13 March 2019

Miha is 22 years old and comes from Novo mesto, Slovenia. When he was 5 years old, he lost his vision on his left eye, while at the age of 12 he lost his vision on his right eye. However, sudden blindness at such a young age did not throw him out of a track, as he successfully completed his education and is a highly motivated and positive guy. He remains active on many projects. At the moment, he is working at Feelif as part of a job rehabilitation program, which makes it a great opportunity for us to conduct an exclusive interview with Miha about his life.

You had a quite difficult childhood. What were some of the obstacles you had to face?

I must say that it was not so much about having a difficult childhood but having an extremely interesting one. At the age of 5, I lost sight on my left eye due to the cataract and retinal detachment. Until the age of 12, I could move quite independently since I was left with some vision on my right eye. However, at that point I already had problems reading, so I was studying from the very beginning with a method for the blind and learned the braille already in the first grade. I went to the primary school for the blind in Ljubljana - Iris Center and then went to Electrical Engineering and Technical Gymnasium, direction Computer Technician in Novo mesto.

What were your main accessibility tools during schooling?

In primary school, I used a braille typewriter, and we also had braille books (textbooks and other literature). Later, I started using my computer, and I also learned blind typing, which for me nowadays is essential. In addition to my computer, I also use the braille display, which is a gadget that converts the text on the screen into braille and displays it on a special device.

Did you have any problems considering you went to a high school for sighted people?

Mainly there were problems with reading school materials since they could not be fully obtained in electronic form. I received some help from the professors, a few things I had to scan myself so I could follow the lectures. In the school, I had a few problems with the orientation, since the school was large and there were many people, therefore I have decided for a guide dog Dante, who became my good friend.

How does a guide dog help you?

It is primarily intended to help me be independent. Even when I did not have a dog, I was quite independent when I visited different places, but with Dante, I feel even more confident walking through different places alone. He can take me across the pedestrian crossing, point the edge of the pavement or stairs, take me to the bus, get out of peoples way while walking on a sidewalk and much more. I have him with me most of the time, so we are never apart.

When did you get Dante?

On the 11th of March Dante was 5 years old; however, I got him 4 years ago.

You have now finished high school. What are your plans for the future?

There is a lot going on in my life lately. At the moment, my goal is to complete employment rehabilitation, which enables me to get an employment in a company or to open my own company, for which I would receive some governmental help in a form of subsidies. For a year now I have been thinking about opening my own online store and the wish is growing stronger every day. This idea is becoming more and more a reality now that I have I applied for a Holman Award in America, where you can get some financial support for your idea. However, I have decided, the online store will come to life if I am successful in the Holman competition or not.

I am also an active member of the blind and visually impaired community (we hang out together, go on a trip and so on). However, it is true that I spend most of my time with sighted people.

What is your opinion regarding accessibility (digital content, etc.)?

Technology has made great progress in recent years. This is visible in computers and telephones. If I look at webpages, they are fairly accessible for the blind, but the biggest problems are still content with pictures and websites that have too many "graphic designs". Mobile applications are mostly accessible to the blind and visually impaired, but of course, many things could be improved.  Still many applications have buttons, which are not detected or read by Talkback or Voiceover. Therefore you are left to risk pressing the button and not knowing what will happen.

In which direction do you think the technology will go?

It seems to me that big emphasis will be on automatization. Not just in the area of computing, but in the area of the automobile industry, smart homes, and other technologies. But I also think it is important this technology does not cause us too much harm. I must admit it is almost impossible to go about your daily life without a smartphone, however, I do try to use it for useful things such as navigation, email, editing Facebook pages, etc. Of course, I sometimes watch some videos or turn on music to kill some time. My wish for the future is to have a phone, which will navigate us from point A to point B in a way that warns us of the obstacles that are on the sidewalks and will safely guide us to our destination. With today's technology, it is still not possible to use an application or feature like this.

What do you think represents the biggest problem for blind people today in general?

In my opinion, a major problem is still an orientation in the environment. Many parts of the sidewalks are not properly adjusted for the blind and visually impaired, such as placing advertisement boards in the middle of the pavement, poles or parked cars. Many people also find it difficult to access public transport, which prevents them from moving around independently. These things can largely be solved with a guide dog, but because of the great responsibility it brings, a lot of people do not decide for it.

Do you have any final thought for the readers?

I made up my own saying, which goes like this: »Enjoy each day as if it were your last!« This means that every day we have to stay positive and in good spirits because you cannot be sure what tomorrow will bring.

Every person has goals in their lives. And my advice is; make them happen, even if life throws many obstacles your way. You can only believe in yourself. 

In order to win the Holman prize, Miha needs to receive as many likes on his Youtube video as possible. With every one of your likes on his Youtube channel, he is closer to his goal, which will help him realize his business idea.

We already liked his video, what about you? :)