Recording memories for blind people

A blurred image of a busy street with red busses
A blurred image of a busy street with red busses

A few weeks ago, an email landed in our inbox from Conan. He was curious about how to best use the stereo microphones. As we wrote back and forth, it turns out Conan didn't want to record instruments - he wanted to record memories.

Conan is blind.

We always wanted to make Tape It accessible for blind people. After all, Ray Charles was blind. What we didn't realise was that, for blind people, recording audio goes way beyond musical ideas. It's so obvious in hindsight, of course. We learned a lot from Conan, and we'd like to share his story with you.

Conan was born five and a half months premature. The doctor said he wouldn’t live, but thankfully doctors are sometimes wrong, too.

“I’ve never been able to see, so audio is my world. Which is why Tape It is the world to me. While other people capture things with cameras, that means nothing to me.”

Conan treats Tape It as his own personal journal, using it to record daily experiences and capture memories. He first discovered it in the App Store when looking to record a concert.

“My favourite artist was performing and, with permission, I wanted to make a recording of the show. I thought, ‘There's no way I'm using Voice Memos to do that. I want a professional recorder’. And what comes up? You guys.”

“It was a lot better than I thought it would be, especially from a phone, and it's even better if you listen to it on headphones. When I play it back I'm like, ‘Wow, that's so clear’.”

He values the recording quality because it makes his memories much more vivid.

“One of the things I love about it is that it’s made to be a professional recorder, it’s made to record music. The new iPhones have really good built in mics and pick up quite well. It’s nice to be able to take advantage of that, especially not having to carry extra gear with me.”

“It’s easy enough to use that you don't have to spend hours setting things up. You just tap and go. Really what more could you ask for?”

How did he find the transition from Apple Voice Memos to Tape It?

“I did use Voice Memos before Tape It, but I didn't like the way it was set up. Voice Memos wasn't designed to be professional; it’s kind of basic, but Tape It is a lot more like back in the day.”

Conan speaks about Tape It with an air of nostalgia; the way he describes his use of the app carries the same fondness he held for his old analog recorders:

“What I found was that Tape It reminded me of my old Sony Walkman I used to have back in 1985. When they first came out they made some really good recorders but it went downhill after that. Tape It kind of fills that gap.”

“At five bucks a month - for less than the cost of a good quality blank tape - you've got a professional recorder.”

Conan has experimented with his fair share of audio recorders. We asked how he feels Tape It compares to present-day hardware devices.

“There are recorders out there like the Olympus DM-620. They’re supposed to be professional but they’re lacking something, whereas with Tape It I've got the device right there. The Olympus claims to be fully accessible, but it's not. There are a lot of things you can’t do without sighted help.”

It's something most of us don't even think about.

How many apps, software and equipment are out there which are totally unusable if you're blind? How many do we use on a daily basis that we'd no longer be able to use if we lost our sight?

How many have gone some way to be accessible, but haven't fully committed?

Conan puts it quite bluntly: ‘You can’t half-ass accessibility.’

This isn't to bad-mouth tech companies who have neglected accessibility. Tape It very much fell into this category. We hadn't paid enough attention - in fact, none at all - to how a blind person might use it.

When Conan first got in touch, Tape It was lacking in accessibility (to put it mildly). We were really surprised he managed to use it to begin with, and that he’d felt rather happy with it.

Honestly, in hindsight we think it was barely useable.

It only took a few days of work to fix these issues, and having Conan beta testing the accessibility for us was fantastic.

“You got back to me right away and said ‘let's make this work for you’, and you did.”

Tape It was created as a recording app for musicians and songwriters, but hearing the role it plays in Conan’s life made us aware of the possibilities it can be used for.

“I’m hoping my story will attract more users. The recording industry will never die, it evolves all the time. Who understands that more than someone who can't see? I hope I can be an inspiration to everybody.”