A Fully-Sighted Person’s Perspective of Working in a Predominantly VI Organisation

Before I had my interview for this job, I had never knowingly had a conversation with someone who was vision impaired.  Suffice to say, once I was offered a position at East London Vision, I had a lot of learning to do!

People sometimes ask me whether there are any differences when working with vision impaired colleagues, and the fact is that there are some small adaptations that I make on a daily basis.  For example, I’ll sometimes be asked to choose the photos to add to a colleague’s piece of work, or if we’re going to an external meeting at an unknown venue, my colleagues might ask me to meet them slightly earlier at the nearest station to help guide them to the location. These are all very minor adaptations that don’t take me much time, and have little effect on my everyday workload.  In fact some adaptations, like describing our surroundings or giving verbal cues instead of nodding or using facial expressions to communicate, are now so ingrained that I find myself doing them even outside of work with sighted friends!

The biggest effect that working with vision impaired people has had on me is probably how much I have learned.  One of the main skills I have gained is sighted guiding, which I do on a regular basis.  But despite having been guiding various people for the past two and a half years, I’m still constantly learning.  I once told someone in a bus that they were able to sit down, but neglected to tell them that the free seat was the aisle seat and not the window seat, which resulted in them trying to sit on someone’s lap.  Suffice to say, I now always specify which seat it is that’s free!

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned through my time at ELVis, though, is how much is possible for people with sight loss.  Losing sight is often something that fully-sighted people are very afraid of, and people will often say they’d rather lose their hearing or a limb than lose their sight.  However, since working with many VIPs and seeing how they’re able to live a life that is just as (and often more) active than mine, I have to say that the thought of potentially losing my sight in the future, while of course it would still be difficult for me to adjust, is no longer the scary prospect it once might have been.

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Nicola filming a Vision Awareness training video with Alex Pepper and his guide dog in front of the ELVis office in Leyton.

Written by Nicola Stokes

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What to do When You’re Being Ignored

I have two questions I’d like to ask vision impaired people – are you fine with someone talking on your behalf? And do you think it’s acceptable for others to talk to your sighted guide and not to you directly?

My view is that when somebody speaks for you it can be quite demoralising and it can leave you feeling worthless, frustrated and hurt.

Recently, I’ve been situations where I’ve met people who would talk to my sighted guide instead of talking to me.  For example, whilst attending my hospital appointments, there were doctors, consultants, surgeons and nurses who would talk to my husband all the time.  It got to a point where I felt very upset and annoyed.  It forced me to speak up and ask them to speak to me directly because, after all, I am the patient! And my husband isn’t with me all the time. However, despite being seen regularly at the hospital, I still have to remind them that I’ve only lost my sight and not my ability to communicate!

Another question I’d like to ask is – should we be more forgiving when it comes to family?  I think in some ways our families should be more supportive and inform others that you, as a vision impaired individual, are capable of speaking for yourself and it is important you’re spoken to face-to-face.  The same applies to work colleagues, support workers, friends or anyone who has a habit of speaking on your behalf.

It’s commonplace that when we lose our sight, we also lose our confidence and independence.  And, to an extent, our voices disappear as we struggle to inform others of how we’re feeling and explain what’s going on, whilst trying to make sense of the situation ourselves.  So next time anyone talks to your guide, kindly let them know that it is better if they spoke to you instead of your guide.  In fact, talking with others is very important for visually impaired people as it helps us to recognise voices so we can remember who the person is.

Furthermore, if you’re going to initiate the conversation, then asking your guide to point you in the right direction and letting you know when you’re in front of the other person will help you start the conversation.  Sometimes, VI people need some assistance from their guide to face the person being spoken to and being told when the person has left the conversation.  There have been many times when I’ve been left to talk to myself- how embarrassing!

So the next time you are in a position where others are continuously talking on your behalf, then let them know how it makes you feel and explain some of the tips I’ve mentioned on how they can support you to maintain your independence.

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Bhavini (left) with her support worker Kam (right).

Written by Bhavini Makwana

What We’re Looking Forward to in 2018

For our very first blog post of the New Year, we would like to share our aspirations and resolutions for 2018.

Masuma, ELVis CEO: “I’m not one for New Year resolutions as I don’t believe in setting myself up for a fall at the start of the year.  If the plan was to be healthy, it wouldn’t have lasted long as I would’ve broke that on Tuesday 2nd Jan with a chocolate doughnut!  However, I’ll be burning that doughnut off with plenty of walking as my challenge for the year with team Look Who’s Walking is to be the first VI group to complete the Peak District 50K challenge in 12 hours in September.  Watch this space for further updates.”

Nicola, ELVis Service Development & Delivery Manager: “People often talk about how others will complain about people behind their backs, but I find that we often compliment people behind their backs, too.  For example, when telling my family about my day I might mention how much I appreciated a work colleague’s advice, or I might talk to one of my friends about how smart I think our mutual friend is.  But if the person we’re talking about isn’t there, they’re never going to know that I think that about them, and I think that can be a shame.  Therefore, my new year’s resolution for 2018 is to go out of my way to compliment someone at least once a day, because everyone can do with a little pick-me-up sometimes J”

Bhavini, ELVis Activities Coordinator: “2017 was a great year where I developed new skills, met really great people, enhanced on aspirations and tried a lot of new things I thought were impossible to do as VI person.  ELVis provided a wide range of fantastic activities and speaker last year, and this year will be no different.  I will be working towards in making events and activities enjoyable for all our members and provide guest speakers on really useful matters that are important to VI people.  So make sure you’ve signed up to our newsletters and keep updated on what will be going on.”

Ray, ELVis Communications Coordinator: “I’ve been working for ELVis for nearly a year now and it’s been really great so far working for such a fantastic team.  I’ve loved meeting all the service users and look forward to meeting many more in the coming year.  Don’t forget to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages to keep updated on all our upcoming activities and events across East London.”

Christine, ELVis Administrator & Information Officer: “I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  At this time of the year everyone is thinking about the past year and what New Year’s resolutions they will be making and nine times out of ten breaking.  I have decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year in order for me not to break them.”

Graham, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser: “I have never really been one for New Year’s resolution, but the New Year is a good time for those interested in technology to look to the future.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to be big this year.  It’s already featured in high profile bits of technology for visually impaired people including the Seeing AI app from Microsoft which for the first time allowed vision Impaired people to read handwritten text at a truly affordable price of 0 providing you have an IPhone.  At the other end of the scale we have Orcam.  At over £2200 for the basic model it’s not cheap but look out for smart glasses that can be used in conjunction with apps on smartphones for various purposes.  We will see big price reductions in this field I am sure.”

From everyone at East London Vision we hope you have your best year yet!  If you have a New Year’s resolutions or an aspiration for 2018 let us know in the comment section below!

Written by the ELVis team

 

What it’s Like to Work at East London Vision

As some of you may know, I’m fairly new to East London Vision having only started in April this year.  I can tell you that my job has changed my life for the better, as previously I was unemployed and job hunting for a considerable while.  I held a belief that my vision impairment was a barrier to employment, so when I was given an opportunity to work at ELVis I became optimistic again about my future.

Truth-be-told, during my first month at ELVis, getting used to working part-time was challenging, but I quickly adapted, which does happen when you get into a regular routine.  Moreover, working in a small, but amazing team I must say I feel very lucky.  When you have characters like Christine Edmead (ELVis Administrator and Information Officer) in the office, the working day is never a boring one!  She is “Mother Hen of ELVis” and always looking after the team.  On one occasion, she brought delicious cupcakes to the team meeting which everyone enjoyed eating!

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Photo of the delicious cupcakes brought by Christine.  Three cupcakes are covered in green frosting and decorated with rainbow sprinkles and a gold star in the center.  The fourth cupcake has vanilla frosting and a miniature carrot.

The best part of working for ELVis is the opportunity to go along to service user activities.  My favourite activities this year were white water rafting and the kayaking sessions as I love to take part in water-based activities, and it’s great to get out of the office and do something physical once in a while.  Furthermore, it’s fantastic to see the positive difference the activities make in the lives of those who participate in them.  I promote the success of service user participation on the ELVIs social media channels, which help to raise awareness about the really great things ELVis does for vision impaired people in east London.

Additionally, working closely with the East London Local Society groups I’ve become acquainted with the service users and have learned about the challenges they have overcome and still face as a result of their sight loss.  And I’ve been able to highlight their stories online, especially through the blog which receives very positive feedback from our blog readers.

What can I say? These past 9 months working at ELVis has been really fulfilling.  I feel blessed to be working again.  Now I wake up in the morning thinking I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy, instead of wondering how to spend my day.  It’s been rewarding to work for a charity because I know the work I am doing is helping to improve people’s lives, and as a vision impaired individual it feels great to be supporting my peers.

Lastly, before I go, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s supported East London Vision in 2017 and I wish you all a very successful and happy New Year!

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Photo of Ray (center) with the ELVis team.

Written by Ray Calamaan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the White Cane Changed Bhavini’s Life!

“I knew I had to stop feeling embarrassed, ashamed and insecure about having a visual impairment and start putting my safety first!”

I was first introduced to a symbol cane, which is small and thin in size.  Its primary function is to let others know that you have a visual impairment and you’re supposed to hold it vertically in front of your body.  It provided me with safety going out in public as people took care to avoid bumping into me.  I would use my symbol cane whilst being guided by my husband.

As my vision deteriorated, going out on my own meant the symbol cane wasn’t enough.  I contemplated whether I could take such a big step by switching to a white cane, which is bigger and longer with a rollerball at the end, and actually use it rather than just hold it which meant everyone could see that I am blind.  I wouldn’t be able to deny or hide my visual impairment or pretend that I wasn’t anymore.

I must say that using a white cane made me feel quite vulnerable and somewhat a fraud.  I mean, I felt I didn’t ‘look blind’, and I was fairly young when I started using it and didn’t know anyone else my age using a cane.  However, when I began to use my white cane more I became comfortable using stairs and escalators.  Furthermore, I discovered that I was able to avoid bumping into bollards, lamp posts, public dustbins, parked cars and any other obstacles, and because of this my confidence grew, which lead to me feeling empowered as I became more independent.  In addition, people became aware and offered help and support.  Also, I’ve learned that bus drivers are required to stop when they see a person with a white cane at the bus stop, which is one of other benefits of using a white cane.

If you’d like a white cane then contact your local Sensory Team as they should be able to provide you with one which has been measured to suit you.  Training is also given on how to correctly hold and use the cane whilst taking care of your posture.

The main advantage of using a white cane is personal safety.  A white cane detects textured surfaces allowing you to distinguish between a pavement and a crossing point.  Most crossing points have a tactile bumpy surface to indicate when a crossing is approaching.  At train stations, your white cane will detect the bumpy lines when you approach stairs and platform edges.

After finding myself in various difficult and dangerous situations in the past, I decided it was time to put my safety first and for my precious daughters too.  I was ashamed and embarrassed of what others would think of me, but I cannot tell you how much I love my white cane now.  It has given me the confidence and independence I need to enable me to go out without feeling scared or anxious, allowing me to feel free and in control.  I’ve even taken my cane on holiday!

Using the combination of both my cane and assistance from transport providers like National Rail and TFL, I can now get around independently with ease.

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Bhavini takes her cane wherever she goes! Photo of Bhavini wearing an astronaut suit and holding her white cane on the surface of the moon.

Written by Bhavini Makwana

Free Upgrade to Windows 10 for those with Assistive Technology Ends 31 December 2017

Hi all. A bit of a technical blog this time round, but this could affect many PC users.

At the end of July 2016, the offer of a free upgrade from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 to Windows 10 was withdrawn for most users, though the offer for those using assistive technology such as screen readers and screen magnifiers was extended. This extended offer is now coming to an end as of 31 December 2017.

I strongly suggest that anyone using Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 should upgrade their version of Windows before the end of December. Those using Windows 7 may not want to upgrade, though- particularly if they have old devices which may not work with Windows 10.  If you use Office 2003 or older, then I would also suggest that you do not upgrade to Windows 10.

I am very happy to discuss upgrading to Windows 10 and any implications it may have for you. If you live in the East London area then I can also arrange to visit you and help you carry out the upgrade if this is the most appropriate step for you, and of course this service is absolutely free of charge!

You can reach me by calling my mobile which is 07779 441000 or calling East London Vision on 0203 697 6464, or contacting me by email at graham@eastlondonvision.org.uk.

The information confirming the end of Microsoft’s free upgrade offer is tricky to find so I have included a link to the relevant Microsoft blog post at the end of this article.

The post also discusses some interesting Microsoft accessibility improvements in the latest version of Windows 10. The most interesting of these for many readers will probably be the colour filter, which will allow you to quickly set colour choices that will then apply to all programs on your PC.

For info on the end of the assistive technology free upgrade offer visit: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/accessibility/2017/10/17/windows-10-accessibility-update/

Written by Graham Page

Why Braille is Still Relevant in the Digital Age

For those of you who aren’t aware, last week was National Braille Week, so now is as good an opportunity as ever to talk about why this form of communication continues to be so important in the VI world.

Most people know that Braille was invented by Louis Braille, a nineteenth-century Frenchman who accidentally blinded himself while playing with tools in his father’s workshop at the age of three. But did you know that he had come up with the now-familiar six-dots system by the age of just 15, and published his findings when he was 20? However, scepticism of the system meant that Braille wasn’t on the curriculum even at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, where Louis was a professor.  It took until two years after his death for Braille to be implemented there, after continual demands from blind pupils.

Today, Braille is used by over 150 million people across the world.  However, in an age in which digital technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and voiceover and voice-activated devices are becoming more common and readily available, many people no longer consider Braille to be as essential for communication.  However, whilst it is certainly true that voice-activated products can be extremely useful for a VIP, this does not eliminate the importance of Braille.  Being a fully-sighted person myself, I once asked the opinion of a VIP how they felt about Braille being considered less important nowadays.  He responded, “Imagine if someone said to you that you were no longer allowed to read or write text, and the only way you could receive or impart information was aurally.  It would have a huge impact on your life.”  And he’s right- being able to read and write Braille opens up many more opportunities for VIPs than they would have otherwise.  Braille is important to help improve people’s literacy rates, which in turn aids people in the workplace.  And with its incorporation with recent developments in technology, such as portable Braille Notetakers and Braille attachments to smart devices, people who are Braille-literate are easily able to read and write wherever they go.  Modern technology is therefore making Braille more accessible, rather than making it obsolete, and is a great tool in helping VIPs to become more independent.  As Helen Keller said, “We, the blind, are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg.”

To find out more about Braille and National Braille Week, click here: https://www.royalblind.org/national-braille-week

For more information on how technology is helping to enhance the use of Braille, click here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/feb/14/technology-brings-braille-back-apple

If you’re interested in learning Braille and would like more information, you can call Abiola on 07983 552855 (classes run every Friday 11am to 12pm at Dagenham Library), or email redbridge@hearingloss.org.uk (Redbridge residents only, classes normally run on Tuesday mornings).

Written by Nicola Stokes