textual information that appears on a screen.

I was surprised when my friend called for a few reasons. First, my phone hadn’t rang in so long that the sound nearly startled me out of my chair. More important though, I had been using screen readers for quite a while and just sort of assumed that every other blind screen reader user must surely be as proficient as I was. What I didn’t fully understand is that not everyone was as into technology as I was and that my interest in technology could really be used to benefit others in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I was happy to help my friend, but even happier when I saw the impact that help had on his life. My friend told people about how I had helped him, those people told other people and before too long, my phone was ringing quite a bit.

If I had to define what accessibility means to me in one sentence, it would be: To empower and enable people to accomplish whatever it is they want to be able to do in life. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the honor to help people utilize technology to accomplish incredible things. I’ve also gotten to play a part in the evolution of technologies which continue to help more and more people every day; it’s been an incredibly awesome journey.

Often I’ve been asked, “What kind of background is ideal for someone wanting to get into the accessibility field?” I think what’s really needed is a passion for equality and a willingness to be open-minded. Empathy also goes an incredibly long way. Certainly there is a technical component to accessibility, but some of the best accessibility professionals I’ve met come from user experience, teaching, and a variety of backgrounds, each adding their own special experiences and perspective to what is becoming a tapestry of equality.

One more thing I want to address in this post is this idea which I keep hearing, that people with disabilities are a natural fit for the accessibility field. Certainly there are some really amazing people with disabilities in the accessibility field, but simply having a disability doesn’t necessarily make someone a good fit. For example, I have spoken with many other blind folks who feel that accessibility would be a good fit for them because they are very proficient screen reader users. The thing is, accessibility is way more than testing content with one particular type of assistive technology such as a screen reader. I think what often gets overlooked is that accessibility is about equality, not just equality for people with a specific type of disability.

I’m always happy to talk about accessibility, it’s an incredibly amazing and rewarding field. If you’d like to learn more, definitely continue the conversation in the comments, or feel free to contact me. Also, if there’s a particular aspect about the accessibility field you’d like me to blog about, please leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to write a post on the subject.

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The Ultimate Blog Challenge and a brief introduction for those who don’t know me.

I have decided to take part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge. The Ultimate Blog Challenge challenges bloggers to try and publish at least one entry per day throughout the month of August. So, why am I doing this? Blogging is something I keep talking about wanting to do more regularly and more consistently and yet I’m always hesitant to actually get started. My hope is that by doing this challenge, I’ll get better at that “just get started” thing and that over time, I will feel more confident publishing.

So, who am I?

For those that don’t know me, my name is Steve and I’ve worked in the accessibility field for all my life — well at least for most of it. I was born blind and over my life, have witnessed the incredible impact technology has changed on my ability, and the ability of others, to have access to information. That access to information thing is incredibly empowering in ways ranging from socioeconomic to vocational. When people have access to information, they are empowered to make informed decisions, they can actively contribute in so many ways, it’s just an amazing thing that I’m obviously very passionate about. I also view accessibility as a springboard for innovation, not something that impedes progress. Indeed, many of the things we take for granted resulted from some sort of accessibility-related innovation — maybe a topic for a future article?

Whether you have followed me and this blog for quite a while, or whether you have just discovered me, I want to thank you for reading, for joining me as I attempt the Ultimate Blog Challenge and most of all, for being part of the conversation. If you would like to receive new posts from this blog directly in your Email, you can add your address below and activate the subscribe button.

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