National Organisation of Spanish Blind People!

Whilst away recently on holiday in Spain (don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to be a gloat about my getaway to sunnier climes), I was interested to investigate a little into the treatment of VIPs in the country. Through this, I discovered ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, or the National Organisation of Spanish Blind People), which is an organisation which predominantly employs VIPs to sell lottery tickets. In most cities, I saw kiosks selling ONCE lottery tickets as well as several VI people in the middle of high streets or walking from restaurant to restaurant selling tickets to locals. Furthermore, whenever I told sighted Spanish people that I work for an organisation that supports VIPs, they would always say “Oh, we have an organisation like that here in Spain: ONCE.” Clearly, then, ONCE is a very well-known organisation that a good proportion of the Spanish population, both VI and sighted, is aware of.

Upon doing a little further investigating, I managed to discover just how well-known ONCE is. The entire organisation currently employs 23,000 VIPs and other people with disabilities to sell their lottery tickets. From 1989 to 2003, ONCE sponsored one of Spain’s leading cycling teams, and has even received support from the Spanish royal family, with Princess Letizia presenting awards at an awareness-raising event. The organisation itself covers several different aims outside of the provision of employment, including providing an online support network and helping to eliminate communication barriers for VIPs.

Clearly, this is fantastic service which provides not only support but a likely avenue of employment for VIPs across the country. However, this raises interesting issues, particularly when looked at in contrast with the UK. In Spain, of the VIPs who are in employment, 80% of them are involved in the selling of lottery tickets for ONCE. It is believed that these ‘reserved occupations’ are beneficial to VIPs as they provide a relatively sure channel of employment. In contrast, in the UK, it is believed that VIPs should be integrated into wider society and as such there is nothing comparable to the employment channel that ONCE provides. However, as we are all aware, finding employment in the UK for VIPs is rarely easy, and it will probably come as no surprise to hear that the unemployment level of Spanish VIPs is lower than that of VIPs in the UK. However, does this method of keeping specific jobs predominantly for the VI community pigeon-hole VIPs? Does it mean that they are less likely, or less encouraged, to find employment elsewhere, in other fields which may interest them more? Or is the fact that VIPs in Spain find it easier to get any work at all more important than this? Does it mean that, ultimately, VIPs are less integrated into the wider community, or is the opposite the case and are VIPs actually more visible in Spain owing to ONCE’s success? These are tricky issues that I don’t have any answers for, but I certainly think it’s always worth looking at the different ways of doing things in other countries, and to learn any lessons that we can. And next time you’re in Spain, look out for ONCE, and maybe buy a ticket. You never know when you’re about to strike it lucky!


An events update from Chris

I would like to let you know about some of the activities that some groups in East London have been up to and that I have been very lucky to have attended.

The Chess Club for visually impaired people  has been meeting since January this year once a week on a Friday for two hours were people have been learning how to play chess everyone who has attended have found the game interesting, had a great time and have learned what moves different pieces can make, and how to play the game.

I believe we might have some chess champions in the making.  There are so many strategies, tactics and rules that make the game exciting.   You have to try to plan not only your moves but what your opponents moves might be.

At Waltham Forest there are gentle exercise classes taking place, which teaches you to move to music which everyone attending is enjoying and using muscles that they never knew they had.

Beyond Barriers in Tower Hamlets have started to have quiz nights to help the group to raise funds.  The first night was a success where the quiz was challenging and it allowed people to meet and socialise, have a great night out.  Fun was had by all.

A brief update on all things ELVis!

Hello to all you lovely people. This week I’m going to give a short update on what I have been up to over the past few weeks and what’s new in the wondderful world of ELVis. So a part of that involved relaxing in warmer climates, but I won’t bore you with that, feels somewhat cruel considering how cold it is out here.

We held the ELVis Board away day towards the beginning of February, it isn’t as exciting as it sounds!! We started to look at projects for 2016-2017. Thank you to the United Bank of Switzerland in Liverpool Street for hosting us for the day.

Following our previous couple of years success of working with NCS the challenge as part of their summer programme, we met the East London staff team to do it all again this year. We hope to work with them as part of the autumn programme as well this year. We also held interviews for the activities coordinator post and are looking forward to having a new addition to Team ELVis.

Thanks to a grant from FreeSport our “Get Fit For Spring” project started in February. Through the grant we are running  8 week chair based exercise classes in Waltham Forest for vision impaired women and older people who are currently undertaking no physical activities.

We are pleased to report that we have recently received a grant from the Primary Club, which will enable us to deliver our “Young and Intrepid” project. This will involve holding a number of more unusual physical activity days. So if you are a bit of an adrenalin junky like me, this will be right up your street. Huge thanks to the primary club.

Catch you all in a few weeks time.





Vision Impairment Awareness Training in Schools

A colleague of ours, Hassan Khan, is leading an initiative to deliver Vision Impairment awareness training in schools. Fortunately, he is doing this on a pan-London basis, not just in the ELVis region, so I don’t feel I’m stealing his thunder focusing my Blog this time on this fascinating topic.

One of ELVis’s major strands of work over the last 12 months has been to deliver such training to a wide variety of audiences including representatives from: a range of leisure providers, health workers, statutory agencies and voluntary sector groups. It hasn’t been uncommon for people to ask why they aren’t taught about these matters in school, so hopefully this new piece of work will address some of those concerns.

Last Tuesday morning, a mixture of ELVis staff, along with a colleague from Metro Blind Sport, visited Redlands Primary school in Tower Hamlets to deliver awareness training to years 5 and 6 (that’s children aged 9-11 years in old money). Before that though, we spoke with the School Council, which consisted of children of all ages, to explain who we were and what we do. We split the training into 4 sections: drama, sport, sighted guiding and find the object in a box with a blindfold on. I have to say we felt it all went extremely well, but don’t take my word for it. Here is an extract from an Email sent to Hassan by          Niki di Palma, Deputy Head teacher:

“Thanks so much for Tuesday – you and your colleagues did a fantastic job and the feedback from the workshop sessions were overwhelmingly positive! It would be really fantastic if you could return at some time and meet with some of the younger children – perhaps initially years 3 & 4. Children of this age can be a bit silly or giggly about someone who is different from them in some way and I want to break down these barriers.  You and your colleagues were so warm and personable I think you would do a fantastic job of dismantling these barriers. I feel strongly that this could be the start of a very worthwhile relationship.”

The children on the School council also decided that they want to help ELVis in being able to provide support to blind and partially sighted people and have come up with some ingenious fundraising ideas including: A sponsored event to be partially sighted for the day at school (have one eye covered), Play games suitable for visually impaired people during the final hour of the day in school and An after school club to learn Braille.

So, we think we have a win-win formula here and look forward to repeating it across the ELVis region.

Note taking on a budget

Well, it’s February 2016 and my turn to write a blog has soon come around again!

I receive a wide range of queries and this time I’m going to discuss the subject of note taking, as it has arisen quite often.

Many people take the ability to write down a quick note for granted,  one of those things they do without really thinking about it.  They may keep a pen and note pad next to the phone or if they are into technology they may use the notes app on a smart phone to make a quick note such as a phone number or a message for a family member.  For blind people or people with low vision who can’t see to hand write, this is often more of an issue

Solutions range in price from about £30 to £300 depending on the complexity of the product and whether you want it to be more than just a note taker. I may look at some of the multipurpose devices in a future blog but for now I’ll concentrate on the more affordable products.

I am sure many of you reading this will have come across those small hand held voice recorders that accountants and doctors use for dictating letters and notes which are typed up by secretaries. Well, these, often just referred to as Dictaphones or voice recorders have not gone away and they can be purchased for as little as £30.  They are now digital however which means they do not use cassettes.

At this price, you can expect decent quality recordings and the ability to record 40 hours or so of notes. They can be split into different folders e.g. family, work, clubs etc. and any message can easily be deleted without affecting messages around it.  This is a distinct advantage over cassettes.  The cheaper models don’t talk but they do often have beeps which will give you a good clue as to what is happening.

RNIB sell one of these cheaper end models for around £40. It is the Olympus DP211 Notecorder.  This is described as Easy to see and while it has good large print and tactile buttons, only some functions have audible bleeps associated with them and deleting messages is particularly awkward if you do not have enough sight to read the display.

For people with little or no vision my current favourite is the Sony ICdbx140 available from PC world for £23.99.

This unit has buttons for play, record, stop, back a message and forward a message as well as a button to move between folders. Deleting a message is a matter of holding the slightly recessed delete button for a second or so, releasing it and pressing it again to confirm.

As with almost all of these products there is a settings menu which is fairly inaccessible and you may need initial help to turn bleeps on in this menu but this only need be done once and your settings are remembered when you remove the battery.

Model names do change regularly so I have not provided a link to any products here as they are likely to quickly become out of date.

Other devices for playing audio such as Daisy Players also have basic note taking facilities. They are more expensive, generally costing around £250 to £300 but if you are considering a device such as a victor Stream or a Plextalk Pocket then you will get note taking included so may not need a digital voice recorder.

I’ve taken up plenty of space already so it’s good bye from me until my turn rolls round again!



How sports changed my life!

Greetings to one and all!


It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog entry. However, I must confess I’ve enjoyed uploading and reading some inspirational and spine-tingling entries from the team, I hope you’ve had a similar experience and will continue to support, read and like this excellent blog.


Boosting participation in sport can generate a variety of socio-economic benefits. Sport can, and does, make a profound and positive impact on individuals, communities and wider society. In this blog, I wanted to illustrate the importance of sports, particularly to Vision Impaired people and the positive impact it has had on my life. Despite being from a sporting background, I never had the opportunity of playing any competitive sports until I was 17 years old. Although I did take part in rowing, ten pin bowling and athletics at School, sadly it was never at a competitive level. Thanks to the success of the London 2012 Paralympics, internet and the power of social media, people are now beginning to notice – support and aid in developing sporting opportunities for blind and partially sighted people. I’m confident and pleased to report it is now much easier to discover sporting opportunities, consequently Blind cricket, football and Tennis is flourishing. For example there were between 100 to 200 people playing blind cricket in the UK when I started playing for Metro and now there are 22 clubs and over 400 players enjoying the game! It is important to add, physical activity, including sport, is linked to reduce risk of over 20 illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. In addition, taking part in regular sport can save between £1,750 and £6,900 in healthcare costs per person.


Being from a serious cricketing background it was always my passion to play cricket at an international level, but if it wasn’t for my School Linden Lodge and Metro Blind sport, I’d have never achieved my ultimate dream. I was fortunate enough to make my debut for the England blind cricket team at the age of 19 in Sri Lanka in 2006. When I started my international career, I was a timid, inexperienced and a frightened young man, lacking basic mobility skills! But thanks to VI sports, I believe I’m now a lot more confident, mobile and independent, which often leaves my family astonished considering I developed these skills at such a late stage in my life. Published studies show the positive effects of sport on education include improved attainment, lower absenteeism and drop-out, and increased progression to higher education. For instance, young people’s participation in sport improves their numeracy scores by 8% on average above non-participants.


We hope to work with Redlands and Marion Richardson School in the next few weeks in order to raise awareness of various eye conditions, introduce VI cricket and to raise funds for ELVis. I’d also like to thank 10 parents from Marion Richardson School who held a charity lunch and were amazing in raising £295 for East London Vision, we are extremely grateful and appreciate their generosity.


I’d like to point you to a couple of articles that have been recorded and written about me, which will hopefully show some of the barriers I faced and how I got over them. My story isn’t told for sympathy, but rather to push other VI people to take on similar challenges and to achieve their respective dreams. I sincerely do hope, it will encourage more of you to support VI sport in the future. These articles stem from England’s recent Blind Ashes tour of Australia, where I’m pleased to report, we were successful in retaining the Ashes! In fact we beat the Australians emphatically 4 – 1!:P


Just to reiterate, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing, uploading, tweeting and reading the various entries. However, my role at Thomas Pocklington Trust will be changing, so whilst I won’t be writing further entries, though I will avidly follow, like and read future blog entries!

My final thanks go to Team ELVis, for all your support!

It seems as if I have broken my own rules and clearly not kept to the word count, but considering it is my last entry, I’m hoping you will forgive me just this once!


Goodbye from Hassan:)



Accessible Implementation Standard – Call to Action!

Hello to all:)


A couple of weeks ago I attended an Accessible Implementation Standard implementation workshop, run by NHS England, and thought I’d take this blog opportunity to urge everyone to write to their GP, their clinic, their social services provider and inform them of their preferred format and communication needs.


Here’s why….


The NHS England Accessible Implementation Standard was approved and launched last summer. It is there to ensure that patients and service users (and, where appropriate, carers and parents) with information or communication support needs (relating to a disability or sensory loss) have those needs met by health and social care services and organisations.


This includes recording people’s preferred formats (eg. font size, text messages, emails, Braille, etc) and language/literacy needs (eg. British Sign Language, Easy Read, etc), and meeting those needs.


By 31 July 2016 all organisations that provide NHS or publicly funded adult social care must have fully implemented and conformed to the Accessible Information Standard.


Having attended the implementation workshop, I must say I will be very surprised if half the NHS and Adult Social Care providers have met these requirements by July.

There were over 100 delegates, inc. NHS Trusts, Public Health, CCG, Local Authority, plus a few Voluntary Sector reps & Information providers. At one point, ironically and almost laughably, they asked for a show of hands from each sector…. until yours truly pointed out that this was not at all accessible to the VI delegates!… so they then resorted to a flustered attempt to give an idea of percentages present from each sector.


However, that aside, most delegates at the workshop actively welcome this directive, as the need for it is apparent and its implementation could save a lot of time, money and wasted resources…. BUT


To my mind the issue is that whilst the Standard has been approved, launched and made a statutory requirement, there is no centralised monitoring of its implementation, no-one is charged with ensuring compliance, there is no tick box, no imperative to fulfil implementation by July 2016 (other than it is statutory and therefore open to legal action if it is not met).


So why should this succeed where the Disability Discrimination Act, Equality Act and Care Acts have not?


The onus will be on the Voluntary Sector to promote and monitor effective implementation (and to bring legal action if necessary) and on individuals to make their needs known and met.


The Accessible Implementation Standard does provide us with a much-needed opportunity to hold providers to account – we now have a statutory mandate with which to demand that the information we receive and the consultations (appointments) we attend are accessible to us.


By 1 April 2016 all organisations that provide NHS or publicly funded adult social care must identify and record information and communication needs with service users


So I urge everyone to write to their GP, their clinic, their social services provider and inform them of their preferred format and communication needs so that we can take the opportunity the Accessible Implementation Standard presents and ensure it is put to effective use. (TOP TIP: make sure you keep a paper and/or email trail as evidence of your communication… RNIB will have guidelines available from April:


Sharon Schaffer