National Eye Health Week 2018: Looking After Your Sight

This week is National Health Week 2018, which runs from Monday 24th September to Saturday 30th September.

National Eye Health Week is a national campaign encouraging everyone, young and old, to think about eye health and the importance of looking after your eyes.

Team ELVis have been very busy this week promoting the campaign across East London.  We’ve been talking to members of the public sharing advice and information on how to achieve good eye health and reduce the effects of sight loss.

Here are some of our top tips on how to keep your eyes healthy.

Eat healthily

There are numerous health benefits that come with incorporating healthy foods into your diet, such as healthy eyes and good vision.  Leafy green vegetables contain lots of nutrients like lutein which protect the eyes and reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

Exercise regularly

Although exercise doesn’t have a direct link to eye health, there are benefits exercising can have on your overall wellbeing, such as reducing the risk of diabetes.  Diabetes can cause damage to the blood vessels behind your eyes and can lead to permanent vision loss.

Drink less alcohol

Did you know the recommended units of alcohol for a per day is 4 units for men and 3 for women?  Alcohol contains toxins which causes the optic nerves carrying your vision from the eyes to the brain to swell, which can lead to vision problems like blurry vision.

Quit smoking

Smoking has a negative consequence on your eyes and vision. The chemical toxins in tobacco damage the surface and structure of your eyes. Quitting smoking will decrease the likelihood of your eye health from further deteriorating.

Wear sunglasses

Sunglasses are not just a fashion statement!  They protect the eyes, especially on a very bright and sunny day.  When you’re buying a pair of sunglasses look out for ones which are labelled “UV 400” as these will protect your eyes from damaging UV rays which can cause permanent retinal damage.

Attend an eye examination

Going to see an optician for an eye examination can help detect any visual problems that can be corrected by glasses.  In addition, an optometrist can detect any health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure before you notice any effects on your eyes.

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Ray and Paul from ELVis with the local sensory team and eye clinic staff at The Royal London Hospital.

Written by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator

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Me and My Guide Dog’s Journey, so far!

Me and my guide dog’s journey began around 5 years ago, which you can read all about by clicking here.

Last month, I had a potential guide dog match stay at home with me for one night and this included practicing walking together.  My Guide Dog Mobility Instructor and I both felt that it went very well.  As a result, I started my training at the end of August, and I am currently training with my first guide dog.

It has been amazing to learn different commands on how my guide dog can safely guide me, how I can spend him, which means taking him to the toilet, and how to pick up the mess.  Also, what his feeding patterns are like and how to understand his actions and behaviour.  Moreover, I learned different techniques of navigating steps, train stations, narrow spaces, busy and cluttered pavements, taking him on a free run and so much more!

I am sure you will get to meet my guide dog soon.  In the meanwhile, here are some tips I can share with you about guide dogs: firstly, you should always ask if you can say hello or stroke them.  A guide dog could be working and therefore a distraction could, potentially, put both the owner and the guide dog at harm.  Secondly, always be mindful with food around guide dogs.  They are trained not to scavenge, but they cannot be at fault if temptation arises.  Grapes and chocolate are definitely a no-no as these can be poisonous for them.  Lastly, if you’re playing with a guide dog, try not to get them too excited as they like to play back, and it will be difficult for the owner to calm them down.  Also, if a guide dog is settled and calm, then it is best to wait until they are active again before interacting.

With my guide dog, I have managed to walk to my train station, get onto the platform, get onto the train, out the other end and walk to my office.  This is something I haven’t done since December 2016 after losing a bit more sight.  I am now also able to walk to my bus stop and get the bus and go to my local shopping centre, confidently.  I also learnt the route to my hairdressers, doctors and chemist.  It feels so fantastic to just go somewhere when I want and not when others can take me!

Of course, I still have a lot to learn whilst on my guide dog training.  However, just 3 weeks in, I feel my guide dog has made a huge change; independence wise and helping me to be out in the fresh air as opposed to being cooped up in taxis.

Adapting to waking up early and making sure I have all his belongings that I may need when out and about, as well as factoring him into my life, has been an easy adjustment to make.  My family simply adore him, and when he is not working the harness comes off.  We love playing with him, watching him play with his toys and taking him out on his free runs.

You can follow updates on my guide dog progress by following my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/visualeyeswithbhavini

Bhavini smiling with her guide dog.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

Nicola’s Farewell Message

Saying goodbye is often very difficult.  However, knowing that you’ll be able to look back on happy memories can make it a bit easier to cope with.  Sadly, my time at ELVis has now come to an end, but I am lucky in that I am able to look back on the time that I’ve spent here knowing that I’ve had some great experiences and that I’ve learnt a lot along the way.

I’ve talked in this blog before about how little I knew about the sight loss world before I started my post with ELVis.  I was ‘blind’ to all the issues that VIPs have to face every day, but also to the myriad ways that people are able to overcome these in order to live an ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, life.  My awareness of the vision impaired world has increased drastically, and this is knowledge that I will be able to carry with me and pass on to others.  I will now be a much more vocal supporter of disability rights as well as ensuring that I live my life in a way that is as inclusive as possible.  I would like to thank every single VI person who I’ve met over the course of this job for talking to me about your experiences, for giving me the opportunity to learn, and for being extremely patient when I’ve been slow to understand (and also when I’ve not been guiding very well and have caused you to trip up).

But as well as the more serious side, this job has also been great fun!  I’ve been very lucky and had the opportunity to go to places and try things that I never would have done otherwise, and to do so in the company of some great people.  I’ve already written a farewell letter dedicated to all the members and service users I’ve met over the course of this job, but I’d like to say, again, thank you very much.  Not all the activities went completely to plan, but you certainly helped to make them all thoroughly enjoyable!

And finally, I have to say a massive thank you to all of my ELVis colleagues, past and present.  This job wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable as it was without your support and guidance, or the many snacks you brought into the office!  It’s been wonderful getting to know you all, and I’ll miss you a lot.

Of course I’ll stay in touch and keep up to date with what ELVis is getting up to in the years to come.  I wish everyone all the very best, and I look forward to catching up with you when our paths cross again in future.

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Photo of Nicola holding up her leaving card and presents with the rest of the ELVis team.

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service and Delivery Manager

Christine’s Fruit Cake Recipe

As you might have gathered, I love making cakes as well as eating them.  One of my favourites is fruit cake which I am going to share with you.

Fruit cake ingredients:

  • 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • 4 oz butter or margarine, softened at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs (beaten)
  • 4 oz mixed dried fruit
  • 2 oz glacé cherries
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 350°C fan or gas 4. Line and grease a deep 7-inch round cake tin.
  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, adding a little of the flour to prevent curdling.
  1. Fold in the flour using a metal spoon. Then fold in the fruit. Add a little milk until the mixture is a soft dropping consistency.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.  Level the top of the cake.
  1. Bake in the oven for 1 – 1 ¼ hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  1. Leave to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack.

HOPE YOU ENJOY BAKING THIS CAKE AND EATING IT!!

 

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Administration and Information Officer

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.

‘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