The Royal Society for Blind Children Employment Programme

As you’re probably aware from reading my previous blog entry, I was a member of the Royal Society for Blind Children for 3 years (formerly known as the Royal London Society for the Blind until January 2017), which is a sight loss charity for blind and visually impaired young people under the age of 25. I was referred to the charity by my disability advisor at the Jobcentre in 2013, when I began to lose my sight.

One of RSBC’s core services is an employability programme for 18-25 year olds which provides the opportunity to access career advice, gain employability skills such as interview techniques and CV writing, and work experience.

At first, I wasn’t keen on joining as I believed I was already ‘job ready’ since I previously worked in retail, and I was convinced that it was going to be just like a work programme course at the Jobcentre. However, this was a foolish judgement, as the tremendous amount of advice and support I gained from being part of the employability programme was extremely invaluable.

My previous experience attending job interviews were negative so I held a firm belief that as a visually impaired individual no employer would want to hire me. However, my employability mentor, Evon Hall helped me to challenge my views and develop the motivation and confidence to find work. I attended their employability workshops which I found incredibly helpful; I learnt how to talk about my visual impairment positively to employers, which I previously found difficult to do. I also attended an interview skills workshop with international banking firm Goldman Sachs, which ran at their offices on Fleet Street.

One of the highlights of being on the employability programme was being able to organise a talent show alongside my peers, which was an incredibly fun experience and boosted my confidence in working with others. I also performed a choreographed dance routine with my friends at the talent show which I really enjoyed doing.  Moreover, another highlight was a 1 month internship with the Customer Service team at London Trams, Transport for London in 2016. This placement enabled me to develop my marketing and social media skills, and I am proud to mention on my CV that I’ve worked for the organisation.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend the RSBC employability programme to any vision impaired young person in need of career guidance, work experience, or even an alternative to the job centre. You won’t regret joining, and at the end of the programme you’ll feel just like me – eternally grateful to the RSBC!

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Photo of Ray Calamaan at the RSBC

Interested in joining the RSBC employability programme? Email connections@rsbc.org.uk or call 020 3198 0225 for more information.

Written by Ray Calamaan

 

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The Concierge Service for the Visually Impaired at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre

As the Technology Officer at ELVis I tend to write about technology for the blog. This month, however, I’ve written about a recent shopping experience.

Most readers will be aware that Stratford, East London is home to one of the largest shopping centres in Europe which is a popular shopping destination for millions of Londoners and tourists. Getting to Westfield Stratford City is very easy. By public transport the nearest train station is Stratford which is also served by a number of local bus routes. Additionally, there is lots of parking if you’re being driven there.

Generally, people with no useful vision for reading or getting around, such as myself, would view a large shopping centre like Westfield with real fear. In my experience, shopping centres are constantly busy with shoppers so it’s difficult to get around. Moreover, the same background music is played all over the shopping centre so there’s little in the way of audio clues as to what is around you.  And I’ve come to realise that navigation equipment that relies on GPS satellites is of limited or no use in large shopping centres.

At Westfield Stratford City, one of the great features available to the public is the Concierge service. This allows a person with little or no sight to go to the Concierge desk and ask for assistance to take them to one of Westfield’s many shops, restaurants and facilities. More than often they will wait with you if you’re only buying one or two items. However, if you’re planning on spending hours shopping or dining at a restaurant, then the Concierge staff will make sure you’re given the phone number for the Concierge desk so you can phone for assistance when you’re ready to leave.

I’ve used this service well over 20 times and I must say it’s extremely helpful as it has saved me from wandering around Westfield and getting lost. Also, even when the shopping centre has been really busy, such as during Christmas, I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for assistance.

In my opinion, the Concierge service for vision impaired people turns a difficult and stressful situation into a relatively hassle-free shopping trip. I just wish more shopping centres across the country would adopt this similar service.

For more information about their Concierge service for people with visual impairments, please visit: https://uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity/services/all-services/visual-impairment/711

Written by Graham Page

Dementia Awareness training with Redbridge Council

While here at ELVis we obviously focus on the issues surrounding sight loss, it’s worthwhile remembering that people can have complex needs, and sometimes people with a visual impairment can be experiencing other issues as well.

A couple of weeks ago, a few ELVis members of staff went to Redbridge Council to receive training in dementia awareness, to become Dementia Friends.  Dementia and sight loss are more closely related than some people realise. Both conditions tend to be more common in older people; it’s not unlikely that someone could naturally develop both conditions independently of each other, but sight loss can sometimes be a consequence of the dementia itself, or both conditions might originate from the same source, such as a stroke.

Furthermore, a person living with both of these conditions may experience more obstacles than someone with just one of them.  For example, a person with both dementia and sight loss may get disorientated more easily, have an increased risk of falls, or have more difficulty in recognising people.

Therefore, it’s very important to educate ourselves on what dementia is, and what we can do to help those who are living with it, which was exactly what our training covered.

The training began with talking about common ideas and misconceptions about dementia, and we discussed how people with dementia can still communicate effectively, that there is more to a person than their dementia and that it’s possible to live well with the condition.  These were very important messages, as people can often focus solely on the negatives when they or a loved one are diagnosed with dementia. It was encouraging to learn that the future isn’t always as bleak as people might fear.

Another important lesson that we learned from the training was that, while people with dementia may struggle to recall recent ‘factual’ memories, such as where they went at the weekend, they are in general much better at retaining ‘emotional’ memories.  This means that, if someone visits them and they end up having an argument, an hour later they may not remember that they were visited but they’ll still feel upset, whereas if someone visits and they have a great time, although they might not remember the visit later on, they’ll still feel the happiness that the experience brought them.

Learning more about dementia and understanding more about its causes and effects will definitely help us all when interacting with those who are affected in the future, and all of us are proud to be able to call ourselves a Dementia Friend.  Thank you very much to Redbridge Council for providing this training.  If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the Dementia Friends website: https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/.

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Photo of Ray, Nicola, and Bhavini from ELVis with Mike O’Hanlon, Dementia Friends trainer and Diversity Programme Manager at Redbridge Council.

Written by Nicola Stokes

Bhavini’s experience trying out the OxSight Smart Glasses

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of trialling out smart glasses, which are being developed by technology company OxSight.

Partial sight is required in order to benefit from wearing the glasses. I live with an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which means I have no useful vision in one eye and less than 1% in the other eye, in addition to also having Cataracts in this eye. Therefore, I was in doubt whether the glasses would work for me.

However, after a quick demonstration on how to use them, I tried them on and I immediately noticed the massive difference wearing the glasses made to my vision. I was able to see my surroundings, including a television screen, and a man walking into the room and sitting in the chair opposite from me. Also, wearing the glasses outside, I could see the contrasting colours of the pavement and roads. I even noticed some people whizzing past on bikes, as well as identify lampposts which I wouldn’t normally see unless they were detected by my cane.

I was very ecstatic and thrilled that the glasses could help me see again. Moreover, I felt delighted to be able to see my wall clock at home, which I haven’t done in over 4 years when my vision began to rapidly deteriorate.

In my honest opinion, I believe these glasses will greatly assist partially sighted people. These glasses have various settings to cater to different visual impairments. For example, changing the colours to black and white, or switching to use inverted colours. However, the glasses are slightly heavy, and you do feel the weight if you were to wear them all day. Also, the battery pack which is attached to the glasses overheats quickly.

Other slight issues, which I’m sure will be fixed in the final model, are firstly, it is difficult to use when reading printed material as text appears blurry. And secondly, if you’re looking at a group of people, the glasses sees one very large person instead.

Overall, the glasses do take some getting used to, but they are a great help. I’m looking forward to trialling them out in social environments, like walking to my local shop and navigating through the aisles and seeing if I can identify products. I’m also really interested to try them whilst trying to make a cup of tea with them and other daily tasks.

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Photo of Bhavni Makwana wearing the OxSight Smart Glasses.

Check out the video below where you can see me trialling the glasses!

For more updates and to follow my journey using these glasses, please visit my Facebook page ‘RP Awareness & Fundraisers’ by Bhavini Makwana by clicking on the link below. Thanks!

https://www.facebook.com/rpawarenessandfundraisers/

Written by Bhavini Makwana