Every night in my dreams – a blind woman talks about dreaming

Of all the things I wonder about when it comes to people who are different from me for whatever disability-related reason, dreaming isn’t one of the first things that come to mind. But I’m often asked about it.

Do you dream in colour?

Do you see in your dreams?

Do you dream at all?

So I thought I’d answer the questions here in case anyone else was wondering!

You’d probably get different answers to these questions if you asked someone who used to be able to see, or whose vision had decreased throughout their lifetime. Their brain would have a visual frame of reference to draw on. Memories, colours, things that they’ve seen on TV. My brain doesn’t have this, so it can’t create what it has never had access to.

So my dreams don’t have a visual element to them because I don’t know what it is like to see. I might see the sunlight, because I can see the difference between light and dark in real life, but that’s about it.

So, in my dreams, dialogue is important – I hear things and sense things, but not in a way where everything is heightened, rather in a way that doesn’t focus on the visual side of things – because I’ve never had access to that.

I feel things – like the soft fur of a dog, the warmth of the sun, or the water on my skin as I swim. I feel emotions, like anyone else, depending on the type of dream – excitement, fear, happiness, loss, or enjoyment.

I can’t steer my way through the dream, but I am often aware that I’m dreaming, so if I’ve decided I don’t like it, I can usually wake myself up by concentrating really hard and then moving part of my body, which in turn wakes me. That’s quite useful and especially when I was younger, it saved me from a couple of nightmares! I often remember what I’ve dreamed about, and can easily trace links to what I’ve been doing/thinking about, even if things are not exactly the same as in real life.

Being blind doesn’t feature in my dreams that much. I still often dream of walking with a guide dog, even though my golden girl hasn’t been around for coming up to five years. I think this is the way that I felt most comfortable getting around. In contrast, the white cane rarely features in my dreams. I think even though I’ve chosen not to work with a dog at the moment, I was happiest getting around with one at my side.

I remember once I was surprised that I could navigate a completely new and unfamiliar place, even well enough to run after someone. I somehow just knew where the obstacles were and how to avoid them. Maybe it’s like when people dream about flying. We can’t do it, but we can imagine how it feels, and therefore the brain is able to build that into a dream.

Languages are important because most of the time when I’m awake, I’m working in a multilingual environment. So my dreams are usually in English, but occasionally in German or Turkish. Then it’s really funny because people who don’t speak these languages suddenly gain the ability to! That’s always quite bizarre when I wake up, but it seems perfectly normal at the time.

So, have I answered all the questions?

It’s important to remember that every blind person is different, and other people’s experiences will be very different to mine.

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The emotional effects of poor online accessibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaflet by email

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

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

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

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

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

What was in this month’s box?

In the January, “refresh edit” we had:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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10 tips for Moving house when you’re blind

I’ve seen a couple of blogs and videos about this topic recently. I could relate to some of the points very well, and other things made me think “no, there’s no way I would do that!” Not because the ideas themselves were bad, but because they just wouldn’t work for me. We are all different and that’s what makes us interesting.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of moving, because it can be quite a stressful time. Here are 10 tips that worked for me. If you’re also blind, they may also work for you, or at least they will give you some things to think about. To be honest, a lot of these apply whether or not you’re blind, but there are a few extra things to think about as well.

I’ve moved several times as someone who’s living on their own, and also as someone who’s moving in with a partner, so I’ll be pulling from all of these experiences when I write the tips. Also, I’m not just a blind person – there are other things that shape who I am, what I find difficult, and why I would choose one solution over another. The same goes for anyone else who writes an article like this – so there’s no one right way of doing things.

1. Decide what help you actually want and from whom

This is a very personal thing. I usually want as little help as I can get away with – not because I want to prove how independent I can be, but because people trying to help with moving usually end up stressing me out! I have systems and my way of doing things that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily make sense to other people.

Of course I needed help with the actual removals – someone to drive the van and people to shift the furniture and boxes. But in terms of the packing, I did it all myself. I used it as an opportunity to sort stuff out before I packed it, and if I pack the boxes, I know where things are. I politely declined every offer of help with packing and unpacking, because I knew I would feel better about doing it all myself and being clear where things were. This way also meant that if any random stuff was left as a trip hazard, it was my doing! Even if I did do that, I generally remembered that I had done it!

S was actually good to have helping when I packed up last time because he followed requests – “please can you ….” Meant that he would do that thing, and not other things that he thought might be helpful. I can work with that!

Some people have a removal company pack everything for them as an additional service. I would hate this, but if the idea of packing stresses you out, it is an option.

I did get a company in to professionally clean the property though because it freed up my time for other things.

On the day it can be helpful to have someone with you other than the removal company, but it’s good to be clear in advance what that person is there for and what things you might need help with. It’s no good if the removal company starts asking them questions that only you know the answer to. This is a bit easier if you’re moving with or moving in with someone.

If you live alone, what things will you need to ask before everyone leaves for the day? This can include things like how the heating works if you haven’t got an accessible system set up, how the oven works, where the fuse box is, or where the light switches are. I only have light perception, but I don’t want to sit in the dark and some light switches are not in obvious places! Possibly not something for the first day, but it’s also good to know how to turn the gas and water off if you ever need to.

2. Make a plan

This plan can cover all kinds of things, and how much detail you want to put in it will depend on what kind of person you are. I love my spreadsheets and had one with tabs from everything – from potential properties to what was in the boxes to whom I needed to contact.

In terms of the move itself, it’s good to think of a timeline so that you can get things done in time, leaving yourself enough time, even for unexpected last-minute things such as helpers dropping out or running out of boxes!

This is the same for everyone and would include things like getting quotes from removal companies (sometimes they come round to look at how much stuff needs to go), to packing everything up, handing back keys and doing a check-out visit if the property is rented, getting the property cleaned, knowing when people need to be paid and how to make the payment. If you’re having people to help you, who is available on what day, and how are you going to get to the new house on removal day so that you can unlock it and not delay the removal company.

If you have animals, who will look after them on removal day? When I had my guide dog Cindy, she stayed with me and was really chilled out, but it might be easier to have someone help you with looking after animals on moving day itself.

3. Make sure that other people can follow your labelling

I got some help with making labels that were easy to read and that had the names of the rooms on them. They didn’t say what was in the box because they weren’t for me – they were for the people moving the boxes. Once they knew what each room would be used for in the new house, they could make sure that each box made it to the right room.

I also prepared more of these labels for the furniture, so at least each piece of furniture ended up in the right room. I put a Braille label on each sheet, but not on each of the labels. I stuck the correct labels on, and this meant that someone could prepare a batch of them in advance for me to use as I needed them.

I also gave the boxes numbers and had a list of what was in each numbered box.

4. Try to visualise the space and how you want the furniture

This is easier if you can visit the new property more than once before you move in, and if it’s not full of someone else’s stuff. But if you have an idea of where you want your big pieces of furniture, you can ask the removal company to put them in place straight away. It will also help you to figure out if things will fit – as long as you know the measurements for your furniture and can measure the space in the room.

You can always change your mind afterwards, but I know with my current office, it definitely helped to know where I wanted things because some furniture is quite heavy. Also, if you’re blind and you can visualise the lay-out of the rooms in your mind, it will make it easier for you to negotiate them when you move in. If it’s hard, try using Lego!

People learn at different speeds. Don’t expect to have everything memorised on the first day. You may take a wrong turning once or twice – it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got a lot to think about, so if you tend to be a perfectionist as I do, remember to give yourself a break!

5. Keep things that you will need close at hand

For me this was things like laptop, coffee-making stuff, handbag, phone etc. If everything is everywhere, it’s hard to locate exactly what you want, so keep a bag or box with the things that you will absolutely want first, or that would stress you out most if you couldn’t find them. This box can even travel with you so there is no chance of it getting misplaced.

It can also cover basic things like cutlery – during one move I got a take-away after what felt like a really long day, and we spent ages looking for forks because I hadn’t kept some out!

6. Have a plan for unpacking and be clear about priorities

Decide in advance whether you want to do all the unpacking yourself, or whether you want help. If some of the things belong to you and someone else, such as things for the kitchen, who’s responsible for sorting them out?

I’m not bothered by boxes in the first couple of days or even weeks. My plan is to get things moved from the box to the place where they are going to be. This means that someone trying to help by unpacking boxes and leaving stuff out of the box so that the box can be taken away is going to drive me wild! Sometimes you need to communicate your plans and expectations with the people working with you so you’re all pulling in the same direction.

7. Make a list of people who need to be notified of your move

This is something I did prior to the move so that it was easier for me to just go down the spreadsheet and tick them off after I’d notified each company or person. Some things didn’t turn out to be as accessible as I’d hoped. In some cases it was just an email. Sometimes I needed to fill in an online form, which may or may not be accessible. Sometimes we’re still back with the dinosaurs and there are local services that will only accept paper copies of forms that may or may not be available online. You may need to organise some assistance with these if the address change forms are not accessible. This was easier when I was moving in with S, and more of a pain when I lived on my own!

8. Make plans for where you’ll need to go in the first days

This was more relevant when I was living on my own. It’s definitely a good idea to book an online grocery delivery for the first time so you can focus on getting everything set up – unless you really want some time out of the house.

I’ve always done online shopping, so finding out where to get a pint of milk in the first couple of days was never an issue for me, but if you don’t know the new area, it’s important to think about where you will need to go, how you will learn the way, and whether you want to ask anyone for help with this.

Before I moved into one of my other houses and after it had been confirmed, I spent a bit of time with a friend practicing the new route to the station so that I could get to work. That was one of my top priorities.

9. Try to be realistic with your expectations of yourself

When we moved into our current house, we’d made plans with friends for that evening. The problem was, I was done with social interactions by about 3 o’clock. I wanted to shut the door and not deal with another person – apart from S – for the rest of the day. If I’ve had a difficult or strenuous day, the last thing I need is people – even if they are my friends! I knew that, so it would have been better if I hadn’t made plans.

10. Break things down into manageable steps

I think that’s one of the reasons I like my lists and spreadsheets so much – they break my day, week, or projects down into bite-sized chunks that make it all feel more manageable.

It doesn’t have to be finished by the end of the first day. But each box of stuff put away, each person told, or each room that feels like home is one step closer to getting the job done!

If you’re blind and have moved house recently, are there any more tips that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Don’t rely on putting information on screen

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

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

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

2. Try to describe colours

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

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

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

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

3. Not all of your YouTube viewers are on Instagram

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

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

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

5.Be willing to answer questions

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

I hope the tips were useful.

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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 be annoying 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!
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.

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

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

Advent calendar unboxing

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

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.
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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.

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