Archive for Blind Blog

Apologies for the silence … Its taken some time

Photograph of Tee on the patio with a cream garden wall behind, with Guide dog fizz sat on the left in her harness . Both looking at the camera.

Facebook memories are a blessing and a curse.

Take today as an example, today it popped up in my memories that it was seven years ago today that my first guide dog Vicky did her last school run. And my GDMI (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) took her harness and sash, signifying the start of her retirement.

And this day seven years ago is the very same day I started my training with my second guide dog Fizz.

So, why today is this (usually joyous) memory upsetting?

Because yesterday is 2 months since I did my last working walk with Fizz. Before she retired and was rehomed via Guide Dogs.

Landscape photograph of guide dog fizz laid on the carpet looking up at the camera with her tail wagging and a little blurred

Sadly, Fizz retired before a third dog has been found for me; what with a global pandemic, delays have been incurred and I continue to wait for ‘The Call’.

I have returned to using my cane, who has aptly gained the nickname ‘Candy’ because of her red and white stripes. (which are the universal symbol of a person with both sight and hearing loss)

And it is bit of a love – hate relationship at times, being totally honest. I am grateful it is a skill that I have maintained as I am able to keep my independence. However the regular cane jabs and bumps are something I would happily live without.

Fizz retired at the grand age of ten and half, she had worked with me for just under 7 years and it was time for her to be able to put her paws up, not have to concentrate on keeping me safe and sniff all those smells she usually has to ignore while in harness.

The Guide Dogs charity have been an amazing support to us both during her working life and this has continued in her retirement. They supported me and found Fizz her retirement home.

Fizz has also stayed within the Guide Dog Family, so her new owner has been keeping me updated on how she has settled, on her new canine companions and I have even been fortunate to receive regular photographs with the updates.

It was the right time for Fizz to hang up her harness. This however doesn’t stop me being upset that she has gone. Knowing she is working those puppy eyes and wrapping her new owner around her paws is a great comfort though. She is a very emotionally sensitive dog and it will still be taking her time to adjust to.

Although I am sure not having to guide in wind and rain is surely helping with that.

There are lots of changes happening here for me too, but that’s another post or three! Lets just say, I haven’t been sitting still.

Remembering the day everything changed; yet stayed the same

Thirteen years is a long time:  It’s also an incredible measure.  

On this day 13 years ago I left my Consultants office feeling that my life was over; all because in that 45 minute appointment where I entered expecting to discuss a double cataract operation to DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE my sight I actually found myself leaving with my CVI (Certificate of Visual Impairment) and being told that my sight was already bad enough for me to be registered Severely Sight Impaired. (previously classed as BLIND)

And in the grand scheme of things, the risks of cataract surgery because of my eye movement (Nystagmus) would not offer me any significant benefit.

This day 13 years ago, nothing significantly or physically had changed with my sight.  The deterioration had been there all of my life, but it had been so gradual and undetectable by my optician that even though Doctors predicted that I would go blind as a child; because this hadn’t come to fruition at the age of 10/11 I had been discharged from the hospital.

And only after a chance conversation with my optician about how long it took my eyes to adjust from outside to inside has found me back seeing the consultant at the local eye hospital for the first time since I was about 12!

This day 13 years ago was actually the beginning of so many good things.  

However that wasn’t before I went through some incredibly dark times (mentally) and still do to this day.

I am so very grateful to those who have walked beside me in the last 13 years.  

As well as those who have walked away.  

Because for someone who now no longer makes out even that GIANT single letter on the eye chart or anything that is not within the 3% of my remaining central vision; the way my life has changed in those 13 years has enabled me to see many situation incredibly clearly. (Pun intended)

So with a smile, a positive outlook and an AMAZING group of cheerleaders behind me.  I am the girl I am today because of the pain I faced ON THIS DAY 13 years ago.

My sight has deteriorated dramatically from that appointment 13 years ago, but my character, my inner strength and my stubbornness have got me this far. And I have no doubt they will get me through the next 13+ years.

Part of life just got A LOT simpler !!!

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

I first read this while studying at university 21 years ago; in this previous life before my severely sight impaired diagnosis and even a half decent understand of how terrible my vision was, this quote spoke to me.

Along with a book called ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman that was yellow with a red coffee pot that had the handle and the spout on the same side have always stuck with me.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, just as I have previously written about how Steve Jobs had a vision for Apple that put accessibility at its very core, instead of an after thought. Being mindful at the design stage can change the experiences of the end user.

Apple isn’t the only company or product to do this. My Breville ‘One Cup‘ is another example as are the scales I received today.

As an independent Herbalife Distributor who allowed lockdown to take control, I gained far too much weight, teamed with not climbing or swimming and well you can imagine where I found myself at the beginning of the year?

I have for the past 5 years started my day with a Herbalife Nutrition shake along with a whizzy, fat burning tea. However throughout lockdown my healthy, good nutrition would start and end with breakfast!

The products are good, however they are not magical.

So, fast forward (or is it rewind?) to January this year; January when I turned 40! When a friend shared a photo of me sat at their dining-room table and I realised how much I had let myself go. Yes I could feel my clothes were tight, uncomfortable and I was certainly not happy, however as someone who can’t see the reflection in the mirror; I was in denial.

I looked at that photo over and over again. I felt embarrassed, mortified and realised that I needed to make some changes.

I had all the tools I needed, the products in my kitchen cupboards and a wealth of knowledge. I had to start treating myself like I was a client, a client in Herbalife was something I hadn’t had in a while; (after all who is going to take weight loss advice from a fat person?)

So I (Re-) started my journey, went back to basics, a simple 1, 2, 3 approach and along with a new model; I found my focus.

There was just one part of the process that was VERY difficult.

Each morning, after I woke and popped to the bathroom I would stand on my bathroom scales.

My scales are a little more detailed than your average scales, they were in-fact Tanita Scanners. In addition to my weight I would get a whole host of other information, most importantly my body hydration and body fat percentages.

These scanners are programmable, with memory. All I had to do was switch them on, wait for them to beep and stand on. They would record all the measurements and then beep several times to say I could step off.

All my measurements were saved so I could grab my phone and take a photo of each measurement to zoom in on and record in a little challenge group I am in.

These scanners were a game changer for me as long gone were the days when I could when see my feet when stood upright, let alone the neon green scales beneath them, all before even trying to make out that in the middle was a digital display.

However, in the last 3 or 4 weeks my sight has changed (there’s another blog coming about that) it was taking more concentration to read from the photos.

I needed another solution.

I didn’t even look at talking bathroom scales. I didn’t research ANY accessible, visually impaired products. Instead I focussed my research on scanners like those I had that I could use with an app.

My reasoning for this?

If the scanners relayed all the data into an app, I could use zoom on my phone to read that data.

Today my Kamtron scanners arrived. I chose these based on the ‘Fitdays’ app which looked the simplest on the App Store. They were also significantly cheaper than the Bluetooth enabled Tanitas that appeared (on paper) to do the same thing.

They connect via Bluetooth to the app. All I have to do is touch the button on the back of the scanners, wait for the beep and step on, a little sound emanates from my phone when the data is recorded and off I step.

Then by using the ‘read screen’ toggle on my iPhone all the details are read out to me, no taking photos, no screenshots to then have to zoom in on. And more importantly no masses of screenshot photos taking up space on my phone or iCloud!

So simple…

Good products designed well can easily help and support those who may have additional or altered needs.

It may just be a ‘happy coincidence’ that this product is so accessible? It may have been part of the design brief? Sadly I will never know which, I will simply refer back to my original quote.

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

FOOTNOTE: In writing this post I am simply sharing a product I found that works for me, I am not in anyway endorsing Kamtron Scales or The Fitdays app. Just as I have previously spoken about other products and apps.

Dogs just wanna to have fun!

It is true to say that many people only think of guide dogs as well trained, hard working dogs. This is of-course true; however there is also the puppy that comes out to play when the harness is removed.

As part of fizz’s work she, like us humans needs to have her down time; her run around with other dogs and possibly much more importantly that time where she can stick her nose to the ground and have a good sniff and as my son calls it ‘check her Pee-Mail’s’ which she doesn’t do when in harness.

This weekend was proof that she has plenty of time to explore and have no responsibility.

This weekend we met up with her dog friend Dave, we walked in fields, beaches and along the canal. She got to sniff, roll, swim and run.

She certainly did not act like a 10 year old guide dog, she certainly covered double if not more than the 8 miles I walked.

She met other dogs, soaked in expecting passers-by and even enjoyed a sneaky empty ice-cream cone.

A new friend we were with commented “I thought guide dogs were always working and well behaved?”

Nope and Nope!

She wasn’t naughty, she was just ‘being a dog’

So, it’s not all work and actually when she has had a really good run it can actually improve her work.

It’s all about having a good work-life balance.

Sunglasses after sunset…

Spring is in full flow; with frosty mornings and the lighter evenings it is as if there are more hours in the day; or rather it is the illusion that more daylight creates. It is wonderful for lifting the mood after what felt like an even longer than usual winter considering much of it was spent in lockdown or local restrictions because of the continuing covid pandemic.

Spring and summer evenings extend the opportunity for me to get out for a walk. Recently I have deliberately headed out as the sun has begin to set to experience the lowering light levels; ensuring I am home before it actually gets dark as this is when my sight changes dramatically.

Part of my sight condition is ‘night blindness’ which for me means that any lights that are on are glaring and sometimes even painful to look at. While the light they cast is actually totally lost on me as I would be lucky to see my own hand in front of my face. It is a time when Fizz really has to work; which over the years together she has learnt to do. She will even pause on the step up a curb when its dark as apposed to daylight when she will just step straight up. (which has on more recent occasions seen me trip) yet in the dark, she does this without being asked.

Today, due to circumstance I found myself heading out for our evening walk AFTER the sun had gone down, it wasn’t really dark, but dark enough for the street lights to be on. Having been a beautifully sunny day I found myself with my sunglasses sat on the top of my head; so took the opportunity to test something out.

I have previously sat in a friends car (when we could do that sort of thing) and put my sunglasses on to help reduce the ‘dazzle’ I was getting from oncoming cars when it was dark, although I was sat still and didn’t need to actually concentrate on my surroundings. Tonight however was different, I was walking with Fizz, all be it on a route we both know well. It may sound silly, but I felt nervous, anxious even.

But it was just a pair of sunglasses, I could always take them off again, only (other than to capture this photo) I didn’t. The reduction in ‘dazzle’ from oncoming cars was AMAZING and it wasn’t just cars that I found it worked with; the reduction in glare from the street lights was also really good.

Photograph taken looking through sunglasses, to show the lighter sky and street light outside the sunglasses, with a darker tint and glare reduction though the sunglasses

The reduction in what I could see was affected, however only in the way that I had lost the shadow definition, however with Fizz guiding me I felt comfortable with it all. Fizz quickly picked up that I was being more vocal with my commands and as we walked further she adjusted to the change in light levels too.

So, from now on it will be sunglasses after sunset as well as before.

Time to let you in on a little secret

Canary Wharf Roundell with Guide Dog sat in front of it in her guide dog harness.

Since the beginning of April 2020, when it became clear that lock-down was here to stay I joined an online virtual challenge called ‘Race at Your Pace’. Being that both running and cycling require the input of a sighted guide I joined the walking challenge and between April and 31st December I clocked up 612mi.

BUT WHY?

As a form of training for a challenge I hope to complete now we are in 2021. Which I originally wanted to call ‘my Womble Challenge’, in that I shall be walking the London Underground Overground (cue cheesy 1970s tv theme tune) However, as this is a different version of The Tube Challenge I completed in 2019 I have setted for

‘Tinks Tube Challenge, a 2021 Twist’

As it was “Tinks Tube Challenge” that saw me travel to and through all 270 tube stations on The London Underground with world record holder Andy James, in under 19 hours on this day two years ago.

However this time, (thankfully) there is no time challenge or running. Instead each line I walk will enable me to see London on the surface. Take in the sights, the sounds and the smells. And with the length of the walks vary from just 32 minutes to 2.5 days. (as i will be stopping and sleeping) if it is a part of london covered by the underground network it will form part of the walk. I plan to walk to each tube station on each line; this will see me visit most stations more than once over the full eleven walks.

With Kings Cross St Pancras being the staiton I will visit the most.

This is not a new challenge, there have been variations of this challenge achieved over the last few decades; it was actually reading Mark Masons’ book ‘Walk the Lines, The London Underground OVERGROUND’ That inspired me to take on this mammoth challenge.

Which if TfL run to time will see me complete 272 stations with the new Northern Line extension out to Batttersea Power Station.

As with my previous tube challenge I am completing this as part of my fundraising to name a life-changing guide dog Victoria. 2020 would have been ideal for this as the puns relating to sight and 2020 are in abundance, however the Covid pandemic had other ideas and foolishly lead me to believe that by now we would be out the other side and returning to some normality instead of (again) being in a form of lockdown. (Oh how niave of me!)

So instead of launching this challenge today on the 2nd Anniversary of me completing the original challenge as I had planned; by starting out on my first walk I can only write about it here and instead build the tension.

2021 for me has already started with BIG BIRTHDAY, so it is only fitting that I give back to others. Guide dogs are and have been a big part of my life since 2009. So it is in this monumental year for me age wise I return the support, while doing something that I am actually really looking forward to.

Given the distances covered on each walk, there will be very few that I am able to complete with Fizz by my side, instead I have a team of volunteers to support me as sight guides and my faithful cane.

Given the current restrictions and dangers to everyone with this pandemic I feel it is a much more realistic expectation that I probably won’t get to physically start my challenge until the latter part of the year. So, for now I will continue to train, working particularly on increasing my fitness and stamina; so that when it is safe to do so I will be good to go.

…. On a side note I have also updated my fundraising page too, which can be found HERE

Nope, No tears even though we are in Tiers

With covid cases again on the increase and new strains popping up it is no real surprise that as a Country, most of England has entered into stronger restrictions as of December 26th.

For me, I wanted to ensure I didn’t repeat some of the ‘blind fails’ that I incurred during both the first Lockdown and Lockdown 2.0. While being able to increase my walking, for both fitness and stamina.

So, my Christmas present to myself was two new cane tips. Sadly one won’t actually arrive until January, however I am off to a great start with the first.

I introduce you to my Ambutech High Milage Rolling Ball Tip.

Ambutech High milage roller tip on the end of red and white cane, with my hand to the right for size comparison

Measuring 5.1cm it is significantly larger than my previous tip as well as feeling much heavier. My cane is a slimline graphite long cane which gives it more ‘bouncy’ and initially on adding the tip felt like it was ‘dragging’ but as I have got used to and learned to release my grip on my cane handle it has got easier.

As for tip itself ….. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!! A long 2mi walk and not a single ‘cane jab’ or it catching on anything. I deliberately walked a route where the paving slabs are cracked, the path has roots in it and where I have previously experienced many a ‘cane jab’ or catch.

So, as the title suggest. “Nope, no tears even though we are in tiers.”

Loosing Control or rather Rethinking that Control

Loosing control is just two words, saying them is the easy part; actually allowing myself to do them is a whole other story.

Control can mean many things to many people; for me control it is organising, planning and reducing the opportunity for me to feel ‘out of control’ in a situation, because when it comes to my sight and hearing loss I don’t have any control.

It is why I have been known to walk a virtual route of a new area with the help of Google Maps and Google Streetview. It is also how I can appear confident and independent; When actually most of the time I am neither, I am just simply prepared.

And for the most part, this tactic works.

Then……. Then I do something I never expected to feel out of control with and so ensued a moment of vulnerability. (Or rather a good 10 minutes) and I find myself overrun by emotion.

What was I doing? I hear you ask.

I was out for a bike ride on my tandem, something I have done many times before, in an area that I know incredibly well. Which maybe is why it hit me so hard.

We were on a cycle path, not the main road, yet as we approached a set of traffic lights the turn felt wrong, so I tried to stop it, which anyone who has ever been on the back of a tandem will tell you is damn near impossible!

So we wobbled, my feet came off of the pedals as did my pilots and although we didn’t come off the bike completely it could easily be classed as a ‘Near Miss’

Hence my upset and emotion.

Thankfully my pilot knows me well and in the middle of this simply said:

You’re in control of what you get to enjoy and feel relaxed about. You control the route we take, I’ll help with the rest.

We do all this as a team. I’ll brake, change gears and steer, I’ll keep us safe.

The worst part of it for me was that because I had panicked, because I had lost control, my pilot could have got hurt and when I said this mid snotty-sob he simply replied:

But I didn’t…. WE had it covered.

Which made me realise that as a team…. We did.

Because of my lack of sight and hearing, it only goes to follow that my balance and perspective is greatly altered. It was this that had sent me into my moment of panic. And from that point on, on the ride I simply listen to my pilot, pedalled harder on the up-hill and let the bike coast on the down-hill. All while trying to enjoy the view.

And now, back with both feet firmly on the ground I can reflect. And realise that this was an inevitable, because I needed to accept that being on a tandem IS a team effort, No matter how good my sight, even I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. So rather than look at it as a ‘byproduct’ of my disability it is time for me to rethink cycling. Cycling is something I CAN do; I just CHOOSE to do it a part of a team.

After all, the benefit of being on a tandem is that you are only 50% responsible for getting up those steep hills!

Is Zoom the 2020 equivalent to Marmite?


Love it or hate it; one thing that we have all learnt during the pandemic is how to use the video conferencing app Zoom.

From conferences and Pub quizzes to Weddings, Zoom has enabled us to connect even when physically we can’t.

For me, with my visual impairment it was an incredibly steep learning curve to understand how to use it to its full potential.

I have hosted many a meeting with friends, colleagues and even the cub scouts who are all unable to meet face to face at this time.

When ‘Share screen’ goes on my own camera goes off. Then I can sit with my nose up close to actually see the content.

For conferences it has enabled me to join in when if I was at an event in person I may struggle due to the amount of people, the noise level and even at times the flashing lights. This all disappears on Zoom.

For other meetings it has enabled me to be in the comfort of my own home, rather than making a lengthy journey across the country, which in turn has enabled many more people to join the meeting who may have been restricted before due to location or time.

And as I said above, just Last weekend, I had the privilege of watching two wonderful friends celebrate and marrying each other; After the original ceremony was postponed at the very beginning of the pandemic.

Even though it was via zoom I dressed for the occasion, following the guidance that the couple had previously shared as their ceremony took place in a Mosque.

But why did I like this via zoom so much? I hear you ask.

The answers are very simple.

Because I was actually able to SEE my friends as they spoke. It was set up so that each of those within the Mosque that read out, sung or spoke were on a different camera to the couple.

Again it enabled me to momentarily turn off my own camera so that I could look closely at the happy couple and see the beautiful decorations that were set out before them and also the beautiful outfits they were wearing.

As this ceremony took place in a Mosque, had we been able to meet in person then this is where we would have continued the celebrations with food afterwards. Obviously there is no way to convey this via a video conferencing app, however it did mean that I was able to see up close as the happy couple cut into their amazing wedding cake.

Yes, I would have much rather have been able to be there with them in person to celebrate. To hug them both. However, for me because of my sight and hearing issues I feel that I was actually able to enjoy their special day more, because of the closeness of the camera to them, because of the way it was set up that when someone else spoke it flicked over to their camera. (Were I there in person I would have no way to see who was talking)

Via zoom for me, there is also no worry of the travel, the hotel arrangements, the concerns over coping without my guide dog, among other anxieties.

And more importantly it meant that two of my wonderful friends were able to join together and start this new chapter of their lives; as a partnership.

There will come a time when we can meet together, gather and celebrate. And that is most certainly a day I am looking forward to, sadly though I feel we are a long way off such at time at the moment.

I had used zoom prior to the pandemic, but only for meetings and the odd training.

Yet now, it is an integral part of my life and for me personally it helps me to overcome some of the issues that could hold me back because of my sight and hearing loss.

So, just as I love marmite I think I can honestly say, I am a big fan of Zoom. I know it isn’t for everyone, my own son for example absolutely hates it. But then he isn’t a fan or Marmite either !

Eek …. 40 is fast approaching

As my youngest has recently celebrated turning 10, it makes me aware that the next birthday is our family is mine.

My birthday has often been a Love-Hate subject for me, being at the beginning of January it’s always been pretty rubbish timing. (Better than it could have been, I believe my due date was December 21st)

As a child I often got money for my birthday, which mixed with what were True-January sales I got so much more for my money. However since adulthood as much as I would love to celebrate and socialise with friends I am acutely aware that January is a VERY long month.

Many often joke that January is actually much longer than its 31 days, which in reference to paydays is certainly true; as it can be as much as Seven weeks rather than Five.

However, a real plus for me is that restaurants and pubs are generally much quieter for these exact same reasons! Meaning that I can enjoy myself without the worry of additional difficulties because of noise, crowds and party-type lighting. (Hence the Love-Hate)

Having my youngest 10 years ago meant that I was a very tired newish mum for my thirtieth as it was a very different experience to when I had my eldest because of the changes in my sight.

Lots of people have started asking what I want to do the celebrate.

And honestly, with the world still in the middle of these ‘unprecedented times’ and with so many restrictions in place, there is a distinct possibly that even if I started RIGHT NOW….. I would not achieve what I want to by the end my thirties with a ‘Forty things before I am Forty Bucket list’

So, the question is; do I make it ‘Forty things to do as I turn Forty’?

Or as one friend suggested….. “Celebrating beginning my Naughty Forties in Style”

And if that is the case, What do I do?

I do have a pretty big ‘challenge’ planned for 2021, which is currently being tweaked and trained for. Which, linking to my previous challenges (Gherkin 2014, Cheesegrater 2017 and my Tube Challenge 2019) will be following the London theme.

This Challenge will most certainly help me to achieve my fundraising target to name a guide dog pup and future life-changer. Which would be an AMAZING way to celebrate starting my “Naughty-Forties.”

With the exception of this year (thanks lockdown!) I have in recent years taken to a solo travel adventure, so it is only fitting that that would be included. But I would also like to do something with my children, with friends and with those I now come to call family.

I do also like the idea of celebrating in several different ways. I’m not thinking of a big party; actually I can’t think of anything worse! Rather many smaller and different experiences that will be much easier to adapt to include my different circles of friends and family.

It goes without saying there will be Climbing, Hiking, Tandem Riding, London, Trains, Beaches, Cocktails and Cake …. Plenty of Cake!

But as for particulars….. This is where you my reader comes in. What would you do if you were me?

Please comment below and help me make this an amazing and incredible year to look forward to.

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