Me and My Guide Dog’s Journey, so far!

Me and my guide dog’s journey began around 5 years ago, which you can read all about by clicking here.

Last month, I had a potential guide dog match stay at home with me for one night and this included practicing walking together.  My Guide Dog Mobility Instructor and I both felt that it went very well.  As a result, I started my training at the end of August, and I am currently training with my first guide dog.

It has been amazing to learn different commands on how my guide dog can safely guide me, how I can spend him, which means taking him to the toilet, and how to pick up the mess.  Also, what his feeding patterns are like and how to understand his actions and behaviour.  Moreover, I learned different techniques of navigating steps, train stations, narrow spaces, busy and cluttered pavements, taking him on a free run and so much more!

I am sure you will get to meet my guide dog soon.  In the meanwhile, here are some tips I can share with you about guide dogs: firstly, you should always ask if you can say hello or stroke them.  A guide dog could be working and therefore a distraction could, potentially, put both the owner and the guide dog at harm.  Secondly, always be mindful with food around guide dogs.  They are trained not to scavenge, but they cannot be at fault if temptation arises.  Grapes and chocolate are definitely a no-no as these can be poisonous for them.  Lastly, if you’re playing with a guide dog, try not to get them too excited as they like to play back, and it will be difficult for the owner to calm them down.  Also, if a guide dog is settled and calm, then it is best to wait until they are active again before interacting.

With my guide dog, I have managed to walk to my train station, get onto the platform, get onto the train, out the other end and walk to my office.  This is something I haven’t done since December 2016 after losing a bit more sight.  I am now also able to walk to my bus stop and get the bus and go to my local shopping centre, confidently.  I also learnt the route to my hairdressers, doctors and chemist.  It feels so fantastic to just go somewhere when I want and not when others can take me!

Of course, I still have a lot to learn whilst on my guide dog training.  However, just 3 weeks in, I feel my guide dog has made a huge change; independence wise and helping me to be out in the fresh air as opposed to being cooped up in taxis.

Adapting to waking up early and making sure I have all his belongings that I may need when out and about, as well as factoring him into my life, has been an easy adjustment to make.  My family simply adore him, and when he is not working the harness comes off.  We love playing with him, watching him play with his toys and taking him out on his free runs.

You can follow updates on my guide dog progress by following my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/visualeyeswithbhavini

Bhavini smiling with her guide dog.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

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Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth Speaker Review

There are many uses to which vision impaired people put their mobile phones.  One of the most exciting of these is the ability to find their way around independently using GPS navigation.  There are a number of apps that can help with this including Blind Square, RNIB Navigator, Google Maps and Apple Maps to name just a few.  The subject of which GPS app is best definitely deserves to be discussed in a separate article.

Many visually impaired people do not have enough sight to use the IPhone comfortably for map reading so spoken announcements of current location and what is nearby as well as turn by turn directions can be extremely helpful.

One of the greatest difficulties visually impaired people experience when using a smart phone for navigation is being able to hear what the phone is speaking while still being able to hear sound of things going on around them.  Most headphones are not ideal for this since they reduce the sound from outside sources which can make walking somewhat unsafe.  There are headphones such as the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium which cost around £90 which conduct sound through the skull rather than covering the ears, but these are much more expensive than the Boom Bit.

The Polk Boom Bit is a very small wearable speaker with a metal spring clip that can attach to clothing such as a shirt collar, a coat or a t-shirt.  It connects to your phone by Bluetooth so there are no trailing wires.  The Boom Bit measures 7.5 x 3.5 x 2 centimetres and it weighs 36.3 grams.  It is controlled using 2 small rubberised buttons which are easy to feel, though some may find it difficult to press both buttons at the same time.  This is necessary to turn the speaker on and off.

Despite its small size and weight, the Boom Bit has surprisingly loud sound.  It’s not great for music, but it’s fine for speech.

The Polk Boom Bit does have a speaker phone built in. This works okay when taking calls but it’s not really up to the job when it comes to working with Siri or dictating text, so if you need to do this you can easily turn off the speaker.

The Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker costs around £25 on Amazon and it can be found for as little as £15 on eBay.

Here’s the Amazon link to the Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Polk-BOOM-Clip-Bluetooth-Speaker/dp/B01HIS5O7A

Polk Boom Bit
The Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker in different colours, including cyan, black, white & pale green, red and yellow.

Written Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

 

My Margate Experience with Beyond Sight Loss

We traveled as a group to Margate on Thursday 28th June.  There was very good community spirit among the members.  Each of the members had a different experience of the outing because of their childhood memories of visiting the beach town.

The weather was nice and sunny, and you could feel the cool breeze.  It was nice to walk along the beach front.  I really enjoyed it!

For lunch, we ate at a fish and chips restaurant on the promenade.  The food was reasonably priced and was cooked fresh.  I thought the customer service was fantastic as all the staff were very friendly and attentive to the group’s needs.

As I spoke to each of the members individually, I learned that some of the older members were slightly disappointed that their memories of Margate have been eroded over the years, but I didn’t let this dampen their spirit.

When I finished my lunch, I decided to explore the old part of the town.  I was pleased to see the old-fashioned sweet shop I used to visit had survived, so I bought a few treats to bring back home for my family.  Also, I came across graffiti art of the Trotter family from the comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’, which I loved watching.  The art was big and the colours were bold enough for me and some of the members with sight to appreciate.  It was a very nice piece of art work!

We had split into several groups as there were so many of us, and at the end of the day we regrouped and shared what we had done on our visit.

I enjoyed myself and would like to say thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who work hard to keep us safe and arrange the outings.

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Photo of the Beyond Sight Loss members eating fish and chips at a seaside restaurant in Margate.
Margate2
Photo of a mural (wall art) featuring the Trotter family from the TV comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’. The mural features Del Boy, Rodney and Grandpa who are all characters in the TV show.

Written by Christine Maker, ELVis member

My Training for the Peak District Challenge

I have given up my social life over the last 8 months training for the Peak District 50k Challenge taking place this September.  I and my Look Who’s Walking team members are hoping to be the very first blind and sighted group to undertake such an exhaustive challenge and to complete it in the allocated 12 hour time frame. The Look Who’s Walking team consists of Bhavini, Saul, Ian and myself.

I would consider myself reasonably active with a good base level of fitness due to my joy of seeking out adventurous activities, as well as regularly taking part in tennis and other sporting events.  I started the year by doing short walks of 5k three or four times a week, and over the months I have increased the distance I walk.

Most recently, I completed my longest walk of 24 miles. My fitness levels were certainly stretched!  With the final 3 miles being a struggle, the idea of jumping on the train at Cockfosters was extremely inviting.  However, I persevered and hit the 24 miles.  It isn’t every day that I’ll be able to say I’ve done 57,000 steps!

Personally, one of the biggest challenges has been finding people to guide me as part of my training during the evenings for a couple of hours and longer walks on a weekend to ensure I am well placed to complete the challenge. It highlights how an activity that is taken for granted by most people can instantly become inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people.  I am extremely grateful to my family and friends who have walked with me and supported my training efforts over the past 8 months, and are continuing to do so leading up to the event.  If it wasn’t for their support, I wouldn’t have built up the stamina to undertake such a challenge.

It has also encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and seek walking opportunities elsewhere. This has led to me attending a Meetup walking group, which for me was a huge deal to pluck up the confidence to not only be guided by someone I didn’t know, but to also walk with people I hadn’t met before. However, they were all super lovely and I’d happily walk with them again in the future even after my challenge. I believe mainstream activities such as walking should be inclusive, and I want to remove the need for vision people to only attend VI events.

Moreover, as part of my training, I’ve started making my own energy snack bars to eat during my walks. My speciality is a date-based bar.  They have become my pick-me-up when the energy levels are dipping.  After our 12 mile training day in June in the Peaks with terrain of various degrees of difficulty and the energy quickly disappearing, I can see myself chomping through several of my homemade creations on the big day.

For anyone wishing to sponsor my Peak District walk with the Look Who’s Walking Team, you can do so on our JustGiving page, or if you fancy walking with myself and Bhavini for the final few weeks, please contact us via the Look Who’s Walking website at https://www.lookwhoswalking.org/.

Hopefully my next update will be on the success of the challenge and how we all got on.  See you soon!

LWWT
The Look Who’s Walking Team high up in the Peak District during a practice run of the challenge.

Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO

Nicola’s Farewell Message

Saying goodbye is often very difficult.  However, knowing that you’ll be able to look back on happy memories can make it a bit easier to cope with.  Sadly, my time at ELVis has now come to an end, but I am lucky in that I am able to look back on the time that I’ve spent here knowing that I’ve had some great experiences and that I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

I’ve talked in this blog before about how little I knew about the sight loss world before I started my post with ELVis.  I was ‘blind’ to all the issues that VIPs have to face every day, but also to the myriad ways that people are able to overcome these in order to live an ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, life.  My awareness of the vision impaired world has increased drastically, and this is knowledge that I will be able to carry with me and pass on to others.  I will now be a much more vocal supporter of disability rights as well as ensuring that I live my life in a way that is as inclusive as possible.  I would like to thank every single VI person who I’ve met over the course of this job for talking to me about your experiences, for giving me the opportunity to learn, and for being extremely patient when I’ve been slow to understand (and also when I’ve not been guiding very well and have caused you to trip up).

But as well as the more serious side, this job has also been great fun!  I’ve been very lucky and had the opportunity to go to places and try things that I never would have done otherwise, and to do so in the company of some great people.  I’ve already written a farewell letter dedicated to all the members and service users I’ve met over the course of this job, but I’d like to say, again, thank you very much.  Not all the activities went completely to plan, but you certainly helped to make them all thoroughly enjoyable!

And finally, I have to say a massive thank you to all of my ELVis colleagues, past and present.  This job wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable as it was without your support and guidance, or the many snacks you brought into the office!  It’s been wonderful getting to know you all, and I’ll miss you a lot.

Of course I’ll stay in touch and keep up to date with what ELVis is getting up to in the years to come.  I wish everyone all the very best, and I look forward to catching up with you when our paths cross again in future.

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Photo of Nicola holding up her leaving card and presents with the rest of the ELVis team.

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service and Delivery Manager

Christine’s Fruit Cake Recipe

As you might have gathered, I love making cakes as well as eating them.  One of my favourites is fruit cake which I am going to share with you.

Fruit cake ingredients:

  • 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • 4 oz butter or margarine, softened at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs (beaten)
  • 4 oz mixed dried fruit
  • 2 oz glacé cherries
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 350°C fan or gas 4. Line and grease a deep 7-inch round cake tin.
  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, adding a little of the flour to prevent curdling.
  1. Fold in the flour using a metal spoon. Then fold in the fruit. Add a little milk until the mixture is a soft dropping consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.  Level the top of the cake.
  1. Bake in the oven for 1 – 1 ¼ hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  1. Leave to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack.

HOPE YOU ENJOY BAKING THIS CAKE AND EATING IT!!

 

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Administration and Information Officer

The Hazards of Shared Spaces, Pavement Parking and Street Furniture

As confident as I may seem, there are things that really frighten me and actually put my life at risk!

It has been an ongoing dilemma for decades and it affects me now that I use a white cane as much as it affected me before.

Inconsiderate drivers who park on the pavement who force me to walk on the road, drivers who start to move whilst I’m still making my way across the zebra crossing, or even electric vehicles.

Vision impaired people rely on their hearing in addition to other senses or aids to distinguish when it is safe to cross the road, but electric vehicles, which make less noise than other vehicles, are dangerous, especially if the drivers are pre-occupied and not concentrating on the road.

Shared spaces is also a common battle that people with disabilities keep having to face and it’s about time that businesses, motorists and councils took this matter seriously.

Rubbish bins and bags, bike rails, A-boards and other displays businesses place on pavements are constant obstacles that people with disabilities have to try and navigate through. Before using my white cane, I fell over a carpet roll that was on display in front of a shop. I badly injured my hip and knees and was bruised quite a lot. On another occasion, I was shouted at and abused just because I knocked over an A-board, but they had no idea how terrible I felt, how much confidence it took away and how I felt scared of walking on main roads.

I really wish the general public would consider these small factors that could prevent hazards and not put disabled people’s lives at risk.

Having to walk out into the road with young children to avoid dustbins, overgrown bushes or a vehicle parked on the pavement, terrified me. I would wait for ages until I knew I couldn’t hear the sound of moving traffic, asking my children for confirmation.

Some areas have also removed the dropped kerb and made the pavement and road all one level which is so difficult to identify, especially when tactile paving is not used. I just wouldn’t know when I had entered the road and when I was back on the pavement. It is absolutely crazy that councils would agree for this to be introduced.

Blind and partially sighted people have to compromise their safety in all types of shared space situations which can certainly decrease their confidence in getting out and about.  All this does is increase isolation and the fear of the worst. I know as this is how I feel when faced with these circumstances.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can get in touch with your local council to let them know about the problem.  Councils are in a good position to make changes in this area.  For example, Hackney Council has announced a zero-tolerance policy on A-boards.  You can also contact TfL to let them know about an issue local to you, using this link: https://tfl.gov.uk/help-and-contact/contact-us-about-streets-and-other-road-issues.  TfL launched Operation Clearway in 2015, which aims to tackle part of this problem by engaging with businesses about their responsibilities to keep the pavements safe, and prosecuting businesses who refuse to remove their street furniture.

If you would like more information or to get more involved in this issue, you can get in touch with Transport for All, who have recently mounted a campaign to make the Government more aware of the problems with shared spaces: http://www.transportforall.org.uk/about/news/petition-against-shared-space-signed-by-50-organisations.

You can also sign this petition urging the Government to take swift action to tackle unsafe pavement parking: https://e-activist.com/page/27482/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=f8863c91.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Co-ordinator.

Photo showing Bhavini and her sighted guide walking along a high street, navigating around parked vehicles, A-boards and shop displays.
Photo showing Bhavini and her sighted guide walking along a high street, navigating around parked vehicles, A-boards and shop displays.