They lost my business after 15 years – why website accessibility is important

Why I recently switched from Tesco to Ocado for my grocery shopping.

Sometimes my international customers are surprised that I do my grocery shopping online. It’s not as popular in Germany as it is here.

I’ve been doing all my grocery shopping online for years now – since shortly after I moved to London. So that’s at least 15 years. It made me so happy, because previous trips to the supermarket had been a challenge.

In theory you can ask for assistance if you are blind and can’t locate the products yourself. In practice, you are sometimes given any member of staff who can be spared, and that doesn’t always work out well. I had one really helpful lady, but the next week I got a young guy who thought that you find cheese in the freezer section, and when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the next week I got someone who couldn’t read. This was appalling – both because I ended up without most of the things that I wanted, but as an employer, the supermarket set that guy up to fail, giving him a task to do that he had no fair chance of completing. He felt bad because he wanted to help, but couldn’t. I felt bad because I couldn’t point out the things that I wanted. It was a disaster.

So, I tried online shopping and it was amazing. At first Tesco had a separate access site for screenreader users, and this was later removed, but the main site was perfectly accessible. I used it for years. Around 15 years. But then things started to go downhill.

I found the site was getting slower, and a recent revamp meant that it became considerably less accessible. I’m not sure how the appearance of the site changed, although in an IT group for access technology users, one member said his sighted wife didn’t like the new site much either.

The thing that a lot of people don’t understand with accessibility is that it’s not how the page looks, but the way it’s been designed, and whether a good user experience for access technology users has been built into the page at the design and coding stage.

For example, using style headings for product names means that a screenreader user can quickly jump from one product to the next by pressing just one button, without having to read all the associated information if they don’t want to buy that product. A screenreader user can’t skim read and scroll, so having a good navigation structure on web pages is essential if you want screenreader users to be able to move around efficiently.

Anyway – the headings for product names were done away with and the information was presented in a list, which was harder to navigate quickly. In addition to the slowness, sometimes the site crashed completely or threw up script errors. I tried different browsers, because sometimes this helps. But no. I just got more and more frustrated. Shopping took longer! My patience was at an end and I began to put off a job that I’d been doing easily for years.

I did pass on my comments, but never heard anything back.

One day was particularly frustrating and I ended up asking S to help me just to get the job done. But something had to change!

Some of our friends had been talking about how happy they were with Ocado, so I decided to give it a go. I signed up for an account and hoped that the experience would be better.

The first task was to import my favourites from Tesco. I believe a 3rd party site is used for this. It wasn’t great, because the buttons for the various supermarkets weren’t labelled properly, but I knew it couldn’t import anything without me logging in to the other site, so I clicked the first one and hoped for the best. It was Tesco! The cynical part of me wonders whether this is where most of Ocado’s customers import their favourites from! Who knows? This shows the importance of labelling your graphics – there are some people who can’t see the graphics and need to know what will happen when you click that button.

Anyway – the favourites will only be imported if there is a comparable product in the Ocado database, so I inevitably lost some. However, it wasn’t difficult to search for things that were missing, and I ended up getting a bit carried away with new things that I wanted to try as well!

It was easy to navigate around the pages, and Ocado does style their product names as headings, so I can quickly move through pages such as my favourites or a page of search results to find what I’m looking for.

Booking my slot and paying for the goods was easy as well, and when the shopping arrived, everything was as it should be.

I was also happy with the receipt. Tesco only provides an email confirmation of the order, but this doesn’t give any information about what actually arrived (for example if something was out of stock). The Ocado receipt tells you what was delivered, and also gives you information about when the products should be used up. This is particularly useful if you can’t see the packaging to check. To be honest I’ve never given myself food poisoning with out-of-date food, and now S is around to check, but in the past I’ve often frozen things to be on the safe side. With this information on the receipt, I don’t need to.

In terms of Unseen Beauty, I have been impressed at the extensive skincare and beauty section, so there will be some new reviews coming soon.

At the moment I am enjoying free access to the smart pass, which gives you free deliveries as long as you hit the £40 minimum spend. I will probably renew this when the free trial runs out because we will save in the long-term on delivery charges.

I couldn’t imagine doing my grocery shopping any other way now – as someone who is blind, there are so many advantages. I can read about the products. I can choose exactly what I want. I can browse for new things when I feel in need of some inspiration. I don’t have to wait for a taxi to get myself and all my shopping home. I don’t have to ask for help in-store. I can do the shopping any time that suits me, even if that’s the middle of the night. If there are cooking instructions for something, they can usually be found on the website.

In addition to all these advantages, it’s still important to have a website that works, that’s efficient, that provides a good user experience, and that doesn’t drive me crazy every time I want to do our weekly shop! Ocado ticks all of these boxes and I wish I had made the switch sooner.

Much is said in marketing about loyal customers, but even someone who has been using a company for 15 years will leave if they feel that the quality of service is not what it once was, or that there is a better deal elsewhere.

In addition to the plus points I have already listed about Ocado, there are other benefits such as the price match. If your shopping is found to be cheaper at Tesco, as mine was last week, you get a voucher for the difference. You can then redeem this voucher when you do your next shop. You also get 5p back for every carrier bag that you return, and there is a good range of products for people with dietary requirements, such as gluten or dairy free diets. When you’re checking out, you have the option of healthier choices for things that are in your basket. Ok you may want an unhealthy treat, but if you’re looking for a healthier diet, it’s nice to have the suggestions.

If you would like me to send you an invitation to Ocado, just fill out your details using the form below. You will receive a £20 voucher for your first shop, and a free smart pass, which gives you free deliveries for one year (minimum spend applies).

If you request an invitation, your email address will be entered on the Ocado site to generate an invitation. It will not be stored by English with Kirsty. If you request the news updates, your email address will be added to my mailing list so that you can receiveUnseen Beauty news, usually twice a week.
I will receive a reward if anyone signs up through me, but I only promote things that I believe are good value and am using myself.

Weather gods app – bringing the weather to life with sound

Update: I have one code left and as the draw is now over, I’ll give it to the next person who contacts me with a request using the form below! Congratulations to Elisabeth, Corinne, Nim and Sandra – your codes will be sent out shortly.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you might remember that I mentioned the Weather Gods app in my March favourites. I downloaded it because one of my students in Germany had recommended it.

After I published the post, Scott, the app developer got in touch with me and asked if I would like some codes for my readers to download the app. I now have five codes for readers who would like to try out the apps for themselves. I paid for my version and would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the weather, or who wants to try an alternative to the native weather app that comes on Apple devices.

What’s the app for?

Basically it’s a quirky twist on the standard weather app that is accessible, incorporates soundscapes, and has a good variety of options for push notifications.

You have five weather gods – the air god, the fire god, the water god, the ice god, and the moon god. They tell you about the wind, sun, rain, ice or snow, and the phase of the moon.

You can either get this information by opening the app and clicking on the various gods, or you can set up alerts to tell you how the weather is going to be, and if certain events are going to happen.

Within the app are also sounds to bring the weather data to life – falling rain for when it’s raining, sleeping sounds for when a god is sleeping or inactive, and wind sounds for the wind. I think this is more fun than just getting the information.

I find the alerts useful because I want to know things like when it’s going to rain, when it’s going to snow – because I’m still a big kid and think it’s exciting, whether it’s going to be windy, and when the sun will rise and set. The last point here could be especially useful for blind people. I can see whether it’s light outside, but if I have evening meetings online, it’s good for me to know whether I should put the light on beforehand.

I don’t have an apple watch, but there is an app for the apple watch, and there are some fun weather gods stickers in the iMessages app. I hadn’t actually used these before, but if you’re in the iMessage screen, you can select messaging apps, then Weather Gods, and then you can choose from a range of stickers. So I sent S a bunch of glowing suns, angry fire gods and sleeping air gods to see how it worked!

Why was the app created?

I asked Scott why he decided to create this app, and this is what he told me:

“We set out to make Weather God a unique weather app, unlike anything else on the app store – the idea being that the sound scapes would add another dimension to experiencing the weather. We wanted to avoid the classic weather app with icons and a spreadsheet of data. This is why Weather Gods has no icons and instead uses visualisations and sounds to represent the weather conditions.

When we first trialled the beta version we didn’t really have much of a clue about accessibility … but I reached out to the AppleVis community who have been fantastic in guiding us to make the app so accessible. I now think of our app as having many wonderful ways of communicating the weather to our users and voiceover now plays a very important part.

Many parts of the app are voiceover specific … for example, sighted users will be presented with various charts when tapping the weather god icons, whereas voiceover users have a full featured scrolling timeline.

There are also many other examples in the app where we have gone to great lengths to make the best weather app for every user. It’s the same for the Apple Watch as well. In release 1.7 we added smart weather complications specifically for voiceover users – I believe this is a first of its kind for an app. Now voiceover users with an Apple Watch have what amounts to a smart full featured hourly weather forecast for every single watch face. This has been extremely popular with voiceover users who have the Apple Watch – far more so than I expected :)”

I would like to think that our app redefines the weather app for everybody.”

Information for blind people

As we emailed back and forth, Scott also described the images in the app, and I asked him to let me put the descriptions in my post to so that any of my blind readers can get an idea of how the app looks:

The logo with the words ‘Weather Gods’ is on the top half of the image in black and white – the logo is the praying hands emoji.

Below the logo and words are the five gods.

Each god is a bit like a wild, erratic furry ball with a pair of eyes; no mouth, ears, nose etc. Just two small black solid eyes. In the app, each god is animated with their heads expanding, contracting, rotating in this wild, chaotic way. For example, water droplets fly off the water god and small pieces of ice from the ice god. The eyes move depending on what is happening with the weather. Gods are asleep with eyes closed when there isn’t much going on with their weather. For example the ice god would be asleep most of summer. However, all gods react with their eyes when something happens in the app – a lightning bolt when thundery weather will momentarily wake up all the sleeping gods – they have been startled awake 🙂 Gods also react to taps on screen and they will ‘look’ in the direction of the tap. These are just a couple of examples, there are many more in the app.

Describing the gods …

The Fire god is a ball of fire and is orange / yellow in colour
The Ice god is a bit like a rough snowball and is white / light purple in colour
The Air god is mostly white with grey around the edges
The Water god is like a splash of water as it hits the ground and is blue in colour
Finally, the moon goddess is a pictorial representation of the moon and its current phase.

The gods sit in a horizontal line below the logo, words and are arrange left to right:

fire, ice, moon, water and air.”

Final thoughts

Have you tried out this app? What do you think of it?

Some apps about the weather are very visual in the way they are set out and the way they give information, which makes them very difficult, if not impossible for me to use as someone who can’t interact with maps or images.

So, I was happy to discover this app, because I can get the same information as sighted users in a way that works for me. The app isn’t just for blind people, and I think that’s a good thing too. I will always promote inclusive products because then I can use the same things as my sighted friends, rather than having to rely on bespoke solutions all the time.

That’s why I’m interested when I find out that developers have gone out of their way to create an inclusive product that considers the needs of screenreader users. This is not something that we can take for granted. Only yesterday I took my business away from a company that I had been using for 15 years because they were becoming less and less committed to inclusive design. I complain about such bad practices when I come across them, but I also want to use this blog to highlight examples of people who are doing the opposite – making sure that blind users can have a good experience when using their apps or websites.

So thanks to Scott and his team for learning about VoiceOver and also for the five codes. Read on to find out how you can request one.

More from Unseen Beauty and your chance to get the app for free

I have five codes to give away that will let five of my readers download the app for free from the Apple app store (it is usually a paid app). If you’d like one of the codes, please fill in the form. The number of codes is limited, so please only request one if you have an Apple device, and you intend to download and use the app.

I’m going to leave this open until 11:59 on Wednesday 16th May and draw 5 names from the entries submitted using the form below.
Also, if you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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.

You can also visit the Weather Gods site here.

My guest post – how reasonable adjustments can actually help everyone

When a blind person joins a team, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes so that they can carry out their role, fully participate in the team, and access the information that they need. However, as I explain in this guest post for the Centre for Resolution blog, the changes can sometimes help everyone because the team becomes more efficient or better organised.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

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

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

How accessible are hotels? My experiences as a blind traveller

Whether it’s holidays, business travel, or tagging along when my partner goes on business travel, (one of the advantages of having an online business that can be run from anywhere), I’ve stayed in a number of hotels and had good and not so good experiences as a visually impaired guest. I thought I’d share some of them with you today.

Interactions with staff

Overall, I found staff to be friendly and helpful, and if travelling on my own, someone accompanied me to my room to show me where it was and answer any questions. This also included pointing out important things like the bar and restaurant.

Negotiating breakfast buffets can be challenging, so I usually ask for assistance with this and have never had any problems.

Some of the most helpful people I’ve met have been cleaning staff. People who have gone out of their way to be helpful, to show me where something is, or on one occasion to come out in the rain and give me directions because the receptionist couldn’t be bothered. On that occasion we didn’t share a common language, but I was very grateful to that lady.

I don’t have a guide dog now. When I did, and travelled for business, I generally didn’t have too many problems, although most of our travel was booked by an agency and for once I was not directly involved in educating people about access rights for guide dogs. Generally people were happy for me to find a good place for my dog to empty! One security guard even came out with us when it was late.

There was one occasion when I was travelling with a group of colleagues and the receptionist couldn’t tell me what room I was in because of “security reasons”. It didn’t seem to matter to her that I couldn’t see the key card she’d handed me. Rules are rules you know! Her solution was for me to ask my colleague. Fortunately he was a friend as well, but what if I hadn’t wanted him to know what room I was in? Wasn’t this a far greater security issue than just taking me aside and telling me the room number? It had been a long day and I didn’t pursue it, but I thought it was poor customer service.

In the room

I don’t have any particular requirements when it comes to the room itself. The first things I do are to check out where the plug sockets are, as I usually spend some time working in the room, and figure out how to get onto the wifi.

Most of the time, I don’t have any trouble joining the wifi, but we had one issue because although the logon screen for mobile devices was fine, I couldn’t join the wifi with my laptop because the log on button could only be activated with a mouse. This meant that if my connection dropped, I needed to wait for my partner to come back and click the button for me because my visual impairment means that I don’t use a mouse. Fortunately I could just set up a mobile hotspot, but it was an expense that other guests didn’t have, and it could have been avoided because if this page had been designed better, I would have been able to access the button via the keyboard.

The picture I chose for the header image of this post is Hans the horse – or that’s what we named him! He was in a quirky hotel in Sweden and looked down over the desk, watching over me while I worked. I don’t expect to be able to appreciate the art in hotel rooms, but I was really happy to discover this 3d horse head because it was so tactile and unusual. There was also a big, metal heart on the wall, which again was 3d and tactile. I’ve decided that I would love a horse head like that in my office!

I don’t worry about things like the tv because as long as I can get on the internet, I have all my media on my phone – whether that’s podcasts, audio books, news, music, or Netflix. So I never bother trying to figure out how the TV works.

Other things like kettles, showers etc are pretty simple to work out.

The air con can be an issue for me. In older rooms, you just turn a knob one way to make it hotter and the other way to make it colder. Sometimes there is just an up and a down button. But when you have to remember a more complex set of button combinations, or when the air con is controlled by touch screen, it gets difficult for me, especially if there is no window to open and regulate the temperature that way. In such cases I’d rather be too cold and put on layers than too hot, but it would be great if such things could be controlled by an accessible app.

I’ve only recently started using the Seeing AI app from Microsoft that can do text recognition. I use it a lot for my products that I test for this site and would say it gets about 70% of them right in terms of reading the text. I know that some people have successfully used this app for identifying toiletries in hotel rooms, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Usually I bring my own, but if S points out that something contains mango or smells amazing, I am happy to give it a go. When travelling alone though I always took my own.

One small issue is that staff servicing the room sometimes try to be helpful, and even if the room doesn’t look amazingly tidy, many blind people have a system or remember where they put things. It’s not helpful if you have to spend half an hour combing the room for something that has been tidied up. I generally put everything away – either in drawers, in my case, or in my laptop bag, so there is nothing to tidy up! Sometimes I’m working in the room anyway, so I just ask for new towels, the bin to be emptied, but not the full room service. Then I stay in control of my space!

This doesn’t mean I never spend time hunting for my keys, but I can’t just look around the room for them, and if someone puts them in a place I would never put them, it won’t occur to me to check there.

The only time this became a real issue was when my dog bowls were thrown out when the room was cleaned. I’d just been to a funeral and was in no mood to hunt down missing dog bowls, but I needed something to put my dog’s food in! The hotel apologised and provided industrial-sized plastic ice-cream containers for me to use, and I hope they passed on the point as staff training in terms of not throwing away things that belong to guests.

At the other end of the scale I had a member of staff running down the corridor after me because I’d left jewellery behind after checking out! On the whole I’ve found people to be considerate and helpful, without being patronising, which is great!

Getting around

When I travel with S, he usually does some familiarisation with me when we get to a new hotel. I don’t tend to roam around using all the facilities on my own because in the daytime I have work to do, and I’d rather do it somewhere where I won’t be disturbed. I learn important things though like how to get to reception, and where the emergency escape route is. I thank my time working for a Health and Safety Advisor for that, but I have been in evacuation situations before and it’s important to know the way out, especially if you can’t see the exit instructions.

I can read the raised numbers that you get in lifts, and sometimes I even find Braille on lift buttons or hotel doors, although this happens more often in other parts of Europe. Otherwise I have to remember a series of turns and count the doors to make sure I get back to the right room – because who wants to have a lost blind woman trying to break into their room at night?!

Sometimes people try to be helpful and offer us ground floor rooms, or rooms near to the lift. Being near a lift isn’t a good thing because it often interferes with the wifi reception and I’d rather have a longer walk if I get better wifi! There’s no reason why I can’t climb steps, and if there’s a big function on at the venue, being away from all the action is actually nicer.

Everyone’s different and while some disability awareness training can be helpful, I think that emphasising the point that everyone is an individual and will have their own way of doing things is more important than giving staff a set list of things to do when meeting people with specific needs.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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.

Hand-made tactile cards with Braille inside

I have a big plastic box that’s full of cards. Cards that people have made for me, that have special messages inside, or that I just can’t bring myself to throw out. The oldest ones are a birthday card that a teacher made me when I was five, and a card I made for my grandparents’ anniversary that has a smiling piggy on the front. I’m not sure about the connection between wedding anniversary and smiling piggy, but it made sense to me at the time.

I like receiving cards, but as many of them feel the same, I really appreciate it if someone goes to the trouble of finding one that is tactile or which has Braille writing inside. However, this isn’t always easy to do, and although I think there’s a bit more on offer now than when I was a child, most of the cards in the shops don’t have any special features that can be appreciated by someone with partial or no sight.

Understanding what’s written inside is another thing. It’s easier now that I live with S, but in the days before Facetime, I remember trying to get an image of a card with my phone so that I could text the message to my Mum and find out who had sent me money in my Christmas card!

That’s why I was interested to hear about Lynn Cox and her range of tactile Braille greetings cards.

I first met Lynn through an online forum for self-employed visually impaired people. I wanted to find out more about the cards and tell you about them too, so I arranged an interview with Lynn.

Lynn also sent me a sample of her work. Knowing that I love dogs, it’s one of the dog range, which can be made up for any occasion. The dog on the header image is on a Christmas card. Mine was on a Valentine’s card, and the design can also be used to go on other cards such as birthday, thank you etc.

The first thing I noticed was the perfume scent coming out of the envelope because these tactile cards are scented too!

The dog is running after his ball, and I can feel his furry outline – his legs as he’s running, his waggy tail, his furry snout, and his ball.

The message on the front and inside is in Braille and printed on the card. Lynn’s details are on the back, also in Braille, and personal messages for the recipient can be added on request.

I think it’s such a lovely idea and would encourage anyone with blind or partially sighted friends, children, colleagues or family members to check out Lynn and her cards. The cards start from £7, (there are additional charges for larger or custom-designed cards). That’s not much more than what you pay in the shops, and when you consider that you’re buying something that is hand-made and with additional touches that you can’t get in the shops, I think it’s very good value.

Here’s what I found out when I Skyped with Lynn a couple of weeks ago! It’s a good thing we skyped too – there was a lot of snow that day!

Why did you decide to start making tactile greetings cards?

I decided to make the cards because there were no quality products out there for people to buy if you wanted something tactile, scented, or with large print or Braille inside.

Also, as an artist, I was using my skills to exhibit artwork but none of it was affordable for people to have as a day-to-day product.

Can you describe one of your cards in terms of tactile features, writing inside, scent etc?

The dog one is a popular one. It’s a dog playing with the ball, running along with his mouth open.

I use Contrasting coloured paper for the card, and then draw with wool to create a line image of the dog and the ball. I like to look for very fluffy wool for the dog. He wears a little leather collar with a bell that jingles, and has a leather ball – so you have a variety of textures, the smell of the leather, and the sound of the bell. I also use little gem crystals to decorate the ball.

I like to use shapes that are easy for people to recognise by touch, such as the Christmas tree with a star on top. I also like to experiment with textures. I have a card with a guitar on the front, and I use metal for the strings.

Do you put Braille in all your cards?

All of the cards have messages in Braille and large print. There’s usually something on the front, such as “happy Easter”, something in the middle, and my contact details on the back.

How about the message inside the card?

I can add a personal message, either in Braille or in print if you send it to me with your order.

Do you send the cards directly to the recipient?

It’s up to you. I can either send it back to you, so that you can post it off yourself orgive it to the person, or I can send it directly to the recipient.

Do you send the cards internationally?

Yes, my cards go all over the world, although of course sending them internationally does mean that I need to know a bit further in advance as the post will take longer.

What other occasions do you make cards for?

My Mother’s Day cards are usually flowers or hearts. I spray them with some perfume as well. This won’t last for ever, but it’s nice for the recipient when they first open it. I put a man’s scent in if it’s for a man.

If you want one of the designs I already have, like the flowers or the dog, you can change the message on the front. If you want a whole new design, that would take longer and cost a bit more because it would be custom-made.

I think this is the first scented card I’ve come across. What do you do for Christmas cards?

I have an oil that smells like a Christmas tree. It’s pine with clove and a hint of ginger.

Do you make all of the cards yourself?

Yes, they are all hand-made. No two are ever exactly the same because I’m always on the look-out for new materials to use.

Why do you go for simple shapes?

I want people to be able to recognise them without having to ask what they are. You get some Christmas cards with a fire in the grate, a mantelpiece with cards on top and Christmas decorations hanging from it. But if there is too much detail, the individual shapes can get lost.

Do you have any special Easter cards?

I have one with 3 Easter eggs on it, all made of different materials. One of them has a fluffy chick coming out of it.

Then there’s an Easter bunny with a big fluffy tail and long ears.

How do you make sure that the shapes are right?

I use things like reindeer toys or cuddly toy owls. I still remember what a lot of things look like and tactile props like the toys help me to check things like reindeer antlers!

What cards do you want to make in the future?

I want to do a cat one! I love animals and a lot of my normal artwork is around animals such as horses and sheep. I also like doing musical instruments.

Where can people find out more about your cards?

You can go to my website. Or, if you want to ask me a question, you can send me an email.

Thank you Lynn for letting us know about your cards and I highly recommend that you go and check her out if you have anyone to buy cards for who is visually impaired. And yes, if my friends and family are reading this, I’d love to get one!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you see this before 9th April 2018, why not also check out my Spring giveaway?

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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 deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.

Don’t invade my personal space

I’d like to introduce you to Dawn. She wrote a blog article called “Not a passive rag doll – keep your grabbing hands to yourself” about her experiences as a woman with a visual impairment and unwanted physical attention from random members of the public. You can check out the article here because I’m not going to paraphrase it –read it in Dawn’s own words!

I think this is an important topic and one that we usually avoid, although I’m not sure why. I wonder if wheelchair users have similar but different issues with complete strangers invading their personal space without asking or considering how it feels?

There are several issues. Firstly, even for someone who isn’t easily scared, have you any idea how terrifying it is to be walking along and suddenly feel a hand touching you, with no warning, and you had no idea that it was coming because you couldn’t see the other person?

Sometimes we do need help or directions. I know some people have trouble giving directions – “that way” or “over there” are not helpful when you can’t see which way someone is pointing, but neither is someone attempting to drag or push you where they think you want to go.

I’ve heard examples of blind people being dragged across the road even though they didn’t want to go that way. I don’t understand that, because nobody drags me anywhere, and I don’t think making sure they let go has anything to do with politeness or a lack thereof.

If I take help from a stranger in a place that I don’t know, chances are I will ask to take their arm, especially if it’s crowded and I could lose the other person. But that’s a lot different from being manhandled or grabbed. It’s a negotiated exchange, not one person thinking they have the right to make decisions for the other.

In fact, I do remember a time when someone tried to hurl me across a busy crossing before the lights had changed. I forcefully disentangled myself and told them what I thought, after which the woman asked someone behind me to “make sure she gets across safely. That guide dog isn’t very good.” I was furious. Firstly, it’s my decision, not my dog’s decision, when it’s time to cross the road. Secondly, surely the best way to ensure my own safety is to make sure the lights are actually in my favour?

On the same lines, it’s not cool to talk about people as though they’re an object or a piece of luggage. “Put her in the chair over there”. I was at an airport and decided I’d rather stand.

Another unpleasant side to this coin is the inappropriate ways in which people have tried to come into my space in an attempt to be “helpful” such as trying to lean across me in a car to reach the seatbelt (which I didn’t need, but which also put the other person much closer than I had given permission for). I turned my back on the person in question and took hold of the seatbelt myself, but that’s not the point. Sometimes it’s not clear whether people think a disabled person won’t be bothered about such a clear invasion of their personal space, and sometimes, I think people are just trying their luck because they think a disabled person won’t protest – like when someone attempted to touch me inappropriately as they were “helping” me out of a vehicle. That wasn’t an accident. Yes, I will never know how much unwanted attention I would have had as a non-disabled woman, but the fact that someone has a disability can make them appear more vulnerable and the presumption is often that they’ll be less likely to stand up for themselves. Not true in my case, but then I’ve always been direct and outspoken. What happens to the people who aren’t?

I wonder how people feel who need assistance with personal care. I don’t, but do people always treat them and their personal space with respect?

I don’t mind people asking if I need help, and if I do need help, I’ll ask for it. I’m not afraid of being touched. Human contact is a good thing, but it has to be consensual. It’s never ok to grab, push, pull, or attempt to manoeuvre someone without asking because you think you know what they want or what’s best. It’s dehumanising and really annoying!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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.

Making D&D accessible to blind players

When I met one of my partner’s friends for the first time and he asked me whether I played Dungeons and Dragons, I had no idea what he was talking about. Some kind of computer game maybe? I’d never heard of it.

No, it wasn’t a computer game – it was the Monday night thing which involved S and some of his friends getting together online talking about dragons, elves, goblins – and doing a lot of maths! So I was curious and listened in a couple of times.

After a while, he asked me if I wanted to join the group. So it would be a bit like drama, but without all the physical running around bits that I didn’t like at school. A bit like creative writing where you get to design a character and create their story, but you do it with spoken words and as part of a team. I could do that.

Ok, I would be the beginner in a group of people who weren’t, but we had something else to think about as well. How could we make the game accessible to me as a blind player?

Getting information

The first part was quite straightforward. I can’t read any of the hard-copy books that line the shelves at home, but a lot of the information is available online. This means I can access it with my laptop and screenreading software, which reads aloud what’s on the screen. Some websites are easier to navigate than others, which comes down to the web design, how well links are labelled, and how many adverts I have to get round before I find what I’m looking for. I’ve also got a bunch of people who have been playing for years who can answer questions because they just know the answers. Still, if I wanted to look something up, I can either go online or ask in one of the D&D Facebook groups that I have joined. I can’t understand some of the jokes and graphics posted there, because I can only read text, but I can learn from the discussions.

I do read Braille, but I have no idea how many Braille books there are about D&D, and in any event, sometimes looking things up online is just quicker. My “pocket dictionary” for German at school was 10 volumes and it took forever to find the right one!

Another really useful resource has been podcasts. Some are made specifically as podcasts, whereas others are pulled from a Twitch stream, but in terms of the ones that I listen to, I don’t miss anything by not being able to see the action. Some don’t even use a map, so everyone is in the same position.

Following along with the characters and their adventures has helped me to understand more of the rules, see how different people build their characters, and learn more about what adventurers may encounter along the way. It’s audio content and totally accessible. I’m used to listening to fast speech, so I play most podcasts at double speed, which means I can learn, and enjoy them twice as fast! I’ll post links to some of my favourite podcasts at the end of the article.

Creating a character

I can’t use a hard copy character sheet, so S helped me to design online ones using Excel. I already love Excel and use it all the time at work, so this was an obvious choice for us. We did look at some online character templates, but I didn’t like any of them. S may have taken inspiration from them, but he built one specifically for me after I’d explained how I use Excel as a blind person and what was particularly unhelpful for me about the templates we found online. You can find out more about how we made the character sheet here.

I don’t use a mouse, so I use the cursor keys to move between the different squares. If you merge a bunch of cells to make it look pretty, the cursor then jumps to the other side of the merged area, and it’s annoying. Also, we have all of the tables and information up against the left-hand side of the page, because if you put something in the middle of the page, I might not even find it. Simple things, but this customised template ticks all my boxes in terms of being able to get information fast!

Using the find function in Excel helps me to jump quickly to the thing that I need, and there’s also a big space for me to take notes. I take a lot of notes. Partly because I don’t have the visual information in front of me, but also that’s just a thing I’ve always done – at school, in meetings at work etc. Then I have something to trade! I don’t feel so bad about asking the players for extra information about things that I can’t see, when I know I’ve stopped the party from going the wrong way because of something I wrote down a couple of weeks before!

Using my laptop also means I can keep track of spells used, hit points etc because I know I wouldn’t be able to keep it all in my head!

Rolling the dice

I have played on Roll 20 before. I basically used a slimmed-down version of it and focussed on the box where you type your commands and the chat area. This meant I used to type all my roles, rather than clicking them on my character sheet. There are some quirks on the system that drive me crazy, and I’d love to be able to turn off the function that remembers your last entries, but I can do it when I have to.

When we’re playing at home, I have some tactile 24mm dice. The D20 is still a bit hard for me to read, but I can make out most of the other numbers and just check if I’m not sure. We got them from DnD Dice.

S did find me an enormous D20, but sadly we realised it’s a life counter, and not as reliable for rolling as a normal D20 because of the position of the numbers combined with the weight of the dice, which meant it rolled consistently badly!

One of S’ friends got him a collapsible material dice tray for Christmas, and I went onto the All Rolled Up site to get one too. It’s nice to have a specific place to roll the dice into.

We did try some 3d printed Braille dice. I thought it was a great idea, but just wish they could have been a bit bigger because there is a raised border around the edge of each face, and this is very close to the Braille number, which made it difficult for me to read.

Imagining the world

Whether we’re playing at home with the map projected on the TV screen, or with the map in Roll 20, I can’t see the diagram, so the places we encounter need to be described. I think a certain amount of description is good anyway because it helps the players to visualise what places look like, but I’m aware that I need more in terms of describing where things are in relation to each other, and where I am in relation to allies and monsters. This can take more time in combat situations.

I tend to create and play characters that don’t have to be in the thick of things, so the exact positioning is less important. You don’t have to be leading the way if you can just as easily call down lightning on some evil beast from your place at the back of the party! This wasn’t a conscious decision, but more of my characters are spell casters with ranged attacks, so I don’t have to be as concerned with exactly where people are.

Also, maps and fighting are only a small part of it. When it comes to developing my characters’ stories, understanding why they do things, deciding how they would interact with the people and world around them – you don’t need to be able to see for that. You just need your imagination!

S has an extensive miniature collection, and although I can’t see the pictures in the books, he can show me what things look like using the 3d miniatures.

What’s it like for the GM?

I asked S if he could comment on what it’s like running a game with a blind player and whether there is anything that he does differently. He said:

“Running a table top RPG with a visually impaired person doesn’t really affect the game very much. Sure there are a couple of things I need to be aware of, i.e. not being lazy with the descriptions and just showing a picture which sometimes I have done in the past, or allowing the miniatures on the map be the description of the scene. I do end up having to describe these things in a bit more detail than I normally would instead of relying only on the visual aids but this not only helps Kirsty to understand the scene but also helps stimulate the imagination of the other players.”

Player interaction

I guess I do take more advice from the other players about the best place to stand, where I’ll be in least danger, or where to go so that I’ll have most effect with my spells whilst at the same time not squishing any allies. That part is kind of in their interest anyway!!

But then I’ve heard other people advising one another on podcasts too.

One of our players said: “I was listening to the Critical Role podcast, with them in combat that is how I imagined it must be for you Kirsty as a player. I could get a rough idea what was going on thematically, but couldn’t really think how I would be able to position/act as a character specifically. To be honest I think D&D works well in all non-combat situations as it’s all descriptive and imagination-based, so there haven’t been any differences there.”

So, the biggest thing we’ve identified is that descriptions and combat situations do take a bit longer when it comes to my turn. However, my character does bring skills to the party and I’d like to think that in years to come when I’m at a table with people who know less than me, I’d be able to help them too, if in some other way!

For now, I’m happy that we’ve found a way to make one of S’ hobbies accessible to me, that I can enjoy the game and play an active role.

If you have any questions or experiences of blind people participating in your roleplay groups, let us know in the comments!

Some of my favourite podcasts

Here’s a list of some of my favourite actual play D&D podcasts. I’ve linked to Apple Podcasts, but if that’s not your thing, just use the names and search wherever you prefer to get your podcasts!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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.

15 myths about blindness that I would like to get rid of

Not knowing something is not as bad as thinking you know something that turns out to be untrue. Or maybe it is true, just not in all situations. I’m here to debunk the 15 myths about blindness and blind people that annoy me the most.

If you have any questions, go ahead and write them in the comments. I usually answer – unless they are too way out, like the random guy who came up to me on a train to ask something really inappropriate. As a general rule, if the question would shock your grandma, it’s not appropriate to ask a complete stranger! In those cases, a stern “why do you feel that you need to know that” usually embarrasses people enough to get them scuttling away! But as I said, if people genuinely want to learn something, I don’t bite when they ask questions.

So here are the things that aren’t true, or aren’t always true…

1. All blind people touch people’s faces when they meet for the first time

Really, for me, that’s just weird. I hate the way that old films portray this as normal. I wouldn’t want anyone getting into my personal space like that. It’s an intimate gesture, and anyway I don’t want anyone ruining my make-up.

Also, it doesn’t give you that much information. I’d much rather focus on all the other information that many sighted people miss – what people actually say, when their tone of voice doesn’t match the message they want to give, the intonation, the hesitations, or the things they don’t say. That gives you much more information to work with than whether someone is wearing glasses or trying to hide a massive spot on their chin.

People who have asked to do this in my experience have tended to be a bit creepy anyway, and I would never say yes – so don’t feel obliged to either. Some people just use this as a way to get up close and personal with strangers, particularly those they might fancy.

2. We have better senses

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but all your other senses are heightened, aren’t they?” I think actually what’s happening is that we get used to using them more. So it’s not about being born with super-hearing or a sense of smell as good as the nearest Labrador, but if your hearing and sense of smell are what you have to work with, then you work with them.

If person A just notices the smell of the roses because it’s pleasant, and person B knows that smelling them means he’s nearly home – well Person B is probably more likely to tune into it.

If person A doesn’t hear the cyclist approaching from behind, and person B does – just because they know that some cyclists don’t care about pedestrians and the sound of the bike is the only clue to keeping out of their way, it’s not super-hearing that helped, but a trained sense of hearing – probably due to previous near-misses with cyclists!

3. We like loud things because we can hear them

It didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of blind children that were terrified of their Christmas presents because everyone got them something loud! For example, Lego wasn’t loud, but I enjoyed it as much as my auditory toys. So if buying for a blind child, try to find out what he or she likes, rather than just assuming that they would like something because it makes a noise.

Far from liking noise, some blind people have noise sensitivity and don’t like to be in loud places with a lot going on. Apparently in the infant school I clamped my hands over my ears and yelled “let me out of here” because I wasn’t a fan of the volume of noise in the dinner hall. The adult Kirsty doesn’t do that any more and will find her own way out if it gets too much, but the temptation to do what the 5-year-old Kirsty did is still there sometimes!

4. We are all good at music

Just because there have been a couple of famous blind musicians, it doesn’t mean everyone will be good at music. Perhaps music is appealing to many blind people because you can fully appreciate the end result without sight. But there are other skills for which a good sense of hearing can also give you an advantage. At school, I was always good at languages because I really listened. I wasn’t expecting subtitles or visual clues in the listening test and I found it easy to memorise the sounds. But someone else might hate both music and languages, and it’s never good to generalise.

5. We all read Braille/large print

It’s cool if people offer me a Braille menu in a restaurant, but a large print one would be of no use. The energy company saying that they can’t email me my letter and insisting on sending all future correspondence in large print was not helpful. Some blind people read Braille. Others can read large print. Others only use audio. Assumptions don’t help because everyone has different skills, experience, and reading preferences.

6. We don’t care how we look

It’s true that there are some people who couldn’t care less about their physical appearance, and this attitude generally doesn’t serve them well at job interviews! We live in a world where most people can see us, and that’s a thing. Some people may try to rebel against this, but personally I don’t see what good it serves.

It’s the same with everyone else – take any group of sighted people and you’ll find some care more about their appearance, others less so. Blind people are no different.

But it’s not true that because I can’t see myself, I don’t care how I look. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a make-up article on my blog.
I can’t see the end result, but who doesn’t enjoy being told they look good after they’ve put some effort into getting ready for a night out? I like to try and make the best of my appearance – partly because people treat me better, but partly because if you feel good, you give off more confident vibes and really I want to make the best of what I have, whether that’s by using clothes, make-up, or accessories such as jewellery or my owl bag.

7. We can tell how old people are by hearing their voice

Just don’t. It’s not a cool game. I refuse to play, but if you insist, you had it coming if someone adds 20 years on to your age!

8. Everything needs to be huge

It took me ages to find a nice tactile watch that wasn’t the size of a saucer. It used to be better, and I guess demand has gone down because more people are using smart watches. The one I have now was from a friend in Germany, but if it breaks or stops working, I’m not sure what I’ll do because most of the other ones now are enormous.
I appreciate that some low-vision aids have to be larger so that people can see the large print, but we don’t all need telephones with huge buttons, clock faces as wide as our wrist or things that are big and clunky just because they’re for someone who is blind.

9. We all use the same tech

My phone and my laptop make life so much easier for me, and I couldn’t do anything with a magnifier.
Someone once commented on my kitchen that it looked normal. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like, but it turned out they meant it wasn’t full of talking gadgets or special things to make cooking easier.

I have tactile markers on the washing machine, dishwasher, and oven. I have a jug with raised measurements on the inside. But that’s about it. Other people have talking microwaves and all kinds of stuff from specialist shops – and that’s ok.

Just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will find it useful.

Imagine you brought out a skincare range for women in their 30s. Great, I might be interested. But then I discover it’s for people with oily skin and you’ve lost me right there, because I don’t.

10. We never watch tv or go to the cinema

This isn’t true. I don’t go to the cinema often, but when I do, I go to audio described performances, where the additional information about what’s going on is given through a headset.
I don’t watch a lot of tv, it’s true, but I do have Netflix and S and I sometimes watch films together. I’m more interested now that you can filter by programmes, so I only see the ones with audio description, but some blind people really enjoy tv.

11. The people with us must be our carers

“No, it’s not her girlfriend, it’s her mum!” My friend, only about 10 years older than me, was horrified. She was neither my girlfriend, nor my mum, nor my carer, which is what people often assume. She was just my friend and we were walking along, arm in arm, because she was guiding me.

Another friend was stopped when we were in the supermarket by someone who wanted to know about caring for disabled people. It’s kind of insulting to assume that the only reason someone would be hanging out with a disabled person is because you are their carer.

12. We all know each other

I was walking down the steps to my train platform, only to be told that my friend was “over there”. Apart from the fact that “over there” wasn’t massively helpful, it turned out the guy talking to me had just assumed I knew, or wanted to hang out with, another guy with a guide dog. I heard the other guy talking to his dog and had no idea who he was.

I understand that some people who have gone through the specialist school system and attended schools for the blind might know a lot of blind people, but I went to mainstream school.

It’s like if you meet someone of a certain nationality and are really surprised that they don’t know some obscure person from the other end of the country who happens to be of the same nationality.

And it’s not just sighted people that make this assumption – blind people do it too, which I find a bit bizarre!

I think that some of it comes down to the fact that some people socialise predominantly with other blind people – but some of us don’t, so don’t be surprised if we don’t know your aunt’s friend’s next door neighbour from 50 miles away who happens to be blind!

13. We all have guide dogs

I loved my golden guiding girl, but I know blind people who don’t even like dogs, and have met people who couldn’t take responsibility for looking after an animal. Guide dogs are fantastic, but they aren’t right for everyone. They’re a big commitment – totally worth it if you love dogs and can make that commitment, but not everyone’s character or lifestyle are suited to having a four-legged friend.

Also, as smart as they are, the doggies can’t read – so please don’t try to give directions to them or show them a map. Yes, it happened to us!

14. We all sit in the dark

I can function as well in the dark as I can with the light on, but I don’t sit in the dark because I can see the difference. The light doesn’t help me to see anything else, such as shapes or colours, but it looks nicer than darkness. I love to sea the sun streaming in through my window, and it’s handy that I can see when a bulb needs changing. Also, when I lived on my own with my dog, I wouldn’t have wanted her to sit in the dark all the time!
I guess it may be different for people who don’t see light at all, but still I think they should make sure they’re not inviting sighted friends into a house of darkness because even for me, it was a bit strange when someone did that!

If I want something quickly from another room, I don’t bother turning lights on and off as I go, but if I’m going to be anywhere for a period of time, I’d rather put the light on.

15. When we’ve finished eating, it looks like feeding time at the zoo

I have a real issue with the dining in the dark experience, but that’s a post for another day.

I’m not denying that some blind people have more difficulty eating. Some people have dexterity issues. Others lose their sight suddenly or later in life, which means they have to gain a whole new set of eating skills and learn to do things differently. A bunch of fully-sighted people plunged into darkness probably wouldn’t make a very good job of their first meal … but it’s not fair to assume that someone who’d been eating without sight for the last 30 years would have the same problems.

Of course anyone can drop something or spill something – nobody is perfect. That has nothing to do with whether you can see or not.

S and I go for meals out as a fun thing to do. We go out for dinner with friends. On average I don’t tend to drop, spill or knock things over as much as other people, partly because I am very mindful about where things are and don’t make sweeping hand gestures, and because I have a thing about not wanting to look clumsy. I’m also a bit more relaxed than I was in my 20s – if the food comes out in a dish in the middle of the table and someone offers to serve me, that’s fine. I know I could do it myself, but don’t need to prove it on every occasion!

Some things are easier to eat than others. But I don’t approach the task with a sense of dread or leave a trail of food, broken glass and food on my clothes. I’ve learned how to use a knife not only to cut, but to measure how big chunks of food are. I’ve learned how to guess how much food is on my fork by how much weight is on there. Occasionally I underestimate, but that’s better than overestimating and approaching your mouth with something that won’t fit!

Anyway back to what I was saying. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make a mistake, but I’ve had years of learning to develop strategies for eating without looking, so I don’t have the same problems as someone who suddenly tried to eat in total darkness. It’s not accurate for someone who’s eaten without the lights on to think they know how it is for me.

Are there any more myths you think we should explore?

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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 deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in these other posts about visual impairment too:

  • My riding story – horse-riding with a visual impairment
  • World Braille Day – why I’m grateful for the invention of Braille

    Today is World Braille Day. If you haven’t come across Braille before, it’s a system of raised dots that blind people use to read. It was invented by Louis Braille, who was born in 1809, and whose birthday was 4th January.

    So, when others my age were learning to read and write, I was learning to read letters and abbreviations made up of combinations of 6 dots, and write them on a machine, a bit like a manual typewriter, which punched the dots into thick paper. I learned to type as well, but all of my school books and worksheets were in Braille.

    I continued to use the manual typewriter, known as a Perkins Brailler, for subjects such as maths, but as I grew older, I moved on to an electronic Braille notetaker, and later a laptop for my schoolwork. Still I printed out a hard copy of my work for my teachers, and every file, whether it was a piece of work or revision notes, was sent to a noisy Braille printer, so that I had a hard copy of everything. All my work was in big folders, one for each subject, and my “pocket German dictionary” was 10 thick A4 volumes!

    Braille takes up a lot of space. My grandad put up a big, sturdy set of shelves in my bedroom. They went up to the ceiling and were strong enough to take all my books – and I had many books!

    I loved to read. People bought me books as gifts, and I borrowed them from Braille libraries. When I got older and became interested in German, a library for the blind in Germany let me borrow their books too.

    Then, when I started learning French and German at school, I discovered they had their own Braille codes. It’s true, the letters are the same, but there were additional symbols for letters with accents. If you want to borrow books from the library, you need to learn the short-hand versions because as I mentioned before, Braille books take up a lot of space, so most books are written in the short-hand version. In English Braille, this means that there are single letter signs – p = people, t = that etc. There are also single character signs for words like the, and, and which. Then there are double character signs for longer words such as mother, question and every. Finally there are signs for groups of letters when they form part of a word such as th, ch, st, and er.

    Unfortunately, these signs aren’t universal, so the English th sign is the German ch sign, and the English ch sign is the German au sign – so you basically need to learn a completely different code if you want to read Braille in another language! But, if you take the time to learn this, it opens up a whole new world of books.
    I was late to the party with refreshable Braille displays – a board that sits under or next to your keyboard and displays a line of text in Braille created by tiny pins that move up and down. I got my first one when I got my first job, but many blind people use them for reading information or checking what they have written, either alongside or instead of speech.

    Life has changed now and I don’t have the same relationship with Braille as I did when I was younger. Hours of commuting into London meant that I swapped Braille books for audio books, because the audio books could be loaded onto my phone, and there was no chance of bopping someone with a heavy Braille book on the train! Still, I don’t believe that children can learn to read effectively with only audio. The reason I was so good at spelling is that, like the sighted children in my class, I knew exactly how the words were formed and could imagine their shape in dots. Think of the English language and how many ways you can pronounce the same letters. Take OUGH – words like cough, through, thought, plough, though, and rough all use OUGH, but they are pronounced differently. If you can’t imagine how words are spelled because you’ve only heard them, you are likely to make more mistakes.

    I don’t have this problem now because I’m an adult and I know how to read, but I only recently discovered that Netflix is spelled with an X – after all, flicks is a word and flix isn’t. The reason for this? I’d never seen it written down! I’m so grateful that Louis Braille’s system taught me to read.

    It’s now a legal requirement for medication to have labels in Braille. Yes, I could label things myself – I do have a dymo gun type thing that prints out Braille letters onto clear tape, but it’s so much easier not having to worry when I have a pounding headache which tablets are for headaches. Let’s hope we don’t lose this when we leave the EU – that would definitely be a step backwards. The leaflets inside medication boxes aren’t in Braille, but knowing how the name is written means that I can look up any information online.

    Also, some cosmetics and food companies incorporate Braille into their packaging design to make their products identifiable to blind readers – see the posts I wrote on L’occitane and The Co-op.

    I do have an app on my phone that can read what things are in the kitchen, but we’ve labelled all our spices in Braille because it’s so much quicker for me to identify the one I want by touch.

    To be honest, I mainly use online banking and online payment services now, but when these things weren’t available, I got all my bank statements, credit card statements, gas, electricity, and phone bills in Braille. I lived on my own for about 10 years, and it was liberating to be able to manage everything without having to ask for assistance with reading the printed letters, or the somewhat tedious task of having to scan everything so that I could use a character recognition programme on my laptop to find out what things were.

    I have found Braille controls on lifts, Braille room signs in hotels, and more than once I’ve been to tourist attractions and been presented with information that I could read for myself, without having to rely on my friends or family to read things to me.

    A number of restaurant chains such as Wagamama provide Braille menus. I really appreciate this, partly because it means I can browse the menu without having to ask for help, and although it is now possible to pull up menus from a restaurant’s website on my phone, it’s often really noisy in restaurants and hard to hear what the phone is saying. So having my own copy of the menu in Braille makes things so much easier.

    It’s true that not every blind person can read Braille. Some people have enough site to read with a magnifier. Some people lose their site later in life and use other solutions to get information. Some maybe aren’t interested or never had the chance. Offering these people a Braille menu is about as useful as offering me a large print one – so it’s important to remember that everyone’s needs and preferences are different.

    If I’m given the chance to have something sent to me by email or in Braille, I’ll probably opt to save the trees and not wait for the postman. But it’s important that the choice is there along with other formats such as large print and audio.

    Some organisations offer a service where you can have Braille messages added to greetings cards, and it’s much nicer when you can read the message yourself, rather than receiving what feels like a blank card. Even more so when I lived on my own, and had to take pictures of the card or Facetime with someone to find out who it was from – handwriting recognition software is a very new thing.

    For some people, Braille is their primary source of information. This isn’t the case for me – I rely on my laptop and phone for most things, but I certainly appreciate the Braille labels and Braille information that I come across, and I’m grateful to Louis Braille for inventing it. Whilst technology has replaced some of the functions for which I used to use Braille, I think the two should exist alongside one another, and it is vital that children are taught to read for themselves. What they choose to do after that is up to them. I type everything on my laptop, but some people prefer to input information entirely in Braille.

    To sumarise, I agree with the title of this blog post from Victarnews – Braille or computers – I’ll have both please!

    More from Unseen Beauty

    If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice 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 deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.

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

    Blogmas day 16 – let us howl

    Our visit to the Wolf Conservation Trust near Reading, whom we met there, and what we learned!

    So, I’m going to break with the Christmas posts to tell you about what I did last night – because it’s cool, and also I’d like more people to find out about the Trust.

    Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that S and I are interested in Wolves. I published the walking with wolves post earlier in the year. While I was researching that trip, I also discovered the UK wolf conservation Trust website, and last night, S and I went with some friends to their Howl Night!

    The first part of the evening is a presentation about wolf communication. We learned about ways in which they communicate with other wolves using long-distance communication, such as howls, as well as other verbal forms of communications, such as barks, growls, whimpers, yips and woofs! We then went on to look at body language – the positioning of the ears, tail, and posture, as well as the eye contact. Real footage from the centre’s wolves was used to demonstrate points about what was happening and what the wolves were trying to communicate.

    The centre is home to 10 wolves in four packs – two packs of 3 and two packs of 2. After the presentation had finished, we went outside to see, and howl with them!

    The first pack we saw was my favourite – Mosi and Torak. Mosi is one of the older wolves at 11 years of age, but that didn’t stop her being the most vocal with her howls! She deposed her sister Mai as alpha female, which led to her sister being moved out of the enclosure when they were younger. She was eager to respond to us with howls and interested in her visitors! Torak is a tall and proud wolf with a handsome, masculine head and the most mournful howl that you have ever Heard! He was more aloof and stayed to the back of the large enclosure, but that didn’t stop him joining in with a howl!

    The next pack we came across was the arctic wolves, Massak, Pukak and Sikko. Sikko is the only female in this pack, where she lives with her brothers. They were born during a severe snowstorm in Park Safari, Quebec, and abandoned by their mother, who got out of her den with one other pup, but didn’t accept these three back as they had been touched by humans, who revived them from severe hyperthermia. Pukak loves his food and sometimes paws at the fence in anticipation. Massak is the dominant male and often lets his brother and sister go to greet visitors first. All of these wolves have thick, white coats to protect them from freezing arctic temperatures.

    The next pack we saw was Mai and Motomo. Mai was separated from the pack with her sister and now lives with Motomo, an unsocialised wolf from Devon. Though partially spayed now, Mai and Motomo had been getting on better than expected as, soon after they were put together, Mai was found to be pregnant. We saw their offspring in the next enclosure. Apparently Mai likes to howl to Motomo when she is away on a walk. Motomo was only hand-reared for two weeks of his life, so he can’t be handled by the volunteers as he is still very scared of humans.

    In the last large enclosure are Mai and Motomo’s offspring, now 6 years old. They were very playful when we came up, chasing and growling at one another. Nuka is the dominant male and the most adopted wolf at the trust. He already knows which humans he doesn’t want to have around him! Tala is a very friendly and inquisitive wolf, who is often put in her place by her sister Tundra, the dominant wolf in the pack. Tala’s inquisitiveness sometimes leads to the destruction of things such as Christmas trees put in their enclosure for children’s events! Tundra is a wary wolf who is less likely to come and greet visitors. If her brother and sister do silly things like playing in the pond, Tundra just looks on and doesn’t join in.

    The wolves are well-cared for and have plenty of space to run around. As well as looking after the wolves in its care, the trust also supports other projects to help wolves in other parts of the world – both in terms of caring for captive wolves and educating the local population. The centre is also involved in research projects to enable people to better understand these wonderful animals.

    If you’d like to support the Wolf Conservation Trust, there are plenty of different ways for you to get involved. If you can get to Reading, there are Howl Nights or wolf walks throughout the year. You can also make a donation, adopt a wolf, give a child a junior membership, or buy a wide range of wolf merchandise from the store. I’d already got myself a pair of earrings and a necklace online, but last night I also came back with a mug, a keyring, another pair of earrings and a hoodie! All for a good cause, so that’s ok 😉

    Are there any nature or conservation organisations that you like to support?

    Christmas tree in Stockholm

    Listen to the podcast episode

    I’ve also produced a podcast episode about the wolves. You can look for Unseen Beauty on Apple podcasts (previously known as iTunes), or wherever you get your podcasts. Alternatively, you can listen to it here:

    The calendars

    Going back to Blogmas and the advent calendars- what was behind your door no. 16?

    L’Occitane – this time it was another soap – the last of the 3!

    M&S: this time I got a hair spray, which I won’t use, so that’s something for Mother Christmas!

    We still haven’t finished our Christmas shopping, so you can guess what we’ll be doing later!

    Would you like Unseen Beauty News emails!

    If you’d like me to email you twice a week with information about what’s new on the site, and other things that I have been enjoying, you can sign up using this contact form.