I had to send a letter

I had to send a letter

I don’t know how long ago it is that I sent my last letter. I just don’t do it. All of my business correspondence is sent online and I generally encourage people to write to me online too, because that’s how I can read it. Even my bills are paperless!

Great for me and great for the planet!

The postman and parcel delivery people don’t count – they bring me the things that I order online! That’s definitely something I didn’t have 20 years ago, and for me, even though I grumble about a lack of online retail accessibility at times, it’s definitely progress!

But generally things I receive in the mail, with the exception of birthday or Christmas cards, are junk mail, advertising, and stuff that finds its way straight to the recycling.

So anyway – I had to send a letter for the first time in years.

I have access to a printer now, but I went for years without even that.

We did have a couple of issues though, such as not having an envelope big enough (a quick online order fixed that) and no stamps (fortunately my supermarket does them, so I could just add it to our shopping. But this all delayed the sending off of the letter, not least because we’re still shielding and couldn’t just pop to the shops.

Eventually the letter was sent off and I started thinking about my 21st century mini problem and how things have changed.

When I was growing up, my Nan always had a cupboard full of stationery, and she always had stamps in her bag. She wouldn’t have run out of either.

As a teenager, I was the same, with English stamps, international ones, free postage labels for my international library books, and envelopes of all shapes and sizes.

I had various penfriends in Germany, which was fun, but challenging at the same time. When the handwritten notes came, I couldn’t see to read them. My Nan could, but she couldn’t speak German. So she tried to read them phonetically and I tried to figure out what the letters meant, taking down the letter myself in Braille or on my laptop so that I could reply later without having to ask for help again.

At the time it was good, because it gave me a reason to improve my German – so that I could communicate with my friends (I would type my replies and print them out). I was grateful for my patient Nan who helped me transcribe letters in a language she didn’t understand. It almost became like a game – uncover the hidden code! Those letters were never particularly long though – when I think now of some of the lengthy emails I write to my friends – transcribing the answers to those would be a lot more work!

I don’t miss getting personal letters that I can’t read myself though. I communicate with people all round the world every day, and I am so grateful for the technology that allows me to do this independently – without having to bother someone else, or have them read all of my correspondence.

Ok, my teenage letters weren’t that deep or meaningful, but it’s still like taking someone with you every time you meet up with someone for coffee, and never actually getting to chat with them on their own.

That’s before you even get to things like love letters! Who wants someone else reading those?!

I know some people are happy to receive handwritten letters in the post. They feel it’s more special and more personal.

But apart from the minor inconvenience of not having what I needed to send off this particular letter, I’m glad about how things have moved on for me, and how far technology has allowed adult Kirsty to be more independent than teenage Kirsty ever was!

As for stamps – I remember what they used to cost before and was actually quite surprised!

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8 times people assumed and got it wrong with my access needs

This is actually a post that I wrote for one of my business blogs, but I wanted to link it here because I know I have readers who are interested in accessibility or posts around visual impairment.

Making assumptions about what people need is a bad idea generally, but I wanted to use some practical examples from my own experience to show the kind of problems that can come up when people do it.

You can read my 8 times people assumed and got it wrong post here. Let me know in the comments if you have experienced any of these things, or if you have your own stories to add.

Where are we going? An interview with an inclusive children’s book author

I met Vie online earlier this year because we were both in one of the same Facebook groups. What started as a virtual coffee chat has become a friendship, even though we haven’t actually met face-to-face yet. Welcome to 2020! But actually it’s not that unusual for me to have virtual friendships. The internet has opened up so many.

Inclusion is important. There is a place for explaining our differences and talking about them, but it’s also vital that disabled people are seen in films, books, tv shows, and news articles, where the focus is on the everyday things and the things we have in common, rather than the one thing that makes us different.

I would like to share Vie’s current project with you because I think it’s really important. I’ve done an interview with her so that she can tell you more about it.

If you have children, are looking for Christmas presents for children, or just would like to support other children by making this book available to them, please have a look and see whether this is something that you’d like to support.

Can you please tell us something about yourself and the work that you do?

I am founder and director of a Community Interest Company that teaches self esteem and confidence workshops to children and young people, aged 4 to 19. As a Community Interest Company, I can apply for some grants, although that has been very difficult in this year of Covid; have fundraising events, again, difficult this year; and take donations. I decided to set up as a CIC because I knew that schools needed the workshops I offer but often can’t afford to pay for external facilitators to go in.

What motivated you to write a children’s book/what gave you the idea?

I love children’s books! I have worked with children most of my life, as a Nanny, in schools, in groups, so I have read a lot of books; some I don’t recall, some are awful, some are amazing! I am also a regular user of public transport, both alone and with the children I’ve looked after; if you’re open to it, a journey on a bus with a young child can be one filled with wonder, as they can see things us jaded adults often can’t.

Many times, I have been waiting for a bus at a stop, and a child has asked a simple question of the adult they’re with, only to be answered in a snappy tone. I wanted to write a story that demonstrated that, in around the same amount of words it takes to answer in a snappy way, the same question can be answered in a magical, encouraging way.

As young children, we’re encouraged to be imaginative in school, then, as we get older, we’re told to “grow up”, to “not be silly”; it’s no wonder that many adults feel they can’t use their imagination. I want to give people the encouragement to say the silly things that come to mind; to encourage them to dream big. If we can dream big, we’re more likely to aim higher in our lives.

Who is the main character in your book?

The image is of a young girl with ginger curly hair, bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile; she is wearing a blue long sleeved t-shirt with a pink heart on the chest, blue knee length shorts, a pink tutu, and pink trainers; her left leg is a prosthetic limb.

A huge part of who I am, of what I do, is about acceptance and inclusion. I have said about my love of children’s books; in all the ones I’ve read, the only ones where there is a child with a disability, the story is about their disability. Although those books are very important, and they definitely have value, but, for me, it encourages people to think of them as “other”. In my story, the main character has a visible difference and it’s not mentioned, other than in the activity section at the back of the book; I want people to see her as a child having wonderful imaginary adventures, who just happens to have a disability. It’s important that all children see positive representations of themselves; it’s also important that other children see children that are different to them in a positive way.

What age group do you think would enjoy the book most?

The age group I would suggest this is for is 3 to 6, maybe 7, years old; it’s a great story to share and also a lovely story for a child to practice their reading.

What can you tell us about the underrepresentation of disabled characters in fiction?

In children’s stories, only 3.4% of books have a character with a disability in (Cooperative Children’s Book Council – CCBC – 2019), but, in the UK, there are 800,000 disabled children under the age of 16 (around 8%), which equates to one child in 20 (Contact A Family). Children need to see a positive representation of every child.

Why is addressing this imbalance important to you as an author and somebody who works with young people?

I really believe that, if we’re kinder and more accepting of ourselves, we’ll be kinder and more accepting of others. I live with several chronic conditions, all of which are mostly invisible; I am frequently astounded by the lack of awareness people have around disabilities; the image most people seem to have of a person with disabilities is someone in a wheelchair; too often, people with disabilities are seen as people to pity or patronise, or as “inspiration porn”, rather than fully rounded humans, with a whole gamut of emotions, a whole lifetime of experiences. But, perhaps it’s not surprising that the majority of people have those attitudes when people with disabilities are so rarely represented in books, films, on tv, and, when they are, they frequently exacerbate the pity or porn attitude. We need more honest, more frequent, representation, for everyone’s benefit.

And that’s where my book comes in. It’s from the age of three that children start to make judgements on others bodies; if they are surrounded by more positive images, more inclusive images, from a young age, they will have a better understanding that all bodies are good bodies.

Can you tell us something about your plans for the book? What would you like to happen as a result, and what message would you like others to take away?

My book can be pre-ordered via Crowdfunder (link below) as a hardback; in the campaign, as well as other exclusive items, there are also options to donate a book to a primary school or group of your choice, right up to being able to donate a book to every library, nursery, or school in your area. I would love for as many children as possible to see my book! It would be wonderful to have the book in every reception and year one class in the country, every pre-school, so an understanding of inclusion is developed from a young age. Though, as someone in Texas has contributed to the Crowdfunder, maybe I need to think bigger!!

I would love for a child to listen to the story, participate in the adventures, and think, “That child is just like me” because of all the things they have in common, rather than see the main character as someone different to them.

How can people support you or find out more?

As a Community Interest Company, support is always needed. With the Crowdfunder, as well as contributing to get the book published, and donating books to nurseries, schools and groups, every supporter will also be supporting my CIC, enabling me to reach more children and young people.

The Crowdfunder link is here.
This is my website, and I am VieNessCIC on social media

Thank you

Thank you Vie for sharing this with us. I am supporting this crowdfunder and if this is something you want to get behind too, I’d encourage you to check out Vie’s links.

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Odyssey box – a hair subscription box accessible to blind people

This is not a sponsored post. I talk a lot about accessibility and the problems that I have when companies don’t think about customers with different needs. Instead of just talking about problems, I also want to use my platform to highlight good practice, and talk about those brand owners who are working hard to make their products and services more accessible, particularly for visually impaired customers like me.

I first mentioned the Odyssey haircare box back in my March products post when I was talking about how much I’d enjoyed the Queen of the Nile mask. Since then, I’ve been getting the box every 2 months, because that’s how it comes out.

The Odyssey Box was created by Chloé, and As well as enjoying the products, I’ve been impressed by her commitment to diversity. She agreed to tell part of her story for this post.

What is ODYSSEY BOX?

First I wanted to know why Chloé decided to bring this new haircare box onto the market.

“I created ODYSSEY BOX to fill the gap in the market for a customer-first brand that could truly stand behind the products it was marketing. When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to the knowledge I needed to really care for my afro hair as I was the first generation in my family to decide against chemically straightening it.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I truly started to learn what my hair needed and started to embrace my true texture without using heat styling tools. In 2018, I discovered Black-owned hair care products and learned the truth behind the brand giants I had been purchasing for many years. I learned that the products I had been using contained low quality, filler ingredients, and in some cases, some of these ingredients were toxic.

It was an easy decision to make, to decide to stick with the natural, plant-based, community-oriented Black-owned hair care brands I had found and after committing my time and efforts to support these brands for 2 years, I knew that I wanted to have a longer-lasting impact and that’s where ODYSSEY BOX comes in.

ODYSSEY BOX is a subscription box service delivering luxury haircare from the best of black-owned brands for curly, kinky, and coily hair textures. We are committed to educating, empowering, and connecting our community, whilst working towards more positive mindsets about natural haircare.

An odyssey is a long and exciting adventure and that is what we believe your natural hair journey should be. I am aware that some ODYSSEY BOX subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair and for me, that shows that the demand for safe, natural, and effective products extends beyond just the natural hair community and so I am happy to be able to meet that demand.”

My thoughts on the products

As Chloé mentioned, some of her subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair. I fall into that category too. My hair is thick, down past my waist, and naturally straight.

I was interested to try out the box though when I saw it on YouTube, being reviewed on Sussex Sandra’s channel. I thought that the contents of the February box looked good, and I’d be able to use most of them. After all, a lot of the focus was on nourishing the hair and helping it to lock in moisture. My hair isn’t dry or damaged, but as it’s so long, I often use masks and moisture-rich products to keep it in good shape.

It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the main target audience for the box. Occasionally there is a product that is not as relevant for me, such as one specifically for curls, but to be honest, when I was getting beauty boxes including products that were more geared towards my own type of hair, there were plenty of styling products that I didn’t want to use, probably more so than there are with this box.

I’ve been moving towards more natural products over the last couple of years, and I like the fact that this box supports smaller, independent brands. Sometimes I would like to do more of this than I do, but as a screenreader user, I often face challenges with the accessibility of smaller brands’ websites. This is not always the way, but when it happens, it can make buying from them more of a challenge. It’s not just a case of put in your credit card details and go if none of the buttons on the website are labelled!

Given that this is a luxury haircare box, it’s not one of the cheapest around. But if you want better ingredients and to support small companies, that’s normal. I expect to get value for money with subscriptions, but if it’s a race to the bottom with the biggest savings on products, it’s A not a sustainable business model, B not going to support independent brands, and C not going to ensure quality long-term.

.The Odyssey box website is accessible and I had no trouble signing up with my screenreader, so that’s a win-win. I can discover smaller independent brands, most of which I hadn’t heard of before, without having to find out whether each individual site is accessible.

Blind people and subscription boxes

In most beauty and hair subscription boxes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. I have various ways of identifying my products, but they all involve relying on someone or something else.

Probably the easiest way is to ask S – who knows more about beauty and skincare than most fiancés would want to. But that depends on him being around and having time to do it when I want the information. More importantly, he’s my partner, not my admin help. He does help me, but I’d rather be independent.

I have an app on my phone, which can often read labels, but then I have to Google to find out how to use the products. Also, its being able to read the label isn’t guaranteed – it depends on the font, the background contrast, the size of the writing, and the material.

I can wait for online reviews on YouTube or blogs – this is helpful, but this involves waiting, and I don’t like waiting! It also doesn’t tell me which product is which in my own box.

When Chloé asked for customer feedback, we got talking about accessibility. I’ll let her take up the story again:

“It’s important to me that I make the whole ODYSSEY BOX experience accessible. From the language I use to describe hair care concepts to the layout of the inserts in the box, I want every single person who gets a box to have an equal opportunity to enjoy it.

It wasn’t until I reached out for feedback that I learned that one of my subscribers, Kirsty was visually impaired and so my first instinct was to email the inserts instead of including them in the box so that she could listen to the information instead. I did this for a couple of boxes and had the realisation that it was all well and good being able to hear the information but if the products are all in identical packaging, it would still be challenging to distinguish which information related to which product.

I was so disappointed in myself for the oversight but saw it as an opportunity to do better for the August Box. I want my community of subscribers to feel empowered when they receive their boxes, and not feel as though they can’t access what they need on their own. So, for the August box, I got creative and taped some packing material to two of the products to make them more tactile.

The box contained two pump bottles, two spray bottles, and a pouch. So, this time around, when I emailed the information to Kirsty, I was able to say which of the pump bottles had something taped to it, which of the spray bottles did and what they felt like overall. I was pleased that it had a positive impact!

Small things like this make a big difference and only make the experiences for the customer and the brand more positive. It’s not always an impairment that disables someone, oftentimes it’s society and services that prevent equal access for all. I’m always willing to get creative and do what I can to make sure that my service isn’t one of those. ODYSSEY BOX is all about bringing you positive haircare experiences and I’ll go above and beyond to make sure of it.”

My customer experience

Of course we want good quality products, but the way you feel about a brand or subscription also plays a role. I am more loyal to brands that take the extra time to create an experience that lets me participate, independently and as an equal. When my box arrives, I can just unpack it and go, without having to ask my partner, or spend time scanning and figuring out what things are. I can read my email, check it against the products to see which is which if they feel the same, and get going using them. This is good customer service and I love the fact that it’s less work for me!

In the last year I’ve been working with a lot more small business owners, and I think that they are often less removed from their customers than bigger brands. They appreciate that we are all different and may have different needs, and it is often the small things like this, that make a big difference.
Thanks to Chloé for making her boxes more accessible to me as a blind customer.

The growth goals box

The growth goals box contains 5 full-size products from Black British haircare brand, shea decadence London. I hadn’t actually heard of this brand before, but having a range of products from the same brand gave me the chance to try them out together over a period of time.

In the box there is a conditioning shampoo, a deep conditioner, detangling hair milk, a curl-enhancing leave-in conditioner, and reviving hair dew.

I use all of them. My long hair can get tangled, so the detangling milk is a firm favourite this month, and the shampoo leaves my hair feeling really clean, without feeling stripped. The conditioner is rich and luxurious – I’ve never seen one in a pouch before, but it’s good because you can get every last drop out. The leave-in conditioners are quite rich for my hair, so I do use them, but they last me a lot longer because I don’t need much.

So – have you tried this box? Would you be interested in a hair subscription box? Let me know in the comments.

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Image © Odyssey Box

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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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.

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.

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