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

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

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

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

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

1. Don’t rely on putting information on screen

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

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

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

2. Try to describe colours

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

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

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

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

3. Not all of your YouTube viewers are on Instagram

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

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

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

5.Be willing to answer questions

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

I hope the tips were useful.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Blogmas 2018 -10 things you can do to make Christmas more accessible for visually impaired friends or family members

After my last list post seemed to go down well, I thought I’d look at some things that people can do to make the festive season more accessible for friends or family members who are visually impaired. Of course everyone is different, so what I might find helpful might annoy someone else, so I’m just writing these from my perspective.

For a lot of blind or partially sighted people, the Christmas period is a lot of fun, just the same as it is for everyone else. However, if you’re out of your familiar surroundings or there are a lot of people around, tasks that people may do without thinking too much on a normal day can become more complicated because the surroundings are more busy or less predictable. So an offer of help might be welcome! And the best way to find out if someone needs a hand is to ask!

So here are just a few ideas!

  1. Try to make any card or gift tags accessible. This is less of an issue if someone will be around to read them, but if you have time, there are services that print labels or cards in Braille, or you could learn to do it yourself. Just make sure that the person can read Braille first, as not all blind people can.
  2. If Braille is not an option, typed messages are better than handwritten ones. There are apps that can read printed text – I usually scan and sort our post this way. Some are starting to decipher handwriting as well, but on the whole, you’ll have a better success rate with something that has been typed. Or, if you want to send a message, you could use channels that the person already uses such as email/Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp, so the person can read your message independently.
  3. Blindness and sensory sensitivity don’t always go together. In my case, they do, which means it’s hard for me to stay in a really noisy environment for a long time. Don’t take it personally if someone needs a break from the noise. If you’re organising event, could there be a space that’s a bit quieter away from loud music for anyone with sensory sensitivities?
  4. Don’t let people go hungry at buffets. I’m more direct about what I want now, but I have gone hungry at buffets before because nobody offered to help and I didn’t want to disturb someone who was already eating or to struggle as I didn’t know what was there. You may also need to be aware of any food allergies or preferences if you’re making up a buffet plate for someone.
  5. Offer to help with serving food. I am happy to dish up plates in my own kitchen, but if there are people sitting round a big table and serving themselves vegetables etc, I usually accept the help because there are so many other things on the table.
  6. Games aren’t always accessible or fun! I guess this is a bit controversial because some people would rather everything is accessible. I don’t want people to stop doing things that they would have enjoyed just because I can’t join in, and I’d personally rather sit something out and observe (or look at my phone!) than try too hard to make something accessible, resulting in it taking twice as long or requiring so much concentration from me that it’s no longer fun. On the other hand, some games can be adapted with less hassle so that blind people can take part.
  7. Invite – don’t assume. Just because a blind person may not get the full experience, such as going to see Christmas lights being turned on or attending a performance, they may still be interested in going to be a part of what’s going on. Some won’t – but you won’t know unless you ask. You can also build in more accessible elements to the trip, and some theatres and cinemas also offer audio description, which means the blind person can listen to an audio track of what’s going on.
  8. Try to be mindful about not moving things. When a waiter comes to my table, I usually pick up my glass and have a drink. So if things are brought or taken away, nobody moves my glass. The reason I know where things are is because I remember the last place I put them! Also, if you’re at someone’s house, don’t leave unexpected trip hazards or random glasses of wine on the floor where people may need to walk!
  9. Don’t overstep boundaries with guide dogs. Guide dogs have special diets. Many are allowed treats, but it’s up to the owner to decide when, how many, and what they can have. Don’t give treats to guide dogs without asking!
  10. If someone has unwrapped a gift from you, it might not be obvious to them what it is! Be prepared to tell them, because whilst I will say “thank you” for a gift even if I have no idea what it is, it’s a bit embarrassing if I don’t know what I’ve got! You can avoid that awkward moment if you just volunteer the information yourself!

Most importantly – relax and behave normally! Making someone’s visual impairment into something of a big deal can actually make things more uncomfortable for everyone. Most people have strategies for getting round problems, and they can also ask for help if needed.

Is there anything you would add?

Advent calendar unboxing

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

Body Shop – yay it’s a body yoghurt! These are a bit lighter than the body butters and absorb quicker. This one is in the moringa scent – something that we’ve already had in the calendar and another floral product. Banana would have made me happier, but I’m still happy to get a body yoghurt.

Glossybox – today we got a deluxe sample of the Zelens Transformer Instant Renewal Mask. I’ve never tried anything from this brand, but I’ve heard great things about it, and it’s high-end skincare,so always nice to try a sample size before splashing out. The mask contains hyaluronic acid and sesame protein to plump and tighten the skin. This is a fairly small tube, but as the full size is £100, I’m not surprised! I’m looking forward to trying this out!

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

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

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

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

This post may contain affiliate links.

Blogmas 2018 – wrapping presents when you are visually impaired

So, I nearly didn’t write this post because I certainly don’t think I’m an expert on the subject. The presents that I wrap aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but they aren’t works of art either.

My plan is get the job done, and I don’t usually have time for lots of faffing about!

Still, I read a post about someone with a visual impairment having a tough time wrapping presents, so I thought I’d share the tips that I’ve picked up along the way. Some of them are just good advice anyway, but some are specifically for you if you’re wrapping gifts with little or no sight.

  1. Make life easier for yourself by either buying gifts that are easy to wrap, or putting them into square boxes that are easy to wrap!
  2. When buying wrapping paper, try to get some that’s slightly textured, so you don’t end up with the picture side on the inside. I have done this before! Grr!
  3. When cutting wrapping paper, if you struggle to cut straight, fold the paper first and cut along the fold. Really flimsy paper is not good for this, so if you can, it pays to get slightly better quality so that it doesn’t tear. When folding, fold at a right-angle to an edge that you know is straight, such as the side of the roll.
  4. Think about your tags – you need to be able to identify the packages in a way that you can read, but if they won’t be opened straight away, so do other people.
  5. Don’t be tempted to use a piece of paper that’s too big, rather than cutting it down to size. There’s more chance of it creasing up and looking untidy.
  6. My sticking tape is never perfectly straight along the line, but if you want to stop it creasing or being really wonky, hold it over where you want to stick it first and then lower it into position.
  7. Don’t be tempted to work with really long strips of tape unless you’re sure that you can get them straight and that the paper won’t move. It’s often easier to tack the paper in place with a couple of small bits before you try to tape down a long crease.
  8. Long-bladed scissors work better for cutting paper. If you have two edges and one looks tidier than the other, put the untidy one inside so people won’t see it.
  9. Bows and sparkly things are as good for covering mistakes as they are for making things pretty!
  10. If you really don’t enjoy wrapping, there are always present bags and boxes that you can buy, fill with tissue paper, and put your present inside. Some shops also offer gift-wrapping services.

Advent calendar unboxing

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

Body Shop – before we had a shine liquid lip colour, and today it’s time for a matte liquid lip. I find matte liquid lipsticks a bit drying, so this isn’t one I would have picked up, but it’s more moisturising than some I’ve tried, so I was actually quite happy to have it! There are a range of shades, but I got Tahiti Hibiscus.

Glossybox – it’s a day for lip products! Today we got a full-size lip gloss from Steve Laurent. And it smells and tastes of chocolate mmmm!

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

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

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

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

This post may contain affiliate links.

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

I don’t know about you, but around Christmas time there are more tasty treats on offer, maybe extra glasses of mulled wine or mince pies. So many of us plan to start a fitness regime in January, but really we don’t need to wait until then!

When I stopped my3-hour commute, which involved about 40 minutes walking each way, I knew I’d have to do something about staying fit. I wrote in my post about what I do to try and stay fit – including putting fitness training into my calendar like a meeting that I have to attend, and regularly spending time on the exercise bike and cross-trainer.

My sprained knee from the accident in August has meant that I had to limit some of my exercise activities for a while, particularly the workouts that involved putting my full weight on a leg that probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’m getting back into it now because the joint needs exercise.

So taking some positive action around exercise doesn’t have to wait till January. You can join a gym, but there are plenty of other things that you can do at home too.

As someone who is visually impaired, one of the problems that I’ve come across is a lack of accessible home workouts. There are loads of videos on YouTube, but they often don’t describe what the person is doing very well, so if you can’t watch them, you can’t really follow along. This is frustrating.

You may remember a while ago I did an interview with Mel from Blind Alive, who developed a series of accessible work-outs which you can do without being able to watch what the trainer is doing. All of the workouts come with text descriptions of the exercises, as well as individual sound tracks to describe each exercise or position in a bit more detail.

I’ve done the cardio ones and the weights ones so far, but I’m now going to be trying some more because Mel from Eyes Free Fitness is offering a really generous gift. From 21st November to 31st December 2018, all of the work-outs on Blind Alive/Eyes Free fitness are free. The company is closing its doors at the end of 2018, and before then, Mel would like as many people as possible to benefit from the workouts.

I’ve just downloaded the stretch workout, as well as some for yoga and Pilates, which are things that I’ve always been meaning to try and never got round to. Thank you Mel!

I’ve paid for some of these workouts in the past and I can confirm that they are really accessible, and the positions and exercises are described with words, in a way that I can follow. I would have got round to buying more of them even if they hadn’t been available for free, and I’d encourage anyone who is interested in accessible, described workouts to take a look. As the workouts were only available until 31st December 2018, I’ve now had to remove the link as it doesn’t work any more.

I downloaded the workouts straight onto my laptop from where I usually transfer them to Dropbox so I can have them with me on my phone wherever I am. There is also an app, which I’m told is accessible, although I can’t review it because I haven’t downloaded it yet.

Although the workouts are available for free, you can make a donation via Paypal, and I know a lot of work went into making these training programmes, so if you are able to give something, I would encourage you to do so. It’s not mandatory though in order to download the workouts.

This post was aimed a bit more at my visually impaired readers, but even if the workouts aren’t relevant to you, there are plenty of small things that you can do for self-care during the Christmas season. These include things like going for walks, which is a great way to clear your head as well as being a chance to get fresh air. Whatever else you may be drinking, try to make sure that you get plenty of water too. You may be having some late nights, but try and get a couple of early ones too so that you can catch up on your sleep.

What else will you be doing for self care in the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

Advent calendar unboxing

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

Body Shop – I didn’t even know the Body Shop did 100ml hand creams, but there is a limited edition one in the British rose scent. The formula of these hand creams is really gentle and nourishing, and whilst rose isn’t usually my go-to fragrance, I’ll be happy to have this on my desk this Winter because my hands do get really dry.

Glossybox – today we got a highlighter brush from Luxie Beauty. I’m not actually familiar with this brand, but it says the brushes are hand-crafted using vegan and cruelty-free materials. As there is a highlighter palette in the giveaway, I’m putting this in as well.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

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

Products 9 and 10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

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

This post may contain affiliate links.

Blogmas 2018 – my first Braille chocolate advent calendar

Regular readers of this blog will know that I care about accessibility and accessible products.

In terms of advent calendars, when I was a child, my Nan always helped to prepare them. We typed the number in Braille onto clear sticky-back plastic, cut them out, and my Nan stuck them on the right doors.

Now Sean helps with the beauty calendars – I type out the labels and he sticks them on the appropriate box so that I can locate and open it myself.

However, for the first time this year, I got a chocolate advent calendar that was ready to go! No adaptations needed. I just wait for the right day, locate the number in Braille that is already printed on the door, and open it to get the day’s chocolate.

Just a simple thing that kids (and adults) all over the country take for granted, but up until now, this hasn’t been possible.

Braille chocolate advent calendars are nothing new in Germany – I know they’ve been around for a few years – but so far I haven’t seen one in the UK.

That’s why I was happy when one of my friends offered to send me one.

I know it’s a bit late to share this now – tomorrow we are opening day 12, but I firstly wanted to give a shout out to the company that is making them, and secondly wanted to let other people know for next year – whether that’s parents of blind children, or Braille-reading adults who want an accessible chocolate calendar.

The doors are arranged in 8 rows with 3 doors in each row. There are differences between German and English Braille, but the numbers are the same and there is no other writing on the calendar, so there would be no problems with confusing younger or new Braille readers.

This page about the advent calendar is in German, but there is also an email address where you can order it, and the company accepts Paypal. I’m not sure how much it would cost to get one sent from Germany to the UK if you order it directly, but it’s not a heavy calendar, so it shouldn’t be much.

It’s a simple thing really, but it made me happy to get a chocolate calendar that I can just enjoy and read without having to do any extra work that sighted friends wouldn’t have to do!

Advent calendar unboxing

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

Body Shop – a shine liquid lip gloss. I haven’t tried any of these before, and although I don’t often wear lip gloss, it’s always good to have a change sometimes!

Glossybox – I can’t actually find the link for this, but it’s the Bellapierre kissproof lip finish – a clear lip topper to give a glossy finish to liquid lipsticks. The only lipstick I tried from this brand nearly clamped my lips shut because it was so sticky, so I can see why they came out with a product like this. I don’t have the other lipstick any more, but would use this topper on other liquid lips if I think they feel as though they would dry out my lips.

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

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

Products 6-10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

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

This post may contain affiliate links.

Cycling without sight – my tandem experience

I didn’t go for long bike rides as a child. We went walking with the dog, and my Granddad drove us for miles around the UK in the Summer Holidays, but I only discovered cycling as an adult.

I would say the easiest and safest way for people like me, who have no sight, to cycle, is to do tandem cycling.

My first introduction to it was on an activity weekend. Half of the time was to be spent canoeing and the other half cycling. As it turned out, I preferred being out of the water, but having tried both, I definitely prefer canoeing to kayaking because I don’t like being closed in, and if the thing tips, it’s easier to get out of a canoe than a kayak!

Anyway – back to the cycling. As a child, I didn’t have balance issues, but I didn’t have enough confidence in where I was going to pick up enough speed to stay balanced. Having someone else in charge of the direction took this problem away, but there is still an element of trust involved.

I don’t just mean you’re trusting the front rider not to stop peddling and let the blind person do all the work! I mean you need to communicate about what the other person is going to do – if they are going to turn, slow down or need to stop suddenly. You need to react quickly to what the other person is telling you. The faster you go, the more you need to trust them!

It was also my first time covering longer distances, so I was fighting with the fear that I’d do something stupid and everyone would think I was an idiot, but fortunately that didn’t happen either! After a couple of hours I was fine!

After the introduction weekend, I went on a week-long cycling holiday in Dorset with a mixture of blind and sighted cyclists. I was paired with a sighted cyclist at the beginning of the week, and it was great that we got on, because we spent the rest of the week together on the same bike. The evenings were for socialising, but the point of the trip was mainly to get in as much cycling as possible. The weather was mostly kind to us, but I got to experience cycling in heavy rain showers as well!

The blind person always goes at the back, because they are not in charge of steering. My front rider gave me information about what was coming up, where the hills were,, whether there were any sharp bends, intersections, or loose dogs! But we had time to chat as well and enjoy the countryside. You have to find a rhythm and work together – if you fight for control, you will just annoy each other and topple over! That didn’t happen to us! Generally I let the other person set the speed, especially where other traffic was around, but made sure I pulled my weight as well, especially on the uphill stretches.

I knew nothing about bike repairs or looking after the bike. The guy with me was more experienced, and explained things, but I felt an equal share of the responsibility for helping out if there was a problem.

That week I shared a room with a Paralympic cyclist. I was a complete beginner, and I enjoyed listening to her stories as someone who had got really good, and really fast! We didn’t do anything like that during the holiday, but it was great to see how this is a sport that is not only a fun thing to do, but also something at which blind people can become successful.

After the holiday my front rider and I stayed in touch for a while. I stood in for another blind rider who was unable to make the yearly cycling around churches in Kent – I believe to raise money for them. The idea of visiting a bunch of churches wouldn’t usually have interested me, but the bike ride did!

I’ve cycled with a few different people, and the most relaxing experiences were with people who were relatively confident and who didn’t lose their nerve and swerve around all over the place, though I have experienced that too! It makes life interesting!

You don’t experience the same sounds and smells if you’re in a train or a car. It’s different when you’re outside and responsible for getting where you want to be with your own energy! I enjoy walking too, but obviously you can cover more ground on a bike. Or a horse!

I’m not sure how the experience is different for the person on the front of the tandem. Again there is that element of trust, so you need to believe that the person behind you won’t do anything erratic. Your bike is twice as long and twice as heavy as normal, because of the extra seat and extra weight behind you. You need to be able to look ahead and communicate.

I have heard of one student who cycled to school on a tandem with an exchange student for a while, which I think was cool. The tandem was used in just the same way as other students would use a bike. For me, tandem cycling has been more of a fun thing to do, rather than a means of getting from A to B. You always need to have someone who needs or wants to go to the same place at the same time, and in most situations such as going to work, that isn’t the case. Still, I know that some blind people get their own tandems – which is fine as long as they have someone, or some people, with whom they can cycle regularly.

Now all the cycling I do is just the exercise bike in my fitness room, but if I had the opportunity again to get on a tandem, I’d definitely take it.

A blind person may not be able to see everything around them on a bike ride, but it’s a good way to keep fit, and it’s good to be outside and enjoy nature.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

They lost my business after 15 years – why website accessibility is important

Why I recently switched from Tesco to Ocado for my grocery shopping.

Sometimes my international customers are surprised that I do my grocery shopping online. It’s not as popular in Germany as it is here.

I’ve been doing all my grocery shopping online for years now – since shortly after I moved to London. So that’s at least 15 years. It made me so happy, because previous trips to the supermarket had been a challenge.

In theory you can ask for assistance if you are blind and can’t locate the products yourself. In practice, you are sometimes given any member of staff who can be spared, and that doesn’t always work out well. I had one really helpful lady, but the next week I got a young guy who thought that you find cheese in the freezer section, and when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the next week I got someone who couldn’t read. This was appalling – both because I ended up without most of the things that I wanted, but as an employer, the supermarket set that guy up to fail, giving him a task to do that he had no fair chance of completing. He felt bad because he wanted to help, but couldn’t. I felt bad because I couldn’t point out the things that I wanted. It was a disaster.

So, I tried online shopping and it was amazing. At first Tesco had a separate access site for screenreader users, and this was later removed, but the main site was perfectly accessible. I used it for years. Around 15 years. But then things started to go downhill.

I found the site was getting slower, and a recent revamp meant that it became considerably less accessible. I’m not sure how the appearance of the site changed, although in an IT group for access technology users, one member said his sighted wife didn’t like the new site much either.

The thing that a lot of people don’t understand with accessibility is that it’s not how the page looks, but the way it’s been designed, and whether a good user experience for access technology users has been built into the page at the design and coding stage.

For example, using style headings for product names means that a screenreader user can quickly jump from one product to the next by pressing just one button, without having to read all the associated information if they don’t want to buy that product. A screenreader user can’t skim read and scroll, so having a good navigation structure on web pages is essential if you want screenreader users to be able to move around efficiently.

Anyway – the headings for product names were done away with and the information was presented in a list, which was harder to navigate quickly. In addition to the slowness, sometimes the site crashed completely or threw up script errors. I tried different browsers, because sometimes this helps. But no. I just got more and more frustrated. Shopping took longer! My patience was at an end and I began to put off a job that I’d been doing easily for years.

I did pass on my comments, but never heard anything back.

One day was particularly frustrating and I ended up asking S to help me just to get the job done. But something had to change!

Some of our friends had been talking about how happy they were with Ocado, so I decided to give it a go. I signed up for an account and hoped that the experience would be better.

The first task was to import my favourites from Tesco. I believe a 3rd party site is used for this. It wasn’t great, because the buttons for the various supermarkets weren’t labelled properly, but I knew it couldn’t import anything without me logging in to the other site, so I clicked the first one and hoped for the best. It was Tesco! The cynical part of me wonders whether this is where most of Ocado’s customers import their favourites from! Who knows? This shows the importance of labelling your graphics – there are some people who can’t see the graphics and need to know what will happen when you click that button.

Anyway – the favourites will only be imported if there is a comparable product in the Ocado database, so I inevitably lost some. However, it wasn’t difficult to search for things that were missing, and I ended up getting a bit carried away with new things that I wanted to try as well!

It was easy to navigate around the pages, and Ocado does style their product names as headings, so I can quickly move through pages such as my favourites or a page of search results to find what I’m looking for.

Booking my slot and paying for the goods was easy as well, and when the shopping arrived, everything was as it should be.

I was also happy with the receipt. Tesco only provides an email confirmation of the order, but this doesn’t give any information about what actually arrived (for example if something was out of stock). The Ocado receipt tells you what was delivered, and also gives you information about when the products should be used up. This is particularly useful if you can’t see the packaging to check. To be honest I’ve never given myself food poisoning with out-of-date food, and now S is around to check, but in the past I’ve often frozen things to be on the safe side. With this information on the receipt, I don’t need to.

In terms of Unseen Beauty, I have been impressed at the extensive skincare and beauty section, so there will be some new reviews coming soon.

At the moment I am enjoying free access to the smart pass, which gives you free deliveries as long as you hit the £40 minimum spend. I will probably renew this when the free trial runs out because we will save in the long-term on delivery charges.

I couldn’t imagine doing my grocery shopping any other way now – as someone who is blind, there are so many advantages. I can read about the products. I can choose exactly what I want. I can browse for new things when I feel in need of some inspiration. I don’t have to wait for a taxi to get myself and all my shopping home. I don’t have to ask for help in-store. I can do the shopping any time that suits me, even if that’s the middle of the night. If there are cooking instructions for something, they can usually be found on the website.

In addition to all these advantages, it’s still important to have a website that works, that’s efficient, that provides a good user experience, and that doesn’t drive me crazy every time I want to do our weekly shop! Ocado ticks all of these boxes and I wish I had made the switch sooner.

Much is said in marketing about loyal customers, but even someone who has been using a company for 15 years will leave if they feel that the quality of service is not what it once was, or that there is a better deal elsewhere.

In addition to the plus points I have already listed about Ocado, there are other benefits such as the price match. If your shopping is found to be cheaper at Tesco, as mine was last week, you get a voucher for the difference. You can then redeem this voucher when you do your next shop. You also get 5p back for every carrier bag that you return, and there is a good range of products for people with dietary requirements, such as gluten or dairy free diets. When you’re checking out, you have the option of healthier choices for things that are in your basket. Ok you may want an unhealthy treat, but if you’re looking for a healthier diet, it’s nice to have the suggestions.

If you would like me to send you an invitation to Ocado, just fill out your details using the form below. You will receive a £20 voucher for your first shop, and a free smart pass, which gives you free deliveries for one year (minimum spend applies).

If you request an invitation, your email address will be entered on the Ocado site to generate an invitation. It will not be stored by English with Kirsty. If you request the news updates, your email address will be added to my mailing list so that you can receiveUnseen Beauty news, usually twice a week.
I will receive a reward if anyone signs up through me, but I only promote things that I believe are good value and am using myself.

How accessible are hotels? My experiences as a blind traveller

Whether it’s holidays, business travel, or tagging along when my partner goes on business travel, (one of the advantages of having an online business that can be run from anywhere), I’ve stayed in a number of hotels and had good and not so good experiences as a visually impaired guest. I thought I’d share some of them with you today.

Interactions with staff

Overall, I found staff to be friendly and helpful, and if travelling on my own, someone accompanied me to my room to show me where it was and answer any questions. This also included pointing out important things like the bar and restaurant.

Negotiating breakfast buffets can be challenging, so I usually ask for assistance with this and have never had any problems.

Some of the most helpful people I’ve met have been cleaning staff. People who have gone out of their way to be helpful, to show me where something is, or on one occasion to come out in the rain and give me directions because the receptionist couldn’t be bothered. On that occasion we didn’t share a common language, but I was very grateful to that lady.

I don’t have a guide dog now. When I did, and travelled for business, I generally didn’t have too many problems, although most of our travel was booked by an agency and for once I was not directly involved in educating people about access rights for guide dogs. Generally people were happy for me to find a good place for my dog to empty! One security guard even came out with us when it was late.

There was one occasion when I was travelling with a group of colleagues and the receptionist couldn’t tell me what room I was in because of “security reasons”. It didn’t seem to matter to her that I couldn’t see the key card she’d handed me. Rules are rules you know! Her solution was for me to ask my colleague. Fortunately he was a friend as well, but what if I hadn’t wanted him to know what room I was in? Wasn’t this a far greater security issue than just taking me aside and telling me the room number? It had been a long day and I didn’t pursue it, but I thought it was poor customer service.

In the room

I don’t have any particular requirements when it comes to the room itself. The first things I do are to check out where the plug sockets are, as I usually spend some time working in the room, and figure out how to get onto the wifi.

Most of the time, I don’t have any trouble joining the wifi, but we had one issue because although the logon screen for mobile devices was fine, I couldn’t join the wifi with my laptop because the log on button could only be activated with a mouse. This meant that if my connection dropped, I needed to wait for my partner to come back and click the button for me because my visual impairment means that I don’t use a mouse. Fortunately I could just set up a mobile hotspot, but it was an expense that other guests didn’t have, and it could have been avoided because if this page had been designed better, I would have been able to access the button via the keyboard.

The picture I chose for the header image of this post is Hans the horse – or that’s what we named him! He was in a quirky hotel in Sweden and looked down over the desk, watching over me while I worked. I don’t expect to be able to appreciate the art in hotel rooms, but I was really happy to discover this 3d horse head because it was so tactile and unusual. There was also a big, metal heart on the wall, which again was 3d and tactile. I’ve decided that I would love a horse head like that in my office!

I don’t worry about things like the tv because as long as I can get on the internet, I have all my media on my phone – whether that’s podcasts, audio books, news, music, or Netflix. So I never bother trying to figure out how the TV works.

Other things like kettles, showers etc are pretty simple to work out.

The air con can be an issue for me. In older rooms, you just turn a knob one way to make it hotter and the other way to make it colder. Sometimes there is just an up and a down button. But when you have to remember a more complex set of button combinations, or when the air con is controlled by touch screen, it gets difficult for me, especially if there is no window to open and regulate the temperature that way. In such cases I’d rather be too cold and put on layers than too hot, but it would be great if such things could be controlled by an accessible app.

I’ve only recently started using the Seeing AI app from Microsoft that can do text recognition. I use it a lot for my products that I test for this site and would say it gets about 70% of them right in terms of reading the text. I know that some people have successfully used this app for identifying toiletries in hotel rooms, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Usually I bring my own, but if S points out that something contains mango or smells amazing, I am happy to give it a go. When travelling alone though I always took my own.

One small issue is that staff servicing the room sometimes try to be helpful, and even if the room doesn’t look amazingly tidy, many blind people have a system or remember where they put things. It’s not helpful if you have to spend half an hour combing the room for something that has been tidied up. I generally put everything away – either in drawers, in my case, or in my laptop bag, so there is nothing to tidy up! Sometimes I’m working in the room anyway, so I just ask for new towels, the bin to be emptied, but not the full room service. Then I stay in control of my space!

This doesn’t mean I never spend time hunting for my keys, but I can’t just look around the room for them, and if someone puts them in a place I would never put them, it won’t occur to me to check there.

The only time this became a real issue was when my dog bowls were thrown out when the room was cleaned. I’d just been to a funeral and was in no mood to hunt down missing dog bowls, but I needed something to put my dog’s food in! The hotel apologised and provided industrial-sized plastic ice-cream containers for me to use, and I hope they passed on the point as staff training in terms of not throwing away things that belong to guests.

At the other end of the scale I had a member of staff running down the corridor after me because I’d left jewellery behind after checking out! On the whole I’ve found people to be considerate and helpful, without being patronising, which is great!

Getting around

When I travel with S, he usually does some familiarisation with me when we get to a new hotel. I don’t tend to roam around using all the facilities on my own because in the daytime I have work to do, and I’d rather do it somewhere where I won’t be disturbed. I learn important things though like how to get to reception, and where the emergency escape route is. I thank my time working for a Health and Safety Advisor for that, but I have been in evacuation situations before and it’s important to know the way out, especially if you can’t see the exit instructions.

I can read the raised numbers that you get in lifts, and sometimes I even find Braille on lift buttons or hotel doors, although this happens more often in other parts of Europe. Otherwise I have to remember a series of turns and count the doors to make sure I get back to the right room – because who wants to have a lost blind woman trying to break into their room at night?!

Sometimes people try to be helpful and offer us ground floor rooms, or rooms near to the lift. Being near a lift isn’t a good thing because it often interferes with the wifi reception and I’d rather have a longer walk if I get better wifi! There’s no reason why I can’t climb steps, and if there’s a big function on at the venue, being away from all the action is actually nicer.

Everyone’s different and while some disability awareness training can be helpful, I think that emphasising the point that everyone is an individual and will have their own way of doing things is more important than giving staff a set list of things to do when meeting people with specific needs.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Shopping without sight – my online shopping experience at the Chocolate Emporium

This is the first article in a new series that I’ve started on the blog.

I love shopping! In many ways, online shopping is really practical when you are blind. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy going round the shops with my friends, but if I want something without the assistance of friends or people working in the shops, online shopping is ideal. Even more so seeing as I work from home and can take in the deliveries.

There’s only one problem though – not all shops design their websites in a way that makes it easy for blind people to use them. Some common problems are:
1. Links, pop-up login boxes, or page elements such as date pickers that can only be activated using a mouse – which is a problem if you don’t use a mouse.
2. Unlabelled graphics – I’m not talking about not having nice labels for your images, although these are useful. No I mean when all the buttons are labelled as “button” because the designer thought everyone would get the idea from the graphic on the button. That’s a problem when you can’t see the graphic.
3. Inadequate descriptions of products so it’s hard to know what you’re buying if you can’t see the picture.

The last one is less about web design, but it doesn’t make me want to come back to a site! Points 1 and 2 are the worst, which is why I do a lot of my shopping on Amazon, because I don’t usually have these problems on the website or iPhone app.

Still, I wanted to talk about my experience of using other shops and in my “Shopping without site” series I’m going to set myself the challenge of buying something from different online shops.

It’s not going to be an in-depth analysis report as I would do if I were working with a brand, although if you are interested in a consultation on your site’s accessibility, you can find further details of this service on my contact information page.

No, this is an account of how easy the process was to select products, pay for them and get them delivered to me at home. Some sites are amazing. Others are terrible and I’ll never visit them again. Most are somewhere in the middle, with a lot of good points and one or two things that can be improved. I’m going to try and keep away from web design jargon that most people won’t understand – these articles are about the experience, what went well, and whether I encountered any problems. Mission fail is when I have to ask S to come and complete some part of the order because I couldn’t do it myself with the software that I use to read my laptop’s screen.

I thought I’d start with some chocolate from the Chocolate Emporium.

1. How easy was it to find things on the site?

Very easy. The keyword search facility worked well, and if you click on the chocolate shop, you can jump through the headings to see what chocolate selections they have, a bit like shelves in a shop.

2. How well were products described?

Very well. There are one or two paragraphs about each product when you click on to the product page.

3. How easy was it to put things in the basket?

This is where I had my first problem. On my first visit to this site, I ended up stacking my basket full of chocolates, going to pay for it, and then finding to my dismay that the basket was empty.
On most sites, you click “add to basket” and the item goes straight into your basket. On this site, a pop-up message appears about whether you want to add a free gift message or continue without adding one. This is immediately obvious to a sighted person, but in terms of the order in which my software reads things, the information from the pop-up message comes further down the page, past the information about the product I want to add and the recommendations for what else I might want. I totally missed it, and if you click off the page without setting your gift message preference, the item does not make its way into your basket.
The same happens if there is a question about what colour gift box you want. Because of this, use of such pop-up messages makes it harder for a screenreader user to use the site.

Now I know that it’s there, I know to look for it and make my choice. So it’s not inaccessible, because I can do it, but it does take points away from the user experience because the first time I used the site, I had to go back and add everything again. I wanted the chocolate, so I had the motivation, but if I had been less bothered about the products, I may have given up on it.

A way to fix this would be to make the gift box colours a second drop down box before you click the “add to basket” button. We already have a dropdown list for the size of box that you want. Perhaps the gift message options could come later when you’re about to check out. If both of these things were done, adding something to the basket would not require this second step that screenreader users are likely to miss.

4. How well were buttons labelled?

I didn’t have any problems with button labels. However the label for the basket is “The Chocolate Emporium – Lindt Lindor UK and USA pick and mix – Ghirardelli, Godiva, Monty Bojangles chocolates to buy online – account basket” and really “basket” would be sufficient!

5. Could every control be activated without a mouse?

Yes.

6. How easy was it to pay for the goods?

Once I’d got to my basket and clicked the checkout link, there was another of those messages further down the page. This time it was asking whether I wanted to add an additional chocolate bar. You can’t get to the next page unless you answer the question. There is a check-out button, which doesn’t appear to do anything – you have to click the no thanks button if you want to move on.

7. Can you complete the whole shopping process without sighted help?

Yes. There are some sites where I really can’t finish the order on my own, but with this site, now that I know how it works and what to look out for, I can do it and get as many chocolates as my heart desires!

8. What do you think of the goods?

I bought 3 things this time – a lemon chocolate bar, a lime chocolate bar and some coffee truffles. I really like the variety of different chocolates on this site. As someone who likes fruit and coffee chocolates, there is a good selection of things that you won’t find in the shops, and this is a good reason for me to come back. Also, Lindt chocolate is amazing!

I think my favourite this time is the lemon bar – it has a lemon cream type centre.

The lime bar is thinner and the lime is actually in the chocolate, rather than a cream centre. I will always be happy about coffee chocolate!

9. Overall how good was the experience for a screenreader user?

I’d say that overall, I could get what I wanted using my screenreader and there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t access because I don’t use a mouse. Questions and tick boxes appearing further down the page for me as a screenreader meant that the site wasn’t particularly intuitive and I could imagine less confident blind internet users getting annoyed with it. It certainly frustrated me initially.

I will continue to use this site now that I know to scroll down and check that I don’t need to answer any questions before going on to my next purchase.

10. How accessible were newsletters or other communications from the brand?

This is often another problem area because companies use newsletter software that doesn’t produce accessible newsletters, but that wasn’t a problem I had with the Chocolate Emporium. Their links and graphics were well labelled, and I could read exactly what was on offer and how to get my newsletter subscriber discount code.

Have you bought anything from this site? If so, what would you recommend?

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.


This is not a sponsored post. I paid for and ate most of the chocolate myself!

World Braille Day – why I’m grateful for the invention of Braille

Today is World Braille Day. If you haven’t come across Braille before, it’s a system of raised dots that blind people use to read. It was invented by Louis Braille, who was born in 1809, and whose birthday was 4th January.

So, when others my age were learning to read and write, I was learning to read letters and abbreviations made up of combinations of 6 dots, and write them on a machine, a bit like a manual typewriter, which punched the dots into thick paper. I learned to type as well, but all of my school books and worksheets were in Braille.

I continued to use the manual typewriter, known as a Perkins Brailler, for subjects such as maths, but as I grew older, I moved on to an electronic Braille notetaker, and later a laptop for my schoolwork. Still I printed out a hard copy of my work for my teachers, and every file, whether it was a piece of work or revision notes, was sent to a noisy Braille printer, so that I had a hard copy of everything. All my work was in big folders, one for each subject, and my “pocket German dictionary” was 10 thick A4 volumes!

Braille takes up a lot of space. My grandad put up a big, sturdy set of shelves in my bedroom. They went up to the ceiling and were strong enough to take all my books – and I had many books!

I loved to read. People bought me books as gifts, and I borrowed them from Braille libraries. When I got older and became interested in German, a library for the blind in Germany let me borrow their books too.

Then, when I started learning French and German at school, I discovered they had their own Braille codes. It’s true, the letters are the same, but there were additional symbols for letters with accents. If you want to borrow books from the library, you need to learn the short-hand versions because as I mentioned before, Braille books take up a lot of space, so most books are written in the short-hand version. In English Braille, this means that there are single letter signs – p = people, t = that etc. There are also single character signs for words like the, and, and which. Then there are double character signs for longer words such as mother, question and every. Finally there are signs for groups of letters when they form part of a word such as th, ch, st, and er.

Unfortunately, these signs aren’t universal, so the English th sign is the German ch sign, and the English ch sign is the German au sign – so you basically need to learn a completely different code if you want to read Braille in another language! But, if you take the time to learn this, it opens up a whole new world of books.
I was late to the party with refreshable Braille displays – a board that sits under or next to your keyboard and displays a line of text in Braille created by tiny pins that move up and down. I got my first one when I got my first job, but many blind people use them for reading information or checking what they have written, either alongside or instead of speech.

Life has changed now and I don’t have the same relationship with Braille as I did when I was younger. Hours of commuting into London meant that I swapped Braille books for audio books, because the audio books could be loaded onto my phone, and there was no chance of bopping someone with a heavy Braille book on the train! Still, I don’t believe that children can learn to read effectively with only audio. The reason I was so good at spelling is that, like the sighted children in my class, I knew exactly how the words were formed and could imagine their shape in dots. Think of the English language and how many ways you can pronounce the same letters. Take OUGH – words like cough, through, thought, plough, though, and rough all use OUGH, but they are pronounced differently. If you can’t imagine how words are spelled because you’ve only heard them, you are likely to make more mistakes.

I don’t have this problem now because I’m an adult and I know how to read, but I only recently discovered that Netflix is spelled with an X – after all, flicks is a word and flix isn’t. The reason for this? I’d never seen it written down! I’m so grateful that Louis Braille’s system taught me to read.

It’s now a legal requirement for medication to have labels in Braille. Yes, I could label things myself – I do have a dymo gun type thing that prints out Braille letters onto clear tape, but it’s so much easier not having to worry when I have a pounding headache which tablets are for headaches. Let’s hope we don’t lose this when we leave the EU – that would definitely be a step backwards. The leaflets inside medication boxes aren’t in Braille, but knowing how the name is written means that I can look up any information online.

Also, some cosmetics and food companies incorporate Braille into their packaging design to make their products identifiable to blind readers – see the posts I wrote on L’occitane and The Co-op.

I do have an app on my phone that can read what things are in the kitchen, but we’ve labelled all our spices in Braille because it’s so much quicker for me to identify the one I want by touch.

To be honest, I mainly use online banking and online payment services now, but when these things weren’t available, I got all my bank statements, credit card statements, gas, electricity, and phone bills in Braille. I lived on my own for about 10 years, and it was liberating to be able to manage everything without having to ask for assistance with reading the printed letters, or the somewhat tedious task of having to scan everything so that I could use a character recognition programme on my laptop to find out what things were.

I have found Braille controls on lifts, Braille room signs in hotels, and more than once I’ve been to tourist attractions and been presented with information that I could read for myself, without having to rely on my friends or family to read things to me.

A number of restaurant chains such as Wagamama provide Braille menus. I really appreciate this, partly because it means I can browse the menu without having to ask for help, and although it is now possible to pull up menus from a restaurant’s website on my phone, it’s often really noisy in restaurants and hard to hear what the phone is saying. So having my own copy of the menu in Braille makes things so much easier.

It’s true that not every blind person can read Braille. Some people have enough site to read with a magnifier. Some people lose their site later in life and use other solutions to get information. Some maybe aren’t interested or never had the chance. Offering these people a Braille menu is about as useful as offering me a large print one – so it’s important to remember that everyone’s needs and preferences are different.

If I’m given the chance to have something sent to me by email or in Braille, I’ll probably opt to save the trees and not wait for the postman. But it’s important that the choice is there along with other formats such as large print and audio.

Some organisations offer a service where you can have Braille messages added to greetings cards, and it’s much nicer when you can read the message yourself, rather than receiving what feels like a blank card. Even more so when I lived on my own, and had to take pictures of the card or Facetime with someone to find out who it was from – handwriting recognition software is a very new thing.

For some people, Braille is their primary source of information. This isn’t the case for me – I rely on my laptop and phone for most things, but I certainly appreciate the Braille labels and Braille information that I come across, and I’m grateful to Louis Braille for inventing it. Whilst technology has replaced some of the functions for which I used to use Braille, I think the two should exist alongside one another, and it is vital that children are taught to read for themselves. What they choose to do after that is up to them. I type everything on my laptop, but some people prefer to input information entirely in Braille.

To sumarise, I agree with the title of this blog post from Victarnews – Braille or computers – I’ll have both please!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually twice a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping deals or discounts that I think my readers might like.

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