What We’re Looking Forward to in 2018

For our very first blog post of the New Year, we would like to share our aspirations and resolutions for 2018.

Masuma, ELVis CEO: “I’m not one for New Year resolutions as I don’t believe in setting myself up for a fall at the start of the year.  If the plan was to be healthy, it wouldn’t have lasted long as I would’ve broke that on Tuesday 2nd Jan with a chocolate doughnut!  However, I’ll be burning that doughnut off with plenty of walking as my challenge for the year with team Look Who’s Walking is to be the first VI group to complete the Peak District 50K challenge in 12 hours in September.  Watch this space for further updates.”

Nicola, ELVis Service Development & Delivery Manager: “People often talk about how others will complain about people behind their backs, but I find that we often compliment people behind their backs, too.  For example, when telling my family about my day I might mention how much I appreciated a work colleague’s advice, or I might talk to one of my friends about how smart I think our mutual friend is.  But if the person we’re talking about isn’t there, they’re never going to know that I think that about them, and I think that can be a shame.  Therefore, my new year’s resolution for 2018 is to go out of my way to compliment someone at least once a day, because everyone can do with a little pick-me-up sometimes J”

Bhavini, ELVis Activities Coordinator: “2017 was a great year where I developed new skills, met really great people, enhanced on aspirations and tried a lot of new things I thought were impossible to do as VI person.  ELVis provided a wide range of fantastic activities and speaker last year, and this year will be no different.  I will be working towards in making events and activities enjoyable for all our members and provide guest speakers on really useful matters that are important to VI people.  So make sure you’ve signed up to our newsletters and keep updated on what will be going on.”

Ray, ELVis Communications Coordinator: “I’ve been working for ELVis for nearly a year now and it’s been really great so far working for such a fantastic team.  I’ve loved meeting all the service users and look forward to meeting many more in the coming year.  Don’t forget to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages to keep updated on all our upcoming activities and events across East London.”

Christine, ELVis Administrator & Information Officer: “I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  At this time of the year everyone is thinking about the past year and what New Year’s resolutions they will be making and nine times out of ten breaking.  I have decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year in order for me not to break them.”

Graham, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser: “I have never really been one for New Year’s resolution, but the New Year is a good time for those interested in technology to look to the future.  Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to be big this year.  It’s already featured in high profile bits of technology for visually impaired people including the Seeing AI app from Microsoft which for the first time allowed vision Impaired people to read handwritten text at a truly affordable price of 0 providing you have an IPhone.  At the other end of the scale we have Orcam.  At over £2200 for the basic model it’s not cheap but look out for smart glasses that can be used in conjunction with apps on smartphones for various purposes.  We will see big price reductions in this field I am sure.”

From everyone at East London Vision we hope you have your best year yet!  If you have a New Year’s resolutions or an aspiration for 2018 let us know in the comment section below!

Written by the ELVis team

 

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What it’s Like to Work at East London Vision

As some of you may know, I’m fairly new to East London Vision having only started in April this year.  I can tell you that my job has changed my life for the better, as previously I was unemployed and job hunting for a considerable while.  I held a belief that my vision impairment was a barrier to employment, so when I was given an opportunity to work at ELVis I became optimistic again about my future.

Truth-be-told, during my first month at ELVis, getting used to working part-time was challenging, but I quickly adapted, which does happen when you get into a regular routine.  Moreover, working in a small, but amazing team I must say I feel very lucky.  When you have characters like Christine Edmead (ELVis Administrator and Information Officer) in the office, the working day is never a boring one!  She is “Mother Hen of ELVis” and always looking after the team.  On one occasion, she brought delicious cupcakes to the team meeting which everyone enjoyed eating!

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Photo of the delicious cupcakes brought by Christine.  Three cupcakes are covered in green frosting and decorated with rainbow sprinkles and a gold star in the center.  The fourth cupcake has vanilla frosting and a miniature carrot.

The best part of working for ELVis is the opportunity to go along to service user activities.  My favourite activities this year were white water rafting and the kayaking sessions as I love to take part in water-based activities, and it’s great to get out of the office and do something physical once in a while.  Furthermore, it’s fantastic to see the positive difference the activities make in the lives of those who participate in them.  I promote the success of service user participation on the ELVIs social media channels, which help to raise awareness about the really great things ELVis does for vision impaired people in east London.

Additionally, working closely with the East London Local Society groups I’ve become acquainted with the service users and have learned about the challenges they have overcome and still face as a result of their sight loss.  And I’ve been able to highlight their stories online, especially through the blog which receives very positive feedback from our blog readers.

What can I say? These past 9 months working at ELVis has been really fulfilling.  I feel blessed to be working again.  Now I wake up in the morning thinking I’ve got plenty of things to keep me busy, instead of wondering how to spend my day.  It’s been rewarding to work for a charity because I know the work I am doing is helping to improve people’s lives, and as a vision impaired individual it feels great to be supporting my peers.

Lastly, before I go, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who’s supported East London Vision in 2017 and I wish you all a very successful and happy New Year!

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Photo of Ray (center) with the ELVis team.

Written by Ray Calamaan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neil’s Horse Riding Experience With ELVis

Neil Adie from Waltham Forest Vision talks about his experience of the horse riding session, organised by East London Vision and Metro Blind Sport, at the Lee Valley Riding Centre on 5th December 2017.

“I signed up to horse riding because I haven’t done it for a very long time, must be about 30 years.  I’ve always wanted to ride a horse again, but I just didn’t get a chance to do it until recently.  I still remember the riding techniques I learned when I was younger.

Before the session, I was a bit nervous and I kept thinking- do I need to do anything beforehand, like wear the right sort of clothes?  However, as soon as I arrived at the centre I became relaxed because I was in the right crowd.  Everyone in the group was a beginner at horse riding.

First of all, we had to wear boots and special helmets.  Then, we went outside past the stables and there were three horses already waiting for us.  It turned out that I was the first one to get on the horse.  The instructor told me to go up the ramp.  So I did.  I looked at the horse and thought this horse looks really big and would I be able to ride it?  I managed to get on to the horse and it felt a bit wobbly.  I started to worry if I would fall off, but I soon became relaxed and I was told my horse’s name was Bill.

It was nice to be introduced to Bill.  He was very calm.  However, when we made our way to the indoor arena, we passed the stables and Bill thought it was okay go back in.  Luckily, the volunteer pulled Bill away right before I nearly hit my head on the roof of the stable.  It was really funny!

Inside the arena, we learned to get the horse to move.  I gently tapped the horse with my right foot to get Bill to start walking.  To stop we were told to gently pull on the rein.  I could feel Bill’s teeth every time I pulled.  It felt really weird.  Then, we learnt how to do a trot and change the directions our horses walked.  This was the best part of the session!

Overall, the session gave me confidence again.  When I sat on Bill, all my memories of how to ride a horse came flooding back.  I just wish the session was a lot longer, at least an hour.  You get the feeling you don’t want to get off and you’re hungry to do more.

When the session ended, we went to a café and I was able to laugh about my horse riding experience with the two other participants.  That’s the great thing about ELVis events; you can share your experience with other people in the group.  I would highly recommend all vision impaired people to come to an event organised by East London Vision.”

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Neil sitting on Bill the riding horse with a Lee Valley Riding Centre volunteer.

By Neil Adie

The Seeing AI App Review

Many smartphone apps are now making use of Artificial Intelligence to help recognise products, people, locate and read text or barcodes and describe photos.  The app which has recently grabbed a lot of attention from the blind and partially sighted community is called Seeing AI, produced by Microsoft.  This app has a lot of functionality which is available in other apps though often at a cost.  Seeing AI is free and it works properly on the iPhone SE or the iPhone 6 and above.  Sadly, Seeing AI is not currently available on Android.

Seeing AI has various functions, but in my opinion this app is particularly useful for recognising short pieces of text, scanning bar codes and recognising faces.

When you open the app there is a listing of channels which give access to the different parts of the app.  The Short Text channel is the default when you first open the app and it reads text live as the camera sees it.  This can be useful for reading labels, but I personally find it particularly useful for reading computer screens when there is no speech e.g. during parts of a windows update process.

The Long Document channel is used when reading a document such as a letter or a book.  An internet connection is required for this channel to work.  You need to take a picture of a document for this and some guidance is offered to help the user find the correct distance away from the text to get the best results.

The Product channel allows you to recognise bar codes and have them read out to you.  This is a great way of identifying products providing they are in the bar codes database.  This works well and it is easily the best app I’ve come across for finding and reading bar codes.

The fourth channel is the Person channel which lets you recognise faces.  For me this is more fun than anything but it does work quite reliably.  You can scan your environment for faces and give faces names so they can be recognised in the future.

There is also an experimental Scenery channel.  This does not work well at this stage and there are better apps for this.  The Scenery channel is designed to tell you what is around you.

In general then, the Seeing AI app is high quality and free.  Other apps such as TapTapSee are good for telling you what is in a room and can be useful for recognising products if the barcode is not in the Seeing AI database.  Seeing AI should be absolutely fine for most casual document readers.  For those with greater needs such as recognising image files, the KNFB Reader app might be useful.  This is available on both iPhone and Android phones and it costs around £79.00.

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Photo of the ‘Seeing AI’ app showing the Short Text channel.

Written by Graham Page

Charles Bonnet Syndrome: The Eye Condition that Causes Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations, ranging from spots of coloured light to full-bodied people, are, for many vision impaired people, a normal part of their sight loss.  These are symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), a recognised medical condition which many people with vision impairment experience at some point during their sight loss journey.  As you might imagine, these sorts of experiences can have a profound impact on people’s lives.  However, Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a condition that isn’t always well-understood even by medical professionals, let alone the general public, and so it often goes ignored or misdiagnosed.

I attended a workshop on the first ever Charles Bonnet Syndrome Day on 16th November this year, and there I heard from several people who have experienced the condition first hand.  Their stories brought home just how serious this condition can be.  Some would see grotesque gargoyle-like figures sitting in their living rooms, while others would see patterns covering the floor and walls to such a degree that they became disorientated and couldn’t tell where anything in the room really was.  While there is currently no known cure for CBS, there are various tricks that people can use to help dispel the images, such as wearing sunglasses, adjusting the light levels of the room, or distracting the brain by turning the TV or radio on or off.

However, for many people the first step in dealing with this condition is to understand what it is that they are experiencing.  We heard several sad stories during the day about people with CBS who had been misdiagnosed with dementia, and had therefore never received the right support or treatment for their condition.  It is important to remember that the hallucinations experienced by people with CBS are vivid, but they are visual only, and cannot be heard, felt, tasted or smelled.  But if this is the case, and there is no serious memory loss and no other diagnosed mental health issue, then the hallucinations are more than likely to be the result of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

The charity Esme’s Umbrella, which ran the workshop in November, is there to give information, advice and support to anybody who is experiencing CBS, or who is concerned about someone they know who is living with the condition.  They can be contacted by phone (0345 051 3925) or email (esmesumbrella@gmail.com), and they also have a website with details of coping strategies and the latest research on CBS, which can be found at http://www.charlesbonnetsyndrome.uk/.  If you would like to find out more about the condition, then please do not hesitate to contact them.

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Photo of the Esme’s Umbrella Charity logo. Its design includes dozens of colourful umbrellas and the words ‘Esme’s Umbrella. For everyone working for the greater awareness of Charles Bonnet Syndrome’.

Written by Nicola Stokes

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

Masuma’s Employment Journey in the Sight Loss Sector

“How did you end up working for the sight loss sector?”

This is one of the questions I most often get asked by people, and the one I regularly hear being discussed is whether most blind and partially sighted people end up working for the sight loss sector.

There are around 84,000 registered blind people of working age (18-65 year olds) in the UK, and only 21,000 (1 in 4 compared to 3 in 4 sighted people) of the working age population are in employment.

I feel extremely fortunate to be in the working age figure. My employment journey started with a part-time role as a Braille transcriber at a mainstream college. This job was a great starting point for me in the world of work and being part-time provided me with the opportunity to volunteer and upskill myself at the same time. I initially looked for volunteering roles away from the sight loss sector, not because I had anything against it, but simply due to not having given it any thought.

However, I learnt very quickly that it was rather difficult to find a voluntary role with organisations outside the sector. Also having received feedback from employers that I didn’t have enough experience, I resorted to looking for volunteering opportunities within the sight loss sector and landed myself a number of various roles. To be told by employers that you don’t have enough experience and struggling to even gain a voluntary role outside of the sector was soul destroying, it is a horrible catch-22 situation, which certainly didn’t do my confidence any good. However, the good news is that it seems things have moved on somewhat as I know several people who have volunteered with organisations away from the sight loss sector. Yes, I’m sure it can still be a struggle, but hopefully things are slowly changing.

Not only did the volunteering opportunities allow me to grow and increase my skills, knowledge and experience, it provided a good platform to network. My voluntary role at Waltham Forest Vision (formerly known as Low Vision Forum) resulted in a successful application and interview on a trainee contract. This set my journey into the sight loss sector and I’ve never looked back!

However, to assume every blind or partially sighted person ends up working for the VI sector is completely incorrect. I know just as many vision impaired people who work in the sector as well as don’t.

I would strongly encourage all VI people looking for work to take up volunteering opportunities, to network and build good rapport with people. Some may say I’m one of the lucky ones, and whilst there may be a very small element of truth, it certainly wasn’t all smooth sailing. The struggle of finding employment was real and can definitely be that much harder for vision impaired people. However, despite experiencing knock-backs throughout my employment journey, my proactive self-help approach, positive can-do attitude and, at times, throwing myself into the unknown certainly paid off. I am truly grateful and thankful to the people who have both personally and professionally supported me along the way.

Masuma Ali
Photo of Masuma smiling.

Listen to Masuma talk to the Thomas Pocklington Trust about her life and employment journey in the sight loss sector.

Written by Masuma Ali