I had to send a letter

I had to send a letter

I don’t know how long ago it is that I sent my last letter. I just don’t do it. All of my business correspondence is sent online and I generally encourage people to write to me online too, because that’s how I can read it. Even my bills are paperless!

Great for me and great for the planet!

The postman and parcel delivery people don’t count – they bring me the things that I order online! That’s definitely something I didn’t have 20 years ago, and for me, even though I grumble about a lack of online retail accessibility at times, it’s definitely progress!

But generally things I receive in the mail, with the exception of birthday or Christmas cards, are junk mail, advertising, and stuff that finds its way straight to the recycling.

So anyway – I had to send a letter for the first time in years.

I have access to a printer now, but I went for years without even that.

We did have a couple of issues though, such as not having an envelope big enough (a quick online order fixed that) and no stamps (fortunately my supermarket does them, so I could just add it to our shopping. But this all delayed the sending off of the letter, not least because we’re still shielding and couldn’t just pop to the shops.

Eventually the letter was sent off and I started thinking about my 21st century mini problem and how things have changed.

When I was growing up, my Nan always had a cupboard full of stationery, and she always had stamps in her bag. She wouldn’t have run out of either.

As a teenager, I was the same, with English stamps, international ones, free postage labels for my international library books, and envelopes of all shapes and sizes.

I had various penfriends in Germany, which was fun, but challenging at the same time. When the handwritten notes came, I couldn’t see to read them. My Nan could, but she couldn’t speak German. So she tried to read them phonetically and I tried to figure out what the letters meant, taking down the letter myself in Braille or on my laptop so that I could reply later without having to ask for help again.

At the time it was good, because it gave me a reason to improve my German – so that I could communicate with my friends (I would type my replies and print them out). I was grateful for my patient Nan who helped me transcribe letters in a language she didn’t understand. It almost became like a game – uncover the hidden code! Those letters were never particularly long though – when I think now of some of the lengthy emails I write to my friends – transcribing the answers to those would be a lot more work!

I don’t miss getting personal letters that I can’t read myself though. I communicate with people all round the world every day, and I am so grateful for the technology that allows me to do this independently – without having to bother someone else, or have them read all of my correspondence.

Ok, my teenage letters weren’t that deep or meaningful, but it’s still like taking someone with you every time you meet up with someone for coffee, and never actually getting to chat with them on their own.

That’s before you even get to things like love letters! Who wants someone else reading those?!

I know some people are happy to receive handwritten letters in the post. They feel it’s more special and more personal.

But apart from the minor inconvenience of not having what I needed to send off this particular letter, I’m glad about how things have moved on for me, and how far technology has allowed adult Kirsty to be more independent than teenage Kirsty ever was!

As for stamps – I remember what they used to cost before and was actually quite surprised!

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8 times people assumed and got it wrong with my access needs

This is actually a post that I wrote for one of my business blogs, but I wanted to link it here because I know I have readers who are interested in accessibility or posts around visual impairment.

Making assumptions about what people need is a bad idea generally, but I wanted to use some practical examples from my own experience to show the kind of problems that can come up when people do it.

You can read my 8 times people assumed and got it wrong post here. Let me know in the comments if you have experienced any of these things, or if you have your own stories to add.

Odyssey box – a hair subscription box accessible to blind people

This is not a sponsored post. I talk a lot about accessibility and the problems that I have when companies don’t think about customers with different needs. Instead of just talking about problems, I also want to use my platform to highlight good practice, and talk about those brand owners who are working hard to make their products and services more accessible, particularly for visually impaired customers like me.

I first mentioned the Odyssey haircare box back in my March products post when I was talking about how much I’d enjoyed the Queen of the Nile mask. Since then, I’ve been getting the box every 2 months, because that’s how it comes out.

The Odyssey Box was created by Chloé, and As well as enjoying the products, I’ve been impressed by her commitment to diversity. She agreed to tell part of her story for this post.

What is ODYSSEY BOX?

First I wanted to know why Chloé decided to bring this new haircare box onto the market.

“I created ODYSSEY BOX to fill the gap in the market for a customer-first brand that could truly stand behind the products it was marketing. When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to the knowledge I needed to really care for my afro hair as I was the first generation in my family to decide against chemically straightening it.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I truly started to learn what my hair needed and started to embrace my true texture without using heat styling tools. In 2018, I discovered Black-owned hair care products and learned the truth behind the brand giants I had been purchasing for many years. I learned that the products I had been using contained low quality, filler ingredients, and in some cases, some of these ingredients were toxic.

It was an easy decision to make, to decide to stick with the natural, plant-based, community-oriented Black-owned hair care brands I had found and after committing my time and efforts to support these brands for 2 years, I knew that I wanted to have a longer-lasting impact and that’s where ODYSSEY BOX comes in.

ODYSSEY BOX is a subscription box service delivering luxury haircare from the best of black-owned brands for curly, kinky, and coily hair textures. We are committed to educating, empowering, and connecting our community, whilst working towards more positive mindsets about natural haircare.

An odyssey is a long and exciting adventure and that is what we believe your natural hair journey should be. I am aware that some ODYSSEY BOX subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair and for me, that shows that the demand for safe, natural, and effective products extends beyond just the natural hair community and so I am happy to be able to meet that demand.”

My thoughts on the products

As Chloé mentioned, some of her subscribers don’t have curly or afro hair. I fall into that category too. My hair is thick, down past my waist, and naturally straight.

I was interested to try out the box though when I saw it on YouTube, being reviewed on Sussex Sandra’s channel. I thought that the contents of the February box looked good, and I’d be able to use most of them. After all, a lot of the focus was on nourishing the hair and helping it to lock in moisture. My hair isn’t dry or damaged, but as it’s so long, I often use masks and moisture-rich products to keep it in good shape.

It didn’t bother me that I wasn’t the main target audience for the box. Occasionally there is a product that is not as relevant for me, such as one specifically for curls, but to be honest, when I was getting beauty boxes including products that were more geared towards my own type of hair, there were plenty of styling products that I didn’t want to use, probably more so than there are with this box.

I’ve been moving towards more natural products over the last couple of years, and I like the fact that this box supports smaller, independent brands. Sometimes I would like to do more of this than I do, but as a screenreader user, I often face challenges with the accessibility of smaller brands’ websites. This is not always the way, but when it happens, it can make buying from them more of a challenge. It’s not just a case of put in your credit card details and go if none of the buttons on the website are labelled!

Given that this is a luxury haircare box, it’s not one of the cheapest around. But if you want better ingredients and to support small companies, that’s normal. I expect to get value for money with subscriptions, but if it’s a race to the bottom with the biggest savings on products, it’s A not a sustainable business model, B not going to support independent brands, and C not going to ensure quality long-term.

.The Odyssey box website is accessible and I had no trouble signing up with my screenreader, so that’s a win-win. I can discover smaller independent brands, most of which I hadn’t heard of before, without having to find out whether each individual site is accessible.

Blind people and subscription boxes

In most beauty and hair subscription boxes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. I have various ways of identifying my products, but they all involve relying on someone or something else.

Probably the easiest way is to ask S – who knows more about beauty and skincare than most fiancés would want to. But that depends on him being around and having time to do it when I want the information. More importantly, he’s my partner, not my admin help. He does help me, but I’d rather be independent.

I have an app on my phone, which can often read labels, but then I have to Google to find out how to use the products. Also, its being able to read the label isn’t guaranteed – it depends on the font, the background contrast, the size of the writing, and the material.

I can wait for online reviews on YouTube or blogs – this is helpful, but this involves waiting, and I don’t like waiting! It also doesn’t tell me which product is which in my own box.

When Chloé asked for customer feedback, we got talking about accessibility. I’ll let her take up the story again:

“It’s important to me that I make the whole ODYSSEY BOX experience accessible. From the language I use to describe hair care concepts to the layout of the inserts in the box, I want every single person who gets a box to have an equal opportunity to enjoy it.

It wasn’t until I reached out for feedback that I learned that one of my subscribers, Kirsty was visually impaired and so my first instinct was to email the inserts instead of including them in the box so that she could listen to the information instead. I did this for a couple of boxes and had the realisation that it was all well and good being able to hear the information but if the products are all in identical packaging, it would still be challenging to distinguish which information related to which product.

I was so disappointed in myself for the oversight but saw it as an opportunity to do better for the August Box. I want my community of subscribers to feel empowered when they receive their boxes, and not feel as though they can’t access what they need on their own. So, for the August box, I got creative and taped some packing material to two of the products to make them more tactile.

The box contained two pump bottles, two spray bottles, and a pouch. So, this time around, when I emailed the information to Kirsty, I was able to say which of the pump bottles had something taped to it, which of the spray bottles did and what they felt like overall. I was pleased that it had a positive impact!

Small things like this make a big difference and only make the experiences for the customer and the brand more positive. It’s not always an impairment that disables someone, oftentimes it’s society and services that prevent equal access for all. I’m always willing to get creative and do what I can to make sure that my service isn’t one of those. ODYSSEY BOX is all about bringing you positive haircare experiences and I’ll go above and beyond to make sure of it.”

My customer experience

Of course we want good quality products, but the way you feel about a brand or subscription also plays a role. I am more loyal to brands that take the extra time to create an experience that lets me participate, independently and as an equal. When my box arrives, I can just unpack it and go, without having to ask my partner, or spend time scanning and figuring out what things are. I can read my email, check it against the products to see which is which if they feel the same, and get going using them. This is good customer service and I love the fact that it’s less work for me!

In the last year I’ve been working with a lot more small business owners, and I think that they are often less removed from their customers than bigger brands. They appreciate that we are all different and may have different needs, and it is often the small things like this, that make a big difference.
Thanks to Chloé for making her boxes more accessible to me as a blind customer.

The growth goals box

I’m looking forward to my October box as I write this, but the August box, which we’ve been talking about, is still available from the Odyssey Box website.

The growth goals box contains 5 full-size products from Black British haircare brand, shea decadence London. I hadn’t actually heard of this brand before, but having a range of products from the same brand gave me the chance to try them out together over a period of time.

In the box there is a conditioning shampoo, a deep conditioner, detangling hair milk, a curl-enhancing leave-in conditioner, and reviving hair dew.

I use all of them. My long hair can get tangled, so the detangling milk is a firm favourite this month, and the shampoo leaves my hair feeling really clean, without feeling stripped. The conditioner is rich and luxurious – I’ve never seen one in a pouch before, but it’s good because you can get every last drop out. The leave-in conditioners are quite rich for my hair, so I do use them, but they last me a lot longer because I don’t need much.

So – have you tried this box? Would you be interested in a hair subscription box? Let me know in the comments.

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Image © Odyssey Box

8 Wheelchair Access Issues You May Not Consider

You may remember Gemma from my interview blog post that we did a few weeks ago. We’ve also done an accessibility post exchange – I wrote a post for Gemma’s blog about accessibility problems that make me abandon my virtual shopping trolley. Now Gemma has written a post for Unseen Beauty about the things that make life inaccessible for her as a wheelchair user. I guess we all know about steps – they’re the first thing that comes to mind, but some of these other things, although they seem obvious when you think about it, are things that I hadn’t thought about before.

That’s why I believe it’s so important to talk, and to learn about people whose access needs are different from our own.

I also found we have something else in common – I know too well what it’s like to be frustrated at buffets because I can’t see to serve myself. The dilemma of what to do and how to try and make sure you get something you actually want to eat.

So I’ll now let Gemma carry on with her post…

* * * * * * *

Being a wheelchair user, it is often assumed that steps are my biggest obstacle. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t a big deal, they are, but they’re also often an easy to solve issue.

It’s the finer details that can make a day or experience smoother for me and more accessible.

Space

Is so limited in a busy world where businesses try to fit as many things and people in as possible as to make the most profit and serve demand. Isn’t the saying ‘quality over quantity’ true though? It’s about the experience.

Take for example public transport. Those allocated spaces for wheelchair users can be incredibly small.

I’m not sure if anyone has actually measured your average wheelchair, or they just expect everyone to have the compact, sporty, self propelling kind. I haven’t.

There’s cluttered shops and cafes too. Where I feel I have to pass some kind of obstacle course before I even get to my destination.

Awkward tables

A big part of socialising, for me anyway, is eating and drinking.

Steps, narrow doorways, and cluttered cafes are the obvious barriers, but once I’m in the building, it does in no way guarantee a fully accessible experience for me.

There’s the issue of table height. Oh why is it no longer popular to provide a decent, at sitting height, dining table?! Too often cafes, bars and restaurants are full of bar height benches with stools, or informal sofas and coffee tables.

For starters these are always the tables remaining when I go anywhere. Which tells me I’m not the only one that doesn’t find them practical. But for myself, who’s forever sitting at the same average chair height, these are completely inaccessible. I cannot stretch up to reach the bar height, or bend over for the coffee table. My lap becomes littered with crumbs and coffee drips. I have to constantly ask people to pass me stuff or to put my drink down.

The most frustrating of them all though is the table that gets your hopes up. It looks a good height, seems easy to get to, but still you end up eating from your lap.

The chunky farmhouse chic wooden table. They may be pretty, but I sigh inwardly whenever I’m confronted with one.

So yes they are the right height for me, what more could I want? Well getting close enough to eat from them would be a start. The chunky legs are often too close together, particularly if I’m on an end or it’s a small table for two, for my wheelchair to fit between. There’s always a large wooden rim underneath that my knees can’t quite get under. Socially, this works better than the bar benches, but not practically.

I so often end up sitting at an awkward angle or eating from my lap when dining out. It’s one of my biggest annoyances.

My table of choice would be circular. Not only is it much more sociable for speaking with a group of people, but also easier to drive up to due to minimal legs. The curve is also a bonus when armrests and joystick controls get in the way.

Buffet restaurants

Sticking with the dining and socialising theme. A slight dread washes over me when someone suggests the buffet style restaurant. Buffets are one of my most uncomfortable and inaccessible dining experiences. Don’t get me wrong, having a variety of options is a bonus, as is trying things I maybe wouldn’t otherwise. But not only does the thought of hygiene make me twitch, I find the whole affair very confusing.

I never know what to do for the best. I obviously cannot serve myself. I can barely even see the dishes if they are on one of those bar style serving areas.

I hate getting in the way, it’s hard enough getting to my table in the first place in some restaurants, having to push past and interrupt other diners.

Do I cause a scene and go look at food I can’t even properly see, to instruct a friend to dish it up for me? Do I take a quick browse on the way in and make mental notes of a couple of things? Do I ask someone to go up and let me know what’s there? Maybe taking the odd photo to show me? Or do I go roulette and just send someone that hopefully knows me well to bring back a surprise plate of maybe not delights?

It’s all just too much effort. Whatever I choose, I’ll wish I didn’t.

The food height is often level with my shoulders. Could you easily view and serve food at that level?

How do you make the buffet restaurant accessible?

I’m not sure. Maybe a menu of the regulars? Or even a live stream of what foods are on offer and how they look? Maybe an app? I could deal with the sending a friend to dish up bit then. Even though it will never be my first dining choice.

Eye level displays

Being at a lower height than many doesn’t only pose a problem when viewing food, but also causes restrictions on pursuing the shops.

Jewellery counters can be particularly difficult to view when seated. As can clothing that is displayed high up.

In most instances I can point out things I’m interested in and they can be brought closer to me so that I can view the item in detail. At other time’s I’ve got the person I’m with to take photographs on my phone, but this doesn’t always provide scale or detail.

It’s also the case for display cabinets in museums and galleries. Where often the treasure on display is encased in glass on a plinth that’s eye level for those standing. There is no other way to view the object, it cannot be removed or even photographed.

I understand that some things need to be seen from a certain perspective, and with art this can be crucial.

Lower displays, though, can still be viewed by people standing, or even people that aren’t very tall. Images or booklets could assist with visuals, but shouldn’t replace the opportunity to see something in the flesh.

Directions

When you’re seated at the height of most people’s belly button, it’s not always easy to find your way around. Signposts are high, so if I’m too close I have no chance of seeing without snapping my neck. I understand the reasoning of them being high, so that they can be seen at a distance above a crowd of people. But when your viewpoint in a crowd is a mass of bums, you’re never going to see over the heads to search for a sign.

Maps aren’t much better. You know the ones you find at zoos or parks, city centres or shopping malls. They may seem low when you’re standing, and maybe some thought has gone into them being at a universal height (I do get that those standing don’t want to be constantly hunched with bad backs), but when they’re still higher than your eye level and you can’t get close enough to see the tiny writing because your foot plates and knees are in the way. Height isn’t the only problem.

Getting close

Being at a distance from things is one of my biggest accessibility challenges. Sitting means that your knees and feet are always in front of you, getting in the way. There are ways around this, for example overhanging surfaces, sinks and information boards. But they’re rare. I see many wheelchair users struggle with the side on approach. Where you jut your wheels sideways so to be able to reach things. It requires dexterity, a bendy torso, and the neck of an owl. This isn’t an option for me.

Shop counters

Are a big one for the sideways position. Facing head on to the till or customer service desk means that I am not within arms reach of the counter or a friendly speech level distance from the shop assistant.

This is an issue using cash points, paying in shops, being served at bank or post office desks and the like. Anywhere that you need to be face on with something but there is no leg room.

Lift buttons

The same goes for lift buttons. Or any buttons really. Those at crossings, doorbells, intercoms. They all rely on foot butting and stretching, or the side on position. Neither of which are easily accessible for myself or others.

I have noticed recently that some automatic door opening buttons (I know, automatic shouldn’t require a button) are on a type of post at a distance from the door. These are actually much easier to press.

What I dream of is an app that you can use to call lifts, press road crossings, etc. I basically want all buttons to be accessible via my phone. Or even better, mind control.

Until then, some of these small changes could make a big difference to many.

Check out Gemma’s other links

Wheelescapades Blog
Twitter
Facebook
and Instagram.

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Guest interview with Caz from InvisiblyMe

Guest interview with Caz from InvisiblyMe

First we had an interview from Gemma. The next in my series is Caz from the InvisiblyMe blog – you may have already seen her name as she’s a regular commenter on this blog. Thanks to Caz for answering my questions and I definitely recommend that you check out her blog. She’s kind, helpful and I always enjoy our chats. And yes, chocolate tester or golden retriever dog minder are also up there on my list of top jobs!

1. What is the name of your blog and how did you come to decide on that name?

InvisiblyMe – At the time, I wanted to emphasise invisible conditions and I thought the personalisation of ‘me’ was a subtle nod to ME/CFS, a condition I have.

2. Why did you start writing a blog?

Shortly after having my first stoma surgery and starting the next chapter of my life with a bag in tow, I wanted to reach out to the online world. After continuing sick leave, I was then let go from the job I loved because of continuing surgeries and ill health, leaving me with more time and the desire to focus on something positive. I’d hoped to share things I was discovering and learning along the way, to connect and let others know they weren’t alone. I realised that, as my health continued to go downhill, I had a general niche of chronic illness and pain to explore, not just stoma shenanigans. From there I branched out and InvisiblyMe is now a more general blog to cover lifestyle, health, wellbeing, finances and awareness.

3. If you could change one law to improve life for people with disabilities, what would it be?

The law of fair & free access : It would be illegal for any person to not be able to receive adequate medical care, diagnostic tests and treatment and it would be illegal to be charged for such services. You didn’t say the law had to be realistic!

4. A friend is coming over for a relaxing evening. What will you be doing/eating/drinking/watching?

I don’t have friends to hang out with so it would just be me flying solo, but that also means I can commandeer the blanket, can fidget as much as I like, and I would be free to devour all the snacks to myself. There would be tea and an endless supply of chocolate, preferably Maltesers & Lindt for special occasions, or a tub of Breyers ice-cream. With the current coronavirus situation, I’ve not been able to find Maltesers at a reasonable price so all snacks are officially on ration.

5. What’s something that you’ve learned since becoming a blogger?

You don’t have to squeeze yourself into a box and there’s no rulebook for how you run your own blog. There’s etiquette and tips, but your blog is your own space and you should feel free to run with that and not feel confined to a niche, schedule you’re not happy with, or other ‘rules’ that don’t suit.

6. If you could do any job for a day, what would it be and why?

A psychologist sent to interview serial killers, because I watched too many FBI documentaries as a child.
Alternatively, a Lindt chocolate tester or golden retriever dog minder would be perfect.

7. What’s one thing you would like people to know about your disability, or people who have the same access needs as you?

Of the things I deal with, such as the stoma bag, chronic migraines, autoimmune connective tissue disease, fibromyalgia, bronchiectasis etc, there’s no one thing that defines how well I’m doing. Many of those with chronic illness have more than one condition and we all experience things differently. Just because someone with a stoma travels the world, doesn’t mean I’m up for that or capable of it, and you need to consider the other issues a person may or may not have. It’s not a race and there’s no comparison. We all have a unique experience of any given illness / disability, not to mention different levels of support, other things going on in our lives, and so on. Each person’s experience is unique.

8. When was the last time you tried something new, and what was it?

Putting a loaf of bread in the freezer. It’s nothing wildly amazing but it’s rocked my world. Trying to lengthen the time between shops because of the coronavirus means we’re all having to adapt, and tricks like this can be very helpful in making your supplies go further and last longer.

9. What does accessibility mean to you?

Any place or type of activity could throw up an accessibility problem in the online and offline worlds. Being accessible should mean that nobody is excluded from doing, visiting or using something, and they should be able to do so with a similar amount of time and effort as those without a disability.

10. What activities make you lose track of time?

Reading and commenting on other blogs, falling into a really good TV series at night, or turning the pages on a dangerously good book until you realise you’ve spent the last hour desperately needing to pee and now it may be too late..!

11. What’s one blog post (written by you) that you would like people to read?

To use a more recent one, I’d perhaps say my post on the terrors of public toilets with invisible conditions. I wanted to raise a little awareness and provoke thought for the types of issues unseen to others that can cause public loos to be a problem in some way or can warrant the need to use a disabled toilet.

12. Can you think of one or two bloggers that you think my readers should check out in addition to your blog?

There are too many for me to choose between and I’m painfully indecisive. I’ll go for…

Terri at Reclaiming Hope, for her wonderful support, insights and wisdom from a chronic illness perspective

and

Holly at Wholeness Haven, for advice, reflections and beautifully inspiring content

Here’s where you can find Caz

InvisiblyMe blog
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

Thanks again Caz and thanks too for the things I’ve learned through your blog about conditions and accessibility challenges that I hadn’t come across before.

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Interview with Gemma from the Wheelescapades blog

We’re doing something different this week. I’ve got the first in a series of interviews with you from some of my blogger friends. I wanted to introduce you to them and their blogs, and I also wanted to get some conversations going about disability and accessibility, bringing in some different perspectives.

I’ve been following Gemma’s blog for a while. I can’t remember how I initially found her – I think it was a blogging group, but I enjoy reading her blog – not just because she enjoys cheese as much as I do, but because her blog makes me smile, and it also makes me think. I hadn’t considered some of the access issues that wheelchair users face on a day-to-day basis. Ok, I guess we can all think of how the lack of step-free access is a dealbreaker if you want to go somewhere, but Gemma has also got me thinking about things like the height of product displayss, and how the type of table at a restaurant can affect how accessible it is to use. (As a guide dog owner, I wasn’t a fan of those ones with the big round base either, but I’d never considered the problems they cause if you want to wheel right up to it).

Having said that, although many of our experiences and accessibility frustrations are different, there’s a lot that we have in common. Just wanting to be able to do the same things as our friends without having to plan everything in advance, or the frustration of jumping through extra hoops to get the same results. The assumtions that our friends are our carers, and the fact that we would love to see a world where we didn’t need to talk about accessibility and inclusion as much because they were built in to the design, not an afterthought.

So anyway, that’s enough from me – here are Gemma’s answers to my questions. Be sure to check her blog out as well.

1. What is the name of your blog and how did you come to decide on that name?

Wheelescapades is the name of my blog, one word. Although too many people like to refer to it as Wheel Escapades. It took me long enough to combine the two words (as you can see how creative it is. Ha!), so I do get frustrated.

The origin is fairly straightforward. Wheel – I’m a wheelchair user. Escapades – a type of adventure. Basically my life.

2. Why did you start writing a blog?

I’d considered blogging for quite a while before I plucked up the courage and took the plunge. I’ve never written anything in my life, that wasn’t essays in education and one line stories as a kid. Though I did want to be a journalist as a teen.

Friends had often joked that I should write about the dramas of my life, our social life. Dramas that mainly happened because of my wheels. Getting stuck in lifts, turning up at restaurants to find I’ve been seated up a step. ‘Oh it’s ok, we’ll help you up, lift your wheelchair’. No you won’t.

People assume my friends are carers, that they’re doing a good deed. They think that I cannot reply myself when asked if I enjoyed my meal. They ask the person with me ‘would you like a bag with that?’. I’ve got my own.

I wanted to raise awareness of disability and accessibility. That we are all just people with the same needs and dreams. I wanted to do this as a human, with a life and a personality. I wanted to make people think but laugh. I hope I do that.

3. If you could change one law to improve life for people with disabilities, what would it be?

I don’t even know where to start.

The Equality Act 2010 states that venues should ‘make reasonable adjustments’ to enable equal access for all. This is a start, but not enough. Who decides what reasonable is?

I long for a world I can access without thinking, without planning. I aim for spontaneity.

What would be great is if all venues and events had to state their accessibility online. I mean the finer details. No step. Step height. Door width. Lift. Lift size. Does it actually work. Accessible bathroom. Size. Facilities. Table height. Steps inside. Corridor width. Length.

This may seem trivial or picky, but this information would make a huge difference to the planning of my day. Because planning is a huge part of being disabled.

4. A friend is coming over for a relaxing evening. What will you be doing/eating/drinking/watching?

I’m not much of an evening person. More of a daytime socialiser. This will be a mid afternoon chill involving tea and cake.

I’m a Netflix binger, so whatever the latest drama season is will be our entertainment.

5. What’s something that you’ve learned since becoming a blogger?

I’ve learned that there are good people out there. Social media can be such an intimidating and judgemental place. The blogging community though, I’ve met some great people with so much support, motivation and kindness.

I’ve also learned I can have my say. Sometimes people find it interesting or useful, sometimes people can relate, sometimes they don’t.

I’ve learned I have a need to write.

6. If you could do any job for a day, what would it be and why?

This is a question that comes up in converse throughout life. I’ve always answered along the lines of Artist, Designer, Journalist. Something creative. Those are real jobs I’d love to do.

Recently I’ve thought a bit more about this, outside of my box a little. I’ve decided I’d choose to be an astronaut. Not only would going to space be pretty cool, but I’d like to know what it feels like to move my limbs freely. To be weightless.

I cannot lift my arms at all without support, so the idea of maybe scratching my head would be awesome.

7. What’s one thing you would like people to know about your disability, or people who have the same access needs as you?

I want people to be aware of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I want them to know it’s not all about the wheels, but also it’s not the end of the world.

SMA means that I’m a wheelchair user, but it’s not the wheels I struggle with. It’s the weakness, the limited movement, the breathing difficulties.

Oh and people’s assumptions.

8. When was the last time you tried something new, and what was it?

I’ve not been very adventurous of late. But who knew chilli cheese hot cross buns could be a thing? An amazing thing that you all must try.

It’s not super recent, but last year I tried audiobooks for the first time ever. A whole new world of reading.

9. What does accessibility mean to you?

In obviously, daily life terms, it means ramps, wide doors, level pavements, working lifts, spacious rooms, hoists,

But really it means having equal access. Not being an afterthought. Not having to find a side entrance, traipse through a kitchen to get to a restaurant table. It means having a bathroom I can fit in that isn’t used as a storage cupboard.

In basic terms it means the ability to forget I’m disabled for a while.

10. What activities make you lose track of time?

Anything creative.

I studied Art, Craft and Textiles at university to Masters Degree. I used to sew with my Nan and make stuff with old boxes. I’ve always enjoyed making something from nothing. Turning balls of wool into stuffed animals. Skeins of thread into cushion covers.

11. What’s one blog post (written by you) that you would like people to read?

I most enjoy writing my ‘If We Were Having Coffee’ posts as I get to have a little chat and rant about what’s going on in my life, disability related and not. Readers can get to know me a little better and chat back about what’s going on with them.

The one I think should be read though, is one of my most recent. I wrote this piece for Disabled Access Day. I feel access is misunderstood and thought to be either as simple as putting in a ramp, or so unachievable that it’s mind boggling.

12. Can you think of one or two bloggers that you think my readers should check out in addition to your blog?

Two of my greatest blogging pals.

Lorna at Gin & Lemonade. A fellow wheelchair user that often writes just what I’m thinking, but better than I think it.

And Caz at Invisibly me, whose posts are informative with a sprinkling of fun.

Places to find me

Wheelescapades Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

Thanks Gemma for answering my questions – it’s been great to find out a bit more about you.

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The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

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

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

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

Blind bride to be – choosing our venue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a shortlist

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

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

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

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

Setting up initial meetings

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

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

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

What’s important to you?

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

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

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

Going to the meetings

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

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

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

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

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

Making our choice

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

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

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

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Brushing up on my Turkish with Duolingo

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

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

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

Mixture of tasks

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

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

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

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

    Learning or revising

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

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

    Points and motivation

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

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

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

    Accessibility for blind users

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Have you tried Duolingo?

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

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Thank you Pip box – beauty subscription box emails product leaflets to blind customers

Before Christmas I emailed a couple of beauty boxes with an idea. The Pip Box responded to me and has now made a change to their process that makes my life much easier as a visually impaired customer who can’t read their printed leaflets.

The Pip Box is a cruelty-free and vegan monthly subscription box. I’m not vegan, but the cruelty-free aspect is important to me, which is why I started getting this box last autumn. 10% of the profits from the box go to the charity Animal Free Research UK, and the box is named after Pip, the owner’s dog.

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know that I love trying out new products and discovering new brands, which is why I subscribe to beauty boxes. A lot of the time, you don’t know what will be in the box until it arrives. I have several ways of getting round the problem:

  • If S is around, I’ll just ask him what I’ve got – but he isn’t always around right at the time I want to know, and I don’t expect him to drop everything.
  • I can try scanning the card or leaflet and using an app on my phone to identify the text. This sometimes works, but is less successful if there is shiny paper or if the text is in columns.
  • I can use the same app to scan the products – sometimes this works, but it doesn’t read all of the writing. It might be enough to identify what kind of product it is, the brand, or some random information like what to do if you get it in your eyes. I use this method all the time if I can’t remember what something is, but it’s not so good for finding out about new things. It also depends on the colour and type of writing – the more unusual the packaging is, the harder it is for the scanner to read.
  • Sometimes people talk about their boxes on social media. Sometimes YouTubers and bloggers are fast to get their content up, so I can find out what is in my box too.

But all of these methods are a bit hit and miss for one reason or another.

Leaflet by email

This is why I asked if my Pip Box leaflet could be emailed to me. I can then read the email with the screenreader on my phone or laptop and know exactly what’s in the box. The company websites are also on the leaflet, so I know where to go if I want to blog about one of the products or find out a bit more about it.

This month, Sofi emailed the leaflet to me so I could identify the products when my box arrived. As far as I am aware, the Pip Box is the first beauty box to do this.

As a customer, it makes me happy because it helps me to enjoy the subscription independently without having to rely on others, wait, or use solutions that may or may not work.

As a company, it is one more step to build into the process, but it didn’t cost a lot to add this improved accessibility – only the time to build the new step into the process and the time to send off the email with the information.

Sofi from the Pip Box said “Here at The Pip Box we’re always looking for ways to improve our customer service and subscribers’ experience. When Kirsty got in touch to ask for a digital box leaflet we thought it was a great idea for visually impaired customers. We’ve since added this option to our website, under our FAQ’s section so future customers are aware.”

What was in this month’s box?

In the January, “refresh edit” we had:

  1. A tinted lip balm from Love Byrd (extra points for stating that it’s pink in the description because the name pucker doesn’t really give this away)
  2. 6 shades of nude eye shadow palette from cougar
  3. Black tea body scrub from Delhicious
  4. Face mask and mask brush from May Beauty
  5. Wild rose body lotion from Weleda

I’ve only heard of one of these brands before, so this month’s box was a great way for me to discover some new ones.

Weleda is most often talked about because of its skinfood, but I actually prefer their range of body lotions, so I was pleased to get a mini of one of them in this month’s box.

I’m most interested to try out the mask – I haven’t used it yet, but plan to tonight. I usually apply masks with my fingers, but I can see how a brush would help to get it all even, and this brush is super soft!

A lip balm is a good handbag staple, especially for this time of year when it’s cold and the lips need some extra protection. I like the ones in stick form too because you can easily apply them on the go.

I usually use sugar-based scrubs, but I like to see companies repurposing things such as tea leaves and coffee grounds so that they don’t go to waste.

The palette is something I won’t use because I only use cream and liquid eye shadows, but I’ve passed it on to someone who was really pleased with it, so it didn’t go to waste!

Once I had got my box, I could identify the lip gloss, brush, palette and scrub by touch. I’ve had Weleda lotions before, so was pretty confident that the tube was the lotion and the sachet was the mask, but I scanned them with my app to be sure. It generally won’t read all the information, but generally one or two words are enough to tell things apart, and it helps when you know what you’re looking for.

Final thoughts

I often highlight things that don’t work for me or that make my user experience more difficult, because I want to help educate companies about the often small changes that they can make to improve the accessibility of their websites, products, or user journey. I also like it if I can make people think about things they otherwise wouldn’t have considered.

But I also like to highlight good practice when I come across it because there are good news stories too. Sometimes you just need to ask and the change will be made for you.
So, if you’re looking for a cruelty-free and vegan-friendly subscription box from a company that listens to customers, I can recommend the Pip Box. If you’re visually impaired, now you can ask for a digital copy of the leaflet so you can know what’s in your box.

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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.