Ray’s Tips for Travelling When You’re Visually Impaired

Summer is finally here and if you’re thinking of going on holiday, or preparing to, then make sure to read my blog post to the end.

We all love going on holiday.  However, unexpected issues can arise that can test your patience and you’ll soon feel like you wish you’d never left your house. Here are my top 5 tips that can help you have a smooth and trouble-free holiday.

Tip 1: Research a reliable travel provider/transport operator

Do your research about travel providers catering to visually impaired people.  Seable organises accessible holidays for solos, couples, families, group of friends and charities.  You can visit their website at http://seable.co.uk.  There is also TravelEyes who offer the opportunity to travel with other VI people and sighted guides.  You can visit their website  at https://www.traveleyes-international.com/.  Moreover, the TripAdvisor website is a great resource for reviews about travel providers, destinations and places of interests.  Also, make sure to read your travel operator’s disability policy (usually found on their website) to check if they can accommodate your needs.

Tip 2: Make arrangements with your accommodation and transport

Be sure to make arrangements in advanced with your hotel and transport provider, especially if you’re traveling with a guide dog.  Specific guidelines for travelling with a guide dog can be found here: https://bit.ly/2m5oXvz.  You’ll also need to check your destination’s policy on guide dogs to ensure you are both not denied entry upon arriving at your accommodation.  Alternatively, if you’re travelling alone, contact your travel provider and let them know you will need assistance checking in and boarding.  This will save you time when you arrive at your point of departure.

Tip 3: Ask for help!

Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for assistance; whether it’s in your hotel, restaurant, airport or train station.  More often people are willing to help than not.  If you’re lost, then more the reason to ask for directions.

Tip 4:  Use tactile labels on your luggage

Trust me when I say using raised stick-on labels will make life so much easier when you’re trying to identify your luggage, or if you have some sight, tie a coloured ribbon around your luggage.  If you’re a braille reader, invest in some braille labels with your name and hotel address on it.

Tip 5: Research attractions and venues that are accessible to disabled people

Lots of attractions around the world offer free entry for vision impaired people, for example, the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.  However, if you’re planning on going holiday closer to home, check out this list of top accessible attractions: https://bit.ly/2L3ZvBv.

Lastly, if you’re worried about travelling solo, here are some extra travel bits you should know!

  • Use a backpack instead of a suitcase. This will allow you to travel hands-free, and, if needed, use a cane or guide dog.
  • Carry spare change – not all places accept card payment.
  • Label your medication so it can be identified easily.
  • If you don’t use a cane or guide dog, then carry a medical letter from your GP or doctor containing details of your impairment and assistance you’ll need.
  • If you’re a white cane user, always pack a spare one in case your main one breaks or goes missing.

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Photo of Bhavini on holiday in Paris, France.

Written by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator

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Why Social Groups are Important for Vision Impaired People

Let me tell you how I’ve become involved with East London Vision.  I became a member of the Hackney Vision Impaired group at the beginning of 2018.  I found out about the group through a Hackney-based organisation called Outward, and they referred me to the Low Vision Impairment Forum at Thomas Pocklington Trust, who then referred me on to ELVis.

Before joining ELVis, I felt completely isolated.  After graduating from university, a year ago, I couldn’t find work, so that led me to feel like I wasn’t doing very much and spending most of my time on my own.  It was a really depressing time for me.  When I spoke to Bhavini at ELVis for the very first time, she invited me along to the Hackney VI group, and I literally felt alive and hopeful that I would be back and part of the community again.

I started coming along to the Hackney group in February this year, and ever since then I’ve attended ELVis-supported events like the ten-pin bowling in Stratford, which I enjoyed very much.  The outings mean a lot to me and the rest of the group because it allows us to visit new places that we wouldn’t normally go to because ELVis always does a great job at making sure they’re accessible for vision impaired people, and that’s great!  We also have meetings with guest speakers like Graham from ELVis who gave us a demonstration of the Amazon Alexa and the Google Home speakers.  The group members find these meetings extremely useful because they’re informative and we learn about technology or services that can enhance our independence.

I feel really blessed to be part of the Hackney VI group.  I feel a sense of security knowing that there’s a group where I can meet other people who live with sight loss.  It has helped boost my confidence as I have more things in life to look forward to.  Also, social groups in general are important for vision impaired people because it gives us the opportunity to make new friends, exchange vital information and make a difference in the community.  I hope everyone who reads my blog post and isn’t part of a social group is encouraged to get out there and find one. Alternatively, if you live in Hackney, why not get in touch with East London Vision to sign up with our group.  I hope to meet you very soon!

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Photo of Tolga holding a bowling ball at a ten-pin bowling event with ELVis at Westfield Stratford City.

Written by Tolga, member of the Hackney Vision Impaired Group

Macular Week 2018: What is Macular Degeneration?

Let’s start this week’s blog with a short biology lesson.  When light enters your eye and is directed through the lens, it hits the retina at the back of your eye, which then sends signals to the brain where this information is turned into images.  The macular is a specific part of the retina at the back of the eye, only about 5mm across, which is responsible for all of your central vision and colour vision, as well as picking up detail.  This is the area of the eye that we use for tasks such as reading and recognising faces.

Macular disease is currently the biggest cause of sight loss in the developed world, with the most common form of this being Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).  Degeneration of the macular is usually part of the general aging process of the body, in the same way as our hair may become grey.  There are however other causes of macular degeneration such as retinal haemorrhages or congenital impairments.

AMD results in a loss of central vision, and means that what you see when you look straight ahead seems blurry.  It doesn’t affect peripheral vision, so on its own will not cause a total loss of sight.  It can however still significantly affect people’s lives, with those who have AMD finding it difficult to drive, read and write, or distinguish a face against a background.

Macular Week, run 25 June – 1 July by the Macular Society, is an opportunity to raise awareness about and raise money to help find a cure for macular disease.  The focus this year is on how important it is to get regular eye tests.  Whether you’ve got a pre-existing eye condition or not, regular eye tests (at least once every two years) are a vital health check for everybody, as they can often detect the early signs of eye conditions before you notice any effect on your sight.  During Macular Week, you can download a free eye test voucher from the Macular Society’s website, where you can also find out more about how you can get involved with what’s going on during the week: https://www.macularsociety.org/macularweek.

ELVis will be getting involved by attending an event held by the Macular Society in Barking and Dagenham on 3 July.  This will held 10.00-15.00 at the Ripple Centre, Ripple Road, Barking, IG11 7PB, and will be an opportunity for people with any form of sight loss to have a look at a variety of daily living equipment, to learn about other local sight loss services (including ELVis), and to attend a meeting of the local Macular Society, where they will talk about the latest research into macular conditions.  We look forward to seeing some of you there!

If you’re interested to find out what it might be like to have Age-Related Macular Degeneration, ELVis has just produced a video along with Waltham Forest Council which simulates the effects of AMD, as well as other eye conditions.  You can find this on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbkSl5OoZh0.

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Photo of Macular Degeneration simulation – a grey spot in the centre surrounded by blurriness.

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service Development and Delivery Manager

 

 

Are Establishments, Venues and Places of Interests Accessible for Visually Impaired People?

As part of my role at ELVis as an Activities Coordinator, I liaise with museums, theatres, leisure facilities, exhibition centres, galleries and other places of interests that I organise outings or activities for our vision impaired members.

Many of these venues have a fantastic accessibility procedure.  For example, they may offer audio headsets, a guided tour, a touch tour, an object handling session, a facility where guide dogs can be looked after and so forth.  On the other hand, I have been shocked to discover that well known establishments have little to no accessibility procedures at all.  In these situations, I have worked alongside their access/learning group advisor on how experiences for blind and partially sighted people can be enhanced to enable an enjoyable visit, as a planned outing through ELVis or when they visit by themselves.

In my experience from working with these organisations, I have discovered a lack of awareness- they do not know what access provisions need to be in place to make their services accessible.  Therefore, I’ve initiated discussions around access for disabled customers to be made available.  A recent example of this was a theatre in East London that didn’t have any idea what they could do to increase accessibility for visually impaired people.  I went to have a chat with the theatre manager, and after a few months later, when I took a group of members along to watch a show, we were allocated seats at the front of the stage next to the toilets.  Moreover, the actors came down after the show to meet our members and even let them have a feel of their costumes and props.  The provision of access and support on the day marked an important step forward for the theatre in regards to catering for disabled people, and I am continuing to work with them so they can learn more about how best they can support their blind and partially sighted guests.

If you have visited a venue that wasn’t accessible or have avoided visiting a venue due to lack of accessibility, then why not get in touch with them!  Changes only happen when organisations know there’s a need for change.  The more people the better because more voices can make a difference!

I believe it is important that all venues are made accessible to enable independence, confidence and equal opportunities for people living with sight loss.

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Photo of Bhavini and some of the ELVis service users posing with an actor at a recent ELVis trip to the theatre.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

 

 

 

Assistance at Train Stations – is it Needed?

This question has recently come up in various conversations with blind and partially sighted people.  With all things vision impaired related, there is no right or wrong answer!

Let’s face it, sometimes life can be stressful enough without worrying about how to get to the train station platform, or in my case if I’ll end up on the correct loop of the Central Line on the London Underground.  I don’t particularly have a desire for ending up somewhere I don’t need to be!   At times, the journey to the station itself can be taxing enough and it is reassuring to know that assistance should generally be available once at the underground station if I require it.

Around 13 years ago I certainly wouldn’t have classed myself as an independent traveller, but knowing that assistance would be available most definitely helped build my confidence to venture out.  I’ve recently been asking myself would I have plucked up the courage to travel on the underground had there been no assistance available?  Based on how little confidence I had, the answer is probably not.  However, would I continue to use trains if assistance wasn’t available now?  Absolutely yes!  I can’t imagine giving up the freedom of everything I do, from work to socialising.

I still remember my first experience of not being met off the train at Liverpool Street Station.  I felt so distressed that I just wanted to cry, which wasn’t the most sensible approach, but panic took over and logic went out the window!  With my more experienced head on, I now use other senses such as hearing what direction people are walking, listening for sounds of the ticket barriers beeping or escalators, etc.  Smell is another equally valuable sense as the smell of coffee is generally, but not always, a good sign that you are heading towards the exit, or if you know the station it can help you get your bearings.  Nowadays, if I’m not met off the train then I’ll grumble about it without the feeling of sheer panic taking over and will happily ask a member of the public to point me in the right direction.  There is no denying that things do go wrong and many times I haven’t been met off the train, or had to wait ages for assistance.  However, I am most definitely grateful that the service exists.

The countering view by some people is that many other countries do not offer the service we receive here in the UK and blind and partially sighted people manage, so why couldn’t we cope?  Just because people get by, does it mean they wouldn’t want the service?

I believe it is better to have a service than not have one at all, as it gives people the choice to use it or not.

It would be great to hear other people’s thoughts on whether they think staff assistance is needed at train stations?  Please leave a comment and share your own personal experiences and stories of how you started to use trains.

Photo of Masuma using her cane stepping of a London Underground train.
Photo of Masuma with her white cane stepping off a London Underground tube train.

Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO

Christine’s Sweet Bread Pudding Recipe

Thought I would share another recipe with you which I love making.  I love to make bread pudding because you just use your hands to make it.  I have so much fun squeezing the water out of the bread, not sure that my kitchen enjoys it as I sometimes make a bit of a mess but that where the fun comes in, well it does for me!

Bread Pudding Ingredients:

  • One loaf of white bread
  • 4 oz Butter or margarine
  • 4 oz Sugar
  • 33g Mixed spice
  • 8 oz  Sultanas
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 180C Fan or Gas 4.
  2. Soak the bread in water. Squeeze the water out of the bread and place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the butter/margarine use your hands to squeeze the butter/margarine into the wet bread.
  4. Add the sugar, mixed spice and sultanas to the mixture.
  5. Place the mixture into a baking dish, then add some nobs of butter on top of the mixture.
  6. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until golden-brown on top.

HAVE FUN, HAPPY BAKING

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Photo of bread pudding with a crispy golden-brown top.

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Administration and Information Officer

How to Avoid Being the Victim of Fraud

Recently, a group of vision impaired people living in Redbridge received an informative talk from the local Metropolitan Police team.  The police officers spoke about some of the scams currently operating in the UK that target all people regardless of age, background and income levels.

Here are 10 Golden Rules to remember to help you beat the scammers and protect yourself from fraud.

  1. Be suspicious of all ‘Too good to be true’ offers and deals. There are no guaranteed get-rich-quick schemes.
  2. Do not agree to offers or deals immediately. Insist on time to obtain independent/legal advice before making a decision.
  3. Do not hand over money or sign anything until you’ve checked the credentials of the company or individual.
  4. Never send money to anyone you do not know or trust, whether in the UK or abroad, or use methods of payment that you are not comfortable with.
  5. Never give banking or personal details to anyone you do not know or trust. This information is valuable so make sure to protect it.
  6. Always log on to a website directly rather than clicking on links provided in an email.
  7. Do not rely solely on glowing testimonials: find solid independent evidence of a company’s success.
  8. Always get independent/legal advice if an offer involves money, time or commitment.
  9. If you spot a scam or have been scammed, report it and get help. Contact ActionFraud on 0300 123 2040 or online at actionfraud.police.uk.  Contact the Police if the suspect is known or still in the area.
  10. Do not be embarrassed to report a scam. Because the scammers are cunning and clever there is no shame in being deceived. By reporting you will make it more difficult for them to deceive others.

In addition, important information by the RNIB regarding cash machine crime prevention; firstly, only use a cash machine if you feel comfortable with your surroundings.  Secondly, make sure that you’re happy with the machine itself, which you can do by feeling where your cash will be dispensed to check if it is free from any obstructions.  Remember, if in doubt, use a machine inside a bank branch or retailer as it is less likely to have been tampered with.

Thank you to the Redbridge Metropolitan Police for giving a talk to our members on how to keep safe and scams to be aware of.

Written by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator