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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How accessible is healthcare?

My experiences of healthcare – a post from the perspective of someone with a visual impairment

I find it much easier to write product posts, which in a way are more impersonal, but I do also want to have some opinion pieces on the blog that tackle issues around accessibility and the challenges and solutions I’ve found as someone with a visual impairment.

Healthcare isn’t something that I really think about much. I do have a health condition that I need to be aware of, but generally I’m reasonably healthy and I haven’t spent much time in hospitals or at the doctor’s.

Still, a recent trip to the hospital got me thinking about the accessibility of healthcare for people with a visual impairment. These experiences are my own, and this isn’t an investigative piece to represent the views of other blind people.

I think the worst experience I had was when I was about 14 or 15. I went to the doctor or nurse, I can’t even remember now, for a general check-up.

Doctor: Do you need contraceptives?
Me: NO.
Doctor: Oh, no, I suppose it would be more difficult for you.

What exactly? Surely not the physical act! Or did she mean it would be more difficult for me to find someone who would want to be in a relationship with me? I was incensed!

“No”, I said, in my “you’re-tedious-stop-wasting-my-time” voice, with the disdain that only a teenage girl can pull off. “I just don’t need them”.

I have never usually held back, but at that moment I didn’t know what to say. I wish I had said more. I certainly would now, but you know how it is when something takes you by surprise and you’re lost for words. Still, that could have completely destroyed someone’s self-confidence if it had happened to someone else. I was just annoyed, but I still remember it 20 years later. You know the saying – people may forget what you did, they may forget what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.

I don’t think any kind of training could have fixed that. Any reasonable person would know that’s not a cool thing to say.

Just to clarify, I am not complaining about teenagers being offered contraceptives, but those who don’t need them shouldn’t have to justify why not!

However that was a long time ago now. The care that I received in the hospital recently was great. Everyone I met explained what they were doing, and when I needed to go somewhere else, people just guided me there. Prior to the operation, there were forms that needed to be filled out by hand, but someone was available to do that.

I don’t have a guide dog now, but when I did and I was visiting someone in a hospice, nobody tried to prevent my dog from coming in. I think they were happy to see her and a waggy tail was welcome in a place where people were going through a sad and difficult time!

Technology makes it easy for things to be accessible. For example, my doctor’s surgery and my dentist send out appointment reminders by text (the dentist does email as well). This means that the information is automatically accessible to me because I can read it with the speech software on my phone or laptop. Access to the internet also makes information available that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to access without help, and this helps in terms of being able to read up about anything related to my health, animal health, or the research being carried out into sight restoration. More about that in another post.

In terms of patient letters, I did have to ask for it specifically, but I got the preparation letter about the operation and the surgeon’s letter by email. This wasn’t standard practice (it would save so many trees if it were), but I just had to request them so that I could have them in a format I could read. It would be helpful if this could be extended to all correspondence, not just the letters that you are anticipating and can request by email. I take it for granted that my business is paperless and it will take a while before large organisations catch up!

When I moved to a new area, shopping around proved to be the best way to find a new dentist. I initially registered with one practice, but I found the guy so dismissive and unhelpful, that I decided not to let him loose on my chompers. I don’t think that had anything to do with visual impairment though, just poor customer service. Still, I’m glad it happened, because I then went somewhere much better. My dentist is kind and helpful, and she shows me what she is going to do, the tools that she is going to use on me, and the plaster moulds of my teeth so I can feel the difference between how they were and how they would be after the treatment.

My eye condition is stable, but I do have check-ups at the eye hospital. The consultants are great, but to be honest some of my more frustrating experiences have been there whilst going through the preliminaries. If I can’t see you at all, then it makes no sense to make me do the “how many fingers can you see” exercises. Fortunately one of the doctors has put a note on my record so I don’t have to do that, but some more initiative at the beginning would have been nice! If I can’t make my eyes look in a certain direction because I have nothing to focus on, repeating the instruction won’t help. I understood the first time! I just can’t do it! I do find these visits kind of tiring, but they are worth it because at the end you get to speak to someone who knows a lot about your eye condition and current research.

Generally I attend appointments on my own, but I did take my partner in once because he had some pictures of an allergic reaction I’d experienced. I also took him to the appointments about my operation for moral support. Most of the time it was fine, and people still addressed me because I was the patient, but I think many people with disabilities know what a pain it is when people start talking to the person with you, when they should be talking directly to you. We don’t go along with that, and they soon learn that they need to speak to me!

Perhaps this is something that people could learn in some kind of awareness training, although as someone who has grown up in a world where most people I meet, including my teachers, colleagues, and new friends had never met another blind person before meeting me, I think most people are smarter than we give them credit for, and I don’t believe that awareness training necessarily solves every potential problem. If everyone followed the rules of not making assumptions about people, asking questions when they’re not sure, and talking directly to the person, whether or not they have anyone with them, that would be a great start! I often feel more comfortable with people who’ve had no experience of visual impairment, than those who have been working in the field for so long that they think everyone is the same in terms of how they do or perceive things.

The systems used in some surgeries for letting people know when it’s their turn are not accessible. I mean the ones where you have to wait for your number to come up on the screen. I can’t see those, so in those cases I asked someone from reception to let me know when it was my turn. I guess there is the risk that you could be forgotten, but this never happened to me and my current surgery doesn’t do that – you just have to wait for your name to be called.

I am very happy about the ruling that requires medication to have Braille labels. This makes life so much easier for me to know what things are without having to label them myself. Hopefully we won’t lose that when we leave the EU – that would definitely be a step backwards in terms of accessibility to information. The information leaflet is not in Braille, but as long as I know the name of the medication, I can go online to look for the leaflet.

Overall I’d say my experience of the healthcare system has been good. I think that people with disabilities have a responsibility to be approachable and explain what they need or what would be helpful, rather than expecting other people to know – because seriously, how can they? Everyone is different.

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Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it

Have you ever wondered what your make-up would look like if you did it without being able to check in the mirror?

I can see the sun streaming in through the window, or whether the light is on or off, but as I have been almost totally blind since birth, that’s all I can see. No shapes, no colours. So when I do my make-up, I can’t check in the mirror to make sure it looks ok.

When I was a teenager, I never considered make-up as something that wasn’t accessible to me. It was just like everything else – I’d probably have to find a different way to do it, but as long as I could get the results I wanted, I didn’t care about the process and whether my friends did it the same way. That doesn’t mean that the learning process was easy. I was being taught by people who had always put on their make-up using their sight, and if you can’t do that, sometimes you need to be creative.

The first thing you need is honesty. The only time my grandmother said “You can’t go out like that” was when there had been a particularly bad loose blusher disaster of which I was blissfully unaware (I never use loose powder blusher now because it’s too unpredictable!), and when I ask my partner whether my make-up looks ok, I’m not looking for a “you look wonderful” (unless I do of course!). I want to know if I’ve got the look I was going for or if I missed a bit of foundation near my hairline or had a mascara fail. I can usually tell if I did the latter, but it gives me peace of mind to check. That doesn’t mean I won’t go out the door without asking someone first, but if I’m on my own, I’m probably a bit less adventurous.

The hardest thing for me is having no concept of colour. I don’t know what my favourite colour is because I’ve never seen them. That makes it harder to decide what look I want to go for. I can make informed choices about the types of product I want to use, but when it comes down to the colours, I have to trust people. Rather than naively trusting anyone though, I do think about all the feedback together, to look for patterns. Some shop assistants are fantastic, whereas others just want to sell you stuff. Even well-meaning friends can get it wrong when they are influenced by what they would usually buy, instead of really thinking about what would suit someone else. You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers, so I tend to choose people whose choices and suggestions have got me the most compliments and people who can explain their choices.

I wouldn’t say there is one way for blind people to do their make-up. I know blind women who like short mascara brushes, use powder eye shadow and get their lashes tinted. I don’t do any of these things, but I think you just need to find out what works for you. I tend to be a more hands-on kind of girl, blending products in with my fingers so I know exactly where they are. I avoid powders where I can, apart from my foundation setting powder, because cream products have less chance of fall-out, and when you can’t see the end result, it’s good to eliminate the chance of product landing where you don’t want it to. Until a few months ago, I wasn’t aware of many of the products that are on offer now. I have discovered new things that make life much easier and solve some of the problems I had as a teenager. I’m now eager to see what else is available, both by trying things out in beauty subscription boxes, and working with brands to make their products and services more accessible to blind people.

My products fall into two categories – ones that I’m happy to change up all the time, and ones that I stick to because I’ve found something that I like.

I like foundation in a pump dispenser because then I know how much product I have each time and that one pump of it will cover my face. When you can’t see the coverage, you have to be thorough and aware of the areas that you sometimes miss. For example I pay extra attention to my hairline and above my left eye, because these are the areas where I sometimes forget to blend, and the skin under my nose so that I don’t forget it altogether! I then cover it with some fixed powder using the sponge that comes with it.

When I was younger, I used powder eye shadows, but to be honest, the results were a bit hit and miss. I could usually manage to cover the eye, but sometimes there was fall-out on my cheeks and I wasn’t always sure that I had got rid of it. It was only recently that I discovered two types of product that make the process much easier for someone who can’t see: cream shadow crayons and cream shadow pots. Both of them are cream-based. I either use the crayons or sticks to colour in my eyelid, or I apply the cream shadow to my finger tip and apply it to my lids. Ok, it’s non-conventional, but it is a way to make sure I apply the make-up evenly and exactly where I want it to go. Eye primer can make this process more difficult, because the eye already feels creamy before you add the products, but again it’s about being thorough – going over an area twice is better than missing half your eye!

Some blind women don’t like applying mascara, but I’ve always found it ok as long as I’m not rushing. The critical point is making contact with the brush. I usually bring the brush up to my eye and blink gently so that my lashes touch the brush. This means that I don’t poke myself in the eye with it or paint part of my face. Once I can feel the lashes with my brush, I can follow round and coat all of them. I always go for bigger brushes that look the same all the way round. Combs annoy me. I’ve found one that I like now and the only reason I would change would be if someone recommended a fatter brush.

You already know about the blusher disaster that made me hurl my loose blusher to the back of the cupboard. When I was a teenager, I swapped it out for a fixed powder, but as I couldn’t feel it on my face very well, I was never sure about the coverage. Now I have cream highlighter, which I just draw on my face and blend in, cream blusher and cream contour. I love these products, because applying them is a really tactile experience. I can feel where they are. I can feel the shape of my face and where the product needs to be. I can feel if something isn’t blended in properly because of the texture on my skin.

I know there are blind women who use a lot more brushes than me for jobs where I use my fingers. It’s a matter of choice. The idea that a brush may not be clean or it may have a different colour on it than the one I want to use is a major turn-off for me, and I feel I have more precision with my fingers. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try them, but I don’t feel I need to use them just because most other people do.

Applying lipstick is not difficult, but I find the traditional lipsticks easier to apply than the liquids, because you have more control over exactly where they are going and they are more forgiving than the extra-long lasting liquid ones if you make a mistake. I have a selection from different brands because they are easy to identify by touch. If I have a number of lipsticks or cream shadows from the same brand, I mark the packaging in some way so I can tell them apart.

I’m no expert and I know I go for simpler looks than many of my sighted friends. That’s ok for me – partly because I want the make-up to be more subtle anyway and to enhance what’s already there, and partly because I would rather do a simple thing well than a complicated thing badly! I’m still learning, but I wanted to share these ideas to show that this is something that blind people can do if they want to.

I can’t see the results, but the people around me can, and if I do it well, I feel good about it in the same way that I feel good wearing nice clothes or a piece of jewellery.

Some of my favourite products

These products won’t suit everyone, but I’ve listed some of the ones that I like and find easy to use. Also, as I can’t easily get pictures of all the products that I use, linking them means that you can have a look at the images on other sites or get further information.

Face

Lips

Eyes

Over to you!

Has reading this article made you want to ask any questions? If it has, post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer! Also, if you’re visually impaired and you want to add anything about how you apply make-up, or any tips for making it easier, I’d love to hear them!

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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.

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