Mainstream or specialist school – my thoughts and experiences

This is often a subject that evokes heated discussions. Sometimes objective, sometimes verging on the aggressive. People seem so easily caught up in the “us and them” mentality, whoever the us and them happens to be at any given time.

I don’t want to do that though. I have strong opinions on this subject, but I’m certainly not here to tell other people what to do, and I’ll listen to anyone who can stay civil!

Originally, the plan was always for me to attend a specialist boarding school for blind children. I really didn’t want to go. I liked living with my family and couldn’t think of any reason why I would want to go and live somewhere else with people that I didn’t know. Who would do that?

However, Before the time I was due to be sent away, my family had a change of heart. Thanks partly to the new technology I received, I was able to attend the local primary school. I attended four schools in total and was the only totally blind child and Braille reader there.

What was it like?

I can’t make a comparison as some people can who attended a mixture of specialist and mainstream schools. Mainstream school was all I knew. I had my specialist equipment – at first a Braille machine and the old BBC micro. Later I updated to a Braille notetaking device from which you could get printed or Braille copies of work, depending on whether you connected it to a normal printer or a Braille printing device. Later I moved to a laptop, and this is what I’ve continued with throughout my working life.

My books and any worksheets that I needed were prepared by an assistant so that I had them in Braille. I also had huge Braille books for my lessons – the German pocket dictionary was 10 large A4 volumes! The books that I studied for English A levels were 7 or 8 volumes each. I had so much to carry – at one point I was banned from carrying books for more than one lesson at a time due to worries about manual handling and the strain on my back! Now I do a lot more electronically, but I still maintain that it’s important for children to learn to read in Braille. Nowadays, electronic Braille displays are much more common than they were when I was at school.

At the beginning I had a learning assistant with me all the time. This lessened as I grew older and in the end I only had the support for maths, or practical subjects where I might be let loose with an electric saw or equipment for experiments in the science lab. During A-level lessons, I didn’t need any support.

My favourite subjects were languages – in my case English, French and German. I preferred science and humanities to the arts. Maths drove me crazy, although I still got a decent grade, and PE and games were the worst. Not because I was lazy, but I thought some of the activities I was asked to join in with were pretty pointless. I became more interested when I was allowed to do things that made sense to me, like using the gym equipment or going swimming. Cross-country in the snow was just the worst, and I didn’t enjoy learning about games that I would not be able to play. I enjoyed school because I didn’t struggle academically. Games was a reminder of what I couldn’t do, which is why I was glad when I could go swimming instead. And of course I had my horse-riding outside of school!

I’ve since learned that there are team sports for blind people, but I’m not sure I’d have been interested if I’d known about them before – too rough – too dangerous – I’d rather have had my head stuck in a book!

I always had friends, but I preferred smaller groups of good friends to socialising with lots of people and being part of a big crowd. I was never bullied, but I was never that fussed about being popular either. Some people would like me – others wouldn’t. That’s kind of how I go through life now. I saw no point in changing myself to fit with whatever expectation was popular at the time, and my main point of being there was to learn.

Having said that, I made some lovely friends and have good memories of the things we got up to.

I was often resistant to socialising in the way people wanted me to – that shows in the school reports – but part of the deal there was that I just didn’t like being in the noisy lunch hall or outside.

Apart from some differences, such as art, where I was allowed to work with clay rather than to draw things, I did pretty much the same as everyone else. I had friends who helped me, but I helped them too. I gravitated towards specific roles in group work, such as presenting or writing, rather than gathering the information from inaccessible books, but at the end of the day, someone needed to fulfil that role and often others were happy for me to stand up in front of the class because they didn’t want to.

Teachers learned that my friends shouldn’t be used to compensate for their lack of preparation – I needed accessible materials and it wasn’t ok to ask people to read things to me that were still warm because they’d just been dashed off the photocopier! Supply teachers didn’t always get this, but I think on some occasions nobody had even told them that I’d be in their class!

Of course not everything was easy at school. I had the same exam stress, friend troubles, achievements and disappointments as everyone else. I was strong-willed and determined, which got things done, but didn’t always make me popular! It said on my year 7 report that I didn’t suffer fools gladly, and that included adults who thought they knew best, but were suggesting things that had no chance of working. But somehow this set me up for life in a world where things aren’t always accessible and you do sometimes need to stand up for yourself to get the things that you need.

As a younger child, I was always involved in the school productions. Acting wasn’t my thing, but I wasn’t scared of reading in front of a hall full of parents, and that type of job was always going to be available!

For the last two years (12 and 13) I moved to a different school because my one didn’t have a sixth form. I wasn’t the only new girl, but a lot of the other people knew each other, and I was welcomed accepted there.

Maybe there are a few things we could have done differently. I’m an “all or nothing” kind of girl – so I can’t be kind of interested in things. I either like them or I don’t. I think at some point I gave up with maths because I just didn’t get it, and maybe we should have stuck at it and found other explanations for me for the things I wasn’t getting. But hey, I did ok in the exam, and we can always come up with smart ideas when looking back! Overall my grades were above average and I got the highest grades in the things that really interested me.

Being different

I guess I was different, but I never had a hard time because of it. I think I sometimes tried to take control of the difference – to be different because of something other than my blindness. Something of my choosing. So I was Kirsty, the one who loved languages. Kirsty, the horse-mad girl. Kirsty who got top marks in the exam. Kirsty – the Hermione Granger type who annoyed everyone by learning lists of dates off by heart, but who could get a class credit to benefit the whole class by reciting them. My hyper focus could be annoying, and a problem when others didn’t share my interests. However, on more than one occasion, the history class asked me to engage the teacher in an in-depth political discussion so that everyone else could chill out for half an hour! I was happy to oblige.

Kirsty who had the cool tech! Ok there were the obligatory “can you make the speech software say rude words” questions, but in time some of my friends were learning Braille too, and if a teacher’s talking, you can get a lot more down when typing on a laptop than you can with a pen and paper.

I wanted to own the narrative, and not just be different because I was unable to see. Obviously this was a big difference, but thanks to the good support I received and my friends, I didn’t feel at a disadvantage because of it.

Knowing what I do now about additional needs, I wonder whether other things were missed as my differences were generally assumed to be visual impairment related. I don’t think they were entirely. But neither do I think that I missed out on any help that I needed – I either asked for the help, or said all the right things and then continued doing things my own way (“I will try harder to socialise more…”)!

Advantages of attending mainstream school

I think for me, the biggest advantage was that a mainstream school set me up to thrive in a world that isn’t only made up of blind people. It’s a world where the edges aren’t rounded off for you and you will come across inaccessibility, things that are twice as hard for you as they are for others, and things that you need to speak up about.

Overall, I had a lot of really nice, kind, motivated teachers. However, none of the classroom teachers had worked with a blind person before and I had to work with them to establish how we would do things. I did lock horns with people in the education system at times, but it was never these classroom teachers who were doing their best to make their lessons accessible.

When I was about to leave high school, one teacher admitted how she had been apprehensive about working with me and how I would learn in her class. But we did it together. We tried things out, and if they didn’t work, we tried something else. Teachers learned to dictate as they were writing on the board and describe what they were doing as they demonstrated things in the science lab. I’m aware that this was extra work. One teacher used my report as a place to point this out, which wasn’t the appropriate place for it, but in general, most teachers did the extra work willingly and in doing so, made their lessons more inclusive.

I actually enjoyed working with people who had never taught a blind person before. They don’t think they know everything and are generally more willing to listen. Ok, they may not have the experience of blindness that teachers in a specialist school would have, but everyone is different, and one size doesn’t fit all.

So as well as the teachers learning about inclusivity, my classmates also saw someone working alongside them. Maybe I didn’t do everything in the same way as them, but unless there was a really graphical element to what we were doing, I was expected to meet the same standards as they were. I just did it with a laptop and huge folders of Braille!

They did absolutely help me – whether that was getting somewhere unfamiliar, reading inaccessible information, or doing visual parts of presentations. But I can also remember trades, such as me giving help with German in exchange for having my nails painted (I still can’t do it now!) or someone explaining what’s going on in the German video whilst I tried to translate and tell them what was being said.

I think it’s really important for non-disabled children to learn alongside children with disabilities so that the idea will be nothing new when those same children grow up to be adults in charge of recruitment. We can’t expect to have inclusion and integration if it doesn’t start at school.

I wouldn’t want to be segregated because of other characteristics. Most of the time I thought boys were annoying, apart from the quiet ones who wanted to learn stuff, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go to a school just for girls.

In year 12, we had a Japanese exchange student join our class for a while. We became friends and she taught us about Japanese food, language and culture. I had had no experience of any of these things before, and as well as improving her English and learning about life in the cold UK, she taught us a lot too. Diversity is a good thing and we can all learn from different perspectives, or people who do things differently to us.

Specialist schools

I can’t write a lot about this because I didn’t go to one. I know some people who did. Some of them are not that different from me. Maybe it was easier for them because they never had to think about anything being accessible. Their teachers were all familiar with blindness-related things. But bullying can happen anywhere, and blind kids can be as mean as sighted ones. As I’ve listened to other people’s experiences, I understand that it’s not as nice and easy as we may think.

On the plus side, these young people had more exposure to the blindness community and specific activities that had been organised for blind children. Fro mmy point of view though, I never missed this.

Then there is another group of people that seem to have difficulty adjusting to life after specialist school. They didn’t make sighted friends as a child, because there weren’t any around. They don’t know how to respond to people who are different to them because they only knew the homogenous group where everyone else was blind. They can then find it harder to socialise or integrate into the sighted world, or to cope when things go wrong. This isn’t true for everyone of course, but I’ve seen enough examples of it to identify a pattern.

Even though it may be uncomfortable at the time, I’d argue that it’s better for a child to learn how to self-advocate from a younger age, than to have all the obstacles taken away from them, and then fall at the first hurdle after school.

Specialist school may be good at developing blindness and other independence skills, but I’m not convinced that it prepares people as adequately for what comes next as a well-supported mainstream school experience can.

Children today

So, where does that leave us now?

I think choice is important. If mainstream education would be detrimental to a child’s learning, then of course there should be alternative provision to help them reach their potential. This could either take the form of specialist provision elsewhere, or a unit, allowing for some classroom time and some work in smaller groups or one-to-one.

If the local educational authority is not providing enough support, then I can understand why a parent would opt for an alternative. I was lucky. I got the hours of support and the equipment that I needed. It makes me sad to read how some children nowadays don’t. Ultimately though I believe we should strive to have a system that allows children with additional educational needs to learn in a mainstream classroom, both because of the skills they can develop there – skills that have nothing to do with academic learning – and because I believe an inclusive society starts in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments!

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Why I have a problem with the AbledsAreWeird hashtag

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

What is the hashtag>

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

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

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

Why do I have a problem with it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what should we do instead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do you want to be able to see?

I have a genetic eye condition. There’s a lot of research going on at the moment into it, in terms of possible treatments. I follow this research with interest. I like to be informed, but more than that, if the opportunity became available to get involved with the research, I’d be interested to know more.

One thing that makes me a less likely candidate for any possible treatment is the fact that I’ve never been able to see before, so my brain would need to learn to interpret any visual stimuli it received, either through gene therapy or implanted technology.

That would definitely be more hard work than someone would have to do if they had been able to see before. They would be able to relate what they were seeing to what they had been able to see in the past.

Still, I don’t know that It would be all bad to start from scratch. Yes, you’d have to learn about things like colours and depth perception like a small child, rather than drawing on your memories, but on the other hand, any sight would be a bonus. You wouldn’t keep saying “this isn’t as good as what I used to be able to see”.

Why I think that being able to see would be a good thing

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see loved ones for the first time, or to look through my possessions and ask myself “did you really wear that colour lipstick?! I don’t know what colours I like because I’ve never seen them. How would I rate the advice about my physical appearance that I’d been given over the years? Would I make changes to my home décor? Would I discover a favourite colour I never knew I liked? What would I find aesthetically pleasing? How good would my visual special awareness be. Of course a lot of this would depend on the treatment and level of vision it afforded, but they are interesting questions nonetheless!

There would definitely be a learning curve involved, but I think of the many practical ways in which life would be easier. Getting around without using a cane, reading things without making sure they were accessible, finding things that were dropped or mislaid, using any website, irrespective of whether it had been designed accessibly.

However hard I work to lead a full and independent life, there are still times when I need to ask for help with things that others can just do without thinking about it. Yes, we all need help at times, but having a disability often involves a lot more planning to make sure you know exactly where you’re going, where something is, or how to put in place alternative strategies for doing things when the standard ways don’t work.

The first time I got really frustrated about being visually impaired was when I was about 9 and couldn’t go and bring the horses in from the big field to be ridden. Yes, there are things I could have done to make this task doable as a blind person. Plenty of blind people ride and have their own horses. But it suddenly struck me as a practical example of a task which was easier for my friends and would require more planning on my part. So I found something else to do and went home and cried about it where nobody could see!

This isn’t supposed to be a negative post, but I want it to be an honest one. Sometimes stuff is hard, and I don’t subscribe to this “nothing is a problem unless it’s a problem other people create for me” mentality. So in a practical sense, being able to see would make life easier.

I continued riding throughout my teenage years and we found other ways of doing things as you can read in my riding post. But sometimes it would be nice just to get on with things without all the additional thought and adaptations. I also touched on this in my I’m tired post.

Then there are the nice-to-haves. Not being able to see a beautiful view, wild animals, or the sunset isn’t going to change the practicalities of your everyday life, but there are some things that even the best descriptions don’t do justice to if you’ve never seen them before!

Many people name not being able to drive as being a major set-back for people who can’t see. I don’t really see it that way. Sure, life is easier now that I have a partner who drives, but I lived for many years in London, where many of my friends didn’t drive, and driving wasn’t essential. It’s a bit different once you leave the capital, but still I wouldn’t say not being able to do it is high on my inconvenience list. It’s maybe no bad thing that I can’t drive given my low stupid behaviour tolerance threshold. I probably wouldn’t be the most calm and forgiving person on the road!

But getting around new places without having to memorise everything would be nice, as would exploring the countryside or visiting new places without having to think about route planning and sat nav. And before anyone comes up with the objection that some blind people do that – I know they do, but I find it stressful! Things are rarely fun and stressful at the same time!

When I was a baby, my family were basically told that there was nothing that could be done about my eye condition, so they should just go home, not think about a cure, and get on with teaching me to gain the skills I’d need. In some ways I can see the value of focussing on the here and now, rather than hoping for something in the future that may never come, but it’s still good to be curious. It’s still good to find out what’s happening in medical research and see whether any of it is relevant.

I agree it’s not helpful for parents of newly-diagnosed children to focus only on what might happen, when they could instead have a very real influence on what will happen. It’s important to teach children how to find other ways to do things that don’t rely on sight, and to focus on all the things that they can do and enjoy, rather than the few things that they can’t. Blind children need to know that there’s a big world out there, which can be explored with or without sight.

Technology has opened up so many doors for us. Using my assistive technology, I can do things independently that I would have needed help with if I’d been born 50 years ago. That’s amazing! You definitely shouldn’t be defined by something that you’re physically unable to do.

But we live in a visual world. If your child wants to experience that for themselves, and the option becomes available – well they should have that option too in my opinion.

Do all blind people feel as I do about sight restoration?

Of course not! It’s a massive group of individuals and I’d be surprised if you could find anything that all blind people agree about!

However, I ask the question because often people generally assume that blind people do want to see, and it even surprised me that this could start such heated discussions.

I had wrongly assumed that most people see the question in the same way as I do, but not everyone does, and that’s ok. It’s their right.

Some people feel there’s nothing missing from their lives as they are now. I don’t really understand this, but it’s definitely something that should be respected.

Perhaps I see it differently because I’ve never really accepted blindness as part of my identity. It’s something that determines how I do certain things. It’s something that I’m often asked about. It’s something that has led me to focus on and develop my other senses more. But it’s not intrinsically part of who I am. I wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t there tomorrow. Other people view this differently, and that may explain why they wouldn’t want to give something up that they see as part of their identity.

There can also be differences between the opinions of those who have never been able to see and those whose vision has deteriorated.

I’ve even had people say to me “you can’t miss what you never had”. This is true in the sense that I didn’t actually lose something that I had before, but if you live in a world where everyone around you has something that you don’t, and many services, leisure activities, and ways of accessing information are geared to having that sense – then even if you have never had it, there’s still a way in which you can miss not having access to it.

Not everyone feels that way though, and from my observations, there seem to be a higher number of people that have never seen who say they are not interested in seeing or anything to do with being able to see. They know no different and are content with that.

Another comment that often comes up in these discussions is that people don’t want to be “fixed” as though other people see them as broken if they aren’t able to see. I do understand this to some extent – it’s tedious if people focus on what you can’t do, even though in some areas you may have accomplished more than the person feeling sorry for you has. Though I’m sure it’s not their intention, if all someone can do when they meet you is talk about the things that you can’t do, it can devalue all the other things that you have achieved. That doesn’t feel good.

People should be accepted as people, and not seen as broken machines that need to be fixed. I can accept that. However, I see people working in medical research as allies, not as those who want to fix me.

Having said that, I am far less positive about random strangers who come up to me and try to start praying for me to be fixed. This is not ok!

In terms of the medical treatment and broken or fixed debate, there is part of my body that doesn’t work as it should, and if given the choice, I’d like to have something done about that, so long as I understand what’s involved and the risk of no dangerous side effects is not too high.

so what now?

Writing this post is not to say I’m dissatisfied. I have a wonderful partner, some amazing friends, a lovely home, a job that interests and challenges me, and plenty of things that give me enjoyment and fulfilment in my spare time. But there are days when I’m not ashamed to say that being blind is hard work or there are things that I would really like to experience visually. That’s why I follow the research and keep an open mind.

Life is good, but I’m not going to close my mind to something that could make it even better!

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect everyone to be civilised in the comments!

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How I do eye make-up as someone with a visual impairment – update

I wrote a post about this back in 2017 when I first started the blog, but a few things have changed since then, so I decided to redo it. This isn’t so much about favourite products, although I will mention a couple. It’s about the things I do to make life easier as someone who can’t check in the mirror whether what I’ve done is ok.

Mascara

Nothing has really changed here and what a person likes is a very individual thing. It is completely possible to apply mascara without being able to see. Yes, you have to be careful, and yes, there is a chance you could get it wrong, although I don’t have that many accidents. My main problem is that I have nystagmus, occasional involuntary movements of the eye, which I think to be fair is more of a challenge in terms of mascara application than not being able to see in the first place.

Different blind people have different preferences, so the key is to find out what works for you. I am not a fan of travel-size brushes because they are so small, but some people love them.

I prefer a fatter brush that is the same shape all the way round. Otherwise, unless I mark the brush somehow, I don’t know whether I have the bristle side or the comb side unless I touch it, which I don’t want to do. So one that looks the same all the way round is easier for me, and the fatter ones are great because you have a bigger surface area.

When applying, I bring the brush closer to my eye lids and blink gently until the lash touches the brush. This prevents me from poking myself in the eye with it! Once brush and lash have connected, I can move along it to make sure all the lashes are coated.

I tend to prefer a non-waterproof formula, but that’s just so that it’s less of a pain to get rid of.

Some people get their lashes tinted so they don’t have to bother with it at all, but I don’t find it that hard and therefore don’t mind doing it.

Eye primer

Contrary to what I said in my first post, I prefer the ones that you apply with an applicator. Some of the thicker formulas in jars can be more annoying when it comes to spreading them evenly. I have a few different ones, but prefer the clear formulas, because they are more forgiving and I really just want them to stop the eye shadow creasing and not for any additional colour.

Eye shadow

This is the biggest area of change from 2 years ago. At that time I was really into cream shadow pots. I still like these, but in many ways you get what you pay for, and some of these do tend to dry up, even if you’re careful. Once they’ve dried up, they’re impossible to use and you have to throw them out. Ok, they’re not meant to last forever, but you do want to get your money’s worth out of them. My Charlotte Tilbury Eyes to Mesmerise is still going strong and my Mac paint pot, but I don’t like to have too many of these open now.

The biggest improvement I’d say is in terms of crayons. Maybe I was just using the wrong ones before, but a lot of them felt quite firm and this meant that they dragged along the lid, making the experience of applying them quite uncomfortable. I’ve discovered some really creamy ones recently though such as the ELF shadow sticks and the NARS shadow sticks which you just apply by colouring in your eye lids with the crayon. You can feel that you’re in the right place by where the tip of the crayon is on your eye lid, and even for someone with fairly small, hooded eyes, it’s not hard to do. Both of these crayons come in a range of colours.

I tend to go for simpler single-colour looks that I can do easily, rather than attempting something more complicated that may not work out.

Recently I got my hands on a liquid eye shadow. To be honest it was in the sale and I bought it just to see how good I would be at applying it before investing in more. I was impressed at how easy it was, and overall I’d say the crayons and liquid eye shadows are actually easier to apply without sight than the creams – though I will still continue to use all of them because I like the variety.

The only thing I don’t use is powder products. I know of blind women who do, but I just can’t be bothered with the hassle, and it feels too unpredictable because I can’t see if there was any fall-out or how evenly I have applied it. I want something where I feel I have a higher chance of getting it right first time, and this is particularly important when you can’t judge the results for yourself. Powder shadows don’t give me that assurance. If I cared about it enough, I could keep practicing I suppose, but I don’t really see the point when there are easier options available to me.

Brows

I’m not the right person to ask about these because I don’t do much with them. I’d rather a more natural look anyway and a brow gel is about as far as I can be bothered to go!

So as you can see I don’t make life complicated, and there are blind people who do a lot more. My point is though that there are some blind or partially sighted people who don’t think any make-up can be applied unless you can see what you’re doing, and I wanted to show why this isn’t true. I also felt some of my comments 2 years ago didn’t really reflect what I do now, which is why I wanted to post an update.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any more products that you think I would like!

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My problems with the dining in the dark experience

This idea has been on my “posts to write” spreadsheet for a while, and with all the talk of the Birdbox challenge, it reminded me that I wanted to share my thoughts about the whole “dining in the dark” experience.

Don’t get me wrong – if people want to turn all the lights off and eat their dinner in the dark, it’s totally up to them! But I do have some concerns about things that I’ve read or heard about these experiences, particularly when it’s seen as a representation of what life is like when you are really unable to see.

Not all people with a visual impairment have no vision at all

This is the first problem. Many people with sight loss are able to see something. Even I can see lights, although this doesn’t help me to eat my dinner because I can’t se colours and shapes. But blindness doesn’t mean 100% sight loss for everyone who is affected by it.

You have none of the skills that I’ve taken years to learn

If someone is suddenly plunged into darkness, all they have is their other senses, but none of those skills and tips that I’ve picked up over years of eating without the ability to see.

You just have to get on with it, without knowing how to measure how much is on your fork by how heavy the fork is, or by using your knife and fork together to measure the size of the piece of food.

It’s true there are times when I put an empty fork to my mouth, and that is irritating, but it’s better than trying to ram something in there that is way too big!

You haven’t learned how to pour things without looking, or without spilling anything.

You haven’t learned to be aware of where things are on the table, so as not to knock them over. I am not perfect, and everyone drops or spills things occasionally, but I’m no worse than most of my sighted friends, and less clumsy than some of them. These things matter to me – I don’t want to be seen as clumsy, so I make sure that I’m not.

You haven’t learn to use your fork as a tool to work out what foods are based on their shape or texture.

You haven’t learned to use your fork to run it under the edge of the knife to see whether it’s serrated, and therefore whether your knife is the right way up. Ok, this caught me out the other day because I wasn’t paying attention, but blunt knives don’t cut well and there is a way to check, without involving fingers.

You haven’t learned to be aware where the edge of your plate is, so as not to push food off the edge.

These are all things that (most) blind people learn at an early age. But good luck, you have 2 hours to master them, and you might not have anyone around to give you tips!

It’s not realistic to have no idea what’s on your plate

I know some dining in the dark experiences let you order what you want, but apparently others just present you with a plate of stuff from vague choices like “meat” and “vegetarian”, and you have no idea what’s on it.

This has occasionally happened to me at buffets in the past – something that can’t happen now because I need to be clear that there’s nothing on the plate that will set off my allergies.

I don’t like people drawing attention to my blindness by describing where everything is on my plate – I can work this out for myself – but it’s not unreasonable to want to know what’s on there. Not least because there might be something horrible, like peas, that need to be removed or avoided!

I wouldn’t feel comfortable about being presented with a plate of stuff with no idea what’s on it. This idea just seems to make the whole experience more uncomfortable, and when would that even happen? Is it assumed that blind people don’t prepare their own food or know what they’re ordering in restaurants?

Going out for dinner is fun!

For me at least it is. S and I went out for a meal yesterday and saw it as a nice thing to do. We meet up with friends. We go out for dinner if we want to celebrate something special, or on occasions when neither of us feels like cooking. It’s not an ordeal for me, and neither does it look like feeding time at the zoo when we’re done.

Whilst some people may have feelings of trepidation before a meal in the dark, it doesn’t mean that eating out is a negative experience for people who do it all the time.

In real life, most other people can see you

I cringed at the idea of “Oh well, noone else can see, so let’s just ignore the cutlery and eat like the monkeys”.

There are some foods that it’s acceptable to eat with fingers. But you can’t just abandon normal civilised table manners just because you can’t see and nobody can see you.

Ok, if someone loses their sight, they need time to learn. And some people naturally have better coordination skills than others, but for people to automatically make the assumption that everyone eats like this is not ok. It’s actually quite insulting. Not being able to see is no excuse for having food all down your dress! People who do this all the time tend to have a better idea of where their mouth is!

How do you think my first date with S would have gone if I’d eaten like that? It involved whole chicken breasts (no skin or bones) and pasta, and was very good, but do you think there would have been a second date if I’d carried on like that?

Blind people, unless they live in a bubble, are generally not only surrounded by other blind people. People can see us and form opinions about on us based on how we behave and present ourselves.

Ok, I do make life easier for myself by not ordering things like spaghetti when out – because spaghetti should be snapped into more reasonably-sized lengths before it even sees the saucepan. I also don’t tend to order things that have to be dissected because you can’t eat all of it – chicken breast that has to be relieved of its skin is a pain. But generally, I order what I want and deal with it. If the food is served in a dish for sharing, I usually let friends serve me – because it’s easier, they can judge the portions better, and any spillage on the table cloth is then clearly down to them! But I’m also capable of doing it myself.

So you can’t use proper cutlery or wine glasses?

In one review that I read, it said that the knives were blunt and people drank their wine out of tumblers – because sharp knives and real wine glasses were asking for trouble! Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and have plastic ones? No, plastic cutlery is actually really annoying!

I can see why they did it – you don’t want people who have suddenly lost their sense of spatial awareness suddenly brandishing a steak knife around, but it’s still unrealistic. If I have a steak, I want a good sharp knife to chop it up with. And if you give me wine in a tumbler, I’ll be insulted – unless it’s in a restaurant where everyone has them because it’s supposed to be trendy!

There’s no quality assurance

It’s an idea that any restaurant can take on board, so there is no way of measuring how well it is being done. I’ve heard of some blind people who work in these restaurants and they’ve reported that it’s a really good way to get into conversations with people. But with no standards or guidelines, what is being done well in a little town somewhere in Germany, may not be replicated somewhere else.

I know what it’s like for you

When someone said that to me, all I could think to say was “no, you really don’t!” You know what it’s like for you, as someone who’s spent years doing things in a certain way, suddenly being asked to do them in a different way, with no help or experience to rely on.

Oh, and whilst you can step out of the darkened room after the meal is over, I can’t.

Final thoughts

I have written this from the perspective of someone who has never been to a “dining in the dark experience”. My comments are based on what people have told me, and first-hand reviews that people have written online. Whilst I don’t usually review things I haven’t experienced myself, what interests me here is the impressions that people come away with who have never done this before, and the way the experience is being portrayed online. If you had a different experience, feel free to share it.

Many of these restaurants provide employment for people with visual impairments, which in itself is a good thing. I’ve heard first-hand that visually impaired people get into conversations with the diners about what life is really like when you’re blind, which is also a good thing – probably.

If the whole experience were just about the role that being able to appreciate food visually plays in the eating experience, I could probably go along with that. We do enjoy food with our other senses.

I did hear from one person who saw it as a kind of challenge to learn to do things in a different way, and I could respect that. But so many other people left their sense of self-respect along with their coat and phone in the bar, and I find that really odd.

If people just have a good time and enjoy the experience for what it is – fair enough. I want people to have fun! Maybe they’ll learn some things about themselves too and be happy about it!

But whenever I read reviews, all I find is people saying how they felt vulnerable, gave up on the cutlery, had no idea what they were eating, shovelled food in with their hands, whish they’d worn a bib, and then reckon they have a better understanding of what life is like for me? I don’t think so!

How about you? Do you have any thoughts on this? Have you been to one of these experiences? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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How do I find out about new beauty and skincare products as a blind person?

As a skincare and beauty enthusiast, I’m always interested in the latest news and shiny new things. But how does that work when you’re blind and you can’t see the adverts or the pictures that people share?

Well, you have to be creative, but here are some of the strategies that I use.

1. YouTube

It might not be an immediately obvious first choice for blind people, but YouTube is great! Not so much in terms of make-up tutorials, because people often talk about all kinds of stuff, and not what they’re doing, but anything that involves unboxings, hauls, favourites or empties can give me great insight into what’s out there.

And that’s often the point – as a blind person, I can’t just walk around Boots or Superdrug on my own and see what’s there. I can browse things online, and often do, but unless I’m specifically looking for something, I might not come across something that will really help unless other people point it out. Eye shadow sticks and cream blushes were a case in point. I just didn’t know about them until someone told me.

Some YouTubers do a good job of summarising new products – Fleur de Force is a good example.

However, many of the really big YouTubers get so much PR that they do really rushed videos with less information about the individual products – not so great when you can’t see them. I prefer more details about fewer products, which is often why I go for the smaller channels because it often feels as though those YouTubers do more with the content that they have, and this helps me because I find out more about the individual products.

When it comes to my subscription boxes, I follow people who get the same boxes as me. Last week S was out, and I couldn’t read the Glossybox card very well. But it was fine, because Claire already had her box up the day it came. I also follow people like Sussex Sandra, and Lightning Lass, who have all helped me by talking about their subscription boxes. This could be things like:

  • Reading the cards (S would do that too, but if it’s a video I can replay it if I forget something).
  • Talking about the colours (the leaflet says nice buildable colour, but YouTuber says “omg that’s Barbie pink!”)
  • Passing on details of deals that I would never have known about.
  • Providing links to the products so that I can find out more information or buy them myself. Yes, I know these are often affiliate links, and I use those too, but when you can’t read the package, reading the website is the next best thing!

2. Podcasts

I spent ages looking for good beauty podcasts, and was really surprised that there wasn’t more out there. It’s a massive gap in the market! But it’s ok, because then I discovered the Full Coverage podcast by – in their own words – professional make up artist, Harriet Hadfield and unprofessional beauty junkie, Lindsey Kelk!

There is always a section about news, and because there are no visuals, the products are always well-described. This is followed by honest, down-to-earth discussions which are both informative and hilarious at times. The podcast also has its own Facebook group, which is friendly and supportive, and where people are genuinely interested in helping each other (not a given in the beauty groups on Facebook!)

3. Blogs

Blogs by their nature are full of words. There has been a move towards more image-driven posts, but most of the time people will write something about the products that they are enjoying or have used up. I don’t stick around if the posts are mainly about photos with captions like “this colour is amaaazing!”, but I have found some bloggers who go into more depth about what a product was like, or who describe colours.

Shops and brands are often terrible when it comes to writing about the colour of their make-up. They assume that everyone can see the picture, which of course isn’t true. Certainly for me, online shopping is often a more accessible alternative than going into the shop, but then I have the problem of working out the shade of something that has a weird and wonderful name! I often google the product and find descriptions of it on blogs, which then help me to decide which one I want.

Blogs by other people with a visual impairment can be a useful source of information too, especially when it comes to tips on how to do things. But I know in terms of colours, I’m not massively helpful either because I often don’t attempt to describe something I can’t see myself.

4. Subscription boxes

One of the things I really like about subscription boxes is that you are able to try things at a fraction of the cost and without having to buy the full-size products. Ok, I can’t use everything that I get – sometimes because it’s for darker skin tones, sometimes because it’s things that I just don’t use (I’m thinking of you, dry shampoo!), and sometimes it’s because I prefer a different type of product because of my blindness (I prefer cream or liquid highlighters over powder). If I end up not keeping a lot of the products, that’s not a good deal. But if it’s one or two, my Mum or friends are happy to rehome them, and some of them go in giveaways, because just because I can’t or won’t use something, it doesn’t mean my readers won’t.

I really like the idea with boxes like Latest in Beauty too, because there you get to choose the things that you would like to try.

5. Newsletters

The basic point of newsletters is marketing. I know that. But as many brands don’t have basic subscription functionality on their blogs, subscribing to the newsletter is a good way to be sent any more in-depth articles about the brands that you enjoy. That and of course it’s a way to find out about discounts, which are also good.

The only problem there is that whilst the message is slowly getting through about website accessibility being important, many brands and shops seem to forget that this also applies to their newsletters. Some contain links that can only be activated by using a mouse. I don’t use a mouse. Some have ridiculously complicated or inaccessible sign-up processes. Some have “your alt text goes here” all the way down the newsletter because someone couldn’t be bothered to fill in the fields in the newsletter software with the correct information. Sighted people don’t see this. People using a screenreader will be able to read it.

And finally – avoid things that don’t work

I’ve tried out a few things and decided that I really didn’t like them – so I don’t do them any more.

For example, I like using Facebook groups, but many groups that I’ve found about skincare or beauty are so image-heavy, that they aren’t fun for me. There are not enough words. People post things like “Hey look what I bought this morning” Or “Which one shall I get?” and I can read through all the comments and still have no idea what they’re talking about. So I unsubscribe.

It was the same with Instagram – apart from the app not being massively accessible at the time I tried it, I found that half the time people weren’t writing interesting captions. It was all about the pictures, and I lost interest. So I’m not on Instagram, and that’s ok.

The same goes for Pinterest. I know lots of people who use it for inspiration, but it is all about the pictures, and for someone who can’t see them, it doesn’t get more uninspiring!

Magazines do have some interesting articles in them, but you sometimes have to scroll a long way past image galleries first. I’ve downloaded a few for free as part of my Amazon Prime subscription, but I haven’t found anything that added enough value that I’d want to buy it.

Summing up

So, I know that some of the ways that other people use to find out about new products aren’t open, or useful to me, but I think it’s about finding out where the relevant information is, and focussing on that. Look for the things that do add value. Build relationships with people whose content is accessible. Try to educate brands when it matters to you. I can’t spend my entire day explaining why “your alt text goes here” in newsletters is super-annoying, but if it’s a brand that I particularly care about, I will.

I think there’s also a message there for brands – there is a potential audience out there in terms of blind people. We have buying power! But you won’t reach many of us if you focus on glossy ads or Instagram (and yes, I know there are blind people who use it, but there are also many who don’t). Neither will you reach us by targeting groups for blind people – I don’t attend any, or read any publications aimed at this particular demographic.

What you can do are all the little things to make the mainstream experience of your brand more accessible. This includes good descriptions of products, labelling of colours, content that doesn’t rely primarily on images as part of your mainstream marketing strategy, and not excluding content creators from your marketing campaigns by including inflexible measures such as an Instagram following of X number of people, when perhaps someone has a sizeable audience on another platform, or access to an audience that would otherwise be hard to reach.

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I’m tired – the disability reality that people don’t talk about

The day that my golden retriever Cindy died was a really tough day for me. I didn’t want to have to tell people about it and have the same conversation over and over again, so I posted it on Facebook. Just to get it done. However, as the day went on, I was really touched by all the kind people who left comments and kind words, or things that they remembered about her. I wasn’t particularly looking for interaction when I wrote the post – I just wanted to get the conversation out of the way. But I was glad that I did it.

My blog isn’t the kind where I really open up online.

Some people do, and I don’t want to judge them. If it helps to write all the emotions down and get it out there, and even better to get support from others, then why not? That’s cool. But if I’m having a bad day, generally the last thing I want to do is tell other people about it!

I think a lot of this has to do with me as a person, and nothing to do with having a disability. If anything, I don’t share because in the past I’ve been the person that other people go to when they’re not ok, and then I got myself the reputation as the one who gets things done, finds solutions, and sorts out problems. Somehow people expect me to be positive, coping, and to have my sh1t together all of the time. Like some kind of superwoman – which, by the way, I’m not!

Things have got better since I’ve been with my partner. I do open up more now, but not usually on my blog or social media. I think live and let live – if people want to reveal so much of themselves it’s their choice, but I can’t relate to what motivates people to do it. So I don’t.

There’s a problem though. Not sharing means other people don’t know when things aren’t ok, or why.

Sometimes it’s not as clear-cut as just one thing that’s gone wrong. Generally people can understand a specific thing. I had a bad day because something went wrong at work/I have a headache/my car broke down or whatever.

The thing is – sometimes I get really tired. Not the kind of tired after you’ve been reading a good book till 3AM and still have to get up for work, but weary of having to do twice as much work as other people just to get a job done.

It’s not all of the time. Many things that I do at work are just as easy for me as anyone else. Learning when I was 5 means that now, I can type faster than a lot of sighted people, which is great when you need to make detailed notes or get an accurate record of meetings. Thanks to my screenreader, I can read, write, work with spreadsheets, find information, and manage pretty much all areas of my business myself. Working in two languages isn’t more difficult for me than for anyone else. I’m organised, so my systems work well, and working for myself has eliminated a lot of inaccessible practices that I had to work through in other jobs.

Sometimes people seem amazed at some of the things that I get done as a blind woman, whereas for me, they’re just normal things that aren’t particularly difficult. They would be hard for someone who suddenly lost their sight, but I’ve got strategies to get them done, so it’s not a big deal and I can do them on autopilot.

But then there are the other things that leave me feeling exhausted. And it’s not just one thing. It’s the knowledge that often I have to work twice as hard to do something that would be really simple for someone else. That is frustrating at times.

When I lived in London, it wasn’t so much my job that drained every bit of energy from me, as the trek across London each day (3 hours in total). Yes, I enjoyed reading my book on the train and chatting to the friends I made on the commute, but it was the careless tourists, the terrible drivers, the people who nearly trampled on my dog, the roadworks that appeared in a different place every day, the lack of audio announcements on the trains, the people with pushchairs who thought that everyone else was a second-class citizen and should get out of the way – preferably into the road, the cyclists who thought the red lights didn’t apply to them, and the religious or drunk people who thought that the woman with a guide dog was a captive audience. They stole my energy. One on its own would have been fine, but it all adds up, like putting more and more in your shopping bag until it’s so heavy you think it might split and you are sooo glad to get home and lock the door behind you!

Does that make me a less capable or less independent blind traveller, or just a more honest one?

It was hard. Some days were fine and I didn’t experience any of this. Others weren’t. If you’ve already had a tough day at work, things like that can wear you out!

When I ask my partner for help on my laptop – sometimes it’s to draw on his vast IT knowledge, but more often than not, it’s to do the simplest task that I can’t do because some unhelpful person or organisation has designed their site in a way that I can’t use it independently. So it takes longer.

I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether it’s a result of blindness or society not being accessible – because I think on a day-to-day basis, it’s often a mixture of both.

The fact that I can’t find my keys because I wasn’t organised and didn’t put them in their place is my fault – not the society around me. And the fact that it takes me longer than someone who can easily see where they are is definitely related to the fact that I can’t see them.

The fact that if I want to go somewhere new on my own, I need to do more planning than someone who could just show up and follow a map is just something I need to factor in, as is the fact that we sometimes need to do a bit more work beforehand to make a group activity with friends accessible to me as well. It’s not a reason not to do these things, but doing it takes time and sometimes energy.

The fact that, in order to take part in a course, I have to write several emails, make phone calls and chase around till I get an answer about accessible materials is definitely a case of the organisation in question not making it easy for me. I can’t just sign up an go.

On another self-study course that I started recently, I got part-way through module one before hitting the roadblock of a question called “label this diagram”. The content was easy. The diagram made it impossible for me to complete the task. So the options were find an alternative course, have a lengthy discussion about accessibility, or give up! I am not a fan of giving up, but I have learned now to choose my battles wisely, and focus on the things that will really add value.

So, sometimes nobody is at fault. Also, finding someone to blame doesn’t make the extra work go away.

On some days, all this extra work builds up. If I’m tired anyway – because life happened that way, it can make me feel exhausted. Most of the time I just take it in my stride, but each of these things saps a little bit of energy, and when you add them all together, it accumulates.

I don’t want to whine about it. I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I don’t necessarily need people to come up with solutions because chances are I already have one.

The other problem is that people are often not that good at listening. They’d rather tell you about how something similar happened to their neighbour’s best friend’s spaniel, or about the vaguely-related article they read, whilst I sit there trying not to get bored and disengage because I don’t see the relevance to the thing we’re actually discussing. People want to contribute something, or at least not to admit they have no idea what to say – I get that. But listening is such an undervalued skill nowadays!

So I often don’t share, because having to listen to lots of words with people trying to fix problems that I’ve already fixed is also kind of tiring. I just want people to understand that because I’m not openly losing it on Facebook or crying in a corner somewhere, it doesn’t mean everything is easy or fine.

I get on with things. I’m not an emotionally needy friend. I’m maybe a difficult friend to have because my first thought isn’t to share when things aren’t going well. But sometimes I’m not looking for comfort – just for someone not to try and get me to carry their shopping bags as well whilst I’m struggling to carry my own (I mean the shopping bag analogy from earlier in the article).

It doesn’t last long. A good night’s sleep, a good distraction – and the next day I’m ready to face the world again with new energy. But on a particularly tough day a couple of weeks ago, I did ask the question as to why we never talk about this.

Are people who live full and happy lives despite their physical disability not allowed to say “I’m so tired today because of all the extra energy and concentration that I have to put in?”

When I was younger, I would never have admitted it. “I can cope! I can do anything!” I still believe that I can cope and do anything I want to, but just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that there is no cost involved – whether that’s material cost or cost in terms of effort. Sometimes it’s the same amount of effort as anyone else would need. Often it’s more.

There is no better time to have a disability such as blindness. Technology makes so many things possible. There are aps on my phone to read things, tell the colour of things, and help me to shop online without ever having to navigate a shop on my own! My laptop gives me access to find information or communicate with friends and customers across the world. I have a supportive partner, family and friends.

But sometimes, just because I can make things look easy, it doesn’t mean that they are.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this – other than to say I think we should have the freedom to be real. I think people with disabilities often put ourselves under pressure because others believe that we can’t do things, or are amazed when we can do things that aren’t that hard. So we don’t want to admit any sign of weakness, because it somehow reinforces the stereotypes or a “can’t-do attitude”. Sometimes we get tired of people who always see the problems and never the solutions – and the worst thing would be to be seen as the same as them. And yes, I don’t have much patience with people who are unwilling to try because everything’s sooo hard!

But going back to the original point – admitting you find something hard and doing it anyway isn’t weakness. Doesn’t that mean you’re a stronger person than the person who pretends the hassles aren’t there?

I am still positive, determined, driven, and passionate about finding ways to get things done. But sometimes I get tired because of all the extra work that goes in behind the scenes – work that most people aren’t even aware that I’m doing – and today I decided admitting that this extra work wears me out sometimes is perfectly ok.

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

  • My riding story – horse-riding with a visual impairment
  • 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.

    “Too many words were happening” and sensory sensitivities

    For many years, the people around me, and even I to some extent, put some of my quirky behaviour or reactions down to my blindness, or just my being a bit unusual. It was only when I started doing some research because I was working with a learner with autism that I began to discover things like sensory sensitivity, which I never knew were a thing, and really relate to them.

    The thing was, I started reading articles to be a better teacher, but I think one of the reasons I seemed to have more success communicating with this particular learner than some of the others around me was that some of the things I was reading made sense on a level that was deeper than just understanding the text. I got it!

    That didn’t mean I related to everything – I didn’t have the learner’s difficulties with social interactions that set me off on my quest for knowledge in the first place, But other things came up that automatically made sense before I read the explanations.

    I’m not an expert on this, and other people have done a much better job at describing them such as in this post from the Musings of an Aspie blog on sensory sensitivities and atypical sensory processing. Read it if you want more information – I certainly identified with a lot of it and was glad to realise that other people have these issues, not just me.

    I mentioned it briefly in my post about Lush products. the reason I hadn’t been able to use dissolvable bath products was a texture thing. I don’t like how they feel, particularly when they’re wet, and I don’t like the bits of them that are in the water. It’s not just an “I don’t like it reaction” but an “I physically pull away from this texture and don’t want to be where they are”, and it would stop me enjoying the bath, even if it smelled wonderful and had loads of great ingredients. I don’t like body scrubs either. Some things can’t be fixed and I just avoid the textures, but I found by putting the bar or bath bomb in a little cloth bag that floats on the water, I don’t have to touch it and no stray bits get out! That makes it ok.

    However, there are some things that I can’t fix. I remember telling my mum, very definitely, with all the conviction of a grumpy 5-year-old, that I would NOT be having lace on my wedding dress when I grew up. I was going to be a bridesmaid and didn’t like the feeling of the lace on my skin. I didn’t just not like it – I was constantly aware of it, like the thread of cotton in the post I linked above. My school jumper was no better, and I wore long sleeved blouses, even in the summer, so that when I had to put the jumper on, it wouldn’t touch me. I’m still not good with wool now. It doesn’t freak me out like the thing I hate the most, but if I wore it next to my skin, it would take up too much brain space because I’d be thinking about it all the time, and how it was scratchy, and if I moved I would feel it, that maybe it wouldn’t bee too cold if I took it off and…what did you just say to me?

    . There are some other textures that I can’t do, and I avoid them at all costs!

    It applies to sounds too. It’s not the same, because I don’t feel the same urge to run away, but I am hypersensitive to noise. I can follow conversations in loud places, or people competing with each other and talking at the same time, but it saps my energy in the same way that your phone’s battery would run down faster if you streamed video content instead of reading articles. If the background music is too loud, it’s not background music, but a constant assault on my ears, demanding my attention, and making it harder for me to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be listening to. I have no filter to tell my brain that those sounds aren’t important and can be ignored!

    Some things are definitely related to blindness – having a really loud drill going on makes it difficult for me to orientate myself. I don’t like loud bars because I can’t lip read or even figure out if someone is trying to talk to me. But it’s more than that, and I’ve discovered it’s not just blind people who are hypersensitive to noise, or particular sounds.

    You don’t just hear things – you hear everything – and your brain is trying to tell you that all of these things need to be taken notice of. It could be the dog barking and traffic sounds that were mentioned in the Musings of an Aspie post. It could be something that other people don’t notice, like a neighbour’s wind chime, that you can hear even when the windows are shut. It could be someone driving you to distraction by tapping their pen to the point where you want to grab and make off with it just so it will stop! It could be the clock that has to be taken out of a friend’s spare room where I was staying in the middle of the night and put in the hallway because it WOULD NOT STOP TICKING! Yes I did that and yes the friends did ask about it!

    It could be water dripping on something in the neighbour’s garden every single time it rains. When I pointed it out and S started listening for it, he could hear it too, but it wasn’t the same for him as the thing that was bugging me, like a constantly pulsating heart that would only stop when the rain did! I am so glad that the thing – whatever it was – has been taken away now!

    The title of this post came from a blog post that I was reading, and I feel bad now because I can’t find it again. It wasn’t the heading or anything – just a phrase that was used “too many words were happening”. As an English teacher, this is an unusual use of language – words don’t usually happen. They’re spoken or said or yelled – but they don’t just randomly happen. And yet I knew what the author meant . Saying that they were happening sounds like they take on a life of their own and are not under control, and it does feel like that for me, too, when I’m in a room and too many words are happening – all loudly and at the same time! I love the expression!

    So the words and sounds keep happening and bashing my ears. If it gets too much and becomes overwhelming, I withdraw in sensory self-defence. It’s like a way of shutting down till the thing has passed. People just think I’m a bit quiet, but I’m really the tortoise who’s gone back in his shell till it’s over because I can’t function properly with so many audio stimuli fighting for my attention!

    I can see why people might think this is blindness-related. After all, people generally assume that blind people have super-powerful ears. I think the truth is that we learn to use our sense of hearing more and hear the things that other people miss, because those things could be really useful in the absence of all the visual clues. It’s true, I sometimes hear parts of friends’ conversations that weren’t meant for me (I guessed a friend was pregnant before she told us because of a quiet comment to her husband), and I try not to abuse that! I hear the conversation on the next table in the restaurant without trying to listen to it – really funny when they notice that a colleague tried to kiss me and I clearly wasn’t happy about it! Yay! It was all I could do not to start laughing and then have the embarrassment of explaining why. But I’m not intentionally listening to everyone else’s life happening alongside my own.

    Still, not everything that has to do with hearing is necessarily blindness-related. Whether that’s sensory-related, behavioural, or to do with how people perceive and respond to the world around them.

    It’s not just blind people who struggle with not being able to filter out background sounds, excessive noise, or repetitive noise. Sensory sensitivity or problems processing sensory information are not just me being weird. It feels good to know that and to find that other people identify with these things too, particularly when those people can see, or they can explain a bit more of the science behind them.

    In the past I’ve just made myself get on with it – less so as I have got older and am not as willing to be in environments that I really don’t want to be in. But if sensory sensitivities and atypical sensory processing are real things that have been identified and acknowledged. No amount of just getting on with and putting up with it are going to make it ok. And that’s ok!

    So why did I write this post? Maybe because I’m a teacher and I like to share what I’ve learned. Maybe to encourage parents of blind children that you shouldn’t attribute every behaviour to blindness-related things. Maybe to say if you have friends who have sensory sensitivities, don’t give them a hard time about it because it’s not something you can change. And if you identify with any of these things, you’re not the only one! Knowing this fact helps me.

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    15 myths about blindness that I would like to get rid of

    Not knowing something is not as bad as thinking you know something that turns out to be untrue. Or maybe it is true, just not in all situations. I’m here to debunk the 15 myths about blindness and blind people that annoy me the most.

    If you have any questions, go ahead and write them in the comments. I usually answer – unless they are too way out, like the random guy who came up to me on a train to ask something really inappropriate. As a general rule, if the question would shock your grandma, it’s not appropriate to ask a complete stranger! In those cases, a stern “why do you feel that you need to know that” usually embarrasses people enough to get them scuttling away! But as I said, if people genuinely want to learn something, I don’t bite when they ask questions.

    So here are the things that aren’t true, or aren’t always true…

    1. All blind people touch people’s faces when they meet for the first time

    Really, for me, that’s just weird. I hate the way that old films portray this as normal. I wouldn’t want anyone getting into my personal space like that. It’s an intimate gesture, and anyway I don’t want anyone ruining my make-up.

    Also, it doesn’t give you that much information. I’d much rather focus on all the other information that many sighted people miss – what people actually say, when their tone of voice doesn’t match the message they want to give, the intonation, the hesitations, or the things they don’t say. That gives you much more information to work with than whether someone is wearing glasses or trying to hide a massive spot on their chin.

    People who have asked to do this in my experience have tended to be a bit creepy anyway, and I would never say yes – so don’t feel obliged to either. Some people just use this as a way to get up close and personal with strangers, particularly those they might fancy.

    2. We have better senses

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but all your other senses are heightened, aren’t they?” I think actually what’s happening is that we get used to using them more. So it’s not about being born with super-hearing or a sense of smell as good as the nearest Labrador, but if your hearing and sense of smell are what you have to work with, then you work with them.

    If person A just notices the smell of the roses because it’s pleasant, and person B knows that smelling them means he’s nearly home – well Person B is probably more likely to tune into it.

    If person A doesn’t hear the cyclist approaching from behind, and person B does – just because they know that some cyclists don’t care about pedestrians and the sound of the bike is the only clue to keeping out of their way, it’s not super-hearing that helped, but a trained sense of hearing – probably due to previous near-misses with cyclists!

    3. We like loud things because we can hear them

    It didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard of blind children that were terrified of their Christmas presents because everyone got them something loud! For example, Lego wasn’t loud, but I enjoyed it as much as my auditory toys. So if buying for a blind child, try to find out what he or she likes, rather than just assuming that they would like something because it makes a noise.

    Far from liking noise, some blind people have noise sensitivity and don’t like to be in loud places with a lot going on. Apparently in the infant school I clamped my hands over my ears and yelled “let me out of here” because I wasn’t a fan of the volume of noise in the dinner hall. The adult Kirsty doesn’t do that any more and will find her own way out if it gets too much, but the temptation to do what the 5-year-old Kirsty did is still there sometimes!

    4. We are all good at music

    Just because there have been a couple of famous blind musicians, it doesn’t mean everyone will be good at music. Perhaps music is appealing to many blind people because you can fully appreciate the end result without sight. But there are other skills for which a good sense of hearing can also give you an advantage. At school, I was always good at languages because I really listened. I wasn’t expecting subtitles or visual clues in the listening test and I found it easy to memorise the sounds. But someone else might hate both music and languages, and it’s never good to generalise.

    5. We all read Braille/large print

    It’s cool if people offer me a Braille menu in a restaurant, but a large print one would be of no use. The energy company saying that they can’t email me my letter and insisting on sending all future correspondence in large print was not helpful. Some blind people read Braille. Others can read large print. Others only use audio. Assumptions don’t help because everyone has different skills, experience, and reading preferences.

    6. We don’t care how we look

    It’s true that there are some people who couldn’t care less about their physical appearance, and this attitude generally doesn’t serve them well at job interviews! We live in a world where most people can see us, and that’s a thing. Some people may try to rebel against this, but personally I don’t see what good it serves.

    It’s the same with everyone else – take any group of sighted people and you’ll find some care more about their appearance, others less so. Blind people are no different.

    But it’s not true that because I can’t see myself, I don’t care how I look. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a make-up article on my blog.
    I can’t see the end result, but who doesn’t enjoy being told they look good after they’ve put some effort into getting ready for a night out? I like to try and make the best of my appearance – partly because people treat me better, but partly because if you feel good, you give off more confident vibes and really I want to make the best of what I have, whether that’s by using clothes, make-up, or accessories such as jewellery or my owl bag.

    7. We can tell how old people are by hearing their voice

    Just don’t. It’s not a cool game. I refuse to play, but if you insist, you had it coming if someone adds 20 years on to your age!

    8. Everything needs to be huge

    It took me ages to find a nice tactile watch that wasn’t the size of a saucer. It used to be better, and I guess demand has gone down because more people are using smart watches. The one I have now was from a friend in Germany, but if it breaks or stops working, I’m not sure what I’ll do because most of the other ones now are enormous.
    I appreciate that some low-vision aids have to be larger so that people can see the large print, but we don’t all need telephones with huge buttons, clock faces as wide as our wrist or things that are big and clunky just because they’re for someone who is blind.

    9. We all use the same tech

    My phone and my laptop make life so much easier for me, and I couldn’t do anything with a magnifier.
    Someone once commented on my kitchen that it looked normal. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to look like, but it turned out they meant it wasn’t full of talking gadgets or special things to make cooking easier.

    I have tactile markers on the washing machine, dishwasher, and oven. I have a jug with raised measurements on the inside. But that’s about it. Other people have talking microwaves and all kinds of stuff from specialist shops – and that’s ok.

    Just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will find it useful.

    Imagine you brought out a skincare range for women in their 30s. Great, I might be interested. But then I discover it’s for people with oily skin and you’ve lost me right there, because I don’t.

    10. We never watch tv or go to the cinema

    This isn’t true. I don’t go to the cinema often, but when I do, I go to audio described performances, where the additional information about what’s going on is given through a headset.
    I don’t watch a lot of tv, it’s true, but I do have Netflix and S and I sometimes watch films together. I’m more interested now that you can filter by programmes, so I only see the ones with audio description, but some blind people really enjoy tv.

    11. The people with us must be our carers

    “No, it’s not her girlfriend, it’s her mum!” My friend, only about 10 years older than me, was horrified. She was neither my girlfriend, nor my mum, nor my carer, which is what people often assume. She was just my friend and we were walking along, arm in arm, because she was guiding me.

    Another friend was stopped when we were in the supermarket by someone who wanted to know about caring for disabled people. It’s kind of insulting to assume that the only reason someone would be hanging out with a disabled person is because you are their carer.

    12. We all know each other

    I was walking down the steps to my train platform, only to be told that my friend was “over there”. Apart from the fact that “over there” wasn’t massively helpful, it turned out the guy talking to me had just assumed I knew, or wanted to hang out with, another guy with a guide dog. I heard the other guy talking to his dog and had no idea who he was.

    I understand that some people who have gone through the specialist school system and attended schools for the blind might know a lot of blind people, but I went to mainstream school.

    It’s like if you meet someone of a certain nationality and are really surprised that they don’t know some obscure person from the other end of the country who happens to be of the same nationality.

    And it’s not just sighted people that make this assumption – blind people do it too, which I find a bit bizarre!

    I think that some of it comes down to the fact that some people socialise predominantly with other blind people – but some of us don’t, so don’t be surprised if we don’t know your aunt’s friend’s next door neighbour from 50 miles away who happens to be blind!

    13. We all have guide dogs

    I loved my golden guiding girl, but I know blind people who don’t even like dogs, and have met people who couldn’t take responsibility for looking after an animal. Guide dogs are fantastic, but they aren’t right for everyone. They’re a big commitment – totally worth it if you love dogs and can make that commitment, but not everyone’s character or lifestyle are suited to having a four-legged friend.

    Also, as smart as they are, the doggies can’t read – so please don’t try to give directions to them or show them a map. Yes, it happened to us!

    14. We all sit in the dark

    I can function as well in the dark as I can with the light on, but I don’t sit in the dark because I can see the difference. The light doesn’t help me to see anything else, such as shapes or colours, but it looks nicer than darkness. I love to sea the sun streaming in through my window, and it’s handy that I can see when a bulb needs changing. Also, when I lived on my own with my dog, I wouldn’t have wanted her to sit in the dark all the time!
    I guess it may be different for people who don’t see light at all, but still I think they should make sure they’re not inviting sighted friends into a house of darkness because even for me, it was a bit strange when someone did that!

    If I want something quickly from another room, I don’t bother turning lights on and off as I go, but if I’m going to be anywhere for a period of time, I’d rather put the light on.

    15. When we’ve finished eating, it looks like feeding time at the zoo

    I have a real issue with the dining in the dark experience, but that’s a post for another day.

    I’m not denying that some blind people have more difficulty eating. Some people have dexterity issues. Others lose their sight suddenly or later in life, which means they have to gain a whole new set of eating skills and learn to do things differently. A bunch of fully-sighted people plunged into darkness probably wouldn’t make a very good job of their first meal … but it’s not fair to assume that someone who’d been eating without sight for the last 30 years would have the same problems.

    Of course anyone can drop something or spill something – nobody is perfect. That has nothing to do with whether you can see or not.

    S and I go for meals out as a fun thing to do. We go out for dinner with friends. On average I don’t tend to drop, spill or knock things over as much as other people, partly because I am very mindful about where things are and don’t make sweeping hand gestures, and because I have a thing about not wanting to look clumsy. I’m also a bit more relaxed than I was in my 20s – if the food comes out in a dish in the middle of the table and someone offers to serve me, that’s fine. I know I could do it myself, but don’t need to prove it on every occasion!

    Some things are easier to eat than others. But I don’t approach the task with a sense of dread or leave a trail of food, broken glass and food on my clothes. I’ve learned how to use a knife not only to cut, but to measure how big chunks of food are. I’ve learned how to guess how much food is on my fork by how much weight is on there. Occasionally I underestimate, but that’s better than overestimating and approaching your mouth with something that won’t fit!

    Anyway back to what I was saying. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make a mistake, but I’ve had years of learning to develop strategies for eating without looking, so I don’t have the same problems as someone who suddenly tried to eat in total darkness. It’s not accurate for someone who’s eaten without the lights on to think they know how it is for me.

    Are there any more myths you think we should explore?

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    If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in these other posts about visual impairment too:

  • My riding story – horse-riding with a visual impairment
  • The best posts of 2017 and plans for 2018

    I’ve got quite a few new followers this month, so I wanted to show you what else I write apart from Blogmas posts! I also wanted to look back over the first year of Unseen Beauty. So, here are the most popular posts from 2017!

    10. Holly’s story – from a puppy farm to a loving home The story of Holly the Labrador – I want people to know that buying puppies from puppy farms means there will always be work for mothers like Holly, and that’s not fair.
    9. In celebration of grandparents and what we have learned from them This was a collaboration that I did with a group of other bloggers. I wanted to tell all my readers how much I’d learned from my grandparents, and I thought it would be fun to open it up to others too so that we could all share our grandparent memories!
    8. Christmas 2016 This was my first proper post apart from my introduction, so I guess people wanted to check out my new blog!
    7. L’Occitane review – bringing Braille labels to blind customers This was the first post that I did with a brand. I was interested in the idea of Braille labels and can’t tell you how excited I was about my first PR samples. That doesn’t mean I’ll chase any PR samples, but when you like a brand and they want to work with you, that feels really good.
    6. My friend Cindy, the golden guiding girl This is probably the most open I’ve been in a post, and I think a lot of my Facebook friends read it because they knew and loved Cindy too. But I also wanted to give any readers who didn’t meet her the chance to find out about the golden retriever in my blog image.
    5. 10 of my favourite youtubers I guess people were just interested in this one and looking for new Youtubers to follow!
    4. Walking with wolves I really enjoyed writing this post because it was such an amazing experience to get close to two wonderful wolves. I really wanted to share this with my readers because it’s something that had been on my bucket list for ages.
    3. Keeping fit when you can’t see I would get bored if my site were primarily about blindness, but it seems that people do enjoy these articles!
    2. Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it

    I guess the thing here is write about something that nobody else is writing about, or that not many people know. That makes it interesting. Of course you need to make sure that people actually want to know about it and it’s not something that just interests you, but if you have an interesting or different perspective on a more general topic, it sets your content apart.
    1. How do you apply eye make-up if you can’t see?

    This was one of my first posts. I’ve tried out so many more products since I wrote this, but the general advice is the same. I think this one got a lot of hits because it was shared in several Facebook groups, which meant a lot more traffic.

    Top favourites post – October – was it the pumpkin art?!

    Top empties post – February!

    Top Blogmas post – Christmas for dog lovers!

    Plans for 2018

    I’m going to keep some things the same in 2018 and also add in some new sections. I want to build on the things that people are already enjoying, so there will be some more animal posts, as well as others that focus on life as a blind adult, as people seem to want that. My favourite type of posts to write are about the products that I’m enjoying, and they do tend to get a number of comments, so I’ll keep up with the empties and favourites posts.

    I’ve recently added a virtual coffee widget to my sidebar, so anyone who wants to support the site by buying a virtual coffee can do so. I saw this on the Emma Edit blog and thought it was a nice idea.

    I have some new ideas about interviews that I’d like to bring you, brands that I’d like to work with, and a new feature on the accessibility of online shopping sites. You may think the reason I post a lot of Amazon links is that I’m just an Amazon affiliate. I am an Amazon affiliate, but the truth is that I do a lot of my shopping on there. Partly because having Prime makes things so quick and easy, but partly because there are a lot of badly written sites out there that I can’t use unless I ask for help from someone who can see because the people who designed the site couldn’t be bothered to label the graphics on their page controls properly. I want to highlight good practice and raise awareness when companies aren’t getting it right.

    I have a lot of new products from my advent calendars, so expect some reviews on those!

    I’d like to finish by wishing all my readers a happy 2018. I hope it will be a good year for you, full of happy memories. Thank you for supporting Unseen Beauty throughout the year. It just started as an idea in the bath and now I’m happy to see what it has grown into after the first year!

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