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

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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

 

 

Bhavini’s Employment Journey

Can a blind or partially sighted person be employed? Can they have a desirable career?  Can they work in jobs they’re absolutely passionate about? The answer is yes to ALL!

As a severely sight impaired person, when I applied for the position of activities co-ordinator everything inside me lit up because I knew I was the right person for the role. The job combined both of my passions; supporting vision impaired people and organising events, activities and meetings to improve social inclusion for VI people. So when I received the phone call that I got the job, I literally cried. I was thrilled, proud and happy. Then it dawned on me- “Oh my god, I’ve got a job! How will I manage? I know I can do it, but how?”

I was told about a government scheme called Access to Work (ATW). The scheme assesses you in regards to the support you require to carry out your job. Once my support was in place I was able to settle into my new role. I was also eligible for a support worker for sighted assistance.

The ideal support worker should be able to empower you to carry out your role professionally. Instead of talking on your behalf, support workers should introduce you and take you to the person you need to speak to. Moreover, they must understand your role so they can relay information to you that may be essential for you to carry out your duties. In my case, when carrying out risk assessments for activities and outings, my support worker would highlight certain risk factors that I will ask them to look out for. And they would also inform me of possible hazards which I cannot physically see myself. Having the right support worker gives me the extra help I need to carry out my role to the best of my ability.

If you’re passionate about getting in to a specific career then don’t let your vision impairment hold you back. Support is out there to help you every step of the way. After being unemployed for 10 years, I thought I’d never work again, but the support from Martin Sigworth at Thomas Pocklington’s Employment Service helped me to prepare for my interview.

To conclude, here at East London Vision over half the team are registered blind or have a visual impairment, and most of us have a support worker. Unfortunately, I recently had to say goodbye to Shivani, who was an excellent support worker. However, on the positive side, I’m on the hunt for someone new to work alongside myself and ELVis CEO Masuma Ali. To find out more about this role, please email Bhavini@eastlondonvision.org.uk

 

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Photo of Bhavini (right) with her support worker Shivani (left).

Written by Bhavini Makwana

Team ELVis at National Eye Health Week 2017

In this week’s blog, I’m going to be sharing what Team ELVis got up to during National Eye Health Week (18th – 24th September) in partnership with local optometrists, health and social care professionals, and the voluntary sector.

On Tuesday, we had an ELVis stall at the Sainsbury’s Supermarket in Whitechapel to raise awareness about what we do as a charity and the importance of getting an eye examination. It was a successful day. We spoke to lots of people who had not been for an eye examination in recent years and encouraged them to make an appointment at their local opticians.

Then on Wednesday, we were at Queen’s Hospital in Romford and joined by the local vision impaired group, Sight Action Havering. We had another successful day promoting the charity and sharing lots of helpful eye health tips with hospital patients and visitors.

Our final day of National Eye Health Week activities took place on Thursday. We spent the day at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar speaking to the local community. It was a chilly day but we braved the cold. Moreover, we managed to sign up a new ELVis member. The biggest challenge of the day was ensuring that we didn’t lose our leaflets to the wind!!

During the week we handed out plenty of freebies – pens, trolley coin keyrings, magnets, and mints – which were really popular!

Although National Eye Health Week has ended it’s important to continue looking after your eyes.  Did you know that there is a link between smoking and increased risk of blindness and eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD)?

Furthermore, to limit the risk of developing an eye condition it’s recommended by the NHS that you should undergo a sight examination at least once every two years.

More information on keeping your eyes healthy can be found by visiting: www.visionmatters.org.uk

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Photo of Sight Action Havering members (Mike, Tracy, Maureen, Sandra and Izzy the guide dog) and Team ELVis (Ray and Graham).

Written by Masuma Ali

 

ELVis’s Cooking Success!

Hello Lovely people,

This week I’d like to tell you all about the fantastic cookery courses we ran over the past few months.

We ran 2 cooking courses to give blind and partially sighted people the skills and confidence needed to cook healthy meals.

Sixteen service users participated in the six week beginner and advanced cooking courses, which were run in conjunction with Made In Hackney as part of our “Healthy Body Healthy Mind” project, from June to August.

The course helped participants gain confidence to use cooking equipment such as knives and hot saucepans in a safe environment and helped people discover that they were still able to prepare fresh meals despite their sight loss.

The group had the opportunity to make a variety of easy but healthy meals ranging from vegetable ratatouille to black bean chili chocolate cookies.

Having attended the beginner cookery course, it was great to see how much attendees benefited from the course and how it built their confidence to try the recipes for themselves at home. Many people losing their sight believe that they are unable to continue to do lots of the things they did when they had sight and preparing meals is just one example.

Participant James Murray said the cooking sessions were very enjoyable and he looked forward to them each week.

“They were informative, welcoming and everything was explained in an easy to understand manner. The course has changed the way I now make salads as they are much more interesting and tastier!”

Simple adaptations in the kitchen such as, bump-ons on gas cookers, colour contrast of equipment and talking weighing scales can assist blind and partially sighted people whilst cooking

It was fantastic getting people to use knives, chopping vegetables and weighing ingredience using talking scales for the very first time after having lost their sight and for there to be a delicious meal at the end of it to tuck into. I love an apple crumble, so I was rather pleased the week we made it, and not only was it healthy, but pretty yummy too!

The cookery sessions were made possible from a grant received for our “Healthy Body Healthy Mind” project from Hackney Council’s Healthy Neighbourhoods project.

Catch you all in a few weeks time.

Masuma

 

Accessible phones

Hello All.

Whenever I visit groups of people to talk about accessibility, one of the questions I am always asked is which main stream phones are accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.  People often want to go and buy from a shop near them and buy a phone that is relatively affordable that they can access straight off the shelf.  In general, main stream accessible phones have touch screens though they can be used with a Bluetooth keyboard.

The biggest choice that users must make is IPhone or Android?  This has in fact been the case for some time but there are now more affordable yet powerful options in both camps, so now seems a good time to consider what’s available and what it might cost.  I am not including phones designed for visually impaired people here as this subject is worthy    of a post on its own.

Apple IPhones come with a screenreader called VoiceOver built in.  They also have a voice assistant called Siri and a screen magnifier called Zooms.

Until recently, new IPhones generally cost over £500 or around £450 for an older model.

For those wishing to use the IPhone, prices are still in general somewhat higher than for equivalent phones running Android but there is a new kid on the block which is of considerable interest.  The IPhone SE is a phone with a 4 inch display. Externally it looks like the IPhone 5S which is over 3 years old but it includes many of the same features as the current IPhone model, the IPhone 6S.  This phone was created for those who want a smaller phone with the power and battery life of later models which are generally larger with larger screens.

The IPhone SE with 16 Gigabytes (GB) of storage costs £349 from the apple store.  This is a good option if you don’t install many apps and don’t intend to use your phone for listening to music, reading books or listening to pod casts.  Note that there is also an IPhone SE with 64 GB of storage costing £439 which is a good option for storing music and using lots of apps etc.  It’s better to spend money on the IPhone with the most storage you can afford with whichever model you go for since you can’t fit more memory to an IPhone after it has been bought.

You can still buy the IPhone 6 S as well as the IPhone 6S Plus.   These phones have 4.5 and 5.5 inch screens respectively.   Most people will find the screen on the IPhone SE to be quite acceptable,   but if you need the larger screen The IPhone 6 S now costs £539 for the 16 GB model so it’s more expensive than the 64 GB IPhone SE.

I have not listed all the models here, but I’m comparing like with like. As far as possible.  For more information visit http://www.apple.com/uk

All the IPhones available from the apple store now have a finger print reader which is used for security.  The finger print reader is in the home button and you can touch it to unlock your phone securely and pay for things using Apple Pay where available.

Android phones come with a screenreader called Talkback.  They also have magnification gestures which can be turned on and off.  Android phones vary greatly.  They have different versions of Android and with the exception of the Google Nexus range, it’s hard to predict when or if they will receive updates.  There are however android phones that are much cheaper than the IPhone and accessibility of android is improving.  To guarantee the latest version of Android I would suggest using any of the Google Nexus phones.  The google Nexus 5X is currently available for under £220 from amazon and this certainly represents great value.  It has 32 GB of storage as well as a finger print reader for tasks such as locking the phone and paying for things. Android Pay has now started appearing in the UK and though its availability is somewhat limited, it is likely to become more available over time.  At the moment, cheaper android phones do not have a finger print reader so Android pay is not available on these phones.

There is less information around about accessibility of android than apple, but there are various email lists where people can provide you with help should you need it.  Google also provides some help on it’s website at https://support.google.com/accessibility/android/?hl=en-GB#topic=6007234

The Motorola Moto G 4th generation has a great screen and fast processor.  It retails for just under £170 and is widely said to be the best budget phone around with great battery life and processor power.

Apple and Android both have voice assistants with strengths and weaknesses.   On the IPhone, Siri lets you control many of the features of the IPhone but you can’t do everything.  You can call people and create calendar entries as well as launching apps and setting alarms and timers but you can’t create contacts at the moment.    Siri will allow you to ask questions such as what is the weather like and many other things, though Google Search is widely thought to be the better assistant for finding out information and answering questions.  Google Search is not however able to control the phone itself.  There is an app called Voice Access which is produced by Google that lets you control the phone.  This app is currently in Beta testing which means that it is not yet considered a stable product ready for release but it looks very promising.

In conclusion then, if you want a phone that works out of the box that works without much customisation then the IPhone is probably the best though still the most expensive solution.  Android phones are however more accessible than they have ever been before and a great option for those who want to customise their phones and experiment a bit.