The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaflet by email

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

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

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

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

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

What was in this month’s box?

In the January, “refresh edit” we had:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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.

10 tips for Moving house when you’re blind

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

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

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

1. Decide what help you actually want and from whom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Make a plan

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

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

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

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

3. Make sure that other people can follow your labelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Keep things that you will need close at hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Try to be realistic with your expectations of yourself

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

10. Break things down into manageable steps

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Are you meeting a need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Are you approaching someone in the right country?

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

4. Is the person the right age group?

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

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

5. Is the person interested in your topic?

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

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

6. Is your customer journey accessible?

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

7. Does the person accept guest/sponsored content?

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

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

8. Do they have the right degree of vision?

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

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

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

10 Don’t expect free advertising!

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

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

Summing up

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Why I have a problem with the AbledsAreWeird hashtag

Ok so maybe talking about this Hashtag is just giving it more publicity, which is actually the opposite of what I want to do, but still I think it’s a conversation worth having. You know, that old saying that if you sit there and say nothing when something’s going on that you don’t agree with, it’s actually like agreeing with it because nobody knows that you didn’t!

What is the hashtag>

The first time I became aware of it was at the weekend and it was actually a tweet in which someone wasn’t supporting it, to which I agreed. I hadn’t heard of it before though.

It’s basically a hashtag that people with disabilities are using to highlight some of the odd experiences they’ve had, where members of the public have been offensive, clueless, or said inappropriate things. They are real-life stories. Some just bizarre, but many show the ongoing barriers, misunderstandings, inappropriate comments or strange behaviour that many people face regularly. That’s not cool. These things shouldn’t happen. Discrimination is real and should be stopped.

I’ve had my share too – and continue to do so – but still, I don’t like the hashtag.

Why do I have a problem with it?

If it were just about highlighting some of the bad, maddening, or otherwise crazy experiences, either to bring a bit of humour or raise awareness, I think that’s fine. I’ve had comments that made me angry, sad, or roll my eyes in the past – I’m not exempt from them. How something affects you often depends on the kind of day you’re having. Great day – you think “what an odd thing to say” and move on. Terrible day –then sometimes it all feels too much.

But in the same way that I wouldn’t want someone to call me a “disabled” or “a blind”, I have an issue with the term “ableds”. Isn’t this reinforcing the stereotypes that everyone in a massive group of the population is the same? Isn’t that something that disabled people complain about?

Also, I don’t live in a sub-community that consists of only people with disabilities. Most of my best friends are non-disabled, and I hate the thought of “us and them”. It widens the gap between us. It’s about blame.

Ultimately, if someone behaves badly, or fails to be inclusive, then yes it is down to them. But it’s way too general for my liking to start calling everyone in that demographic weird.

And for the love of all that is good – the first time I was in a group of mainly visually impaired people, I thought a lot of them were pretty weird as well! I attended a short IT course after my A-levels at a centre that catered specifically for people with visual impairments. The way I was hit on there and the bizarre questions I was asked were far worse than anything that happened while I was at mainstream school. So let’s not get too smug in the weirdness comparison stakes!

There are times when only someone who has had a shared experience will know exactly how something feels. You could argue that only someone who has worked with an assistance animal for a number of years can really know how hard it is when your dog isn’t there any more – not just because you were friends, but you were a team too. People who don’t have to deal with accessibility issues every day can empathise, but it’s probably really only people who live that struggle who know just how much it can piss you off.

Yet, having said that, there are many times when I relate more to the “them” than to the “us”, precisely because I don’t live in a world where most people share my experience and disability. I’m more than just my visual impairment. I share other life experiences, interests, challenges and accomplishments with my partner and friends that have absolutely nothing to do with my inability to see.

It would be the same for me with any other type of hashtag that makes a statement about a huge group of People. Something about “men are” or “people over 50 are” or “people with children are” – it’s just not cool. I don’t belong to that demographic, but neither do I have the right to lump them all together and insult them! Especially not if the whole point is to try and get better treatment for a minority group to which I belong.

So what should we do instead?

I strongly believe that as human beings, we have more that unites us than sets us apart.

I believe we need to work together more. To share experiences, including problems, and try to find solutions.

I’m not saying that because I have an unrealistically optimistic view of the world and underestimate the problems. I spent a large chunk of today researching something that would have taken a sighted person far less time because they could have used any of the information, whereas I had to sift through twice as much as I needed in order to find accessible resources. I wish people would design more accessible websites and not think we all learn from inaccessible videos and diagrams.

But I can’t fix that by just insulting those people!

There is a way to share experiences in an objective and not accusatory  way that still gets a message across. One day I’ll write a post about all the crazy things people have said to or about my guide dog. I can also think of some inappropriate things that people have said, things that I don’t necessarily want to give a place on the blog. There’s a way of calling out that behaviour too, and I certainly don’t think we should avoid those uncomfortable discussions.

But I’d be a hypocrite if I used a hashtag that I myself thought was offensive – which is why I won’t be promoting it.

Many people with disabilities have joined in – and that’s their choice. Many more are blissfully unaware of the hashtag as I was, or maybe some are afraid of the backlash for swimming against the tide of popular opinion. Who knows.

The comments I’ve seen have talked about non-disabled people getting offended by the hashtag, but I’m willing to guess that like me, some disabled people are offended by it too!

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.

My amazing new coffee machine and my challenges buying coffee for it

My friends have been hearing about this all week, so it’s time to share it with you, my blog readers!

I have been drinking coffee in some form since I was about 7 or 8. Sometimes with permission. Sometimes because I figured out how to make it when I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, or when people who were supposed to be supervising weren’t about. But for as long as I can remember, it’s been the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and the only thing that kept me going when I was doing two jobs or working crazy hours.

It’s the thing that kickstarts my brain, and anyone who’s smart knows not to talk to me until I’ve had a couple of cups of it See this post for example That would probably have never happened if coffee had been involved!

Anyway a couple of weeks ago we were visiting a friend and he told me about the new coffee machine that he’d got for Christmas.

I enjoyed the coffee that he made me, but I was also interested in the machine itself, as I had wrongly assumed that a lot of the newer machines were touch-screen only, like the ones you can get in large offices. They are not at all user-friendly if you can’t see the touch screen. Some can be controlled by apps, but any update to the app that messes with the accessibility will then render your machine inaccessible, and I wasn’t keen to go down this route.

My friend’s machine only has two buttons though – proper buttons – and I decided that would be fine for me. The pods would be more of a challenge to read as something like the Seeing AI app would struggle to read the shiny packaging. But if kept in their box, Seeing AI could either read the box, or I could manually print some Braille labels.

So I was sold on the idea and went home to investigate!

Buying my machine

In the end I went for a similar coffee machine to the one we’d been talking about, but with no milk frother. It came within 2 days and I could get going straight away because there was a free box with 14 coffees to try.

You pour water into the compartment at the end, put your chosen pod in its compartment, put your cup under the nozzle, then press whichever button you want. In the morning I tend to go for a triple Espresso topped up with two lots of water, but you don’t have to be that extreme!

It’s simple, no fuss, really quick, and there are over 30 types of really good coffee to choose from!

Buying my coffee and accessibility problems

I had also seen that there was an app for buying your coffee pods, and was keen to try it out.

At first there were some quirks to get used to. There’s a button labelled as UIButtonBarNewSmall next to every type of coffee. I figured out that if you click that, a slider appears which allows you to select how many of those capsules you want, in multiples of 10. Not great, but doable, and when I tweeted Nespresso to tell them about it, they responded quickly and positively to say that my message would be passed on to the web team.

So I put an assortment of pods into my basket, complete with my free recycling bag which will be collected with the next order once the bag is full, but the basket screen was as far as I got.

I could find where and how to add a promotion code, how to amend my order, but not how to do the one thing I wanted to do – check out! Apparently, there was a continue button, which takes you to the login screen, but you can’t get to it using VoiceOver. It’s as if the button just isn’t there. I can’t navigate to it, never mind click on it.

I could have just gone the easy way and got S to click the button for me, but I shouldn’t have to do that. I’m old enough to buy my own coffee and I don’t always have someone nearby waiting to click buttons when I can’t.

So I logged in to the website and finished off my order there. The website is actually very accessible and I had no problems completing my order. But I still felt a bit short changed because my account hadn’t updated to include the things I put in my basket today, which meant I had to do it again.

As I was finishing writing the post, I tweeted Nespreso again and they replied before I had even hit publish on the blog article. That is pretty speedy customer service! They apologised for the inconvenience and promised to pass on my comments. It would be really good if these issues could be fixed in the next update of the app.

There are times when 90% accessible just isn’t good enough, if the missing 10% is the thing that prevents someone from buying from you!

Ok, I love my coffee and I would have either used the site or got someone to help, but any type of business needs to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy their products and services.

So, my pods are on their way and should be with me in the next couple of days!

Overall thoughts

I don’t want this to be a ranting post though. I did get my order in and I am very happy with the machine. The coffees are really good, and I am grateful to my friend (another S) for giving me the idea.

I think I need a coffee now!

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.

This post contains an affiliate link, but I paid for the coffee machine myself, and only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Accessibility problems – sometimes people just don’t know what they’re doing wrong

Wednesday had been a long day. I was still sitting at my laptop quite late having a spring-clean of Twitter, and I came across a tweet from a company that sells books. But I couldn’t read the tweet. The text said that it contained some advice, but the advice was a picture of text.

Usually I just scroll on past inaccessible tweets and Facebook posts. If my friends want to share pictures with no text, it’s up to them. If I care enough about it, I might try to work it out by the comments, or I’ll ask, but I don’t expect everyone to remember me all of the time. Yes, it would be great if we lived in a fully accessible world, but I’m not going to be that friend that keeps reminding everyone about how I couldn’t understand that joke or information that they posted because it was a picture. I insist on more cooperation in the group that I run, but what people do on their own wall is their business.

I set the bar a bit higher for companies though, especially if they’re companies where I spend my money.

So I pointed out that blind people using screenreaders wouldn’t be able to read the advice in the tweet. This was particularly unhelpful as a company promoting literacy was making it impossible for some followers to read their content – because they used a picture instead of actual words!

Within minutes I had a positive reply. I was told what the tweet said, thanked for my input, and told they’d bear it in mind in future. Quick win!

I don’t expect people to stop using memes and pictures, but a text alternative would be nice if it’s larger companies. To be fair, the automatic AI image description facility on Facebook can convert some of these pictures to text that’s read out by the screenreader, but it doesn’t work with all of them. I haven’t seen this in action on Twitter, so can’t comment.

But anyway, the point is that it got me thinking about wider online accessibility issues.

I am an advocate for accessibility. I want to make the online world a better and more accessible place. Inconsiderate and let’s be fair, sometimes downright sloppy web design frustrates me, particularly when it’s big companies that have the resources to do better.

But sometimes, people just don’t know what they did was wrong or how it can negatively impact on an end-user.

I’m not saying that ignorance is an excuse, though I do tend to go a lot easier on smaller companies than the large multi-national businesses with more resources to invest in accessibility training.

I might have to deal with 10 different accessibility issues in one day. Some are just trivial, like the inaccessible tweet, whereas others are more of a hassle, like the website that I can’t use because buttons aren’t labelled, menu items that can only be selected with a mouse, articles where I can’t read the page because of some stupid video that plays automatically, or my newest bugbear – the privacy/cookie policy statements that can only be clicked away using a mouse.

Sometimes I get help from a sighted person. Sometimes I say screw it and get the information elsewhere or avoid buying from that particular site. Sometimes I flag the inaccessibility issue, although I don’t do this as often as I probably should. You have to choose your battles. I have a business and a home to run, my studies, and some free time would be nice too!

But the point is it can all build up. That’s our perspective as people dealing with the inaccessibility. The other side is the person who only learned for the first time today that they as a social media manager were doing something unhelpful.

When I worked in London, there were times when tourists and other commuters drove me crazy. Not watching where they were going, bopping my dog on the head with their bags, making her job harder, letting dogs run free and bother us, stopping suddenly on the stairs to take a call, chatting and standing in the way, expecting us to go in the road. I know I told a few people exactly what I thought of their thoughtless or stupid behaviour, when the real problem was that they were the 10th person to do that to me that day, which wasn’t really their fault. My anger was justified, but the intensity probably wasn’t.

And I think this is where I’m getting to with accessibility. Yes, it’s annoying when things don’t work, or companies prevent us from using their products and services. Yes, it would be so much easier if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to do extra work to educate and work so hard to make things better. But maybe the company just hadn’t considered the implications of not having a fully accessible site or social media content.

I went to mainstream school – that’s a discussion for another day – but I think one of the really valuable lessons I took from that was the life experience of being surrounded by people who had never met another blind person before. That’s my normal. I believe if you’re educated in an environment where everything is accessible and everyone knows about blindness, access technology etc, it can be a harsh reality when you leave that world and come back into mainstream society, where that’s not how things work.

Sometimes companies do make the decision that implementing good practice is not worth the hassle or cost. Yes, that should be challenged, especially if those same companies want disabled people as customers, or if we have no choice but to interact with them in order to fulfil some legal obligation or access a service.

One of the things that is guaranteed to wind me up is sites that were inaccessible, had a make-over to “improve the user experience” and then became totally inaccessible to me.

But a lot of the time, there are just people doing their best to do their jobs, not trying to be difficult or even aware of what they’re doing wrong. I think we as accessibility advocates shouldn’t forget that.

I know people who have asked about the accessibility of their website/blog/YouTube channel/app as a result of meeting me and finding out how I access information online. This is a positive thing. They want to learn and change, and maybe don’t know how to at first.

Part of the reason for doing my IT degree now is to equip myself with the knowledge to make a better-informed contribution to this conversation and develop my accessibility consultancy service.

Meanwhile, the “us” and “them” mentality that I see in some circles bothers me. The “us” being the people who need accessibility and “them” being all the others in the big bad world out there, making things hard for us. But that’s a problem, because some of “them” are my friends. Just moving to the town where I live now has brought me into contact with a number of people who can influence the accessibility of their own companies or companies that they work for, and that’s a positive thing. It’s even got me a freelance contract!

On a side-note, this is another reason why I believe mainstream education is so important. All the children in my class were exposed to someone using access technology to do pretty much everything that they did, if sometimes in a different way. Hopefully they’ve gone on to be adults, employers, and colleagues who are still aware of those things. Seriously! We live in a world where people are sometimes surprised that I can even use a phone or a laptop – we have a long way to go in terms of promoting all the positive stories in terms of the world of possibilities that access technology can open up.

Especially when I had a guide dog and had numerous access refusals, I got a bit of a reputation for strongly-worded letters. I was good at them, and usually got results.

It can become entrenched if a company really doesn’t want to listen or improve. I’ve had emails that basically say “sorry you can’t use our website, but we don’t have any plans to change it.” Yeah thanks for that. I’m glad that you value my custom so much!

but that first contact you make with a company – that could be someone who genuinely didn’t know better. I don’t always get it right, especially if I’m having a bad day and it’s just one more hurdle to jump, but I think it’s important that we don’t forget that. I’m a teacher. I work in education. Anything I do in terms of accessibility awareness is an extension of that. Some people don’t care or want to learn, but many do if we give them a chance and some specific advice about what could be better. You might be positively surprised!

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.

 

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.

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.

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

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.