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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Not Refused but Treated Less Favourably

In many ways the message is getting through to taxi drivers that, unless they have a medical exemption certificate approved by their licencing office, it is against the law for them to refuse a person with an assistance dog. However, another trend appears to be emerging which I find almost as difficult, particularly as the drivers aren’t actually breaking the law. This is the fact that a driver will accept my booking but will then spend the journey telling me why he doesn’t want to take my dog, or in the worst instances, actually be abusive.

A week or so ago I had to take a fairly expensive taxi journey to hospital as my guide dog wasn’t able to work and because it was a very windy day, I didn’t feel confident enough to do it with my cane. The driver asked me if I was a regular with his company and also whether I found the drivers helpful. I said that I was and that the drivers were usually very helpful, but less so if I had my guide dog with me. He then launched into a big tirade about why he didn’t like taking guide dogs because of the hair. I pointed out that people shed hair and mud but he wasn’t listening. He felt hard done by because the law says he has to carry guide dogs in his personal car. I wanted to argue that this car was in fact his work vehicle but there was no point. He wanted to have his say, I felt uncomfortable and my dog was at home, snoozing, blissfully unaware of the problems he was causing!

Last night, my husband and I booked a taxi to take us home from an evening with friends. When we made the booking, we advised the taxi company that there would be two adults and a guide dog travelling. We are not obliged to tell the company but always do out of courtesy. The taxi arrived and our friend walked out with us to say goodbye. The driver turned to him and asked him if we were both travelling, to which we said yes. He then asked if we’d told them that there would be a dog. We said we had. At this point, he raised his voice at me and said “Get that dog in the back”, meaning the back of the estate car. I did as he demanded and we got in the car and were taken home. The driver was driving very erratically, almost missing a turning and taking it on what felt like two wheels and generally swerving all over the road. I don’t mind admitting that I was scared and glad to get out.

My point is this. It could be argued that the driver accepted our booking so did not break the law, he got us home and did not over charge us. However, is it really OK to talk to customers in that way and make demands of us, just because he doesn’t want to take the dog? If he’d said “Please could you put your dog in the back of the car”, I’d have said “yes certainly” and it would have been fine. I appreciate that some drivers who have estate cars prefer the dog to travel in the back. I do, however, resent being shouted at and made to feel uncomfortable when I am actually paying for a service.

I am lucky in that my local taxi licencing authority are very supportive and they have asked for me to report instances like this as well as refusals. I would urge others to do the same. Report everything. Without evidence, taxi drivers will continue to treat blind and partially sighted people less favourably, just because they have a dog.

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A Little Disappointing

Yesterday I had an eye check-up as last time I went, part of the implant was showing. I hadn’t realised till I was told that the gap had measured 1 millimetre by 2. Very tiny but significant. Yesterday it was 2 by 3 millimetres so it’s growing. Not exactly a yawning gap but even more significant.

Sadly this means more surgery to take a skin graft and place it over the gap to hopefully encourage it to heal up. I’m kind of disappointed about this as my eye from the outside looks great and feels good too. It’s going to be a set back in that I won’t be able to wear a prosthetic eye for a while again. I also asked my consultant if she could just whip the other one out while I was under anaesthetic but she wants my right eye sorted before she starts on the left.

To me that just seems to be prolonging the whole process but sadly I couldn’t convince her.

I guess I’ve been kind of spoilt for a while, having an eye that looks good and doesn’t hurt, I just want that for both eyes and I want it now!

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May I Be One of the Last to Wish my Readers a Happy New Year!

This is a very belated post. I had planned to sit down earlier this week and write about last year and my plans for this, but circumstances somewhat overtook me. When our New Year guests left, Hudson, my guide dog, became suddenly very ill. On the evening of the 2nd January I found myself at the emergency vets while he had surgery. I am pleased to report that he is now recovering well and should soon be back to full health.

In summary, in 2016 I lost my job and my right eye! Neither of which I miss in the slightest as both caused me a lot of pain and anguish!

My plans for this year? To find plenty of voluntary work to discover what I am good at. 20 plus years of computer support is enough to kill off any imagination you might have around work! Ideally, when I find something, I’d like to think I’ll be able to find someone to pay me to do it. While I’m not working, I’d like to improve my writing skills and persuade my consultant to remove my other eye before it gets unbearably painful.

Have a good one everyone!

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Why I Don’t Visit Museums

This post is very subjective and I wouldn’t presume to echo the thoughts of all totally blind people but following a conversation with some friends on this subject over the Christmas holiday, I decided to write my thoughts down.

Imagine the scenario, you’re on holiday or spending time with friends or family and are looking for something to do. Someone then says, “I know, let’s go to a museum”. Great idea, a chance to see something interesting, to learn something, to be shocked or amazed, the possibilities are endless. Not for me though. Personally, with very few exceptions, I would give the museum a swerve in favour of just about anything else. I’ve even been known to sit in a café and people watch whilst others in my party visit a museum!

For me, going round a museum is a very passive experience if there is nothing on display which can be handled. I’m not very good at being read to for long periods of time and I often find my mind wandering to other things, particularly when there are other people around me having different conversations. I’m just too nosy! When I was a child, my father used to take time to meticulously describe everything we saw which was fantastic of him, but without anything to refer to that I could relate to it was difficult to maintain an enthusiastic and interested face! Having never had good sight, it is difficult to listen to descriptions and relate to things that I have seen so often descriptions hold very little relevance for me.

I even struggle sometimes at those museums where there is an audio commentary to listen to whilst walking around if there is nothing that I can directly experience myself. Don’t get me wrong, audio description is a wonderful addition and should only be applauded but it’s still a fairly passive experience. Sometimes I feel, however, that a nice quiet place to sit and listen to it would be preferable to traipsing round an exhibition and standing in front of things that might as well be in another room.

All is not lost though and as well as some very negative experiences I have had some positive ones too. Three stand out in my mind and I will describe them briefly.

In 2007 I visited Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. I went mainly to walk around the gardens which I enjoy but decided to tag along with the rest of my group and walk round the house. Each room had a volunteer in it whose job was to tell you about the contents and history of that room. They were very knowledgeable people who were more than happy to answer questions. The real deal breaker for me though was the fact that most of the furniture, and even the table ware and soft furnishings were replicas which meant that they could be touched. This meant that I could get a real feel for the size and splendour of the rooms. There was plenty of written information as well which was read to me, but along with the experiences I had, this served, as it would for any other visitor, to teach me more about the house in its hey-day when Queen Victoria lived there.

In the early 80s I visited the Natural History Museum in London as they had an exhibition for blind and partially sighted people. This was excellent as everything was there to be touched. I left that exhibition with the lasting memory of what a mole hill is like as they had re-constructed a cross section of one which I found fascinating, even down to the moles that could be found in its tunnels. I also learnt that day how large a full grown badger is, they’re a lot bigger than I imagined they would be! I also left, however, with the knowledge that this exhibition had barely even scratched the surface of what is available in the museum as a whole.

In the mid nineties I visited Lincoln and whilst we were there, we walked into the cathedral to have a look. At the time they were carrying out some renovations and we stumbled upon a small exhibition about these renovations with examples of the materials, stonework, glass, wood etc that they were using. These were all laid out on a large table and each one, as well as the printed information, had the same information in Braille. I was fascinated and loved the fact that I could walk around the table independently, taking as much or as little time with each exhibit as I wished, while my friends enjoyed the cathedral and the exhibition in their own time. That to me was a very empowering experience which has stayed with me, despite the fact that the exhibition itself was comparatively small.

In the future, I would hope that 3D printing might be a way for blind and partially sighted people to get a real feel for what exhibits are like. I am hoping that this technology will be more widely used as surely the price can only come down as it becomes more available. Some would argue that a replica should look and feel exactly like the original item which has often been the reason why such replicas are not reproduced. I would dispute this to a certain extent. A replica item merely serves as a starting point, a bit like a template from which the detail can be attached by way of the descriptions which are available for all exhibits. Another argument against using replicas is that they have to be the same size as the original and would therefore be far too difficult to house in museums with limited space. Once again I disagree with this. Scale models can be very useful, particularly for something that is too large to feel around in terms of how easy it is to reach. Once the shape of an object has been discovered, it is easy to relate this to a larger size.

In conclusion, the thing that will draw me into a museum over everything else is a more hands on or interactive experience. Audio description and Braille are fantastic but they are only part of the experience. Not providing anything that can be touched, for a blind person is akin to having a room full of information without any exhibits for a sighted person to look at

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