It brings out the best and worst in us

What a strange week last week was. Struggles to get a delivery of my online shopping – to the point where the site couldn’t be accessed and the app has been taken offline. I finally got a slot, but a number of things were completely sold out and I have to wait 5 days instead of the usual one or two.

People buying their own weight in toilet rolls. Why toilet rolls? Chocolate would make more sense!

Rice, pasta, tinned vegetables – all in short supply. Some flu remedies completely cleaned out, as well as medication that some of us have to take as an ongoing prescription – thanks panic buyers.

No hand sanitiser anywhere.

It was frustrating, but we mostly got what we wanted and have enough non-perishables to be ok for a couple of weeks if we end up in quarantine. This made me feel better, especially as it’s harder for me to get out to the shops on my own. But everything in moderation.

People complain about social media being the root of all evil, but I’ve seen some really good things on social media lately. Small business owners pulling together to lift each other up and help plan for the future. People looking out for those who might find it harder to get out or go to the shops for basic supplies. People reaching out to each other in Facebook groups, even though they don’t really know each other, to help those who are on their own or don’t have transport to hunt around for things that have sold out. People making each other smile. That video of the people singing together on the balconies in Italy. There is a lot of good around, and it’s good to see people helping one another and standing together in these difficult times.

I’ve had offers from two different countries if I get really stuck and need something. Offers of help from people closer by as well.

It also brings out the worst though. The selfish panic buying – or hamster buying as it’s called in Germany – that leaves some people with more than they could ever need and others without anything. People who are buying things that are in short supply just so that they can sell them on at a profit.

I’ve seen multiple instances of selfishness, and they make me angry.

“I’m not going to get ill, so why do we need to cancel the thing I’m organising?” Ok, so screw everyone else who may have underlying conditions, who may be caring for someone at risk, or who might end up ill because of your event that you’re still hell-bent on going ahead with. Main thing is you don’t have to change your plans. Lovely! I’m not saying that everything should be cancelled, but at least have the good grace to not make people feel bad if they can’t make it.

I understand that change is hard. I understand that people are worried about their livelihoods and making ends meet. I understand people want to carry on as usual as far as is possible.

Maybe the saddest thing I saw is that parts of the disability community are on a race to the bottom of basic humanity as well. “I’m not as badly off as someone else, and the main thing is that I’m ok. I only have a physical disability – sucks to be one of those people in the at-risk health categories”. Ok, that’s not word for word what was said, but the essence of what this person was saying “was that we as members of society who just have a physical disability can’t be asked to put ourselves out and do anything different so that we can help more vulnerable members of society. Drastic preventative measures will be bad for the economy, and some of those people were going to die anyway.” As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an ok attitude in civilised society, and it’s not ok to not see what’s not ok about writing something like that in a public forum. But it represents that “everyone for themselves” mentality that you see as soon as things start to go wrong, or infrastructure starts to wobble.

Like the story on Linkedin of the woman who took all the toilet roll on the plane because apparently she was entitled to consume anything on the plane. Too bad if you were one of the other passengers who didn’t think of the idea first. She did replace it, but only when the passengers were threatened with a bag search. There would have been enough to go round if people weren’t so selfish.

And that’s the problem, as soon as we begin to feel vulnerable, we go into fight mode, to defend what we have with tooth and claw. I think we all do it to some extent, but there are those who take it a bit further and feel justified in doing things that they would usually condemn in others – because they’ve convinced themselves that it’s ok in their particular case.

But this isn’t a victimless act. There are people who need things like aspirin and paracetamol who now can’t get them. There are people who will be throwing stuff out because they bought too much, and others who won’t have enough. These are scary times, but our own behaviour is making them worse than they need to be.

So I’ve been heartened by the random acts of kindness that I’ve seen, but also dismayed at the ugly side too. And that ugly side is even more ugly when people hide behind their sense of entitlement when others try to call it out. Some people do have greater needs. Some are at a disadvantage. But some are just arseholes looking to make a quick profit or trample over those who are not quite as strong, fast, or well-connected.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


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

Luxury treats – February product review

A bit later than usual, but here are some of the skincare products that I used in February and what I thought of them. All of these products were bought with my own money or birthday/Christmas presents from family and friends. None of the products are sponsored, although the post does contain some affiliate links.

Balmonds

This wasn’t a brand that I was familiar with until I started getting Lovelula again last year. This intensive facial oil got me back into using facial oils. I’d had a bit of a thing against them after a bad experience with a particularly greasy one, but this is not like that. It is a fairly rich oil, but it soaks in well and leaves the face feeling soft and rehydrated. The lavender scent makes it a nice choice for bedtime as well.

Body shop

This Mango body Scrub is an old favourite. I love the mango scent, and the fact that it’s a sugar scrub means it’s not messy, so you’re not for ever clearing up something messy like coffee grounds. It just dissolves and washes away. It’s firm enough to feel that it’s doing something to the skin, but it’s not so abrasive that it hurts.

The Ethiopian coffee cream is from the spa of the world range and it’s a luxury body cream. It doesn’t smell of coffee, but it contains caffeine, which is known for its stimulating properties, and it promises to leave your skin feeling firmer and smoother.

The moringa body butter is not something I would usually buy because of its floral scent. I got it in a calendar and used it up because it’s one of the creamier body butters, which I like as opposed to the really firm ones. It’s not something I’d buy again, but it is good as a body moisturiser, and if you like more floral scents, you might like it too!

I was having some problems with my skin and decided to pick up the aloe toner for sensitive skin. It’s super gentle and reminds me a bit of the vitamin E toner. As a rule I don’t have sensitive skin, but I like to use something like this if I have had a reaction to something or just want something really gentle. I’d definitely pick this up again.

H2k

I’d never heard of this brand before, but I picked up the Oilovme serum for fine lines and blemishes as one of my Latest in Beauty choices. This small tube retails for £9.99, and as a 9 product subscriber, I paid £2. This is why I really like LiB – you get to try some new brands and products for a fraction of the price. Anyway – it’s an oil-based serum (sunflower seed and wheat germ) and I particularly applied it to any areas with blemishes. It doesn’t say anything about tea tree oil, but it smells of it, and did calm down any areas where I had hormonal breakouts.

Hugo Boss

I’ve talked about this The scent intense for her perfume before. It’s not the notes that I usually go for, but I smelled a sample of it and really liked it, probably because of the fruity peach and roasted cocoa notes. It does contain osmanthus flower too, but it’s not a particularly floral scent. This is something that I wear quite often, and I finished up my 30 ml bottle. Fortunately I got a really good deal on it in the sale last year, so I do already have a replacement for it. I don’t replace all my perfumes when they run out, but I like this one enough to keep wearing it.

Molton Brown

Molton Brown is usually known for its shower gel gifts, but they have some really nice haircare too. I’ve talked about the Indian cress purifying hair set before, but I got one for Christmas and have now finished the conditioner. The shampoo lasts a bit longer because with that, a little really goes a long way. They smell and feel luxurious, and the jasmin and honeysuckle scent stays on your hair for ages. This particular set is the purifying one and it contains enriching Indian cress extract. Not something I can afford every day, but it’s a lovely treat once in a while.

Radox

Budget friendly and fruity, I got through a couple of Radox shower gels. I particularly liked the lychee and watermelon one because it’s so fruity and refreshing, with a creamy texture that felt moisturising as well. I’m always up for trying fruity scents, and they don’t have to be expensive.

Rituals

Back to the pampering products again – I got this Ritual of Ayurveda shower foam in a Christmas present, which was the Feelunique bathtime pamper box (now sold out). I didn’t even know that Feelunique did these boxes, but I look out for them now. They basically collated a bunch of products to help you have a relaxing night in, and I love the Ritual of Ayurveda scent with its sweet almond oil and Indian rose. I didn’t actually know there was rose in it – it’s not an overbearing rose scent – you really mostly smell the almond oil. Anyway, this certainly makes bathtime more special!

Seascape

This is another Lovelula discovery – the Island Apothecary uplift body lotion. It says that it contains eucalyptus, lime, and lavender, though the only thing I could really smell was the lavender. It was nice enough, but I’d be interested to see whether they do ranges with some different scents.

So, fewer products than usual, but some really nice ones nevertheless. I’m also only talking about things where I have something to say – for example I finished an eye cream and all I really had to say about it was “yeah it was ok” and I don’t think that makes interesting reading! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these products, and if you have, what you thought of them.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


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

Good, but could be better – my thoughts on the Chancellor’s decision to scrap the tax on ebooks

With all the talk of coronavirus and its impact on our economy, some of the smaller changes in Rishi Sunak’s budget yesterday haven’t received much attention. I’d like to mention one though.

I have loved to read since I was a small child. In those days it was Braille books. Now, I usually read audio books or ebooks on my phone. Sometimes I buy them. Other times I borrow them from the library.

I haven’t always had the same access to books as my sighted friends – sometimes it takes a while for an accessible version to be made available – and by the time it has, all your friends have read it. You can only avoid the spoilers for so long. But with the rise of ebooks, this has got a lot better in recent years.

What did Rishi Sunak say?

According to yesterday’s budget, from 1st December, the 20% tax on ebooks and online newspapers, magazines, periodicals and journals will be abolished. This will put them in the same category as physical books and periodicals, which are already exempt from the tax. Whilst some newspapers provide free content on their websites, if you sign up for a paid subscription, it is currently subject to the sales tax.

The government expects the publishing industry to pass these savings on. If this happens, it will mean savings for the consumer, and no sales tax to pay for those who consume information in digital formats such as ebooks or online subscriptions.

How will this help?

For a start, it’s good for anyone who likes reading ebooks.

In the interest of transparency, I’ve written two books, which can be bought as ebooks, and as it stands at the moment, around 70% of the people who bought my books have purchased the ebook versions. I’m happy that in the future, both versions of my books will be tax-exempt.

We can talk all day about whether you prefer online or hard-copy books. Ultimately I don’t believe there’s a right answer – do what you enjoy doing. Reading should be fun after all, and people should have a choice about how they want to read their books.

Choice is good, but not everybody has the same degree of choice. I can’t read hard copy books. It doesn’t matter how big the font is – they are not useful to me. I could laboriously scan each page with an OCR app on my phone, but for me, that would be disproportionately more work than any sighted person would have to do in order to read the same information. It’s not the same as curling up on the sofa to read a good book and relax.

So, having the 20% tax exemption for ebooks means that there is more of a level playing field, and although ebooks are generally cheaper than hard copy books anyway, it’s still good that people like me are not being forced to pay tax on material that other people can access tax-free. That’s only fair, right?

Also, it’s good for the planet. Books can be passed on to other readers, but most newspapers and magazines aren’t kept after they’ve been read. So it’s great that those of us who want or need to read the information in the tree-friendly way will be able to do so without being taxed for it!

So why do some people feel that this doesn’t go far enough?

The issue is that the tax exemption will not apply to audio books, and many blind people would prefer to listen to a book as an audio version read by a real person, than an ebook read by the computerised voice of their screenreader.

I’ve been listening to screenreader voices for the last 30 plus years. I have them set to read faster than most of my sighted friends understand. I spend a large part of every day listening to them because this is how I do my job, research information, read emails, and occasionally also read books. Screenreader voices have come on a long way since the somewhat robotic voices I listened to at school, but they’re still not the same as a living, breathing human, who can inject life into a dialogue, learn how to pronounce more complicated names, or add the human touch to the listener’s experience.

For non-fiction books, I’m happy to take the information however I can get it. But when it comes to fiction, I prefer a human reader over my screenreader too. It’s more enjoyable to listen to. More relaxing. An overall better listener experience. Unless of course you get a narrator that you really don’t like, but this happens vary rarely to me.

I’m a member of Audible (here’s my review on my Audible membership), and there are often good deals there, which means that my book habit isn’t as expensive as it might be.

But as it stands at the moment, anyone who chooses to purchase audio books will still be paying 20% tax on them, whereas people choosing other formats will not.

Not just blind people

Also, It’s not only blind people who enjoy audio books. There are older people, people with dyslexia, people who spend their days looking at a computer screen, people who spend time driving or commuting, people who want to learn English – I know people in all of these categories who enjoy audio books because for some personal reason, the audio books provide something that printed or online versions do not.

Is it really fair to tax all of these people when they want to buy books? Let me know what you think in the comments.

So thanks Mr Sunak – I do appreciate the tax exemption for online materials, but it would have been really good if audio books could have been included as well.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


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

Every night in my dreams – a blind woman talks about dreaming

Of all the things I wonder about when it comes to people who are different from me for whatever disability-related reason, dreaming isn’t one of the first things that come to mind. But I’m often asked about it.

Do you dream in colour?

Do you see in your dreams?

Do you dream at all?

So I thought I’d answer the questions here in case anyone else was wondering!

You’d probably get different answers to these questions if you asked someone who used to be able to see, or whose vision had decreased throughout their lifetime. Their brain would have a visual frame of reference to draw on. Memories, colours, things that they’ve seen on TV. My brain doesn’t have this, so it can’t create what it has never had access to.

So my dreams don’t have a visual element to them because I don’t know what it is like to see. I might see the sunlight, because I can see the difference between light and dark in real life, but that’s about it.

So, in my dreams, dialogue is important – I hear things and sense things, but not in a way where everything is heightened, rather in a way that doesn’t focus on the visual side of things – because I’ve never had access to that.

I feel things – like the soft fur of a dog, the warmth of the sun, or the water on my skin as I swim. I feel emotions, like anyone else, depending on the type of dream – excitement, fear, happiness, loss, or enjoyment.

I can’t steer my way through the dream, but I am often aware that I’m dreaming, so if I’ve decided I don’t like it, I can usually wake myself up by concentrating really hard and then moving part of my body, which in turn wakes me. That’s quite useful and especially when I was younger, it saved me from a couple of nightmares! I often remember what I’ve dreamed about, and can easily trace links to what I’ve been doing/thinking about, even if things are not exactly the same as in real life.

Being blind doesn’t feature in my dreams that much. I still often dream of walking with a guide dog, even though my golden girl hasn’t been around for coming up to five years. I think this is the way that I felt most comfortable getting around. In contrast, the white cane rarely features in my dreams. I think even though I’ve chosen not to work with a dog at the moment, I was happiest getting around with one at my side.

I remember once I was surprised that I could navigate a completely new and unfamiliar place, even well enough to run after someone. I somehow just knew where the obstacles were and how to avoid them. Maybe it’s like when people dream about flying. We can’t do it, but we can imagine how it feels, and therefore the brain is able to build that into a dream.

Languages are important because most of the time when I’m awake, I’m working in a multilingual environment. So my dreams are usually in English, but occasionally in German or Turkish. Then it’s really funny because people who don’t speak these languages suddenly gain the ability to! That’s always quite bizarre when I wake up, but it seems perfectly normal at the time.

So, have I answered all the questions?

It’s important to remember that every blind person is different, and other people’s experiences will be very different to mine.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


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

Lovelula subscription box – February 2020

This post is neither sponsored nor gifted.

I’ve written a couple of posts about the Lovelula box before – the last was in October 2019 – so I decided to tell you something about the February box.

I have mine on a rolling monthly subscription, but there are also deals if you want to buy subscriptions for longer periods of time. I like the products because they are all cruelty-free and natural, and they tend to offer different choices than the similar products that tend to crop up in a lot of the other beauty subscription boxes.

Out of the February box, I’d only used one of the products before. I have decided to keep all of the products this month, and I’ve tried four out of the five so far.

Cleanser and toner all-in-one

This DIY cleanser and toner from Laidbare is a handy travel-size, ideal if you’re pushed for space in your suitcase or you can’t take too many products with you. I have reviewed it on the blog before. I don’t generally go for two-in-one products – I like my skincare ritual with all its many steps, and a cleanser and toner do quite different things, so I don’t really understand the science behind something that claims to do both.

Having said that, I’ve already used this up, and it’s the nicest-smelling product in the box (probably due to the apple secret extract, which is nice and fresh). It also contains aloe and liquorice extract, both good for reducing inflammation, cleansing and toning the skin. It’s like a cleansing gel and due to the inflammation-reducing ingredients, I got it out when hormonal breakouts showed their ugly heads!

Face mask

Another product from Laidbare, which if you haven’t heard of it is a budget-friendly brand with some really nice products, is the for richer for porer face mask.

According to the Lovelula site: “Kaolin Clay draws out impurities and toxins, Japanese Seaweed Extract detoxifies and smooths the skin. Shea Butter gives hydration and conditions skin, whilst Liquorish helps minimise inflammation and Rose Water soothes irritation.”

You apply it to cleansed skin and then leave it on for 10 minutes, before rinsing off. It’s unusual because it does have small particles in it that work as a kind of exfoliant, but a gentle one, and at the same time it doesn’t leave your skin feeling dry as some masks with clay can do. I like it!

Face oil

This time we got the new release from OOH (Oils of Heaven), which is the natural raspberry repairing face oil. This is the third face oil since I’ve been getting the box, so they’re averaging at one every couple of months. I don’t mind this as I do use them, but I’ve seen a couple of people saying that they’re not getting through them. Still, I like them, and the value of this product alone is more than I paid for the box. It’s definitely a good way to try out products as they are released, and all of the oils are marketed as doing different things, so you could swap them out, depending on what your skin needs.

There seems to be an anti-inflammatory theme with this box, because the raspberry seed oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also good for dehydrated skin. It is absorbed well with no sticky residue. It doesn’t smell of raspberries, because it’s made with raspberry seed oil, not the fruit itself – it just smells of nature, like when you go for a walk in the countryside!

Exfoliator

The final product that I tried was the Ayumi Turmeric & Bergamot Face Scrub. I’ve never heard of this brand before, so it was nice to try something completely new. However, I’m a fan of chemical exfoliants rather than face scrubs, so whilst I’ll use up this travel size, it’s not something I would buy.

It would be nice to see another product from the brand though – they do hair and bath products too.

Shampoo bar

This pollution patrol shampoo bar from Rescue My. Hair™ is the only product that I haven’t tried yet – just because I don’t want to get it wet once and then not finish it off, and I have another shampoo on the go.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about shampoo bars in general, but nothing yet about this one. I definitely like the idea – less waste and something that’s better for the environment. I’m quite fussy about hair products though, so I really need to give it a go and see if the results I get from a bar are as good as my favourite bottled shampoos. I’m definitely glad to have the chance to try it and will let you know what I think in a future empties post.

So, have you tried any of these products? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Coronavirus – deciding what to believe, and some basic tips for reducing the risks

It seems all of my students wanted to talk about it this week, and everyone has something to tell. I learned about the bulletins you can get from the government in Singapore, border crossings being closed to stop it spreading, a possible case of a customer’s colleague contracting it and further colleagues having to stay at home.

Opinions are divided – some think that social media is the root of all evil and it’s all a big panic over nothing. Evidence doesn’t bear that out though. Sure, I’ve heard of people doing some social media stunts in very bad taste, just to get some likes and shares on the back of trending coronavirus hashtags. Not cool. There have been fake news videos and no doubt some people getting hysterical. But the fact is that the virus is spreading, and I don’t think that on the whole we’re particularly well-prepared for it.

Fake news is a thing, and everyone has a responsibility to check their sources for accuracy before they believe or share things further, but burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away doesn’t seem like a particularly smart strategy either.

There have been discussions about the number of deaths from the flu and from the coronavirus, but numbers can be misleading. The number of people who actually died is less relevant than the number of those who died as a percentage of those who caught the disease. I’ve seen different figures, but there seems to be consensus that the death rate from coronavirus, although low, is still higher than from the flu.

We don’t have a lot of data apart from what’s been gathered in the last months, but based on the evidence we already have, some groups are more at risk than others. So my point is that we’re not all the same. One person’s extra precautions or ultra-cautiousness might not be so extreme when you stop to see it from a different point of view. Perhaps that person is in a more high-risk group. Perhaps their immune system is already struggling for another reason. Perhaps they are caring for or living with someone who is likely to be hit harder if they caught the virus. I’d like to see a bit more kindness and a bit less judgement when it comes to what other people are doing and what they consider to be reasonable precautions. Unless of course someone is clearly doing something that puts other people in danger – like trying to refuse quarantine if it’s been confirmed that you have the virus. Then it’s ok to judge!

I guess I am a bit of a newshound. I like to know what’s going on. Somehow knowledge is power – it makes me feel safer if I have the facts, even if I don’t like them. You can’t make informed decisions on what’s right for you if you have nothing to base them on.

The last time I was in hospital, I received really good treatment. But it’s no secret that the NHS is already overstretched.

Of course you could say that if the virus is going to spread, there’s not a lot that individuals can do anyway. But I think there are things we can all do to minimise the risks such as

  • Knowing what’s going on and keeping up-to-date with any advice for your area;
  • Washing your hands regularly, especially when touching things in public places, and if that’s not possible, carrying and using a hand sanitiser;
  • Avoiding people who are obviously ill when possible, and if you get ill, whether it’s just the flu or something more serious, not giving it to everyone you know. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time at home to recover and most colleagues will thank you for it;
  • Getting a bit of extra food in – not panic buying, but just having enough in case you get ill and don’t fancy a trip to the shop, or worst case scenario, your area is quarantined;
  • Knowing what the symptoms are and what to do if you come across someone who may have the virus (getting an public transport to A&E isn’t the right answer);
  • If you need regular medication, does your local chemist deliver if you’re unable to get there easily? I only discovered recently that some do;
  • Do you want to keep all of your plans? I’m not saying everyone should shut themselves away, but I don’t think I’d fancy any really big gatherings at the moment. To be honest, I never do, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that some big events are being cancelled, especially international ones;
  • If you run a business, what impact might there be and what could you do about it.

I tend to plan for the worst and hope for the best, which I think just makes me a realist.

But this isn’t supposed to be an advice post. I wanted to know how people are feeling generally. Are you worried? Tired of hearing about it? Not concerned?

I guess we all need to try and keep things in perspective – too much information or thinking about it might just make us anxious and we can never completely illiminate the risk. I guess it’s a question of balance.

How about you? How do you feel when you see information about the virus? Are you doing anything different at the moment? Do you think social media is a force for good or misinformation? Let me know in the comments.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

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

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

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

Guest article for the Open University – why the open degree gives me the flexibility to design my own curriculum

I wrote a guest article for the Open University Open Degree blog –
find out why I enjoy the flexibility of an open degree curriculum here!

Blind bride to be – choosing our venue

This is the next part in my blind bride-to-be series following on from my we got engaged and wedding fairs posts.

I’m not going to talk about my venue here. There will be posts about our actual big day after the day. Most of my guests don’t know where it’s going to be yet, and I don’t want my blog readers to know more than the guests! These first posts in the series are more about the planning process in general, and the extra things that you may want to think about or do differently if you have a visual impairment.

Every wedding is different. Every couple is different. I don’t want my visual impairment to be centre stage on the big day because I don’t find it particularly interesting or relevant in terms of defining me as a person or our relationship as a couple. So really it’s more about the planning process for me – getting help when I can’t see pictures of things – getting help to visualise the things that I can’t see, and deciding a colour scheme when I have never seen colours and can’t express my preferences in that respect.

So this post is going to focus on choosing the venue.

Some people have it all sorted – they know exactly where they want to get married. Others have to do a bit of research.

At first we considered various options, but the early ones all had some element of movement in common, and it is a lot easier when everything happens in the same place. You have a base. Your guests don’t need to worry about how they’re going to get from A to B – especially good if they don’t drive. I nearly got stranded once because the people I knew at the wedding had got stuck in traffic and missed the service. Fortunately I found a colleague whom I hadn’t seen for ages, but it could have been interesting working out how I get with my guide dog from a little church in the middle of nowhere to the actual ceremony!

Also, if you want some kind of evening event and are going to hire a venue, that venue probably offers whole-day packages that may end up cheaper or more convenient than other things that you’d been planning.

Making a shortlist

There are loads of wedding venues, so you have to start the narrowing down process somewhere. There were a couple of places that we’d already visited – either as wedding guests at other weddings, at business events, or even wedding fairs.

Going to the wedding fair, particularly the regional one that wasn’t hosted by a particular venue, also gave us some ideas about places that offered what we were after, but that we hadn’t heard of before.

The wedding fair generated a lot of shiny leaflets that I couldn’t read, so I needed someone to work with me on sifting through all the information. I know some brides like stacks of glossy magazines, but I did find myself wishing for something a bit more sustainable like an online exhibitors’ list with website links. I was heartened by some of the exhibitors who took my details and then emailed me information afterwards – meaning I could access details of the venue myself. This didn’t get round the issue of pictures though and many venues let their images speak for themselves, rather than giving any kind of useful descriptions of their function rooms.

Fortunately S is very much involved in the planning and we talked about the pictures and venues before putting our shortlist together. We ended up with 5 on the list – some places we’d been before, others new ones. The length of your shortlist will depend on how long you have to go round looking at venues. I think if we hadn’t found anything we liked, we would have looked at some more, but five was a manageable number to start with.

Setting up initial meetings

We’d both booked a week off and the plan was to set up the meetings during that week. I called the wedding co-ordinators to set them up. We had a couple on one day, but I didn’t put them too close together so that we had time to drive to the venues without feeling rushed, and it also meant we could have lunch at one of them if we felt like checking out the restaurant.

One of the venues deselected itself by being particularly inflexible. Some venues will give you a minimum spend budget and let you allocate it as you want to. Others will try to be really prescriptive about numbers for each part of the day, and this didn’t work for us. Then there were four!

I know some couples tell the venue if someone is visually impaired. This can be useful if you want them to describe the venue, but I chose not to mention it. They’d find out soon enough when I got there and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. All they really needed to know was that they were meeting with a potential customer, and the other information that most of them took about desired dates, party numbers etc.

What’s important to you?

Before we went to any of the meetings, we came up with a list of criteria to think about for each venue. This could be things like:

  • Cost – because only the super-rich don’t factor this in! It matters – both in terms of getting value for money and making sure you’re not going to be spending the next 20 years paying off the wedding!
  • Distance – how far do you want to travel? Is public transport important? (I’ve trekked all over the country for weddings before, so this wasn’t high on the agenda, and we’d fixed the basic area before doing the shortlist. But if one potential venue is a lot closer than one of the others, it might play a role.
  • Venue – what rooms are available and do you like them?
  • Wedding co-ordinator – how interested are they in you as a couple? How willing are they to work in things that are important to you? You can’t base your choice purely on the wedding co-ordinator because people move on and don’t always stay in the same role, but you’re naturally going to click with some people more than others. Can you imagine yourself working with this person?
  • How important is the date to you? Even over a year in advance, not all of the venues could offer our first choice as it had already been snapped up.
  • Do you have any special requests? Due to my sensory needs, a breakout room in the evening was important to us and we needed to find out if the venues could accommodate that. Can alternative arrangements be made for the toast if one of you can’t drink alcohol? Do you have preferences about the roomsreserved for the wedding party or the wedding suite? Are there things that you want to customise to make them reflect you as a couple?
  • Are there any restrictions on suppliers? Do you care?
  • If there are wedding packages, how well do they fit with how you imagine the day?
  • What options are there for food and how well will any dietary requirements be accommodated?

We didn’t fill out the table in the end, but having it helped us to focus on what things were important to us – where there was room for negotiation, and which criteria were deal breakers if they could not be met.

Going to the meetings

All of the meetings followed the same general format – we had a chat over coffee about what we were looking for and what the venue could offer. After that, we walked around the venue, looking at the areas where the wedding ceremony, wedding breakfast, and evening event could take place, and also having a look at the bridal suite.

I tended to do more of the talking – mainly because although I’ve never organised a wedding before, I have organised conferences and other large events at work. I know my way of doing things surprised a couple of people – I was focussing on facts, figures, details – and less carried away with the emotional side of it all. That’s just how my brain is wired! I guess some of those meetings go a bit differently. For me it just felt like being prepared.

I built a better rapport with people who answered me directly when I asked questions. I don’t care if you don’t do eye contact – I don’t either – but looking at my partner the whole time when it was my question is really quite rude and it doesn’t usually result in people getting our business.

I think the main difference was that people described the rooms more – both S and the wedding co-ordinators. I think it’s important to take someone with you if you can’t see the rooms yourself, because people are likely to portray their own venue in the best possible way whereas someone you take can be more objective and make comparisons with the other venues that you have visited. It was also good for me to walk around the spaces and get a feel for how big they were, where the chairs would go, how the rooms could be set up in the evening etc. Walking around a space – well being guided around a space – helps me to visualise it better and think whether this might be the place where I wanted to have our ceremony.

Many of the wedding venues that also do fairs suggest that you come back to see the rooms when they’re decorated, but for me, not having the rooms cluttered up with people made it easier for me to imagine what they looked like and how we would move around between the different areas throughout the day.

Making our choice

This was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had my heart set on one venue most of the way through the week, but we changed our mind at the end. It felt pretty easy to discount two of the four, but the decision between the final two venues was harder. Both would have been great – but it came down to looking at what each venue had going for it and then making the choice. Fortunately we both felt the same!

I do think it really helped that we went to the venues, talked to someone there, and physically walked around them. I get a lot of information online, but it’s good to get a better idea of how the venue is when you get there – because even if you can see them, pictures don’t always tell the full story!

The whole wedding planning process is something that we are doing together. Ok, I’m doing a lot of the spreadsheets and there will be things that S won’t be as involved in – bride-related things – but whether it’s the groom or someone else you trust, I think it’s really important to have people who will give you honest feedback about how things look, because you don’t always get this in the sales materials, and the sales materials aren’t always accessible.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


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

Brushing up on my Turkish with Duolingo

A long time ago, back when I began learning Turkish, I downloaded and tested a couple of language learning apps. Duolingo wasn’t one of them, but I was generally unimpressed with the accessibility of language apps when being used by people who need access technology. Just to be clear – this is usually something that could be fixed by inclusive design, rather than a problem with the access technology.

I didn’t think any more about it until one of my friends started talking about Duolingo and how he was going to test it out to help him learn German.

I used to have Turkish lessons every week, and I was quite proficient at one point –at least reading and listening to it –speaking was always my least favourite activity. But life happened and I hadn’t done anything with it for about 5 years. I thought if the app were accessible, it might be a nice thing to try. So I downloaded it as well and have been using it for just over a week. This is what I think of it so far.

Mixture of tasks

I was a language teacher who didn’t take her own good advice. I worked extra hard on the things that I was already good at, and neglected those that I wasn’t. This meant that I got even better at reading, and neglected speaking. It’s a bad idea!

This isn’t the app for you if you only want to work on one or two skills – one of my students told me today that he didn’t like it because there was too much emphasis on writing – but I like the way that you get a mixture of tasks. The subjects are broken down into topic areas and you are asked to do things like:

  • Matching pairs of words in your native language with words in the target language.
  • Listening to a phrase and selecting those words in the target language.
  • Reading a phrase and selecting those words in the new language.
  • Translating a phrase from the target language to your native language.
  • Translating a phrase from your native language to the target language.
  • Speaking a phrase in the target language.
  • You don’t know what order the tasks will come in and you can’t influence it, which means you get a good mixture. Actually, you can ensure that you don’t get either speaking or listening tasks for one hour if you’re unable to speak or listen at that time. I don’t know if you are penalised for repeatedly doing this.

    So, this way of doing things keeps the lesson interesting, and it also prevents people from focussing too much on the things that they find easiest.

    Learning or revising

    I do think there is a big difference between learning and revising. This kind of app is great for me because I’ve had a good foundation in my Turkish classes and what I’m doing with the app is revising existing knowledge. Ok, I’ve learned some new words – I don’t think I ever knew the words for turtle or crab before, but I understand the grammar and the mechanics behind how the words fit together, or which circumstances mean that a word gets extra or different letters. There are explanations and it’s possible to ask questions in the forums, but for me this is more of a supplementary method to practice and develop something I already know, rather than a way of learning a whole new language. I like the flexibility of being able to ask specific questions, look for relevant vocabulary to me, experiment with different ways of saying things, and knowing exactly why a mistake was a mistake. I don’t feel that an app like this ticks all of these boxes, so I would be less likely to use it for a completely new language.

    Having said that, I’ll exhaust the Turkish materials sooner or later and I’ve paid for a year’s membership. So who knows – maybe I’ll try the Dutch course afterwards. Still, I think I’d want something else to go alongside the app if I decide I’m serious about learning Dutch.

    Points and motivation

    I won’t go through the whole system about how you gain points, but you gain more points the more lessons you complete and the less mistakes you make. There is a system of hearts, which are like lives that you lose each time you make a mistake. I have a subscription, which means I can have unlimited hearts. This means I still lose points for mistakes, but I don’t have to stop learning until a new heart appears in my account.

    You can see how you are doing in relation to a group of 50 learners. Last week I didn’t know anyone on my board, but I wanted to move up into the next league. Another learner and I were both after 5th place at one point and seeing that she’d overtaken me on the score board was a motivation to do a couple more lessons. I ended up in fourth place and the top 15 moved up into the next league. The gamification can definitely help with the learning, but the learning needs to come first. I can’t be stressing out about what other people are doing on the board, or letting it take over my life when I should be doing other things! I have that kind of personality that really focuses on the numbers, so whilst it’s definitely a motivator, I need to make sure I’ve really learned things and not just be in the pursuit of more points!

    You can also use your points to buy new hearts if you don’t have unlimited ones, and some languages allow you to unlock more content with the rewards that you gain for completing levels. Unfortunately there isn’t any bonus content for Turkish yet, but there are some stories that you can buy if you’re learning German. I think it depends on how popular the language is and whether any additional content has been written yet.

    Accessibility for blind users

    Overall I have been very impressed with the level of accessibility for this app. Turkish is supported by VoiceOver, the screenreader used for iPhones, and all of the Turkish content is used in the Turkish voice. There are a lot of languages and I can’t comment on how well they are supported with VoiceOver.

    Blind users can do all of the activities. Sighted users have a bit more help in the matching exercises because of the use of pictures, but blind users can take advantage of the information in the tips.

    Having witnessed a sighted user using the app, I think that someone using VoiceOver is likely to be slower. This is not a fault of the app – it’s just that working with a screenreader means you need to read everything as we can’t scan the screen as sighted users can. If I want to compete with sighted users, it may take me longer to get my points, but ultimately it’s not about that – learning is my real goal!

    Another small thing is that I need to memorise the sentence I have to say because I can’t review it once the record button has been pressed. This is also not something that the designer needs to fix – it’s just one of those things. If it becomes too much for me to remember, I’ll just quickly write the sentence down on my laptop and read from there.

    The only thing I struggle with, and which caused much cursing when I lost points, was that occasionally there is a delay when it comes to recording the spoken tasks. If you press and hold the button and there is no delay, you get the usual press and hold sound. If there is a delay, a sighted person can see that the app has not started recording yet, but a blind person can’t. This means that I sometimes started speaking too soon, had finished speaking by the time the recording started, and as a result lost the point – even though what I said was right. I have suggested to Duolingo that a sound could be played once the recording had started, and a representative replied very quickly to say that my comments had been passed on and they were looking into it.

    The only other minor thing is that if you are learning a language that has short stories (Turkish doesn’t) the buttons are not labelled correctly for screenreader users – they are all just called “button”. This could easily be fixed in the coding of the app and would bring the stories up to the same standard as the exercises. To be fair, I’ve only looked at the German stories, so can’t comment on others. This doesn’t make the stories inaccessible though – you have to click the button to the left of whichever option you want to choose.

    But overall I’m impressed and think that they did a really good job at designing an accessible app.

    Final thoughts

    Using the app has definitely helped me to get back into the swing of doing some Turkish every day, and this is what you really need if you want to get better at using a language. Little and often is good, and that’s exactly what you can do with this app – whether you put in 5 minutes at a time or half an hour. You’ve got it on your phone, so it’s always with you if you find you have a bit of spare time for language practice.

    There’s a lot of repetition, which helps when it comes to memorising new words.

    I like the variety, and I like the fact that you’re given tips about alternative answers or small typing errors that didn’t cost you a point, but that you should look out for next time.

    I am slower at typing on my phone than my laptop. That’s a fact. As long as I’m not writing long texts, I can live with that. I think I’ve shied away from using apps for language learning because I don’t enjoy chatting on my phone, but this is just individual sentences, so I don’t mind.

    The speaking tasks are good for pronunciation, but not for spontaneous speaking practice. This isn’t something that can be measured like the other activities, and I don’t think this is a need that an app like this can meet – which comes back to my original point about using this app as part of a language learning strategy, rather than relying on it entirely. I’m not just saying that so as not to put language teachers out of a job! I think there is value to be gained from spontaneous communication with others in the target language, and I also benefited a lot from working with a Turkish teacher so that you really understand how the language works.

    But when it comes to practicing – absolutely – I am definitely learning new vocabulary and getting back into the swing of thinking in Turkish.

    Finally, Duo is an owl, so it has to be good! Right?

    Have you tried Duolingo?

    If so, what did you think? If you’re using it now and want to be friends, let me know and I’ll share my ID.

    More from Unseen Beauty

    If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
    The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.