Blogmas 2018 – my first Braille chocolate advent calendar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent calendar unboxing

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

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

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

Unseen Beauty Blogmas Giveaway

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

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

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

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

The form only goes to me.

What’s in the box?

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

Products 6-10 coming soon!

Giveaway entry form

     
 

Terms and conditions

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

This post may contain affiliate links.

Hand-made tactile cards with Braille inside

I have a big plastic box that’s full of cards. Cards that people have made for me, that have special messages inside, or that I just can’t bring myself to throw out. The oldest ones are a birthday card that a teacher made me when I was five, and a card I made for my grandparents’ anniversary that has a smiling piggy on the front. I’m not sure about the connection between wedding anniversary and smiling piggy, but it made sense to me at the time.

I like receiving cards, but as many of them feel the same, I really appreciate it if someone goes to the trouble of finding one that is tactile or which has Braille writing inside. However, this isn’t always easy to do, and although I think there’s a bit more on offer now than when I was a child, most of the cards in the shops don’t have any special features that can be appreciated by someone with partial or no sight.

Understanding what’s written inside is another thing. It’s easier now that I live with S, but in the days before Facetime, I remember trying to get an image of a card with my phone so that I could text the message to my Mum and find out who had sent me money in my Christmas card!

That’s why I was interested to hear about Lynn Cox and her range of tactile Braille greetings cards.

I first met Lynn through an online forum for self-employed visually impaired people. I wanted to find out more about the cards and tell you about them too, so I arranged an interview with Lynn.

Lynn also sent me a sample of her work. Knowing that I love dogs, it’s one of the dog range, which can be made up for any occasion. The dog on the header image is on a Christmas card. Mine was on a Valentine’s card, and the design can also be used to go on other cards such as birthday, thank you etc.

The first thing I noticed was the perfume scent coming out of the envelope because these tactile cards are scented too!

The dog is running after his ball, and I can feel his furry outline – his legs as he’s running, his waggy tail, his furry snout, and his ball.

The message on the front and inside is in Braille and printed on the card. Lynn’s details are on the back, also in Braille, and personal messages for the recipient can be added on request.

I think it’s such a lovely idea and would encourage anyone with blind or partially sighted friends, children, colleagues or family members to check out Lynn and her cards. The cards start from £7, (there are additional charges for larger or custom-designed cards). That’s not much more than what you pay in the shops, and when you consider that you’re buying something that is hand-made and with additional touches that you can’t get in the shops, I think it’s very good value.

Here’s what I found out when I Skyped with Lynn a couple of weeks ago! It’s a good thing we skyped too – there was a lot of snow that day!

Why did you decide to start making tactile greetings cards?

I decided to make the cards because there were no quality products out there for people to buy if you wanted something tactile, scented, or with large print or Braille inside.

Also, as an artist, I was using my skills to exhibit artwork but none of it was affordable for people to have as a day-to-day product.

Can you describe one of your cards in terms of tactile features, writing inside, scent etc?

The dog one is a popular one. It’s a dog playing with the ball, running along with his mouth open.

I use Contrasting coloured paper for the card, and then draw with wool to create a line image of the dog and the ball. I like to look for very fluffy wool for the dog. He wears a little leather collar with a bell that jingles, and has a leather ball – so you have a variety of textures, the smell of the leather, and the sound of the bell. I also use little gem crystals to decorate the ball.

I like to use shapes that are easy for people to recognise by touch, such as the Christmas tree with a star on top. I also like to experiment with textures. I have a card with a guitar on the front, and I use metal for the strings.

Do you put Braille in all your cards?

All of the cards have messages in Braille and large print. There’s usually something on the front, such as “happy Easter”, something in the middle, and my contact details on the back.

How about the message inside the card?

I can add a personal message, either in Braille or in print if you send it to me with your order.

Do you send the cards directly to the recipient?

It’s up to you. I can either send it back to you, so that you can post it off yourself orgive it to the person, or I can send it directly to the recipient.

Do you send the cards internationally?

Yes, my cards go all over the world, although of course sending them internationally does mean that I need to know a bit further in advance as the post will take longer.

What other occasions do you make cards for?

My Mother’s Day cards are usually flowers or hearts. I spray them with some perfume as well. This won’t last for ever, but it’s nice for the recipient when they first open it. I put a man’s scent in if it’s for a man.

If you want one of the designs I already have, like the flowers or the dog, you can change the message on the front. If you want a whole new design, that would take longer and cost a bit more because it would be custom-made.

I think this is the first scented card I’ve come across. What do you do for Christmas cards?

I have an oil that smells like a Christmas tree. It’s pine with clove and a hint of ginger.

Do you make all of the cards yourself?

Yes, they are all hand-made. No two are ever exactly the same because I’m always on the look-out for new materials to use.

Why do you go for simple shapes?

I want people to be able to recognise them without having to ask what they are. You get some Christmas cards with a fire in the grate, a mantelpiece with cards on top and Christmas decorations hanging from it. But if there is too much detail, the individual shapes can get lost.

Do you have any special Easter cards?

I have one with 3 Easter eggs on it, all made of different materials. One of them has a fluffy chick coming out of it.

Then there’s an Easter bunny with a big fluffy tail and long ears.

How do you make sure that the shapes are right?

I use things like reindeer toys or cuddly toy owls. I still remember what a lot of things look like and tactile props like the toys help me to check things like reindeer antlers!

What cards do you want to make in the future?

I want to do a cat one! I love animals and a lot of my normal artwork is around animals such as horses and sheep. I also like doing musical instruments.

Where can people find out more about your cards?

You can go to my website. Or, if you want to ask me a question, you can send me an email.

Thank you Lynn for letting us know about your cards and I highly recommend that you go and check her out if you have anyone to buy cards for who is visually impaired. And yes, if my friends and family are reading this, I’d love to get one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background information

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

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

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

The products that I tested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New soap

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

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

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

Final thoughts and question for you!

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

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

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

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

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

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