Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin

Ok, I don’t actually have a guide dog. But I didn’t have a blog when I did have a guide dog, and this message is important!

I got the idea for the post when I read a humorous article about how some people can’t understand even the most obvious signs that other people don’t want to engage.

You’re reading a book? That must mean you want to talk about that book. You’re listening to music? Let’s start up a conversation about what you’re listening to. You’re working on your laptop? Maybe you’re just waiting to tell me all about your job! That kind of thing!

Trying to start a conversation is not a bad thing in itself, but if the person gives monosyllabic answers, turns away, or tells you that they’re busy – that’s the time to stop trying to engage them in conversation!

I used to spend a lot of time on the train because I didn’t live close to my office. I had some good train conversations too, and many train adventures as well. Some random conversations on trains even led to lasting friendships.

But sometimes, in the early morning or late evening after a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to random strangers. I wanted to read my book, listen to music, listen to a podcast, or just be still and let the day wash over me. Unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t pay attention to the headphones or the “I’m done with people for today” scowl!

If you have a dog with you, it can be even worse!

A guide dog can be a great conversation starter, but having one with me often got me more attention than I really wanted.

The woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer

It came to a head one day when I was having dinner with one of my colleagues after work. She was also a friend. I don’t even remember now what we were talking about, but it was something fairly intense. One of us was having a hard time and we were trying to fix it. Partner trouble, family, annoying colleagues – I really don’t know now. But we weren’t just having a casual chat or open to other people joining our table.

Along came a woman who thought that this would be the best time to come over and wake my guide dog up.

I told her it wasn’t a good time because we were in the middle of a conversation, and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to stop bothering us, she stayed around and let me know how she’d been raising money for people like me and I should be a bit more grateful.

I was not grateful.

I was not sorry.

She just succeeded in making me more annoyed and I did finally manage to get her to stop bothering us.

The problem

The point of charity work or donating to organisations that help others is not to then give you freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, particularly when that means completely disregarding the needs of those you claim to want to help.

There is a different system here in the UK because unlike other countries, where funding for guide dogs is part of the healthcare system, our main guide dog school is a charitable organisation. This means it runs fundraising events and accepts donations from the public.

But that doesn’t make the dogs public property. They are working with an individual to improve their quality of life, give them independence, be a fantastic friend, and enable them to navigate the world with a bit less hassle.

Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, it is ok to say hi, but it’s never ok to assume. If someone asks you to leave or stop engaging with the dog, that’s what you need to do.

I can be a bit forthright, and generally people left us alone when I asked them to. But as well as the practical problem of exciting a dog who was otherwise having a snooze, the issue was about this woman’s sense of entitlement and the assumption that her desire to stroke my dog was more important than the private conversation that I was trying to have.

I’m not sure that the woman in the story really got that point after our encounter. I think she was just indignant that I dared to challenge her.

You can’t win them all! To be honest, her leaving felt like a win that day, even if she just thought I had a bad attitude.

It’s possible that I was a bit short with her. I know I can be quite direct! I try to calmly educate and stay objective, but it’s hard when people don’t bother to think how their actions might be causing a problem, or when they won’t listen. She could see I was leaning across the table, deep in conversation. I wouldn’t go up and bother someone who looked like that.

The other thing is that all these things add up. Someone might have had to deal with the same things multiple times that day. It could be interrupting an important phone call because someone thought that would be a great time to come and make a load of noise saying hi to the dog under the desk. It could be educating parents on a train that a guide dog is not free entertainment so that the parents could have a bit of piece. It could be dealing with the person who thinks that calling a guide dog from the other side of a busy road is a smart thing to do. I’ve experienced them all!

It’s a tough one. If the cute doggy is in the centre of your fundraising strategy, people will identify with the cute doggy! But working with a guide dog means working as part of a team, and the guide dog owner, or the person at the other end of the lead, is also part of the package!

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8 Wheelchair Access Issues You May Not Consider

You may remember Gemma from my interview blog post that we did a few weeks ago. We’ve also done an accessibility post exchange – I wrote a post for Gemma’s blog about accessibility problems that make me abandon my virtual shopping trolley. Now Gemma has written a post for Unseen Beauty about the things that make life inaccessible for her as a wheelchair user. I guess we all know about steps – they’re the first thing that comes to mind, but some of these other things, although they seem obvious when you think about it, are things that I hadn’t thought about before.

That’s why I believe it’s so important to talk, and to learn about people whose access needs are different from our own.

I also found we have something else in common – I know too well what it’s like to be frustrated at buffets because I can’t see to serve myself. The dilemma of what to do and how to try and make sure you get something you actually want to eat.

So I’ll now let Gemma carry on with her post…

* * * * * * *

Being a wheelchair user, it is often assumed that steps are my biggest obstacle. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t a big deal, they are, but they’re also often an easy to solve issue.

It’s the finer details that can make a day or experience smoother for me and more accessible.

Space

Is so limited in a busy world where businesses try to fit as many things and people in as possible as to make the most profit and serve demand. Isn’t the saying ‘quality over quantity’ true though? It’s about the experience.

Take for example public transport. Those allocated spaces for wheelchair users can be incredibly small.

I’m not sure if anyone has actually measured your average wheelchair, or they just expect everyone to have the compact, sporty, self propelling kind. I haven’t.

There’s cluttered shops and cafes too. Where I feel I have to pass some kind of obstacle course before I even get to my destination.

Awkward tables

A big part of socialising, for me anyway, is eating and drinking.

Steps, narrow doorways, and cluttered cafes are the obvious barriers, but once I’m in the building, it does in no way guarantee a fully accessible experience for me.

There’s the issue of table height. Oh why is it no longer popular to provide a decent, at sitting height, dining table?! Too often cafes, bars and restaurants are full of bar height benches with stools, or informal sofas and coffee tables.

For starters these are always the tables remaining when I go anywhere. Which tells me I’m not the only one that doesn’t find them practical. But for myself, who’s forever sitting at the same average chair height, these are completely inaccessible. I cannot stretch up to reach the bar height, or bend over for the coffee table. My lap becomes littered with crumbs and coffee drips. I have to constantly ask people to pass me stuff or to put my drink down.

The most frustrating of them all though is the table that gets your hopes up. It looks a good height, seems easy to get to, but still you end up eating from your lap.

The chunky farmhouse chic wooden table. They may be pretty, but I sigh inwardly whenever I’m confronted with one.

So yes they are the right height for me, what more could I want? Well getting close enough to eat from them would be a start. The chunky legs are often too close together, particularly if I’m on an end or it’s a small table for two, for my wheelchair to fit between. There’s always a large wooden rim underneath that my knees can’t quite get under. Socially, this works better than the bar benches, but not practically.

I so often end up sitting at an awkward angle or eating from my lap when dining out. It’s one of my biggest annoyances.

My table of choice would be circular. Not only is it much more sociable for speaking with a group of people, but also easier to drive up to due to minimal legs. The curve is also a bonus when armrests and joystick controls get in the way.

Buffet restaurants

Sticking with the dining and socialising theme. A slight dread washes over me when someone suggests the buffet style restaurant. Buffets are one of my most uncomfortable and inaccessible dining experiences. Don’t get me wrong, having a variety of options is a bonus, as is trying things I maybe wouldn’t otherwise. But not only does the thought of hygiene make me twitch, I find the whole affair very confusing.

I never know what to do for the best. I obviously cannot serve myself. I can barely even see the dishes if they are on one of those bar style serving areas.

I hate getting in the way, it’s hard enough getting to my table in the first place in some restaurants, having to push past and interrupt other diners.

Do I cause a scene and go look at food I can’t even properly see, to instruct a friend to dish it up for me? Do I take a quick browse on the way in and make mental notes of a couple of things? Do I ask someone to go up and let me know what’s there? Maybe taking the odd photo to show me? Or do I go roulette and just send someone that hopefully knows me well to bring back a surprise plate of maybe not delights?

It’s all just too much effort. Whatever I choose, I’ll wish I didn’t.

The food height is often level with my shoulders. Could you easily view and serve food at that level?

How do you make the buffet restaurant accessible?

I’m not sure. Maybe a menu of the regulars? Or even a live stream of what foods are on offer and how they look? Maybe an app? I could deal with the sending a friend to dish up bit then. Even though it will never be my first dining choice.

Eye level displays

Being at a lower height than many doesn’t only pose a problem when viewing food, but also causes restrictions on pursuing the shops.

Jewellery counters can be particularly difficult to view when seated. As can clothing that is displayed high up.

In most instances I can point out things I’m interested in and they can be brought closer to me so that I can view the item in detail. At other time’s I’ve got the person I’m with to take photographs on my phone, but this doesn’t always provide scale or detail.

It’s also the case for display cabinets in museums and galleries. Where often the treasure on display is encased in glass on a plinth that’s eye level for those standing. There is no other way to view the object, it cannot be removed or even photographed.

I understand that some things need to be seen from a certain perspective, and with art this can be crucial.

Lower displays, though, can still be viewed by people standing, or even people that aren’t very tall. Images or booklets could assist with visuals, but shouldn’t replace the opportunity to see something in the flesh.

Directions

When you’re seated at the height of most people’s belly button, it’s not always easy to find your way around. Signposts are high, so if I’m too close I have no chance of seeing without snapping my neck. I understand the reasoning of them being high, so that they can be seen at a distance above a crowd of people. But when your viewpoint in a crowd is a mass of bums, you’re never going to see over the heads to search for a sign.

Maps aren’t much better. You know the ones you find at zoos or parks, city centres or shopping malls. They may seem low when you’re standing, and maybe some thought has gone into them being at a universal height (I do get that those standing don’t want to be constantly hunched with bad backs), but when they’re still higher than your eye level and you can’t get close enough to see the tiny writing because your foot plates and knees are in the way. Height isn’t the only problem.

Getting close

Being at a distance from things is one of my biggest accessibility challenges. Sitting means that your knees and feet are always in front of you, getting in the way. There are ways around this, for example overhanging surfaces, sinks and information boards. But they’re rare. I see many wheelchair users struggle with the side on approach. Where you jut your wheels sideways so to be able to reach things. It requires dexterity, a bendy torso, and the neck of an owl. This isn’t an option for me.

Shop counters

Are a big one for the sideways position. Facing head on to the till or customer service desk means that I am not within arms reach of the counter or a friendly speech level distance from the shop assistant.

This is an issue using cash points, paying in shops, being served at bank or post office desks and the like. Anywhere that you need to be face on with something but there is no leg room.

Lift buttons

The same goes for lift buttons. Or any buttons really. Those at crossings, doorbells, intercoms. They all rely on foot butting and stretching, or the side on position. Neither of which are easily accessible for myself or others.

I have noticed recently that some automatic door opening buttons (I know, automatic shouldn’t require a button) are on a type of post at a distance from the door. These are actually much easier to press.

What I dream of is an app that you can use to call lifts, press road crossings, etc. I basically want all buttons to be accessible via my phone. Or even better, mind control.

Until then, some of these small changes could make a big difference to many.

Check out Gemma’s other links

Wheelescapades Blog
Twitter
Facebook
and Instagram.

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Guest interview with Caz from InvisiblyMe

Guest interview with Caz from InvisiblyMe

First we had an interview from Gemma. The next in my series is Caz from the InvisiblyMe blog – you may have already seen her name as she’s a regular commenter on this blog. Thanks to Caz for answering my questions and I definitely recommend that you check out her blog. She’s kind, helpful and I always enjoy our chats. And yes, chocolate tester or golden retriever dog minder are also up there on my list of top jobs!

1. What is the name of your blog and how did you come to decide on that name?

InvisiblyMe – At the time, I wanted to emphasise invisible conditions and I thought the personalisation of ‘me’ was a subtle nod to ME/CFS, a condition I have.

2. Why did you start writing a blog?

Shortly after having my first stoma surgery and starting the next chapter of my life with a bag in tow, I wanted to reach out to the online world. After continuing sick leave, I was then let go from the job I loved because of continuing surgeries and ill health, leaving me with more time and the desire to focus on something positive. I’d hoped to share things I was discovering and learning along the way, to connect and let others know they weren’t alone. I realised that, as my health continued to go downhill, I had a general niche of chronic illness and pain to explore, not just stoma shenanigans. From there I branched out and InvisiblyMe is now a more general blog to cover lifestyle, health, wellbeing, finances and awareness.

3. If you could change one law to improve life for people with disabilities, what would it be?

The law of fair & free access : It would be illegal for any person to not be able to receive adequate medical care, diagnostic tests and treatment and it would be illegal to be charged for such services. You didn’t say the law had to be realistic!

4. A friend is coming over for a relaxing evening. What will you be doing/eating/drinking/watching?

I don’t have friends to hang out with so it would just be me flying solo, but that also means I can commandeer the blanket, can fidget as much as I like, and I would be free to devour all the snacks to myself. There would be tea and an endless supply of chocolate, preferably Maltesers & Lindt for special occasions, or a tub of Breyers ice-cream. With the current coronavirus situation, I’ve not been able to find Maltesers at a reasonable price so all snacks are officially on ration.

5. What’s something that you’ve learned since becoming a blogger?

You don’t have to squeeze yourself into a box and there’s no rulebook for how you run your own blog. There’s etiquette and tips, but your blog is your own space and you should feel free to run with that and not feel confined to a niche, schedule you’re not happy with, or other ‘rules’ that don’t suit.

6. If you could do any job for a day, what would it be and why?

A psychologist sent to interview serial killers, because I watched too many FBI documentaries as a child.
Alternatively, a Lindt chocolate tester or golden retriever dog minder would be perfect.

7. What’s one thing you would like people to know about your disability, or people who have the same access needs as you?

Of the things I deal with, such as the stoma bag, chronic migraines, autoimmune connective tissue disease, fibromyalgia, bronchiectasis etc, there’s no one thing that defines how well I’m doing. Many of those with chronic illness have more than one condition and we all experience things differently. Just because someone with a stoma travels the world, doesn’t mean I’m up for that or capable of it, and you need to consider the other issues a person may or may not have. It’s not a race and there’s no comparison. We all have a unique experience of any given illness / disability, not to mention different levels of support, other things going on in our lives, and so on. Each person’s experience is unique.

8. When was the last time you tried something new, and what was it?

Putting a loaf of bread in the freezer. It’s nothing wildly amazing but it’s rocked my world. Trying to lengthen the time between shops because of the coronavirus means we’re all having to adapt, and tricks like this can be very helpful in making your supplies go further and last longer.

9. What does accessibility mean to you?

Any place or type of activity could throw up an accessibility problem in the online and offline worlds. Being accessible should mean that nobody is excluded from doing, visiting or using something, and they should be able to do so with a similar amount of time and effort as those without a disability.

10. What activities make you lose track of time?

Reading and commenting on other blogs, falling into a really good TV series at night, or turning the pages on a dangerously good book until you realise you’ve spent the last hour desperately needing to pee and now it may be too late..!

11. What’s one blog post (written by you) that you would like people to read?

To use a more recent one, I’d perhaps say my post on the terrors of public toilets with invisible conditions. I wanted to raise a little awareness and provoke thought for the types of issues unseen to others that can cause public loos to be a problem in some way or can warrant the need to use a disabled toilet.

12. Can you think of one or two bloggers that you think my readers should check out in addition to your blog?

There are too many for me to choose between and I’m painfully indecisive. I’ll go for…

Terri at Reclaiming Hope, for her wonderful support, insights and wisdom from a chronic illness perspective

and

Holly at Wholeness Haven, for advice, reflections and beautifully inspiring content

Here’s where you can find Caz

InvisiblyMe blog
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

Thanks again Caz and thanks too for the things I’ve learned through your blog about conditions and accessibility challenges that I hadn’t come across before.

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

My guest post – accessibility problems that make me abandon my virtual shopping trolley

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I published an interview with Gemma from the Wheelescapades blog. This month I’ve also written a post for Gemma, which she published today. It’s about accessibility problems that make me abandon my virtual shopping trolley
all those little things that turn an enjoyable experience into a frustrating or disappointing one. I talk about these things because I want to raise awareness of them – to do my bit to make the online world a more accessible place, and to help people see the often small changes that they can make in order for this to happen.

So, if this sounds interesting, hop on over to Gemma’s blog and have a read. Why not check out some of her other articles while you’re there?

Interview with Gemma from the Wheelescapades blog

We’re doing something different this week. I’ve got the first in a series of interviews with you from some of my blogger friends. I wanted to introduce you to them and their blogs, and I also wanted to get some conversations going about disability and accessibility, bringing in some different perspectives.

I’ve been following Gemma’s blog for a while. I can’t remember how I initially found her – I think it was a blogging group, but I enjoy reading her blog – not just because she enjoys cheese as much as I do, but because her blog makes me smile, and it also makes me think. I hadn’t considered some of the access issues that wheelchair users face on a day-to-day basis. Ok, I guess we can all think of how the lack of step-free access is a dealbreaker if you want to go somewhere, but Gemma has also got me thinking about things like the height of product displayss, and how the type of table at a restaurant can affect how accessible it is to use. (As a guide dog owner, I wasn’t a fan of those ones with the big round base either, but I’d never considered the problems they cause if you want to wheel right up to it).

Having said that, although many of our experiences and accessibility frustrations are different, there’s a lot that we have in common. Just wanting to be able to do the same things as our friends without having to plan everything in advance, or the frustration of jumping through extra hoops to get the same results. The assumtions that our friends are our carers, and the fact that we would love to see a world where we didn’t need to talk about accessibility and inclusion as much because they were built in to the design, not an afterthought.

So anyway, that’s enough from me – here are Gemma’s answers to my questions. Be sure to check her blog out as well.

1. What is the name of your blog and how did you come to decide on that name?

Wheelescapades is the name of my blog, one word. Although too many people like to refer to it as Wheel Escapades. It took me long enough to combine the two words (as you can see how creative it is. Ha!), so I do get frustrated.

The origin is fairly straightforward. Wheel – I’m a wheelchair user. Escapades – a type of adventure. Basically my life.

2. Why did you start writing a blog?

I’d considered blogging for quite a while before I plucked up the courage and took the plunge. I’ve never written anything in my life, that wasn’t essays in education and one line stories as a kid. Though I did want to be a journalist as a teen.

Friends had often joked that I should write about the dramas of my life, our social life. Dramas that mainly happened because of my wheels. Getting stuck in lifts, turning up at restaurants to find I’ve been seated up a step. ‘Oh it’s ok, we’ll help you up, lift your wheelchair’. No you won’t.

People assume my friends are carers, that they’re doing a good deed. They think that I cannot reply myself when asked if I enjoyed my meal. They ask the person with me ‘would you like a bag with that?’. I’ve got my own.

I wanted to raise awareness of disability and accessibility. That we are all just people with the same needs and dreams. I wanted to do this as a human, with a life and a personality. I wanted to make people think but laugh. I hope I do that.

3. If you could change one law to improve life for people with disabilities, what would it be?

I don’t even know where to start.

The Equality Act 2010 states that venues should ‘make reasonable adjustments’ to enable equal access for all. This is a start, but not enough. Who decides what reasonable is?

I long for a world I can access without thinking, without planning. I aim for spontaneity.

What would be great is if all venues and events had to state their accessibility online. I mean the finer details. No step. Step height. Door width. Lift. Lift size. Does it actually work. Accessible bathroom. Size. Facilities. Table height. Steps inside. Corridor width. Length.

This may seem trivial or picky, but this information would make a huge difference to the planning of my day. Because planning is a huge part of being disabled.

4. A friend is coming over for a relaxing evening. What will you be doing/eating/drinking/watching?

I’m not much of an evening person. More of a daytime socialiser. This will be a mid afternoon chill involving tea and cake.

I’m a Netflix binger, so whatever the latest drama season is will be our entertainment.

5. What’s something that you’ve learned since becoming a blogger?

I’ve learned that there are good people out there. Social media can be such an intimidating and judgemental place. The blogging community though, I’ve met some great people with so much support, motivation and kindness.

I’ve also learned I can have my say. Sometimes people find it interesting or useful, sometimes people can relate, sometimes they don’t.

I’ve learned I have a need to write.

6. If you could do any job for a day, what would it be and why?

This is a question that comes up in converse throughout life. I’ve always answered along the lines of Artist, Designer, Journalist. Something creative. Those are real jobs I’d love to do.

Recently I’ve thought a bit more about this, outside of my box a little. I’ve decided I’d choose to be an astronaut. Not only would going to space be pretty cool, but I’d like to know what it feels like to move my limbs freely. To be weightless.

I cannot lift my arms at all without support, so the idea of maybe scratching my head would be awesome.

7. What’s one thing you would like people to know about your disability, or people who have the same access needs as you?

I want people to be aware of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I want them to know it’s not all about the wheels, but also it’s not the end of the world.

SMA means that I’m a wheelchair user, but it’s not the wheels I struggle with. It’s the weakness, the limited movement, the breathing difficulties.

Oh and people’s assumptions.

8. When was the last time you tried something new, and what was it?

I’ve not been very adventurous of late. But who knew chilli cheese hot cross buns could be a thing? An amazing thing that you all must try.

It’s not super recent, but last year I tried audiobooks for the first time ever. A whole new world of reading.

9. What does accessibility mean to you?

In obviously, daily life terms, it means ramps, wide doors, level pavements, working lifts, spacious rooms, hoists,

But really it means having equal access. Not being an afterthought. Not having to find a side entrance, traipse through a kitchen to get to a restaurant table. It means having a bathroom I can fit in that isn’t used as a storage cupboard.

In basic terms it means the ability to forget I’m disabled for a while.

10. What activities make you lose track of time?

Anything creative.

I studied Art, Craft and Textiles at university to Masters Degree. I used to sew with my Nan and make stuff with old boxes. I’ve always enjoyed making something from nothing. Turning balls of wool into stuffed animals. Skeins of thread into cushion covers.

11. What’s one blog post (written by you) that you would like people to read?

I most enjoy writing my ‘If We Were Having Coffee’ posts as I get to have a little chat and rant about what’s going on in my life, disability related and not. Readers can get to know me a little better and chat back about what’s going on with them.

The one I think should be read though, is one of my most recent. I wrote this piece for Disabled Access Day. I feel access is misunderstood and thought to be either as simple as putting in a ramp, or so unachievable that it’s mind boggling.

12. Can you think of one or two bloggers that you think my readers should check out in addition to your blog?

Two of my greatest blogging pals.

Lorna at Gin & Lemonade. A fellow wheelchair user that often writes just what I’m thinking, but better than I think it.

And Caz at Invisibly me, whose posts are informative with a sprinkling of fun.

Places to find me

Wheelescapades Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

Thanks Gemma for answering my questions – it’s been great to find out a bit more about you.

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If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

I thought I’d share something I wrote for one of my business blogs. I think it’s something that some of my readers here will relate to as well.

I don’t talk about emotions a lot. I talk about tips or facts or things I’ve learned. I enjoy educating people and helping them to make their sites more accessible to me as a screenreader user, but I’ve never really shared about how it feels when I have to abandon my virtual trolley or ask my partner to help me complete a simple purchase. It’s not fun!

I saw an article about some research into the emotions experienced when disabled people encounter inaccessible websites, and that prompted me to add my thoughts. If this is something that interests you, you can read /the F word in online accessibility – frustration

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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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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10 things for companies to consider when approaching blind content creators about blindness-related products

I’ve had some interesting conversations recently with people doing research, and others who are developing or have developed products for visually impaired people. I mean interesting in the original sense of the word – I like to understand how people go about creating things, and hope that I could give them some insight into how I do things, or what I’m looking for in products and services.

I’m generally happy to give ideas on things or help people with market research when I can, especially if they’re students or small companies, because I believe the best way to create really good products is to understand your audience. That’s not easy if you don’t fit into your own audience demographic, i.e. blind people.

I’m a bit more protective of my little space when it comes to promoting things – I do promote things that I like and have used, but I don’t take pre-written content or talk about things that I haven’t tried myself.

The thing is, blind people can be compared to any other large group of people. Take dog owners for example. If you have a Chihuahua, your needs might be different from someone with a German shepherd. If you have a senior dog, you’ll have different needs and expectations to someone with a puppy. It’s the same with blind people – we’re not all one big homogenous group, so it really pays to do some research, narrow down your target audience if you can, and where possible, , find the people who are most likely to benefit from what you have to offer.
Sometimes you’ll have no idea if someone will be in your target audience, but the “blind or low vision” tick box often is not enough. You need to develop your ideal customer persona a bit further.

When you’ve done that, you still might not know if the content creators you find online will be like your customer persona, but it will help you understand why or why they may not be interested in a new product or service.

1. Are you meeting a need?

It’s the same with any product or service – are people looking for the thing that you want to create? Is it fixing a real problem that people have?

If so, great! If not, you could be spending a lot of time on something that people won’t buy. If it’s partially true, then you need to find a way of reaching those people who are most likely to need it. Are they for example younger people, people with less advanced technology skills, or people who speak multiple languages.

I have the feeling that some product designers start with the question “what would I find difficult if I were suddenly unable to see?” However, anyone who has been blind for some time will have developed strategies for doing things, and the things that you anticipate being the most difficult, might actually not be the biggest problems.

Sometimes I think people charge through into the creation stage because they’re eager to get on with things, whereas they could save themselves some time and trouble by seeing how viable the idea really is. It can be useful to have a prototype, especially as blind people may not be able to see your sketches, but if you want to sell a product, all the usual market research stages still apply.

I remember a friend coming to visit me at home and being surprised how “normal” it looked. If I need something to be different, I’ll buy a specialist device – such as a tactile watch – but where the thing that everyone else is using will do the job for me too, that would be my preference. I think sometimes this idea can get a bit lost. If you’re marketing to Harry Potter fans, they’ll like things that automatically make them stand out as Harry Potter fans. In terms of other differences, particularly those that we don’t choose, we don’t always want to draw attention to them.

2. Are there things already on the market that do the same thing?

We’re living in the age of mobile phones and multi-purpose technology. Most of my time is spent not far away from my laptop or my phone. There is still a place for specialist equipment, but why take 4 devices out with you when you could take a phone with apps that do all of the things that the other devices could have done?

There are some exceptions – I do have a colour detector device – it was expensive, and it detects colours better than its app counterparts. But, for example, if people offer me reading devices, I’d rather take the OCR apps that are already in my phone.

Other people may see this differently, especially people who are not as reliant on technology generally, or maybe children that don’t necessarily have other devices.

Some people want extra functionality. Others want an interface that is as simple as possible and requires very little time spent learning how it works.

There will be things that I see as unnecessary, whereas other people will love them – but it is worth checking out the market first to make sure that the thing you want to design doesn’t exist already, or the need isn’t being met in some other way.

3. Are you approaching someone in the right country?

Just leaving this here. I have been asked to promote events in other countries – not even longer conferences that it might warrant taking a flight for. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about stories from other countries – I find them interesting – but a lot of my audience is UK-based, so a local event in the US would be better [promoted by people closer to it.

4. Is the person the right age group?

I know this may be harder to tell if the person doesn’t post any or many photos, but you can get a bit of an idea when you look at the things that they right about. A teenager will give you different feedback from someone like me in their late 30s. Maybe you need both, and that’s cool, but if your product is specifically aimed at a certain demographic, it’s best to find people who fit that description.

Sometimes it won’t matter. I’ve been a child, so I can give my opinion on toys for blind children, but I don’t know what it’s like to be over 40 or to be living in student accommodation in 2019.

5. Is the person interested in your topic?

Again, you might not know, but don’t be offended if they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how good your football app is, I’ll never use it because I don’t like football. Sometimes it feels like people take things personally because they wanted to do something good, but just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will use it. That’s not negative, that’s just product marketing! I don’t buy every product aimed at women in their 30s, brides-to-be, or dog-lovers either!

If it’s a really specific thing though, it pays to do a bit of research. I sometimes wonder in the past why I’ve been contacted about mummy blogger campaigns! Use your resources wisely!

6. Is your customer journey accessible?

Are your website and the thing that you’re promoting accessible? You may well not know that, in which case it’s good to get some input from screenreader users etc, but if you want people to promote a product that has a completely inaccessible website or interface, you may find considerable reluctance on the part of blind content creators until the site is sorted and we can promote it with a good accessibility conscience.

7. Does the person accept guest/sponsored content?

Some people don’t display this information. I do, but people often don’t read it.

I don’t take any prewritten content. I do work with companies, but only to promote things that I would genuinely use.

8. Do they have the right degree of vision?

I can’t comment on anything that magnifies things because I don’t have the vision for that. Again you might not know unless you ask, but don’t take it personally if someone says “no” to talking about something they will never be able to use.

9. Are you making any assumptions that could turn people off?

I wrote a whole post about myths and stereotypes here. Sometimes the life as someone with a visual impairment is very different from the image portrayed in the media. Also, when you’ve met one blind person, you’ve met one blind person. They don’t speak for all the others. Their strengths and struggles are not necessarily representative. This is why it’s good to get a broad sample of views so that you can look for trends.

10 Don’t expect free advertising!

I do give free advertising sometimes – usually when I’ve discovered things that I think are really cool! I don’t charge when I promote charities or organisations that I think are doing great work. But if you do stand to make money from something, it is a business transaction. Even if it was especially designed for blind people, you shouldn’t start the discussion with the expectation that you will get free advertising from blind content creators. There are costs associated with running a blog – material costs, as well as the time and effort to build an engaged audience. It’s not fair to expect to benefit from those things without contributing anything.

Oh, and if someone says “no thanks”, please don’t spam their other completely unrelated posts with links to your products. The comments will probably get binned, and it doesn’t look good for the company. Unfortunately this has happened to me.

Summing up

I like conversations, so keep them coming if you want to ask me about a product or idea that you think would help blind people, or that may be of interest. Remember too though that I’m more than that – I’m a woman who has many of the same interests as other women my age and I am much more than my blindness.

My main point for writing the article was to try and highlight the vast experience, needs, preferences and available budget when it comes to advertising to blind people.

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Braile signs can be useful – but it’s still possible to get it wrong!

I don’t usually cross post from my other blogs, but I know some of my readers here are interested in accessibility too.

A recent visit to a hotel got me thinking about Braille signs, and how they don’t always make their point. This is especially true when they’re so high up on the wall that you have no chance of reaching them!

When we started looking around, we noticed a few other problems.

Here’s my post why these Braille signs didn’t help me find my way around”.