"Let’s see how fast you are with that."
I was at the local Borders Books, using my new Vmax voice synthesizer to order a book which wasn’t in stock, when a guy came up behind me and said, "Hi, John!" I wasn’t quite sure who he was - not atypical around here where I’m well-known - but he seemed to know me and about the Vmax, impressing the young man who was assisting me, and who was at first a bit impatient although curious, even more. By the time I had the device voice "sweet" and "peace out," which I have pre-programed, after he gave me a receipt, he was laughing, clearly charmed and stoked.
I was pretty fast with the Vmax, which operates using a camera tracking a silver dot now attached to my glasses and which I have posted a few times about getting in recent months, this time, and this adventure with it was a big success. Some adventures, since having the Vmax attached to my chair a month ago (it is easily removable, and I have it removed when I eat, write, etc.), haven’t been so successful, but they have all been a learning experience - really a full-time learning experience - and I can tell you a lot.
I can tell you about...
...the Vmax being placed right in front of my face for the first few days and my having to peer around it when I traveled. Horrified, the therapists at the hospital set it a bit lower and at a slight angle, making all the difference in the world and enabling me to more or less see where I’m going and also to unlock my front door. Also, it turned out that the dot falls off my forehead when I sweat, and it lasts much longer and seems to give me more direct control with in on my glasses. (Also, people don’t ask me anymore if I’ve converted to Hinduism, and my glasses, which also have a bit of foil on them, are now, appropriately, my tiara.)
...going home in my wheelchair and having the Vmax start to fall forward; the clamp had loosened with the bumpy ride (I suspect that typical Vmax users don’t go out like I do). I was scared shitless that the $8,000 device would smash to the ground. The next day, a friend who works at the hospital cleverly devised a velcro strap, which appears to have done the trick.
...how I love the Vmax’s word prediction. It not only predicts the word I’m typing; it predicts, with impressive acuity, the next word, speeding things up all the more. This is one powerful program!
...discovering at a picnic that the Vmax doesn’t do well in the sun. The screen is hard to see, and the camera kind of goes haywire. Bummer - especially at those pool parties and when my wheelchair breaks down when I’m out. My hospital team is talking about devising some kind of shade.
...how I’m figuring out when and when not to have it on my chair. Should I have it with me whenever I go out - even, say, when I’m shopping with an attendant?
...people either being fascinated by it or not seeing it at all. This is weird - how can they not see and be curious about this big thing in front of me, especially when it’s on and glowing? Is it just another high-tech gadget? Are they just used to seeing John - or that guy - in the wheelchair?
...having trouble with the screen coming on at other times, instead of just when I touch it, and with the battery lasting 2-3 hours instead of the 4-6 hours that it’s supposed to last (even that is silly and frustrating to me). The Vmax takes a very long time to power up - impractical when I want to talk to someone - and, to conserve the battery, I have the screen set to go black after 5 minutes of non-use, but it keeps coming on when I look at the camera or the camera picks up something. Do I have a bad battery? Should I get or make a little cap to go over the camera? Meanwhile, I’m having the device plugged in, including when I use it, as much as possible.
There are other issues, but I think the biggest is knowing when to use the Vmax and when to speak. This came to the fore when I attended Pacific Yearly Meeting, a five-day gathering of Quakers from California, Nevada, Mexico and Hawaii at the end of July, where I got a lot of practice and feedback, where I found out I am much better using the Vmax with individuals and small groups than with a large audience (making me nervous and less able to focus) and where, despite having a note in the daily newsletter explaining the Vmax, at least one or two people thought I use it for playing games.
The big question: Would you rather be patient trying to understand my speech or waiting for me using the Vmax?
I think my experience at Borders gives an - but probably not the - answer. I think the thing to understand, including by me, is that this device is not a miracle, but it is a powerful tool that can help, really help.