Lockdown Routine

It’s funny how lockdown seems to be feeling more like the norm now. At the start, I was very emotional at times about it but now I have more of a feeling of acceptance. Life has taken on a definite routine.

Monday and Thursday, early morning, free runs for the dogs in the local park. A six to eight kilometre walk every day. Virtual quiz with our friends from Tenerife on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. Chat with book group friends every Friday at 7:30 followed by the virtual pub on Zoom. Virtual pub again on Saturday, including quiz! We’re trying to go to bed and awake up at our usual times.

How life has changed in a matter of a few weeks.

Apart from all this, I desperately need a hair cut! Not enough though to take the scissors to it myself!

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Shopping

Anyone who has spoken to blind or partially sighted people in the last few weeks will know that the main topic amongst us is shopping. It always presents a few issues but nothing like those experience by many of us during this pandemic.

Up until now we have been pretty well sorted out for essential food shopping with being able to book Morrisons order slots with no difficulty, using their accessible booking page. As soon as the pandemic started, Morrisons withdrew their app which was a huge blow as it is so accessible and easy to use with a screen reader. However, we accepted this and learnt to use the less accessible website, in recognition that things are changing at a huge rate and unforeseen circumstances are becoming the norm at the moment. On Monday last week, the accessible slot booking page on the Morrisons site stopped working. Despite talking to Morrisons staff on several occasions they kept saying that there was nothing wrong with the site, the slots just weren’t available. The customer services staff clearly didn’t understand the issue, why would they? Access for blind and partially sighted people isn’t exactly an every day problem. However, they would not put us in touch with their web team and the problem was not dealt with.

So, on Friday I tweeted that we would no longer be shopping with Morrisons and would be cancelling our delivery pass, at which point I received a reply almost straight away offering help. I don’t think so! If you don’t understand a customer’s problem, you don’t just fob them off, you investigate or pass to those who do understand.

In the meantime, I spoke to Sainsbury’s who agreed to put us onto their priority list to give us a better chance of booking slots with them. The lady I spoke to was delightful, professional and helpful. She fully understood the issues we have when trying to social distance at a supermarket. So many people just don’t realise the problems this can cause. We can’t see the markings on the floors, or where other people are. My husband missed a queue the other day at Aldi and got tutted at for appearing to queue jump. Worst still, a friend in London was told to leave Asda by a manager because he is blind. The manager threatened to call the police and also told our friend to call 111 to get an NHS volunteer which was totally irresponsible. The friend in question is someone not to be messed with and he stuck it out for two hours before a member of staff was found to go and collect his shopping.

I spent Thursday evening composing a long Email to Tom Randall, our MP, explaining the unique issues blind and partially sighted people face with shopping.

I hope that, after the lockdown period is over, people will remember the companies who have treated them well and those who have not and adjust their shopping habits accordingly.

Last week, big thanks go to Steph at the Coffee Hide-out for delivering cake, , Craig at the Bake House in Sherwood for delivering beer, and our postman who told us to just leave a note outside for him if we needed anything. Also, Aldi in Arnold for their continuing support.

Life is taking on a big change for me this week as I am now on furlough leave until the 5th May. I shall miss being part of something and feeling that I have a purpose.

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Lockdown: Highs and Lows

It’s been a strange few days since I last wrote here. I’ve experienced some real lows but a few highs as well.

The lows: Thursday was a particularly bad day for me, I have no reason why. I was very conscious that my family are so far away and so are my husband’s family. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, no knowing when we’ll get back to work to see our colleagues, or go shopping, out for coffee or any of those things.

This is not an invitation to my pity party, these are things that most of us have thought about at some time or another over the last couple of weeks. Many people have far worse things to contend with. Having said that, it is OK for us to have these down times and express them. We should be kind to ourselves and each other and accept that we are all going through a real change in our everyday lives.

The other low for me has come today. Apparently thousands of people flocked to a London park yesterday and were also seen meeting their friends on Brighton sea front. We have now been warned that, because people won’t observe lockdown rules, we may lose our exercise time out of the house. Being out with my guide dog each day is the one thing that’s keeping me sane, giving me purpose and preventing me from just staying in bed. So thanks all of you. I hope your sun burn really hurts .

The highs: As always, I am so tremendously grateful that I have my husband and the dogs to keep me company and keep me smiling.

We went to Aldi again today and received exceptional help from the lovely staff there. The postman yesterday said that if we needed anything, just put a note outside the dorr. This was so kind and thoughtful.

The last high? I have plenty of chocolate!

This week I find out whether I will be on Furlough leave. I’d never even heard of this word until a week ago when I had to google it!

Stay safe out there.

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What I Did at the Weekend

Remember writing these as a child? I certainly do. I’m writing one now as our weekends are changing tremendously right now.

This weekend, I went to my book group on Friday, a very busy pub on Saturday and a pub quiz on Sunday. No, I haven’t been disregarding the government’s guidelines on lock-down and social distancing, these were all virtual events.

What is so good is that we have a few accessible choices for the platforms we use. I can’t imagine what lock-down would have been like if it had taken place 20 years ago.

The book group, because it was a small group of us who all have Apple devices, was held on Facetime. The pub was in Zoom and the quiz was Facebook Live.

Although it’s not the same as going out, it still gives us the feeling of connection, and we even spoke to some people we’ve never met before.

Fortunately, we are still allowed to go out each day to exercise so we did an 8k walk on Saturday to keep them occupied. On Sunday we went to Aldi for a few things we needed.

I’ve read some disturbing articles today about disabled people being turned away from supermarkets because assisting them would go against social distancing rules. However, this was far from the case with us at Aldi. We were approached by a security person when we got there who was monitoring the number of people going in and my husband was taken in and found someone to assist. He followed the person round with his guide dog, keeping a distance behind him and managed to get everything we needed. I waited outside to help carry the bags. Everyone at Aldi has treated us so well, it’s quite humbling.

A suggestion for those who feel they couldn’t go round a shop without being physically guided, why not take a printed list with you and ask an assistant to select the shopping for you? Surely that would be a reasonable option to keep everyone safe?

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Carmel Gardens, Arnold, showing our appreciation for the NHS and other frontline staff

This is an audio clip, I was proud to be there.

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Anti-social Me

Just a short observation today. I’m really not a very sociable animal when it comes to strangers. I’m not very good at striking up random conversations and I hate it when people I don’t know grab hold of me or invade my personal space, which includes invading my dog’s personal space. They’ve matched us well this time as Elsa doesn’t always react well to the attentions of strangers either.

Today I went out for my one outing for exercise. I did a 5k walk and really rather enjoyed it! Apart from it being a lovely warm spring day, there was hardly any traffic on the roads which made them easy to cross, but the best thing was, there was hardly anyone out there! No one to distract my dog or to walk into me. Those people who did pass me left me plenty of space, a bit like when I first had a guide dog in the 80s when people allowed you space to work without distracting you.

I know this probably seems frivolous and trivial but it feels good to point out the silver lining occasionally.

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Blue Monday

Today started very early in this house for several reasons. Firstly, we wanted to take the dogs for a run in the park while there were very few people around, so we were there at 7 am. It was a lovely morning, bright sunlight, lots of birdsong but very cold. We were afraid that the parks could be closed today so wanted to get the dogs a last free run. Fortunately this has not happened.

We returned home in time for our Morrison’s delivery at 8 am and fortunately, most things were available.

Shopping deliveries are going to become a problem in the weeks to come. We have two more booked with Morrison’s but after that, no one has any free delivery slots for the foreseeable future. We’ve tried Morrison’s, Tesco, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and even Waitrose. Sainsbury’s is close and they are setting aside hour long slots for elderly and disabled people, but I can’t imagine getting assistance will be very easy.

This is starting to sound a bit negative isn’t it, but that’s how I feel today. I guess it’s the first day of the first full week of real change.

Tonight Boris Johnson has imposed more restrictions. We must only leave home to shop for essentials such as food and medicines, for exercise once a day but only with members of our household, or to go to work if there is absolutely no alternative. It all makes sense but the selfish part of me is just relieved that I can still go out and walk with Elsa.

So that’s it for Monday. I have a lot to be grateful for compared with some people. I need to just get in a better head space tomorrow.

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Time to Resurrect My Blog

It’s been a while! In fact, almost a year. A few people asked me why I stopped writing here and I think the answer is just that I stopped making time for it.

However, recent events have made me want to start writing again. I think we’ll all look back on March 2020 and remember what we were doing. This is an optimistic viewpoint as I know that we won’t all make it through this COVID-19 pandemic, but I fully intend to try.

COVID-19 has been in the news for a few weeks now, starting in China, then moving into Europe. Spain went into lock-down last weekend, something we were very aware of as we have good friends in Tenerife who are effected. Last weekend, the 14th of March, saw announcements here that we would shortly be facing restrictions in the UK. The government announced that they would meet every day from 16th March and publish updates. On the first day it was suggested that everyone who could work from home should.

I’m not going to write a history here of what has happened this week on a national basis, as others will do this far more justice than me. This is going to be my account and my thoughts and feelings.

I went into work on Tuesday as usual and the atmosphere was charged to say the least. We were all waiting for senior managers to finish their meetings and make their announcements as how Guide Dogs would go forward. At the end of Tuesday, we were advised that we would be at work the following day as normal, but to take all personal belongings we might want in case the office was forced to close.

So, back I went on Wednesday, trying to avoid the masses coughing and sneezing on the bus, and as soon as I got there, I was asked why I’d gone in. I said I’d gone in as expected, but was told I shouldn’t have, on account of travelling on public transport.

So, at lunchtime, I was taken home by a colleague to work from there. I felt so sad. It really did feel strange saying goodbye to everyone at work, not knowing when I would see them again.

The latest situation is that public places such as pubs, cafes and restaurants, as well as gyms and spas, are no longer open. If we go out we are advised to stay at least two metres away from other people. What’s even more worrying for us personally is that they are talking about closing local parks which means that we will no longer be able to run our guide dogs.

My days have taken on a very different routine. A walk in the morning or a shopping trip, work from home during the day, followed by a walk in the evening. This I can cope with, but if they stop us walking out, it will be very difficult for me. I know it’s for the best but I, personally, will find it challenging.

Some good things?

We went to Aldi on Friday morning and were immediately picked up by the staff as we crossed the car park and whisked through quickly to do our shopping before everyone else. I’d have loved to have seen the dirty looks we must have got as I’m sure there were many!

Yesterday was my birthday and we spent an hour or so in the evening on a group chat on Facetime! A virtual birthday party. How times are changing.

There’s so much to write about which I will do in the coming days.

Stay safe out there everyone. I’ve read a few books that started like this and they didn’t end well. I’m trying not to think about them right now.

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Live Audio Description – a Victim of Legacy Hardware?

I should start by saying that I love audio description, I am reluctant to watch TV without it. It truly enhances my viewing experience and I can only hope that audio description continues to grow on TV.

 

However, the same can’t be said for live audio description. This is nothing to do with the tremendous work the describers put in. I have only admiration for the work they do. No, it is all down to the hardware used which was probably revolutionary 15 or 20 years ago but which has never really been updated.

 

The last time I visited a theatre and used the audio description facilities, I won’t mention its name as it could have been one of many, the experience was less than satisfactory. Despite the fact that we had pre-booked and said we would be wanting the headsets, they weren’t available on our arrival and we nearly missed the start of the play while people ran around looking for them. When we got them, the style was horrendous. They were like a pair of stethascope earphones, in that they hung in  the ears and came to a point under the chin. At the point there was a bulky volume control and receiver. These earphones had silicone tips which felt a little greasy. After only a few minutes of wearing them my ears started to become painful. Every time I moved my head I got pains in my ears so had to sit very still. The reception was a little fuzzy, presumably because I was not in direct line of sight with the transmitter. I believe this is done by infra red signal.

 

The describer was fantastic but after a while, the discomfort I was experiencing was becoming a distraction. At the interval I took off the headset and one of the tips fell off, never to be found. I therefore returned my headset as it was no longer wearable and watched the second half of the play without it.

 

As I said previously, this is in no way a criticism of the theatre staff whose enthusiasm was amazing. They were very disappointed when I returned the headset for which I felt bad, but I could physically no longer wear it.

 

I have only ever been to three other audio described performances, one at the cinema and two at other theatres.

 

The cinema one was dreadful. I had a large pair of headphones so could no longer hear the film properly. There was so much static interference that after 10 minutes it was no longer possible to hear the description either.

 

The other two theatre performances also involved huge headphones, blocking out the sound from the stage and making me feel very isolated. One also had a spell of about 20 minutes where there was no speaking at all by the describer.

 

I personally believe that the infrastructure for audio description should really be updated. I would like to see it transmitted over wi-fi to a receiver held by the user, or even to the user’s mobile phone. I would like the freedom to use my own earphones as they are very personal to each individual.

 

I’m sure this could be done and believe that audio description can only grow if the hardware is fit for the 21st century.

 

Maybe there is someone technical out there who could make my dream a reality?

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queuing

Queuing is something extremely difficult to do if you can’t see. There seems to be a whole culture around queuing and its etiquette and so often I, as a blind person and guide dog owner, get this wrong. I cause offence, I cause people to tut or moan at me but I very rarely get any meaningful help with it.

 

I was once told, in no uncertain terms, that just because I’m blind, it doesn’t mean that I can go to the front of the queue. This was at a bus stop where I had done just that. I don’t do it out of a sense of entitlement but simply because it is really the only option for me.

 

I catch a bus at a stop which is part of a long line of stops and for this reason, I need my guide dog to identify the stop I need which he does very well. However, he targets the bus stop post itself, rather than the queue. It’s impossible to train guide dogs to find the end of a queue which could be anywhere, it could be moving, and it could also be near to the next stop in the line if it is very long.

 

Another reason for going to the bus stop itself is so that the bus driver is aware that I want to catch the bus he or she is driving. If I’m further back in the queue, or worse still, not in the queue at all as I haven’t found it properly, the driver will probably be totally unaware of me.

 

Lastly, I do it so that when the bus pulls in empty, I can get on quickly, find a seat and quickly tuck my dog in out of everyone’s way.

 

I’ve tried asking people where the back of the queue is and invariably when I ask the question, I am met with silence. I used to worry greatly when I jumped the queues, but now, maybe because I’m older and care less what others think, I just do it. Sometimes kind people tell me to go on first, for which I am very appreciative.

 

Last night we had a different scenario. I was with my husband and his guide dog at the royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. At the end of the show, although we had asked for assistance to find the way out, none was forthcoming, so we decided to try to find our own way out. There was a bigger than usual backlog of people waiting to get out, probably because they were handing out badges to the audience. We waited for a while but suddenly, my husband’s dog saw a way through and went for it so we started walking. What we didn’t realise is that we were actually passing people who started to make comments “Why are those dogs doing that?” Doing what? Seeing a way through and going for it? No, it was probably breaking queue etiquette. However, at no time did anyone say, “excuse me, you’re jumping the queue”, or “Would you like some help with the queue?” No, they just moaned about what our dogs were doing which is doing what they are trained to do. We got out with no difficulty, not once walking into anyone or brushing past them, but just offending them so that they bristled with silent indignation.

 

You know what? I don’t care in the cold light of day. Last night I did, I felt very small and worried that I had pissed people off, but today I think to hell with it. No one was going to help us leave the concert hall, so our dogs did what they are trained to do and we got out safely.

 

I didn’t get my badge though, Karma I guess!

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The Small Gestures that Make a Difference

Every evening I travel home from work by bus and tram, starting my journey at Phoenix Park which is the tram terminus. Often when I arrive there are two trams waiting at the stop. Without any help this can sometimes mean me taking a wild guess and getting on the tram, only to find that the other goes out first.

However, recently on arriving at the stop, the doors on one tram will open so I take that one. I wondered if it was a coincidence but it would seem not. I think that what is happening is that the driver of the first tram to leave is opening the doors, thus indicating to me that they will be going first.

A small but thoughtful gesture for which I thank the NET tram drivers.

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In Praise of Staff at Birmingham New Street Station

It’s all too easy to write and complain when things are going wrong so it’s good to have something really positive to write about.

 

On Sunday evening the whole of the Birmingham area was hit by flash flooding and lightning. At the time, my husband and I, plus our two guide dogs, were travelling back to Nottingham via Birmingham New Street station. About ten minutes before we were due to arrive at the station our train stopped in the midst of a huge thunder storm. The rain was so sudden and torrential that the track in front of our train flooded to the point where the water was over the rail heads and it was unsafe for our train to continue. There was no alternative than to sit it out. During that time we had regular updates from the train manager who did an excellent job. He also called ahead to Birmingham New Street as we had pre-booked assistance. In short, we were just over two hours late arriving at the station and we had been warned to expect over crowding as very few trains were moving.

 

For this reason, we fully expected that we would encounter problems with assistance. However, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The gentleman who had originally been assigned to meet us from our train was there waiting for us and actually seemed pleased that he’d still been able to meet us. He then took us to the customer reception office where we were asked to wait. However, when my husband asked him if Starbuck’s was still open, he said it was and went there with my husband to get us drinks.

 

The system of having people wait for assistance at customer reception is one which works well. Although we had a very long wait, we wer not at all stressed as we knew that staff were there to help us and we knew that we would not be forgotten. When it was clear that we wouldn’t be leaving the station very quickly, we approached the man at the desk to ask if there was a possibility that someone could accompany us to the designated place at the station for spending our dogs. We didn’t have to wait too long before someone came to help us which meant that we could be confident that our dogs were as comfortable as they could be.

 

In the end we waited at New Street for about an hour and a half before we were told that we could have a taxi to take us to Nottingham. We finally got home about three hours after we had been due to.

 

The flooding was a situation that couldn’t have been pre-empted and I have no doubt that the staff at Birmingham new Street were working at full capacity and then some. However, despite the difficulties faced, the staff couldn’t do enough to ensure that we were well looked after. They really went that extra mile to provide excellent customer service for which we were extremely grateful.

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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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Farewell to My Other Eye!

Or, so long and thanks for all the pain!

 

Having blogged fairly extensively last year about having my right eye removed, I decided that it wouldn’t make for particularly interesting reading if I did it all again but I wanted to write about a few things so here goes.

Early on this year it became apparent that the left eye was going the way of the right in terms of pain. I discussed this with my consultant with regard to my now having a job again and not wanting to have loads of absences due to eye pain and hospital visits if it got too bad. Because removing my right eye eliminated all the pain, it was agreed that she would remove my left.

 

This was done a month ago today. The experience was a little different. Having waited most of the day for my operation, I finally had it at 3:30. I believe the operation lasted for about three hours then I was taken back to the ward at 7 pm. by 9 pm I was in a taxi home! I was delighted to leave but actually a little shocked that it happened so quickly!

Once home I had the week with the pressure bandage which was uncomfortable and I felt very low following the anaesthetic which is normal for me!

Once the bandage came off I was so much better. Unlike last time, I obviously had no fear of what the eye would be like, having gone through it before, and in fact, it was a lot less sticky than my right eye had been at a similar time.

The following week I returned to work with very little discomfort.

I returned to see my consultant this week and have come away feeling a little disappointed after feeling that everything was going so well. I saw the lady who fits the prosthetic eyes, whose job title has completely eluded me,and, despite the fact that she has a matching pair of eyes which have been painted for me, the waiting list could be several months before she can fit them. I’m fairly pragmatic about walking around with what appears to be only one eye, but I’d so much like to have the other, particularly as I am bridesmaid for a friend at the end of January.

The other disappointment is that my right eye may need a further skin graft which could mean more surgery which is a nuisance. I’ve really had my fill of general anaesthetics recently as they make me so depressed!

 

In conclusion however, all is going the right way. I can’t wait to have my left eye as my right one looks so natural I am told by everyone. Above all, the pain has gone.

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Acceptance

There comes a point sometimes as a blind person, where you just have to accept that something is inaccessible, and moreover, there is little or no chance of it being fixed.

I’ve reached that point with voting. We do not have an equal experience as blind people and no one is in any hurry to change it. Yes, we have the template but as I have said many times before, it is not fit for purpose.

Take today for example. I arrived at my local polling station in two minds whether or not to use the template However, I was greeted in a very loud voice, probably a good 20 decibels louder than that used for other voters with the words “Do you want the … er … thing for partially sighted?” I guess that meant the template.

At that point I made a snap decision. I was tired and wanted to be sure that my vote was cast correctly. I presumed that the polling station staff had little knowledge of the template as they didn’t seem to even know what to call it! So, I said I didn’t want the template and could someone fill in my form for me.

This was done with very little fuss and I hope my cross was put in the right box but I’ll never know. I also waived my right to a secret ballot by telling the member of staff where to place my cross.

Yes I could have used the template but it relies on the fact that it has to be fixed to the form and lined up correctly. It then relies on my making a mark with the pencil that can be seen. All things over which I have no control or influence.

Until someone actually makes the Electoral Commission believe that this system is not enabling independent voting for blind people, nothing will change. Currently, blind people, along with those who represent us are not prepared to stand up and be counted. They seem happy to go along with the status quo.

I sometimes feel like a bit of a loan voice in the wilderness over this one. Maybe people feel differently this year, I hope so. Maybe it’s time I started to make some noise again.

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What to do if you Break a Blind Person’s Cane ….

We all get that accidents happen but there are ways of dealing with them. If you cut across in front of a blind person and accidentally snap their cane, you have pretty much rendered them immobile. No, there’s nothing much you can do at that point apart from at least check that the blind person will be OK.

Calling out “Sorry buddy” as you carry on rushing away just is not appropriate! Firstly, the blind person will, at that moment probably not think of you as a buddy! You’ve made it impossible for them to continue with their journey, you’ve left them stranded in a public place with no way of getting home. A bit like hitting someone with your car and driving away, it’s not good etiquette.

Secondly, canes are expensive and don’t just spring up out of nowhere. In many cases they are not handed out by the NHS or social services as people seem to think, we have to buy them.

I’m not saying people should pay for them if they break them, but an offer to do so might be appreciated.

My husband had his cane snapped by a passer-by today. Fortunately we were out together so he was able to walk home with me. However, guide dogs are not trained to guide two people, it is unsafe and not particularly fair on the dog.

I honestly don’t believe that most people realise the implications of breaking a blind person’s cane, it’s not just an inconvenience, it’s unsafe and leaves us feeling very vulnerable.

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Latest Surgery

Following on from my post in January, I have now had the surgery to put a skin and fat graft in front of my eye implant so that hopefully I will be able to have a proper moulded prosthetic eye made.

The operation day was quite uneventful, I think I’m becoming immune to it all. Fortunately, they allowed me to go home the same day and although my eye has been a little uncomfortable it hasn’t been too much of a problem. The biggest problem is that I have to wear a pressure bandage for a week on my eye so hair washing is a bit of a challenge!

I had a little piece of skin removed from my abdomen but the wound was actually quite small. I don’t have to keep it dry either which I feared might be the case.

The biggest plus point is that the surgeon was able to put my temporary prosthetic eye back in rather than a conformer, so I should look pretty normal, well as normal as I ever do, once the bandage has been removed!

There’s no guarantee that this will solve the problem so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Ways of Seeing Art – Workshop – Describe with Aaron McPeake

Ways of Seeing Art.

Workshop – Describe with Aaron McPeake

25 February

Translation is impossible but inevitable. Plato.

This was Aaron’s opening quotation to his workshop at the Tate Modern as part of Tate Exchange.

Aaron is a visually impaired artist. Aaron had some paintings on display which he had painted in collaboration with another artist, Stephen Farthing, who had originally asked him if he wanted to paint. Aaron said that he had although he could not, based on the level of sight he has. These paintings have been done through Aaron’s description and Stephen Farthing interpreting this description and making it a reality.

The workshop highlighted that although we are all presented with the same subject to describe, we will all go about it in a very different way. We were asked to write, draw or re-create things through all the senses and it was fascinating to discover how others at my table perceived things and how their opinions varied from my own.

Taste.

We were asked to either take a crisp or a raisin, taste it and eat it describing everything. I have never really thought in any detail about eating a raisin before and there’s a lot more to it when you really think about it!

My raisin was small and oval in shape, tough on the outside with little flavour when I first put it into my mouth. It was wrinkly and the wrinkles were almost twisted around the raisin. The flavour only emerges when the raisin is bitten into. Sweet with a bitter edge to it. The sweetness lingers however, when the bitterness has disappeared and remains after the raisin has been eaten, long after even the last bits of skin have been removed from my teeth.

We were then asked to sculpt the raisin using materials on the table, or draw it. I made one from a pipe cleaner, trying to convey the twisted wrinkles. My drawing was less successful, probably just a bit of a blob with a purple pen to tell you the truth! At least the pen was purple!! Anyone who knows me will be totally astounded that I am writing about the experience of eating a raisin! It’s not usually something that I would give any thought to, let alone give space on a page too. Just goes to show how we can be made to think at times.

Scent.

We were then given different scents to write about. Aaron made the point that scent is very powerful in evoking memory. This is something I have experienced on many occasions in life and today was no exception. The first one I was given had base notes of patchouli but also smelt a little of joss sticks and incense. However, other notes were prevalent and I was taken back to a time at school when I had a sprained wrist which was taped up in Elastoplast.

The second example we were given was very obviously Jasmine, which a few of us around the table recognised. Possibly other white petals included as well. This immediately reminded me of a hotel I had stayed in some years ago in Italy which had a huge Jasmine hedge outside the front of the building. We used to sit out there each evening chatting over the day’s events in the warm air, and the Jasmine scent today took me right back there.

The third scent had somewhat woody base notes and reminded me of those shops you go into that sell incense and wind chimes. It wasn’t a smell I enjoyed and I didn’t linger over it long. However, the same scent brought back very pleasant memories for one of the group who was taken back to a time of a very enjoyable holiday in Morocco. As I write this I am reflecting that it is interesting that two of us related scents to holidays. Maybe we are more receptive to all our senses when on holiday with time to really think about them.

Description. Our next task was aimed at the sighted members of the group. They were given a picture and a performance to describe. Two of our group took the opportunity to describe these to me. It was interesting that two people looking at the same things could see them and interpret them differently.

There was a screen showing a train table and reflections of what was passing the window. One person described it to me as blurry, like a powder puff effect, caused by the grubby surface of the table. The other person said it made her want to lay her head on the table to sleep. Two very different interpretations of the same image.

The performance was a woman who walked into the room, tall with platform boots. Long clothes with sleeves over her hands. A hood over her face, covering it completely. The woman sits perfectly still and upright, cross legged on a thin mattress. the fabric looks more like furniture fabric, possibly dating back to the 70s or 80s. Both describers felt uncomfortable describing her, feeling for her perceived discomfort and claustrophobia.

Touch.

We were asked to touch several objects on the table which Aaron had made, but not look.

There was a large metal bowl, very thick at the bottom which made it weighty. The surface had an orange peel texture to it. There was also an almost bell shaped object with the same texture. This was again very heavy and suspended on cord from a ring at the top. There were two spoons also made from the same metal which was described by Aaron as crispy bronze, meaning that the crystals making it up are very small. This is the same bronze that is used for casting church bells. the first spoon had a long handle and small rounded bowl. The second, which I really loved as it was pleasing to hold was an exact replica of the type of wooden spoon that most of us have in our kitchens, but which was very heavy and highly polished. I am always drawn to shiny polished things!

Sound.

Finally, we were invited to tap the bowls and also some bells, with either metal or wood, listening to the sounds they made. This I couldn’t wait to do as I’d already tried it earlier in the workshop and been politely asked by Aaron to wait for later. I can’t resist making sounds with things! Many of the items were very resonant and had overtones or different notes in the same way that church bells do. The sound varied in tone depending on how hard the object was struck, how large or small it was, and was also dependant on what type of material had been used to strike it.

The overwhelming thing I took away from this workshop, and also from a small part of Liz Porter’s workshop which I was unable to attend in its entirety, is that two people seeing the same object or picture often see totally different things or interpret them very differently. Also, when describing from touch, qualities will be observed that someone looking will not have identified.

To read more about Aaron McPeake, go to http://www.aaronmcpeake.com/index.htm

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Bridging the Gaps – Exploring the Link Between Art and Audio Description. The Symposium

Bridging the Gaps – ‘Exploring the link etween art and audio description.

Hosted by Shape Arts and Tate Modern on Friday 24 February.

I have to admit that I am not a particularly artistic person and have attended very few events of this kind. I therefore did not know what to expect from this event or what I would get out of it.

The afternoon consisted of a symposium, followed by break out sessions and concluding with a wrap-up session.

The afternoon began with introductions from a panel of speakers, all of whom have worked with audio description in the arts. Zoe Partington and Craig Ashley from the Midlands Arts Centre talked about embedding audio description and making it part of the art itself. Zoe has previously provided description to a series of photographs which I was involved with a year ago when I voiced the description. Gavin Griffiths created relevant sound which he edited into the descriptions to create an audio soundscape. Craig had worked on a project, also using photographs where first a description was given of the photograph, followed by an authentic voice, in this instance, a black person describing the times when the photograph was taken. Craig played us some short clips of these two types of contrasting audio to illustrate his point.

A question and answer session took place and for me, the overwhelming impression I still have is that audio description can only be part of the whole accessible experience. As I have said previously in the article I wrote which appeared in the accompanying booklet, providing a verbal description and nothing else is a bit like showing written descriptions to a sighted person without giving them something to look at. It is unlikely to hold my interest for long.

People also spoke of not being allowed to get near enough to a piece of art to see it if they had partial sight. Also not being able to view sculpture, for example, from all angles when using a wheelchair.

Attitude is key and museums and galleries who have someone senior who is receptive to introducing accessibility will do better than those who do not. An example was given of the Pen Museum in Birmingham where the director is blind. Because of this, the staff all have good awareness of the needs of blind and partially sighted people and therefore are welcoming and knowledgeable when blind or partially sighted visitors arrive at the museum.

Another area which was mentioned a few times throughout the afternoon was that artists could and should be encouraged when they are commissioned, to include accessibility in their work. One artist went as far as to say that currently, she is never approached about accessibility when speaking to curators. It was felt that curators and accessibility officers should work together to build in accessibility and inclusivity for all from the start.

More work should be done when designing websites to make them accessible to all. Description could be used more effectively to encourage blind and partially sighted visitors to make the effort to attend galleries and museums.

In conclusion, my opinion is that there is still a way to go. My background is in computing and as a blind person I have been faced time and again by software that is not accessible and where building in accessibility after the event is often too costly or time consuming. If accessibility had been brought in at the start, it could have been much easier to implement.

The art world appears to be no different for blind and partially sighted people. Accessibility and inclusivity are still often an after-thought.

It is up to all of us, artists, galleries and museums, and us, the visually impaired consumers to change this. As consumers if we don’t address areas of inaccessibility, we can’t expect things to change. I hope that, as an individual, I am able to be constructive. I believe it is essential to praise good practice and offer suggestions for improvement when things go wrong.

The arts produce a tremendous sense of wellbeing for everyone and it is vital that blind and partially sighted people are included to enable us to experience that same wellbeing.

Often, an accessibility feature such as audio description, brought in for blind and partially sighted people, can be tremendously helpful for other people such as those who have difficulty reading. Providing different ways of accessing art gives everyone the choice on how they approach it which can only enhance the experience for everyone.

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