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

 

 

 

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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

Christine’s Sweet Bread Pudding Recipe

Thought I would share another recipe with you which I love making.  I love to make bread pudding because you just use your hands to make it.  I have so much fun squeezing the water out of the bread, not sure that my kitchen enjoys it as I sometimes make a bit of a mess but that where the fun comes in, well it does for me!

Bread Pudding Ingredients:

  • One loaf of white bread
  • 4 oz Butter or margarine
  • 4 oz Sugar
  • 33g Mixed spice
  • 8 oz  Sultanas
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 180C Fan or Gas 4.
  2. Soak the bread in water. Squeeze the water out of the bread and place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the butter/margarine use your hands to squeeze the butter/margarine into the wet bread.
  4. Add the sugar, mixed spice and sultanas to the mixture.
  5. Place the mixture into a baking dish, then add some nobs of butter on top of the mixture.
  6. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until golden-brown on top.

HAVE FUN, HAPPY BAKING

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Photo of bread pudding with a crispy golden-brown top.

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Administration and Information Officer

How to Avoid Being the Victim of Fraud

Recently, a group of vision impaired people living in Redbridge received an informative talk from the local Metropolitan Police team.  The police officers spoke about some of the scams currently operating in the UK that target all people regardless of age, background and income levels.

Here are 10 Golden Rules to remember to help you beat the scammers and protect yourself from fraud.

  1. Be suspicious of all ‘Too good to be true’ offers and deals. There are no guaranteed get-rich-quick schemes.
  2. Do not agree to offers or deals immediately. Insist on time to obtain independent/legal advice before making a decision.
  3. Do not hand over money or sign anything until you’ve checked the credentials of the company or individual.
  4. Never send money to anyone you do not know or trust, whether in the UK or abroad, or use methods of payment that you are not comfortable with.
  5. Never give banking or personal details to anyone you do not know or trust. This information is valuable so make sure to protect it.
  6. Always log on to a website directly rather than clicking on links provided in an email.
  7. Do not rely solely on glowing testimonials: find solid independent evidence of a company’s success.
  8. Always get independent/legal advice if an offer involves money, time or commitment.
  9. If you spot a scam or have been scammed, report it and get help. Contact ActionFraud on 0300 123 2040 or online at actionfraud.police.uk.  Contact the Police if the suspect is known or still in the area.
  10. Do not be embarrassed to report a scam. Because the scammers are cunning and clever there is no shame in being deceived. By reporting you will make it more difficult for them to deceive others.

In addition, important information by the RNIB regarding cash machine crime prevention; firstly, only use a cash machine if you feel comfortable with your surroundings.  Secondly, make sure that you’re happy with the machine itself, which you can do by feeling where your cash will be dispensed to check if it is free from any obstructions.  Remember, if in doubt, use a machine inside a bank branch or retailer as it is less likely to have been tampered with.

Thank you to the Redbridge Metropolitan Police for giving a talk to our members on how to keep safe and scams to be aware of.

Written by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Which is Better for a Blind Person to Use?

In a previous blog post, I talked about the skills available on the Amazon Echo range of smart speakers.  The Amazon Echo first appeared in the UK in late 2016, and in April 2017, the Google Home range became available.  These smart speakers are a real challenger to the Amazon Echo and they have their own strong points.  Deciding which to buy can be tricky, so I will be comparing both smart speakers.

Like the Echo, the audio version of the Google Home is available in two versions; Google Home and Google Home Mini.

The Google Home and Google Home Mini both have the same features but the Google Home is larger than the Mini and it produces more bass.  At first glance, the Google Home range and the Amazon Echo range are quite similar in functionality but there are a few differences to consider when buying.

The Amazon Echo works with Amazon services such as Audible books and the Amazon shop.  Google has just introduced Audiobooks in the UK, but the service is not as well-known or extensive as Audible.  Also, although Google does have the ability to shop, it’s not in the same league as Amazon!  In general, the Amazon Echo and Google Home do not interact with each other, so you must choose whose services you prefer.

The set up process for Google Home requires either an android or an iPhone.  Access to a smartphone is essential to register the Google Home and connect it to Wi-Fi.  You can use any computer with a web browser to connect the Amazon Echo.  However, I feel that the set up process for the Echo is not as easy as the Home.

Moreover, you’ll need to consider whether and how you intend to connect your smart speaker to other speakers for improved sound quality.  Both systems benefit considerably by being connected to higher quality speakers such as a Hi-Fi system.  The Google Home can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or by using Google’s own wireless connection system called Chromecast.  You can’t however, connect the Google Home to speakers with a cable such as a 3.5 mm stereo jack, typically used for headphones.  This is a real disadvantage for those who might want to connect to older systems which need a wired connection.

With the Echo, you can connect to other people with an Echo by using your phone’s contact list.  At present, the Google Home does not have the ability to let you talk to others with a Google Home.  Instead, you can ring anyone in your contacts list whether they have a landline or a mobile phone.

Both the Echo and the Home can have apps written for them which give increased functionality but they take a different approach.   Anyone can write an Amazon Echo app and publish it.

These apps are called skills.  To enable skills, you ask Alexa to enable a skill name.  For example, there is a skill to find out if there are delays on the Tube and to enable this I can say “Alexa, enable fast Tube status.”

Google does not have skills but they work with an increasingly wide range of partners, so you can now shop with supermarkets such as Asda because Google has partnered with them.  You don’t get individuals writing skills for the Google Home but the partnerships with other services that you do get tend to be higher quality.

Moreover, Google tends to be smarter when answering questions than Amazon, particularly when you want to ask related questions.  I can ask Google “How many hits has Elton John had?” followed by “How old is he?” and Google will understand I mean Elton John in the second question, whereas the Amazon Echo will forget the first question I asked.  In conclusion, Google tends to be that little bit smarter but it’s a close run thing.

Amazon Echo & Google Home
Photo of the Google Home and the Amazon Echo Dot

Written by Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

Why I Like Volunteering for East London Vision Charity

Some of us reach our ambitions, others don’t and some people have no idea which path to take but are looking for fulfilment.  As I wandered along my path looking at various side tracks I knew I wanted something that satisfied my need, as well as being of benefit to others.

I had worked in various professions, but I hadn’t found the one thing that set my soul on fire.  Then a miracle happened which gave me hope, I stumbled across an organisation called East London Vision looking for volunteers.  No matter how young or old you were you could help someone.  Skilled, unskilled you were offered training and there were a wide variety of causes to choose from.

As I have a disability that worries me, which is my failing eyesight, I was scared about how I would cope, but I feared even more the thought of becoming useless.  So I decided to apply as a volunteer without hesitation because I wanted to learn about life with no vision and to enhance my skills.  I had stereotyped visually impaired people as lifeless like vegetables, unable to do anything or move around, and wondered if I might get bored helping them.  I remember my first invitation to an event which was an awards evening.  I thought it was going to be a very formal affair and boring, but surprisingly it wasn’t! I saw blind and visually impaired people in a different perspective.  There was entertainment and to my amazement people were dancing and having fun.  They were enjoying life with a little bit of support.

Being new to volunteering with other vision impaired people, the users were more than understanding.  Sometimes I would make a mistake, but they were very supportive of me, and it made me feel valuable to them.  The best thing about helping other VI people is they’re all different and know how they want to be supported.  I had discovered so much about the users and have enjoyed many activities from coffee mornings, outings and even sport!

There are no barriers to becoming a volunteer as you’re given the skills to fulfil the role that’s needed.  The age range varies, but we all enjoy getting together, and the advantage is the older people teach the younger ones and the younger ones teach the older ones.

Before volunteering, I was feeling like my social life was to an end, but with the encouragement of the people I met, users and staff, to become more active in activities, I am feeling the benefits of belonging to ELVis.  I have been given a new lease of life which I love and I have learnt so much.

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Photo of Christine standing in front of a palm tree in Hackney.

Written by Christine Maker, Volunteer for East London Vision

ELVis Collecting Donations on Geranium Day, Friday 18th May

Everybody knows that the symbol of the poppy represents those who have fought and died in military conflict, but how many people are aware of the symbol of vision impaired people in London?  For those who don’t know, it is the geranium, a five-petalled flower that blooms from springtime to early autumn.  While it’s uncertain as to why this particular flower was chosen to represent people with sight loss, the symbol was first used in the early 1920s and was the brainchild of newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson.

Pearson, the founder of the Daily Express, was an early campaigner for vision impaired people.  Having lost his sight through glaucoma, he spent a large part of his life raising awareness of the difficulties that VI people could face.   Pearson was frustrated by the barriers faced by vision impaired people who not only had to go about their daily lives in a society that was largely unaware of their needs, but who also had to contend with post-war poverty, which often had a greater effect on their lives than it did on the lives of their fully-sighted friends and neighbours.

He therefore decided to spearhead a publicity campaign that would encourage the public to donate money to causes that would help to support the vision impaired population of London.   Just before his death in 1921, Pearson organised a ‘Geranium Day’ appeal to raise funds for the blind and partially sighted people of the capital, having used his contacts to gain a royal patron, Princess Louise.  From the funds raised through this, the Greater London Fund for the Blind was born.

Geranium Day continues still, and is a time when sight loss organisations and charities have the opportunity to raise money on public property across London.  This year, the London-wide collection day will be on Friday 18th May, and East London Vision will be using it as an opportunity to raise funds for our own projects.  The whole team will be out and about, and as well as collecting money we’ll have the opportunity to talk to the public about sight loss as well as about the work that we do to help provide support to the vision impaired community in East London.  We’ll be spread out across the region, with groups at Liverpool St. Station, outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford and at Canary Wharf, and we’ll be around for most of the day between 8am and 5pm.

So if you’re free next Friday, then come along and say hello!  It’ll be great to see as many of our friends as possible.  And if you’d be interested in joining us and helping us collect money for part of the day, then you’d be more than welcome.  Please phone the office on 020 3697 6464 if you’re interested.

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Portrait of Sit Arthur Pearson

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service Development & Delivery Manager