Presenter: peter white producer: richard hooper



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Date05.08.2018
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IN TOUCH
TX: 21.09.10 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: RICHARD HOOPER

White

Good evening. Tonight: We look at the compensation terms being offered to blind people by Vodafone, who've withdrawn a service which was helping people find their way around. We meet the 10 year old who's added an international poetry prize to her many other accomplishments:


Clip

If Braille did not exist it would be like having a dungeon around with me for eternity. If Braille left me for one moment I would feel like my life was an ever harder maze to finish and in the middle a dark and dusty finish.


White

And the man who's invented an alternative tactile reading system, so that he can read in the dark.


Clip

I was stationed at the Hungarian border and had to watch out for illegal immigrants. I was always stationed there at night and read books with a flash light and the officers didn't like that because the illegal immigrants could see the flash light and move around our post. So I started to think - maybe I could build a device so that I can read my books at night.


White

But first: More news about the compensation terms being offered to blind people after Vodafone withdrew accessibility on their phones to a software package which enables people to navigate their way around - not only Britain but the globe. Vodafone explained on In Touch a couple of months ago that they'd done this because with other services offering the system free it just wasn't economically viable but that they would compensate people who'd purchased licences to use Wayfinder Access - that's its name - on their phones. But there are now questions about whether the compensation offered will still leave some people out of pocket.


I'm joined by Neil Barnfather, who's chief executive of one of the companies - Talk Nav - which sells the software and helps people to install it and by Caroline Dewing of Vodafone.
Neil, if I can come to you first of all. Just before we talk about the compensation issue, for people who still don't know much about this at all just explain the range of what Wayfinder does for people.
Barnfather

So Wayfinder Access in effect was a GPS satellite navigation program, very much similar to those that sighted people might use in their cars but enabled a blind person, using a mobile phone in any network, not just the Vodafone one, to basically navigate from point A to point B with information that a blind person might find useful - for example, telling them the names of the shops that they're passing and indeed roads that they were crossing even if they weren't necessarily passing down them. So in effect it was sat nav designed specifically for the blind market.


White

And let's just hear Paul Hopkins, who's a user from Birmingham. This is how it sounds.


Hopkins

And while I'm waiting to cross the road ... let's just see what's around me, so I'm looking around me now, literally looking around me ...


Sat nav talking
... so we've got Chinese, we've got a pub ...
White

So it's not just telling you turn left, turn right, this is something which as it were paints a sound picture of where you are?


Barnfather

Absolutely.


White

Now Vodafone have offered compensation, as we've said, to people who paid to have Wayfinder on their system to the tune of 300 euros or £250, so why are you saying that that's not adequate?


Barnfather

The problem is that 300 euros for a single user licence is fine, we have no argument with that. The problem we have is there's an intermediary set of clients who has access to one plus an additional map licence, whereby they'll have paid an additional cost in excess of £150 to most of the people for an additional map that they're effectively not going to get any extra compensation for. So they're only getting the 300 that single user licence holders are getting ...


White

So we're talking about people perhaps who were going on holiday, might have gone to the United States or Australia or something like that and got this just for that use really?


Barnfather

Exactly that, it's exactly the situation. It wasn't worth them buying the whole globe but they maybe travelled regularly to another part of the world outside their initial region so they bought a lifetime extension of this extra region. These people only have one licence code to go to the refund programme with and these people are being told you're only entitled to 300 euros because you only have one activation code.


White

And how many people are we talking about?


Barnfather

Roughly speaking somewhere in the order of about a hundred people, not a huge amount but it's still - it's still the point.


White

Let me bring in Caroline Dewing, I mean what do you say to that? You made the gesture so why not go the whole hog?


Dewing

So if they have the licence code then we can match that with our records and compensate them accordingly. So as Neil said it's a hundred people we're absolutely not going to quibble over a hundred people's licences, we're very happy to compensate them provided that they can provide their adequate licence code.


White

So let me try and clarify: Are you saying that if people bought something under one set of circumstances that they understood, in other words they understood it would be permanent and in fact they've lost it, you are saying that you will compensate them?


Dewing

Yes absolutely.


White

Neil, does that satisfy?


Barnfather

I think Peter the question is - is by how much? Three hundred euros is a single region, if you had one region ...


Dewing

I guess Neil that we'll take it on - as there are a limited number of people we'll take it on a case by case basis, but please be reassured that they will be compensated.


White

What should people do Caroline if they are listening to this and they think this is me?


Dewing

Go on to the Wayfinder website you can see the refund box on the front page and the best thing to do is to contact us direct and we'll be able to work with them to work out what the refund should be.


White

Okay, well we're going to leave it there and we should make it clear that there are some alternatives of course to this system - we'll have details of those on our website. Caroline Dewing, Neil Barnfather thank you both very much.


Now more news about the use of melatonin - that's the treatment some totally blind people take to help regulate their sleep patterns. Last week we heard how blind people were buying the substance either from abroad or on the internet because they were unable to obtain it on prescription, even though it's effectiveness for some people has been confirmed after a series of tests on blind users. Well after that programme we've heard this from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the arm of government responsible for regulating medicines in the UK. They've clarified why melatonin is available over the counter in some countries but not here.
Statement

Since 1989 melatonin as been defined as a medicinal product rather than a food supplement. In order to obtain a product licence melatonin products were required to demonstrate appropriate standards of quality, safety and efficacy. Consequently melatonin products were prohibited from being sold over the counter. In 2008 a melatonin containing medicinal product - circardin - was granted a European licence for the short term treatment - up to three weeks - of primary insomnia characterised by poor quality of sleep in patients who were aged 55 years or over. Melatonin is not authorised for use in children in the UK and the safety of melatonin continues to be kept under close review within Europe. Melatonin cannot be legally sold as a food supplement in the UK. However, it is considered a food supplement in the States and possibly some European countries.


We've also heard from the researchers at Surrey University who've been investigating the effects of melatonin over many years, that quite a number of you have been in contact with them since the In Touch programme with a view to helping with more investigations. And if you are taking melatonin we'd still like to hear from you - how much have you been taking and where do you get it from.
Now remember Alexia Sloane, a rather remarkable youngster. When we met Alexia last, aged nine, she was already a prolific linguist, accomplished musician, enthusiastic Braillist and an omnivorous reader and would be writer. Well she's now added an international literary prize to her CV, more about that in a moment, but when I talked to her the other day I reminded her that when we last spoke she was about to sit her Spanish and French GCSEs, so how had they gone?
Sloane

It was a very, very, very near A* for the French, only very few marks off and a perfect A* for the Spanish, almost maximum.


White

Right, which isn't bad at 10 is it? I mean are you doing anymore this year?


Sloane

I'm having quite a lot of trouble convincing my mum to let me do the AS next year because at the moment she's refusing for two reasons: number one, because she thinks I'm too young and number two, because she is having trouble finding an exam board which will accept me at my age.


White

So you think you're ready?


Sloane

Yes I am. I don't know the meaning of nerves when it comes to an exam, never.


White

I remember that from last time, you were very confident. And you've also been on your travels since we talked to you last, tell us where you've been.


Sloane

I've stayed in a place called [indistinct words] and it's near Discovery Cove and Disneyland. Discovery Cove is a place where there are dolphins and other marvellous sea creatures and I swam with dolphins actually on my 10th birthday. It was absolutely fantastic and an excellent experience.


White

Right, now of course the main reason that we've invited you back again is because again just after we interviewed you we heard that you had been nominated as one of the five UK entries for the essay competition which is designed to promote interest in Braille. That was the essay competition that your friend Anna, who was on the programme, had won the previous year.


Sloane

Yes.
White

And lo and behold and what a surprise, given your A* abilities, you've won this haven't you.
Sloane

Yes I have.


White

So just explain, before you read the poem for us, I mean why were you so keen to enter?


Sloane

Well I've always been better at writing poetry than prose. I chose to do an acrostic...


White

And that's - I'll tell you what I'm not going to show off - you tell us what an acrostic is.


Sloane

You have a word of your choice and you use adjectives and what I've done is I've used it as an adjective and some verses underneath those adjectives to describe how Braille empowers my life.


White

So you actually - you take all the initial letters of Braille, don't you, and start each - each successive line with one of those letters?


Sloane

Yes.
White

Okay, well let's - let's hear some of your poem.
Sloane

If Braille did not exist,

It would be like carrying a dungeon around with me

For eternity.

If Braille left me for one moment,

I would feel like my life was an ever harder maze to finish,

And in the middle,

A dark and dusky finish.


When I am writing my story,

The lyrics of Braille inspire me.

They flow through me like a river of life,

Nothing can penetrate it,

Not even the knife,

Of teasing and taunting.

It's the centre of my life.
The dots I feel are so perfect,

They feel like tiny jewels.

If Braille did not exist,

I know I would always fail.

Every dot is like a seed,

The seed of life on which I feed.


Braille is my friend,

Braille is my guide,

So listen to what's coming next,

Praise the man whose great mind did not rest,

Until my friend,

My best source of fun,

Emerged from his imagination.
How proud I feel,

To be part French,

And share with the king of Braille,

The nationality which carries me,

On a fine golden sail,

Of reading, writing and music,

To Louis Braille all hail!
White

It's obviously very good. I mean that's terrific.


Sloane

I did write it in only half an hour.


White

Did you? It takes nearly that long to read it.


Sloane

I know. Well that's not all of it, I mean there were quite a bit of the rest of it also. But I just said to myself well it's not bad, it's Anna who inspired me to enter anyway, so I'm just going to send and have a go for the pleasure of writing it. It was enough of a surprise when I was told I had been short listed.


White

I mean it does suggest that you - Braille is very central to your life and what you do.


Sloane

Mainly because without it I couldn't be reading or writing, which are two very important things to me as I want to be an author interpreter.


White

What prize did you get Alexia?


Sloane

I haven't actually received it yet but I receive a $1,000 and I think it might be a trophy.


White

Goodness, a $1,000, what are you going to do with that?


Sloane

I'm saving it up for my trip to China.


White

And when is your trip to China?


Sloane

Well I was hoping to do it maybe in my gap year, when hopefully I would have a few more savings.


White

Your gap year?


Sloane

The gap year before I go to university.


White

You're looking a long way ahead or are you planning to go at 12?


Sloane

Well I would like to but my mum says no way.


White

Right, so you've got to wait till one of the more orthodox times like 17 or 18?


Sloane

Yes, which is very annoying actually because I wanted to go before.


White

Alexia Sloane, winner of the ONKYO Braille contest. And since we recorded that interview she's also been crowned a Cambridge Young Achiever of the Year, what next I wonder!


And finally what might be the strangest story of the year. The tale of a man encountered by our reporter Mani Djazmi at the major Sight Village exhibition of equipment especially designed with blind people in mind. Twenty-six-year-old Ewald Kantner had indeed designed a Braille display for blind people, plenty of those there, which he was now marketing. But it was the circumstances under which he'd done it which intrigued Mani. Ewald told him how the venture had come about.
Kantner

It started when I was in the Austrian Army. I was stationed at the Hungarian border and had to watch out for illegal immigrants and I was always stationed there at night and read books with a flash light. And the officers didn't like that because the illegal immigrants could see the flash light and move around the post. So I started to think - maybe I could build a device so that I can read my books at night. And I built a prototype and then I thought hey maybe blind people can use this.


Djazmi

So you thought maybe blind people might find Braille useful as well?


Kantner

Yes exactly.


Djazmi

So just describe what you created.


Kantner

Yes it was a three by three array of vibrating dots. Just one cell basically. It was made out of coils like electromagnets and they were vibrating a metallic dot.


Djazmi

So you taught yourself Braille effectively or had you known about Braille before, I mean could you read Braille before?


Kantner

No I learnt to read Braille on that occasion. I knew before what Braille is but I couldn't read it.


Djazmi

Right, so you weren't able to learn Braille as we learn Braille, you didn't have the Braille alphabet or anything like that so how did you know the symbol for D for instance or the symbol for V?


Kantner

Well in times of the internet you can google it.


Djazmi

So you were on the Austro-Hungarian border with some kind of internet access, learned the Braille alphabet and then created a device to read Braille. And how did you create that device?


Kantner

The device worked by nine electromagnets that were moving a small metallic element up and down so it was vibrating and the device was only one letter basically.


Djazmi

So how did it work then, I mean our understanding of a Braille display is you have a certain number of cells - 20 cells, 40 cells, whatever - and you read across the line, so you only had one cell of six dots did you?


Kantner

Yes and there were also some buttons and you hold one button and it moves across from one letter to the next or also in the other direction.


Djazmi

So instead of moving your hands across you move the letter, so that your finger stays in the same place?


Kantner

They stayed in the same place and you can try it out when you have a Braille display, when you put the finger on to a Braille cell and don't move it, it's very hard to read the letter. And you had the same effect here, so to make it more readable I had the elements vibrate which works quite well if you only read a couple of words or a couple of sentences but after some sentences it really gets annoying and you actually feel less.


Djazmi

I'm sure you do. How did you manufacture this thing on the border?


Kantner

Well it's not hard, you only need the PCB, micro controller, soldering irons and components.


Djazmi

And these are readily available in the Austrian Army are they?


Kantner

Well I always have my own stuff.


Djazmi

Just in case...


Kantner

Yes.
Djazmi

... you need to learn how to read in the dark.
Kantner

You can use electronic components for all kinds of things. The idea from then on was to build completely new Braille devices that had never been here before.. If you look at most Braille displays they're pretty much the same. You have one fixed Braille line and you have some buttons and the largest difference is the position of the buttons. What I wanted was to create something completely different with lots of extra use with more flexibility than current technology.


Djazmi

So how far can the Braille display go do you think?


Kantner

I don't think that there's really a limit, there will be lots of new technology that will shrink Braille displays even further and I'm sure that the really big innovations that matter in the Braille area are innovations that we haven't even thought of.


Djazmi

So how good is your Braille now?


Kantner

My Braille is quite okay. I think that most blind people know Braille much better than I do but I can read text, that's nothing great, quite fluently.


Djazmi

And this is all by touch?


Kantner

Mostly yes.


Djazmi

That's extraordinary because a lot of sighted people can't read Braille by touch because their fingers aren't attuned and aren't sensitive enough, so how have you managed it?


Kantner

Well it's all a matter of practise and also I'm used to soldering very small components for prototypes and there are some components that are much smaller than the Braille dots that I have to solder to a PCB, so I have to have very sensitive fingers and I think that has helped me a lot with Braille. And also the other way round because it's a similar skill set.


White

Mani Djazmi reporting there.


And that's it for today. Do call us with your comments on 0800 044 044 or e-mail us via the website at bbc.co.uk and go to In Touch via Radio 4. And there's a podcast of the programme from tomorrow. From me, Peter White, my producer, Richard Hooper and the team, goodbye.

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