Bhavini’s Family Holiday in France

Travelling independently in Paris, France gave me a real boost of confidence after I discovered their VI friendly road crossing system. When you press the button on the pelican crossing, a voice tells you what road you’re on. Then, a series of beeps will start to let you know you can cross the road. When it stops you know it’s no longer safe to cross.

Watch the YouTube video to see me and my partner demonstrate how the pelican crossing works in Paris.

My time in the French capital was lovely, and my family and I managed to visit as much as we could squeeze in during our brief stay. We took a riverboat cruise along the River Seine which provided commentary in English, and we visited many tourist attractions including the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre Museum allows people with disabilities and their carers to gain access for free. Children under 18 years of age also don’t pay.

Since my Year 11 school photo, my family and friends would say I look like the ‘Mona Lisa’ painting, which is on permanent display at the Louvre. So I was ecstatic when the museum staff said I could go past the crowds and barriers surrounding the painting to take a closer look at it, which is a privilege reserved for vision impaired visitors.

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Photo of Bhavini in front of the ‘Mona Lisa’ painting at the Louvre Museum.

Moreover, it was a dream come true to visit the Eiffel Tower. My family would describe the tower and the surrounding scenery for me, but I managed to see it for myself whilst travelling on the night tour bus. It looked stunning all illuminated up against the night sky, truly magical!

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Photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up in the night sky.

After visiting Paris we embarked on a road trip to a small town called Nantes, west of France, to attend a family wedding. We passed several quiet towns before finally arriving. The wedding had a Bollywood theme, and the ceremony took place in a grand French garden. It was an occasion that I shall always remember. During the wedding reception I even tried some traditional French cheeses along with other native dishes, which is an experience in itself.

In conclusion, I found France to be very accessible for the blind and partially sighted. Getting around and communicating with local people wasn’t difficult at all. The smartphone app ‘Google Translate’ lets you take a photo of foreign words and converts it into English text, which can also be spoken out aloud. This helped a lot when trying to read menus. Also, my eldest daughter, who is keen on practicing the French language, brought along her French phrase book which came in handy all the time. The French people we met were very friendly and keen to help, which made our holiday stress-free and overall an enjoyable experience.

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Photo of Bhavini wearing a very stylish French beret on a Paris bridge.

Written by Bhavini Makwana

 

 

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Masuma’s Rock Climbing Experience with the Bendrigg Trust

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I like a challenge, and for those that don’t know me, well, now you know that I do!

In my blog post, I’m going to tell you about my most recent rock climbing experience with the Bendrigg Trust based in Kendal, North West England.

I arrived late Friday afternoon at my accommodation, Acorn House, where I’d be staying for the weekend. Shortly after my arrival, I spent the evening learning about the safety aspect of rock climbing at the Bendrigg indoor climbing facilities. We covered topics like safely belaying, securing a harness by double backing webbing, and tying knots.

The next morning, I set off with my group to the Yorkshire Dales. My group consisted of 6 other vision impaired people, our guides, and the climbing instructors. When we arrived there were several climbs already set up for us to tackle. As I’ve experienced indoor climbing in the past I was unsure how different outdoor climbing would be, however I was about to find out. With the figure-of-eight and stopper knots completed I quickly underwent a safety check before I began to climb. After completing the first few climbs with my group I felt comfortable to take on more challenging climbs. Then, after lunch, our next challenge was to climb a tall chimney-like structure. And I’m proud to say that I  successfully managed the climb, and as a treat my team and I headed to the shops for some well-deserved coffee and ice cream.

On Sunday, which was my last day with the Trust, we headed to the Lake District. Our instructors wanted us to reach our climbing potential, and gave us harder climbs; more difficult than I expected as they required some strategic thinking and planning out. I have to say that climbing wasn’t very easy without hand and foot holds as I had to hold on to whatever was available like tree branches. However, I managed to reach to the top of the climb and I felt a great sense of achievement!

Overall, I had a fantastic weekend at the Bendrigg Trust. It’s something I will definitely do again in the future, and will encourage others to take part in as well.

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Photo of Masuma reaching the top of her climb at the Lake District.

The Bendrigg Trust holds various activities suitable for vision impaired people. To learn more about what they offer please visit their website: http://www.bendrigg.org.uk

Written by Masuma Ali

Billingsgate Seafood Training School with Beyond Sight Loss

Hi all,

I’m a very lucky person to have been able to support the Beyond Sight Loss Group at the Billingsgate Seafood Training School in Tower Hamlets earlier this year. Group members who attended really enjoyed the cooking sessions and got the chance to create very delicious and easy to follow recipes, which I’ve shared below so why not give them a try?

Smoked Haddock Fish Cakes (serves 4)

Ingredients:

450g/1lb cooked smoked haddock

340g/12oz mashed potatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

30g/ 1oz butter, melted

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2, eggs, beaten

Dried white breadcrumbs

6 tablespoons oil for frying

290ml/half pint parsley sauce

1 to 2 lemon wedges to serve

Instructions:

  1. Mix the haddock and potatoes together. Season well with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the melted butter, parsley and enough beaten egg to bind the mixture until soft but not sloppy. Allow to cool.
  3. Flour your hands and shape the mixture into 8 flat cakes 2.5cm thick brush with the beaten egg and coat with breadcrumbs.
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry until the fish cakes are brown on both sides.
  5. Serve with parsley sauce and lemon wedges.
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Photo of two lightly brown Smoke Haddock Fish Cakes in a frying pan.

Lemon & Poppy Seed Cupcakes (makes 6)

Ingredients:

115g self-raising flour

90g golden caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

Half tbsp poppy seeds, toasted

1 egg

50g natural yogurt

90g butter, melted and cooled a little

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4 and line a 6 hole muffin tin with cupcake or muffin cases.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds together in a large mixing bowl. Beat the eggs into the yogurt, and then tip this into the dry ingredients with the melted butter.
  3. Mix together with a wooden spoon or whisk until lump-free, then divide between the cases.
  4. Bake for 20-22 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean – the cakes will be quite pale on top still. Cool for 5 mins in the tin, and then carefully lift onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
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Photo of six freshly baked Lemon and Poppy Seed Cupcakes in a muffin tray.

Happy cooking 🙂

If you’d like to know more about the Billingsgate Seafood Training School you can visit their website by clicking this link: http://www.seafoodtraining.org/ or following their Twitter page: @SeafoodSchool

Written by Christine Edmead

VIPON’s London Zoo Outing on the 29th of June

We were joined by Aqua Ephraim and Tahira Malik at the ELVis office recently and they shared their experience of VIPON’s (Visually Impaired Persons of Newham) trip to London Zoo on the 29th of June.

How was the journey to the zoo?

We all met in Stratford in the morning and we took the Overground train to Camden Road Station. From there we took a bus directly to the zoo. It was a pretty straight forward journey.

What was the group’s impression of the zoo?

The terrain at the zoo was very hilly which made it challenging for some of us in wheelchairs to get around. Also, we didn’t have a member of staff from the zoo guiding the group so we had to rely on ELVis volunteers to be our guides and describe the surroundings. On a positive note, we saw lots of animals including giraffes, flamingos, monkeys…the list goes on! Although, we were disappointed we didn’t get to see the tigers and lions- they were probably resting because of the hot weather. Our newest member Muqqadas who was attending her first outing with the group said she liked the zoo very much and was glad she came along, especially because the group made her feel very welcome.

What was your favourite part of the zoo?

We both loved seeing the tropical fishes and underwater plants at the aquarium. For some of us with some sight the colours of the sea life stood out which made the experience really enjoyable. Also, most of the members really liked the penguins because they could see their black and white skin. We watched them swim and act silly while they splashed us!

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Photo of Shahid, ELVis service user, crouching down in front of a large perspex water tank with swimming penguins.
How accessible was the zoo?

I’d say it’s fairly accessible- the zoo is mostly sight orientated so more work should be done to make it a better experience for VI people. Although saying this we were able to smell the different animals which was helpful for members of the group with very little or no sight. Also, the facilities at the zoo were great and the group loved eating in the restaurant because the air conditioner helped them to cool down.

And what are your overall thoughts about the outing?

It was the hottest and longest day of the year but we enjoyed ourselves very much. VIPON would like to say a massive thank you to the ELVis volunteers and members of staff for making the day accessible and enjoyable for all. Well done!

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Photo of some members of the VIPON social group looking happy and standing besides a very large sign that says ‘welcome to the zoo’.
Written by Aqua Ephraim, Tahira Malik and Ray Calamaan

The Royal Society for Blind Children Employment Programme

As you’re probably aware from reading my previous blog entry, I was a member of the Royal Society for Blind Children for 3 years (formerly known as the Royal London Society for the Blind until January 2017), which is a sight loss charity for blind and visually impaired young people under the age of 25. I was referred to the charity by my disability advisor at the Jobcentre in 2013, when I began to lose my sight.

One of RSBC’s core services is an employability programme for 18-25 year olds which provides the opportunity to access career advice, gain employability skills such as interview techniques and CV writing, and work experience.

At first, I wasn’t keen on joining as I believed I was already ‘job ready’ since I previously worked in retail, and I was convinced that it was going to be just like a work programme course at the Jobcentre. However, this was a foolish judgement, as the tremendous amount of advice and support I gained from being part of the employability programme was extremely invaluable.

My previous experience attending job interviews were negative so I held a firm belief that as a visually impaired individual no employer would want to hire me. However, my employability mentor, Evon Hall helped me to challenge my views and develop the motivation and confidence to find work. I attended their employability workshops which I found incredibly helpful; I learnt how to talk about my visual impairment positively to employers, which I previously found difficult to do. I also attended an interview skills workshop with international banking firm Goldman Sachs, which ran at their offices on Fleet Street.

One of the highlights of being on the employability programme was being able to organise a talent show alongside my peers, which was an incredibly fun experience and boosted my confidence in working with others. I also performed a choreographed dance routine with my friends at the talent show which I really enjoyed doing.  Moreover, another highlight was a 1 month internship with the Customer Service team at London Trams, Transport for London in 2016. This placement enabled me to develop my marketing and social media skills, and I am proud to mention on my CV that I’ve worked for the organisation.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend the RSBC employability programme to any vision impaired young person in need of career guidance, work experience, or even an alternative to the job centre. You won’t regret joining, and at the end of the programme you’ll feel just like me – eternally grateful to the RSBC!

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Photo of Ray Calamaan at the RSBC

Interested in joining the RSBC employability programme? Email connections@rsbc.org.uk or call 020 3198 0225 for more information.

Written by Ray Calamaan

 

The Concierge Service for the Visually Impaired at Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre

As the Technology Officer at ELVis I tend to write about technology for the blog. This month, however, I’ve written about a recent shopping experience.

Most readers will be aware that Stratford, East London is home to one of the largest shopping centres in Europe which is a popular shopping destination for millions of Londoners and tourists. Getting to Westfield Stratford City is very easy. By public transport the nearest train station is Stratford which is also served by a number of local bus routes. Additionally, there is lots of parking if you’re being driven there.

Generally, people with no useful vision for reading or getting around, such as myself, would view a large shopping centre like Westfield with real fear. In my experience, shopping centres are constantly busy with shoppers so it’s difficult to get around. Moreover, the same background music is played all over the shopping centre so there’s little in the way of audio clues as to what is around you.  And I’ve come to realise that navigation equipment that relies on GPS satellites is of limited or no use in large shopping centres.

At Westfield Stratford City, one of the great features available to the public is the Concierge service. This allows a person with little or no sight to go to the Concierge desk and ask for assistance to take them to one of Westfield’s many shops, restaurants and facilities. More than often they will wait with you if you’re only buying one or two items. However, if you’re planning on spending hours shopping or dining at a restaurant, then the Concierge staff will make sure you’re given the phone number for the Concierge desk so you can phone for assistance when you’re ready to leave.

I’ve used this service well over 20 times and I must say it’s extremely helpful as it has saved me from wandering around Westfield and getting lost. Also, even when the shopping centre has been really busy, such as during Christmas, I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for assistance.

In my opinion, the Concierge service for vision impaired people turns a difficult and stressful situation into a relatively hassle-free shopping trip. I just wish more shopping centres across the country would adopt this similar service.

For more information about their Concierge service for people with visual impairments, please visit: https://uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity/services/all-services/visual-impairment/711

Written by Graham Page

Dementia Awareness training with Redbridge Council

While here at ELVis we obviously focus on the issues surrounding sight loss, it’s worthwhile remembering that people can have complex needs, and sometimes people with a visual impairment can be experiencing other issues as well.

A couple of weeks ago, a few ELVis members of staff went to Redbridge Council to receive training in dementia awareness, to become Dementia Friends.  Dementia and sight loss are more closely related than some people realise. Both conditions tend to be more common in older people; it’s not unlikely that someone could naturally develop both conditions independently of each other, but sight loss can sometimes be a consequence of the dementia itself, or both conditions might originate from the same source, such as a stroke.

Furthermore, a person living with both of these conditions may experience more obstacles than someone with just one of them.  For example, a person with both dementia and sight loss may get disorientated more easily, have an increased risk of falls, or have more difficulty in recognising people.

Therefore, it’s very important to educate ourselves on what dementia is, and what we can do to help those who are living with it, which was exactly what our training covered.

The training began with talking about common ideas and misconceptions about dementia, and we discussed how people with dementia can still communicate effectively, that there is more to a person than their dementia and that it’s possible to live well with the condition.  These were very important messages, as people can often focus solely on the negatives when they or a loved one are diagnosed with dementia. It was encouraging to learn that the future isn’t always as bleak as people might fear.

Another important lesson that we learned from the training was that, while people with dementia may struggle to recall recent ‘factual’ memories, such as where they went at the weekend, they are in general much better at retaining ‘emotional’ memories.  This means that, if someone visits them and they end up having an argument, an hour later they may not remember that they were visited but they’ll still feel upset, whereas if someone visits and they have a great time, although they might not remember the visit later on, they’ll still feel the happiness that the experience brought them.

Learning more about dementia and understanding more about its causes and effects will definitely help us all when interacting with those who are affected in the future, and all of us are proud to be able to call ourselves a Dementia Friend.  Thank you very much to Redbridge Council for providing this training.  If you are interested in learning more, you can go to the Dementia Friends website: https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/.

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Photo of Ray, Nicola, and Bhavini from ELVis with Mike O’Hanlon, Dementia Friends trainer and Diversity Programme Manager at Redbridge Council.

Written by Nicola Stokes