Archive for Blind Blog

Faith

While with a group of friends today we were talking about faith.  Discussing it and questioning what our understanding of it is.

One comment made about one way to look at faith was

If you’re sat on a chair, you hold faith that THAT chair is fit for purpose and will keep you sat safely and not break.

This made me think, as someone who has far too many questions about ‘religious faiths’ to have one of my own I thought of it a different way.

What (or who) do I have faith in and trust?

And when put like this I have just one answer

My Guide Dog Fizz.

I have total faith in her (and Vicky before her)

Each day i put on her harness and trust her to guide me to my destination; be that getting the kids to school or wherever we may be going to.

I give her the directions and instruct her on where we are going, but I have faith in her that she will get me there safely, not walking into traffic or causing me to trip or fall on steps, curbs or other surfaces.

And with the exception of the odd over-hanging branch I know she has me.

My faith in her is I guess some would say, similar to that faith of a religion.  I have trust that she will protect me, keep me safe.

I know HOW she is trained and WHY she is trained, but no-one can say for certain WHY she takes that training and guides me each day.

That to me is faith.

I have the faith that she will do as I ask of her each and every time I put her harness on.

I trust her.

I can’t see what she does each time we go out together; I simply feel how she moves through her harness and I can react accordingly following her lead.

That to me is faith.

I trust her.

I may have totally missed the point of the discussion; I have never sat on a chair and though ‘this isn’t fit for purpose’.

Just as I have faith that a chair will be safe to sit on; after all this is what it is designed for.  I have faith in my guide dog, because she has been trained to guide me.

To me that is faith.

 

 


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Reflections

Photograph of Tee, Weston a grey t-shirt saying “climb on” stood in front of a black and white canvas of a misty hence in Greenwich Park

Photograph of Tee, Weston a grey t-shirt saying “climb on” stood in front of a black and white canvas of a misty hence in Greenwich ParkThis November it will be 10 years since I was registered SSI (Severly Sight aimpaired aka BLIND) it was the appointment with my consultant that EVERY seemed to change, yet at the very same time NOTHING changed.

What I mean by that is that my eye sight didn’t actually change at THAT appointment.  I  simply became aware of just how bad it was.

Having had my Nystagmus (involuntary eye movements) and having worn pretty strong glasses for as long as I can remember my sight had never been great.  But in terms of the distance I could see (I have always been short sighted) had changed very little.

Rightly or wrongly so; when I was in my early teens I had been discharged from the consultant at the hospital, where I was given into the care of my opticians.  With the strength of my prescription And it was through this team that in July 2008 they used their new camera equipment to try getting a photo of my retina.

My optician wasn’t happy with what she saw, but she couldn’t explain it to me as she explained it could simply be that with my eye movement the photograph wasn’t actually true.  So she referred me to the hospital for a thorough check up.

Having been rushed in as an emergency after the hospital were concerned I had detached my retina (a common issue that if caught early enough can be reversed) I discovered that this was not the case, the registrar discovered I had cataract in both eyes, I will always remember what she said;

With laser treatment we can remove them and that would actually improve your vision.

But as she was simply confirming I hadn’t detracted my retina, she didn’t actually comment on the fact that my retina wasn’t ‘complete’.

So, you can probably understand my total shock when I returned a few weeks later to see the consultant to be given the news of just how bad my sight was.

I did have cataracts (my left eye had been diagnosed when I was 12) But the laser surgery suggested wouldn’t be easy and would have very little affect at this time.  And actually with my retina dying away my sight would actually only get worse.

Many people ask me

How did you not realise you were going blind?

Its simple, the changes in my peripheral were suggested to be something that had been happening steadily for many many years, and as I only likely lost a small amount at a time I didn’t actually realise.

I did notice ‘little’ things after my daughter was born in 2006, like how I was bumping into things, like low level tables or benches.  But I put this down to ‘baby brain’

I had also noticed that it was taking me longer for my eyes to adjust to light changes; like walking indoors after being out in the bright sunshine, but because I had reaction lenses this went in-noticed as an actual change in my sight (as I assumed it was just the glasses)

So…… Reflections.

I have decided I want to celebrate this anniversary.  I want to acknowledge that as me I have changed from the person I was before.  It hasn’t always been happiness and celebrations, but I have tried to embrace my blindness (and now deafness)

It may sound like a cliche

But in these last ten years I have had so many amazing opportunities, so many doors open to me.  I want to move forward with me and celebrating the good seems the best way to do this.  I am human, I can’t be postmitive ALL THE TIME.  But in this instance I want to look for the good, rather than dwell on the bad.

But the question is (and this I hand over to you my readers) ….

How should I celebrate???


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Speechless (it doesn’t happen often!)

I umm’d and argh’d About writing this post; then I thought

“This is part of me, I should share it.”

last week I received an email that has taken me completely by surprise.  I have been nominated for an award.

But not just ANY award, this is for The National Diversity Award 2018 in the category of Positive Role Model.

I do not know who nominated me, but it has left me feeling slightly emotional and speechless.

Under the terms of the nomination it is for me to now write a Bio and supply supporting evidence as to why I feel I am deserving of this award.

Yes, I have no trouble talking or writing about myself; but in this way?  I’m not so sure.

But I am of the thinking that if I don’t at least try, then I will be disappointing myself and the person who nominated me.

So I am slowly working through the forms I need to complete.  And am sharing this nomination with you all, in the hope that you too agree with it and wish to vote for me?

All by Friday 1st June 2018.

You can cast your vote here National Diversity Awards 2018


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Days like today…….

I have a ‘Have Guide Dog, will travel’ attitude to life, today I decided in the sun to visit Winchester (alone) something I don’t think I will be in a hurry to repeat.

The rudeness, the sly comments & general ‘opinions’ that were continually thrust upon me resulted in a very short visit.

I am more than happy to accept and I do understand that not everyone likes dogs, be that an assistance dog or  a pet.

I do understand that in some cultures dogs are not warmly accepted. But today the comments or actions of rudeness did not come from the here.

Today it came from,

A business woman looking down on her phone;

The art student with a VERY LARGE portfolio;

The man in the queue in Starbucks;

The woman behind me in boots who tutted at me when I asked the sales assistant to repeat herself for the 3rd time because I couldn’t hear her;

The van driver who got shirty when I waved him on because I wouldn’t cross in-front of him.

Were it not for the kindness of strangers I would have found myself fighting tears & heading for the nearest taxi.

it was thanks to ….

The window cleaner who moved his ladder so I would walk past;

Theassistant in Starbucks who offered me water for Fizz while pointing out to the rude man that assistance dog or not I had every right to enjoy coffee;

To the sales assistant in boots who guided me to a quieter area so I could hear what she was saying!

I know that I may stand in the wrong queue at times, I know that my guide dog likes to walk by the building line, which means we often walk right in front of the shop doors, I do understand that I take up more width on the pavement as I walk beside my guide, and she can’t tell me to “step in” the way a sighted person would if the path was narrow.

But at what point does vocalising your opinions change this? All it does is demoralises someone who just wants to get on.  And could even stop a (less stubborn) person from going out and visiting other areas.

Today has been one of those days where I have felt isolated and hurt by the actions of others.  But writing this now I am able to say that I won’t let it stop me, I share this with you now to raise awareness.

Because it can often be the ‘off-handed’ comment that you quickly forget making that can cause irreparable damage to someone.  We never know what demons people are fighting; so just be kind.

It really is THAT simple.


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Silly ‘Blind’ Moment

I wonder about many thing.

Especially if that something is architectural or design related.  One such moment of wondering that I want to share with you is ….. Disabled Toilets.

From a design point of view I can still quote the minimum measurement requirements for a disabled toilet from The Metric Handbook: Planning & Design Data.  I can tell you the reasoning for the outward opening door; the height of the hand basin and so on and so on.

I can also have a discussion at length about badly positioned pull down nappy changing tables….. But the one point I find the hardest to fathom is the mirror.

Placing a mirror above the wash hand basin in common place, yet often missing in a disabled loo.

Instead there is often a LARGE floor to ceiling mirror (which covers all height differences in disability) instead.  Which makes perfect sense, after all despite the outdated signage there are many people with disabilities who do not use a wheelchair.

I for one am one of them!

A room I can go into, lock the door and know not only does my guide dog have space to sit patiently for me; But I know that I can find my way around the room (regardless of lighting) to do what I need to do, then wash and dry my hands afterwards.

But I go back to ‘That Mirror’ …. Why is it always positioned directly beside or infront of the toilet?

Surely nobody wants or needs to see themselves at that point?

Or in my case, no-one needs to hear me scream when a glimpse of my reflection (which didn’t seem to actually be me) mid-visit panicked me to thinking someone was in the room with me!

Like I said at the very beginning, this was a ‘Blind’ moment or maybe it was even a ‘Blonde’ moment…. But for someone with minimal peripheral vision it was most certainly an ‘embarrassing’ moment.

Especially when fellow patrons were knocking on the door to offer assistance and asking if I needed medical attention!


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When riding a bike is not like riding a bike

Photograph shows a ‘selfie’ of Simon smiling at the camera, with me, Tee sat behind him on the left. The photo is of us both sat on the Tandem, but the bike is not in the shot.

About a month ago I bought myself something rather quite special.

I bought a tandem.

I bought it from a fellow blindie who had had a change of health and although the bike had been serviced and well looked after; it had remained sat un-ridden.

It is only through the ‘on this day’ feature of Facebook that I can tell you that it has been just under two years since I have ridden a bike.

It was when we were away on holiday with the children, it was when we were riding on site of a Haven Holiday Park.  After this I am sure that there was one further bike ride back at home before my bike was left to gather cobwebs and become home to spiders in the garage.

I did not stop riding because of an injury.

I stopped because with my hearing going in addition to my sight I did not feel I was safe either for myself or for other road users.

Many would be surprised that it is only in the last two years that I haven’t ridden my bike.  Thinking about it now, it was pure stubbornness that had stopped me from hanging up my riding helmet before then; in the same way I can only imagine that a car driver who is in denial about their sight feels about surrendering their driving license.

A tandem was a way of gaining back some of me.

Yes, by the very definition of it I would only be able to ride with someone else.  But riding a tandem with someone else feels less of a lack of independence than riding a bicycle with another adult beside me.  I think that this is because a tandem is for ANYONE.  A normally sighted person can ride a tandem, it isn’t a ‘mobility aid’ in the conventional sense of the word.  Even though when I think about it, in my case it kind of is just that; a mobility aid.

Anyway……

I had the bike serviced and checked over.  I spoke with a few friends about coming out for a ride with me and then, earlier this week.  One of them took me up on my offer.

Having spent time looking over the bike and following the workings of it I was instantly struck by the fact that as the rear peddler (the stoker in technical, bicycle jargon) I had no gears or brakes.  I was to simply just peddle. (Which when you think about it sensibly it makes perfect sense, but to me as a former solo cyclist-I had always had gears and brakes)

So, if all I was to do was to peddle. When and how would I know to peddle?

How would it feel sitting behind someone else (The Pilot-more jargon) who was in control of where we went?

How fast we got there?

And in what intensity of gears we were to achieve it?

I guessed I would just have to ‘go with them’ … LITERALLY.

My faithful Climbing Partner in Crime (CPiC) Simon was my first volunteer; we have ridden together before (on individual bikes) and he more than most understands my sight loss, and more to the point my anxieties of something new.

First he took the bike for a ride to the end of the car park without me.  This gave him a feel for the length of the bike and the kind of turning circle it would have.  Then it was my turn to get on with him.

My first ‘odd’ feeling was that I had both my feet off the floor, on the peddles and yet the bike was still upright and stationary.  This being because Simon is taller and still had his feet on the ground!

We set off; it was wobbly, but it soon became smoother as we got into a rhythmic pattern.  And surprisingly; not being able to see infront of me wasn’t concerning (because all I could see was the red of his jumper) felt O.K.

It felt ‘odd’ in the sense that I didn’t feel I was peddling enough, not as much as I thought I remembered from when I had ridden my bike before.  However, what I was forgetting was one simple rule;

”Double the bodies means half the power”

Easier said than done.  When the pilot slowed down I felt that as the stoker it was for me to peddle more.  This wasn’t the case.  In fact at one point I was told very bluntly to “JUST STOP”

I began to relax into the journey, I began to feel when it was time to coast and when it was time to peddle.

I also felt the exact point where my shoulder relaxed and my anxieties of ‘letting the other rider down’ were disappearing.

I only got off the bike and walked at a point where we crossed a road on the footpath (rather than add the complication of the road junction into the mix)

And before I knew it we were heading back towards home.

I could lie and say my arse wasn’t hurting from being sat on a not so padded saddle.  I could lie and say I didn’t get cramp in my thigh….. But then were would the fun be in that?

It was interesting to discover that I can suffer with ‘Elvis Leg’ when riding a bike, just as I do at points when I am climbing….. This usually comes at a point where I am concentrating so hard that (as silly as this will sound) I forget to breathe!

We managed to clock up just over 9km on our first ride.  After all I live in The Highlands area, which as the name suggests is an area with many a hill; which for the most part I want to be avoiding until my bike fitness has improved somewhat.

The route was recorded on my Apple Watch and all the specifics as to times, heart rate and distances are stored within my fitness app.  So next time we can follow the same route and see the improvements in it.

I wasn’t really able to talk to Simon much while we were cycling (but then there really was no need to) so when we arrived back I asked him how he felt, his answer wasn’t what I think I expected to hear;

”It felt creepy having someone riding RIGHT behind me, so close; I felt I wanted to ride to get away from them.”

…. But as he never managed it, he said it was just something he would have to get used to.  And he has agreed to go out and ride with me again.

So watch this space for more tandem cycling antics.

 

 


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The simplest of tech can make the Biggest impact

if you have followed me for some time you will know how much I like my coffee.  It’s no secret, I enjoy sitting with a nice cup and ‘people watch’ (yes even as a VI I do this!)

 

But of late I have really struggled.

Not so much with the people watching part; but rather the collecting my coffee part.

Just a short bus ride away from me is the lovely Whiteley Shopping Village.  It is home to a great variety of shops, restaurants, cinema and yup you guessed it coffee shops!

It has the three MAJOR brand names of Costa, Nero & Starbucks, in addition to The M&S cafe.

Whitely was purpose built.  Many of the storesmake use of the high ceilings and glass outer wall to add a mezzanine floor, while the cafes and restaurants leave them to create the feeling of space and ambiance.

But here in lies an issue.

Starbucks in particular……

with its solid floors, wooden traveled, coffee ba and very minimal in way of ‘soft furnitings’ the inside has an echo.

The seating is positions around the centrally placed counter that leads you around to the right where you can collect your coffee at the end of the bar, where the bar continues again to the right (and right again) to enable friends to sit on the stools while enjoying a coffe with easy access to PowerPoints that are built into the bar.

There are standard level blue benches that cover one entire wall of the store with small tables, then at the back there are simple couch like seating around low tables.

With a further bar seating in front of one of the windows and more 2 seated wooden tablespoon dotted about.

So for me, I can easily find somewhere to sit that works with the lighting, be that natural, bright sunshine that we are enjoying at the moment or artificially lit by the store itself.

So, hopefully I have set the scene for you.  The fact that the coffee machine is not directly beside the till make for easy ordering and it also enables the staff to have a ‘queue’ system for drink collection.

But it is this ‘drink collection’ that has become a real struggle for me.

With the height of the ceiling, the multiple coffee machines and the general ‘noise’ of the store; even with my hearing aids I can’t hear any particular voice clearly.

These are all factors I can’t change.  And I am not one to be beaten into having to avoid a store (particularly one that sells coffee) because of it.

With my visual impairment I can’t make eye contact with others, although I can thankfully usually recognise a member of staff at datrbusks by the iconic green apron they all wear.

So now, when I arrive at ‘the bar’ I politely gain the attention of a member of staff and then I show them my phone…..

And this is what they see. (Or similar depending on my order)


Photograph of my Apple iPhone with the ‘notes’ app open, with the words “I am hard of hearing. Ordered a coconut mocha no cream realisable cup”

Where I have found that a kind member of staff then directly passes me my drink when my order is is completed.  Saving them shouting out to deaf ears and saving me from tepid coffee because it has been sat too long.

Such a simple little app is ‘Notes’ which I use every day for one thing or another like many people.  But one that has enabled me to keep just a little bit more of my independence (even if it is something so trivial as ordering a coffee)

I now feel more comfortable when dealing with such noisy situations.

And I don’t have to miss out … So it’s win-win situation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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I’m still here

This year hasn’t had the easiest of starts, with changes in my sight, trouble with my hearing and ‘other’ issues;  It has all been a bit much to deal with at times.

All of this compounded by a need to explore who I am and where I belong, and it isn’t hard to realise that my anxiety and mental health has also taken a beating.

But that’s ok.

It is alright to not be ok ALL the time.

And it is ok to admit that; however hard it may be.

There are a few things I want to tell you about, I have realised I never finished off my 2017 BMC Paraclimbing competition blogs, or even mentioned the Team Selection Day back in February 2018.

So, for now I am going to spend some time going ‘backwards’ but as all posts are dated to (around) when they happened, humour me.

And once I have completed these, take a good look through the past six months.  I can promise you there will be laughter, whit and sarcasm.  But be warned there will also be sadness, upset and moments of total despair.

Enjoy xx


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Happy Haptics

Back at the tail end of last year I was incredibly humbled to be support by The Molly Watt Trust and their Apple Watch Project.  Here is the article I wrote as a review on their blog.How is it that a few simple vibrations can give you SO VERY MUCH?

 

“If you had asked me the same question just a few months ago I would have probably said how I didn’t understand them.

Well, that was before I was fortunate enough to receive a Series 1, 42mm Apple Watch from the charity The Molly Watt Trust This was a piece of accessible technology I would never have been in a position to justify buying; even though I have seen the benefits others have gained from it.

So I took a chance, I applied to the charities project and crossed everything!The Apple Watch arrived at the end of November.  And after I plucked up the courage to open up the box it was like love at first sight! (If such a thing can happen with an inanimate object like a watch!)

The first fun was setting the Watch face.  Having previously had a Fitbit Surge I thought this would be easy…… it wasn’t!  That’s a bit of a fib, setting the Watch face was easy it was rather trying to decide on what ‘complications’ I wanted to be able to have for easy access on the Watch face that was the difficult part.  And it took just over a week to get the right mix, that I have continued to use ever since!i

Since wearing hearing aids in 2017 I am no longer able to wear in ear headphones, this posed a huge issue for me as an iPhone user who relies heavily on Apple maps and google maps to help support me to keep more independence.  Walking with my phone out in my hand wasn’t exactly safe either.

This is the one feature I was really excited about trying out for myself on the watch.  The ability to set a route on my phone in apple maps and then have the haptic (vibrations) go on my wrist to alert me to an instruction.

It took some getting used to, and if I am honest I tend to make use of my remaining sight to look at the instruction, but I am learning to be more trusting of it.  While my phone stays safely away in my pocket or bag.

Another feature I have found incredibly useful is text messaging.  Yes I can use my phone for most of my day to day messages (with the added support of zoom).

But if I am out and about (or even sat in a loud, busy venue) I can quickly scroll down to a pre-set message that simply says “struggling here”. This I find is enough to help raise the alert that I am not finding things easy.

This works particularly well with my friends who also have an Apple Watch, but for those who don’t, but who can quickly glance at their phones I am quickly able to find reassurance…… Or in the case of the other day; I am able to alert my friends that I have got lost on the way back to the table after going to the toilet (the waitress had kindly shown me where they were)

For me, the feeling of being safe in my surroundings is key; whether this is somewhere on my own, somewhere new or somewhere ‘different’ has always been important to me.  As my sight determinated this became event more important.  But when my hearing also started to fail me; I worried that I would loose myself with it.

In these past four months, I have felt like I have a new lease on life.  And I really do believe this is down to the support I have benefitted from from The Molly Watt Trust and The Apple Watch Project.

Thank you.”


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What a difference a year makes

Selfie photograph of my face, with a scarve on that is blue with red popppies. I am wearing my glasses and my hearing aids with my hair

On 20th March 2017 I found myself sat in the audiologists office having my hearing aids fitted; which I wrote about in What does sound sound like?.

I had previously been told I would only need a hearing aid for my right ear, yet when I arrived at my appointment I was actually fitted with a hearing aid for both my left and right ear; a pleasant suprise, yet a very welcome on.  Because in giving me hearing aids for both ears the audiologist was able to programme the strength in each side differently so that I heard the same.

I wont’t lie, I hated wearing them.

It took me a long time to get used to ‘hearing’things again.  The little things, like the kitchen clock; the dogs gnawing on their bones; the sound of my feet on the pavement.  But (following the audiologists advice) I soon learnt to ‘not hear’ or rather ‘tune out’ these sounds; sounds that my brain had learnt to ignore (just as it does for most people who can hear perfectly well)

I also quickly learnt how little and inconspicuous my hearing aids were.  With very few people realising that I actually wore them.

When they were originally fitted, I had them set by the audiologist to automatically adjust with no input from me.  However this was not while I got used to them.

In July ((1 beep, 2 beep, 3 beep, 4) I had my hearing aids adjusted and since then I have gone from strength to strength in using them and wearing them each and every day, just as I would with my glasses (even though I now get so little from wearing them-wearing them is a daily habit)

I have also added to my ‘tech’ to go with my hearing aids, with my amplicomms personal t-loop system I am able to listen friends in busier environments, have calls streamed directly into my ears with the microphone around my neck; I am also able to listen to audible and music too.

My CPiC and I are working on using it as an aid to my climbing….. But that is a whole other blog post!!

So, what have I gained in the last year?

I have learnt that just like glasses for me, hearing aids to not ‘fix’ my hearing; however they do enable me to hear more and clearer than if I don’t wear them.

I have been able to feel safer out and about, especially with hearing traffic and its direction.  So much so, that in recent months I have gone back to enjoying walking into town (about 2.5 miles) with Fizz guiding me.

I have also learnt that I can ‘shut out’ noise if I want to sit quietly with a cuppa or a cold pint, then I can turn my hearing aids down, put them into the induction loop setting and I can sit peacefully.  So I can have ‘selective’ hearing too!!

Its been an interesting year of wearing hearing aids, I would be lying if I said I am getting used to them….. But I am finding the postitives with them, both with my own hearing and with the connections I have made with other people who have hearing and sight issues.

I am still wanting to work on fundraising for my own pair or ReSound Hearing Aids, which are so much more ‘tech’ friendly with my iPhone and Apple Watch, but that is a work in progress.

 


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