Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos

Don't mention Dot Matrix Signs to Andy Garrett

March 07, 2022
Don't mention Dot Matrix Signs to Andy Garrett
Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos
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Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos
Don't mention Dot Matrix Signs to Andy Garrett
Mar 07, 2022

Andy Garrett has a retinal partial sight condition [Macular Dystrophy] affecting his central field of vision. He worked as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police before moving to GSK.

Andy's role with GSK is as Global Programme Director of their Workplace Adjustments Service. The service supports employees in securing the adjustments and accessibility solutions they need at work and remotely.

Andy believes in the value that employee networks bring to building our disability confidence. He co-leads the GSK global Disability Confidence Network (DCN) and is an ambassador for Purple Space.  

Andy lives with his family near Ascot in Berkshire and loves watching rugby with his boys. It presents some interesting challenges for someone with a sight impairment, as you'll hear!

Andy's gadgets
IPad Pro
Samsung Galaxy phone
Magnifier app for Android
Portable Magnifier Example

Show Notes Transcript

Andy Garrett has a retinal partial sight condition [Macular Dystrophy] affecting his central field of vision. He worked as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police before moving to GSK.

Andy's role with GSK is as Global Programme Director of their Workplace Adjustments Service. The service supports employees in securing the adjustments and accessibility solutions they need at work and remotely.

Andy believes in the value that employee networks bring to building our disability confidence. He co-leads the GSK global Disability Confidence Network (DCN) and is an ambassador for Purple Space.  

Andy lives with his family near Ascot in Berkshire and loves watching rugby with his boys. It presents some interesting challenges for someone with a sight impairment, as you'll hear!

Andy's gadgets
IPad Pro
Samsung Galaxy phone
Magnifier app for Android
Portable Magnifier Example

Phil Friend  0:13  
Well, hello, once again, this is the Gear, Gadgets and Gizmos podcast with me, Phil Friend hosted by the RiDC. And today we're very fortunate to have a chap with us who I've known a very long time actually lost touch a bit. I don't know if that's COVID or what it is, but we've lost touch. His name is Andy Garrett, and Andy and I go back to the days when he was in the Metropolitan Police doing all sorts of interesting stuff there. And now we're gonna catch up with what he's doing now. So Andy, welcome. How are you? 

Andy Garrett  0:43  
Phil? Hi, thank you. And thank you for having me on the podcast, it's really good to connect again, just to really sort of share a bit about, you know, my lived experience and how that relates to, you know, helping people with disabilities to manage day to day 

Phil Friend  1:01  
Good stuff. So let's kick off first with what your disability is, what is it that gets in the way for you? I mean,  and how did that come about?

Andy Garrett  1:10  
Yeah, you mentioned I used to be in the police, I was an ordinary copper doing what coppers do. But I developed in my very early 30s, a retinal condition called macular dystrophy. So there's a genetic defect if you like, that affects the processing in my retina of the central field of vision, which in practical terms is it's a bit like being really very short-sighted. But glasses don't actually help me to see distance. So I read day today, I do use glasses day to day because I'm getting older. But I have the content, you know, a few inches from my face. And I can't go around with a pair of binoculars strapped to my face. I have a number of coping strategies that helped me day to day that we'll talk about

Phil Friend  2:01  
Okay, so binoculars aren't one of them. That's for sure. But you moved from the Met, didn't you? I think you now work for GSK. 

Andy Garrett  2:07  
That's right. Yes. So I ended up I stayed with the Met for a while I got involved with setting up disability networks in the police. And that's where I got to know the wonderful Kate Nash and Purple Space. And it was through that connection that I once I left the police in 2015. Hopefully in a better place than I left than I found it. I learned that there was that GSK were looking to bring in a managed service line helping their employees, making it easier to request workplace adjustments. So I'm now the global workplace adjustments service director. So yeah, I've been there for five years. So wonderful companies. 

Phil Friend  2:51  
Okay, does that come with a Lear jet? Is that part of the package, do as an international jet setter? 

Andy Garrett  2:59  
Working at home for the last, you know, since lockdown. So, again, the wonderful collaboration tools that we use now through Microsoft Teams and everything else, you know, working remotely, you know, engaging with stakeholders across the world. 

Phil Friend  3:14  
Where about to you based then homewise Andy? 

Andy Garrett  3:18  
Yeah, I mean, the headquarters site is in the UK in Brentford. But I've been working from home near Ascot, a place called Sunningdale. Yeah, so not too far from the office. But I've not been on a train interesting as train travel is, one of my challenges, you know, I just can't see those dreadful dot matrix signs, you know, so, navigation around where I need to go could be a challenge. 

Phil Friend  3:44  
But like, I guess, as you say, for so many of us, although this is Coronavirus, we wouldn't wish it on anybody, would we? But it's produced some interesting ways of getting around issues like travel, it's made a big difference to a lot of people, yourself included, but the physical contact, seeing folk, you know, being with people in meetings, that kind of thing. I guess you missed that to do you?

Andy Garrett  4:07  
Yeah, I do hope we'll get back to some of that personal contact. I mean, the collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and the technology that we use have been amazing, if you like an experiment in showing that actually. So many people in different roles have been enabled to work flexibly and remotely as well as coming into the office. But, you know, a lot of people managing health conditions and disabilities might have been looking for that and struggled to get that with their organizations. But now it's proved that it's viable in so many more settings. 

Phil Friend  4:38  
Yeah. Okay, so as you know, the purpose of our conversation really is to see what you're using the stuff you use in your everyday life to get around the difficulties that your sight impairments throw at you. So where do you want to start? What's the first thing then out of the hat? 

Andy Garrett  4:54  
It's interesting because in my work setting, you know, I feel like I've got my coping strategies. I work remotely, we use collaboration tools, I've got like ZoomText on my setup, I've got a massive screen on a monitor arm 27-inch monitor and I can zoom in and out of content and that works well but probably more on a day to day basis, my sight condition is probably affected me more in home and family life and moving around travelling. So you know, `I have an iPad, which is fantastic. I love to read the newspaper every day and to look at content on that which, you know, you can very easily triple-click to get reverse contrast, you can pinch-zoom in and out and use, you know, different colours and formats that work for you. So, for me, you know, my iPad is probably one of my favourite devices to help me to engage with content that I can't when I can't use my desktop on the ZoomText features, the iPads really good. 

Phil Friend  5:58  
Do you have an iPhone as well, Andy?  

Andy Garrett  6:01  
Interesting, I probably should have an iPhone because they're compatible, but I've got actually a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, which you know, one of my favourite features on that is an app it's the flashlight and magnifier app, which you know, it's so useful day today, for example, I like to cook you know, and reading recipes, ingredients, you know, they're all in, you know, not necessarily accessible, sometimes in tiny font. So of course, I can whip out my device, my Samsung, well, or iPad, and again, I can zoom in on that content to make it easier to read or I can change if it's in a poor colour contrast settings, you know, you can adjust it to make it much easier to read. So I find that really helpful on a day to day basis. 

Phil Friend  6:19  
So the reason I asked about the phone was because obviously an iPad. Brilliant. I've got one too, and they're brilliant gadgets, but they're a bit bulky. 

Andy Garrett  7:05  
So I've got a 12-inch big one. So yeah, it's a big beast so the phone is a good backup. 

Phil Friend  7:12  
But do you alternate them for portability, I suppose is what I'm asking about. 

Andy Garrett  7:18  
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, you know, the phone is a pocket device. And I've managed to set it up with, you know, reverse contrast settings, you know, with larger, you know, apps and fonts that are more readable to me. And of course, with that magnifier, actually the flashlight as well, you know, I can even use that when I'm travelling. One of the things I struggle with, again, distance vision, if I haven't got a pair of binoculars with me is reading street signs and those dreadful dot matrix signs on the train stations, I don't drive up, you might be pleased to know.

Phil Friend  7:58  
A lot of people breathe a sigh of relief. 

Andy Garrett  8:04  
Exactly. I can use that device to zoom in on it to make it more readable. Because you don't always want to ask someone where you going. They don't always give you the right advice either

Phil Friend  8:20  
You end up in Timbuktu and you didn't mean to be there. 

Andy Garrett  8:24  
 They look at you strangely sometimes because you look 'alright' 

Phil Friend  8:27  
I know you to be a very independent man. So it's kind of you know, asking people to show you where to go doesn't exactly shout independence, does it? So sometimes, obviously, we all need help. And that's a given. This dot matrix thing you've mentioned it several times what is it about dot matrix that really mucks it up for you then?

Andy Garrett  8:50  
Well on the UK public transport system, you know, they use often the yellow dot matrix on a black background when it's really bright outside it's just impossible to read. Yeah, so I struggle largely with contrast as much as anything else. If it's at nighttime, and I'm standing a few feet away probably less than six feet away I can then read it but in the bright sunshine, it's impossible right?

Phil Friend  9:21  
That makes perfect sense? Yeah, no, I wondered if there was something specific about dot matrix and your eye condition but it wasn't that it's more about the contrast of light isn't it? 

Andy Garrett  9:35  
Absolutely yeah, I'm quite light-sensitive. So actually I prefer it when it's dark if there's more contrast I'm not a night owl. But yeah, exactly during the day, it again the same with street signs. I have to be really close to something and that happens the same when I'm at work, and people often use flip charts or projected screen content and unless I'm within a couple of feet of it, then, you know, it's no good.

Phil Friend  10:04  
So so the first gadget really, universally is the iPad or the Samsung phone that you use, you're using those two devices because they offer as part of their own package. screen magnification, obviously flashlights like that. You mentioned in passing apps, are there any particular apps then? Is this the second thing? Is there an app that you use that you couldn't do without? 

Andy Garrett  10:32  
Well, probably the magnifier to be honest because it's, again, it's something that I could use to look at any content, to change the contrast and to improve it. And to tell you the name of it actually remember it. It's just, it's one of those things that I use every day. And in this one I'm used is by AP studios, I'm sure there are plenty of other similar ones.

Phil Friend  10:59  
 I know that the Apple iPhone comes with its own, doesn't it and they I suppose to be fair to them. Apple has always had as long as I've known them anyway, accessibility as part of their services, not an add on it's built-in. 

Andy Garrett  11:15  
And that's one of the reasons why I like my iPad so much. I mean, I read the newspaper every day. And it's just fantastic. because I can't read printed media, it's getting the contrast, and the font size is just too small. But you can download it to your iPad, you can zoom in or any content, and you can trip set it to triple-click to reverse contrast. And so many other settings I do. I'm not a salesman for Apple, but for me, I find it's my favourite device for reading content. 

Phil Friend  11:50  
So what about generally getting around then apart from the magnification of signage and stuff? Are there any apps you use, like travel apps where you can I mean, we all use, we all use Google Maps or Apple Maps

Andy Garrett  12:05  
Yeah, you know, apart from Mrs Garrett cabs, which she's marvellous at getting me around. Mrs Garrett. Yeah. She's my wonderful Uber driver. 

Phil Friend  12:17  
Is she free? 

Andy Garrett  12:18  
Yeah. I have to pay for the car. already. But yeah, Google Maps is amazing, because you can set it to read out to you. You know, My condition is such that I can actually still cycle, I can still see people and cars and dogs, but I can't see enough distance-wise to read the number plate at the right distance. So I'm still reasonably safe to cycle. So again, I can set that with my headphones. You know, if I'm not sure where I'm going, although I tend to only cycle locally where I'm familiar. Again, Google Maps is great, because it speaks to you. 

Phil Friend  13:00  
I understand, I don't know how this would work for someone with major sight impairment, but they've got a new system, I think on Google Maps where if you point your phone at a building, it will identify that building, and then tell you which way you're turning left, right, or whatever. 

Andy Garrett  13:19  
Yeah, I haven't tried that. And that does sound really interesting. Because that's something I I do struggle with, I'm using Google Maps to maybe I'm going to a meeting, you know, maybe a Purple Space meeting when we used to do those kinds of things. Yeah, that that's, that can be a challenge, finding my way around in London knowing whether I'm travelling north, south, east or west. So and, you know, meeting in person I'll be interested in that

Phil Friend  13:43  
My sight isn't an issue. But I find it difficult to quite know which way to turn when I've got my phone map in front of me. Because although it gives you that little icon showing you it doesn't necessarily make it clear which way you're facing. 

Andy Garrett  13:58  
You're right, it says travel north on whichever road and you think well, that'd be good. If I knew which way north was you know. You end up walking 100 yards the wrong way before it tells you to turn around. So I do like the idea of what you're describing there? 

Phil Friend  14:13  
Well, I think it's definitely it's something that's either out or coming on Google Maps, and I'm sure Apple Maps wouldn't be long behind them to do something similar. Is there anything else then Andy that you use that our listeners might find interesting? Or do you use something for a purpose? That isn't what it was designed for? I mean, is that one of the things you've done or not? 

Andy Garrett  14:37  
In the non-technical space? I mean, one of the things that I use, funnily enough around the kitchen more than anything else, Moorfields gave me just a little small Pocket Magnifier that I can put on to a jar or a packet or whatever. To make it easier to read whatever it is I'm trying to look at around the kitchen or if even to the point of you know, getting my device might not be to hand. Yeah, you know when that when the post comes through if I want to read what I've been sent because people don't always send their stuff in the right format, you know, it's often quite a small font. But of course, if that doesn't work, then I revert to my technology. And of course, the iPad comes to play just very rarely leaves my side. 

Phil Friend  15:25  
But the magnifier that Moorfields provided you presuming, just keep in your pocket? I mean, you just carry it around? 

Andy Garrett  15:31  
Yeah, it's a little tiny, you know, probably, you know, twice as big as a two-pound coin, but it's really useful. 

Phil Friend  15:38  
And what magnification does it give? Do you know,?

Andy Garrett  15:42  
Do you know, I couldn't tell you, but it's enough for me to when I put it right up to my a bit like you do with antique dealers, when they're looking you know, the detail of something, it gives me enough just to be able to see. And if I can't, then I'll go to my magnification app on my phone, and I can make it so much bigger. 

Phil Friend  16:03  
Now, you mentioned sort of, in a sense that as a non-tech, although it is tech, isn't it, but it's not the sort of tech we've got used to talking about, it doesn't need batteries doesn't need voltage, or whatever. Are there other things that you use around the home, or when you go out that you would describe as not technical but useful? 

Andy Garrett  16:26  
Not really, I mean, I, I suppose I could say I'm, I always count my blessings, I'm fortunate in that I can see like most people, but my peripheral vision is actually quite good, It's my central field that just doesn't cope with distance vision. Like, as I described, it is like being really short-sighted where most people would put on a pair of spectacles.  You know, I used to love watching my boys play rugby. And the only way I could enjoy that and still see who they were and where they were was literally to have a pair of binoculars strapped to my face. And to follow them around the field if I went to see an England match with them recently. And I have the ref link to tell me what's happening.  And I use my binoculars to try and get a, you know, a view of what's happening around the pitch. You do miss some things, but you go for the atmosphere, don't you? 

Phil Friend  17:21  
So what we need then, is we need a pair of glasses that are actually binoculars but look like glasses. 

Andy Garrett  17:29  
Yeah, there's a couple of devices, so our good friends at Microlink, I was talking to Nasser Siabi about it. And there's a device that they're going to be testing, which is a headset, a bit like a virtual reality headset, that that effectively helps to zoom in, it looks like a pair of glasses at the front, but it's got a battery pack and all sorts of functional features. So it's just a bit less clunky than clutching a pair of binoculars to your eyes when you've got a very limited field of vision. So I'm looking forward to those coming out. To be able to bring the images from far away much closer, which is one of the reasons you don't drive because you can't read the number plates, you can't read the street signs. So the DVLA has a bit of a problem if you can read at distance, 

Phil Friend  18:16  
But it's also discrete, isn't it? 

Andy Garrett  18:19  
It's interesting how people react as well. Because in the data privacy age, we're in, of course, you know, an adult filming kids, playing football or rugby. You know you got to go through all these consents and explain what you're doing. There are all sorts of rules around that. Of course, as it becomes more discreet, people are less likely to know that you're using a device for magnification filming or whatever. 

Phil Friend  18:47  
Yes. And that would be a Yeah, that would be a worry. Definitely. Yeah.

Andy Garrett  18:52  
 It was like when I was watching rugby with, you know, seeing the boys as they're growing up, people would look at you strangely, when you're watching the entire game with a pair of binoculars strapped to your face, just want to see where my son is and what he's up to. And if he's involved in the action, 

Phil Friend  19:07  
Perhaps we should turn up the only way to do and is to turn up in full military kit look like you're a Field Marshal or something reviewing the troops. 

Andy Garrett  19:16  
But it just goes to show you that, you know, the devices are out there, you know, available to everyone. They're not cheap. Let's be clear. You know, some of these devices can be quite expensive. But if you are able to get hold of them, it's amazing what is able to help you as a coping strategy to manage day to day, whether it's reading a recipe or a jar or something you know, around the house or finding a street sign or a building or watching your family play sport. It's so amazing how technologies come to the rescue. 

Phil Friend  19:54  
And it's come a long way and you're talking about gadgets that did not exist. I mean, the iPhones have only been around about 14,13/14 years, it's not that old. You know, the difference it's made to people, particularly those with sight impairments actually is quite remarkable. 

Andy Garrett  20:11  
So yeah, the phone introduced it, but the game-changer for me, honestly, is my iPad. It helps me to read the paper I can watch, I can watch the TV on it. If the TV's too far away, wherever you're at, you know, take photos and zoom in on them and reverse the contrast. It's, it's incredible the way that helps you day today? 

Phil Friend  20:34  
Well, I think what you're reminding the listeners is that if they have an iPad, and they haven't really played around with it, to look at what the accessibility settings are, they ought to, because that may be intuitive. 

Andy Garrett  20:46  
They seemed to have designed those features in and make them easy to find, and easy to adjust to your own personal settings because, you know, Vision conditions are so wide and varied in how they affect people, whether that be peripheral vision, central vision, tunnel vision, all sorts of different implications for people. And of course, the devices increasingly recognize, again, as we have an ageing population, people sight perhaps isn't quite as good as it might have been. And again, the technology helps with accessibility. 

Phil Friend  21:26  
Okay, well, Andy, what can I say other than it's, we mustn't leave it so long next time before we chat again. I know how busy you are, you have a big job. So taking time out to chat to me about the things you use to manage every day has been really helpful. I hope our listeners enjoy it. But then I'd like to thank you very much Andy it's been a pleasure. Take good care. 

Andy Garrett  21:51  
our welcome. See you again. Thank you so much for having me on. 

Phil Friend  21:54  
If you have a story to tell about the technology you use to overcome the barriers that your disability throws in your way, then please drop us a line at or Thanks very much

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