Pocket Revolution: An article by Red Szell

Image of RealSAM Pocket on the Samsung Galaxy xCover 4S handset

This week I celebrated having had Pocket in my life for a month. And it really was a celebration (well as much as we can in these restricted times!)

I can genuinely say that, alongside my white cane, I have never had an aid to living with sight loss that has been so immediately liberating and simple to master.

With just a small lexicon of voice commands I can now access thousands of books and hundreds of radio stations and podcasts without having to resort to using a screen reader on my laptop, or fiddly touch screen commands on my smartphone. After a long day at work it’s a relief to put those work tools to one side and pick up what I have come to regard as my entertainment centre!

And in addition I have rediscovered my love of newspapers and magazines through Pocket and am getting a far wider overview of world events than I was by having my radio set permanently to the same channel, or relying on my wife and kids to read out the odd article they found interesting in whichever publication they were looking at.

And because Pocket is a smart device, it machine learns the way that I speak and has begun to recognise my slight variations on the voice commands (e.g. ‘give me’ rather than ‘find’) which makes searching feel increasingly natural.

I’ve been really surprised that I haven’t needed to press the ‘home’ key and say ‘Call In Your Pocket’ for Technical Support, because as I wrote at the start of my journey, I don’t consider myself to be technically savvy, and, as friends and family will tell you, I have little patience for exploring so-called assistive tech when it presents you with an obstacle course of set-up instructions before you get to any solutions.

However any worries I had on that front about Pocket have proved unfounded, and with access to the visual aid of millions of Be My Eyes volunteers I actually feel empowered rather than disenchanted.

This has also had an effect on those around me. No longer am I bursting into my wife’s work Zoom meetings demanding to know whether I have got a pack of frozen chicken or lamb fillets from the freezer, or interrupting my daughters’ home learning to find out whether I am wearing matching socks. Now I ask Pocket to ‘Call Be My eyes’ and am put through to someone who welcomes my enquiry.

All in all Pocket has made me a happier blind person by providing a simple to use portal to many of the services I rely on and / or enjoy the most: in that way it’s a very welcoming (and welcome) one-stop-shop.

It’s important to say that Pocket does have other features that I have not yet mentioned but that may be of even greater use to people with different visual impairments to mine.

These include the Magnifier function, which I would have found invaluable in the early and mid-stages of my Retinitis Pigmentosa. By simply pressing the ‘home’ key and saying ‘Open Magnifier’ Pocket’s camera is opened, displaying plus and minus icons on the touch screen allowing you to zoom in and out. My wife who uses reading glasses says it’s brilliant!

Also if you have set up your contacts (which Technical Support will be happy to help you with), and then find yourself in an emergency situation, you can summon help by pressing and holding down the Assistance button (on the top left hand side of my Samsung model). Pocket will then call each of the numbers in your Assistance Contacts list until one picks up. Pocket will also send your GPS location details which can be passed onto emergency services if necessary, or should you be unable to tell your contact where you are.

Additionally the Locations function allows you to programme Pocket with details of your favourite routes (again using GPS) to help you navigate the outside world. However as I am not getting out much at the moment I’ll save that for when restrictions are lifted and then see whether I can get Pocket to take me to the pub.