I truly get excited when I find mainstream technology that can be usable by the blind and visually impaired right out of the box. The iPhone has changed my life, and I don’t often make big sweeping statements like that. Slowly, but surely, manufacturers are realizing that adding accessibility to products is not a big deal and that it benefits and expands the market more than it hurts it. I’d like to take a few moments to talk about a pair of headphones that I was skeptical about, but once I had them, I found them to be incredibly useful. I heard about them through a friend, but didn’t believe they could live up to their reputation. I wear them multiple times a day in different settings and for different reasons. They are called Aftershokz Titanium-bone conduction headphones. They retail for around $129.99 from the product website. They can also be found on amazon and at other retailers. Unlike traditional earphones, they do not sit over your ear, but when you put them on, they sit right in front of your ear on your cheekbones. I am someone who has never found in-the-ear buds of any kind particularly comfortable, and even if they have a loop over the back of the ear, they seem to always slip out. These headphones have a titanium band that goes over the top of your ears and around the back of your head/sits on the back of your neck which helps to keep them in place. The play/stop button is a triangular shaped button that is located on the flat part of the left earpiece and the volume controls and charging port are behind the right ear on the underside of the band. The volume up button doubles as the power button, has a little raised bump on it and it is closer to your ear. The charging port is under a plastic flap and it sits right in front of the volume up button closest to your ear. I charge it with a regular micro USB cable and either plug it into my charging hub or use my iPhone wall plug.
To turn on the headphones, you press and hold the volume up button. You will hear the headphones say, “Welcome to trekz titanium” and then it will connect right away to whatever device that is nearest that the headphones are paired to. The headphones can connect to two devices simultaneously and you can switch between the two. I can be using my computer; my phone will ring, and I can answer the call on the headset. Pairing the device is quite straight forward. With the headset turned off, press and hold the power button for 5-7 seconds; the device should say “Pairing.” Look in the Bluetooth settings of the device you want to pair to the headset, find trekz titanium aftershokz and select it. It should pair and connect automatically.
The great part about these headphones is that they conduct the sound through your cheekbones, leaving your ears open to hear all ambient sound around you. This means that I can be listening to my book, and I can hear my husband talking, my daughter playing, and my dog getting into trouble. As an independent traveler with either a cane or a dog, I find this to be invaluable, as I can be outside and walking, while listening to GPS directions from my phone through the headset. I am still able to hear traffic both moving and stationary, people walking near me from all directions, and still hear the directions I need to get to my destination. I can sit on a bus or train, listen to my book or music and still hear the people, stop announcements and other noises nearby. I can take my dogs on a long walk, or travel to the park with my daughter, and still pay close attention to where my family is always while still receiving information about the world around me. This is so liberating and comforting for me, and it certainly cuts down on the level of anxiety I feel about traveling in new areas, or places where there is a lot of ambient noise. I feel better about my abilities to multi-task while remaining safer. Safety is of course my top priority. In areas where there is heavy traffic or if there is a more complicated street crossing, I will mute my directions or take the headset off entirely so that I am able to focus entirely on what my ears and my surroundings are telling me. I tell myself this isn’t necessary, but the cautious person that I am still demands it of me. As I write this blog entry, I am sitting at my desk, listening to the kids and teachers outside my office, with JAWS screen reading software playing through my Trekz Aftershoks. I feel more connected to the world around me while still being focused on the task at hand. It’s a nice feeling and I can’t recommend it enough.