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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Bridging the Gaps – Exploring the Link Between Art and Audio Description. Before the Event

Before The Event

A group of us arrived at the Tate Modern at around 11 this morning after a slightly rougher than expected journey down the Thames from our hotel in Greenwich. I never imagined the river would have waves but of course it’s tidal so why wouldn’t it!

My first impression on entering the building was the sheer magnitude of the place. For me as a totally blind person there was nothing to orientate me and I was pleased to be guided by a colleague. The acoustics are such that there are tremendous echos which make independent navigation almost impossible!

There was plenty of time once we arrived to meet the other people who, like me, would be writing about the event.

Fae Kilburn is a visually impaired artist who works with wood and lino, creating pictures by carving the designs then covering the finished design with ink and printing it onto paper. This work I found fascinating. You can see more about Fae at http://www.faekilburn.co.uK. Her subjects are either figures or works relating to the human eye.

Malcolm Johnson, like me, is new to the art world having worked for some time in the insurance industry. Also like me, he was unsure what to expect from the event so was approaching it with an open mind.

I also spent some time chatting to Lynn Cox, another visually impaired artist who creates wire sculptures, usually of human heads, as well as multi sensory pictures using materials as diverse as seeds and chocolate. She also runs the occasional leadership training course entirely in the dark. The idea behind these courses originates from Germany. People are taken out of their comfort zone by removing visual cues, necessitating the need for verbal communication.

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Storm Doris and Trains

Storm Dorris

23 February 2017 has seen the UK hit by Storm Dorris. High winds throughout most of the country and snow in Scotland. It’s now almost 10:30 in the evening and we’re on our way down to London to the Bridging the Gaps event at the Tate Modern tomorrow. This is the first event of its kind that I have attended and I have been asked to blog about the experience. So the plan was to travel down to London the night before so that we’d be all ready and raring to go in the morning!

We will be of course but with slightly less sleep than we’d hoped for! We had originally planned to arrive in London at 10 pm, but it will be more like midnight when we eventually do. Several cancelled trains later and we’ve finally made it onto one. We bought ourselves some cheap first class tickets, but when we arrived at Nottingham station and realised we’d have a considerable wait for the first available train, we found to our amazement that the first class lounge wasn’t open! Nottingham station doesn’t have seats on the station concourse because they’re untidy, their words not mine, so it was a long stand.

Time to sit back now and attempt to relax for the next hour and a half The dog is snoozing contentedly so all is good for now.

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Aldi Versus Sainsbury’s from a Blind Person’s Perspective

As a blind person, I invariably shop online when buying groceries because I find it quicker, more convenient and it means that I don’t have to take up a member of staff’s time in store to help me to do a weekly shop.

However, there are times when, like most people, I need to nip into the local supermarket for something that I’ve forgotten or something that I’ve just decided I’d like. Today was one of those days. I want to make us some tomato soup for lunch and needed some basil and tinned tomatoes so I went to Sainsbury’s which is my nearest supermarket. I also have the option to go to Aldi which is just a little further away. I really wish I’d gone there and given them my custom instead of opting for convenience.

Our local Aldi are absolutely fantastic when it comes to customer service, particularly with regard to providing someone to guide me around the store, locate the items I need and help me through the checkout. Their staff are polite and courteous and they are also very efficient. I hope someone from Aldi might read this as, if there is an award for local stores, I’d like to recommend that your Daybrook store receives it for exceptional customer service.

Going into Sainsbury’s this morning, I had a very different experience. I went to the customer service counter and asked if there was someone to help me find some items. I was met with a very unfriendly response of, “Do you want much?” What sort of question is that? Is there perhaps a limit to how many items a blind person can expect to buy in one session? I then had to wait for several minutes while other people were served before a request was put out for someone to help me. In fairness, the person who eventually came was very friendly and helpful but she was clearly snowed under with work and not many people to help her.

Sainsbury’s, if you’re reading this, why not send your staff to Aldi for customer service training?

Unfortunately, this is not a one off experience. I know that I will get a much better reception at Aldi than I do at Sainsbury’s.

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Inaccessibility Monday

Is it Inaccessibility Monday or is it in fact just another day? Someone on my Facebook timeline had an inaccessibility day last week, being told she couldn’t take part in a walking group and something else which for the moment escapes my mind. The point I am trying to make is that it seems that most days we, as blind people, battle with some type of inaccessibility problem, not of our own making or because we are incapable. We have to deal with them, day in, day out, on top of everything else we want or need to do in order to lead normal productive lives.

Mine today has been going on for just over a week now and hopefully was resolved finally today. I received a form telling me to reapply for a concessionary bus pass from the County Council. No I couldn’t just renew mine, the system won’t allow for it.

I therefore had to go to our local council offices last Monday as there was no provision for any help over the phone. This I did but found out there that I should have taken various bit of paperwork. I had no idea about these as I can’t read the form! I therefore had to return to the council on Tuesday with the relevant paperwork. That’s 20 minutes’ walk, at least half an hour in the offices and 20 minutes’ walk home again.

On Saturday I received a letter, in print, talking about my possible eligibility for a companion pass. This would allow someone else to travel with me at the concessionary rate which could be useful from time to time. It mentioned having to provide a certificate of visual impairment.

So, off I went to the council office again with more paper. When I got there, it turned out that I’d been sent a blank application form so had to start from scratch.

If this process had been an online application I could have filled it out in minutes, seen what documentation was required, scanned in copies and attached them.

When will councils realise that blind people’s time is also important to us?

One of the major contributing factors of my terminating my employment with Nottinghamshire county Council was because systems were becoming unworkable. It seems that it’s not much better for a service user.

Yes I’m angry. In this electronic age there is no excuse for these antiquated discriminatory systems.

Oh yes, and whilst I was doing all this, my husband was dealing with a print letter inviting him to go for an eye test. He’s totally blind with no eyes. Yes it’s kind of funny, or it would be if it didn’t happen time and time and time again.

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