Catherine Harris lives in a noisy house. Her microwave and weighing scales talk, her phone constantly offers verbal updates of mails and texts and an assortment of chimes and whistles signal the passing of every 15 minutes. Not forgetting the gentle ‘woofs’ and scraping of paws of her gentle guide dog Faye.
Catherine, of Lowedges, is completely blind and depends on a host of incredible technology to help her live her life to the full.
“I’ve always loved gadgets and technology has never scared me,” revealed Catherine, aged 60.
“When I was living in Ohio, where I was born, I was the one everyone came to when they needed their hifi’s setting up or the needle changing in their record player - imagine that, ask the blind kid down the street!”
And it’s a sophisticated pool of products that keep Catherine and her husband Mike, who is also blind, in touch with the modern world. The pair have ipads, iphones, digital scales, a talking microwave, speaking clocks and a whole host of other gadgetry that, according to Catherine, can do everything except cook the pair their dinner.
“It’s definitely a noisy house, and we like it that way,” explained Catherine.
I lost the sight in one eye when I was 22 months, when my brother hit me in the eye, and the other as a result of damage following a cataract operation when I was ten years old
“I have a clock that plays music on the hour, which was a wedding anniversary present from my husband. It’s like a big music box, I love it and I love listening to the tunes it plays all day.
“My iPad also has an app on it called Chimes that goes off every 15 minutes and that helps me to keep track of them time pretty well. I love my iPad, I use it for everything from email and texting to games and surfing the net. I also love listening to podcasts and e-books, it’s quite amazing what’s on offer. Apps have been a big development in recent years. I have apps on my iphone that can basically do everything from read my post to check packets for me in a supermarket.
“There’s an amazing app called Be My Eyes which puts you through, on a live stream, to a volunteer who you can ask anything of - from ‘what date does this milk expire?’ or ‘what colour is my shirt?’ to ‘can you see a postbox near me?’
“That’s a relatively new one but we find ourselves using it quite a lot now. It’s a fantastic development.
“We also have something called Trekker Breezer that works like a sat nav, so that when we’re out walking, it can direct us and tell us where to go and what street we’re turning onto. It even highlights things that are around us, so it will point out when we’re passing a shop or a cash machine, it really is impressive.
“When I first went blind, the only thing you could get was a talking watch, they’d just come out. I have one today, a modern one, which I wear around my neck, but back then - besides a talking watch and Braille - there really was nothing.
“The advances in technology - particularly in the past ten years - have made life so much easier and really opened the world up for us.”
Catherine and Mike met in America in 1997 and moved back to Mike’s hometown of Sheffield in 2000. Catherine said: “I was born fully sighted. I lost the sight in one eye when I was 22 months, when my brother hit me in the eye, and the other as a result of damage following a cataract operation when I was ten years old. Mike was also born fully sighted too and lost his vision when he was hit by a car aged four.”
But despite their conditions, the pair don’t complain and told The Star that, thanks to their ‘digital house’ they get along as well as anybody else.
“I’d like to try the Apple watch next,” said Catherine.
“We’ve always got our eye on the next piece of technology that can help make our lives a little easier, it’s amazing what’s come out in the last ten years. Apple products in particular always seem to have been developed with blind people in mind as they always have voiceover software on there, dating right back to the eighties when I used my first ever Apple computer.”
Catherine now volunteers for the Guide Dogs Association, speaking of her own experiences with the disability she has lived with for over forty years, and uses the opportunity to tell other blind people about as much helpful technology as she can.
“This technology has changed my life and I want to encourage other blind people to take up as much of it as they can.”