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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    How accessible are hotels? My experiences as a blind traveller

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

    Interactions with staff

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

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

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

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

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

    In the room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Getting around

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

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

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

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

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    Don’t invade my personal space

    I’d like to introduce you to Dawn. She wrote a blog article called “Not a passive rag doll – keep your grabbing hands to yourself” about her experiences as a woman with a visual impairment and unwanted physical attention from random members of the public. You can check out the article here because I’m not going to paraphrase it –read it in Dawn’s own words!

    I think this is an important topic and one that we usually avoid, although I’m not sure why. I wonder if wheelchair users have similar but different issues with complete strangers invading their personal space without asking or considering how it feels?

    There are several issues. Firstly, even for someone who isn’t easily scared, have you any idea how terrifying it is to be walking along and suddenly feel a hand touching you, with no warning, and you had no idea that it was coming because you couldn’t see the other person?

    Sometimes we do need help or directions. I know some people have trouble giving directions – “that way” or “over there” are not helpful when you can’t see which way someone is pointing, but neither is someone attempting to drag or push you where they think you want to go.

    I’ve heard examples of blind people being dragged across the road even though they didn’t want to go that way. I don’t understand that, because nobody drags me anywhere, and I don’t think making sure they let go has anything to do with politeness or a lack thereof.

    If I take help from a stranger in a place that I don’t know, chances are I will ask to take their arm, especially if it’s crowded and I could lose the other person. But that’s a lot different from being manhandled or grabbed. It’s a negotiated exchange, not one person thinking they have the right to make decisions for the other.

    In fact, I do remember a time when someone tried to hurl me across a busy crossing before the lights had changed. I forcefully disentangled myself and told them what I thought, after which the woman asked someone behind me to “make sure she gets across safely. That guide dog isn’t very good.” I was furious. Firstly, it’s my decision, not my dog’s decision, when it’s time to cross the road. Secondly, surely the best way to ensure my own safety is to make sure the lights are actually in my favour?

    On the same lines, it’s not cool to talk about people as though they’re an object or a piece of luggage. “Put her in the chair over there”. I was at an airport and decided I’d rather stand.

    Another unpleasant side to this coin is the inappropriate ways in which people have tried to come into my space in an attempt to be “helpful” such as trying to lean across me in a car to reach the seatbelt (which I didn’t need, but which also put the other person much closer than I had given permission for). I turned my back on the person in question and took hold of the seatbelt myself, but that’s not the point. Sometimes it’s not clear whether people think a disabled person won’t be bothered about such a clear invasion of their personal space, and sometimes, I think people are just trying their luck because they think a disabled person won’t protest – like when someone attempted to touch me inappropriately as they were “helping” me out of a vehicle. That wasn’t an accident. Yes, I will never know how much unwanted attention I would have had as a non-disabled woman, but the fact that someone has a disability can make them appear more vulnerable and the presumption is often that they’ll be less likely to stand up for themselves. Not true in my case, but then I’ve always been direct and outspoken. What happens to the people who aren’t?

    I wonder how people feel who need assistance with personal care. I don’t, but do people always treat them and their personal space with respect?

    I don’t mind people asking if I need help, and if I do need help, I’ll ask for it. I’m not afraid of being touched. Human contact is a good thing, but it has to be consensual. It’s never ok to grab, push, pull, or attempt to manoeuvre someone without asking because you think you know what they want or what’s best. It’s dehumanising and really annoying!

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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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  • My riding story – horse-riding with a visual impairment
  • Shopping without sight – my online shopping experience at the Chocolate Emporium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. How well were products described?

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

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

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

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

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

    4. How well were buttons labelled?

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

    5. Could every control be activated without a mouse?

    Yes.

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

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

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

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

    8. What do you think of the goods?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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