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

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

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

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

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

1. Don’t rely on putting information on screen

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

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

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

2. Try to describe colours

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

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

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

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

3. Not all of your YouTube viewers are on Instagram

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

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

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

5.Be willing to answer questions

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

I hope the tips were useful.

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My problems with the dining in the dark experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going out for dinner is fun!

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

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

In real life, most other people can see you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no quality assurance

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

I know what it’s like for you

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More from Unseen Beauty

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Blogmas 2018 -10 things you can do to make Christmas more accessible for visually impaired friends or family members

After my last list post seemed to go down well, I thought I’d look at some things that people can do to make the festive season more accessible for friends or family members who are visually impaired. Of course everyone is different, so what I might find helpful might annoy someone else, so I’m just writing these from my perspective.

For a lot of blind or partially sighted people, the Christmas period is a lot of fun, just the same as it is for everyone else. However, if you’re out of your familiar surroundings or there are a lot of people around, tasks that people may do without thinking too much on a normal day can become more complicated because the surroundings are more busy or less predictable. So an offer of help might be welcome! And the best way to find out if someone needs a hand is to ask!

So here are just a few ideas!

  1. Try to make any card or gift tags accessible. This is less of an issue if someone will be around to read them, but if you have time, there are services that print labels or cards in Braille, or you could learn to do it yourself. Just make sure that the person can read Braille first, as not all blind people can.
  2. If Braille is not an option, typed messages are better than handwritten ones. There are apps that can read printed text – I usually scan and sort our post this way. Some are starting to decipher handwriting as well, but on the whole, you’ll have a better success rate with something that has been typed. Or, if you want to send a message, you could use channels that the person already uses such as email/Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp, so the person can read your message independently.
  3. Blindness and sensory sensitivity don’t always go together. In my case, they do, which means it’s hard for me to stay in a really noisy environment for a long time. Don’t take it personally if someone needs a break from the noise. If you’re organising event, could there be a space that’s a bit quieter away from loud music for anyone with sensory sensitivities?
  4. Don’t let people go hungry at buffets. I’m more direct about what I want now, but I have gone hungry at buffets before because nobody offered to help and I didn’t want to disturb someone who was already eating or to struggle as I didn’t know what was there. You may also need to be aware of any food allergies or preferences if you’re making up a buffet plate for someone.
  5. Offer to help with serving food. I am happy to dish up plates in my own kitchen, but if there are people sitting round a big table and serving themselves vegetables etc, I usually accept the help because there are so many other things on the table.
  6. Games aren’t always accessible or fun! I guess this is a bit controversial because some people would rather everything is accessible. I don’t want people to stop doing things that they would have enjoyed just because I can’t join in, and I’d personally rather sit something out and observe (or look at my phone!) than try too hard to make something accessible, resulting in it taking twice as long or requiring so much concentration from me that it’s no longer fun. On the other hand, some games can be adapted with less hassle so that blind people can take part.
  7. Invite – don’t assume. Just because a blind person may not get the full experience, such as going to see Christmas lights being turned on or attending a performance, they may still be interested in going to be a part of what’s going on. Some won’t – but you won’t know unless you ask. You can also build in more accessible elements to the trip, and some theatres and cinemas also offer audio description, which means the blind person can listen to an audio track of what’s going on.
  8. Try to be mindful about not moving things. When a waiter comes to my table, I usually pick up my glass and have a drink. So if things are brought or taken away, nobody moves my glass. The reason I know where things are is because I remember the last place I put them! Also, if you’re at someone’s house, don’t leave unexpected trip hazards or random glasses of wine on the floor where people may need to walk!
  9. Don’t overstep boundaries with guide dogs. Guide dogs have special diets. Many are allowed treats, but it’s up to the owner to decide when, how many, and what they can have. Don’t give treats to guide dogs without asking!
  10. If someone has unwrapped a gift from you, it might not be obvious to them what it is! Be prepared to tell them, because whilst I will say “thank you” for a gift even if I have no idea what it is, it’s a bit embarrassing if I don’t know what I’ve got! You can avoid that awkward moment if you just volunteer the information yourself!

Most importantly – relax and behave normally! Making someone’s visual impairment into something of a big deal can actually make things more uncomfortable for everyone. Most people have strategies for getting round problems, and they can also ask for help if needed.

Is there anything you would add?

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – yay it’s a body yoghurt! These are a bit lighter than the body butters and absorb quicker. This one is in the moringa scent – something that we’ve already had in the calendar and another floral product. Banana would have made me happier, but I’m still happy to get a body yoghurt.

Glossybox – today we got a deluxe sample of the Zelens Transformer Instant Renewal Mask. I’ve never tried anything from this brand, but I’ve heard great things about it, and it’s high-end skincare,so always nice to try a sample size before splashing out. The mask contains hyaluronic acid and sesame protein to plump and tighten the skin. This is a fairly small tube, but as the full size is £100, I’m not surprised! I’m looking forward to trying this out!

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush
  6. MUA Cosmic Vixen palette with 15 eye shadows.
  7. Karmameju konjac sponge
  8. Luxie Beauty highlighter brush

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

Blogmas 2018 – wrapping presents when you are visually impaired

So, I nearly didn’t write this post because I certainly don’t think I’m an expert on the subject. The presents that I wrap aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but they aren’t works of art either.

My plan is get the job done, and I don’t usually have time for lots of faffing about!

Still, I read a post about someone with a visual impairment having a tough time wrapping presents, so I thought I’d share the tips that I’ve picked up along the way. Some of them are just good advice anyway, but some are specifically for you if you’re wrapping gifts with little or no sight.

  1. Make life easier for yourself by either buying gifts that are easy to wrap, or putting them into square boxes that are easy to wrap!
  2. When buying wrapping paper, try to get some that’s slightly textured, so you don’t end up with the picture side on the inside. I have done this before! Grr!
  3. When cutting wrapping paper, if you struggle to cut straight, fold the paper first and cut along the fold. Really flimsy paper is not good for this, so if you can, it pays to get slightly better quality so that it doesn’t tear. When folding, fold at a right-angle to an edge that you know is straight, such as the side of the roll.
  4. Think about your tags – you need to be able to identify the packages in a way that you can read, but if they won’t be opened straight away, so do other people.
  5. Don’t be tempted to use a piece of paper that’s too big, rather than cutting it down to size. There’s more chance of it creasing up and looking untidy.
  6. My sticking tape is never perfectly straight along the line, but if you want to stop it creasing or being really wonky, hold it over where you want to stick it first and then lower it into position.
  7. Don’t be tempted to work with really long strips of tape unless you’re sure that you can get them straight and that the paper won’t move. It’s often easier to tack the paper in place with a couple of small bits before you try to tape down a long crease.
  8. Long-bladed scissors work better for cutting paper. If you have two edges and one looks tidier than the other, put the untidy one inside so people won’t see it.
  9. Bows and sparkly things are as good for covering mistakes as they are for making things pretty!
  10. If you really don’t enjoy wrapping, there are always present bags and boxes that you can buy, fill with tissue paper, and put your present inside. Some shops also offer gift-wrapping services.

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – before we had a shine liquid lip colour, and today it’s time for a matte liquid lip. I find matte liquid lipsticks a bit drying, so this isn’t one I would have picked up, but it’s more moisturising than some I’ve tried, so I was actually quite happy to have it! There are a range of shades, but I got Tahiti Hibiscus.

Glossybox – it’s a day for lip products! Today we got a full-size lip gloss from Steve Laurent. And it smells and tastes of chocolate mmmm!

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush
  6. MUA Cosmic Vixen palette with 15 eye shadows.
  7. Karmameju konjac sponge
  8. Luxie Beauty highlighter brush

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

Blogmas 2018 -keeping fit this Winter with free, described work-outs

I don’t know about you, but around Christmas time there are more tasty treats on offer, maybe extra glasses of mulled wine or mince pies. So many of us plan to start a fitness regime in January, but really we don’t need to wait until then!

When I stopped my3-hour commute, which involved about 40 minutes walking each way, I knew I’d have to do something about staying fit. I wrote in my post about what I do to try and stay fit – including putting fitness training into my calendar like a meeting that I have to attend, and regularly spending time on the exercise bike and cross-trainer.

My sprained knee from the accident in August has meant that I had to limit some of my exercise activities for a while, particularly the workouts that involved putting my full weight on a leg that probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’m getting back into it now because the joint needs exercise.

So taking some positive action around exercise doesn’t have to wait till January. You can join a gym, but there are plenty of other things that you can do at home too.

As someone who is visually impaired, one of the problems that I’ve come across is a lack of accessible home workouts. There are loads of videos on YouTube, but they often don’t describe what the person is doing very well, so if you can’t watch them, you can’t really follow along. This is frustrating.

You may remember a while ago I did an interview with Mel from Blind Alive, who developed a series of accessible work-outs which you can do without being able to watch what the trainer is doing. All of the workouts come with text descriptions of the exercises, as well as individual sound tracks to describe each exercise or position in a bit more detail.

I’ve done the cardio ones and the weights ones so far, but I’m now going to be trying some more because Mel from Eyes Free Fitness is offering a really generous gift. From 21st November to 31st December 2018, all of the work-outs on Blind Alive/Eyes Free fitness are free. The company is closing its doors at the end of 2018, and before then, Mel would like as many people as possible to benefit from the workouts.

I’ve just downloaded the stretch workout, as well as some for yoga and Pilates, which are things that I’ve always been meaning to try and never got round to. Thank you Mel!

I’ve paid for some of these workouts in the past and I can confirm that they are really accessible, and the positions and exercises are described with words, in a way that I can follow. I would have got round to buying more of them even if they hadn’t been available for free, and I’d encourage anyone who is interested in accessible, described workouts to take a look. As the workouts were only available until 31st December 2018, I’ve now had to remove the link as it doesn’t work any more.

I downloaded the workouts straight onto my laptop from where I usually transfer them to Dropbox so I can have them with me on my phone wherever I am. There is also an app, which I’m told is accessible, although I can’t review it because I haven’t downloaded it yet.

Although the workouts are available for free, you can make a donation via Paypal, and I know a lot of work went into making these training programmes, so if you are able to give something, I would encourage you to do so. It’s not mandatory though in order to download the workouts.

This post was aimed a bit more at my visually impaired readers, but even if the workouts aren’t relevant to you, there are plenty of small things that you can do for self-care during the Christmas season. These include things like going for walks, which is a great way to clear your head as well as being a chance to get fresh air. Whatever else you may be drinking, try to make sure that you get plenty of water too. You may be having some late nights, but try and get a couple of early ones too so that you can catch up on your sleep.

What else will you be doing for self care in the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – I didn’t even know the Body Shop did 100ml hand creams, but there is a limited edition one in the British rose scent. The formula of these hand creams is really gentle and nourishing, and whilst rose isn’t usually my go-to fragrance, I’ll be happy to have this on my desk this Winter because my hands do get really dry.

Glossybox – today we got a highlighter brush from Luxie Beauty. I’m not actually familiar with this brand, but it says the brushes are hand-crafted using vegan and cruelty-free materials. As there is a highlighter palette in the giveaway, I’m putting this in as well.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush
  6. MUA Cosmic Vixen palette with 15 eye shadows.
  7. Karmameju konjac sponge
  8. Luxie Beauty highlighter brush

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

Blogmas 2018 – staying warm this Winter with the Hive smart heating system

Earlier this week I talked about what you can do to keep warm this Winter. Staying on a similar theme, I want to tell you about the new addition to our home – the Hive active heating system. We got ours in the Black Friday sale, so as well as making our heating system more efficient and accessible, it was also a bit cheaper!

Why do you want a smart heating system?

When I lived in my last house, I put some markers on the dial of the thermostat so that I knew where 20 degrees was and could then go up or down a bit from there. IT wasn’t exact, because the dial was too small, but I could keep a constant temperature. However, in the night I usually turned it off or down, and as I couldn’t set the heating timer myself, I had to make a quick run for it in the morning and either get ready in a cold house, or sit with my hands around a coffee mug till it was warm enough to type! I probably saved on heating bills, but it wasn’t fun!

When I moved in with S, things improved a lot because he could set the timer, but he was the only one who could change it. So I had to remember to tell him if I had an early meeting and wanted the heating on early. If we didn’t want to be woken up by the heating at the weekend, we had to remember to turn it off, or I had to ask S to change the time, and then put it back again for Monday. When I was home alone, I could turn the heating on or off, but had no idea of the temperature.

Then we learned about systems that you can control using your phone, which should in theory make them more accessible to me. Interfaces on electrical devices often aren’t usable for me as someone with no vision, but if the app is accessible – and this isn’t a given – but if the app has been designed to work well with screenreading software, it can give me the access to the displays and controls.

It’s not just blind people who want smart heating systems – there are other factors such as the comfort of either of us being able to change the temperature or the week’s heating schedule from anywhere in the house, or to pop the heating on before we get home.

Why Hive?

If we were going to get a smart heating control system, I needed to make sure it was going to be something that I’d be able to use. I did some online research, and it appeared that there were two main systems in the running – Hive and Nest.

With Hive, you can download the app for free and trial it using a test house. So the house isn’t real, but you can look at the controls and the various parts of the app.

One of our friends let me join his Nest so that I could also test the accessibility of the app’s interface. It felt less intuitive than the Hive interface, and the scheduler screen was very confusing. Still, it was good to be able to try both of them so that I had something to compare.

I could have used Nest, but the Hive app felt more streamlined and worked better with VoiceOver. S preferred the look of it to, so we decided to go for Hive in the end.

What was the installation process like?

We went for the package with installation, so a British gas engineer came out to install the Hive receiver, which controls the boiler, set up the Hive hub, and the Hive thermostat, which is battery-operated and can be put wherever you want in the house .

It took about 45 minutes and the engineer gave me the product number that I needed to connect the device to our Hive account. Afterwards, as I was there on my own, he explained the functions of the buttons on the thermostat and pointed out how to override the thermostat on the main device so that we could still turn on the heating in the event of a problem with the thermostat. He was helpful and efficient.

What is it like to use Hive with VoiceOver?

We don’t use all the features of the app because we don’t have a lot of connected devices, but it’s been fine so far. We have schedules set up now and I can easily amend them if our plans change or I have an early morning meeting. I can read both the temperature in the room where the thermostat is and set the desired temperature.

The buttons on the app are labelled and I can change the time and temperature sliders by touch.

Maybe in the future we’ll add additional zones, but for now, we’re happy and it does what it needs to.

You can also control Hive using Alexa and Google Assistant, but we prefer to keep to the iPhone app.

The website says you can save money by never heating an empty house again. This isn’t something we did, because we always just turned the heating off if we were going out, so I don’t expect to see any massive savings on the heating bill. But it will benefit us in terms of me being able to control the heating independently, and as a result not being cold in the morning! And a cold Kirsty is a grumpy Kirsty, so that’s always good!

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – another Spa of the World product – this time the Japanese Camellia cream, which is something I haven’t tried before. It’s probably not something I would have picked up because the scent is quite a strong floral one, but it feels like a rich, nourishing body cream, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

Glossybox – I don’t use most of the hair styling products I get in boxes or calendars, which is why I was happy to see a hair mask today. We have the Elgon concentrated restore mask – something I haven’t heard of before, so I look forward to trying that too. It’s a generous size, so even with my vary long hair, I’ll get a few treatments out of it.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush
  6. MUA Cosmic Vixen palette with 15 eye shadows.
  7. Karmameju konjac sponge

Products 8-10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

 

Blogmas 2018 – my first Braille chocolate advent calendar

Regular readers of this blog will know that I care about accessibility and accessible products.

In terms of advent calendars, when I was a child, my Nan always helped to prepare them. We typed the number in Braille onto clear sticky-back plastic, cut them out, and my Nan stuck them on the right doors.

Now Sean helps with the beauty calendars – I type out the labels and he sticks them on the appropriate box so that I can locate and open it myself.

However, for the first time this year, I got a chocolate advent calendar that was ready to go! No adaptations needed. I just wait for the right day, locate the number in Braille that is already printed on the door, and open it to get the day’s chocolate.

Just a simple thing that kids (and adults) all over the country take for granted, but up until now, this hasn’t been possible.

Braille chocolate advent calendars are nothing new in Germany – I know they’ve been around for a few years – but so far I haven’t seen one in the UK.

That’s why I was happy when one of my friends offered to send me one.

I know it’s a bit late to share this now – tomorrow we are opening day 12, but I firstly wanted to give a shout out to the company that is making them, and secondly wanted to let other people know for next year – whether that’s parents of blind children, or Braille-reading adults who want an accessible chocolate calendar.

The doors are arranged in 8 rows with 3 doors in each row. There are differences between German and English Braille, but the numbers are the same and there is no other writing on the calendar, so there would be no problems with confusing younger or new Braille readers.

This page about the advent calendar is in German, but there is also an email address where you can order it, and the company accepts Paypal. I’m not sure how much it would cost to get one sent from Germany to the UK if you order it directly, but it’s not a heavy calendar, so it shouldn’t be much.

It’s a simple thing really, but it made me happy to get a chocolate calendar that I can just enjoy and read without having to do any extra work that sighted friends wouldn’t have to do!

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – a shine liquid lip gloss. I haven’t tried any of these before, and although I don’t often wear lip gloss, it’s always good to have a change sometimes!

Glossybox – I can’t actually find the link for this, but it’s the Bellapierre kissproof lip finish – a clear lip topper to give a glossy finish to liquid lipsticks. The only lipstick I tried from this brand nearly clamped my lips shut because it was so sticky, so I can see why they came out with a product like this. I don’t have the other lipstick any more, but would use this topper on other liquid lips if I think they feel as though they would dry out my lips.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush

Products 6-10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

My thoughts on Purple Tuesday -what is it and why does it matter?

This isn’t the post I was planning to write today, but I didn’t know about Purple Tuesday, or that it was set up to highlight the needs of, and problems faced by disabled shoppers.

I found out about Purple Tuesday through this video on Lucy Edwards’ YouTube channel – go check her out if you haven’t already!

This is what I wrote on my Facebook page today:

This #PurpleTuesday I wish for

  1. improved #accessibility of retail websites (no page elements that exclude non-mouse users)
  2. better website descriptions of products (colour, style etc)
  3. better training for retail staff so they don’t try to turn away guide dogs.

Why do I care about this?

The reason I feel passionately about all of these things is that they’ve all happened to me. It’s not a good experience when you have money to spend, or you’ve found something that you like, and then you can’t buy it, or you can’t buy it independently, because your needs as a customer aren’t met.

I don’t take it personally, and I don’t think it’s intentional, but nobody likes to feel that as a customer, they are seen as less valuable or less important.

Problems online

I actually prefer shopping online. It’s one thing to go out for a day out with my friends, and actually S is a really good shopper too when it comes to finding what I’m after, but if we’re talking about me shopping on my own, then online is the way to go!

I choose to give my money to sites that make the shopping experience easy for me. Their buttons are labelled. They don’t make you rely on a mouse. They don’t have sloppy code that means my screenreader reads a load of numbers instead of what will happen if I click a particular link. If I’m lucky, the make-up items will be described, using normal colour words, and not fancy names that give you no idea what colour something is.

That’s not always how it works though. I can remember times when I’ve had to abandon an order of flowers for someone’s birthday because of an inaccessible date picker to select what day they should be delivered. The order couldn’t be checked out without this. So I had to abandon the order and go elsewhere.

I can think of a time when I filled my shopping basket, but then couldn’t check it out, because you could only click the button with a mouse. By the time I got some sighted assistance, the session had timed out and the basket was empty again. I went elsewhere.

I can think of a missed promotion because I had to wait and ask a sighted person about the colour of something. By the time I had done this, the product I wanted had sold out.

Each time it’s like having the door shut in your face, whilst other customers are being let in. And let’s face it, who likes to feel like that?

Problems in store

I don’t tend to shop on my own in stores, because I have to rely entirely on shop assistants to help me find the products I want. This isn’t really my idea of fun, but it should be an option for people who don’t want to shop online, or who don’t have people whom they can go shopping with.

One of the biggest issues I had in shops was the amount of times people tried to deny access to me because at that time I had a guide dog. This is not ok. I usually pursued the matter, ended up speaking to a manager, and being told I could stay, but I shouldn’t have to go through this experience and it really dampens the retail therapy buzz!

Other disabilities

I’m writing from the perspective of someone who is blind, because this is what I know. But disabled shoppers have different needs, and one size doesn’t fit all. There are visible disabilities and hidden disabilities. Even two people with the same disability might not have the same accessibility requirements.

I know how frustrating it is for wheelchair users who can’t access shops because there are steps, the isles are too narrow, or the things they want to look at are way above head height.

Shops may not know themselves what they are getting wrong, which is why accessibility audits are important, taking feedback into consideration ,and working to address barriers that have been identified and are currently keeping potential customers out.

This shouldn’t just be about one day . I would like to see a commitment to improving both online and in-store accessibility to disabled customers – not as an afterthought, but as something that happens as a matter of course.

Is there anything that you can do to help make this happen?

You can read more about Purple Tuesday in this article from the Guardian.

More from Unseen Beauty

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.

 

How do I find out about new beauty and skincare products as a blind person?

As a skincare and beauty enthusiast, I’m always interested in the latest news and shiny new things. But how does that work when you’re blind and you can’t see the adverts or the pictures that people share?

Well, you have to be creative, but here are some of the strategies that I use.

1. YouTube

It might not be an immediately obvious first choice for blind people, but YouTube is great! Not so much in terms of make-up tutorials, because people often talk about all kinds of stuff, and not what they’re doing, but anything that involves unboxings, hauls, favourites or empties can give me great insight into what’s out there.

And that’s often the point – as a blind person, I can’t just walk around Boots or Superdrug on my own and see what’s there. I can browse things online, and often do, but unless I’m specifically looking for something, I might not come across something that will really help unless other people point it out. Eye shadow sticks and cream blushes were a case in point. I just didn’t know about them until someone told me.

Some YouTubers do a good job of summarising new products – Fleur de Force is a good example.

However, many of the really big YouTubers get so much PR that they do really rushed videos with less information about the individual products – not so great when you can’t see them. I prefer more details about fewer products, which is often why I go for the smaller channels because it often feels as though those YouTubers do more with the content that they have, and this helps me because I find out more about the individual products.

When it comes to my subscription boxes, I follow people who get the same boxes as me. Last week S was out, and I couldn’t read the Glossybox card very well. But it was fine, because Claire already had her box up the day it came. I also follow people like Sussex Sandra, and Lightning Lass, who have all helped me by talking about their subscription boxes. This could be things like:

  • Reading the cards (S would do that too, but if it’s a video I can replay it if I forget something).
  • Talking about the colours (the leaflet says nice buildable colour, but YouTuber says “omg that’s Barbie pink!”)
  • Passing on details of deals that I would never have known about.
  • Providing links to the products so that I can find out more information or buy them myself. Yes, I know these are often affiliate links, and I use those too, but when you can’t read the package, reading the website is the next best thing!

2. Podcasts

I spent ages looking for good beauty podcasts, and was really surprised that there wasn’t more out there. It’s a massive gap in the market! But it’s ok, because then I discovered the Full Coverage podcast by – in their own words – professional make up artist, Harriet Hadfield and unprofessional beauty junkie, Lindsey Kelk!

There is always a section about news, and because there are no visuals, the products are always well-described. This is followed by honest, down-to-earth discussions which are both informative and hilarious at times. The podcast also has its own Facebook group, which is friendly and supportive, and where people are genuinely interested in helping each other (not a given in the beauty groups on Facebook!)

3. Blogs

Blogs by their nature are full of words. There has been a move towards more image-driven posts, but most of the time people will write something about the products that they are enjoying or have used up. I don’t stick around if the posts are mainly about photos with captions like “this colour is amaaazing!”, but I have found some bloggers who go into more depth about what a product was like, or who describe colours.

Shops and brands are often terrible when it comes to writing about the colour of their make-up. They assume that everyone can see the picture, which of course isn’t true. Certainly for me, online shopping is often a more accessible alternative than going into the shop, but then I have the problem of working out the shade of something that has a weird and wonderful name! I often google the product and find descriptions of it on blogs, which then help me to decide which one I want.

Blogs by other people with a visual impairment can be a useful source of information too, especially when it comes to tips on how to do things. But I know in terms of colours, I’m not massively helpful either because I often don’t attempt to describe something I can’t see myself.

4. Subscription boxes

One of the things I really like about subscription boxes is that you are able to try things at a fraction of the cost and without having to buy the full-size products. Ok, I can’t use everything that I get – sometimes because it’s for darker skin tones, sometimes because it’s things that I just don’t use (I’m thinking of you, dry shampoo!), and sometimes it’s because I prefer a different type of product because of my blindness (I prefer cream or liquid highlighters over powder). If I end up not keeping a lot of the products, that’s not a good deal. But if it’s one or two, my Mum or friends are happy to rehome them, and some of them go in giveaways, because just because I can’t or won’t use something, it doesn’t mean my readers won’t.

I really like the idea with boxes like Latest in Beauty too, because there you get to choose the things that you would like to try.

5. Newsletters

The basic point of newsletters is marketing. I know that. But as many brands don’t have basic subscription functionality on their blogs, subscribing to the newsletter is a good way to be sent any more in-depth articles about the brands that you enjoy. That and of course it’s a way to find out about discounts, which are also good.

The only problem there is that whilst the message is slowly getting through about website accessibility being important, many brands and shops seem to forget that this also applies to their newsletters. Some contain links that can only be activated by using a mouse. I don’t use a mouse. Some have ridiculously complicated or inaccessible sign-up processes. Some have “your alt text goes here” all the way down the newsletter because someone couldn’t be bothered to fill in the fields in the newsletter software with the correct information. Sighted people don’t see this. People using a screenreader will be able to read it.

And finally – avoid things that don’t work

I’ve tried out a few things and decided that I really didn’t like them – so I don’t do them any more.

For example, I like using Facebook groups, but many groups that I’ve found about skincare or beauty are so image-heavy, that they aren’t fun for me. There are not enough words. People post things like “Hey look what I bought this morning” Or “Which one shall I get?” and I can read through all the comments and still have no idea what they’re talking about. So I unsubscribe.

It was the same with Instagram – apart from the app not being massively accessible at the time I tried it, I found that half the time people weren’t writing interesting captions. It was all about the pictures, and I lost interest. So I’m not on Instagram, and that’s ok.

The same goes for Pinterest. I know lots of people who use it for inspiration, but it is all about the pictures, and for someone who can’t see them, it doesn’t get more uninspiring!

Magazines do have some interesting articles in them, but you sometimes have to scroll a long way past image galleries first. I’ve downloaded a few for free as part of my Amazon Prime subscription, but I haven’t found anything that added enough value that I’d want to buy it.

Summing up

So, I know that some of the ways that other people use to find out about new products aren’t open, or useful to me, but I think it’s about finding out where the relevant information is, and focussing on that. Look for the things that do add value. Build relationships with people whose content is accessible. Try to educate brands when it matters to you. I can’t spend my entire day explaining why “your alt text goes here” in newsletters is super-annoying, but if it’s a brand that I particularly care about, I will.

I think there’s also a message there for brands – there is a potential audience out there in terms of blind people. We have buying power! But you won’t reach many of us if you focus on glossy ads or Instagram (and yes, I know there are blind people who use it, but there are also many who don’t). Neither will you reach us by targeting groups for blind people – I don’t attend any, or read any publications aimed at this particular demographic.

What you can do are all the little things to make the mainstream experience of your brand more accessible. This includes good descriptions of products, labelling of colours, content that doesn’t rely primarily on images as part of your mainstream marketing strategy, and not excluding content creators from your marketing campaigns by including inflexible measures such as an Instagram following of X number of people, when perhaps someone has a sizeable audience on another platform, or access to an audience that would otherwise be hard to reach.

More from Unseen Beauty

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.

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

 

Cycling without sight – my tandem experience

I didn’t go for long bike rides as a child. We went walking with the dog, and my Granddad drove us for miles around the UK in the Summer Holidays, but I only discovered cycling as an adult.

I would say the easiest and safest way for people like me, who have no sight, to cycle, is to do tandem cycling.

My first introduction to it was on an activity weekend. Half of the time was to be spent canoeing and the other half cycling. As it turned out, I preferred being out of the water, but having tried both, I definitely prefer canoeing to kayaking because I don’t like being closed in, and if the thing tips, it’s easier to get out of a canoe than a kayak!

Anyway – back to the cycling. As a child, I didn’t have balance issues, but I didn’t have enough confidence in where I was going to pick up enough speed to stay balanced. Having someone else in charge of the direction took this problem away, but there is still an element of trust involved.

I don’t just mean you’re trusting the front rider not to stop peddling and let the blind person do all the work! I mean you need to communicate about what the other person is going to do – if they are going to turn, slow down or need to stop suddenly. You need to react quickly to what the other person is telling you. The faster you go, the more you need to trust them!

It was also my first time covering longer distances, so I was fighting with the fear that I’d do something stupid and everyone would think I was an idiot, but fortunately that didn’t happen either! After a couple of hours I was fine!

After the introduction weekend, I went on a week-long cycling holiday in Dorset with a mixture of blind and sighted cyclists. I was paired with a sighted cyclist at the beginning of the week, and it was great that we got on, because we spent the rest of the week together on the same bike. The evenings were for socialising, but the point of the trip was mainly to get in as much cycling as possible. The weather was mostly kind to us, but I got to experience cycling in heavy rain showers as well!

The blind person always goes at the back, because they are not in charge of steering. My front rider gave me information about what was coming up, where the hills were,, whether there were any sharp bends, intersections, or loose dogs! But we had time to chat as well and enjoy the countryside. You have to find a rhythm and work together – if you fight for control, you will just annoy each other and topple over! That didn’t happen to us! Generally I let the other person set the speed, especially where other traffic was around, but made sure I pulled my weight as well, especially on the uphill stretches.

I knew nothing about bike repairs or looking after the bike. The guy with me was more experienced, and explained things, but I felt an equal share of the responsibility for helping out if there was a problem.

That week I shared a room with a Paralympic cyclist. I was a complete beginner, and I enjoyed listening to her stories as someone who had got really good, and really fast! We didn’t do anything like that during the holiday, but it was great to see how this is a sport that is not only a fun thing to do, but also something at which blind people can become successful.

After the holiday my front rider and I stayed in touch for a while. I stood in for another blind rider who was unable to make the yearly cycling around churches in Kent – I believe to raise money for them. The idea of visiting a bunch of churches wouldn’t usually have interested me, but the bike ride did!

I’ve cycled with a few different people, and the most relaxing experiences were with people who were relatively confident and who didn’t lose their nerve and swerve around all over the place, though I have experienced that too! It makes life interesting!

You don’t experience the same sounds and smells if you’re in a train or a car. It’s different when you’re outside and responsible for getting where you want to be with your own energy! I enjoy walking too, but obviously you can cover more ground on a bike. Or a horse!

I’m not sure how the experience is different for the person on the front of the tandem. Again there is that element of trust, so you need to believe that the person behind you won’t do anything erratic. Your bike is twice as long and twice as heavy as normal, because of the extra seat and extra weight behind you. You need to be able to look ahead and communicate.

I have heard of one student who cycled to school on a tandem with an exchange student for a while, which I think was cool. The tandem was used in just the same way as other students would use a bike. For me, tandem cycling has been more of a fun thing to do, rather than a means of getting from A to B. You always need to have someone who needs or wants to go to the same place at the same time, and in most situations such as going to work, that isn’t the case. Still, I know that some blind people get their own tandems – which is fine as long as they have someone, or some people, with whom they can cycle regularly.

Now all the cycling I do is just the exercise bike in my fitness room, but if I had the opportunity again to get on a tandem, I’d definitely take it.

A blind person may not be able to see everything around them on a bike ride, but it’s a good way to keep fit, and it’s good to be outside and enjoy nature.

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