Is visiting your blog an enjoyable experience for blind visitors?

I share my own experiences and a list of tips that bloggers can follow to make sure that they create an accessible experience for blind visitors to their blogs.

Are you doing any of these things that might be making it harder for blind visitors to enjoy your blog?

Find out in this guest post that I wrote for the Blog Herald website.

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How accessible is healthcare?

My experiences of healthcare – a post from the perspective of someone with a visual impairment

I find it much easier to write product posts, which in a way are more impersonal, but I do also want to have some opinion pieces on the blog that tackle issues around accessibility and the challenges and solutions I’ve found as someone with a visual impairment.

Healthcare isn’t something that I really think about much. I do have a health condition that I need to be aware of, but generally I’m reasonably healthy and I haven’t spent much time in hospitals or at the doctor’s.

Still, a recent trip to the hospital got me thinking about the accessibility of healthcare for people with a visual impairment. These experiences are my own, and this isn’t an investigative piece to represent the views of other blind people.

I think the worst experience I had was when I was about 14 or 15. I went to the doctor or nurse, I can’t even remember now, for a general check-up.

Doctor: Do you need contraceptives?
Me: NO.
Doctor: Oh, no, I suppose it would be more difficult for you.

What exactly? Surely not the physical act! Or did she mean it would be more difficult for me to find someone who would want to be in a relationship with me? I was incensed!

“No”, I said, in my “you’re-tedious-stop-wasting-my-time” voice, with the disdain that only a teenage girl can pull off. “I just don’t need them”.

I have never usually held back, but at that moment I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had said more. I certainly would now, but you know how it is when something takes you by surprise and you’re lost for words. Still, that could have completely destroyed someone’s self-confidence if it had happened to someone else. I was just annoyed, but I still remember it 20 years later. You know the saying – people may forget what you did, they may forget what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

I don’t think any kind of training could have fixed that. Any reasonable person would know that’s not a cool thing to say.

Just to clarify, I am not complaining about teenagers being offered contraceptives, but those who don’t need them shouldn’t have to justify why not!

However that was a long time ago now. The care that I received in the hospital recently was great. Everyone I met explained what they were doing, and when I needed to go somewhere else, people just guided me there. Prior to the operation, there were forms that needed to be filled out by hand, but someone was available to do that.

I don’t have a guide dog now, but when I did and I was visiting someone in a hospice, nobody tried to prevent my dog from coming in. I think they were happy to see her and a waggy tail was welcome in a place where people were going through a sad and difficult time!

Technology makes it easy for things to be accessible. For example, my doctor’s surgery and my dentist send out appointment reminders by text (the dentist does email as well). This means that the information is automatically accessible to me because I can read it with the speech software on my phone or laptop. Access to the internet also makes information available that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to access without help, and this helps in terms of being able to read up about anything related to my health, animal health, or the research being carried out into sight restoration. More about that in another post.

In terms of patient letters, I did have to ask for it specifically, but I got the preparation letter about the operation and the surgeon’s letter by email. This wasn’t standard practice (it would save so many trees if it were), but I just had to request them so that I could have them in a format I could read. It would be helpful if this could be extended to all correspondence, not just the letters that you are anticipating and can request by email. I take it for granted that my business is paperless and it will take a while before large organisations catch up!

When I moved to a new area, shopping around proved to be the best way to find a new dentist. I initially registered with one practice, but I found the guy so dismissive and unhelpful, that I decided not to let him loose on my chompers. I don’t think that had anything to do with visual impairment though, just poor customer service. Still, I’m glad it happened, because I then went somewhere much better. My dentist is kind and helpful, and she shows me what she is going to do, the tools that she is going to use on me, and the plaster moulds of my teeth so I can feel the difference between how they were and how they would be after the treatment.

My eye condition is stable, but I do have check-ups at the eye hospital. The consultants are great, but to be honest some of my more frustrating experiences have been there whilst going through the preliminaries. If I can’t see you at all, then it makes no sense to make me do the “how many fingers can you see” exercises. Fortunately one of the doctors has put a note on my record so I don’t have to do that, but some more initiative at the beginning would have been nice! If I can’t make my eyes look in a certain direction because I have nothing to focus on, repeating the instruction won’t help. I understood the first time! I just can’t do it! I do find these visits kind of tiring, but they are worth it because at the end you get to speak to someone who knows a lot about your eye condition and current research.

Generally I attend appointments on my own, but I did take my partner in once because he had some pictures of an allergic reaction I’d experienced. I also took him to the appointments about my operation for moral support. Most of the time it was fine, and people still addressed me because I was the patient, but I think many people with disabilities know what a pain it is when people start talking to the person with you, when they should be talking directly to you. We don’t go along with that, and they soon learn that they need to speak to me!

Perhaps this is something that people could learn in some kind of awareness training, although as someone who has grown up in a world where most people I meet, including my teachers, colleagues, and new friends had never met another blind person before meeting me, I think most people are smarter than we give them credit for, and I don’t believe that awareness training necessarily solves every potential problem. If everyone followed the rules of not making assumptions about people, asking questions when they’re not sure, and talking directly to the person, whether or not they have anyone with them, that would be a great start! I often feel more comfortable with people who’ve had no experience of visual impairment, than those who have been working in the field for so long that they think everyone is the same in terms of how they do or perceive things.

The systems used in some surgeries for letting people know when it’s their turn are not accessible. I mean the ones where you have to wait for your number to come up on the screen. I can’t see those, so in those cases I asked someone from reception to let me know when it was my turn. I guess there is the risk that you could be forgotten, but this never happened to me and my current surgery doesn’t do that – you just have to wait for your name to be called.

I am very happy about the ruling that requires medication to have Braille labels. This makes life so much easier for me to know what things are without having to label them myself. Hopefully we won’t lose that when we leave the EU – that would definitely be a step backwards in terms of accessibility to information. The information leaflet is not in Braille, but as long as I know the name of the medication, I can go online to look for the leaflet.

Overall I’d say my experience of the healthcare system has been good. I think that people with disabilities have a responsibility to be approachable and explain what they need or what would be helpful, rather than expecting other people to know – because seriously, how can they? Everyone is different.

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L’Occitane review – bringing Braille labels to visually impaired customers

L’Occitane review – bringing Braille labels to visually impaired customers

After hearing that there were Braille labels on some of the L’Occitane products, I decided to find out more about them, and also to try some of the products myself. Braille is a tactile reading system used by blind people. It consists of patterns of raised dots which form the letters or groups of letters.

I was interested to know why the company had decided to use Braille labels, and I was also keen to try out some new products – a recurring theme on this blog!

Background information

According to Sophie OLIVER, Group PR and Communications Manager, “as a sensorial brand, L’Occitane chooses to support the visually impaired by offering braille on most of its packaging. L’Occitane has always sought to make its products available to a broad spectrum of the population and the blind represent a category of people for whom access to consumer goods is often very difficult..

“The inspiration for having Braille on the packaging came from Company Founder, Olivier Baussan. In the 1990’s, Olivier was visiting a L’Occitane store and at the same time a blind man was shopping. Olivier witnessed the difficulty the man had choosing his products and from that day began the commitment to have Braille on L’Occitane packaging.”

I found this fascinating because as someone who shops online, I wouldn’t think of using Braille packaging to pick out my products. It does, however, help a lot in terms of identifying the products once I’ve got them home. I admit, this wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t have such a ridiculous amount of cosmetic and skincare products, but that’s a choice that I made! It occurs to me that the labels help people in a way that Olivier Baussan hadn’t even thought of. Having said that, not all blind people are as fond of online shopping as I am, and I can definitely see how being able to identify the products whilst still in the shop would help.

The products that I tested

I tried five L’Occitane products. Two of them had Braille labels stuck directly to the bottles, in fact these were the two that are used in the bath or shower, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be kept in their cardboard boxes. The other three came in boxes with Braille on the side. I usually bin boxes for products straight away, but I kept them because of the Braille!

My favourite out of the products I tried was the shea light comforting face cream. It smelled good, and is a lovely, light moisturiser. I’ve been using it at the moment, but I could imagine this as a light and refreshing product for the summer. This cream is for combination skin, so next time I will try the other one in the range, which is the shea ultra-rich comforting face cream with a higher percentage of shea butter, which makes it better for dry skin.

If I were having a particularly dry day, I’d probably reach for something more heavy-duty, but I love this light, fresh formula and would definitely recommend it. It absorbs well and is moisturising without being greasy.

My next favourite was the verbena foaming bath soak, which is great for anyone who loves citrus fragrances, such as lemon, as I do. It’s wonderful to relax in the lemony bubbles, and the bottle is a good size, so you get a number of uses out of it. I also like the raised design on the side.

The third thing is something that I had never seen before, the lavender relaxing roll-on. I have friends who put lavender oil on their pillows to help them relax and have a good night’s sleep, but I put this on myself instead and can smell it whichever way I’m facing. The roll-on action means that you don’t end up wasting oil or getting soaked in it if too much comes out at once.

You can see a picture of the shea butter hand cream on this post. I’d say it’s more of a hand butter, with 20% shea butter in it. It’s thick and rich and I’d say particularly good for the winter, when your hands can get really dry. I have also taken it away with me when I’m travelling, because flying and hotel air con can have a real drying effect on your skin (travel sizes are available). There are a range of other hand creams, and this one is particularly good for those who don’t like strong scents.

The only thing that didn’t quite convince me was the almond shower oil. I love the almond scent, but find the texture a bit too rich and oily. Not so bad in the shower, but it leaves quite a mess in the bath, so I think I’ll stick to my shower gels! Still it was good to try something new!

New soap

As well as providing Braille labels on its products, the charitable part of L’Occitane is also involved in preventing avoidable sight loss. More than 2 million people have received ophthalmologic care thanks to the NGO programmes that the L’Occitane Foundation supports.

According to a L’Occitane press release, “L’Occitane is committed to fighting avoidable blindness around the world. To date, we have directly helped more than two million people to receive quality and sometimes sight-saving eye care.” This includes helping to fund the Orbis Flying Eye hospital, which travels the globe, providing sight-saving eye operations in developing countries, and giving practical training to health professionals. During the last 16 years, L’Occitane has contributed around £1,386,000 to support the work of Orbis.

I haven’t actually tried this soap, but I wanted to mention it because it’s raising money for a good cause. If you buy the shea milk solidarity soap, 100% of the profits (excluding taxes and transport costs) will be donated to NGOs dedicated to fighting preventable blindness.

Final thoughts and question for you!

I like the idea of Braille labels. I wouldn’t say they’re a necessity, as I do label things myself, and try not to buy too many things that feel the same for use at any one time, but if I like the products, the Braille labels would definitely be a reason to buy them, and I love the fact that L’Occitane have decided to do this.

I’d recommend trying out some of these products, whether or not you’re visually impaired, but if you are, this is the only skincare company I know of that produces Braille labels, and I definitely enjoyed being able to read what was in the products. If you have any friends who can read Braille, these products would make a lovely gift.

Also, I like the fact that L’Occitane works to prevent avoidable blindness. If I had the chance, I would want to be able to see. My eye condition needs a lot more research before this is possible, but I am happy to support a company that is working to enable other people to see.

This post contains PR samples. All opinions are my own.

If you’re looking for other articles about blindness and life as an adult, you might enjoy these

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My language learner journey – finding accessible materials for language learning

You don’t have to do the same activities as other people to get the same results. Here I talk about how I found accessible resources to help me to learn German and Turkish.

My language learner journey – finding accessible materials as a blind learner

I’ve loved languages since I was a child. First I wanted to write stories and poems in English, then I developed an interest in other languages too. French and German were two of my best subjects at school, though unfortunately I’ve forgotten all of my French now.

As a learner who can’t see, my goals are the same as any other language learner’s goals, but the way I get there is often a bit different. It’s the same with many things – whether I’m cooking dinner, training a dog or running my business, I look at what other people are doing or what advice they are being given, then I consider how much of it would work for me, and what things I would need to do differently in order to get the same results.

I hope that this post will help blind adults, or parents and teachers of visually impaired children by giving them ideas about useful resources for people who can’t use some of the options available to sighted learners. Schools should be providing information in an accessible format anyway – this is more about learning as a hobby or adults finding their own resources for learning a language.

German

At school, I followed the same curriculum as everyone else. Texts were made available to me in Braille or on my laptop. When we watched videos, I usually sat with a friend who whispered what was going on and I whispered back what I could translate from the dialogue. We worked it out together.

After leaving school, I decided to continue with my German. Learning on my own was a slightly different story because I couldn’t assume that all of the materials that I would need would be readily accessible. Having studied German at school, it was easier for me, because I could understand materials that weren’t just intended for language learners.

Two libraries for blind people in Germany kindly allowed me to borrow their Braille and audio books, which meant that I could pursue my love of books in another language.

It’s important to realise, however, that each language has its own system for Braille. Braille takes up a lot of room, and often symbols are used for groups of letters. However, the same symbol does not denote the same group of letters in each language. The English “CH” sign means “AU” in German, and the German “CH sign” means “TH” in English. So, if a blind person wants to learn Braille in another language, they will be learning a new writing system as well as a new language.

I also looked for interesting articles online, joined forums (the first one was a forum where people chatted about their dogs), and looked for language exchange partners online.

Sometimes my visual impairment came up, such as when someone sent me a picture and I couldn’t see it, but I never make it part of my introduction because I don’t think it’s the most interesting thing about me. In the dog forum, I was there to improve my German and talk about my golden retriever.

I became active on a German networking site called Xing, which is similar to Linkedin. I joined a group in which people can look for language exchange partners and after a while joined the moderation team. I often wrote to new members to welcome them, and as a result, I started chatting to someone called Sarah. Sarah and I became friends and when I heard that she was coming to London with her partner, we decided to meet and go for dinner.

Much of my tandem exchange experience has been online. It’s much easier to chat by email or on Skype than to go and meet a stranger somewhere! However, I did meet a couple of my exchange partners after I’d had a chance to speak with them and get to know them a bit. I took precautions, went somewhere that I knew and told someone where I was going.

Anyway, back to the meeting with Sarah…We had a good evening and we also decided to have a language exchange trip – I would spend a few days with Sarah in Berlin and then she would come back to London to stay with me. We had a lot of fun – chatting, going horse-riding, visiting a museum where I was allowed to touch the exhibits, cooking, going to the cinema and of course shopping!

Whether or not websites are accessible, if you find the right tandem partners, one-to-one communication with other people is something that anyone can do.

Some websites for learning German were accessible, others are designed so that you have to click correct answers with a mouse and you can’t just select them with the enter key. This rules sites like this out for people who don’t use a mouse. However, some website designers get it right and label their graphics, don’t use elements on the page that you need to activate with the mouse, and label any fields correctly. It’s really just something you have to try and find out which websites work for you, which can be used with a bit of effort and which are a complete waste of your time.

The same applies to further education. I had a really good experience with the Goethe Institute, who emailed me the materials for the course that I did with them and worked together with me to find the best way to comment on my work. I had a terrible experience with another training provider for long-distance learning. I’ve found it doesn’t depend on whether or not the organisation has had experience working with blind people before, but how willing individuals are to try new things and to find solutions to accessibility problems.

Turkish

Later I decided that I also wanted to learn Turkish. This was slightly more difficult – partly because I would be starting right from the beginning, and partly because it’s a bit harder to find resources for learning Turkish than it is for learning German. I knew that I didn’t want to join an evening class because most of them referred to working through books. Therefore I went off in search of a private teacher. This is more expensive than a group course, but I knew from my brief experience with learning Hindi that it’s worth the extra cost if you can find a teacher who will make the lessons accessible.
Nurcan, the teacher whom I found online, had never taught a blind learner before, but she was willing to give it a go! We did use a book, but Nurcan read the exercises to me, or sent them to me by email. I took copious notes on my netbook, and when I needed help with pronunciation, we recorded words and phrases on my Dictaphone. I emailed my homework to Nurcan and she emailed back the corrections. If there were activities involving naming the picture, Nurcan would give me the English word instead of showing me the picture. When I could read short texts, we found texts that were publically available online.

If we did exercises with multiple options, I wrote them down, so that I didn’t have to try to keep all of the options in my head. When we worked on grammar exercises, I wrote down all the completed sentences, so that I had a record of examples, which I could then use to help me with my homework.

I found a number of tandem partners online, with whom I practised my Turkish. Some of the apps that are designed for this purpose can’t be used by people who use speech software because the labels and app controls are not labelled correctly, or they don’t work with VoiceOver, the speech software on the iPhone. Therefore I looked for tandem partners on more traditional sites, or social networking sites such as Facebook, where there are many groups and pages about language learning. I even found a lady called Ayse, who lived virtually round the corner from me, with whom I learned to make some Turkish dishes!

I also found a Facebook group for people who were learning Turkish. Sometimes I couldn’t understand the posts, because people posted pictures of text, which my software just recognised as a graphic. However most of the time people posted questions or links, so I could learn from the things that they wanted to know or share. Sometimes people knew that I was there and described the pictures or typed out the text.

I couldn’t find accessible copies of the textbooks that some of my friends used, but I did find websites with grammar explanations and a really good podcast that had a different language topic each week. In fact, as my language skills improved, I looked for podcasts for Turkish people on subjects that interested me. Podcasts for or about children usually use simple language, as do podcasts in which people tell a story, such as travel shows or short documentaries about places or things. These activities really helped me to develop my listening skills. I didn’t understand every word, but I felt a real sense of achievement when I could understand the main points.

Many of my friends recommended Turkish soap operas, but this was too much work for me. I use the dialogues in films to try and work out what’s happening on the screen. If I have to struggle with the dialogue as well as to try and remember who’s who and figure out what they’re doing, the whole thing becomes a chore! It’s easier when you’re more familiar with the language – I could do it in German, but if you are likely to miss key information because you didn’t see what happened, the whole experience can become quite frustrating. The same applies to films. I can’t use subtitles, but then I think some people rely on them too much! I did watch some videos, but they were usually factual ones, because people generally speak more clearly and the visual element is not so important.

There are loads of apps for language learning, but I tend to use apps that I already use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, the podcast app and the online radio app. I know that these are accessible. Many of the language apps are not, and anyway if I’m going to be chatting to people, it’s much faster when I type on my laptop than on my phone.

I tend to use more low-tech solutions for tasks such as vocabulary learning. Well, they’re more high-tech than pieces of card, I suppose, but rather than having word lists on an app or piece of software, I have a big spreadsheet for testing vocabulary and recording definitions.

Everyone is different

I think it’s really important for people to know themselves and how they learn best. Listening is important to me, but if I’m going to remember a new word, I need to write it down. One of the biggest mistakes is to think that all blind people just need the same material as everyone else, but in audio form.

In conclusion, I would say that it’s definitely possible for a blind person learning on their own to find a lot of accessible materials. The internet has opened up so many possibilities now and we don’t just have to rely on materials that have been especially designed for us as blind learners.

Most of my customers who want to learn English are sighted, but I do have some blind and partially sighted customers and followers on social media. I’m happy that I can offer accessible learning materials – after all, the materials have to be accessible for me, too, but each person is an individual, and just because something was the best solution for me, it doesn’t mean that the same way of doing things will work for everyone.

This post was first published on my English with Kirsty site but I thought it may be of interest to some people here as well..

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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.

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

Lovelula Feb 17

The Lovelula subscription was one of the first ones that caught my attention when I began researching beauty boxes in December. In January, I decided to try it out. I was too late for the January box, so I got the February one.

The concept

I subscribed to this box partly because I’m interested in organic products, and partly because there seemed to be more of a focus on skincare than make-up. I am interested in make-up, but I’m more choosy about the type of product that I will use, whereas with skincare I’m more open to try new things. This is important for a box which puts the selection together for you – I wanted there to be a higher chance that I would use the things in my box.

Another plus point for me is that everyone gets the same, so there’s no disappointment because someone somewhere got a better deal, or products that you would have loved.

I’m lucky in that I usually ask my partner what the products are – out of all the guys in our circle of friends, I think he knows the most about beauty and skincare products now! I know not every visually impaired person is in this position, but the fact that everyone gets the same means that in a few days of the beauty boxes arriving, people start to blog about the products, so you can find out more about them that way if you haven’t found some other way to do it!

The products

This is what I found in the February box. I hadn’t heard of any of the brands before, so it was a good chance to get to know some new ones, and there were also two types of product that I’d been hearing a lot about and that I wanted to try.

The first was an instant hit – the Greenfrog botanic body wash – neroli and lime. I’m a lover of all things citrus, and this body wash contains anti-bacterial lime, along with organic soapberries,which are good for sensitive or dry skin, and moisturising aloe vera.

My other favourite is the Ooh replenishing oil. This fast-absorbing marula oil contains vitamins C and E, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. Although I have dry skin, I’ve never worked with face oils before, mainly because I was concerned the oil would leave my skin too oily or cause breakouts, but so far I’ve been happy with the results and I’ll continue to use this in my evening skincare routine.

Next out of the box was the Madara micellar water, which is actually my first micellar water. I’ve heard the hype about micellar waters. I do like the fact that this one also includes hyaluronic acid, which helps the skin to retain moisture. As I haven’t really been using it long enough to measure results, the jury’s still out on whether it will remain part of my cleansing and moisturising routine, but I’m happy to give it a go.

I was intrigued by the Weleda skin food, which is apparently to protect and repair dry skin. I’ve read good things about it on other blogs, but I wouldn’t usually use something on my face that I also use on my feet! That said, the ingredients are natural and it does contain almond and peanut oil, which both soften and sooth the skin. I think I will use this as a hand and foot lotion.

The only thing in the box that I won’t use was the