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!

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Do you want to be able to see?

I have a genetic eye condition. There’s a lot of research going on at the moment into it, in terms of possible treatments. I follow this research with interest. I like to be informed, but more than that, if the opportunity became available to get involved with the research, I’d be interested to know more.

One thing that makes me a less likely candidate for any possible treatment is the fact that I’ve never been able to see before, so my brain would need to learn to interpret any visual stimuli it received, either through gene therapy or implanted technology.

That would definitely be more hard work than someone would have to do if they had been able to see before. They would be able to relate what they were seeing to what they had been able to see in the past.

Still, I don’t know that It would be all bad to start from scratch. Yes, you’d have to learn about things like colours and depth perception like a small child, rather than drawing on your memories, but on the other hand, any sight would be a bonus. You wouldn’t keep saying “this isn’t as good as what I used to be able to see”.

Why I think that being able to see would be a good thing

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see loved ones for the first time, or to look through my possessions and ask myself “did you really wear that colour lipstick?! I don’t know what colours I like because I’ve never seen them. How would I rate the advice about my physical appearance that I’d been given over the years? Would I make changes to my home décor? Would I discover a favourite colour I never knew I liked? What would I find aesthetically pleasing? How good would my visual special awareness be. Of course a lot of this would depend on the treatment and level of vision it afforded, but they are interesting questions nonetheless!

There would definitely be a learning curve involved, but I think of the many practical ways in which life would be easier. Getting around without using a cane, reading things without making sure they were accessible, finding things that were dropped or mislaid, using any website, irrespective of whether it had been designed accessibly.

However hard I work to lead a full and independent life, there are still times when I need to ask for help with things that others can just do without thinking about it. Yes, we all need help at times, but having a disability often involves a lot more planning to make sure you know exactly where you’re going, where something is, or how to put in place alternative strategies for doing things when the standard ways don’t work.

The first time I got really frustrated about being visually impaired was when I was about 9 and couldn’t go and bring the horses in from the big field to be ridden. Yes, there are things I could have done to make this task doable as a blind person. Plenty of blind people ride and have their own horses. But it suddenly struck me as a practical example of a task which was easier for my friends and would require more planning on my part. So I found something else to do and went home and cried about it where nobody could see!

This isn’t supposed to be a negative post, but I want it to be an honest one. Sometimes stuff is hard, and I don’t subscribe to this “nothing is a problem unless it’s a problem other people create for me” mentality. So in a practical sense, being able to see would make life easier.

I continued riding throughout my teenage years and we found other ways of doing things as you can read in my riding post. But sometimes it would be nice just to get on with things without all the additional thought and adaptations. I also touched on this in my I’m tired post.

Then there are the nice-to-haves. Not being able to see a beautiful view, wild animals, or the sunset isn’t going to change the practicalities of your everyday life, but there are some things that even the best descriptions don’t do justice to if you’ve never seen them before!

Many people name not being able to drive as being a major set-back for people who can’t see. I don’t really see it that way. Sure, life is easier now that I have a partner who drives, but I lived for many years in London, where many of my friends didn’t drive, and driving wasn’t essential. It’s a bit different once you leave the capital, but still I wouldn’t say not being able to do it is high on my inconvenience list. It’s maybe no bad thing that I can’t drive given my low stupid behaviour tolerance threshold. I probably wouldn’t be the most calm and forgiving person on the road!

But getting around new places without having to memorise everything would be nice, as would exploring the countryside or visiting new places without having to think about route planning and sat nav. And before anyone comes up with the objection that some blind people do that – I know they do, but I find it stressful! Things are rarely fun and stressful at the same time!

When I was a baby, my family were basically told that there was nothing that could be done about my eye condition, so they should just go home, not think about a cure, and get on with teaching me to gain the skills I’d need. In some ways I can see the value of focussing on the here and now, rather than hoping for something in the future that may never come, but it’s still good to be curious. It’s still good to find out what’s happening in medical research and see whether any of it is relevant.

I agree it’s not helpful for parents of newly-diagnosed children to focus only on what might happen, when they could instead have a very real influence on what will happen. It’s important to teach children how to find other ways to do things that don’t rely on sight, and to focus on all the things that they can do and enjoy, rather than the few things that they can’t. Blind children need to know that there’s a big world out there, which can be explored with or without sight.

Technology has opened up so many doors for us. Using my assistive technology, I can do things independently that I would have needed help with if I’d been born 50 years ago. That’s amazing! You definitely shouldn’t be defined by something that you’re physically unable to do.

But we live in a visual world. If your child wants to experience that for themselves, and the option becomes available – well they should have that option too in my opinion.

Do all blind people feel as I do about sight restoration?

Of course not! It’s a massive group of individuals and I’d be surprised if you could find anything that all blind people agree about!

However, I ask the question because often people generally assume that blind people do want to see, and it even surprised me that this could start such heated discussions.

I had wrongly assumed that most people see the question in the same way as I do, but not everyone does, and that’s ok. It’s their right.

Some people feel there’s nothing missing from their lives as they are now. I don’t really understand this, but it’s definitely something that should be respected.

Perhaps I see it differently because I’ve never really accepted blindness as part of my identity. It’s something that determines how I do certain things. It’s something that I’m often asked about. It’s something that has led me to focus on and develop my other senses more. But it’s not intrinsically part of who I am. I wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t there tomorrow. Other people view this differently, and that may explain why they wouldn’t want to give something up that they see as part of their identity.

There can also be differences between the opinions of those who have never been able to see and those whose vision has deteriorated.

I’ve even had people say to me “you can’t miss what you never had”. This is true in the sense that I didn’t actually lose something that I had before, but if you live in a world where everyone around you has something that you don’t, and many services, leisure activities, and ways of accessing information are geared to having that sense – then even if you have never had it, there’s still a way in which you can miss not having access to it.

Not everyone feels that way though, and from my observations, there seem to be a higher number of people that have never seen who say they are not interested in seeing or anything to do with being able to see. They know no different and are content with that.

Another comment that often comes up in these discussions is that people don’t want to be “fixed” as though other people see them as broken if they aren’t able to see. I do understand this to some extent – it’s tedious if people focus on what you can’t do, even though in some areas you may have accomplished more than the person feeling sorry for you has. Though I’m sure it’s not their intention, if all someone can do when they meet you is talk about the things that you can’t do, it can devalue all the other things that you have achieved. That doesn’t feel good.

People should be accepted as people, and not seen as broken machines that need to be fixed. I can accept that. However, I see people working in medical research as allies, not as those who want to fix me.

Having said that, I am far less positive about random strangers who come up to me and try to start praying for me to be fixed. This is not ok!

In terms of the medical treatment and broken or fixed debate, there is part of my body that doesn’t work as it should, and if given the choice, I’d like to have something done about that, so long as I understand what’s involved and the risk of no dangerous side effects is not too high.

so what now?

Writing this post is not to say I’m dissatisfied. I have a wonderful partner, some amazing friends, a lovely home, a job that interests and challenges me, and plenty of things that give me enjoyment and fulfilment in my spare time. But there are days when I’m not ashamed to say that being blind is hard work or there are things that I would really like to experience visually. That’s why I follow the research and keep an open mind.

Life is good, but I’m not going to close my mind to something that could make it even better!

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect everyone to be civilised in the comments!

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Hermione Granger – 10 of my favourite quotes and why I relate to her

I’ve always loved books. When I was a child, my Granddad built me a big bookcase in my bedroom to take all of my heavy Braille books. Now, I listen to more audio books because I find it more practical, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed escaping into the world of a good book.

I completely missed out on the whole fantasy genre though. It was only as an adult that I was introduced to the world of Harry Potter and others like it – mainly by my partner. He got me all the Harry Potter books and I pretty much devoured them within about a month. We watched the films too this year, but the books are still my favourites because I think they give you a much deeper insight into the characters, and the films do miss out things that are in the books.

I relate to Hermione Granger in many ways. She loved reading and learning. She was outspoken and sometimes voiced the things that other people were thinking, but didn’t say. More than that, she was from a non-magical family, which in some ways put her at a disadvantage when compared with those who had grown up in the wizarding world. Things that others took for granted were things that she needed to learn. She had to work harder, and rather than just catching up, she wanted to be even better. I’ve often felt like that too. Sometimes having a disability means you have to work harder, learn things that are obvious to others, and prove that you are just as good, if not better at a task because you maybe do it in a different way. It’s hard work, but empowering at the same time because it also gives you a sense of accomplishment after you’ve done what you set out to do!

So, here are some of my favourite Hermione quotes from J K Rowling or the Harry Potter movies, and why I like them.

1. “I’ve always admired your courage Harry, but sometimes you can be really thick.” – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (film).

She’s not afraid to say what she thinks. Sometimes she’s too direct, but she doesn’t do it to hurt people. Sometimes it exasperates her when other people don’t see things that are obvious to her!

2. “Not spew; It’s S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.” – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

If she decides something is important, she’ll pursue it with grim determination! This sense of hyper-focus may drive others crazy, but she does get things done. Generally it’s better to have her on your side than the other side! She’ll stand up for others who aren’t being treated well, and she doesn’t wait for someone else to take the initiative. Sometimes she goes a bit far though, but hey, she was young. I’ve always been a 100% or nothing at all kind of girl, so I do relate to this.

3. “At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in, they got in on pure talent.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (film).

She’s not afraid to challenge authority – whether that’s genuine authority, or those people that other people just don’t like to stand up to. If she thinks something is wrong, she’ll call it out.

4. “Well, obviously, she’s feeling very sad, because of Cedric dying. Then I expect she’s feeling confused because she liked Cedric and now she likes Harry, and she can’t work out who she likes best. Then she’ll be feeling guilty, thinking it’s an insult to Cedric’s memory to be kissing Harry at all, and she’ll be worrying about what everyone else might say about her if she starts going out with Harry. And she probably can’t work out what her feelings towards Harry are anyway, because he was the one who was with Cedric when Cedric died, so that’s all very mixed up and painful. Oh, and she’s afraid she’s going to be thrown off the Ravenclaw Quidditch team because she’s flying so badly.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

For all her directness, she can also observe how others are feeling and work out their motivations or what’s making them sad.

5. “Are you sure that’s a real spell?’ said the girl. ‘Well, it’s not very good, is it? I’ve tried a few simple spells just for practice and its all worked for me. Nobody in my family’s magic at all. It was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it’s the very best school of witchcraft there is, I’ve heard – I’ve learnt all our set books off by heart, of course, I just hope it will be enough – I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Yeah! I have learned not to do this now, but Hermione Granger was in year 7 when she said that, and I think I may have been equally annoying at that age! I loved books. I loved learning. I sometimes used them to hide my insecurities, but all you really saw was me trying to get approval by showing what I’d learned!

6. “Assuming I survive our hunt for the Horcruxes, I’ll find Mum and Dad and lift the enchantment. If I don’t – well, I think I’ve cast a good enough charm to keep them safe and happy. Wendell and Monica Wilkins don’t know that they’ve got a daughter, you see.”- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Sometimes she had to make difficult decisions, but once she’d made them, she saw them through. Even if it was painful. She was ruled by her head, not her heart. I’ve been accused of this too, but it turned out to be right! She thinks her decisions through and doesn’t just act on impulse, and in so doing, probably saved the lives of her parents.

7. ‘Because her cat acted like all cats do,’ Hagrid continued doggedly. ‘She’s cried a fair few times, yeh know. Goin’ through a rough time at the moment. Bitten off more’n she can chew, if yeh ask me, all the work she’s tryin’ ter do. Still found time ter help me with Buckbeak’s case, mind.… She’s found some really good stuff fer me…reckon he’ll stand a good chance now…” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

When she’s angry, everyone knows about it. When she’s upset, it’s only Hagrid … and the other people closest to her have no idea. I do that. It’s not always a good thing. But for me, it makes the character believable.

8. “I hope everything went all right and that Harry is okay and that you didn’t do anything illegal to get him out, Ron, because that would get Harry into trouble, too.

I’ve been really worried and if Harry is all right, will you please let me know at once, but perhaps it would be better if you used a different owl, because I think another delivery might finish your one off.” – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

She thinks things through, even when she’s feeling emotional, such as being really worried about Harry and Ron. She keeps a level head – most of the time! She’s not driven by her emotions, but puts the owl’s welfare first. She is not a fan of breaking rules, apart from when the rules aren’t fit for purpose! But generally she’ll follow them.

9. “Good luck, Ron,” said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. “And you, Harry –“

Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not quite sure what had just happened.” – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Sometimes you just have to go for what you want and show people if they are a bit slow to work it out for themselves!

10. “If being good at Divination means I have to pretend to see death omens in a lump of tea leaves, I’m not sure I’ll be studying it much longer!” – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

She stayed true to herself and doesn’t take the easy option just because it would be less hassle. She isn’t prepared to lie to get approval. Neither will she compromise on what she believes is right, just because that’s what everyone else is being expected to do. That takes courage, but if you can’t feel ok about yourself at the end of the day, you’ve lost your integrity – and that’s worth a lot more than the fleeting approval of others that can be lost as quickly as it’s gained.

So, what do you think of Hermione’s character? Do you relate to her? Would you want her as a friend? Do you have any more favourite quotes? Let me know in the comments!

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5 types of emails bloggers don’t want to receive and what to do about them

I get a lot of interesting emails as a result of my blog – sometimes from blog readers, sometimes from people who want advice about the topics that I write about, and sometimes from family or friends who have something to say about one of the articles, but they don’t want to post a public comment.

That’s all great!

Sometimes I get emails about opportunities for Unseen Beauty. Some of them are things that I want to pursue – others aren’t. But people won’t know that unless they ask.

However, I can think of 5 types of emails that come to my Unseen Beauty inbox that I don’t want to receive, so I thought I’d write a quick post about them with tips for other bloggers. In most cases my advice is to do nothing with them, but a couple might convince or unnerve particularly new bloggers, so I thought it was worth highlighting them.

1. Phishing emails

These are malicious emails that claim to be from legitimate sources, but which take you to their own site in the hope that you will input sensitive personal details such as passwords or credit card details. Previously these were so badly written that they could be spotted a mile off, but the criminals behind them are getting smarter and sometimes they manage to write an entire email without any spelling or grammar errors.

These criminal activities are nothing new, but the relevance to bloggers is that I’ve seen a couple which claim that my blog-related mailbox will be deleted if I don’t take action and follow their dubious link very quickly!

I knew it wasn’t true, but the emotional language used in this kind of mail can get people panicking, and if you’ve got someone reacting with their emotions rather than thinking logically, you’re one step closer to persuading them to make a bad choice.

I don’t actually know what opening the link would have done. It was asking me to update my details, so it could have been after login details to my site, my financial details, or it might have just opened me up to some kind of malware.

The basic advice is, don’t click on links in random emails. Know who hosts your site, and your blog-related mailbox if you have one, and communicate with them directly if you are unsure. Look at the message headers – these will often help you to see that something is wrong or the person isn’t who they claim to be.

Domain registry emails

I have a couple of blogs. I received an email to say that someone was trying to buy the site that had my site’s name, but with the .cn (China) top level domain and asking whether I wanted to buy it instead.

There are two problems with this. Firstly, Unseen Beauty has a .com domain. If I wanted to and it was available, I could for example buy the .co.uk version and redirect it to my .com site – so whether you use .com or .co.uk, you would end up on my site. Sometimes from a business point of view, it makes sense to buy several variations, both in case people make a mistake when entering the name of your site, and to prevent other people from having that domain.

But the list of possible top level domains is endless and the only people who can really afford to snap them all up are multi-national companies with loads of money! This is further complicated by discussions about trademark infringement and domain names, but I’m not going to get into that here because I’m focussing specifically on bloggers and people trying to target them to purchase domain names for countries where the bloggers generally don’t have an audience or do business.

The only site that is really yours is the one that you have paid for – and that is only true for as long as you continue to pay for it. Someone can’t take something away from you that doesn’t belong to you in the first place.

If people want to buy a website whose name looks like mine, but with another top level domain, that’s their choice. There are so many top level domains – as well as all the country-specific ones, there are also the well-known ones such as .net and .com, as well as the newer ones such as .blog .club etc.

Secondly, if you’re going to purchase a new domain or a variation on one that you already own, go to a trusted domain registrar, not some obscure company that nobody has ever heard of until they sent you an email. For all you know, it could be someone just trying to extract money fraudulently that doesn’t even have authorisation to sell and register domains.

3. Horrible comments

I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t got any abusive comments from people trying to contact me directly. They’ve tended to be more of the nuisance creepy variety. But I know some people have had to deal with this. It’s not fair, but if you write something controversial or people just decide to be mean, they may choose to do it privately, where your friends and supporters can’t see it and stick up for you.

Don’t suffer in silence. There can be drama, but overall if you don’t join in the drama, I’ve found the blogging community to be very supportive.

4. Spam and guest post spam

The blog spam filters work fairly well now, although it’s worth checking out your comment spam folder once in a while to make sure there are no false positives – genuine comments that have been marked as spam. For example, if you have people leaving more than one link in a comment, it might be sent to the spam folder because this is a technique that spammers often use to get backlinks from your page to their sites.

I’m a bit of a control freak, so I moderate all comments before they go up. If you’re more trusting and you use WordPress, there are settings to reduce the work for you here.

Guest post spam is also a thing. It’s a term used for people who want to write for your site, but the email looks very generic – they probably don’t even have your name right. It’s all about getting other sites to link to their site or products, because this makes them appear more trustworthy or popular in terms of their search engine ratings.

You don’t benefit from this at all. You may get some content, but it’s often poorly written and more likely to drive readers away than make them want to read more.

I’m not saying this is true of all guest post requests, though I don’t think I’ve accepted any of the ones I’ve received out of the blue from complete strangers. If someone that I had been communicating with already should ask me, I’d probably view that a lot differently. But the point here is about the mass emails that are sent to hundreds of bloggers at the same time in the hope that one will respond, and that really just look like spam.

5. Unwanted attention

I’m not going to write a lot about this because I pretty much covered it in my being female and the face of your business can lead to unwanted attention post. But again, you don’t need to suffer in silence, and don’t think that just because someone emailed you, it means that they deserve a response. Sometimes silence is the smartest, and in their case most annoying, thing that you can do!

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

I went through most of my teenage years not having a clue what I wanted to do after school. I enjoyed school – apart from lunch breaks and doing cross-country in the snow. There was a structure to it, you knew what was expected of you, and I thought learning was fun, especially languages (mine were French and German).

So I thought I’d probably want to do something with languages – but the only things people could suggest to me were things like becoming an interpreter.

I did do a bit of that voluntarily for some friends and it was a lot of fun. Well most of the time. The bit where they started talking about each other and I had to decide whether I was going to claim not to have understood or let the worst of it get lost in realtime creative translation was less fun, but that didn’t happen all the time.

It wasn’t what I wanted to do though. It was definitely rewarding, because I knew the people needed my skills to be able to understand each other properly. That felt good because I was helping them. But in the traditional sense, you only ever get to interpret other people’s words without having your own voice. I didn’t want to do that full-time.

As a small child it was easy. I wanted to be a teacher. I would have my own class and teach them things. While others were building pirate ships and fortresses with their lego, I designed my school!

I’d wrote my own activities too! I had a ring binder with activities when I was about 9 or 10 and a timetable to make sure all of the subjects were covered.

The rules of my games were usually to involved and complicated to explain to others, and if something’s too much effort to share, I usually don’t bother!

I did spend time with others, but my own games were things I could only really play on my own. I enjoyed learning and using the things I’d learned.

I didn’t lack imagination, but as I grew older, I saw the flaw in my plan – I’d have to work with children. I didn’t want to work with children, so I gave up on the idea, finished my education, got a job, and forgot all about being a teacher.

I won’t go through my CV here – I had a number of jobs before settling as a Communication Manager – still working with language, but only English. I kept up my interest in German (and a couple of other languages too) by developing a network of friends online and working voluntarily for an online community platform.

I remember getting the flu and having way too much time on my hands. You know how it is – you’re not well enough to get up and do stuff, but you’re done with lying in bed. So I sat at my laptop and filled out a questionnaire that a friend had sent to me. Really I think it was for people who were just starting out on their career. I’d got about 10 years behind me by this point, but I was feeling that something was missing. I was getting more of a sense of fulfilment out of my voluntary work than my day job, and the 3-hour commute was making me miserable. Of course when you’re not well, everything seems that much worse.

But that was an important first step for me. I kept thinking about my answers and how I still found myself teaching people things in my spare time. My friends, people that I’d met online – and they were learning too, so I can’t have been that bad at it! It set me thinking that to be a teacher, you don’t just have to work with children. You can work with adults too.

With that realisation, it didn’t take long for the rest of the plan to start taking shape. I got some teaching qualifications while I was still working. I got myself some teaching experience too before setting up on my own.

The basic website that I set up in 2012 looked nothing like my site now, but you have to start somewhere and build on what you have. I attended courses about setting up your own business, tax returns, marketing, and thought about where I could find my first customers.

My first student was someone I’d already been helping. That made things easier – I knew I liked her and that we could work well together. The next was the partner of someone whom I already knew. I hadn’t met her before, but we had someone who introduced us. The third person was a complete stranger, and it went on from there!

I left my Communications Manager job and have been developing English with Kirsty ever since, teaching English to (mainly German-speaking) adults. The commute is a thing of the past too because all of my training happens online. Helping people to learn and to use the skills they have gives me job satisfaction, and I’ve met so many fascinating people. No two days are the same!

I do a number of other things in addition to language training, which is a story for another day, but the point I wanted to make is that I came full circle. It just took me a long time to realise that I could have what I wanted if I thought a bit more creatively. You don’t have to give up on your dreams if you’re willing to spend a bit more time figuring out the details of how you can make them work.

The job that I have now probably didn’t exist when I was considering my career options. I don’t remember being encouraged to really think creatively at that time about my skills and the needs that I could fulfil. I was also given some pretty dire career advice, but we’re responsible for our own choices and it all worked out in the end.

I was employed for over 11 years before deciding to become self-employed in 2012, and although I didn’t love everything about those 11 years, I met some great people and learned a lot of valuable lessons that I can draw upon now.

So tell me – what did you want to be when you were a child, and what are you doing now? Is there any connection?

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10 advantages of working from home

It’s not for everyone, but working from home has a lot of advantages. Here are a few that are important to me.

Ok, I used to have a laugh with my colleagues sometimes, and random kitchen chats added some variety or introduced me to new people. But overall I’m happy to be working from home and I know I’m more productive now. What do you think?

1. Control over my working environment

This is a big one. It’s basic things, like deciding how warm it should be in your working space. I used to sit under a cold air vent, and typing in fingerless gloves is not fun! It’s also about being able to control other things, such as noise. I need it to be quiet when I’m working, and people chattering away, singing, having loud conversations at the end of my desk, banging doors – all of these things take away a bit of my concentration and make me work harder to focus again.

No background noise at a volume that, for me at least, is higher than background noise (TV etc.) should be. No noisy printer or constant ringing of phones.

In my office, none of these things happen , so I’m more productive.

2. Communication on my terms

For me, this means nobody randomly showing up at my desk demanding my attention, and there are not several conversations at once.

Due to the fact that I spend a lot of time in meetings, I’ve pretty much trained my customers not to call me. Everything gets done by email or message, and I can answer people when I have time.

Also, it’s not a constant stream of chatter – I can deal with people one at a time.

I can listen to and follow multiple conversations, but it drains my energy. I don’t always want to, but my brain doesn’t filter noise out as some people’s do. Your brain might hear a ticking clock or a barking dog and dismiss it, because it’s not important, but I hear and process all the things. So at my birthday dinner, I was aware of most of the conversations around my table, but probably only the people immediately next to me thought I was listening to them. That amount of concentration, voluntary or involuntary, takes energy.

3. No commuting

Yay! I worked in London for around 11 years and had a 3-hour commute each day for about 9 of those. I read a lot of books during that time, but it’s a long time. Some of that was walking, some of it was train journeys, and some of it was waiting around. 3 hours is an estimate for a normal day. When trains were delayed or cancelled, it was longer. I’m not sure I could do it now!

Also, when it snows, I can build a snowman while others are working out how they’re going to get home!

4. Setting my own hours

This is more about working for yourself, but I can go into my office for an early morning meeting or stay late to get something finished without having to think about transport, who’ll be in the building, whether I’ll have access to what I need etc.

5. my own space where nothing moves

I was lucky really in my previous jobs. Even when we had the hot-desking policy, I set down my dog’s bed, set up my equipment, and everyone knew that was my space.

Especially when you’re unable to see, knowing where things are is important. In my last job, we had a clear desk policy, which meant that all personal items had to be tidied away at the end of the day. It didn’t really work as far as I could tell. Tidy people cleared the few things they had away, whilst untidy people just left their trail of destruction.

But it took time to put everything out again, and I don’t have to do this now. No helpful cleaning staff move or put things in an odd place. Nobody borrows or adjusts my chair. Nobody gets between me and my coffee!

6. Better sickness record

I think this may have something to do with the fact that I’m happier, the fact that I’m not commuting in the rain and snow, or just the fact that I’m self-employed, which means that no working = no income! But I also think that not having to sit in an office with other people who are unwell also helps me to stay healthy. Of course I have friends who might be unwell, and S might pick up something from his colleagues or customers, but I’ve had way less sickness absences now than I used to.

7. Healthier eating choices

I guess this could go either way for people working from home with instant access to the fridge, but I actually think I make better choices now.

As someone with a visual impairment, the crazy sandwich shop rush at lunch time was something I tried to avoid because I could never work out the queue or when it was my turn. This meant that most of the time I would take my own food in because I couldn’t guarantee that I’d find someone who wanted to go out when I did. So I’d often make myself some sandwiches or something to put in the microwave.

But if you add in travel time, I was out of the house for a long time. In practice this meant that I ended up taking more food and things to snack on to keep me going until I got home and could cook something.

8. No boring lunch breaks!

I usually took the 30-minute minimum lunch break, ate something, took my dog out, and if there was any time left, went online or read something. But apart from caring for my dog, or the times I decided to do something with a colleague, I often felt as though I was making time pass. Now I don’t usually take a long lunch break, but if I have something at home that I want to do, I can factor that in to my break. If the weather’s good, I can take my lunch outside.

9. I don’t have to share

There speaks the only child! But it’s true – I have an office to myself. Of course I still come into contact with people. I did a quick exercise to see how many people I communicate with in an average day and it’s somewhere between 30 and 50. But it comes back to point 1 I suppose – I’m in control of my own space and of whom I invite into it.

10. Decent coffee

I mentioned my new coffee machine recently. Even before that, I had one of the older type coffee machines in my office. Where I used to work, there was no machine – so you either had to buy one on the way in or drink instant coffee. Since then I’ve discovered the coffee bags, but still, my Nespresso machine is better than anything I’ve had access to at work! Ok, it depends where you work – but decent coffee was never part of my employee benefits package!

So, do you work from home? Would you like to? Can you think of any more advantages? Or would you miss your colleagues if you had to sit in an office by yourself all day? Let me know in the comments!

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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!

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15 products from 2019 – part 1

Well, I haven’t given up on the product reviews entirely, but I’m doing things a bit differently now. There will be posts that each have 15 products in them, and they won’t be monthly any more. If I thought something was just nice enough or ok, I probably won’t spend time talking about it. So the things I’ll write about are either amazing, or there’s some kind of story, or I discovered something new, or maybe I really hated something. Who knows. But I hope you like the new style of product post.

So here are the first 15 – quite a lot of Body Shop in here! Have you tried any of these? Let me know in the comments.

1. Orange moisturiser

I was excited to try something from Dr Botanicals, and even happier that it was something with a citrus scent. This moisturiser comes in a tube, a bit like a hand cream, which I prefer to the tubs, and keeps your cream fresher. It does have an orange scent, but isn’t overly perfumed, and you won’t notice it after a few minutes. I enjoyed using it, would definitely be open to trying more from the range.

2. Mango hand cream

I love this mango hand cream from the Body Shop stuff so much! The only thing is I wish they would do it in bigger tubes, but these ones are fine to go in your handbag. I haven’t found anything in the mango line that I don’t like, and you’ll see some other products from there in this post too. The Body Shop hand creams aren’t the cheapest, but they are good value, and there are often deals, where you can either get money off, or buy multiple products for a reduced price.

3. ELF primer

I’ve mentioned this primer before, and I replaced it again when this one run out. I’ve since started using a different one too, but I like to have a couple on the go just in case one runs out. It’s a silicone-based primer, which is like the marmite of primers – you either like it or you don’t – but I like it for creating a base. I’m feeling the love for my Body Shop one more at the moment, but I’ll definitely use this as well.

4. Vitamin E toner

As toners go, I’ve been more in to the spray on type recently. They are better for the environment because you don’t use cotton wool to apply them, and I think as we move into the Spring and Summer, they’ll be more refreshing too. However, as far as the more traditional toners go, I got through another vitamin E one from the Body Shop. I bought a couple of different ones from there recently to try them out, but overall I still prefer this one because it’s so nourishing, not watery (I hate that!), and it’s gentle on the skin.

5. Yes to cucumbers micellar water

I think the person who designed this packaging needs a D minus and to be sent back to design school! The first cucumber micellar water that came had the top shattered, which meant I had to order a replacement. When the replacement came, it was such a pain to use. Rather than a spray nozzle, it has a kind of circle with a hole in the centre where the product shoots out. I think you maybe press it onto a pad, but then it prevents the product coming out properly. If you hold it slightly away, it goes all over your hands and not on the pad. I got fed up with it and decanted it into an empty bubble bath bottle. The product is fine, but I don’t have time for all that faffing about.

6. Mango shower gel

Love love love this mango shower gel! It was part of a birthday present that included lots of the mango line and I never get tired of smothering myself in the mango scent! My favourite from the Body Shop skincare line!

7. Nail varnish remover pads

I know some people think this is a bit extravagant, but if you’re travelling, or if you don’t want to risk spilling nail varnish remover, these nail varnish remover pads are a good idea. These ones are from Waitrose. Ocado do them too, and the Ocado ones come in a bigger pack, which works out as better value if you will use them regularly, but in terms of performance they’re about the same, so the Waitrose ones are a good one to start with if you want to see whether you like them. They don’t feel as moist as a cotton round covered in traditional nail varnish remover does, but they do work as long as you’re thorough, and they don’t have that traditional strong nail varnish remover scent either. I will keep using the pads now that I’ve discovered them.

8. Clarins exfoliating toner

Of all the exfoliating toners I’ve tried, this is my favourite! It’s similar to the Pixie Glow Tonic, but I can’t bear the smell of the glow tonic unfortunately! So this from Clarins is slightly more expensive, but it’s an ideal solution for someone like me that doesn’t like physical exfoliants for the face. I won’t repurchase straight away as I also have some exfoliating pads from Nip+Fab to get through, but I would definitely buy it again.

9. Mango body yoghurt

You see a theme going on here? Yes, I love the mango body yoghurt too! This is a lightweight body moisturiser and unlike a couple of the other body yoghurts, this one dries down really quickly, without feeling sticky. As with the other products in this range, the mango scent stays around, so the best way to spend the rest of the day smelling of it is to layer a couple of them up!

10. Mango body scrub

Yay for birthday presents – they get you to try things you otherwise wouldn’t have picked up. I hadn’t tried the sugar scrub before, because generally, I don’t like scrubs. I don’t like the texture. I don’t like the way they feel in the bath or shower. But this is sugar, not some kind of ground up or crushed up thing, so it exfoliates your skin and then dissolves in the water – as if it had never been there. Leaving just the mango scent behind. Salt scrubs are harsher and dissolve more slowly – but this is great and I would buy it again.

11. Pink grapefruit spray

I finished up a bottle of this pink grapefruit mist – which is something I tend to use as a body spray. I guess you could use it as a scent on its own, but I usually wear a scent in addition to this. The pink grapefruit line is another one of my favourites from the Body Shop – more zesty and less sweet than the mango.

12. Origins face wash

I got a bunch of Origins minis in a set during the pre-Christmas sale as I wanted to try out some more from the range. My favourite is still the moisturiser – the reason I got the set in the first place. I liked a couple of the other things too, but wasn’t really a fan of the frothy face wash. Face products should not contain mint. Ever! It doesn’t matter how good the product is. If face or hair products contain mint, they’re out of the running for me. Shame though as generally I do like Origins.

13. Troublemaker mascara

I got a mini of the Urban Decay troublemaker mascara in the Feelunique sale. Sexproof lashes? Really? Apparently lasts through snowboarding, saunas and sex! Glad we got that sorted out then! Who even tests these claims out?

I’m generally not a fan of minis, but I did want to give this a try and was glad that I had. It was volumising without being clumpy and didn’t flake off or smudge.

14. Sunflower hand cream

I talked about this a while ago, but it came up on Latest in Beauty, so I got myself another tube of the sunflower hand cream from Laidbare. Originally I got this for the highly technical reason of liking sunflowers, but it is a good hand cream – moisturising, decent price, not greasy, and a generally good all-rounder. I usually go for fruity hand creams, but this made a nice change.

15. Apple micellar water

This is from a regime of products that I bought from Freshly Cosmetics. It’s the best-smelling micellar water I have ever used and contains ingredients such as aloe vera, green apple water, ginger and cucumber extracts. Definitely not the cheapest out there, but these products make good gifts or treats for yourself. Here’s the link to the apple micellar water.

Discounts and offers

And finally if you’ve made it this far – just a reminder that I have some affiliate discount codes for you:

Feelunique – you can get £10 off your first Feel Unique order by going onto the site using my affiliate link. This offer is open to new customers only, and the minimum spend is £30.

Glossybox – you can get 20% off your first box by using my code KIRSTY-RGE when you place your first order on the Glossybox site.

Ocado – 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).

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

Post index update and change of direction for Unseen Beauty

I was quite ashamed to realise that I hadn’t updated my post index page since October 2018! I had it on my list of things to do every week, but somehow it slipped off my radar and the next thing I knew, I had over 3 months of posts to add – not good really as I know that some people use it.

The idea for the index was to break down the content into topics because I know some people are only interested in certain topics here, so having the content arranged under headings makes it easier to find what you’re looking for.

So, I’m up-to-date again now, and I’ve rearranged the sections. If you want Blogmas, you need to scroll right down to the bottom. The empty products and favourites have also been shifted down now as I’m not planning to continue with these regularly.

I know some readers just follow along with the blog as new posts are published, but hopefully the index will help anyone who’s looking for something specific. And if you did notice I hadn’t been updating it – sorry!

Changes to Unseen Beauty

In January the blog celebrated its second birthday. I didn’t do a post, but I had some celebratory chocolate and thought “yay! Unseen Beauty is two years old”!

When I started, I didn’t really know where I was going with it, but I knew a lot of the things I wanted to talk about would be out of place on my business blog.

In those two years, the audience has grown, and I’ve known for a while that it has broadened out a lot. It’s read by friends, at least one family member, and people in the UK and other countries whom I’ve never met. I called it a beauty and lifestyle blog, but it’s become a lot more lifestyle than beauty, because there are so many other things I want to talk about.

So if you’re mainly here for beauty product reviews, you’ll probably be disappointed. But there are so many people doing that. My take has always been a bit different, because I can’t just go on looks, but even so – it’s a very busy space online.

On the other hand, I’ve learned that my content is being read by people who would never come for the beauty and skincare posts.

I haven’t abandoned those posts completely – although I am pretty much an all-or-nothing kind of girl in most other respects. I’ll still do round-ups when I’ve got some products to talk about, but I’ve cancelled all of my subscription boxes now and am focussing on what I have.

It’s not that I’m bored of skincare and trying new things, but I reached saturation point in terms of constantly testing the latest releases, and I don’t want things to go to waste – especially as I pretty much bought everything myself as opposed to being sent it by PRs.

I’ve also got a bit bored with the content in the beauty blogging scene. Some people are still doing a fantastic job talking about what they like or have tried recently, but it feels like there is a lot of noise with people churning out sponsored posts with products they wouldn’t normally buy, or saying that a skincare product is the best thing ever, when they’ve only had it for a few days. It doesn’t work like that, and as a result feels a bit fake to me.

People can do what they want with their blogs, but I’ve had a bit of a spring-clean of the blogs I read, and the people who are still there are people with something unique and individual to say. I think this is going to become increasingly important as the number of blogs gets higher and higher – we need to stand out from the crowd by having something original to say. Otherwise we just melt into the noise. I don’t want to do that.

So what’s coming up this year?

I’ve already changed my tag line on the blog and am not entirely happy with it, so what you see now might not be the final version.

  • My course is definitely a bigger part of my life now – I wasn’t even doing it when I started the blog – so I want to talk about it in a way that is engaging for those who understand far more than I do and those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. That could be a challenge, but I’ll try!
  • Accessibility has always been something that interests me, so I’ll continue posts on that, with a focus on websites, apps and access to information.
  • I abandoned my book reviews last year, but I quite enjoy writing them if I have something to say about the issues in the book as well. So you’ll probably see more of those.
  • There will still be some beauty and skincare posts when I have something to say, but you can expect fewer of this type of post.
  • Animals, and especially dogs, will no doubt still feature, along with the charities that Unseen Beauty supports.
  • I’m not feeling inclined to publish guest posts, unless I think the subject’s really relevant, but I do have plans to interview people who have interesting stories or insights to share – watch this space!
  • More general things that interest me. I noticed that some of the posts that got the most engagement were the ones where I shared a story or idea that started a discussion. I’d like to see more of that because I am genuinely interested in what my readers think!

So, whilst people are still being told to find their blogging niche, I’m busting out of mine and looking to make Unseen Beauty more diverse! Hopefully you’ll stay with me on this journey of discovery!

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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!

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