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 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

A newbie’s account of Ridderrennet and the limited snow filled week

I signed myself up to the 2017 Ridderrennet week in November 2016, not knowing what I’d really gotten myself into having never cross-country skied before.

Ridderrennet is an annual international disabled cross-country ski competition held in Beitostølen supported by student volunteers from Sports Science degree courses and the King’s guards from the army. With cross-country skiing there are two tracks in the snow that skis fit into, which aid vision impaired people to follow the tracks whilst skiing.

After having a rocky start with Ryanair on Sunday 26 March and their limited desire of wanting to accommodate 8 blind and partially sighted passengers we safely landed in sunny Oslo. On Monday morning I was paired up with my guide for the week. We ventured out and hit the snow, or what may be better referred to as slush and rather difficult cross-country skiing conditions.

By the end of day 2 I wasn’t sure whether skiing was for me, but when old hands like Mike Brace say “I’ve never known snow conditions to be this bad in all my years of coming and for beginners it isn’t the best conditions to be learning to cross-country ski”, I stopped giving myself a hard time for not grasping it as well as I’d have liked. As the week progressed so did my skiing abilities and the slight onset of sore muscles informed me that I was working hard!

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Photo of Masuma standing in the snow with her skis on. 

Thursday arrived with snow falling and the challenge of tackling the hills as part of my first race. Not sure who at this stage was more nervous me or my guide! I was counted down at the start line and before I knew it we were off and tackling our first downhill of the 4K race. I made it to the finish line with some rather splendid uphill and downhill falls along the way, but in 54 minutes and one exhausted piece! The rest of that day entailed rest and sleep!!

Saturday morning the atmosphere was buzzing over breakfast with everyone excited about the race, with plenty of discussions about start times and competing to beat each other, as well as own personal race times. Whilst the skiers and guides readied themselves for the race at the World Cup Arena the military band came out and played. My personal goal was to try to beat my time from Thursday, although not knowing what the tracks would be like it was virtually impossible to say how it would plan out.

For the second time that week I queued and edged my way to the start line and waited to be counted down with my guide beside me who was telling me I had to give it my all as it was the last day of skiing and I could rest tomorrow. I encountered just as many interesting falls as the previous race, but with more confidence and the focus of beating my time in the forefront of my mind I got up and kept going. I crossed the finish line with a few marvellous falls with my legs having turned to jelly and given way from exhaustion of smashing my previous time and coming in at 35 minutes!

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Photo of Masuma and her guide with the medals they won in the race.

Despite the lack of snow and awful conditions as a newcomer it was a great week, I got to meet some awesome people, push myself physically and try something new and challenging at the same time, as well as discover muscles I didn’t know existed, or had forgotten they did. To say I was sore by the end of the week was an understatement! As one of a few newbies on the trip we didn’t have the same expectations as previous attendees, so did the best we could, but equally giving us something better to look forward to hopefully next time.

The whole week was extremely well organized from transport to guides, to volunteer support at breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you were unfortunate enough to be lost, or misguided by another vision impaired person (a frequent occurrence!) a helping hand was never too far away to offer a guiding arm.

If you have never cross-country skied and are looking for something challenging to do as well as socialise then I’d say to keep an eye out for next year’s Ridderrennet week and start working on the leg and arm muscles.

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Photo of Masuma and other participants proudly showing their medals.

Written by Masuma Ali