Post index update and change of direction for Unseen Beauty

I was quite ashamed to realise that I hadn’t updated my post index page since October 2018! I had it on my list of things to do every week, but somehow it slipped off my radar and the next thing I knew, I had over 3 months of posts to add – not good really as I know that some people use it.

The idea for the index was to break down the content into topics because I know some people are only interested in certain topics here, so having the content arranged under headings makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

So, I’m up-to-date again now, and I’ve rearranged the sections. If you want Blogmas, you need to scroll right down to the bottom. The empty products and favourites have also been shifted down now as I’m not planning to continue with these regularly.

I know some readers just follow along with the blog as new posts are published, but hopefully the index will help anyone who’s looking for something specific. And if you did notice I hadn’t been updating it – sorry!

Changes to Unseen Beauty

In January the blog celebrated its second birthday. I didn’t do a post, but I had some celebratory chocolate and thought “yay! Unseen Beauty is two years old”!

When I started, I didn’t really know where I was going with it, but I knew a lot of the things I wanted to talk about would be out of place on my business blog.

In those two years, the audience has grown, and I’ve known for a while that it has broadened out a lot. It’s read by friends, at least one family member, and people in the UK and other countries whom I’ve never met. I called it a beauty and lifestyle blog, but it’s become a lot more lifestyle than beauty, because there are so many other things I want to talk about.

So if you’re mainly here for beauty product reviews, you’ll probably be disappointed. But there are so many people doing that. My take has always been a bit different, because I can’t just go on looks, but even so – it’s a very busy space online.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that my content is being read by people who would never come for the beauty and skincare posts.

I haven’t abandoned those posts completely – although I am pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of girl in most other respects. I’ll still do round-ups when I’ve got some products to talk about, but I’ve cancelled all of my subscription boxes now and am focussing on what I have.

It’s not that I’m bored of skincare and trying new things, but I reached saturation point in terms of constantly testing the latest releases, and I don’t want things to go to waste – especially as I pretty much bought everything myself as opposed to being sent it by PRs.

I’ve also got a bit bored with the content in the beauty blogging scene. Some people are still doing a fantastic job talking about what they like or have tried recently, but it feels like there is a lot of noise with people churning out sponsored posts with products they wouldn’t normally buy, or saying that a skincare product is the best thing ever, when they’ve only had it for a few days. It doesn’t work like that, and as a result feels a bit fake to me.

People can do what they want with their blogs, but I’ve had a bit of a spring-clean of the blogs I read, and the people who are still there are people with something unique and individual to say. I think this is going to become increasingly important as the number of blogs gets higher and higher – we need to stand out from the crowd by having something original to say. Otherwise we just melt into the noise. I don’t want to do that.

So what’s coming up this year?

I’ve already changed my tag line on the blog and am not entirely happy with it, so what you see now might not be the final version.

  • My course is definitely a bigger part of my life now – I wasn’t even doing it when I started the blog – so I want to talk about it in a way that is engaging for those who understand far more than I do and those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. That could be a challenge, but I’ll try!
  • Accessibility has always been something that interests me, so I’ll continue posts on that, with a focus on websites, apps and access to information.
  • I abandoned my book reviews last year, but I quite enjoy writing them if I have something to say about the issues in the book as well. So you’ll probably see more of those.
  • There will still be some beauty and skincare posts when I have something to say, but you can expect fewer of this type of post.
  • Animals, and especially dogs, will no doubt still feature, along with the charities that Unseen Beauty supports.
  • I’m not feeling inclined to publish guest posts, unless I think the subject’s really relevant, but I do have plans to interview people who have interesting stories or insights to share – watch this space!
  • More general things that interest me. I noticed that some of the posts that got the most engagement were the ones where I shared a story or idea that started a discussion. I’d like to see more of that because I am genuinely interested in what my readers think!

So, whilst people are still being told to find their blogging niche, I’m busting out of mine and looking to make Unseen Beauty more diverse! Hopefully you’ll stay with me on this journey of discovery!

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Accessibility problems – sometimes people just don’t know what they’re doing wrong

Wednesday had been a long day. I was still sitting at my laptop quite late having a spring-clean of Twitter, and I came across a tweet from a company that sells books. But I couldn’t read the tweet. The text said that it contained some advice, but the advice was a picture of text.

Usually I just scroll on past inaccessible tweets and Facebook posts. If my friends want to share pictures with no text, it’s up to them. If I care enough about it, I might try to work it out by the comments, or I’ll ask, but I don’t expect everyone to remember me all of the time. Yes, it would be great if we lived in a fully accessible world, but I’m not going to be that friend that keeps reminding everyone about how I couldn’t understand that joke or information that they posted because it was a picture. I insist on more cooperation in the group that I run, but what people do on their own wall is their business.

I set the bar a bit higher for companies though, especially if they’re companies where I spend my money.

So I pointed out that blind people using screenreaders wouldn’t be able to read the advice in the tweet. This was particularly unhelpful as a company promoting literacy was making it impossible for some followers to read their content – because they used a picture instead of actual words!

Within minutes I had a positive reply. I was told what the tweet said, thanked for my input, and told they’d bear it in mind in future. Quick win!

I don’t expect people to stop using memes and pictures, but a text alternative would be nice if it’s larger companies. To be fair, the automatic AI image description facility on Facebook can convert some of these pictures to text that’s read out by the screenreader, but it doesn’t work with all of them. I haven’t seen this in action on Twitter, so can’t comment.

But anyway, the point is that it got me thinking about wider online accessibility issues.

I am an advocate for accessibility. I want to make the online world a better and more accessible place. Inconsiderate and let’s be fair, sometimes downright sloppy web design frustrates me, particularly when it’s big companies that have the resources to do better.

But sometimes, people just don’t know what they did was wrong or how it can negatively impact on an end-user.

I’m not saying that ignorance is an excuse, though I do tend to go a lot easier on smaller companies than the large multi-national businesses with more resources to invest in accessibility training.

I might have to deal with 10 different accessibility issues in one day. Some are just trivial, like the inaccessible tweet, whereas others are more of a hassle, like the website that I can’t use because buttons aren’t labelled, menu items that can only be selected with a mouse, articles where I can’t read the page because of some stupid video that plays automatically, or my newest bugbear – the privacy/cookie policy statements that can only be clicked away using a mouse.

Sometimes I get help from a sighted person. Sometimes I say screw it and get the information elsewhere or avoid buying from that particular site. Sometimes I flag the inaccessibility issue, although I don’t do this as often as I probably should. You have to choose your battles. I have a business and a home to run, my studies, and some free time would be nice too!

But the point is it can all build up. That’s our perspective as people dealing with the inaccessibility. The other side is the person who only learned for the first time today that they as a social media manager were doing something unhelpful.

When I worked in London, there were times when tourists and other commuters drove me crazy. Not watching where they were going, bopping my dog on the head with their bags, making her job harder, letting dogs run free and bother us, stopping suddenly on the stairs to take a call, chatting and standing in the way, expecting us to go in the road. I know I told a few people exactly what I thought of their thoughtless or stupid behaviour, when the real problem was that they were the 10th person to do that to me that day, which wasn’t really their fault. My anger was justified, but the intensity probably wasn’t.

And I think this is where I’m getting to with accessibility. Yes, it’s annoying when things don’t work, or companies prevent us from using their products and services. Yes, it would be so much easier if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to do extra work to educate and work so hard to make things better. But maybe the company just hadn’t considered the implications of not having a fully accessible site or social media content.

I went to mainstream school – that’s a discussion for another day – but I think one of the really valuable lessons I took from that was the life experience of being surrounded by people who had never met another blind person before. That’s my normal. I believe if you’re educated in an environment where everything is accessible and everyone knows about blindness, access technology etc, it can be a harsh reality when you leave that world and come back into mainstream society, where that’s not how things work.

Sometimes companies do make the decision that implementing good practice is not worth the hassle or cost. Yes, that should be challenged, especially if those same companies want disabled people as customers, or if we have no choice but to interact with them in order to fulfil some legal obligation or access a service.

One of the things that is guaranteed to wind me up is sites that were inaccessible, had a make-over to “improve the user experience” and then became totally inaccessible to me.

But a lot of the time, there are just people doing their best to do their jobs, not trying to be difficult or even aware of what they’re doing wrong. I think we as accessibility advocates shouldn’t forget that.

I know people who have asked about the accessibility of their website/blog/YouTube channel/app as a result of meeting me and finding out how I access information online. This is a positive thing. They want to learn and change, and maybe don’t know how to at first.

Part of the reason for doing my IT degree now is to equip myself with the knowledge to make a better-informed contribution to this conversation and develop my accessibility consultancy service.

Meanwhile, the “us” and “them” mentality that I see in some circles bothers me. The “us” being the people who need accessibility and “them” being all the others in the big bad world out there, making things hard for us. But that’s a problem, because some of “them” are my friends. Just moving to the town where I live now has brought me into contact with a number of people who can influence the accessibility of their own companies or companies that they work for, and that’s a positive thing. It’s even got me a freelance contract!

On a side-note, this is another reason why I believe mainstream education is so important. All the children in my class were exposed to someone using access technology to do pretty much everything that they did, if sometimes in a different way. Hopefully they’ve gone on to be adults, employers, and colleagues who are still aware of those things. Seriously! We live in a world where people are sometimes surprised that I can even use a phone or a laptop – we have a long way to go in terms of promoting all the positive stories in terms of the world of possibilities that access technology can open up.

Especially when I had a guide dog and had numerous access refusals, I got a bit of a reputation for strongly-worded letters. I was good at them, and usually got results.

It can become entrenched if a company really doesn’t want to listen or improve. I’ve had emails that basically say “sorry you can’t use our website, but we don’t have any plans to change it.” Yeah thanks for that. I’m glad that you value my custom so much!

but that first contact you make with a company – that could be someone who genuinely didn’t know better. I don’t always get it right, especially if I’m having a bad day and it’s just one more hurdle to jump, but I think it’s important that we don’t forget that. I’m a teacher. I work in education. Anything I do in terms of accessibility awareness is an extension of that. Some people don’t care or want to learn, but many do if we give them a chance and some specific advice about what could be better. You might be positively surprised!

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Working from home -is your chair right for you?

This is the story of how I went out for a pint of milk and came back with a new office chair!

We needed a couple of things from the supermarket, and S decided he wanted some stationery and office supplies too. I went along for the ride and when we got to the shop, we started talking about chairs and the fact that I should probably buy a new one. What better place to do it than a place where you can go and sit on them all to try them out?

I’d had my other chair for ages. The bit below the seat had something wrong with it, which made it tilt to the side. I used to work in Health and Safety (don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a health and safety lecture!) and knew better than to keep using it – it’s not good if you’re either leaning sideways or compensating for a leaning chair.

So I had taken S’ old chair, which I’d become quite fond of after it was the only way I could get around safely in the kitchen when I had my accident and couldn’t put weight on my leg. A girl needs a safe way to move coffee and hot food around, so round and round the kitchen I wheeled! But this chair was too low, even for a short person like me, and the mechanism for lifting it was broken. Not a massive deal, but it did mean my hands were too high for typing, and I spend a lot of time at my desk.

It’s like Goldilocks and the 3 bears – this chair is too wonky, this chair is too low, and this chair is just perfect so I’ll buy it and take it home. Or something like that!

I did want to mention it though because more and more people are working from home, if not full-time, then for a couple of days a week. Then there’s studying or blogging, and people like me who work from home full-time. Is it really important what you sit on?

The answer is yes, and here are a few reasons why.

1. Length of time

I’ve touched on this already, but whereas you might spend half an hour at the dinner table, your office chair is somewhere you might be sitting for hours at a time. It’s not good to be sitting uncomfortably or in a position that encourages bad habits such as slouching. Bad posture can lead to other problems later such as back, neck or shoulder problems if you’re sitting uncomfortably, flopping forward, or if you don’t have enough support.

2. Height

It’s important to have a height-adjustable chair because if you’re too low, you’ll have to lift your arms and shoulders up at an uncomfortable angle when you want to type. As a general rule, your arms should be straight.  If the chair is too high, and this was often my problem in the office if someone had been sitting on my chair, your feet aren’t flat on the floor and you don’t have any support. Also, a chair that’s too high ends up with too much pressure on the back of your thighs because your feet aren’t taking any of the weight, and having no support for your feet can also lead to foot pain later in the day. You might also want to consider a foot stool if you don’t want to, or can’t lower your chair.

3. Back and shoulder support

It’s easy to slump forward when we’re working. I don’t tend to do it in meetings – then I’m thinking about sitting up straight because I want to look professional. But if I’m typing away on something on my own, there is a tendency to lean forward, and this isn’t good for your back or your shoulders. Office chairs have padding around the back and many also have neck and shoulder supports. Using these encourages you to sit up straight and not hunch your shoulders forward, as doing these things can lead to back, neck, or shoulder pain. So try not to perch on the front of your chair. Make full use of the supports, from the lower back to the shoulders.

4. Padded seating

Think about the chairs you used to sit on at school. After an hour of sitting in the same position with no support, it gets uncomfortable. You might be fine having a picnic on a garden bench for a while, but if you’re going to spend 8 hours sitting somewhere, you need a bit more padding. Apart from the obvious discomfort, fidgeting around trying to make yourself comfortable isn’t good for your concentration or productivity either.

5. At work it’s someone else’s responsibility

At work we sometimes take it for granted that our employer carries out DSE (display screen equipment) assessments to check that our workstation is set up correctly and we have what we need. Ok, obviously some companies are better at meeting these requirements than others, and I was pretty lucky, but the point is, it’s a company’s legal responsibility. When you’re self-employed, you don’t have someone reminding you about it or checking that it’s been done, but it’s no less important when you’re the boss! There can be 101 things that feel more urgent or directly linked to making money, but if you’re self-employed and don’t look after yourself, who else will?

6. You’re an individual

Everyone needs and likes different things, due to factors like our height, the shape of our back, any existing pains or conditions, and just what we find comfortable. This is why I haven’t put a link to my chair on the blog.

I didn’t get the most expensive one I could find. The cost did play a role for me, but also, I didn’t find the most expensive ones were the most comfortable. The absolute cheapest ones weren’t either – I went for a mid-range one, and if you go for one from a specialist shop, you can pay a lot more than I did. But it was important to me that I could sit in them, adjust them, and see which I thought would be comfortable.

7. It’s not all about the chair

It’s important not to spend long periods of time sitting without taking any breaks. This is partly connected to the amount of time you spend looking at a screen, but it’s still important for people like me who can’t see the screen, because it’s not only about screen time. It’s about giving your body the chance to move around and not be stuck in the same position for hours on end.

Try and build in reasons to get up throughout the day, even if you work from home. Make drinks, tidy up, stretch your legs, take the dog for a walk – whatever you’re doing, make sure that you also build in breaks that involve some kind of movement so you’re not just stuck in a seated position all day. This is particularly important for those of us who don’t naturally get the exercise of walking anywhere on the way to or from work.

How about you?

Do you use an office chair when you’re working at home? Is it comfortable? Does it give you all the support you need?

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Mobile hairdresser – yes or no?

When I used to work in London, I learned the way to the local hairdresser’s salon with my guide dog. We went there a couple of times, but for years now I’ve been having my hair done by mobile hairdressers – hairdressers who come to my house. I haven’t had the same one all the time because I moved house, but it’s never been that hard to find one. They’ve come via recommendations from friends who were already using their services, so it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

I’m quite low-maintenance now – I am still growing my hair, so just get it trimmed regularly. In the past though I’ve had regular cut and highlights done all in the comfort of my own home.

I know some people wouldn’t be able to imagine it. For them, the whole experience of going to the hair salon is part of the pamper session. Certainly if your home isn’t somewhere you can relax, or you need a change of scenery, the salon can be a welcome time away from the rest of life.

However I’d say there are advantages of having a mobile hairdresser come to you, as long as you find a good one (although that’s the same with anything when you’re looking for someone to provide a service).

Convenience

This is the main reason why I do it. I don’t have to learn the way to the salon or organise transport if it’s too far. More than that though, I can just fit it into my day and I only have to plan in as long as it will take the hairdresser to do her thing. No travel time to factor in, which meant that I was back at my desk 10 minutes after my hairdresser had finished this morning, and it would have been sooner if I hadn’t stopped to make coffee! If you don’t have much time, having someone come to you can be more efficient.

Familiar surroundings

I don’t find it hard to learn the layout of new buildings, and when I’ve been to the salon, the staff were helpful. However, if you’ve got 5 conversations, music, a running tap, a telephone ringing, and 3 hairdryers going, it can soon get very loud, and apart from loudness not being my favourite thing, when a blind person can’t hear properly, it can also be a bit disorientating.

In your house, you already know where everything is.

This won’t apply to everyone, but if you can’t access inaccessible buildings, have had issues with people not welcoming your guide dog, have sensory sensitivities, or need to think about other issues relating to mobility or transport, it’s another option that you might want to consider.

The products that you love

If you want to keep to a specific shampoo or conditioner, many mobile hairdressers are happy to do that and use the products that you already have in. Ok, in a salon you get the products included in the treatment, and you may get to try new brands, but if you have something you know and like, you can keep with what works for you.

h3> Cost

This wasn’t the main reason why I did it, but it certainly plays a part. Hairdressers that don’t work from a salon don’t have to factor in overheads for accommodation, and self-employed people often don’t have the extra costs that you need to cover in when you’re employing staff and keeping premises running. They can then pass these savings on to the customer. Who doesn’t like a bargain?

Same person every time

You don’t get different people depending on who’s available –you’re guaranteed the same person every time and they know your hair and your preferences, so you have a sense of continuity.

Later evening slots

This will vary from salon to salon, but certainly when I was commuting back from London every day, I had later appointments – much later than the salon would have been open. Not every mobile hairdresser wants to work late in the evening, but if you find one who does, it means you don’t have to leave work early or try and squash an appointment into your lunch break.

No cash necessary

This will also vary from hairdresser to hairdresser, but my current one and I’m pretty sure the first one I had were happy for me to pay online via bank transfer. I do use cash and I do use a card, but I like the freedom of being completely in control, and not having to trust that someone put the right details into the card reader because I can’t read the amount on the screen!

Disadvantages

As with any type of service, you’ll get good people and people who think they are good, but aren’t qualified or who don’t do a good job. If someone’s really terrible, they’ll probably not stay in business long, but it’s always good if you can get a recommendation from someone who’s already happy with the service that they provide.

A mobile hairdresser will bring their own equipment, but you won’t have the same set-up as in a salon. So no chair where you lie down and get your hair washed. No comfortable chair for getting things done that take longer – you might just be on your kitchen chair and having your hair washed over the bath. If you’re up for the whole pampering experience, it might not be what you’re looking for!

If there are people coming in and out of your kitchen all the time wanting your attention, you might just find it too stressful and prefer to go away somewhere on your own for a couple of hours!

You’re working with the one person, so if they get ill or get stranded in the snow, you’ll have to rearrange! If they’re going to be on holiday when you want to have your hair done, you’ll have to wait or get it done sooner. If you leave it late to get your Christmas appointment, there might not be any left (although that can happen in a salon too!)

The hair trimmings do end up on your floor, but my old hairdresser and the current one both offer to take the hoover or the dustpan and brush to them.

So what do you think?

Really it depends on your individual circumstances and what’s important to you.

Have you ever had a mobile hairdresser come to your house? Would you consider it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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How I do eye make-up as someone with a visual impairment – update

I wrote a post about this back in 2017 when I first started the blog, but a few things have changed since then, so I decided to redo it. This isn’t so much about favourite products, although I will mention a couple. It’s about the things I do to make life easier as someone who can’t check in the mirror whether what I’ve done is ok.

Mascara

Nothing has really changed here and what a person likes is a very individual thing. It is completely possible to apply mascara without being able to see. Yes, you have to be careful, and yes, there is a chance you could get it wrong, although I don’t have that many accidents. My main problem is that I have nystagmus, occasional involuntary movements of the eye, which I think to be fair is more of a challenge in terms of mascara application than not being able to see in the first place.

Different blind people have different preferences, so the key is to find out what works for you. I am not a fan of travel-size brushes because they are so small, but some people love them.

I prefer a fatter brush that is the same shape all the way round. Otherwise, unless I mark the brush somehow, I don’t know whether I have the bristle side or the comb side unless I touch it, which I don’t want to do. So one that looks the same all the way round is easier for me, and the fatter ones are great because you have a bigger surface area.

When applying, I bring the brush closer to my eye lids and blink gently until the lash touches the brush. This prevents me from poking myself in the eye with it! Once brush and lash have connected, I can move along it to make sure all the lashes are coated.

I tend to prefer a non-waterproof formula, but that’s just so that it’s less of a pain to get rid of.

Some people get their lashes tinted so they don’t have to bother with it at all, but I don’t find it that hard and therefore don’t mind doing it.

Eye primer

Contrary to what I said in my first post, I prefer the ones that you apply with an applicator. Some of the thicker formulas in jars can be more annoying when it comes to spreading them evenly. I have a few different ones, but prefer the clear formulas, because they are more forgiving and I really just want them to stop the eye shadow creasing and not for any additional colour.

Eye shadow

This is the biggest area of change from 2 years ago. At that time I was really into cream shadow pots. I still like these, but in many ways you get what you pay for, and some of these do tend to dry up, even if you’re careful. Once they’ve dried up, they’re impossible to use and you have to throw them out. Ok, they’re not meant to last forever, but you do want to get your money’s worth out of them. My Charlotte Tilbury Eyes to Mesmerise is still going strong and my Mac paint pot, but I don’t like to have too many of these open now.

The biggest improvement I’d say is in terms of crayons. Maybe I was just using the wrong ones before, but a lot of them felt quite firm and this meant that they dragged along the lid, making the experience of applying them quite uncomfortable. I’ve discovered some really creamy ones recently though such as the ELF shadow sticks and the NARS shadow sticks which you just apply by colouring in your eye lids with the crayon. You can feel that you’re in the right place by where the tip of the crayon is on your eye lid, and even for someone with fairly small, hooded eyes, it’s not hard to do. Both of these crayons come in a range of colours.

I tend to go for simpler single-colour looks that I can do easily, rather than attempting something more complicated that may not work out.

Recently I got my hands on a liquid eye shadow. To be honest it was in the sale and I bought it just to see how good I would be at applying it before investing in more. I was impressed at how easy it was, and overall I’d say the crayons and liquid eye shadows are actually easier to apply without sight than the creams – though I will still continue to use all of them because I like the variety.

The only thing I don’t use is powder products. I know of blind women who do, but I just can’t be bothered with the hassle, and it feels too unpredictable because I can’t see if there was any fall-out or how evenly I have applied it. I want something where I feel I have a higher chance of getting it right first time, and this is particularly important when you can’t judge the results for yourself. Powder shadows don’t give me that assurance. If I cared about it enough, I could keep practicing I suppose, but I don’t really see the point when there are easier options available to me.

Brows

I’m not the right person to ask about these because I don’t do much with them. I’d rather a more natural look anyway and a brow gel is about as far as I can be bothered to go!

So as you can see I don’t make life complicated, and there are blind people who do a lot more. My point is though that there are some blind or partially sighted people who don’t think any make-up can be applied unless you can see what you’re doing, and I wanted to show why this isn’t true. I also felt some of my comments 2 years ago didn’t really reflect what I do now, which is why I wanted to post an update.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any more products that you think I would like!

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The circle – book review and thoughts on privacy and transparency

One of my students was reading this book by Dave Eggers, and I decided to read it too so that we could discuss it in class. I don’t always do this, but I thought the book looked interesting and I was looking for something new to read. Fortunately the library had a copy, and it didn’t take me long – I was done in a couple of days!

Mae Holland has a boring job until one day a college friend helps her to get a job at the Circle, the most influential technology company in the world. Exciting projects, recognition, rewards and opportunities are waiting for her, but even on the first day, things aren’t quite right or what they seem. As Mae becomes more and more involved, she looses touch with her old life and even though her family is proud of her at first, her new life and career leaves no room for her relationships, made worse by the fact that the company provides help for her family that Mae would never have been able to give on her own.

The new projects, whilst exciting, become increasingly intrusive and sinister. Slowly the company swallows up competitors and silences anyone who would stand against it.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it wasn’t the ending I wanted. Still, it was believable and I suppose these dystopian novels never end well!

There is a film too with Emma Watson, but I haven’t seen it so can’t comment. I only read the book – the original was in English, but I read the German version.

Overall I think the book explores some interesting topics such as the potential dangers of a world in which one company has the power to affect every area of life, what happens when people are completely “transparent” and there is no privacy, and what happens if an idea is taken further than it was ever intended to go.

There are some interesting characters, even though I felt the main protagonist was a bit of an idiot at times! I think we can see clearly how she was brainwashed, but it would have been good if the author had developed the sense of being torn between two completely different points of view a bit more. Did she really never lie awake at night questioning some of the things she was told?

I can believe that some people are so taken in that they’ll believe anything once the organisation has got its claws in, but it would maybe have been good to have some other figures to put the alternative point of view. We did have her ex, who made a good case, but maybe one of the other politicians could have made a stand too about why it’s not good to have every single meeting or discussion in the public domain. Why were there no legal challenges about secret cameras being installed everywhere, including in people’s homes? It felt for me as though some corners were cut here, even if the overall end result would have been the same. At some points, the narrative moved too fast, and the lack of resistance made it less believable for me.

It certainly opens up the discussion around privacy, who really owns your data, surveillance, the right to be forgotten, and how much of ourselves we should be willing to share.

The problem I have though, is that often people are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own part in the problem. Ok, if large companies are misusing data, selling data unlawfully, not adequately protecting data from theft or abuse by third parties, they should be called to account for it.

But if you have a public profile and publish your full home address on it, and I have seen someone doing that, then I hope nothing happens to you. But if you then post on that public profile that you’re going on holiday for two weeks, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

The bloggers that I follow don’t do this, and people have different thresholds for how much information is too much information, but I’ve seen things that people post on social media about their children that have made me cringe –things that most people would only want members of the family or close friends to know – not any random that they may have added on Facebook. Private things, that, if the kid found out about it in ten or so years, could leave them feeling unduly exposed or betrayed. I don’t mean general things about struggles they’ve had, but things that are intimate or deeply personal and their own story to tell if they want to. Blogging gives a certain extra layer of anonymity that social media sites don’t, particularly if you’re operating under your own name.

If people go to random websites and give details of their home address, phone number, date of birth, or anything else for that matter – without checking out the site first – of course it’s wrong that the sites exist, but would you give all this information to a random person on the street?

If people sign into all kinds of apps and games with their Facebook account, without checking out what other permissions they are agreeing to – of course it’s not ok if that data is then used in some illegal or morally dubious way, but some responsibility has to lie with the person who clicked the “ok” button, or just used their Facebook login because it was easier.

So yes – large companies need to be held to account, but on a smaller scale, we all have a role to play too. We’re not just mindless passive players, being swept along with the current – or if we are, we shouldn’t be.

When I was taking part in a feedback exercise for my university, I was amazed at a section of the group that was so anti social media because it was so scary and dangerous. I don’t see that in my day-to-day life. I work online and my friends generally don’t feel that way either. Some concerns may be valid, and I wouldn’t just dismiss all of them, but writing it off completely seems like saying “cars are dangerous because you could get run over by them” Let’s not educate people about safe driving. Let’s just ban them all together.”

The danger I see with books like this is that half the population will go running scared and feel vindicated because this is where we’ll all end up you know when the big tech companies take over every part of our lives, and the rest think it’s exaggerated and will never happen. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Checks and balances should be in place. The law needs to keep up with the advancements in technology as some things are only not illegal because the current legislation hasn’t caught up with what’s now technically possible (for example, existing harassment legislation had to be amended to specifically address stalking, which includes activities associated with cyberstalking, as these became more prevalent..)

But on the other hand, dumping vast amounts of previously classified information online without considering possible consequences, or saying “I have nothing to hide so I don’t care what’s known about me” are both somewhat naïve.

It’s like so many things – balance is important. A couple of the early ideas in the Circle had potential to be useful, but when taken too far, they weren’t.

I think some things are close enough to real life to make you smile as you relate to something, like going through 101 reasons someone may not have responded to you when the real reason was just that they hadn’t been glued to their phone and hadn’t seen your message or post. Or, even though we don’t have a bunch of screens on our desk for every single app, the juggling act you do when there are multiple ways for people to keep in touch with you and you have to keep on top of all of them. (Yes, message me on WhatsApp and I still may forget to reply!)

Mae comes across as very naïve and gullible, and she never questions or says “no”. Maybe that’s the path we take when our digital footprint becomes more important than anything else, but real life is rarely so black and white. Some parts of the novel reminded me of my teacher in year 5 “you’ve got some good ideas Kirsty, but this is just the skeleton. His bones are fine, but now put some meat on him!”

Maybe it was meant to be more of an easy read, but I was left wanting to unpack the issues a bit more, or to get a bit deeper into some of the characters which felt a bit superficial.

Have you read this book or seen the film? What did you think?

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5 ways to make your YouTube videos more accessible to people with a visual impairment

I decided to do this post because a couple of the YouTubers that I follow have asked me if there’s anything they can do to make their channels more accessible to people with a visual impairment.

I don’t expect people to completely rethink what they’re doing or particularly to accommodate me, and in many ways, I enjoy “watching” YouTube videos in the same way as everyone else – just without the pictures! I don’t want or expect special treatment. But it makes me happy when people ask this question because they want to be inclusive and make watching their channel a good experience for people who may not be able to see what they’re doing.

YouTube is a visual platform, but I use it as a source of information and entertainment and I know a lot of other visually impaired people do too.

So if you’re interested, here are some things that you could do to make your YouTube channel more accessible.

1. Don’t rely on putting information on screen

If you just display information on the screen, I can’t read it. I know it’s handy for putting up prices or where you can get products, but if you could put that same information in the information box as well, it means that blind people can read it. Information posted onscreen during a video is not read out by screenreading software, but I can use my software to read information on a web page.

If there are key points that you want people to remember – don’t just post them on screen with some music in the background. Either read them out, or put the information in the description box. Some of your sighted viewers have your videos on while they’re doing other things, and you can’t expect people to be glued to the screen at all times!

Having the information in a static place can also help sighted viewers if they want to view a particular link that you mentioned earlier in the video, or to refer back to something.

2. Try to describe colours

If you’re talking about a product, where possible, it’s good if you can mention the colour, rather than saying “it’s this colour” or not mentioning it at all because most people can see it. It’s like scents – your viewers can’t smell something, so often you try to say what it’s like or what it reminds you of. For people who can’t see the colours, it’s great if you can mention what they are, particularly if the product has a name that’s not connected with the colour. If a piece of make-up is named after an emotion, for example, I have no idea what colour that is!

The same goes for clothes too. Is it a long or short dress? Straight or floaty skirt? Long-strap or clutch bag? Chunky or delicate necklace?

Reading out some product information will make the video a bit longer, but I really appreciate it when people do!

If it’s a Vlog, can you say something about what you’re doing? I don’t mean you have to describe everything you see and do, but I enjoy Vlogs more when people give their viewers some clue as to what they’re talking about, rather than just capturing footage with the camera. I get the impression that they would do this anyway, and it’s nothing to do with making the content more accessible, but the fact that we have a bit more verbal information does make the Vlog more enjoyable for someone who can’t see what’s going on.

3. Not all of your YouTube viewers are on Instagram

I know many of them will be. There are also blind people on Instagram, but my time there lasted about 3 days. If you can’t see the pictures, it can be quite a boring experience. So whilst I can understand that many YouTubers want to get people following them on all platforms, there are still people in the world who have no plans to sign up to Instagram. So if you say things like “find out what I thought about the product on my Instagram stories” Or “enter by following me on Instagram”, you’re potentially excluding some people. If someone has chosen to follow you on YouTube, they shouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops to find out what you thought of a product. Even if you decide to do a story on it somewhere else, you could mention your thoughts in your next video as well.

4. Lookbooks aren’t accessible to people who can’t see them

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them because I’m sure some people enjoy them, but signposting is good. I’m happy to just not click on something if I know there will only be music and content I can’t access, but it saves my time if it’s clear from the title or description that that’s what it is!

5.Be willing to answer questions

I don’t mean you should prepare to be bombarded by loads of detailed questions, but I certainly appreciate it when people whom I follow take the time to reply back about things like the shade or consistency of a product. It’s generally a good thing to do if you interact with viewers anyway, because it’s a way to carry on the conversation and build up a relationship with them, but if someone didn’t get a piece of information that they wanted because they couldn’t see what you were showing, it’s helpful if you can take a couple of minutes to answer a question. You can’t be expected to know everything that people might want to know!

I hope the tips were useful.

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My weighted blanket – what is it and why did I get one for Christmas?

I thought I’d do a bit more of an in-depth post about one of my Christmas presents because some people have no idea what they are, and in any event I’m moving away from monthly favourites posts to articles with more information on one topic.

When I first started to learn about sensory differences, I thought all of my behaviours were sensory avoiding ones. Like avoiding loud noise or certain textures. But now I see that that from a young age, I showed signs of sensory-seeking behaviour too, like the hours I would spend on my swing, or the drama with the duvet and the sheets.

I’ll explain! In those days, we had a normal sheet, and then another sheet on top of that, to go over you, and the duvet or blankets on top. But that upper sheet between me and whatever else was on the bed had to be pulled really tight. I always asked my Nan to make it as tight as she could before she said good night.

When I was old enough to do it myself, I always did. Not just at bedtime. If I got out of bed in the night, the whole procedure had to be done again, even when I was half-asleep. I’d kneel down on the floor next to the bed and push the sheet as far under the mattress as it would go. Then I’d inch my way in from the top, only pulling it as far as necessary for me to get under and feeling that tight cocoon feeling of being wrapped up. Not quite the same as the weight of a blanket, but I knew I liked it and it made me feel safe and cosy so that I could fall asleep again. That was just the way the bed had to be!

Later we did away with these extra sheets and just had duvets, but I always wanted the heaviest one I could find, even in the Summer. As an adult, I left the same Winter duvet on all year round and maybe added something extra in the Winter. Not because I was cold, but because I wanted the extra weight on top of me.

I often used to sit with my dog on my lap – not a little lap dog, but 34 kg of golden retriever. Sitting with her and stroking her had its own beneficial and therapeutic effects, but I never thought anything of all that weight on my lap.

Finding out about weighted blankets

So then I started hearing about weighted blankets. I’d had one on my Amazon list for a while, but I’d never seen one. And that was the problem – firstly the expense, because they aren’t cheap, but secondly although I love online shopping, I really wanted to see one and to touch whatever it was that made it feel heavy. Nobody has them on display though. You have to buy them online. And that worried me because it would be a lot of money to waste if I wasn’t ok with the texture of the material used to give it the weight.

Once you start looking out for something, you se it cropping up everywhere. I noticed posts on blogs about them and how they helped children who wanted the same kind of sensory input. I kept thinking about it, but didn’t get round to buying one. I also kind of hoped it might drop in price a bit as things on Amazon sometimes have a tendency to do, but these are specialised and therefore I didn’t fancy my chances.

So when S asked me to make a Christmas list, I started with the things on my Amazon wish list. I didn’t want a specific one, but I found the link to one and added it to the spreadsheet. He ended up choosing a different one, but I’m not sure I would have indulged in this for myself, so I was very happy about it turning up under the Christmas tree!

The blanket arrives!

On Christmas Day I had a very heavy box to open! A 15kg heavy kind of box! It was my blanket!

It was a bit different to what I’d imagined. It’s not as big as a double duvet, but it can go over 2 people when folded out, so it’s a double one. I thought the weight of it would be concentrated over a smaller area, but then I realised it was supposed to be a double one!

The idea is that the blanket goes over the body, and it’s not supposed to hang over the bed, otherwise it will just pull down towards the floor. You can get different weights depending on a person’s body weight and preferences.

The tiny beads are kept in place in squares, so you don’t have the problem that they all fall down to the bottom or to one side. It can apparently go in the washing machine, but I dread to think how heavy it will get when full of water – it’s heavy enough now. So I’d want to reduce the need for that to happen and put it in a duvet cover or something if you’re not going to have it on top of your duvet as we do.

We put it on the bed on Christmas night and I had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. I don’t have sleep issues, but I would say I sleep better with it on – it’s a deeper and a better quality of sleep. The weight relaxes me and although hew wasn’t originally the one looking for one, S seems to like it too!

It is fine now, but it will be too hot in the Summer. I hadn’t really planned on having it on the bed, so when the weather gets warmer, I’ll take it off and use it as a blanket on the sofa in my office. For times when I’ve had enough or need some balancing time if I’ve felt overstimulated and want to hide and snuggle under its weight .

How do weighted blankets help?

Weighted blankets look and feel like normal blankets, but they are heavier, because they have been filled with tiny polypropylene pellets that are distributed evenly throughout the blanket in squares that are about the size of a hand when it’s spread out.

The feeling of the weighted blanket is often compared to the sense of being hugged. This can help people who like to feel the pressure of being squeezed in a big hug, or apparently it is also good for some people who don’t like so much physical contact with another person, but who enjoy the pressure sensation.

It’s said that using the blanket is similar to deep pressure therapy and stimulates the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter – a chemical in the brain that can make us feel calm, happy or relaxed. It’s often released when we do things like hugging, and therefore the weight of the blanket is compared to that feeling of being hugged.

I can’t give advice for individuals and wouldn’t want to. Some people will like them, others won’t.

From what I’ve read, some people on the autism spectrum as well as those with anxiety and/or sleep issues have said that weighted blankets have helped them. I’ve read most about them on blogs related to autism, but the blankets are used by neurotypical people as well.

I know that in the past, when I’ve felt sensory overload or just stressed out after a long day, I’ve gone to bed and burrowed right under the duvet, sometimes piling other blankets on top. I didn’t really understand why at the time, but just did it because I thought it would help. My blanket fortress to keep out the things that were stressing me out! For me, the weighted blanket is a cosy, heavy extension of that!

Have you ever heard of or used weighted blankets?

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Life of a student – the first 4 months of my Open University course

Back in October I wrote my first post about my studies, before the first module had started. It was exciting, and in some ways I didn’t know what to expect. My previous experience with the same university, but a different subject area, had not been great in terms of accessibility for visually impaired students, so I guess I was a bit apprehensive, even though it seemed a lot of progress had been made in terms of accessibility.

Now it’s four months later and I’ve nearly finished two out of three blocks in my first module. So how’s it been?

The topics

The first module that I chose is called Introduction to computing and information technology, which, as the name suggests, gives you a basic foundation in a number of topics, that you can then go on to develop, depending on which path through the degree you choose.

Block 1 was really varied and interesting. Some things were more familiar to me, such as writing basic HTML and recording and manipulating sound. These are both things I do all the time at work, even if the sound production for the podcast is done using different software. It felt nice to know that I wasn’t completely starting from scratch in these areas!

Other things included a basic introduction to how computers have developed over time – not at all technical, but I didn’t know much about the history, so that was good.

Some of the maths gave me a headache, but I discovered quickly that it was more the way some concepts were being explained and not that I was just too stupid to be able to do it. More about the maths in my do I really hate maths? post.

We also looked at considerations for product design and then usability testing for websites, which is something I offer with a specific focus on accessibility. Some of the design concepts were a bit harder for me to visualise as someone who doesn’t know things that most others take for granted such as what certain icons look like (I just care about what they do and that they have been labelled properly) But this didn’t prevent me from understanding the concepts or answering the questions.

We also had an introduction to databases – the ideas for which weren’t new, but the writing of basic queries was.

Block 2 was less enjoyable for me because it focussed on programming, in itself not a problem, but it was taught using a horrid visual programming language, which involves dragging blocks of code around with your mous and assembling them to create programmes. I can’t use a mouse and neither can I see animated characters moving around on my screen.

I really wish we could have started with something less visual and more applicable to real life, but you have to wait for the next module before you start learning textual programming languages. This made me sad, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least the theory and concepts would be useful, even if the practical stuff required me to rely more heavily on a sighted assistant than I would normally want to.

I told my assistant what I wanted them to do and they gave me feedback about what happened visually, because the resulting programmes only run in the inaccessible software where you create them.

I went into the module knowing what I was getting in to, but all of the routes through the IT degree begin with these first two modules, so there was really no way round it. On the plus side, the most inaccessible part of the whole degree is done, because if there’s another module with such a high content of inaccessible material, I’ll just choose another – the advantages of choosing an open degree where you pick all of your own modules!

This module has three distinct blocks and block 3 is about networking. It looks a lot more interesting than block 2, although the main reason I didn’t enjoy block 2 was the programming language itself, not the concept of programming, which if written in a textual language, should be very accessible. And after all, I’m a linguist. I like languages and the rules that govern how you can use them. These rules are adhered to even more strictly in programming, than in languages such as English with its many exceptions to grammar rules, so there’s even less room for error.

Keeping on track

You get an online planner on your student home page and you can see what content you’re supposed to cover each week. It seems some people like getting weeks ahead and then showing off about it in the forums. I’ve no problem with getting ahead, but do you really need to keep going on about it?

Anyway, for most of the weeks, I set aside some time each day in my calendar and did part of that week’s work. I treated it like any other task I have to get done throughout the day and built it into my weekly planner. This worked well, although it took more effort to get my act together and stay motivated during block 2 because I wasn’t enjoying it as much.

Over Christmas I just really wanted to be done with it, so I got ahead of myself, finished the block and submitted the assignment relating to it.The end of the block wasn’t as bad because it looked at some of the concepts we’d been learning in the horrid visual language, and compared it with the same code in Python and Java – only simple things, but they made much more sense to me and gave me hope for the future!

The materials

I get printed books like everyone else, but I can’t use these, so I have been using the online versions of the books. They’re great! You can have the whole block appear on one page, which makes it really long, but then it’s easier to navigate the book using Jaws and jump around the document via the headings.

There are also downloadable or audio versions for people who want to learn that way, and it’s definitely good that more options are available now than there were when I was first looking at studying

a different module many years ago.

At first the image descriptions were missing, but afterI flagged this, my tutor was quick to help me track them down.

Working online

For me, working online is the best part. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to shift a load of access technology somewhere. You don’t have to rely on inaccessible printed books, or stacks of Braille books like I had at school. Braille books are great, but they take up a lot of room!

As someone who is self-employed, I’m lucky that I can set aside some time for study, but not having to go to physical lectures means that I can fit the work in when I have time for it, andI don’t have to work around a preset schedule. I love that!

This kind of course means that you spend a lot of time working on your own. Some people might miss the company, but I don’t. I can work collaboratively, but I don’t need other people to be around for me to stay motivated. In fact, working on my own in my quiet office is my favourite thing!

There are a couple of tutorials in each block. There’s a range of dates and you book in for the ones that you want to attend. I only want to attend online ones and whilst it’s easy to book them, the system used for accessing them is not very accessible for screenreader users.

In fact it’s the worst kind of inaccessible – the flaky kind. Sometimes it works and other times the screenreader loses focus and then you’re done for unless you leave the meeting and come back. The app didn’t seem that good either, although I haven’t tested it with an active meeting room link.

Basically I can attend and hear everything that’s going on, but due to issues with my screenreader losing focus, I can’t access the chat window reliably. To be honest I don’t care much – I can email any questions in at the end. It would be nice to participate more, but the tutorials aren’t really used much for discussion or working on projects – it’s more about the tutor explaining things. At school I was often that kid who knew the answer, but never put her hand up, so although I’d be happier if they switched to something more accessible, I don’t feel it affects my overall experience too much.

Also, my tutor has a list of all the tutorials I booked in for, and he contacted the other tutors to ask that they send me their slides in advance so that I can read them outside of the conference software. Usually the slides are made available afterwards.

In more general terms, my tutor has been quick to respond to emails, answering questions or chasing things up when I haven’t had what I needed.

Contact with others

Most of the time, you work on your own. That’s not to say that there is no contact with others, but you have to be a bit proactive and hunt it out. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to find others on your course.

There is a list of forums on the main website, with a specific one for each module. I’ve also found some Facebook groups (one for each module, and also some more general interest ones). There’s a Slack channel, which isn’t used heavily, but it’s there. There’s a Discord channel, which I honestly haven’t bothered with much because the app was a bit annoying, and I don’t think much is happening there. At the other end of the scale, there’s a WhatsApp group that I had to leave because it crashed my phone and I didn’t want to download 250 messages each time I wanted to look at it.But yes, anyone who’s looking for more contact with other students can join the Whatsapp group and their phone won’t stop buzzing with social interactions!

I attended a face-to-face meet-up too, which was nice enough, but there was no one there from any of the IT courses. So whilst it was nice to have a chat, it wasn’t that beneficial in terms of the course.

If there’s a problem, you have to be more direct about addressing it than you perhaps would in a face-to-face setting where people can see you.

These past few weeks have been tough, not so much because of the inaccessibility, but because of how being more dependent made me feel. I tend to withdraw if I’m not ok, find a solution, maybe hunt out one person that I trust to talk about it with, and then come back and be more sociable. That’s fine for me, but if someone really needed help or support, they would need to be upfront about it, because otherwise people wouldn’t know. So you need to be able to communicate somewhere, either to your tutor or in one of the groups, if something isn’t ok and you need help with it.

Assessments

I’ve completed two online assessments, received 1 assignment back, and submitted the second one. I’m not going to go into my marks here, but I’m happy with them – apart from some points I needlessly dropped by not double-checking something – grr!

Overall thoughts

Overall I’m enjoying both the online study experience and the introduction to computing and IT module. I didn’t enjoy the last block, and if any blind person who uses a screenreader is planning to do this module, they will need to bear in mind that they’ll need sighted assistance for the practical tasks in block two. All of the actual work needs to be your own, but you’ll need someone to move your mouse to drag the code blocks around and describe what they see.

If I hadn’t had such a good assistant with whom I can work well, my experience would have been much worse!

But I want to focus on the positives, because the theory and concepts I picked up in block 2 will help me when it comes to the introduction to Python in the next module. Also, block 3 looks a lot more accessible, so in accessibility terms, I think the worst is over.

In more general terms, I think it’s natural that for whatever reason, whether it’s to do with accessibility or just what you like and are good at, you’re going to like some parts of a course more than others. That’s life. Yes, it would have been better if a text-based alternative had been available to the visual coding language, but it wasn’t and I kept plodding on through. Sometimes you just need to get things done so you can move on to something else.

I’ve basically got a week off now because next week people are supposed to be working on their assignments and I’ve already finished mine. So I’ll enjoy that and then I’m looking forward to starting the networking topic.

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My problems with the dining in the dark experience

This idea has been on my “posts to write” spreadsheet for a while, and with all the talk of the Birdbox challenge, it reminded me that I wanted to share my thoughts about the whole “dining in the dark” experience.

Don’t get me wrong – if people want to turn all the lights off and eat their dinner in the dark, it’s totally up to them! But I do have some concerns about things that I’ve read or heard about these experiences, particularly when it’s seen as a representation of what life is like when you are really unable to see.

Not all people with a visual impairment have no vision at all

This is the first problem. Many people with sight loss are able to see something. Even I can see lights, although this doesn’t help me to eat my dinner because I can’t se colours and shapes. But blindness doesn’t mean 100% sight loss for everyone who is affected by it.

You have none of the skills that I’ve taken years to learn

If someone is suddenly plunged into darkness, all they have is their other senses, but none of those skills and tips that I’ve picked up over years of eating without the ability to see.

You just have to get on with it, without knowing how to measure how much is on your fork by how heavy the fork is, or by using your knife and fork together to measure the size of the piece of food.

It’s true there are times when I put an empty fork to my mouth, and that is irritating, but it’s better than trying to ram something in there that is way too big!

You haven’t learned how to pour things without looking, or without spilling anything.

You haven’t learned to be aware of where things are on the table, so as not to knock them over. I am not perfect, and everyone drops or spills things occasionally, but I’m no worse than most of my sighted friends, and less clumsy than some of them. These things matter to me – I don’t want to be seen as clumsy, so I make sure that I’m not.

You haven’t learn to use your fork as a tool to work out what foods are based on their shape or texture.

You haven’t learned to use your fork to run it under the edge of the knife to see whether it’s serrated, and therefore whether your knife is the right way up. Ok, this caught me out the other day because I wasn’t paying attention, but blunt knives don’t cut well and there is a way to check, without involving fingers.

You haven’t learned to be aware where the edge of your plate is, so as not to push food off the edge.

These are all things that (most) blind people learn at an early age. But good luck, you have 2 hours to master them, and you might not have anyone around to give you tips!

It’s not realistic to have no idea what’s on your plate

I know some dining in the dark experiences let you order what you want, but apparently others just present you with a plate of stuff from vague choices like “meat” and “vegetarian”, and you have no idea what’s on it.

This has occasionally happened to me at buffets in the past – something that can’t happen now because I need to be clear that there’s nothing on the plate that will set off my allergies.

I don’t like people drawing attention to my blindness by describing where everything is on my plate – I can work this out for myself – but it’s not unreasonable to want to know what’s on there. Not least because there might be something horrible, like peas, that need to be removed or avoided!

I wouldn’t feel comfortable about being presented with a plate of stuff with no idea what’s on it. This idea just seems to make the whole experience more uncomfortable, and when would that even happen? Is it assumed that blind people don’t prepare their own food or know what they’re ordering in restaurants?

Going out for dinner is fun!

For me at least it is. S and I went out for a meal yesterday and saw it as a nice thing to do. We meet up with friends. We go out for dinner if we want to celebrate something special, or on occasions when neither of us feels like cooking. It’s not an ordeal for me, and neither does it look like feeding time at the zoo when we’re done.

Whilst some people may have feelings of trepidation before a meal in the dark, it doesn’t mean that eating out is a negative experience for people who do it all the time.

In real life, most other people can see you

I cringed at the idea of “Oh well, noone else can see, so let’s just ignore the cutlery and eat like the monkeys”.

There are some foods that it’s acceptable to eat with fingers. But you can’t just abandon normal civilised table manners just because you can’t see and nobody can see you.

Ok, if someone loses their sight, they need time to learn. And some people naturally have better coordination skills than others, but for people to automatically make the assumption that everyone eats like this is not ok. It’s actually quite insulting. Not being able to see is no excuse for having food all down your dress! People who do this all the time tend to have a better idea of where their mouth is!

How do you think my first date with S would have gone if I’d eaten like that? It involved whole chicken breasts (no skin or bones) and pasta, and was very good, but do you think there would have been a second date if I’d carried on like that?

Blind people, unless they live in a bubble, are generally not only surrounded by other blind people. People can see us and form opinions about on us based on how we behave and present ourselves.

Ok, I do make life easier for myself by not ordering things like spaghetti when out – because spaghetti should be snapped into more reasonably-sized lengths before it even sees the saucepan. I also don’t tend to order things that have to be dissected because you can’t eat all of it – chicken breast that has to be relieved of its skin is a pain. But generally, I order what I want and deal with it. If the food is served in a dish for sharing, I usually let friends serve me – because it’s easier, they can judge the portions better, and any spillage on the table cloth is then clearly down to them! But I’m also capable of doing it myself.

So you can’t use proper cutlery or wine glasses?

In one review that I read, it said that the knives were blunt and people drank their wine out of tumblers – because sharp knives and real wine glasses were asking for trouble! Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and have plastic ones? No, plastic cutlery is actually really annoying!

I can see why they did it – you don’t want people who have suddenly lost their sense of spatial awareness suddenly brandishing a steak knife around, but it’s still unrealistic. If I have a steak, I want a good sharp knife to chop it up with. And if you give me wine in a tumbler, I’ll be insulted – unless it’s in a restaurant where everyone has them because it’s supposed to be trendy!

There’s no quality assurance

It’s an idea that any restaurant can take on board, so there is no way of measuring how well it is being done. I’ve heard of some blind people who work in these restaurants and they’ve reported that it’s a really good way to get into conversations with people. But with no standards or guidelines, what is being done well in a little town somewhere in Germany, may not be replicated somewhere else.

I know what it’s like for you

When someone said that to me, all I could think to say was “no, you really don’t!” You know what it’s like for you, as someone who’s spent years doing things in a certain way, suddenly being asked to do them in a different way, with no help or experience to rely on.

Oh, and whilst you can step out of the darkened room after the meal is over, I can’t.

Final thoughts

I have written this from the perspective of someone who has never been to a “dining in the dark experience”. My comments are based on what people have told me, and first-hand reviews that people have written online. Whilst I don’t usually review things I haven’t experienced myself, what interests me here is the impressions that people come away with who have never done this before, and the way the experience is being portrayed online. If you had a different experience, feel free to share it.

Many of these restaurants provide employment for people with visual impairments, which in itself is a good thing. I’ve heard first-hand that visually impaired people get into conversations with the diners about what life is really like when you’re blind, which is also a good thing – probably.

If the whole experience were just about the role that being able to appreciate food visually plays in the eating experience, I could probably go along with that. We do enjoy food with our other senses.

I did hear from one person who saw it as a kind of challenge to learn to do things in a different way, and I could respect that. But so many other people left their sense of self-respect along with their coat and phone in the bar, and I find that really odd.

If people just have a good time and enjoy the experience for what it is – fair enough. I want people to have fun! Maybe they’ll learn some things about themselves too and be happy about it!

But whenever I read reviews, all I find is people saying how they felt vulnerable, gave up on the cutlery, had no idea what they were eating, shovelled food in with their hands, whish they’d worn a bib, and then reckon they have a better understanding of what life is like for me? I don’t think so!

How about you? Do you have any thoughts on this? Have you been to one of these experiences? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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