Guest article for the Open University – why the open degree gives me the flexibility to design my own curriculum

I wrote a guest article for the Open University Open Degree blog –
find out why I enjoy the flexibility of an open degree curriculum here!

Blind bride to be – choosing our venue

This is the next part in my blind bride-to-be series following on from my we got engaged and wedding fairs posts.

I’m not going to talk about my venue here. There will be posts about our actual big day after the day. Most of my guests don’t know where it’s going to be yet, and I don’t want my blog readers to know more than the guests! These first posts in the series are more about the planning process in general, and the extra things that you may want to think about or do differently if you have a visual impairment.

Every wedding is different. Every couple is different. I don’t want my visual impairment to be centre stage on the big day because I don’t find it particularly interesting or relevant in terms of defining me as a person or our relationship as a couple. So really it’s more about the planning process for me – getting help when I can’t see pictures of things – getting help to visualise the things that I can’t see, and deciding a colour scheme when I have never seen colours and can’t express my preferences in that respect.

So this post is going to focus on choosing the venue.

Some people have it all sorted – they know exactly where they want to get married. Others have to do a bit of research.

At first we considered various options, but the early ones all had some element of movement in common, and it is a lot easier when everything happens in the same place. You have a base. Your guests don’t need to worry about how they’re going to get from A to B – especially good if they don’t drive. I nearly got stranded once because the people I knew at the wedding had got stuck in traffic and missed the service. Fortunately I found a colleague whom I hadn’t seen for ages, but it could have been interesting working out how I get with my guide dog from a little church in the middle of nowhere to the actual ceremony!

Also, if you want some kind of evening event and are going to hire a venue, that venue probably offers whole-day packages that may end up cheaper or more convenient than other things that you’d been planning.

Making a shortlist

There are loads of wedding venues, so you have to start the narrowing down process somewhere. There were a couple of places that we’d already visited – either as wedding guests at other weddings, at business events, or even wedding fairs.

Going to the wedding fair, particularly the regional one that wasn’t hosted by a particular venue, also gave us some ideas about places that offered what we were after, but that we hadn’t heard of before.

The wedding fair generated a lot of shiny leaflets that I couldn’t read, so I needed someone to work with me on sifting through all the information. I know some brides like stacks of glossy magazines, but I did find myself wishing for something a bit more sustainable like an online exhibitors’ list with website links. I was heartened by some of the exhibitors who took my details and then emailed me information afterwards – meaning I could access details of the venue myself. This didn’t get round the issue of pictures though and many venues let their images speak for themselves, rather than giving any kind of useful descriptions of their function rooms.

Fortunately S is very much involved in the planning and we talked about the pictures and venues before putting our shortlist together. We ended up with 5 on the list – some places we’d been before, others new ones. The length of your shortlist will depend on how long you have to go round looking at venues. I think if we hadn’t found anything we liked, we would have looked at some more, but five was a manageable number to start with.

Setting up initial meetings

We’d both booked a week off and the plan was to set up the meetings during that week. I called the wedding co-ordinators to set them up. We had a couple on one day, but I didn’t put them too close together so that we had time to drive to the venues without feeling rushed, and it also meant we could have lunch at one of them if we felt like checking out the restaurant.

One of the venues deselected itself by being particularly inflexible. Some venues will give you a minimum spend budget and let you allocate it as you want to. Others will try to be really prescriptive about numbers for each part of the day, and this didn’t work for us. Then there were four!

I know some couples tell the venue if someone is visually impaired. This can be useful if you want them to describe the venue, but I chose not to mention it. They’d find out soon enough when I got there and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. All they really needed to know was that they were meeting with a potential customer, and the other information that most of them took about desired dates, party numbers etc.

What’s important to you?

Before we went to any of the meetings, we came up with a list of criteria to think about for each venue. This could be things like:

  • Cost – because only the super-rich don’t factor this in! It matters – both in terms of getting value for money and making sure you’re not going to be spending the next 20 years paying off the wedding!
  • Distance – how far do you want to travel? Is public transport important? (I’ve trekked all over the country for weddings before, so this wasn’t high on the agenda, and we’d fixed the basic area before doing the shortlist. But if one potential venue is a lot closer than one of the others, it might play a role.
  • Venue – what rooms are available and do you like them?
  • Wedding co-ordinator – how interested are they in you as a couple? How willing are they to work in things that are important to you? You can’t base your choice purely on the wedding co-ordinator because people move on and don’t always stay in the same role, but you’re naturally going to click with some people more than others. Can you imagine yourself working with this person?
  • How important is the date to you? Even over a year in advance, not all of the venues could offer our first choice as it had already been snapped up.
  • Do you have any special requests? Due to my sensory needs, a breakout room in the evening was important to us and we needed to find out if the venues could accommodate that. Can alternative arrangements be made for the toast if one of you can’t drink alcohol? Do you have preferences about the roomsreserved for the wedding party or the wedding suite? Are there things that you want to customise to make them reflect you as a couple?
  • Are there any restrictions on suppliers? Do you care?
  • If there are wedding packages, how well do they fit with how you imagine the day?
  • What options are there for food and how well will any dietary requirements be accommodated?

We didn’t fill out the table in the end, but having it helped us to focus on what things were important to us – where there was room for negotiation, and which criteria were deal breakers if they could not be met.

Going to the meetings

All of the meetings followed the same general format – we had a chat over coffee about what we were looking for and what the venue could offer. After that, we walked around the venue, looking at the areas where the wedding ceremony, wedding breakfast, and evening event could take place, and also having a look at the bridal suite.

I tended to do more of the talking – mainly because although I’ve never organised a wedding before, I have organised conferences and other large events at work. I know my way of doing things surprised a couple of people – I was focussing on facts, figures, details – and less carried away with the emotional side of it all. That’s just how my brain is wired! I guess some of those meetings go a bit differently. For me it just felt like being prepared.

I built a better rapport with people who answered me directly when I asked questions. I don’t care if you don’t do eye contact – I don’t either – but looking at my partner the whole time when it was my question is really quite rude and it doesn’t usually result in people getting our business.

I think the main difference was that people described the rooms more – both S and the wedding co-ordinators. I think it’s important to take someone with you if you can’t see the rooms yourself, because people are likely to portray their own venue in the best possible way whereas someone you take can be more objective and make comparisons with the other venues that you have visited. It was also good for me to walk around the spaces and get a feel for how big they were, where the chairs would go, how the rooms could be set up in the evening etc. Walking around a space – well being guided around a space – helps me to visualise it better and think whether this might be the place where I wanted to have our ceremony.

Many of the wedding venues that also do fairs suggest that you come back to see the rooms when they’re decorated, but for me, not having the rooms cluttered up with people made it easier for me to imagine what they looked like and how we would move around between the different areas throughout the day.

Making our choice

This was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had my heart set on one venue most of the way through the week, but we changed our mind at the end. It felt pretty easy to discount two of the four, but the decision between the final two venues was harder. Both would have been great – but it came down to looking at what each venue had going for it and then making the choice. Fortunately we both felt the same!

I do think it really helped that we went to the venues, talked to someone there, and physically walked around them. I get a lot of information online, but it’s good to get a better idea of how the venue is when you get there – because even if you can see them, pictures don’t always tell the full story!

The whole wedding planning process is something that we are doing together. Ok, I’m doing a lot of the spreadsheets and there will be things that S won’t be as involved in – bride-related things – but whether it’s the groom or someone else you trust, I think it’s really important to have people who will give you honest feedback about how things look, because you don’t always get this in the sales materials, and the sales materials aren’t always accessible.

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Brushing up on my Turkish with Duolingo

A long time ago, back when I began learning Turkish, I downloaded and tested a couple of language learning apps. Duolingo wasn’t one of them, but I was generally unimpressed with the accessibility of language apps when being used by people who need access technology. Just to be clear – this is usually something that could be fixed by inclusive design, rather than a problem with the access technology.

I didn’t think any more about it until one of my friends started talking about Duolingo and how he was going to test it out to help him learn German.

I used to have Turkish lessons every week, and I was quite proficient at one point –at least reading and listening to it –speaking was always my least favourite activity. But life happened and I hadn’t done anything with it for about 5 years. I thought if the app were accessible, it might be a nice thing to try. So I downloaded it as well and have been using it for just over a week. This is what I think of it so far.

Mixture of tasks

I was a language teacher who didn’t take her own good advice. I worked extra hard on the things that I was already good at, and neglected those that I wasn’t. This meant that I got even better at reading, and neglected speaking. It’s a bad idea!

This isn’t the app for you if you only want to work on one or two skills – one of my students told me today that he didn’t like it because there was too much emphasis on writing – but I like the way that you get a mixture of tasks. The subjects are broken down into topic areas and you are asked to do things like:

  • Matching pairs of words in your native language with words in the target language.
  • Listening to a phrase and selecting those words in the target language.
  • Reading a phrase and selecting those words in the new language.
  • Translating a phrase from the target language to your native language.
  • Translating a phrase from your native language to the target language.
  • Speaking a phrase in the target language.
  • You don’t know what order the tasks will come in and you can’t influence it, which means you get a good mixture. Actually, you can ensure that you don’t get either speaking or listening tasks for one hour if you’re unable to speak or listen at that time. I don’t know if you are penalised for repeatedly doing this.

    So, this way of doing things keeps the lesson interesting, and it also prevents people from focussing too much on the things that they find easiest.

    Learning or revising

    I do think there is a big difference between learning and revising. This kind of app is great for me because I’ve had a good foundation in my Turkish classes and what I’m doing with the app is revising existing knowledge. Ok, I’ve learned some new words – I don’t think I ever knew the words for turtle or crab before, but I understand the grammar and the mechanics behind how the words fit together, or which circumstances mean that a word gets extra or different letters. There are explanations and it’s possible to ask questions in the forums, but for me this is more of a supplementary method to practice and develop something I already know, rather than a way of learning a whole new language. I like the flexibility of being able to ask specific questions, look for relevant vocabulary to me, experiment with different ways of saying things, and knowing exactly why a mistake was a mistake. I don’t feel that an app like this ticks all of these boxes, so I would be less likely to use it for a completely new language.

    Having said that, I’ll exhaust the Turkish materials sooner or later and I’ve paid for a year’s membership. So who knows – maybe I’ll try the Dutch course afterwards. Still, I think I’d want something else to go alongside the app if I decide I’m serious about learning Dutch.

    Points and motivation

    I won’t go through the whole system about how you gain points, but you gain more points the more lessons you complete and the less mistakes you make. There is a system of hearts, which are like lives that you lose each time you make a mistake. I have a subscription, which means I can have unlimited hearts. This means I still lose points for mistakes, but I don’t have to stop learning until a new heart appears in my account.

    You can see how you are doing in relation to a group of 50 learners. Last week I didn’t know anyone on my board, but I wanted to move up into the next league. Another learner and I were both after 5th place at one point and seeing that she’d overtaken me on the score board was a motivation to do a couple more lessons. I ended up in fourth place and the top 15 moved up into the next league. The gamification can definitely help with the learning, but the learning needs to come first. I can’t be stressing out about what other people are doing on the board, or letting it take over my life when I should be doing other things! I have that kind of personality that really focuses on the numbers, so whilst it’s definitely a motivator, I need to make sure I’ve really learned things and not just be in the pursuit of more points!

    You can also use your points to buy new hearts if you don’t have unlimited ones, and some languages allow you to unlock more content with the rewards that you gain for completing levels. Unfortunately there isn’t any bonus content for Turkish yet, but there are some stories that you can buy if you’re learning German. I think it depends on how popular the language is and whether any additional content has been written yet.

    Accessibility for blind users

    Overall I have been very impressed with the level of accessibility for this app. Turkish is supported by VoiceOver, the screenreader used for iPhones, and all of the Turkish content is used in the Turkish voice. There are a lot of languages and I can’t comment on how well they are supported with VoiceOver.

    Blind users can do all of the activities. Sighted users have a bit more help in the matching exercises because of the use of pictures, but blind users can take advantage of the information in the tips.

    Having witnessed a sighted user using the app, I think that someone using VoiceOver is likely to be slower. This is not a fault of the app – it’s just that working with a screenreader means you need to read everything as we can’t scan the screen as sighted users can. If I want to compete with sighted users, it may take me longer to get my points, but ultimately it’s not about that – learning is my real goal!

    Another small thing is that I need to memorise the sentence I have to say because I can’t review it once the record button has been pressed. This is also not something that the designer needs to fix – it’s just one of those things. If it becomes too much for me to remember, I’ll just quickly write the sentence down on my laptop and read from there.

    The only thing I struggle with, and which caused much cursing when I lost points, was that occasionally there is a delay when it comes to recording the spoken tasks. If you press and hold the button and there is no delay, you get the usual press and hold sound. If there is a delay, a sighted person can see that the app has not started recording yet, but a blind person can’t. This means that I sometimes started speaking too soon, had finished speaking by the time the recording started, and as a result lost the point – even though what I said was right. I have suggested to Duolingo that a sound could be played once the recording had started, and a representative replied very quickly to say that my comments had been passed on and they were looking into it.

    The only other minor thing is that if you are learning a language that has short stories (Turkish doesn’t) the buttons are not labelled correctly for screenreader users – they are all just called “button”. This could easily be fixed in the coding of the app and would bring the stories up to the same standard as the exercises. To be fair, I’ve only looked at the German stories, so can’t comment on others. This doesn’t make the stories inaccessible though – you have to click the button to the left of whichever option you want to choose.

    But overall I’m impressed and think that they did a really good job at designing an accessible app.

    Final thoughts

    Using the app has definitely helped me to get back into the swing of doing some Turkish every day, and this is what you really need if you want to get better at using a language. Little and often is good, and that’s exactly what you can do with this app – whether you put in 5 minutes at a time or half an hour. You’ve got it on your phone, so it’s always with you if you find you have a bit of spare time for language practice.

    There’s a lot of repetition, which helps when it comes to memorising new words.

    I like the variety, and I like the fact that you’re given tips about alternative answers or small typing errors that didn’t cost you a point, but that you should look out for next time.

    I am slower at typing on my phone than my laptop. That’s a fact. As long as I’m not writing long texts, I can live with that. I think I’ve shied away from using apps for language learning because I don’t enjoy chatting on my phone, but this is just individual sentences, so I don’t mind.

    The speaking tasks are good for pronunciation, but not for spontaneous speaking practice. This isn’t something that can be measured like the other activities, and I don’t think this is a need that an app like this can meet – which comes back to my original point about using this app as part of a language learning strategy, rather than relying on it entirely. I’m not just saying that so as not to put language teachers out of a job! I think there is value to be gained from spontaneous communication with others in the target language, and I also benefited a lot from working with a Turkish teacher so that you really understand how the language works.

    But when it comes to practicing – absolutely – I am definitely learning new vocabulary and getting back into the swing of thinking in Turkish.

    Finally, Duo is an owl, so it has to be good! Right?

    Have you tried Duolingo?

    If so, what did you think? If you’re using it now and want to be friends, let me know and I’ll share my ID.

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Finding friends when you move to a new area

This is one of the suggestions that came up when I did the survey (thanks for that!) and I thought it would be an interesting conversation to have. So if you have some extra tips, please leave them in the comments. Also, if you haven’t done my short survey yet and you have a couple of spare minutes, you can find the survey here.”

I’ve moved house several times. When you’re a child, you have different issues – you’re thrown together with a bunch of kids whom you don’t know and whether or not you make friends with your new classmates straight away, you see them every day. When you’re an adult, it’s different. You don’t always need to come into contact with the people who live on your street or in your neighbourhood. Sometimes this is fine – especially if you’re someone who enjoys peace and quiet, but if you are looking for new contacts, it’s good to have some ideas about where to start.

I’m not the most gregarious person around. I’m an introvert. You might not see it, but the list of people who don’t take my social energy is very short! With everyone else, I need to recharge afterwards!

I have a group of people whom I know and spend time with, but rarely at the same time. I much prefer small groups to big ones, and this is reflected in the kind of activities I enjoy. One of my things this year is to try and be better at staying in touch because sometimes people just fall off my radar.

Still, when this topic was suggested for a post, I realised I had developed some strategies, so here they are. I’d be interested to read yours too.

1. Don’t lose touch with your old friends

Moving doesn’t have to mean cutting ties. Actually, when I moved to where I live now, it was easier at the beginning to stay in touch with my friends in Germany than the friends from where I used to live. My German friends and I have been chatting online for years, but I didn’t do that with many of the people whom I saw every day. It takes a bit more effort to change the relationship into one where you still keep in touch even when you don’t see people, and if you want to meet up, at least one of you has to travel. But if you want to prevent feelings of isolation and more importantly, if the relationship means something to you, it’s worth the effort to find other ways to stay in touch.

2. Work can be a source of friends

Many years ago, I first moved to London because of a relationship. That relationship didn’t work out, but I stayed. When I arrived, I only new my ex’s friends, but after that, I developed a whole other network, at first mainly through work, and that was how I got to know some people with similar interests to me, or whom I wanted to spend time with after work.

The tip doesn’t work so well if you’ve gone to work in a new town where you don’t know anyone yet, and workplaces have different cultures in terms of how much people mix work and pleasure, but you may find some people whose company you enjoy.

When I lived in London, one of my closest friends was someone whom I originally went for a glass of wine with because we were both too busy to keep our coffee appointment in work time!

If you work for yourself it’s a bit harder because you don’t have colleagues in the same way. Some people like to join co-working spaces. I don’t want to do this, but there are networking groups around for people who want to meet other business owners and chat on a level that you perhaps couldn’t with other people who aren’t in the same situation.

3. Meet the neighbours!

This is never been something that I’ve been particularly good at. The most I’ve done is introduce myself to them, and anyway, it’s a lottery as to what kind of neighbours you’ll get. But you never know – when I moved here, my neighbour invited me for dinner with her and her partner. By the end of that year I was going out with one of their friends –S, who I’m now engaged to! So you never know where these things will lead!

4. Join a club

I’ve always been in lots of online forums and groups – I find that kind of thing easy. Joining a face-to-face club was actually a terrifying prospect, but I decided to do it after I’d been living here for a couple of weeks.

I chose a walking club, because I wanted to get out in the nature at the same time as meeting people, but it could be anything – a hobby, a sport, a club for people with dogs, or just something local.

The walking club had a social evening in a local bar and when I first got there and still hadn’t even figured out which bunch of random people was the group I was there to meet, I wanted to run for the door. I ordered a large glass of wine before I could change my mind! But once I got talking to people, I enjoyed the evening and did a few walks with them. I don’t belong to the club now, but it was a good way to meet people when I first arrived.

The walking club was on Meetup – a site with all kinds of groups from activities to games to general social groups.

5. Take online friendships offline

If you are someone who likes to suss people out a bit first, or who doesn’t want to do a big group activity, there are plenty of ways to use the internet to find people who share your hobbies or interests. At least then you’ll have something to talk about and not have to hunt around for things to say.

I’ve found language tandems can be good for this. I started talking to a lady online as part of a Turkish English tandem (where you help each other to learn a language). We arranged to meet in a café not far from where I lived. As it turned out, she only lived a couple of roads from me and after our first meeting we met up several times for language practice and cooking together.

One of my other language tandems did not live as close, but I took the train to Cambridge and spent the weekend there with her and her family. Another time she came to London with her daughter and we did a self-guided walking tour where her daughter took some pictures for her art course. I would never have met them if I hadn’t been active online.

You might not like languages, but maybe there’s another hobby that lends itself to forums, Facebook groups, or other ways to find people with similar interests. This can be particularly good if you don’t enjoy small talk because you can go straight to talking about the subject that you both enjoy..

6. Your dog can help you to find friends!

I don’t think it’s good to get a dog if your main motivation for doing so is to find friends – having an animal is great, but it’s a lot of work and responsibility too! But having a four-legged friend alongside you can get you into all kinds of conversations when you’re out walking. Some of the ones I ended up in were just bizarre – not sure if that’s a guide dog thing or a dog in general thing – but there were some friendships that developed out of them too!

7. Local free events

I haven’t actually done this, but a friend of mine joined a Facebook group for people who were new to her part of London. They organised activities such as trips to the cinema, visits to a museum, meetups etc. Everyone was in the same position and looking for some new friends. I think she had a good time.

If online groups aren’t your thing, you could look for notices about local events.

Go at your own pace

I used to feel I had to be the one always doing something, always going somewhere – and sometimes you just need a rest. I’m better at carving out time for myself or to spend with my partner now – getting a long-term partner definitely made that easier! But I don’t have such high expectations of myself or my social life now because I’ve learned that I do better when I’m not out till the early hours every single night of the week. Maybe it’s also just what happens when you hit your 30s!

My point is though that you don’t need to know everyone in the village after the first week, and even if you are up for building a bigger social network, it doesn’t have to happen over night. You need time to figure out whom you really click with and which people’s company will make you happy!

So, let us know – how have you met new people when you moved somewhere new? Or did you move to where you live now so you could have a break from people? Have you tried out any of these tips?

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Skincare and haircare in January – new discoveries, and mango and grapefruit favourites!

Another month has passed and I wanted to tell you about some new products that I discovered and some old favourites! Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these.

Andalou Naturals

I got this Nourishing kukui cocoa Body Butter from Latest in Beauty and it’s like covering yourself in a layer of chocolate! It smells amazing! It’s called a body butter, but it’s not the hard type – it’s more like a thick, rich cream! The chocolate scent lessens after a while, and I was sad to see it’s hard to get hold of this in the UK as it appears to be a US brand. It’s available on Amazon, but that works out at about 3 times what I paid for it on Latest in Beauty. So either I got a good deal or there is a lot of mark-up on this product on Amazon!

Body Shop

I got the Strawberry shampoo and conditioner in an advent calendar. My overall favourite haircare from the Body Shop is the banana range, but this strawberry range is good too, leaving your hair smelling as sweet as fresh strawberries. It’s also good for cheering up dull hair and leaving it nice and shiny.

I also finished up a large juicy pear sugar scrub, which was part of last year’s Christmas range. I like the sugar scrubs because they are much less messy than products that don’t dissolve, and this one was my favourite scent from the festive ranges. I haven’t included a link because it was only available at Christmas time. It’s worth trying out some of the other scrubs because the consistency seems to be different – this one was more coarse with bigger sugar crystals than the mango one that I usually use, so I think it’s not just the scents that vary between scrubs.

It’s an old favourite, but a good one! I got one of the mango sets for Christmas, and I’ve already used the mango body butter. This is of the best scent from the Body Shop as far as I’m concerned, and the body butter is rich and nourishing, keeping you hydrated through the winter.

Cowshed

Such a shame they changed all their names! My favourite used to be called grumpy cow and it’s now just called replenish. I thought it was a fab name. Maybe someone bought it for their mother-in-law or their wife and it didn’t go down too well. Who knows!

But anyway this isn’t grumpy cow, but it’s from the Cowshed and still good. It’s what used to be gorgeous cow and is now just called the indulge range. I made us up a Christmas Eve box this year with some pampering treats and other Christmas goodies, and a little set of this was in there for me. This shower gel makes you and your bathroom smell great for ages, and it contains lavender with some floral notes.

Dr Botanicals

The Dr Botanicals pomegranate superfood sleeping mask has been doing the rounds in beauty boxes for the last couple of years, but I hadn’t had one until it showed up in my October Pip Box. I have been trying a few things from Dr Botanicals recently and so far I’ve liked all of them. This one is an overnight mask that you apply at the end of your evening skincare routine. I tend to not put it on directly before I go to bed so it can dry down a bit, but it’s not sticky or oily as some overnight treatments are. It’s marketed as a smoothing and brightening mask, but I find it’s pretty moisturising too.

ELF

In the past I have talked about this Hydrating face primer a lot, but now that I’ve finished this one up, I won’t be buying any more because I’ve found other things that I like more. It is good if you want a hydrating base, but I prefer my Body Shop primer because it’s not quite so thick, but still leaves a smooth base for your make-up.

Madara

So far I’ve liked everything I’ve tried from Madara, from body care to face products. We got samples of the nourish and repair shampoo and conditioner in the January Lovelula box. I didn’t dislike them, but afterwards my hair felt pretty dull and tangled, not like it usually does when I’ve just washed it. It looked ok the next day, but I’ve got products that leave my hair feeling much nicer than that, so I was grateful for the sample so that I now know not to buy it!

Lucky Cloud

This brand was new to me. We got the balancing Cleansing Balm in the December Pip Box. I’m only really just getting into cleansing balms after one that I really didn’t like. I think there’s a lesson in there – if you try a new type of product and don’t like it, it might be that particular product that you don’t like, and not all things in that category – for me, all cleansing balms.

So, this balm is not super sticky and although it has exfoliating green clay in it, it’s not grainy or scratchy. It also has anti inflammatory oils like grapeseed and jojoba and I found it to be a very gentle cleanser. I would buy this again or try other things from the range.

Original Source

I don’t often buy from this brand, but I wanted to try out their mango shower gel – because mangos! It’s a budget-friendly shower gel that smells of mangos! I’m not faithful to shower gels, so like to swap them out and this is something I would use again.

Rituals

One of the things I put in my self-made advent calendar this year was the Ritual of Holi Body Cream from Rituals. I wanted to try out some of their other scents and I thought this one sounded good. I’ve still no idea what a flamingo flower is, but it’s got pink grapefruit in it, which I love. The Rituals products are always a luxurious treat, and this cream was no exception. It’s rich and nourishing, and like pretty much all of the products from this brand, it smells amazing! I would definitely buy this again, as well as other products from the Ritual of Holi range.

So – some new brands, new products from brands I like, something that has been replaced by something better, and a slightly disappointing product that was only a sachet. I think January was a pretty good month for me in trying out new skincare and haircare. Let me know your thoughts on any of these products in the comments!

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This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested. All of the products were bought with my own money, apart from the mango body butter, which was a Christmas present from a friend.

Unseen Beauty – 2020 survey

This year I’d like to try something new and find out a bit more about what my readers think. This includes what you’re enjoying, which content you find most useful, and what you’d like to see more of. So, if you have a few minutes, I’d be happy if you could fill out this quick survey!

Ultimately it’s a two-way thing. Some of my most popular posts fit into the same general category, but I would get bored writing that content all the time and soon fall out of love with blogging. Still, having an idea of what my readers enjoy will help me to decide on what content I’ll be producing this year and what won’t be coming with us into the rest of 2020.

The feedback is only sent to me. Name and email are optional if you want me to know that it was you or to discuss any ideas for future content.

1. How did you find out about my blog?







2. Which content do you find most enjoyable/useful on Unseen Beauty or what would you like to see more of? Tick all that apply.











3. How do you keep up with new posts on the blog?

4.Which of these ways to contact Kirsty would you use if you wanted to comment on something or suggest an idea for a post? Tick all that apply.





5. I’m interested to know a bit more about where my readers are. What country are you in?

6. If you could suggest the title for my next post, what would it be?

7. Do you have any other comments about the blog in general, or the kind of content that you would like to see on Unseen Beauty in 2020?

8.Are you interested in blog giveaways?


9. If you’d like to sign up for the newsletter, you’d like me to know who you are, or for me to reply to any of your comments, leave me your contact details so that I can get in touch.




Thank you for filling out my survey!

Thank you Pip box – beauty subscription box emails product leaflets to blind customers

Before Christmas I emailed a couple of beauty boxes with an idea. The Pip Box responded to me and has now made a change to their process that makes my life much easier as a visually impaired customer who can’t read their printed leaflets.

The Pip Box is a cruelty-free and vegan monthly subscription box. I’m not vegan, but the cruelty-free aspect is important to me, which is why I started getting this box last autumn. 10% of the profits from the box go to the charity Animal Free Research UK, and the box is named after Pip, the owner’s dog.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that I love trying out new products and discovering new brands, which is why I subscribe to beauty boxes. A lot of the time, you don’t know what will be in the box until it arrives. I have several ways of getting round the problem:

  • If S is around, I’ll just ask him what I’ve got – but he isn’t always around right at the time I want to know, and I don’t expect him to drop everything.
  • I can try scanning the card or leaflet and using an app on my phone to identify the text. This sometimes works, but is less successful if there is shiny paper or if the text is in columns.
  • I can use the same app to scan the products – sometimes this works, but it doesn’t read all of the writing. It might be enough to identify what kind of product it is, the brand, or some random information like what to do if you get it in your eyes. I use this method all the time if I can’t remember what something is, but it’s not so good for finding out about new things. It also depends on the colour and type of writing – the more unusual the packaging is, the harder it is for the scanner to read.
  • Sometimes people talk about their boxes on social media. Sometimes YouTubers and bloggers are fast to get their content up, so I can find out what is in my box too.

But all of these methods are a bit hit and miss for one reason or another.

Leaflet by email

This is why I asked if my Pip Box leaflet could be emailed to me. I can then read the email with the screenreader on my phone or laptop and know exactly what’s in the box. The company websites are also on the leaflet, so I know where to go if I want to blog about one of the products or find out a bit more about it.

This month, Sofi emailed the leaflet to me so I could identify the products when my box arrived. As far as I am aware, the Pip Box is the first beauty box to do this.

As a customer, it makes me happy because it helps me to enjoy the subscription independently without having to rely on others, wait, or use solutions that may or may not work.

As a company, it is one more step to build into the process, but it didn’t cost a lot to add this improved accessibility – only the time to build the new step into the process and the time to send off the email with the information.

Sofi from the Pip Box said “Here at The Pip Box we’re always looking for ways to improve our customer service and subscribers’ experience. When Kirsty got in touch to ask for a digital box leaflet we thought it was a great idea for visually impaired customers. We’ve since added this option to our website, under our FAQ’s section so future customers are aware.”

What was in this month’s box?

In the January, “refresh edit” we had:

  1. A tinted lip balm from Love Byrd (extra points for stating that it’s pink in the description because the name pucker doesn’t really give this away)
  2. 6 shades of nude eye shadow palette from cougar
  3. Black tea body scrub from Delhicious
  4. Face mask and mask brush from May Beauty
  5. Wild rose body lotion from Weleda

I’ve only heard of one of these brands before, so this month’s box was a great way for me to discover some new ones.

Weleda is most often talked about because of its skinfood, but I actually prefer their range of body lotions, so I was pleased to get a mini of one of them in this month’s box.

I’m most interested to try out the mask – I haven’t used it yet, but plan to tonight. I usually apply masks with my fingers, but I can see how a brush would help to get it all even, and this brush is super soft!

A lip balm is a good handbag staple, especially for this time of year when it’s cold and the lips need some extra protection. I like the ones in stick form too because you can easily apply them on the go.

I usually use sugar-based scrubs, but I like to see companies repurposing things such as tea leaves and coffee grounds so that they don’t go to waste.

The palette is something I won’t use because I only use cream and liquid eye shadows, but I’ve passed it on to someone who was really pleased with it, so it didn’t go to waste!

Once I had got my box, I could identify the lip gloss, brush, palette and scrub by touch. I’ve had Weleda lotions before, so was pretty confident that the tube was the lotion and the sachet was the mask, but I scanned them with my app to be sure. It generally won’t read all the information, but generally one or two words are enough to tell things apart, and it helps when you know what you’re looking for.

Final thoughts

I often highlight things that don’t work for me or that make my user experience more difficult, because I want to help educate companies about the often small changes that they can make to improve the accessibility of their websites, products, or user journey. I also like it if I can make people think about things they otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

But I also like to highlight good practice when I come across it because there are good news stories too. Sometimes you just need to ask and the change will be made for you.
So, if you’re looking for a cruelty-free and vegan-friendly subscription box from a company that listens to customers, I can recommend the Pip Box. If you’re visually impaired, now you can ask for a digital copy of the leaflet so you can know what’s in your box.

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Making bread at Ann’s smart school of cookery

This is the next part in my series about finding local activities for us to do together. The idea is that you can often miss things that are on your doorstep – even more so if you can’t see posters or other forms of advertising. So I use the internet to search for things, a bit like a tourist who’s new to the county or surrounding area. It can be things to see, things to learn, experiences – anything that I think S and I will both enjoy and that will be accessible for me as a blind participant. I’m responsible for finding and booking things, and S is responsible for agreeing to the shortlist and getting us there!

So, on Saturday we set off for Ann’s smart school of cookery to attend a bread-making class. They have several locations, but we went to the one in Windsor.

We were asked not to take any pictures during the course, which is why there are none on this post.

I booked the course in November, so I think they must be quite popular because this was the first available date. The link I used was on Groupon, and it gives you a substantial discount on the artisan bread-making course. (The link was correct and valid at the time of publishing. The link is a Groupon affiliate link, but I purchased the experience and it is not a paid promotion).

The course

We’ve been to Windsor a few times and it was easy enough to find the building. In fact we were the first to arrive, but there was coffee waiting for us while the others set up. (You can add alcohol to your booking, but we didn’t so I can’t comment on that).

The course runs for 2 hours, which included making around 6 types of bread, as well as some humus and dip to go with it. Participants sit at tables around a big square. One side of the square is where the practical stuff happens – we rotated in groups of two and there were usually around four people making bread at any one time. When you weren’t involved practically, you were listening to the explanations and watching the other participants.

With a couple of exceptions, most of the bread types were based on the same recipe, with additional ingredients being added later. You don’t make all types of bread yourself, but each group contributes something to the final feast!

Originally I had imagined that we would all make all types of bread, but this would create more bread than anyone could eat, especially as the food has to be eaten on site. It would probably also mean that you can’t get through as much in the two hours.

What did we make?

We were team walnut loaf – making a spelt dough and adding in walnuts. We made 4 small baguette-type loaves that were later chopped up and shared among the group.

How accessible was it?

S and I were sitting quite close to the practical area, which was nice to be able to hear what was going on. Having said that, the group was listening anyway and there wasn’t a lot of background noise. The teacher gave clear explanations of what he was doing, or what he was telling other people to do, so I could understand what was going on even though I couldn’t watch. A couple of times S gave me some extra information about techniques for making the rolls etc.

We worked in groups, so we divided the tasks to make it accessible. This meant that S did the weighing because I couldn’t see the scales. I’m sure someone else would have done it if S hadn’t been there though. Most people were with a friend or partner, but a couple of people came on their own too.

It wasn’t my own kitchen where I know where everything is, but anything I needed was close by, so I didn’t feel that my not being able to see kept anyone else waiting.

I liked the fact that the information was online, so I could access the recipes myself, rather than having to take notes or convert hard-copy materials to something that I could read.

Trying out the bread

The bit that everyone was waiting for came at the end of the session – trying out what we had made! All food is eaten on site – you get to try what other people made and see which recipes you want to recreate at home! It’s best not to have a big lunch before you go!

As soon as someone opened one of the ovens and I smelled the cooked bread, I began to get hungry! We tried some of all of the breads, and our firm favourite was the focaccia tear and share – probably because of the cumin and rosemary. The bread sticks were good too – I’m a real fan of cumin! There was nothing I didn’t like, although I think the very chocolatey brioche was better than the one with raisins – that’s just a personal choice though from a very biased chocolate lover!

After the course

There was time for us to ask any questions before leaving, and we were all given a printed voucher that gave us a discount on further cookery courses.

For a full list of the courses, from cheese-making to curry classes to an intensive chef course, you can visit the Anne’s smart school website.

We also received the same information by email, which was great because then I could read it too, as well as a list of the recipes as a PDF. Saves some trees and again I could read them using my screenreader.

We haven’t signed up for any more courses yet, but I am tempted by the cheese-making one!

Overall I thought the experience was a good way to help people make the recipes their own. It was not at all pretentious. Our teacher was approachable and happy to give tips or answer questions. People were laughing and all seemed to be having a good time.

It probably did help that S and I had made some bread before – pizza dough, naan breads, flat breads and my old school recipe for tarragon bread, but this wasn’t essential. I think we had a range of abilities in our group and you didn’t need to come with any prior knowledge.

Apart from being an interesting afternoon out and something for us to do together, the important thing for me is that we will use what we learned. I can imagine us making three or four of the recipes, and amending them to try out other herbs or fillings. We also picked up some good kitchen tips – for example I didn’t know you can freeze ginger!

As someone who works in adult education, the main thing for me about training classes is that people don’t just learn something on the day, but they can take it away and use it again. In this respect the cookery class met my goal – it taught us how to make some tasty recipes in a really easy way.

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Visiting Antibes in the South of France

One of the great things about my job is that I can pack up my laptop and work from anywhere where I have a quiet space and a good internet connection. Sometimes if S has to travel for work, I go along too. I work from the hotel room, and then in the evening we can check out the local area together. Sometimes we tag on weekends to the end of the trip to make it more of a mini break.

This is what we did earlier this month and how I got to catch a few rays of sunshine on the Ivory Coast.

I learned French at school and was actually quite good at it, but sadly I’ve forgotten most of it now. Being in France made me want to get out those French books again. People were very friendly and helpful, but I know I could have said more. I don’t mix other languages with my German because I use it all the time at work, but I had the annoying experience that every time I wanted a French word, the Turkish one popped into my head instead. I guess I haven’t forgotten as much Turkish as I thought!

Working away from home

I like the idea of shutting myself away in the hotel room. It’s usually quiet, I know where everything is, and generally in mainland Europe the wifi tends to be fine for doing audio calls or video conferences with customers. The UK is a bit more hit and miss!

In this particular hotel, the biggest challenge was the lack of desk. I’m not sure whether it was to give the holiday vibe and encourage people not to think about work, or because there was a co-working space downstairs. Either way, it was ok in the end. I don’t like joint working spaces, so we constructed a desk with the furniture and suitcases available to us!

One big plus point about this particular room was the Nespresso machine – I’ve never seen those in hotel rooms before, but I definitely approve.

The hotel felt like a bit of a rabbit warren, but being where we were meant that we were in a really quiet part, which suited me fine. If possible, it’s always good not to be too close to a lift as this can interfere with the wifi. I didn’t venture out much while S was away working, but I always familiarise myself with basic routes such as the fire escape, because sometimes those fire alarms go off. I wrote previously about the accessibility of hotels from the perspective of someone who is blind.

It was a little cold to work outside, but I opened the balcony doors every day and it was good to get some clean fresh air into my room.

This was also my introduction to getting around by Uber – we don’t have them where we live and it was definitely convenient not having to make sure you had enough cash for each ride.

A day in Antibes

The photos in this post were taken in Antibes, a Mediterranean resort in South-Eastern France on the Côte d’Azur (Ivory Coast) between Cannes and Nice. The town of Juan-les-Pins, which we also visited, is within the commune of Antibes.

The sea from plage de la garoupe

We didn’t have a fully-packed day hopping from tourist attraction to tourist attraction. We looked online the evening before, made a list of a couple of places to visit and things we wanted to buy, then took an uber into town and started walking around.

I got the impression that the area is much busier in the summer, but in a way I was glad that it was so quiet. When we got into the main town centre, there were more signs of life – children playing, and people shopping or drinking coffee outside the cafes, but the outskirts were really quiet and some of the buildings even looked empty. Maybe some people just come in the holiday times, but for us it was a nice way to get away from the British winter and enjoy some sunshine!

That’s how I came to be sitting outside, eating my pasta in a short-sleeved dress in January! I didn’t put my jacket on all day until the sun went down!

We didn’t go down onto the beach, but we walked alongside it for a while and saw the boats. I was a bit concerned we would mainly find fish and seafood, which neither of us really likes, but I didn’t need to worry about that – there were plenty of other options available, and there was always good coffee!

Boats moored in Antibes harbour

One of the cheese shops we wanted to visit was closed, but we managed to find another one, where we stocked up on local cheese.

Walking around a town can tell you a lot more about it than driving or taking the bus. And in any event, it was a nice day for a walk. We discovered a café, that seemed to mainly be where local people hang out (always a good sign). We found a park, which unfortunately was closed, and another little green area that we had all to ourselves. We wandered through the streets where the mansions are – later looking at some of the house prices in local estate agents and deciding that we would not be able to afford to live here! We went to the city centre where the shops are, wandered through the shopping area, and had coffee outside one of the cafes.

If you enjoy steak, I can highly recommend the Golden Beef, where you can choose where your steak is from and how it is cooked. The ice-cream is pretty good too, but the steak is amazing!

Sometimes I look at local things to do – museums, places to visit etc. Sometimes it’s just nice to wander round a town and see what it’s like.

Have you been to this region of France? Let me know in the comments!

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10 tips for Moving house when you’re blind

I’ve seen a couple of blogs and videos about this topic recently. I could relate to some of the points very well, and other things made me think “no, there’s no way I would do that!” Not because the ideas themselves were bad, but because they just wouldn’t work for me. We are all different and that’s what makes us interesting.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of moving, because it can be quite a stressful time. Here are 10 tips that worked for me. If you’re also blind, they may also work for you, or at least they will give you some things to think about. To be honest, a lot of these apply whether or not you’re blind, but there are a few extra things to think about as well.

I’ve moved several times as someone who’s living on their own, and also as someone who’s moving in with a partner, so I’ll be pulling from all of these experiences when I write the tips. Also, I’m not just a blind person – there are other things that shape who I am, what I find difficult, and why I would choose one solution over another. The same goes for anyone else who writes an article like this – so there’s no one right way of doing things.

1. Decide what help you actually want and from whom

This is a very personal thing. I usually want as little help as I can get away with – not because I want to prove how independent I can be, but because people trying to help with moving usually end up stressing me out! I have systems and my way of doing things that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily make sense to other people.

Of course I needed help with the actual removals – someone to drive the van and people to shift the furniture and boxes. But in terms of the packing, I did it all myself. I used it as an opportunity to sort stuff out before I packed it, and if I pack the boxes, I know where things are. I politely declined every offer of help with packing and unpacking, because I knew I would feel better about doing it all myself and being clear where things were. This way also meant that if any random stuff was left as a trip hazard, it was my doing! Even if I did do that, I generally remembered that I had done it!

S was actually good to have helping when I packed up last time because he followed requests – “please can you ….” Meant that he would do that thing, and not other things that he thought might be helpful. I can work with that!

Some people have a removal company pack everything for them as an additional service. I would hate this, but if the idea of packing stresses you out, it is an option.

I did get a company in to professionally clean the property though because it freed up my time for other things.

On the day it can be helpful to have someone with you other than the removal company, but it’s good to be clear in advance what that person is there for and what things you might need help with. It’s no good if the removal company starts asking them questions that only you know the answer to. This is a bit easier if you’re moving with or moving in with someone.

If you live alone, what things will you need to ask before everyone leaves for the day? This can include things like how the heating works if you haven’t got an accessible system set up, how the oven works, where the fuse box is, or where the light switches are. I only have light perception, but I don’t want to sit in the dark and some light switches are not in obvious places! Possibly not something for the first day, but it’s also good to know how to turn the gas and water off if you ever need to.

2. Make a plan

This plan can cover all kinds of things, and how much detail you want to put in it will depend on what kind of person you are. I love my spreadsheets and had one with tabs from everything – from potential properties to what was in the boxes to whom I needed to contact.

In terms of the move itself, it’s good to think of a timeline so that you can get things done in time, leaving yourself enough time, even for unexpected last-minute things such as helpers dropping out or running out of boxes!

This is the same for everyone and would include things like getting quotes from removal companies (sometimes they come round to look at how much stuff needs to go), to packing everything up, handing back keys and doing a check-out visit if the property is rented, getting the property cleaned, knowing when people need to be paid and how to make the payment. If you’re having people to help you, who is available on what day, and how are you going to get to the new house on removal day so that you can unlock it and not delay the removal company.

If you have animals, who will look after them on removal day? When I had my guide dog Cindy, she stayed with me and was really chilled out, but it might be easier to have someone help you with looking after animals on moving day itself.

3. Make sure that other people can follow your labelling

I got some help with making labels that were easy to read and that had the names of the rooms on them. They didn’t say what was in the box because they weren’t for me – they were for the people moving the boxes. Once they knew what each room would be used for in the new house, they could make sure that each box made it to the right room.

I also prepared more of these labels for the furniture, so at least each piece of furniture ended up in the right room. I put a Braille label on each sheet, but not on each of the labels. I stuck the correct labels on, and this meant that someone could prepare a batch of them in advance for me to use as I needed them.

I also gave the boxes numbers and had a list of what was in each numbered box.

4. Try to visualise the space and how you want the furniture

This is easier if you can visit the new property more than once before you move in, and if it’s not full of someone else’s stuff. But if you have an idea of where you want your big pieces of furniture, you can ask the removal company to put them in place straight away. It will also help you to figure out if things will fit – as long as you know the measurements for your furniture and can measure the space in the room.

You can always change your mind afterwards, but I know with my current office, it definitely helped to know where I wanted things because some furniture is quite heavy. Also, if you’re blind and you can visualise the lay-out of the rooms in your mind, it will make it easier for you to negotiate them when you move in. If it’s hard, try using Lego!

People learn at different speeds. Don’t expect to have everything memorised on the first day. You may take a wrong turning once or twice – it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got a lot to think about, so if you tend to be a perfectionist as I do, remember to give yourself a break!

5. Keep things that you will need close at hand

For me this was things like laptop, coffee-making stuff, handbag, phone etc. If everything is everywhere, it’s hard to locate exactly what you want, so keep a bag or box with the things that you will absolutely want first, or that would stress you out most if you couldn’t find them. This box can even travel with you so there is no chance of it getting misplaced.

It can also cover basic things like cutlery – during one move I got a take-away after what felt like a really long day, and we spent ages looking for forks because I hadn’t kept some out!

6. Have a plan for unpacking and be clear about priorities

Decide in advance whether you want to do all the unpacking yourself, or whether you want help. If some of the things belong to you and someone else, such as things for the kitchen, who’s responsible for sorting them out?

I’m not bothered by boxes in the first couple of days or even weeks. My plan is to get things moved from the box to the place where they are going to be. This means that someone trying to help by unpacking boxes and leaving stuff out of the box so that the box can be taken away is going to drive me wild! Sometimes you need to communicate your plans and expectations with the people working with you so you’re all pulling in the same direction.

7. Make a list of people who need to be notified of your move

This is something I did prior to the move so that it was easier for me to just go down the spreadsheet and tick them off after I’d notified each company or person. Some things didn’t turn out to be as accessible as I’d hoped. In some cases it was just an email. Sometimes I needed to fill in an online form, which may or may not be accessible. Sometimes we’re still back with the dinosaurs and there are local services that will only accept paper copies of forms that may or may not be available online. You may need to organise some assistance with these if the address change forms are not accessible. This was easier when I was moving in with S, and more of a pain when I lived on my own!

8. Make plans for where you’ll need to go in the first days

This was more relevant when I was living on my own. It’s definitely a good idea to book an online grocery delivery for the first time so you can focus on getting everything set up – unless you really want some time out of the house.

I’ve always done online shopping, so finding out where to get a pint of milk in the first couple of days was never an issue for me, but if you don’t know the new area, it’s important to think about where you will need to go, how you will learn the way, and whether you want to ask anyone for help with this.

Before I moved into one of my other houses and after it had been confirmed, I spent a bit of time with a friend practicing the new route to the station so that I could get to work. That was one of my top priorities.

9. Try to be realistic with your expectations of yourself

When we moved into our current house, we’d made plans with friends for that evening. The problem was, I was done with social interactions by about 3 o’clock. I wanted to shut the door and not deal with another person – apart from S – for the rest of the day. If I’ve had a difficult or strenuous day, the last thing I need is people – even if they are my friends! I knew that, so it would have been better if I hadn’t made plans.

10. Break things down into manageable steps

I think that’s one of the reasons I like my lists and spreadsheets so much – they break my day, week, or projects down into bite-sized chunks that make it all feel more manageable.

It doesn’t have to be finished by the end of the first day. But each box of stuff put away, each person told, or each room that feels like home is one step closer to getting the job done!

If you’re blind and have moved house recently, are there any more tips that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

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