Is This the Right Room for an Argument?

Once again I come to this blog with tales of woe about Passenger Assistance at Nottingham train station. You may have read past entries about people nnot turning up but now they are clearly trying a new tactic. This is, meeting passengers then starting an argument with them!

Saturday I travelled to Bristol Parkway so booked assistance. I know many blind people would just advise me not to bother with it but finding trains is easy enough but finding your seat is so much easier with sighted assistance, or at least it should be.

I was met at the barrier at Nottingham station and everything was going very well until we reached the platform where the conversation with the gentleman concerned went something like this:

Me: We need to find first class please as I have a first class ticket.

Him: There isn’t any first class on this train.

Me: That would be surprising as I was sold a first class ticket.

Him (after wandering away): No, there isn’t any first class.

Me: It’s usually at the very front or very back of the train and is a small compartment.

Him: It’s not on this train.

Me: Could you possibly ask the train manager please?

Him: Can I see your ticket? Ah there is no seat reservations so it doesn’t matter where you sit and this isn’t a first class ticket.

Me: There were no seat reservations but this is a first class ticket, I have paid for it so that I have more room with my guide dog so I would like to sit in there please.

He eventually went away again and strangely enough, located first class and all was well. Phew, what a carry on, but this paled into insignificance after my experience today when returning to Nottingham.

Today’s conversation went something like this. Different man today:

Him: Hello Mrs Griffiths, where would you like to go? (This was starting well).

Me: Please could you take me to the steps of the middle bridge where I’ll know where I am and I’ll be fine from there.

Him: I can take you to Station Street if you like.

Me: Thank you but that won’t be necessary as I know where I am once on the bridge and in fact I am going to catch a tram.

Him: You can’t get to the tram from the middle bridge.

Me: You can, If you turn right at the top of the steps, left at the end and up some more steps you come out at the tram level where you have to double back on yourself a little way to get to the actual tram stop.

Him: No you can’t go that way?

Me: Have the steps been closed off for some reason?

Him: No, there aren’t any.

Me: There are, I’ve been up them.

Him: You must be getting confused with another station.

Me: No I’m really not, could you just take me to the bridge?

Him: No, you have to go up the lift to the concourse. I know because I work here.

Me: Please just take me to the bridge.

Once at the steps I suggested he followed me to see where I meant but he didn’t. Maybe it was because I’d told him not to be so patronising to people in the future.

Maybe he was waiting for me to come back down with my tail between my legs and say “You were right, oh wise one, how could I have been so stupid and blind?”

Of course I did no such thing. I walked the route I’d described, went up some very real steps that did not take me to fairy land where all blind people can see and there’s no need for station assists! At the top was a very real tram which took me to my very real job in my very real life.

I can honestly say that I have never been spoken to in such a way by a member of station staff. I was even starting to doubt myself. Maybe there was another bridge that I hadn’t seen before? Of course there wasn’t.

I really don’t know what he was thinking but a complaint will be winging its way very shortly.

My point is that assistance should be just that. Not an opening to bully your customers into doing what you want them to just because you have some misguided notion of what’s best.

Someone with less confidence and more orientation issues than me could have been totally confused and undermined by that person today.

The guy on Saturday was really just an annoyance, probably because he just wanted to put me in the first available seat rather than allowing me to have a view on where I wanted and had a right to sit. The guy today, however, was dismissive, patronising, rude and lacking in knowledge. Clearly presuming that I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about because I can’t see.

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Accessibility is So Much More than Steps

OK, lets start this entry with a little guessing game for a bit of fun!

 

Where am I?

 

I’m walking very slowly around a large room. Other people are milling around and there is some classical music playing. I am listening to a friend reading various pieces of information dotted around the room. Unfortunately I don’t remember a lot of it as I’m struggling to concentrate. As I walk around I have many featureless glass cases in front of me. Sometimes there are open spaces with a rope at my waist height.

 

I do remember two things from the experience: Some spears on a wall whose handles and lower shafts I can feel and an immense porridge pot which stands about waist height and which is made from bell metal.

 

Well, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a pretty dull and unfulfilling experience for me but sadly it is not unusual. I was at Warwick Castle hoping to enjoy an informative day out. This was not to be as there was nothing to touch or experience directly and there was no audible information throughout the exhibition in the Great Hall.

 

I was more fortunate though than my friend who came with us who is a wheelchair user. There was no access for him to enter the Great Hall at all.

 

I might have enjoyed a visit onto the ramparts of the castle but on the Warwick Castle website it states that assistance dogs are not allowed in this area. A blind person without her guide dog is bound to fail on castle ramparts so that was out.

 

We then considered visiting the dungeons where, apparently, actors bring them to life. This sounded better! But having paid almost £70for four blind people, one of whom is a wheelchair user, and not been able to experience anything, we didn’t feel able to part with any more money.

 

I am a realist, I know that there will always be things that are inaccessible to me as a blind person, but Warwick Castle haven’t even tried. Some well put together audio information and a few things to touch would have made the day much more interesting and memorable.

 

When we arrived at the castle and went through the barrier, the sighted person in our group was given an accessibility guide on a piece of paper. However, it would be more accurate to call this an inaccessibility guide. All it seemed to tell us was where the toilets were and where it would not be possible to go with a wheelchair on account of the steps.

 

After the visit and on delving through the website some more, I learnt that there was a Braille guide available. However, at no time were we offered this, even though three of us had guide dogs with us so we weren’t exactly hiding our disabilities!

 

I am not an advocate for disabled people being allowed free entry to attractions. I earn money and believe that I should pay my way like everyone else. However, in this instance, I feel that Warwick Castle should not charge for disabled visitors as there is absolutely nothing there for us. I feel particularly strongly about this as, a few years ago, Warwick Castle were approached by RNI B as part of their Culture Link projects, to improve accessibility for blind and partially sighted people. They were not interested.

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eye Poking

A strange title for a blog post you might say, unless of course you are part of, or have knowledge of, the blind community.

Eye poking is an unfortunate habit that some blind children have which, if not corrected, can also continue into adulthood. Many people say that it provides stimulation to the eyes where there is none in blind children. It causes much distress to parents and family members and even sets the blind community apart, those who do not do it often site themselves as being better functioning or socially more acceptable than those who do.

I was born with Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and I used to be an eye poker. I’m not proud of it but I am also not as ashamed of it as I used to be.

I spent my childhood being constantly pulled up about it. I was at time shouted at because of it and was offered bribes if I stopped doing it or privileges were withdrawn because I did it.

I am an intelligent person and know that eye poking is unsightly, it is not good for the eyes and it is behaviour which draws attention to blind people for all the wrong reasons. However, even as an adult, I found myself doing it, often when I was concentrating particularly hard or if I was tired. I also regularly experienced extreme discomfort in my eyes which was only relieved when the eye was pressed on. This was something I just accepted to be the norm.

I have no evidence to prove this but it seems that eye poking is particularly prevalent amongst those of us with Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and I wonder, therefore, if the discomfort I experienced was due to the condition itself.

Due to further complications I have now had both my eyes removed. This was done over a period of just over a year and I noticed, when the first one was removed that I no longer attempted to poke that eye. Since the second was removed, I can categorically say that I never poke my eyes, even inadvertently when I’m concentrating.

The point I am making here is that, for years I was ashamed of the habit and ashamed of myself when I found that I was doing it. I was made to feel that it was a failing and that I was a lesser person because I did it.

Yes, it is something that you can learn not to do and all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but I firmly believe that the discomfort I experienced was a major factor as to why I could never wholly break the habit.

So, I would say to you if you have a child or family member who pokes their eyes, talk to them about why it is not a good habit to have. Guide them, don’t punish them. Warm or cold pads on tired eyes can be a suitable alternative if at home.

The chances are, they are not poking their eyes to be difficult or because they don’t care how they look. Please, be kind and don’t let them experience the shame I did.

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End of a Journey

The powers that be in the visual impairment sector seem to love to talk about “Sight Loss Journeys” so maybe I could have an “Eye Loss Journey”? Fine as far as it goes except that I actively chose to have them removed rather than just randomly losing them somewhere! Whatever the journey might or might not be, it came to an end today.

I finally had my matching pair of prosthetic eyes fitted and am thrilled to bits with them. I believe that I have better looking eyes than I have had for a long time and of course, the pain and discomfort have all gone.

When I was a small child I used to refer to going to see the eye specialist as going to have my eyes shined! This takes on a whole new meaning for me now as hopefully the only follow up I will need is a regular polish!

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Even After 28 Years

… I can still be amazed just how well a guide dog can work.

Almost a year ago I went with a mobility specialist from Guide Dogs to learn a route through Nottingham City Hospital to the department where I have to go to have my prosthetic eyes fitted.

For those who aren’t familiar with the hospital, it is one of those large campuses with lots of different buildings, car parks, little Roads, some with pavements and some without. We worked out a route and ran through it a couple of times then I assumed that I’d visit again fairly quickly so that I’d remember it.

For various reasons I didn’t visit that department again until today. I nearly had a taxi as I was a little unsure about the route and wondered how Hudson would cope with it. At the last minute I decided to walk.

All I can say is that Hudson was truly amazing. He remembered everything we’d gone through, even down to remembering where to cross on a busy road with no crossing. He was incredible. So confident and sure of himself, and gave me so much confidence.

I really don’t know how dogs retain this information but all I do know is that Hudson’s capability for remembering routes is outstanding. I really was in awe of that dog today.

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Happy 2018!

It’s a quiet sort of new year’s day so time for a little reflection.

For me, 2017 had some highs and some lows but it was a reasonably positive year. I started the year with a very poorly dog who managed to get some wood lodged in his digestive system! This resulted in emergency surgery on the 2nd of January. Thankfully he made a full recovery and has been an excellent guide dog since then.

I started the year with no job but by May i was working again, this time for Guide Dogs in Nottingham. I’m enjoying the work and the challenges it throws at me and work with some fabulous people and gorgeous dogs!

I had my left eye removed which might seem like a bad thing to most people, but for me it was a positive step. No more eye pain and, once I get the prosthetic eye in a week’s time, a better looking eye too.

My husband qualified with his first guide dog, Utah, in July which means we are now a two dog household! He is settling down well to his work and into our lives. It’s difficult to imagine that there was a time when he wasn’t with us.

The horrible side to 2017 was that a very good friend died on 1st December. He was kind, funny and above all, a true genteleman and willl be sadly missed. Two other friends also died, one in August and one in October I had lost touch with both of them for reasons which I won’t go into, something which I deeply regret. Whilst I don’t make new year’s resolutions, these circumstances have made me resolve to keep my friends closer to me in the future.

So, Whatever you’re doing, I hope 2018 is good to you and thanks for reading.

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Who exactly Was the Rude One?

Today I was sitting on a bus with my guide dog beside me. He was resting his head in my lap whilst I was gently stroking his head and reading a book. Very relaxing and very cute!

Suddenly I realised that a strange hand was also on my dog’s head, trying to move my hand out of the way! I said “Excuse me” and tried to remove the strange hand but got no reply. I then said it a little louder along with “What do you think you’re doing?” The owner of the hand, an older male, then said that he was just stroking the dog, not hurting him. I replied that I didn’t know what his intentions were as he hadn’t done me the courtesy of asking me first. He huffed and tutted and got off the bus.

I then had to listen to whisperings around me about how rude I’d been. Yes, I was maybe a little abrupt but surely he deserved it?

He decided that it was OK to invade my personal space and interfere with something that is mine without asking me first. Surely that is what is rude?

If he’d asked if he could stroke the dog I’d probably have said that he could. I’d have known then what his intentions were and I’d have felt a lot more comfortable.

But, as usual, I was left feeling like the bad guy because I’d spoken up for myself.

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