Monday 9 February 2015

The eyes have it

I was on earlier about one of my motor-mouth errors of judgement in which I appeared to claim that four of my best students in Human Physiology 101 for Pharmacy Technicians were primates.  If I'd been assigned a much longer course I would have been able to explain better that this is certainly not an insult - all of my best friends are primates and some of them are Jewish.  But if the students were assigned a much longer course with me, they'd all transfer to the other Institute which offers a Pharm Tech Cert without Yer Man and his Insults.  On reflection it would have been better if I'd used a seeing-eye dog as the example of an animal who could attend lectures in College - so long as they were quiet.  Seeing eye dogs are extremely privileged in our society - being allowed in venues that don't normally allow animals on the premises - restaurants, art galleries, concert halls. Helping those people who patently need help is universally encouraged and respected; although only a small fraction of us actually drop what we are doing to assist another human in trouble.

Well now you too can be a seeing eye dog - for somebody whom you've never met through an android app called BeMyEyes which connects blind people with a smart phone and a problem and sighted people who have two or three minutes of spare time while watching TV, commuting to work or at their own desk.  There's an incident in John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids when the hero comes across a desperately hungry couple of recently struck blind people who are struggling to open a tin can - which he can see contains cat-food.  That's the kind of problem that BeMyEyes can solve: navigating a train station, trying to determine which door bell to ring, sorting the seeing-eye dog food from the chicken korma tins in the store cupboard. The Ap was launched a couple of weeks ago but has 100,000+ eyes and 10,000+ noes registered.  This can only get bigger - there are at least 2 million blind people in sub-Saharan Africa and lots of them have smart-phones.

My 94 year old mother's retinas have been macular-degenerating for the last decade or so, although she maintains that regular zinc supplements have halted the decline. So she's not totally in the dark but has only peripheral vision and not great at that. She's living in her open home except when she chooses to go out in the wide world on foot across the village green to the post office or the bus stop.  The other day, she was in Salisbury, about 60km from home, going to the theatre. Afterwards she dropped into Marks&Sparks to get some fish for dinner.  She knows where the fish counter is, she can tell the difference between shrink-wrapped cod and ditto salmon but she can't read the small print. So she handed a packet to the chap beside her and said "I'm so sorry to trouble you but could you read the sell-by date on this cod".  He, a man of her generation, raised his hat and replied "I would be delighted to be of assistance". A conversation ensued in which he revealed that he was a retired apothecary.  "Cripes", I said afterwards "he must have retired before the first war, if he calls himself an apothecary".  She has his name . . . romance is in the air.

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