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

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

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

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

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

Life of a mature student – TM111 – my first module

I wrote some thoughts about my first module in this post about the first four months of my degree, but my idea is to write a summary post about each module once I’ve finished it. So here are some thoughts about TM111.

As the title says, it’s an introduction to computing and IT. I had some prior knowledge in a few of the areas that we covered. This definitely helped me, but I don’t think it was necessary as all of the information should be in the materials. This didn’t mean that I didn’t go elsewhere on occasion, but that was more about my learning style than a lack of information. Sometimes when you’re stuck, you just need to find someone who can explain it in a different way.
I want to write these posts in a way that’s accessible to all of my blog readers – whether or not they understand the subject matter or what I’m talking about – but if anyone wants more specific information, just let me know privately.

The content

The module is split up into three very distinct blocks. This is great in terms of helping you to focus on one thing at a time. A bit less great if you really don’t enjoy one of the blocks, but if this is the case, you do feel a sense of achievement when you get it finished and know you’ll never have to see it again!

Block 1 – the digital world. This was probably the most varied block because as well as a basic history of how computers have evolved, you get an introduction to some quite different activities from creating and manipulating sound, to designing a simple web page. There’s also an introduction to databases and some content on what you need to think about when designing new products. Each of these sections is fairly short and you get an introduction rather than a deep-dive, but I like the way that the material is varied, giving people the chance to try new things and start thinking about what they may want to focus on in later modules.

Block 2 – creating solutions. Normally I would find something like this really interesting – it was all about solving problems through designing simple programs. I’m a linguist, so learning how new languages work is right up my street. The only thing was that these concepts are introduced within a graphical programming environment that is inaccessible to blind people. So, learning the concepts was a valuable experience for me because I’ll be able to apply them in other programming contexts, but as I couldn’t do any of the practical work independently, it was less enjoyable.

I understand why things are done this way – people can get up and running and start producing programmes quickly without having to bother much about understanding how a text-based language works and the grammar rules or missing character that will break your programme, but for me, it really wasn’t fun.

Block 3 – connecting people, places, and things. This was an introduction to networking concepts, wireless communication, and the internet of things. It also looked at some of the social aspects of the way in which we use technology, as well as data security, biometrics, and the advantages and disadvantages of increased connectivity in our everyday lives. As someone whose business is carried out entirely online, I was interested to look at how people interact online.

I think some of the networking concepts could have been explained in a more straightforward way – I just looked up the information elsewhere because it felt that a lot of space was given to drawing analogies with things that we already know, whereas I just wanted to know about the thing we were supposed to be learning about and how it worked. That’s a learning style thing though. I’m sure some people would have been happy that someone took the time to try and make the concepts more relatable.

Things are changing all the time and I imagine it will be difficult to keep this really up-to-date, but I think the module raised some questions that are relevant to us today and the case studies helped us to think about people whose experience of using technology is different from our own.

Some concepts, such as maths, run through all of the blocks. Others are dealt with individually in one of the three blocks.

Assessment

The marks come from three tutor-marked assignments, which include activities to demonstrate what you’ve learned throughout the course, and three electronically marked assignments, which you complete online by answering multiple choice questions or typing specific values in the box.

I had a really helpful tutor who responded quickly to questions, made sure I had everything I needed if I was going to attend a tutorial run by someone else, and chased up some accessible materials when they went astray.

I worked hard – extra hard in some ways – but in the end I was happy with my mark and it was all worth it!

Learning as a blind student

I want to be positive because I did really enjoy doing this module, but for me it wasn’t an easy introduction into studying with the Open University as I believe the initial courses are intended to be. For me, even though the content will get harder, this was probably one of the most difficult and frustrating modules I’ll take due to the inaccessibility of a large chunk of it. Only my helpful sighted assistant and the knowledge that we’d soon be going onto other programming languages and never have to see OU Build or Scratch again kept me going – along with all the positive vibes around Christmas (because this was block 2)!

On the plus side, I could access all of the material, either as downloadable documents or as web pages on the site. Descriptions were provided for the diagrams in the material. There was an active community on the forum, which is run by the Open University, as well as a student-led Facebook group where students can socialise or ask questions.

But, even if you’re doing an open degree as I am, if you want it to be an IT-based one, there’s no getting past TM111. In many ways you wouldn’t want to either, because a lot of basic concepts are introduced that you will be building on in later modules. If you can’t use the visual programming environment because you are blind, you need to be prepared to work with a sighted assistant as there is really no other way round it if you want to complete that part of the course in its current form. The work will need to be your own, but you will have to have someone carrying out tasks for you with a mouse, and also giving you feedback about what the programmes actually do when you run them, so you can check that this is what you wanted or expected.

Most IT modules do have a degree of inaccessibility, but when comparing percentages, this is one of the highest I found, so in this respect, things will only get easier.

All information is correct at the time of writing, though of course things may change when the module is run again. If you are interested in studying it, it’s best to get the most up-to-date information directly from the Open University.

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Why I have a problem with the AbledsAreWeird hashtag

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

What is the hashtag>

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

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

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

Why do I have a problem with it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should we do instead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buying my machine

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

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

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

Buying my coffee and accessibility problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall thoughts

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

I think I need a coffee now!

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5 ways to make your YouTube videos more accessible to people with a visual impairment

I decided to do this post because a couple of the YouTubers that I follow have asked me if there’s anything they can do to make their channels more accessible to people with a visual impairment.

I don’t expect people to completely rethink what they’re doing or particularly to accommodate me, and in many ways, I enjoy “watching” YouTube videos in the same way as everyone else – just without the pictures! I don’t want or expect special treatment. But it makes me happy when people ask this question because they want to be inclusive and make watching their channel a good experience for people who may not be able to see what they’re doing.

YouTube is a visual platform, but I use it as a source of information and entertainment and I know a lot of other visually impaired people do too.

So if you’re interested, here are some things that you could do to make your YouTube channel more accessible.

1. Don’t rely on putting information on screen

If you just display information on the screen, I can’t read it. I know it’s handy for putting up prices or where you can get products, but if you could put that same information in the information box as well, it means that blind people can read it. Information posted onscreen during a video is not read out by screenreading software, but I can use my software to read information on a web page.

If there are key points that you want people to remember – don’t just post them on screen with some music in the background. Either read them out, or put the information in the description box. Some of your sighted viewers have your videos on while they’re doing other things, and you can’t expect people to be glued to the screen at all times!

Having the information in a static place can also help sighted viewers if they want to view a particular link that you mentioned earlier in the video, or to refer back to something.

2. Try to describe colours

If you’re talking about a product, where possible, it’s good if you can mention the colour, rather than saying “it’s this colour” or not mentioning it at all because most people can see it. It’s like scents – your viewers can’t smell something, so often you try to say what it’s like or what it reminds you of. For people who can’t see the colours, it’s great if you can mention what they are, particularly if the product has a name that’s not connected with the colour. If a piece of make-up is named after an emotion, for example, I have no idea what colour that is!

The same goes for clothes too. Is it a long or short dress? Straight or floaty skirt? Long-strap or clutch bag? Chunky or delicate necklace?

Reading out some product information will make the video a bit longer, but I really appreciate it when people do!

If it’s a Vlog, can you say something about what you’re doing? I don’t mean you have to describe everything you see and do, but I enjoy Vlogs more when people give their viewers some clue as to what they’re talking about, rather than just capturing footage with the camera. I get the impression that they would do this anyway, and it’s nothing to do with making the content more accessible, but the fact that we have a bit more verbal information does make the Vlog more enjoyable for someone who can’t see what’s going on.

3. Not all of your YouTube viewers are on Instagram

I know many of them will be. There are also blind people on Instagram, but my time there lasted about 3 days. If you can’t see the pictures, it can be quite a boring experience. So whilst I can understand that many YouTubers want to get people following them on all platforms, there are still people in the world who have no plans to sign up to Instagram. So if you say things like “find out what I thought about the product on my Instagram stories” Or “enter by following me on Instagram”, you’re potentially excluding some people. If someone has chosen to follow you on YouTube, they shouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops to find out what you thought of a product. Even if you decide to do a story on it somewhere else, you could mention your thoughts in your next video as well.

4. Lookbooks aren’t accessible to people who can’t see them

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them because I’m sure some people enjoy them, but signposting is good. I’m happy to just not click on something if I know there will only be music and content I can’t access, but it saves my time if it’s clear from the title or description that that’s what it is!

5.Be willing to answer questions

I don’t mean you should prepare to be bombarded by loads of detailed questions, but I certainly appreciate it when people whom I follow take the time to reply back about things like the shade or consistency of a product. It’s generally a good thing to do if you interact with viewers anyway, because it’s a way to carry on the conversation and build up a relationship with them, but if someone didn’t get a piece of information that they wanted because they couldn’t see what you were showing, it’s helpful if you can take a couple of minutes to answer a question. You can’t be expected to know everything that people might want to know!

I hope the tips were useful.

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Life of a student – the first 4 months of my Open University course

Back in October I wrote my first post about my studies, before the first module had started. It was exciting, and in some ways I didn’t know what to expect. My previous experience with the same university, but a different subject area, had not been great in terms of accessibility for visually impaired students, so I guess I was a bit apprehensive, even though it seemed a lot of progress had been made in terms of accessibility.

Now it’s four months later and I’ve nearly finished two out of three blocks in my first module. So how’s it been?

The topics

The first module that I chose is called Introduction to computing and information technology, which, as the name suggests, gives you a basic foundation in a number of topics, that you can then go on to develop, depending on which path through the degree you choose.

Block 1 was really varied and interesting. Some things were more familiar to me, such as writing basic HTML and recording and manipulating sound. These are both things I do all the time at work, even if the sound production for the podcast is done using different software. It felt nice to know that I wasn’t completely starting from scratch in these areas!

Other things included a basic introduction to how computers have developed over time – not at all technical, but I didn’t know much about the history, so that was good.

Some of the maths gave me a headache, but I discovered quickly that it was more the way some concepts were being explained and not that I was just too stupid to be able to do it. More about the maths in my do I really hate maths? post.

We also looked at considerations for product design and then usability testing for websites, which is something I offer with a specific focus on accessibility. Some of the design concepts were a bit harder for me to visualise as someone who doesn’t know things that most others take for granted such as what certain icons look like (I just care about what they do and that they have been labelled properly) But this didn’t prevent me from understanding the concepts or answering the questions.

We also had an introduction to databases – the ideas for which weren’t new, but the writing of basic queries was.

Block 2 was less enjoyable for me because it focussed on programming, in itself not a problem, but it was taught using a horrid visual programming language, which involves dragging blocks of code around with your mous and assembling them to create programmes. I can’t use a mouse and neither can I see animated characters moving around on my screen.

I really wish we could have started with something less visual and more applicable to real life, but you have to wait for the next module before you start learning textual programming languages. This made me sad, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least the theory and concepts would be useful, even if the practical stuff required me to rely more heavily on a sighted assistant than I would normally want to.

I told my assistant what I wanted them to do and they gave me feedback about what happened visually, because the resulting programmes only run in the inaccessible software where you create them.

I went into the module knowing what I was getting in to, but all of the routes through the IT degree begin with these first two modules, so there was really no way round it. On the plus side, the most inaccessible part of the whole degree is done, because if there’s another module with such a high content of inaccessible material, I’ll just choose another – the advantages of choosing an open degree where you pick all of your own modules!

This module has three distinct blocks and block 3 is about networking. It looks a lot more interesting than block 2, although the main reason I didn’t enjoy block 2 was the programming language itself, not the concept of programming, which if written in a textual language, should be very accessible. And after all, I’m a linguist. I like languages and the rules that govern how you can use them. These rules are adhered to even more strictly in programming, than in languages such as English with its many exceptions to grammar rules, so there’s even less room for error.

Keeping on track

You get an online planner on your student home page and you can see what content you’re supposed to cover each week. It seems some people like getting weeks ahead and then showing off about it in the forums. I’ve no problem with getting ahead, but do you really need to keep going on about it?

Anyway, for most of the weeks, I set aside some time each day in my calendar and did part of that week’s work. I treated it like any other task I have to get done throughout the day and built it into my weekly planner. This worked well, although it took more effort to get my act together and stay motivated during block 2 because I wasn’t enjoying it as much.

Over Christmas I just really wanted to be done with it, so I got ahead of myself, finished the block and submitted the assignment relating to it.The end of the block wasn’t as bad because it looked at some of the concepts we’d been learning in the horrid visual language, and compared it with the same code in Python and Java – only simple things, but they made much more sense to me and gave me hope for the future!

The materials

I get printed books like everyone else, but I can’t use these, so I have been using the online versions of the books. They’re great! You can have the whole block appear on one page, which makes it really long, but then it’s easier to navigate the book using Jaws and jump around the document via the headings.

There are also downloadable or audio versions for people who want to learn that way, and it’s definitely good that more options are available now than there were when I was first looking at studying

a different module many years ago.

At first the image descriptions were missing, but afterI flagged this, my tutor was quick to help me track them down.

Working online

For me, working online is the best part. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to shift a load of access technology somewhere. You don’t have to rely on inaccessible printed books, or stacks of Braille books like I had at school. Braille books are great, but they take up a lot of room!

As someone who is self-employed, I’m lucky that I can set aside some time for study, but not having to go to physical lectures means that I can fit the work in when I have time for it, andI don’t have to work around a preset schedule. I love that!

This kind of course means that you spend a lot of time working on your own. Some people might miss the company, but I don’t. I can work collaboratively, but I don’t need other people to be around for me to stay motivated. In fact, working on my own in my quiet office is my favourite thing!

There are a couple of tutorials in each block. There’s a range of dates and you book in for the ones that you want to attend. I only want to attend online ones and whilst it’s easy to book them, the system used for accessing them is not very accessible for screenreader users.

In fact it’s the worst kind of inaccessible – the flaky kind. Sometimes it works and other times the screenreader loses focus and then you’re done for unless you leave the meeting and come back. The app didn’t seem that good either, although I haven’t tested it with an active meeting room link.

Basically I can attend and hear everything that’s going on, but due to issues with my screenreader losing focus, I can’t access the chat window reliably. To be honest I don’t care much – I can email any questions in at the end. It would be nice to participate more, but the tutorials aren’t really used much for discussion or working on projects – it’s more about the tutor explaining things. At school I was often that kid who knew the answer, but never put her hand up, so although I’d be happier if they switched to something more accessible, I don’t feel it affects my overall experience too much.

Also, my tutor has a list of all the tutorials I booked in for, and he contacted the other tutors to ask that they send me their slides in advance so that I can read them outside of the conference software. Usually the slides are made available afterwards.

In more general terms, my tutor has been quick to respond to emails, answering questions or chasing things up when I haven’t had what I needed.

Contact with others

Most of the time, you work on your own. That’s not to say that there is no contact with others, but you have to be a bit proactive and hunt it out. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to find others on your course.

There is a list of forums on the main website, with a specific one for each module. I’ve also found some Facebook groups (one for each module, and also some more general interest ones). There’s a Slack channel, which isn’t used heavily, but it’s there. There’s a Discord channel, which I honestly haven’t bothered with much because the app was a bit annoying, and I don’t think much is happening there. At the other end of the scale, there’s a WhatsApp group that I had to leave because it crashed my phone and I didn’t want to download 250 messages each time I wanted to look at it.But yes, anyone who’s looking for more contact with other students can join the Whatsapp group and their phone won’t stop buzzing with social interactions!

I attended a face-to-face meet-up too, which was nice enough, but there was no one there from any of the IT courses. So whilst it was nice to have a chat, it wasn’t that beneficial in terms of the course.

If there’s a problem, you have to be more direct about addressing it than you perhaps would in a face-to-face setting where people can see you.

These past few weeks have been tough, not so much because of the inaccessibility, but because of how being more dependent made me feel. I tend to withdraw if I’m not ok, find a solution, maybe hunt out one person that I trust to talk about it with, and then come back and be more sociable. That’s fine for me, but if someone really needed help or support, they would need to be upfront about it, because otherwise people wouldn’t know. So you need to be able to communicate somewhere, either to your tutor or in one of the groups, if something isn’t ok and you need help with it.

Assessments

I’ve completed two online assessments, received 1 assignment back, and submitted the second one. I’m not going to go into my marks here, but I’m happy with them – apart from some points I needlessly dropped by not double-checking something – grr!

Overall thoughts

Overall I’m enjoying both the online study experience and the introduction to computing and IT module. I didn’t enjoy the last block, and if any blind person who uses a screenreader is planning to do this module, they will need to bear in mind that they’ll need sighted assistance for the practical tasks in block two. All of the actual work needs to be your own, but you’ll need someone to move your mouse to drag the code blocks around and describe what they see.

If I hadn’t had such a good assistant with whom I can work well, my experience would have been much worse!

But I want to focus on the positives, because the theory and concepts I picked up in block 2 will help me when it comes to the introduction to Python in the next module. Also, block 3 looks a lot more accessible, so in accessibility terms, I think the worst is over.

In more general terms, I think it’s natural that for whatever reason, whether it’s to do with accessibility or just what you like and are good at, you’re going to like some parts of a course more than others. That’s life. Yes, it would have been better if a text-based alternative had been available to the visual coding language, but it wasn’t and I kept plodding on through. Sometimes you just need to get things done so you can move on to something else.

I’ve basically got a week off now because next week people are supposed to be working on their assignments and I’ve already finished mine. So I’ll enjoy that and then I’m looking forward to starting the networking topic.

More from Unseen Beauty

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Blogmas 2018 -keeping fit this Winter with free, described work-outs

I don’t know about you, but around Christmas time there are more tasty treats on offer, maybe extra glasses of mulled wine or mince pies. So many of us plan to start a fitness regime in January, but really we don’t need to wait until then!
When I stopped my3-hour commute, which involved about 40 minutes walking each way, I knew I’d have to do something about staying fit. I wrote in my post about what I do to try and stay fit – including putting fitness training into my calendar like a meeting that I have to attend, and regularly spending time on the exercise bike and cross-trainer.
My sprained knee from the accident in August has meant that I had to limit some of my exercise activities for a while, particularly the workouts that involved putting my full weight on a leg that probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’m getting back into it now because the joint needs exercise.
So taking some positive action around exercise doesn’t have to wait till January. You can join a gym, but there are plenty of other things that you can do at home too.
As someone who is visually impaired, one of the problems that I’ve come across is a lack of accessible home workouts. There are loads of videos on YouTube, but they often don’t describe what the person is doing very well, so if you can’t watch them, you can’t really follow along. This is frustrating.
You may remember a while ago I did an
interview with Mel from Blind Alive, who developed a series of accessible work-outs which you can do without being able to watch what the trainer is doing. All of the workouts come with text descriptions of the exercises, as well as individual sound tracks to describe each exercise or position in a bit more detail.
I’ve done the cardio ones and the weights ones so far, but I’m now going to be trying some more because Mel from Eyes Free Fitness is offering a really generous gift. From 21st November to 31st December 2018, all of the work-outs on Blind Alive/Eyes Free fitness are free. The company is closing its doors at the end of 2018, and before then, Mel would like as many people as possible to benefit from the workouts.
I’ve just downloaded the stretch workout, as well as some for yoga and Pilates, which are things that I’ve always been meaning to try and never got round to.
I’ve paid for some of these workouts in the past and I can confirm that they are really accessible, and the positions and exercises are described with words, in a way that I can follow. I would have got round to buying more of them even if they hadn’t been available for free, and I’d encourage anyone who is interested in accessible, described workouts to take a look at the Eyes Free Fitness site.
I downloaded the workouts straight onto my laptop from where I usually transfer them to Dropbox so I can have them with me on my phone wherever I am. There is also an app, which I’m told is accessible, although I can’t review it because I haven’t downloaded it yet.
Although the workouts are available for free, you can make a donation via Paypal, and I know a lot of work went into making these training programmes, so if you are able to give something, I would encourage you to do so. It’s not mandatory though in order to download the workouts.
This post was aimed a bit more at my visually impaired readers, but even if the workouts aren’t relevant to you, there are plenty of small things that you can do for self-care during the Christmas season. These include things like going for walks, which is a great way to clear your head as well as being a chance to get fresh air. Whatever else you may be drinking, try to make sure that you get plenty of water too. You may be having some late nights, but try and get a couple of early ones too so that you can catch up on your sleep.
What else will you be doing for self care in the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

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 – I didn’t even know the Body Shop did 100ml hand creams, but there is a limited edition one in the British rose scent. The formula of these hand creams is really gentle and nourishing, and whilst rose isn’t usually my go-to fragrance, I’ll be happy to have this on my desk this Winter because my hands do get really dry.
Glossybox – today we got a highlighter brush from Luxie Beauty. I’m not actually familiar with this brand, but it says the brushes are hand-crafted using vegan and cruelty-free materials. As there is a highlighter palette in the giveaway, I’m putting this in as well.

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
8. Luxie Beauty highlighter brush
Products 9 and 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.

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 friend let me join his Nest so that I could also test the accessibility of the app’s interface. I could have used it, but 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 system, which connects to the boiler, set up the Hive receiver and the Hive thermostat.
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 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.

More from Unseen Beauty

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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.

 

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.

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.