You may remember Jane from my article about a holiday with a difference article. I decided to do a more in-depth article with Jane because she works as a Rehabilitation Officer for Vision Impairment and I thought she would have some good tips in relation to style, clothes, and appearance for people with different levels of visual impairment. My tips work for me, but I know very little about what tips and tricks people with partial sight use, or what other low-tech solutions are on offer. If there’s something that I’ve hated with a passion since I was a child, it was a one-size-fits-all mentality. In this interview, the answers are all from Jane, apart from the paragraphs in brackets, which are my thoughts.
1. Can you tell us something about yourself and your job?
“I work as a Rehab Officer for Vision Impairment (ROVI). I work for a local authority and have been in the job for 5 years.In preparation for this, I completed two years vocational training at Birmingham City university.
I assist people who have sight conditions in maintaining their independence. This can be people who are new to sight loss, or people who’ve never been able to see. There are many ways in which people can be referred to us, such as through the hospital system or they can refer themselves. We don’t work with children, because that’s a different department, so all of my service users are 18 and over.”
2. What are some of the most common questions that people ask you about looking after their appearance, clothes, hair, nails, shopping etc?
“Many clients are frustrated that they can’t check their own appearance. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, and in other cases there is nobody around who can give the help.”
(Kirsty: I can believe this. I lived on my own for over 10 years, and my dog never got into style and fashion feedback! Now my boyfriend does check my make-up if he’s around, but I can understand that many guys wouldn’t be interested in helping with this task! Even if they were interested, some friends and relatives aren’t comfortable about giving really honest feedback – and let’s be fair – some blind people aren’t good at taking it! But when I say “do I look ok?” I mean it – I’d much rather fix anything that wasn’t right before I leave the house, than wander round looking odd.)
“If people have some useful sight, a magnifying mirror can help, particularly for tasks like shaving or applying make-up. Some of my clients use this one. Try to avoid really cheap mirrors because I’ve found they can have a distortion in the glass.
Also, good lighting above the bathroom mirror can make things much easier.
I also get questions about hair styles. My advice is usually to start with something simple that’s easy to manage. You can always build up your skills when you have some free time, or else go to the hairdresser for something more elaborate if you have an important occasion coming up.”
(Kirsty: I would say this applies to make-up too. I know I’d rather do a simple look well, than attempt something really complicated and do an average or a bad job of it. The time for building up your skills is not half an hour before an important night out – it’s those evenings in when you are not under any pressure. When I want to try something new, I get feedback on it first before incorporating it into a look for going out.)
“If you’re learning make-up, or even if you’re not – you could stick to paler colours, because then mistakes would be less noticeable.
If you’re on your own and you aren’t sure what colour something is, or whether something looks ok, there is a phone app called “be my eyes”, which puts you in touch with a sighted volunteer. Video apps on your phone also mean that you can call a friend on Skype or Facetime and ask for some advice. If you don’t want a video call, you could send a selfie.”
(Kirsty: This is true – I had a friend checking outfits, make-up and jewellery with me once when I was planning for a date. It didn’t matter that she lived miles away – the video conference made it feel as though she were in the room with me!)
“If you would rather rely on image recognition than a person when you want to find out what something is, you could try the TapTapSee app. This won’t tell you whether you look ok, but it can help you tell the difference that feel similar by identifying what they are.
Matching clothes is another issue that often comes up. People don’t want to go out wearing outfits that don’t match, and there are a number of things that you can do. For example, there is a device called the Penfriend. You record messages on labels to say what things are, and the device replays the message when you scan the label in the future. This can also be useful when you want to know the washing instructions. You have to have someone read these out the first time, but then the job is done, and there are special labels for the Penfriend that can go through the washing machine.
Some people buy a lot of black trousers or skirts, and then any top or shirt that they put with them will look ok. Some people sew different shaped buttons into clothing so that they know what colour the garment is. Others make a habit of not buying a lot of the same item in different colours. In addition, there are colour detector devices, which identify the colour of clothes, and even apps that do the same thing.
Some people keep certain types of clothes together to make them easier to find (all the jumpers together etc), and others keep going out clothes and scruffy clothes separate. If you have shoes of different colour that feel similar, keep them apart, or keep them in shoe boxes. ”
(Kirsty: I have never seen colours. I understand the concept of light and dark, and that’s about it. Still, I think it’s useful to learn what colour things are, even if the colour names are just words to me, because then I can learn which ones can go together, or which ones suit me.)
“Other people ask questions about how to know when clothes are clean.”
(Kirsty: I don’t struggle with this, but it is annoying if you get a coffee stain on something and you don’t know whether it came out in the wash. I once took a red-wine-stained dress to the dry cleaner’s, and they didn’t tell me they hadn’t got the stain out when I picked it up. This was really annoying! I guess really all you can do is ask if you can’t be sure. On the subject of washing, we have different baskets for the different colours. I do the washing, but my partner has to put his clothes in the right basket!)
“As a sighted person, it can be hard to bring up that someone doesn’t look ok. Most people would want to know if their skirt is tucked in their underwear, but what about if someone’s top is inside out, or if they have lipstick on their teeth? Do you point this out? How will the other person respond?”
3. What tips could you give someone who wants to know more about current trends if they can’t see the pictures in adverts?
- It’s good to ask your friends, someone the same age, and definitely someone you trust and who can distance themselves from what they like or would wear.
- Youtube is a good source of information. Some Youtubers are better than others at describing things, but some go into detail about what clothes or make-up products look like.
- Well-written blogs are the same – you won’t get much information if people only post a load of images, but some are quite descriptive.
- There are personal shopper services at places like House of Fraser or Debenhams – the service is free and they are not pushy about whether you buy.
- If you find a brand that you like, you might like other things from them and it’s easier to choose the right size.
4. What things are still good to know, even if people don’t ask?
“I think sometimes, whether or not they have a visual impairment, people don’t think about the way things change as you get older. Some of the lipsticks that you wore in your 20s might not look as good in your 50s. Your skin changes, so as well as needing different skincare products, the tone can change as well. Do you still want to keep the same hairstyle? This isn’t just limited to blind people, but not seeing people of your own age ageing around you can mean that you don’t think about these things as much.”
5.What advice do you give people about shopping for clothes/make-up/accessories?
- Find someone who will give you an honest opinion – whether that’s a personal shopper or a trusted family member or friend.
- Dresses can be easier, because you don’t have to find a top to match!
- Try to pair things that are the same style – don’t mix formal trousers with a scruffy top.
- Some things can be dressed up, others can’t
- Have input on the things that you can decide. You might need advice on colours, but you know which fabrics feel good to you and how long/short you want things to be.
- Some people stick labels on products, although this can be a pain if the products get wet. Others mark the packaging in some way, or use an elastic band to make the shampoo feel different from the conditioner
- If you share a bathroom, have your own space, so you only have to think about identifying your products.
- This wouldn’t work if you want to keep to the same brand, but you could make a point of buying bottles that don’t feel the same.
- Some products are already tactile – such as the raised letters on Radox bottles.
- Some companies, such as L’Occitane, put Braille labels on their products.
- I’ve already mentioned the Penfriend – I’ve seen someone using it to label smaller items such as lipsticks.
- Don’t have too much stuff out
- There is a Visionaware article on applying make-up.
- RNIB produces a magazine for women that comes out in Braille, email, and possibly further formats. It’s called Aphra, and you find out about all of RNIB’s Braille magazines here.
- Emily Davison runs the Fashioneyesta blog about fashion, beauty, lifestyle and living with a visual impairment.
6. What tips have you come across for marking things in the bathroom or organising toiletries?
(Kirsty: I would really struggle with the last point – I’d rather have to remember a lot of stuff than not have too much stuff out, but everyone is different and you have to do what feels right for you! If you do want different products that feel the same, you could buy the shampoo one week, mark it, then buy the conditioner. I don’t do this now, but I used to do it all the time when I had nobody to ask!)
7. What are a couple of common frustrations, either from people who have lost their sight or who have always been blind, and what solutions have you found?
(Kirsty: When I asked this question, I was thinking about my experiences with powder make-up products, and how I’m not too fond of them. I solved this by using cream products. ~Also, at school, I was hopeless at painting my nails, but I got other students to do it for me in exchange for help with homework! I didn’t do the homework for them, but it was a bit like extra tuition in exchange for something I couldn’t do myself.)
Problem 1: not being able to find things.
Solution: having designated places for things, having your own space where other people won’t move things, and remembering to put things away. The iPhone has the “find my iPhone” app, and you can also get devices to attach to things such as keys. The devices can be tracked so that you can follow it to the keys. Maybe you could also declutter!
Problem 2: where can I go if I need help? There isn’t always someone around
Solution: it’s good to build up a network of friends with similar interests. Not just so that you can ask them things, but if they are your friends anyway, they won’t mind helping out once in a while, and you can find ways to help them too. Also having a network means that you’re not asking the same person all the time. There is also the “be my eyes” app.
Problem 3: I’m not good at taming my brows.
Solution: if you don’t feel confident about plucking your brows, you could have them plucked for you, in the same way that people get their eye lashes tinted or a professional wax or tan. Work out which things you want to do yourself, and which you want to get done professionally.
8. What kind of questions come from the men in terms of looking after the way they look?
“Sometimes men are concerned about shaving. If you don’t feel comfortable with a razor, an electric shaver can be a good alternative. A magnifying mirror can help if you have some vision, but also don’t be afraid to rely on your sense of touch to feel whether you got all the hairs.”
(Kirsty: Blind people can use shavers – I do – but it’s about finding out what people are comfortable with and getting the job done in a safe and comfortable way.)
9. Do you ever get asked about tanning?
(Kirsty: I asked this because this comes up in so many beauty discussions, but I’m really not interested. This is the colour my skin is, and that’s ok for me.)
“I understand why some people would be worried about self-tanning, especially if you can’t see if it’s gone on easily. I know people that have had success with spray tans, where the tan is applied for you.”
10. Do you know any good resources (blogs, magazines, accessible books etc) for blind or partially sighted people looking for style tips?
Tell us in the comments if you are aware of any other links and resources that you think should be added to this list!
Thanks to Jane for her time and tips!
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