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

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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

Why I Like Volunteering for East London Vision Charity

Some of us reach our ambitions, others don’t and some people have no idea which path to take but are looking for fulfilment.  As I wandered along my path looking at various side tracks I knew I wanted something that satisfied my need, as well as being of benefit to others.

I had worked in various professions, but I hadn’t found the one thing that set my soul on fire.  Then a miracle happened which gave me hope, I stumbled across an organisation called East London Vision looking for volunteers.  No matter how young or old you were you could help someone.  Skilled, unskilled you were offered training and there were a wide variety of causes to choose from.

As I have a disability that worries me, which is my failing eyesight, I was scared about how I would cope, but I feared even more the thought of becoming useless.  So I decided to apply as a volunteer without hesitation because I wanted to learn about life with no vision and to enhance my skills.  I had stereotyped visually impaired people as lifeless like vegetables, unable to do anything or move around, and wondered if I might get bored helping them.  I remember my first invitation to an event which was an awards evening.  I thought it was going to be a very formal affair and boring, but surprisingly it wasn’t! I saw blind and visually impaired people in a different perspective.  There was entertainment and to my amazement people were dancing and having fun.  They were enjoying life with a little bit of support.

Being new to volunteering with other vision impaired people, the users were more than understanding.  Sometimes I would make a mistake, but they were very supportive of me, and it made me feel valuable to them.  The best thing about helping other VI people is they’re all different and know how they want to be supported.  I had discovered so much about the users and have enjoyed many activities from coffee mornings, outings and even sport!

There are no barriers to becoming a volunteer as you’re given the skills to fulfil the role that’s needed.  The age range varies, but we all enjoy getting together, and the advantage is the older people teach the younger ones and the younger ones teach the older ones.

Before volunteering, I was feeling like my social life was to an end, but with the encouragement of the people I met, users and staff, to become more active in activities, I am feeling the benefits of belonging to ELVis.  I have been given a new lease of life which I love and I have learnt so much.

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Photo of Christine standing in front of a palm tree in Hackney.

Written by Christine Maker, Volunteer for East London Vision

What It’s Like to Be a Support Worker in the Sight Loss Sector

Previous to my current role at East London Vision, I was a support worker to a vision impaired person, and at first I was not sure what a support worker was.  After a general chat about my role with my client I had a better understanding of what my responsibilities were.

Let me tell you this- being asupport worker is a role that comes with ahigh level of responsibility.  This officially means the person being supported must be at the centre of everything at all times when on the job!

A support worker’s day is driven by the person they are supporting.  I found that no two days were ever the same, which was great!  I had to remember that I was there to support the person and enable them to do their job and not take over it!  I supported them with tasks like preparing reports, giving presentations, reading the post and completing forms.  I would also help provide emotional support to patients at the eye clinic.  However, members of staff would think they had a new team member and would try to delegate work to me!  But I and the person I was supporting would quickly remind staff that I was not working for them.

In addition, I met people who would speak to me rather than the person I was supporting.  This was upsetting for both myself and the person I was supporting, but we soon learned how to resolve this.  If a person spoke to me, then I would not respond, which quickly led to the person realizing who they should have been addressing in the first place!

Most of my happiest years were working as a support worker because I truly loved my job.  I learned a great deal from the person I supported because they made me look at things from a different angle.

Over the years I formed a close friendship with this person.  We learned to trust each other because we worked closely together almost every day, and we’ve even shared many laughs.   I’m happy to say we’re friends for life!

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Christine serving tea to Graham at the ELVis office

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Information and Administration Officer

Managing Your Food Allergy when You’re Vision Impaired

As a partially sighted individual with food allergies, managing my allergies has been challenging.  For example, when I’m eating at a restaurant, the menu isn’t always written in large print, or when I go food shopping, it’s often difficult to read the ingredients on food packaging.  Because of this, I’ve learned to take a proactive approach towards managing my allergies so I’m able to eat safely at home or when I’m dining out.

I hope you will learn something from my advice to help you better manage your food allergies.  Even if you don’t have a food allergy, you may know someone who has one so you can pass on the advice to them.

Firstly, get to know your allergy medication.  If you have little or no sight make sure you have a feel of what your medication looks like.  If you carry an Epipen then it’s vital that you’re trained how to use it.  You can book an appointment with your allergy clinic at your local hospital via a GP referral to get training.  Moreover, if you carry different medication, you can add labels on them to tell them apart easily.  A list of different types of labels (i.e. audio, tactile) sold by the RNIB can be found by clicking on this link: https://bit.ly/1Z7pOsy.  Also, remember to have your medication next to you at the table when you’re dining out so it’s at arm’s reach if you ever need it.

Secondly, use assistive technology.  There are many smartphone Apps such as the Seeing AI app which can read back to you if you point the phone’s camera at text.   If you aren’t tech savvy or own a smartphone, don’t be shy to ask someone to help you read the menu or food label.  If you have some sight always carry around a hand-held magnifier.  At home, use large print labels on food containers, or you can use different numbers of rubber bands to identify different tinned products.

Thirdly, this one may seem obvious- tell people about your allergies.  When I dine out, I always notify the server or restaurant manager of my peanut and tree nut allergy so they can check if they’re able to provide me a nut-free meal.  Furthermore, talking openly about your allergies raises awareness as you’ll be surprised that not everyone knows that having a food allergy can be fatal.

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Image of foods likely to cause allergies includes shellfish, nuts, dairy, alcohol and fresh fruits.

Written by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator

Using a Smartphone as a Light Detector

As a blind person, there are often times when I need to be able to detect sources of light.  This may be to see if it is light outside, if an electric light has been left on, or if the power LED on an electronic device is on.  In the past, RNIB sold a device about the size of a marker pen which gave out a sound that changed according to the level of light that it was pointing at.  Sadly, RNIB no longer stocks this device, but fortunately it is possible to use a smartphone to do this.

Recently everyone in the building I live in got new door phone systems allowing people to call the flat they require from the outer door and be let in.  This door phone system has a privacy setting so you can choose not to hear if someone rings your door.  When privacy is switched on, there is a LED that glows to indicate that it is on but there is no other way of knowing whether privacy is on or off.  The button that turns privacy on and off is like a doorbell so you can’t tell by the position of the switch.

Fortunately, there are a number of apps which turn a smartphone into a light detector.  I have used two of them on the iPhone and both these apps are free.  Both detected the presence of the privacy LED on my door phone.

There is a standalone app called Boop Light Detector.  When in this app the phone emits a tone which changes according to how much light there is.  It can also vibrate and the vibration gets faster the more light there is.  This can be useful if checking for light in noisy environments.  The App Store link to this app is https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/boop-light-detector/id1134857212?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D8

Some time ago I reviewed the Seeing AI app from Microsoft which you can read here.  This app has been updated and one of the new features is the light detector channel.  This produces a tone which increases in pitch the more light there is.  At this time there is no vibration feature but if you are used to using Seeing AI then this could be a good choice.  The link to Seeing AI in the App Store is https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/seeing-ai-talking-camera-for-the-blind/id999062298?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D8

I have been advised that there is an Android light detector app called Free Motion Light Detector.  The Google Play Store link is https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.visionandroid.apps.motionsensor&hl=en_GB

Written by Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

What It’s Like to Be a Blind Mum

Growing up I enjoyed looking after my younger siblings and cousins, so I knew I wanted children of my own one day.  However, when I was 17 years old I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and told that I would lose my sight in the matter of weeks, months or years.

I stopped dreaming about having my own family again until I met my future husband at the age of 21.  Soon after I got married I was blessed with my first beautiful daughter.  This was also when I noticed that my eyesight was deteriorating for the first time since my RP diagnosis.  Because of this, I became a very hands-on mother.   I needed to feel things as I couldn’t rely on my eyes to see.  Moreover, when my daughter started to walk I had to find ways to be able to locate her.  I’d dress her in brightly coloured clothes and shoes that squeaked.

Four years later I was blessed once more with my second beautiful daughter, and unfortunately found that my sight was deteriorating further.  My eldest daughter was a big help in being my eyes. For example, she would read to her baby sister, which was something I could no longer do.  Being a VI mum of two girls was challenging at first, but I taught my daughters to be aware of my sight loss, and they have good knowledge of my eye conditions and mobility aids like the white cane.  I feel confident to rely on my daughters to guide me and give me verbal cues when I’m out in public or at home.  I’m very proud of them both.

Finally, I’d like to say to all VI mum out there that you are doing an incredible job.  Keep on being the great mum that you are!  If you’re vision impaired and thinking about starting a family with your partner it’s natural to have lots of questions.  A genetics counsellor would be your first point of call if you’re worried about passing on your condition.  I would also speak to other visually impaired parents.  There are plenty of blind parent’s forums online to ask questions and seek advice and information.

What can I say?  Being a mum is an amazing experience and I love being a mum to both my wonderful and perfect daughters.

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Image of Bhavini in a bright red dress with her two daughters.

Listen to my latest podcast about my journey into becoming a mum and living with a visual impairment.  I reveal how I overcame some of the unique challenges I faced as a blind mum, such as learning to bottle feed and dealing with my daughter’s tantrums.

Written by Bhavini Makwana

Edited by Ray Calamaan