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.
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‘In Your Pocket’ Review

In Your Pocket, which used to be known as RNIB In Your Pocket, is a device which allows the user to listen to content from RNIB including talking books, national and local newspapers and magazines and podcasts.

In Your Pocket is based on a mobile phone, and recently, it has become able to make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages and store contacts.  A key concept of In Your Pocket is that it is primarily controlled by the user’s voice.  It is the first device I have come across which will let the user add a contact by voice, only resorting to an on-screen keyboard if a name has an unusual spelling or if a word is consistently misrecognised.

This device is ideal for someone who wants to read a lot of books and newspapers as well as the basic mobile phone functionality.  The device is supplied with an O2 data plan giving 3 gigabytes of data per month; enough to listen to a talking book everyday for 4 hours over a 1-month period.  This means that In Your Pocket is ready to use as soon as you take it out of the box and turn it on.  There is no setup procedure necessary.  In Your Pocket can also be connected to Wi-Fi rather than using up your quota of mobile data.

The In Your Pocket package is available on a 24-month contract for £22 a month.

Initially this was an RNIB project, but it is hoped that more sources of books and other reading and listening material will be available in the coming months.

All this functionality can be achieved using an IOS or an Android phone and joining the RNIB talking book library and paying £39 a year for access to the RNIB Newsagent service.  You then need to install at least 1 book reading app for newspapers, learn to use the RNIB Overdrive app for listening to talking books and use a podcast player for listening to your chosen podcasts.  This requires you to have a good knowledge of your mobile device as well as the ability to use it with the built in screenreader or screen magnifier as required.  This can prove rather technically challenging for many people.

In Your Pocket offers an all-in-one ready to use solution which can be operated using natural speech.  You are talking to a machine not a person, so while you can use natural language, you must be specific about what you want.  If you have used the Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers, using In Your Pocket should be quite straight forward.  I have found that most people pick up the idea of controlling devices by voice quite quickly and naturally.

For more information about In Your Pocket visit the website –http://www.inyourpocket.org.uk or contact the In Your Pocket helpline on 0333 772 7708.

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Photo of Graham holding an In Your Pocket device.

Written by Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

Masuma’s Adventure in Lanzarote with Seable

Staying on the holiday theme from our previous blog, I’ll be sharing my time on the northernmost and easternmost Canary Island of Lanzarote.

Dragging myself out of bed on Tuesday morning at 1.45am was the least pleasurable part of the holiday!  However, several hours later and over 1600 miles away from London I landed in a landscape described to me as black lava rock fields and white-washed houses.  I was met by Damiano from Seable and Marialaura at the arrivals area of the airport.  They were our guides for the trip.  Whilst we waited for my friends to arrive we acquainted ourselves with each other.

With a jammed packed itinerary for the week ahead, knowing that all the planning and organising was being taken care of by Seable, my friends and I were in good spirits and looking forward to unwinding from the Monday to Friday work routine.

My first enjoyment came with the freedom of being able to go for a run on the sandy beach of Playa Los near our hotel without needing to be guided.  The sound of the sea alongside me provided a sense of direction, and the wind in my hair and the changing texture of the sand on my feet was exhilarating.  Knowing that our guides were nearby provided a comforting safety net.

Our visit to Timanfaya National Park involved an underground sensory experience simulating how it might feel to experience a volcanic eruption.  After walking and exploring the Martian-like landscape we got to see the geothermal demonstrations. Steam gushed out of the ground with a whoosh sound a moment after water had been poured into a hole.  Our guides provided us with running commentary throughout the day, but also allowed enough time for me and my friends to spend time together.

We also had the opportunity to do some sea kayaking. As it was something I hadn’t done before, I was a little apprehensive, but once I was in the kayak with my instructor the worries disappeared, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This day was a day of firsts for me as I also tried snorkeling.  After I got over the fear and the panic I felt when putting my head underwater I came to like the sensation.  The instructors on the day provided the right level of support and were not at all overbearing.

Other activities we took part in included horse riding and tandem cycling, which were equally thrilling.  We also had the opportunity to make some bath salts, which I’m very much looking forward to using.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to do a fair amount of travelling with my family to countries like India and Egypt, as well as with friends to European cities including Rome and Cologne.  However, I was yet to go on holiday with just my VI friends, until recently.  Having Seable to organise all the arrangements from excursions to travel whilst abroad, as well as having sighted guides meant I could fully relax and unwind.

Seable provides tailored holidays for blind and partially sighted people.  This can range from a relaxing break to something more active.  It’s your holiday, it’s your choice!

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Photo of Masuma and her friend Shamaila standing on a large rock at Timanfaya National Park.

Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO

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

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