Blogmas 2018 – staying warm this Winter with the Hive smart heating system

Earlier this week I talked about what you can do to keep warm this Winter. Staying on a similar theme, I want to tell you about the new addition to our home – the Hive active heating system. We got ours in the Black Friday sale, so as well as making our heating system more efficient and accessible, it was also a bit cheaper!

Why do you want a smart heating system?

When I lived in my last house, I put some markers on the dial of the thermostat so that I knew where 20 degrees was and could then go up or down a bit from there. IT wasn’t exact, because the dial was too small, but I could keep a constant temperature. However, in the night I usually turned it off or down, and as I couldn’t set the heating timer myself, I had to make a quick run for it in the morning and either get ready in a cold house, or sit with my hands around a coffee mug till it was warm enough to type! I probably saved on heating bills, but it wasn’t fun!

When I moved in with S, things improved a lot because he could set the timer, but he was the only one who could change it. So I had to remember to tell him if I had an early meeting and wanted the heating on early. If we didn’t want to be woken up by the heating at the weekend, we had to remember to turn it off, or I had to ask S to change the time, and then put it back again for Monday. When I was home alone, I could turn the heating on or off, but had no idea of the temperature.

Then we learned about systems that you can control using your phone, which should in theory make them more accessible to me. Interfaces on electrical devices often aren’t usable for me as someone with no vision, but if the app is accessible – and this isn’t a given – but if the app has been designed to work well with screenreading software, it can give me the access to the displays and controls.

It’s not just blind people who want smart heating systems – there are other factors such as the comfort of either of us being able to change the temperature or the week’s heating schedule from anywhere in the house, or to pop the heating on before we get home.

Why Hive?

If we were going to get a smart heating control system, I needed to make sure it was going to be something that I’d be able to use. I did some online research, and it appeared that there were two main systems in the running – Hive and Nest.

With Hive, you can download the app for free and trial it using a test house. So the house isn’t real, but you can look at the controls and the various parts of the app.

One of our friends let me join his Nest so that I could also test the accessibility of the app’s interface. It felt less intuitive than the Hive interface, and the scheduler screen was very confusing. Still, it was good to be able to try both of them so that I had something to compare.

I could have used Nest, but the Hive app felt more streamlined and worked better with VoiceOver. S preferred the look of it to, so we decided to go for Hive in the end.

What was the installation process like?

We went for the package with installation, so a British gas engineer came out to install the Hive receiver, which controls the boiler, set up the Hive hub, and the Hive thermostat, which is battery-operated and can be put wherever you want in the house .

It took about 45 minutes and the engineer gave me the product number that I needed to connect the device to our Hive account. Afterwards, as I was there on my own, he explained the functions of the buttons on the thermostat and pointed out how to override the thermostat on the main device so that we could still turn on the heating in the event of a problem with the thermostat. He was helpful and efficient.

What is it like to use Hive with VoiceOver?

We don’t use all the features of the app because we don’t have a lot of connected devices, but it’s been fine so far. We have schedules set up now and I can easily amend them if our plans change or I have an early morning meeting. I can read both the temperature in the room where the thermostat is and set the desired temperature.

The buttons on the app are labelled and I can change the time and temperature sliders by touch.

Maybe in the future we’ll add additional zones, but for now, we’re happy and it does what it needs to.

You can also control Hive using Alexa and Google Assistant, but we prefer to keep to the iPhone app.

The website says you can save money by never heating an empty house again. This isn’t something we did, because we always just turned the heating off if we were going out, so I don’t expect to see any massive savings on the heating bill. But it will benefit us in terms of me being able to control the heating independently, and as a result not being cold in the morning! And a cold Kirsty is a grumpy Kirsty, so that’s always good!

Advent calendar unboxing

Throughout Blogmas I’ll be unboxing my two advent calendars from Glossybox and the Body Shop and giving a brief product review.

Body Shop – another Spa of the World product – this time the Japanese Camellia cream, which is something I haven’t tried before. It’s probably not something I would have picked up because the scent is quite a strong floral one, but it feels like a rich, nourishing body cream, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

Glossybox – I don’t use most of the hair styling products I get in boxes or calendars, which is why I was happy to see a hair mask today. We have the Elgon concentrated restore mask – something I haven’t heard of before, so I look forward to trying that too. It’s a generous size, so even with my vary long hair, I’ll get a few treatments out of it.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

Today you have another chance to enter my Unseen Beauty Blogmas giveaway. There will be a box with 10 prizes from the Glossybox and Body Shop advent calendars, and the prizes will be revealed throughout December. You can enter once on each Blogmas 2018 page, which means you have up to 24 chances of winning. You can enter at any time from when the page goes live to the end of December 2018.

Multiple entries on the same page will not be counted – I have a spreadsheet to log them!

Your answers to the questions will help me to get to know my readers and where they are based. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use inaccessible widgets on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

  1. Huda Beauty Winter solstice palate Featuring one pearlescent creamy formula and three icy pressed pearl powders.
  2. Spa of the World® French grapeseed body scrub from the Body Shop.
  3. Black eye liner pencil from the Body Shop
  4. An eye make-up brush from the Body Shop something will be coming later to go with that!
  5. Real Techniques expert face brush
  6. MUA Cosmic Vixen palette with 15 eye shadows.
  7. Karmameju konjac sponge

Products 8-10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on 31st December 2018, and I’ll draw the winner on 2nd January 2019.
  2. I will give each entry a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or asked for your entry to be carried over to the next give-away.
  4. I will email the winner on 2nd January to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.
  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

This post may contain affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

 

My thoughts on Purple Tuesday -what is it and why does it matter?

This isn’t the post I was planning to write today, but I didn’t know about Purple Tuesday, or that it was set up to highlight the needs of, and problems faced by disabled shoppers.

I found out about Purple Tuesday through this video on Lucy Edwards’ YouTube channel – go check her out if you haven’t already!

This is what I wrote on my Facebook page today:

This #PurpleTuesday I wish for

  1. improved #accessibility of retail websites (no page elements that exclude non-mouse users)
  2. better website descriptions of products (colour, style etc)
  3. better training for retail staff so they don’t try to turn away guide dogs.

Why do I care about this?

The reason I feel passionately about all of these things is that they’ve all happened to me. It’s not a good experience when you have money to spend, or you’ve found something that you like, and then you can’t buy it, or you can’t buy it independently, because your needs as a customer aren’t met.

I don’t take it personally, and I don’t think it’s intentional, but nobody likes to feel that as a customer, they are seen as less valuable or less important.

Problems online

I actually prefer shopping online. It’s one thing to go out for a day out with my friends, and actually S is a really good shopper too when it comes to finding what I’m after, but if we’re talking about me shopping on my own, then online is the way to go!

I choose to give my money to sites that make the shopping experience easy for me. Their buttons are labelled. They don’t make you rely on a mouse. They don’t have sloppy code that means my screenreader reads a load of numbers instead of what will happen if I click a particular link. If I’m lucky, the make-up items will be described, using normal colour words, and not fancy names that give you no idea what colour something is.

That’s not always how it works though. I can remember times when I’ve had to abandon an order of flowers for someone’s birthday because of an inaccessible date picker to select what day they should be delivered. The order couldn’t be checked out without this. So I had to abandon the order and go elsewhere.

I can think of a time when I filled my shopping basket, but then couldn’t check it out, because you could only click the button with a mouse. By the time I got some sighted assistance, the session had timed out and the basket was empty again. I went elsewhere.

I can think of a missed promotion because I had to wait and ask a sighted person about the colour of something. By the time I had done this, the product I wanted had sold out.

Each time it’s like having the door shut in your face, whilst other customers are being let in. And let’s face it, who likes to feel like that?

Problems in store

I don’t tend to shop on my own in stores, because I have to rely entirely on shop assistants to help me find the products I want. This isn’t really my idea of fun, but it should be an option for people who don’t want to shop online, or who don’t have people whom they can go shopping with.

One of the biggest issues I had in shops was the amount of times people tried to deny access to me because at that time I had a guide dog. This is not ok. I usually pursued the matter, ended up speaking to a manager, and being told I could stay, but I shouldn’t have to go through this experience and it really dampens the retail therapy buzz!

Other disabilities

I’m writing from the perspective of someone who is blind, because this is what I know. But disabled shoppers have different needs, and one size doesn’t fit all. There are visible disabilities and hidden disabilities. Even two people with the same disability might not have the same accessibility requirements.

I know how frustrating it is for wheelchair users who can’t access shops because there are steps, the isles are too narrow, or the things they want to look at are way above head height.

Shops may not know themselves what they are getting wrong, which is why accessibility audits are important, taking feedback into consideration ,and working to address barriers that have been identified and are currently keeping potential customers out.

This shouldn’t just be about one day . I would like to see a commitment to improving both online and in-store accessibility to disabled customers – not as an afterthought, but as something that happens as a matter of course.

Is there anything that you can do to help make this happen?

You can read more about Purple Tuesday in this article from the Guardian.

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How do I find out about new beauty and skincare products as a blind person?

As a skincare and beauty enthusiast, I’m always interested in the latest news and shiny new things. But how does that work when you’re blind and you can’t see the adverts or the pictures that people share?

Well, you have to be creative, but here are some of the strategies that I use.

1. YouTube

It might not be an immediately obvious first choice for blind people, but YouTube is great! Not so much in terms of make-up tutorials, because people often talk about all kinds of stuff, and not what they’re doing, but anything that involves unboxings, hauls, favourites or empties can give me great insight into what’s out there.

And that’s often the point – as a blind person, I can’t just walk around Boots or Superdrug on my own and see what’s there. I can browse things online, and often do, but unless I’m specifically looking for something, I might not come across something that will really help unless other people point it out. Eye shadow sticks and cream blushes were a case in point. I just didn’t know about them until someone told me.

Some YouTubers do a good job of summarising new products – Fleur de Force is a good example.

However, many of the really big YouTubers get so much PR that they do really rushed videos with less information about the individual products – not so great when you can’t see them. I prefer more details about fewer products, which is often why I go for the smaller channels because it often feels as though those YouTubers do more with the content that they have, and this helps me because I find out more about the individual products.

When it comes to my subscription boxes, I follow people who get the same boxes as me. Last week S was out, and I couldn’t read the Glossybox card very well. But it was fine, because Claire already had her box up the day it came. I also follow people like Sussex Sandra, and Lightning Lass, who have all helped me by talking about their subscription boxes. This could be things like:

  • Reading the cards (S would do that too, but if it’s a video I can replay it if I forget something).
  • Talking about the colours (the leaflet says nice buildable colour, but YouTuber says “omg that’s Barbie pink!”)
  • Passing on details of deals that I would never have known about.
  • Providing links to the products so that I can find out more information or buy them myself. Yes, I know these are often affiliate links, and I use those too, but when you can’t read the package, reading the website is the next best thing!

2. Podcasts

I spent ages looking for good beauty podcasts, and was really surprised that there wasn’t more out there. It’s a massive gap in the market! But it’s ok, because then I discovered the Full Coverage podcast by – in their own words – professional make up artist, Harriet Hadfield and unprofessional beauty junkie, Lindsey Kelk!

There is always a section about news, and because there are no visuals, the products are always well-described. This is followed by honest, down-to-earth discussions which are both informative and hilarious at times. The podcast also has its own Facebook group, which is friendly and supportive, and where people are genuinely interested in helping each other (not a given in the beauty groups on Facebook!)

3. Blogs

Blogs by their nature are full of words. There has been a move towards more image-driven posts, but most of the time people will write something about the products that they are enjoying or have used up. I don’t stick around if the posts are mainly about photos with captions like “this colour is amaaazing!”, but I have found some bloggers who go into more depth about what a product was like, or who describe colours.

Shops and brands are often terrible when it comes to writing about the colour of their make-up. They assume that everyone can see the picture, which of course isn’t true. Certainly for me, online shopping is often a more accessible alternative than going into the shop, but then I have the problem of working out the shade of something that has a weird and wonderful name! I often google the product and find descriptions of it on blogs, which then help me to decide which one I want.

Blogs by other people with a visual impairment can be a useful source of information too, especially when it comes to tips on how to do things. But I know in terms of colours, I’m not massively helpful either because I often don’t attempt to describe something I can’t see myself.

4. Subscription boxes

One of the things I really like about subscription boxes is that you are able to try things at a fraction of the cost and without having to buy the full-size products. Ok, I can’t use everything that I get – sometimes because it’s for darker skin tones, sometimes because it’s things that I just don’t use (I’m thinking of you, dry shampoo!), and sometimes it’s because I prefer a different type of product because of my blindness (I prefer cream or liquid highlighters over powder). If I end up not keeping a lot of the products, that’s not a good deal. But if it’s one or two, my Mum or friends are happy to rehome them, and some of them go in giveaways, because just because I can’t or won’t use something, it doesn’t mean my readers won’t.

I really like the idea with boxes like Latest in Beauty too, because there you get to choose the things that you would like to try.

5. Newsletters

The basic point of newsletters is marketing. I know that. But as many brands don’t have basic subscription functionality on their blogs, subscribing to the newsletter is a good way to be sent any more in-depth articles about the brands that you enjoy. That and of course it’s a way to find out about discounts, which are also good.

The only problem there is that whilst the message is slowly getting through about website accessibility being important, many brands and shops seem to forget that this also applies to their newsletters. Some contain links that can only be activated by using a mouse. I don’t use a mouse. Some have ridiculously complicated or inaccessible sign-up processes. Some have “your alt text goes here” all the way down the newsletter because someone couldn’t be bothered to fill in the fields in the newsletter software with the correct information. Sighted people don’t see this. People using a screenreader will be able to read it.

And finally – avoid things that don’t work

I’ve tried out a few things and decided that I really didn’t like them – so I don’t do them any more.

For example, I like using Facebook groups, but many groups that I’ve found about skincare or beauty are so image-heavy, that they aren’t fun for me. There are not enough words. People post things like “Hey look what I bought this morning” Or “Which one shall I get?” and I can read through all the comments and still have no idea what they’re talking about. So I unsubscribe.

It was the same with Instagram – apart from the app not being massively accessible at the time I tried it, I found that half the time people weren’t writing interesting captions. It was all about the pictures, and I lost interest. So I’m not on Instagram, and that’s ok.

The same goes for Pinterest. I know lots of people who use it for inspiration, but it is all about the pictures, and for someone who can’t see them, it doesn’t get more uninspiring!

Magazines do have some interesting articles in them, but you sometimes have to scroll a long way past image galleries first. I’ve downloaded a few for free as part of my Amazon Prime subscription, but I haven’t found anything that added enough value that I’d want to buy it.

Summing up

So, I know that some of the ways that other people use to find out about new products aren’t open, or useful to me, but I think it’s about finding out where the relevant information is, and focussing on that. Look for the things that do add value. Build relationships with people whose content is accessible. Try to educate brands when it matters to you. I can’t spend my entire day explaining why “your alt text goes here” in newsletters is super-annoying, but if it’s a brand that I particularly care about, I will.

I think there’s also a message there for brands – there is a potential audience out there in terms of blind people. We have buying power! But you won’t reach many of us if you focus on glossy ads or Instagram (and yes, I know there are blind people who use it, but there are also many who don’t). Neither will you reach us by targeting groups for blind people – I don’t attend any, or read any publications aimed at this particular demographic.

What you can do are all the little things to make the mainstream experience of your brand more accessible. This includes good descriptions of products, labelling of colours, content that doesn’t rely primarily on images as part of your mainstream marketing strategy, and not excluding content creators from your marketing campaigns by including inflexible measures such as an Instagram following of X number of people, when perhaps someone has a sizeable audience on another platform, or access to an audience that would otherwise be hard to reach.

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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.

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Don’t be annoying – 15 things that I wish people would stop doing on social media

Some of these things are just annoying. Some are more to do with accessibility. But I thought I’d share this list here, partly to have a little rant about the state of the internet, but partly to point out why some of these things don’t work, or how they make life harder for anyone with a visual impairment.

I also asked in my Facebook group for English learners what things people there wished people would stop doing on social media, and I’ll share those answers too.

If you’ve got anything to add to the list – anything people do on any social media platform that really winds you up or that you think is completely pointless or unhelpful, please add it in the comments!

1. #Every #single #word #is #a #hashtag

#This #is #ineffective! When was the last time you did a search on the word “is”? I get the idea of adding some relevant hashtags to the end of a post on sites where hashtags are used, but you can have too much of a good thing and it definitely shouldn’t be every word in a sentence because it really doesn’t add value.

2. Statuses that don’t tell you anything, but are clearly looking for attention

Like the Facebook equivalent of clickbait. “Now I know who my real friends are”, or “Some people do my head in” or “all men are the same” (I want to be gender neutral, but on the whole I haven’t seen this kind of stuff posted about women!)

things that make people ask what’s wrong, either because they genuinely care, or for fear of not knowing the latest Facebook gossip. I do have a heart. I can understand if people really need help with something that’s a big deal to them, or a shoulder to cry on at a difficult time, but if you leave it a few minutes until someone’s curiosity gets the better of them, (“you ok hun?” or “oh no we still love you, what’s wrong?”), you find out that it was really just another first world problem, Or the latest friendship drama that most people don’t care about. It gets old when the same people do it all the time. Scroll on by!

3. Answering with pictures

This isn’t bad practice as such, but it’s a pain when you’re blind and can’t see what the pictures are. It seems to be more of a thing on Twitter, but I see it coming into Facebook groups too. I’m not asking the world to stop doing it, but please don’t do it if you’re answering me! You’re replying in a language that I don’t speak. My software can interpret emojis, but not pictures.

4. Retweeting about 20 tweets from another account

We get the idea after the first couple. If we really care, we can follow that other account. We don’t need you to retweet its entire feed!

5. Aggressively scheduled tweets

Like your latest blog post … every single hour. I for one am glad that Twitter is clamping down on this. I know some people have been affected who weren’t abusing it, but seriously the same old stuff being automated and churned out repetitively is too much. If your last 10 tweets are exactly the same, I’m probably talking to you!

6. People thinking all Facebook group admins are their new best friend, or girlfriend material

It doesn’t happen much now, but in another group that I co-moderated, I’d barely approved a request to join when the friend request appeared and someone started trying to chat me up. Really not cool. In fact randomly hitting on people using social media is generally not cool! Ever!

7. People tagging everyone they know so that more people will see the post

I’m not talking about my real friends tagging me, either in posts or when they see something I might like. This makes me happy, because it showed that that person was thinking of me.

I’m talking about the people who tag 50 of their contacts, just so more people see their newest blog post, event, or what they did today. I don’t need that on my feed and it feels like you’re using me so that you can benefit from my network.

8. Hijacking of hashtags just because they’re trending

I think the worst example of this that I saw was a Turkish hashtag about some people who had died, and some insensitive person decided it would be a good idea to use it in their post selling some random thing. If you don’t know what a hashtag means, just don’t use it.

Then there are the more intentional misuses of hashtags, such as people using the #bloggerswanted hashtags to promote their latest post. These tags were set up for brands or journalists to post requests to speak to bloggers, not to be hijacked by bloggers who can’t be bothered to publicise their posts more creatively.

9. Automatic direct messages on Twitter

Do you know anyone who actually likes receiving them? Especially when they follow the format of “thanks for following me. Now please buy my book, like my Instagram, follow me on Twitter, sign up to my newsletter, and send me chocolate!” Ok nobody has ever asked me to send them chocolate, but getting an automatic list of demands just because I followed someone doesn’t make me want to interact with them!

10. Follow for follow

The message still hasn’t got through that it’s a bad idea. If I get 1000 new followers to my Facebook page through this practice, and they never interact with my page, my engagement rate actually goes down, because a lower percentage of my followers cares what I’m posting. Facebook sees this as my content becoming less relevant, so it will be shown to less people. Follow for follow is bad news!

11. People sharing before they check the facts

Often this is done with the best intentions, but people sharing warnings that are at best hoaxes, and at worst helping out the criminals by redirecting people to malicious sites. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a terrible story that isn’t being reported on any credible sites, it’s probably just a terrible story. There are whole sites dedicated to debunking myths and hoaxes, so take the time to google before whipping up your friends into a Facebook frenzy!

12. Pictures of text inviting interaction in groups

Again this is a problem for me as a visually impaired person. If people want to post memes or other pictures of text on their own wall, it’s their choice. I’ll scroll past because I have no idea what it says, but I don’t expect people’s private walls to be made accessible on my account. Having said that, I am always happy when people do take the time to comment on their images, because then I know what they are sharing. The Facebook AI is getting better at identifying dogs, cats, people and food, but there’s still some way to go. It thought our skip of building waste was food.

But the problem I have is in public groups, where people post a picture of text on a thread that is inviting people to post something. I can maybe work out the rules from the other responses, but this takes time – time that other members of the group don’t need to invest. Groups for bloggers and small business owners tend to be the worst offenders.

13. People not listening

People will have different opinions. That’s life. But if you’re going to get into a discussion, at least have the courtesy to listen to the other person as well as expecting them to listen to you. I went into this in more depth in my 20 things that you shouldn’t do to win an argument post.

14. Blog giveaways with conditions on other platforms

All people can’t be on all platforms. Some people don’t want to be on some platforms. If you’re doing a blog giveaway, can you not at least make the main entry something to do with your actual blog? Hard as it is to believe, there are some people who don’t like Instagram, but they might still be loyal readers of your blog or followers of your YouTube channel!

15. People from groups trying to sell stuff via private messages

I run my own business. I am in some Facebook groups for business owners. That doesn’t mean I welcome spam from anyone else in that group who wants to try the Facebook equivalent of cold-calling. You will be blocked!

Points from my learners of English group

Some other things came up when I asked about this – things that I hadn’t thought of. My group members wanted people to:

Stop unfriending people with whom you’ve been friends for a long time, and not explaining why you unfriended them;
Stop posting hate speech and false news;
Stop unfriending people because they have different opinions;
Stop trying to shout everyone down when you have no idea what you’re talking about. The person who shouts the loudest isn’t necessarily right.

So what about you? What would you add to this list? How can we make the internet a better place for everyone?

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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.

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DnD without sight – making the character sheet

I’ve already written a post about making DND accessible for someone who is blind. Today I thought I’d go in to more detail about how we make the character sheets for my characters.

I don’t think that there is any one right way to do this. What is helpful will depend on how the person likes to work. Someone with partial sight might enlarge the character sheet or use a magnifier. Someone who’s not as confident with access technology or a screenreader will probably prefer a more low-tech solution.

I use Excel a lot at work and for organising just about every aspect of life! So it made sense for us to use a character sheet in Excel. However, we couldn’t just download one from the internet and go, because many of them don’t take into consideration the things that are important to a blind person using a screenreader.

So I explained to my partner, who is also our GM, what’s important and what causes problems for me, and we built a new character sheet from scratch.

Things to consider

My character sheet looks a bit different from standard ones because I have the things that I need regularly at the top. My special abilities are more relevant than my eye or hair colour most of the time, so I prioritise the things that I need to refer to more often.

I don’t use a mouse. In Excel, I move around from square to square using the arrow keys. I won’t notice something if it’s way off to the right somewhere, so we start everything in the first column. Individual tables can stretch out into the columns to the right of this, but I don’t like multiple columns of text or figures that are placed next to one another, because I could miss something important.

One of the biggest problems I had with the generic downloadable character sheets was merged cells. I hate them with a passion! They might look good for spacing and printing out, but I think they are a total pain and quite disorientating. For example, if you have a line of 4 merged cells next to each other, and you press the right arrow key, it takes you a cell to the right of the furthest point on the block of cells, not just one cell to the right as would normally be the case.

When I’m setting up other spreadsheets, I usually have one table per page. This isn’t the case with my character sheet, but I split up blocks of information with a blank line so that I can jump back and forth between the blocks using control up and control down arrow.

It doesn’t matter to me whether all of the information would print out nicely on one page, because I’m never going to print it out! I do share it with my GM, partly so he can have a copy as he does with other players, and partly so he can help with design improvements, but we just have a shared folder in Dropbox, so it never gets printed.

If someone doesn’t like or know how to use Excel, they could use Word or even Notepad to store the information, but you do lose the number-crunching and automatic updating of cell functionality that comes with Excel.

Things don’t always stay the same

I guess it’s the same with anyone – if you need a piece of information often enough, you can memorise it. However there is also a search function in my screenreader software, which means I can search for a word that I want to locate in the text, and my focus will jump to it. This is also quicker than having to scan a lot of information with my fingertips.

Another benefit of working on the spreadsheet is that I can quickly note down changes such as decreasing hit points, how many spell slots or crossbow bolts I have left, how many times I’ve used my cone of cold etc. We’ve got it set up so that I have a permanent value, then a temporary value, and a cell which calculates how many uses/spells etc I have left.

We try to automate as much as possible without making the sheet ridiculously complicated. One way of doing this is pulling information from other sheets in the workbook, so the main sheet doesn’t get cluttered with unnecessary additional information.

One of these sheets is all the spells I can choose from. So when I reach a new level and can add additional spells, I can go to the complete spell list page, see what I want, start typing the name of the spell on my main sheet, and the rest of the row will populate with the saving throw, description, damage etc. The same works if I’m playing a character that swaps out spells on a daily basis and having the information populating the rows saves me time.

In terms of magical items or potions, the others use cards that are handed out, then handed back if the item is used or sold. I have the cards too, but I keep track of them on my character sheet, deleting things once they have been used.

Taking notes

I think I take more notes than most other people. Partly it’s what I have always done in previous jobs before I started working for myself – I had the laptop with me and could usually take down more information than someone trying to keep up with a pen and paper. That meant I often ended up taking the notes, and taking other people’s turn to do so in exchange for help with stuff that I found more difficult.

I do it in our DnD sessions because I can’t see the maps and it helps me to build up a mental image of what’s around us. It also gives me the chance to help other players out if we forget the name of the NPC we met a couple of weeks ago. That gives it more of a feeling of give and take when I ask for help with exactly where to go in combat or finding the best position.

So, I have a big space at the bottom of my character sheet for making notes. Each session gets a row, and each individual bit of useful information gets a square. I keep moving to the right until the session is over. If there’s a lot of combat, I don’t tend to write much. If we’re moving around and interacting more, there tend to be more notes. Having the spreadsheet means that I can not only access the important information about my character, but constantly add my own notes as well.

Using Braille

I have heard people talking about Braille character sheets before. I used one once, because we went to a one-off game in a pub garden, and I knew there would be no plug sockets. Making notes wasn’t so important, and it was a low level character, so I used a d20 to track the number of hit points I had left. It was ok, but I missed the ability to write stuff down and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.

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The blog covers many interests such as beauty and skincare products, animals, accessibility, travel, and my random thoughts. There are more DnD posts planned.

I have been interviewed on the Wheel Escapades blog

Today I’d like to share something from Gemma’s blog – Wheel Escapades.

Gemma interviewed me for her disability-related 20 question series. You can check out the interview here, and don’t forget to have a look at Gemma’s other articles while you’re there – especially if you’re interested in tea, accessibility, and travel.

I think it’s really good to follow other blogs and learn about people’s accessibility needs that are different from our own.

In other news, don’t forget that my Summer giveaway is still open – so why not have a look and enter if you haven’t already. The giveaway is international and it’s open until 15thJuly 2018.

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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.

May favourites – haircare, keeping fit, and fruity chocolates

So it’s time to talk about the things I’ve been enjoying this month. Let me know if you’ve tried any of them, and also what you’ve been enjoying lately.

Haircare

I’ll start with my haircare treat. A couple of weeks ago I got a couple of Molton Brown hair minis in a beauty box and I really liked the quality and the way my hair was so soft and shiny afterwards. I wasn’t too fussed about the floral scent, so I had a look on the website to see what else they had. I picked up this Glossing hair care set with plum-kadu, which is more expensive than the hair products I usually buy, but when I think of what I spend on my make-up or skincare, I decided to give it a go.

To be honest, I am getting through these products more slowly than the others – partly because I don’t want to waste it, but a little of these does go a long way and it doesn’t feel that the product has been watered down at all. I can’t justify using this all the time, but if I want to give my hair a treat, it’s definitely something I would pick up again, and I think it would make a lovely gift for someone (it comes in a presentation box).

Make-up

In my April favourites I mentioned the Clinique blush stick that I’d picked up and someone mentioned that there are sticks for eyes as well. I didn’t know about this, so I decided to try one out. The Clinique chubby sticks for eyes are like crayons and you colour in your eyelid with them. They’re a bit like the ones from the Body Shop. Some eye crayons are more like pencils and they are a pain because they don’t glide on well and you have to keep sharpening them. However these ones are like a crayon, they don’t scratch, and you can get decent coverage with them quickly and easily. As someone who can’t see what I’m doing, these are really easy to use and I get good results every time (apart from the first time when I was a bit sparing with it and it didn’t show up very well – lesson learned!)

I also got a Laura Mercier lipstick, mainly because I’d read that they were really moisturising and kind to lips. I like it and am glad to have a new brand in my collection. However, although it goes on smoothly and is quite creamy, I think it’s not as moisturising as some of my satin lipsticks.

Owls, wolves and dogs

When I was trying out the TILI box from QVC, I also picked up a cute little owl necklace. (Link removed as it sold out). I wasn’t impressed with the ordering process, which is why I haven’t done a post on it. There was an issue with the website which meant that my order couldn’t be submitted and I had to call them to put it through. Kind of annoying, but the owl is sweet and I’ve been wearing him a lot this month.

Bath and shower

I mentioned my bubble bar discovery earlier in the month when I was talking about my lovely gift of Lush products On our week off, I ended up going to the Lush Store to see what other bars they had, and came out with a
Sunny side Bubble bar
that contains orange lemon and tangerine. I think I still prefer the Bright Side to be honest, but this is a bit more of a delicate scent for anyone who doesn’t want to be blasted by oranges! Again, it was a generous amount of bubbles, even with just half a bar.

Lifestyle !

So this is the random category for things that I can’t put anywhere else.

We’ve been Amazon Prime members for a while and mainly use it for the free deliveries, next-day deliveries, selection of free magazines that you can read on the Kindle app, Amazon music app, and occasional things we want to watch on Amazon video. However, I also discovered that there are free books! Every month, the editors select pre-release books from different genres, and you can select one for free. I haven’t actually finished my first one yet, but I like the way that they choose books from a range of genres so that you’re likely to find one or two books that you wouldn’t mind giving a go! The service is called Amazon first reads, and if you’re interested in becoming a Prime member, (the first month is free), you can find out more about Prime here.

The lovely hot weather meant that we went to our first barbecue of the year in May as well and enjoyed some good company, good food (yay chicken with mango marinade and haloumi!), and there’s also something really good about eating outside.

I’ve been doing regular sessions on the running machine and bike, but as Blind Alive had a sale, I got two of their fitness workouts – one for use with weights, and the boot camp, which is the hardest in the cardio series. The good thing about these workouts is that they are made with blind people in mind, which means that all the moves are described in a way that’s easy to follow if you can’t watch a video of someone demonstrating the exercises. It’s so frustrating when you can’t just find something on Youtube and follow along because you have no idea what’s going on. In fact, if you don’t do things properly, you can end up doing more harm than good, which is why I appreciate the fact that someone has taken the time to put together these workouts and describe what you need to do. You can find a full list of the fitness workouts here. Also, if you want to listen to Mel from Blind Alive’s interview with me, you can find it here.

Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it just after the work-outs, but Hotel Chocolat has brought out a cheesecake selection chocolate box. There’s coffee, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, passion fruit – so many good things and no sea salt in sight – which is how all selection boxes should be as far as I’m concerned! I particularly like this selection because there are a lot of fruity chocolates in it – and of course there’s coffee chocolate too! You can find out more about the cheesecake collection here.

Fragrance

I wouldn’t say this has pushed any of my firm favourites out of place, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got a perfume in the Pink Parcel box in April. It’s a risk to put a fragrance in anything, but I liked the Catherine Malandrino Style de Paris Purse Spray because it’s a real summery scent and of course it has one of my favourite ingredients – grapefruit!

So, what have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

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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.

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