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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.

How do the blind, date?

Since locking down in March 2020 because of the global pandemic, I like many have done a little evaluating of my life.

I am headstrong, (stubborn) fiercely independent and actually enjoy my time by myself. However I have those times when I don’t want to do it all alone.

Dating for anyone can be a minefield, its all about an online presence; dating apps and even Facebook have got in on it. After all it is a multi-million pound industry in the U.K alone. It is where swiping left or right appears to be the way you decide. Then there are time wasters. Those are often only after one thing. Thankfully within a message or two these become obvious. Even me as a blind gal is now getting the hang of spotting them!

It appears even for those who have perfect vision, the days of locking eyes across a crowded room are gone. You can now even do online speed dating, where you don’t even have to get out of your chair; or worry about having garlic breathe.

The route I decided to take was semi-old fashioned. I got chatting online to a guy who was in a group on Facebook for mutual interests. We spoke virtually and then over the phone before actually meeting in person.

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time or who are connected with me on Facebook will know I post regular updates, posts and photos of my adventures. I am very much real. Many people have met me in real life, I have also gone through a very thorough evaluation to get my sight diagnosis, DWP disability benefits and my guide dogs.

Which has probably just given you a heads up to the direction that this date took…

I chose the venue, one I would feel comfortable in and also, if things went well we could enjoy a walk along the beach after. I arrived a little early, however was pleased to realise he was already at the bar.

We had spoken about my guide dog, he had asked questions about my sight and we had become Facebook friends, so he could see for himself. He was a gentleman and got our drinks before we sat down at a quiet end of the bar.

This was when things went very quickly south. (to put it politely)

My guide dog Fizz only made the briefest of hellos before laying down. She didn’t even wait for me to take off her harness before she settled. And following a recent conversation with a friend about dating and dogs intuition this should have been enough for me to stand up and leave; I however thought she may be sulking because we were so near the beach and she hadn’t been in the water.

Not taking off her harness did have its benefits though.

It would appear; despite several online conversations, telephone calls, facetime calls and my general online presence being true to myself, about my ‘blind fails’ and life with my guide dog; he was a little surprised when I actually walked in with my leading lady.

Obviously, writing this type of blog isn’t easy for me and there have been many re-writes; however I feel it is important to share this with you, as it may just stand as educational to some on how words can actually hurt more than sticks and stones. (as the childhood rhyme goes)

I am independent, I (partly) live my life to prove to myself that I can; that I am not solely defined by my disability and to help my children understand that life is to be lived, not purely existed. I will not apologise for that.

Wearing my sunglasses (being summer isn’t that what most people do?) and having a guide dog beside me apparently made my blindness too obvious! (so it began)

“You appear so outgoing and fabulous with the climbing, cycling (on a tandem) and solo adventures, but seriously how can you do any of it LIKE THAT?”

Was not a question I expected to be asked. And I think I managed to croak out “Pardon” before taking a rather large gulp of my drink.

“Well, I mean a real blind person couldn’t do any of that.”

At this point I finished my almost full pint, stood up, took Fizz’s harness and walked out.

I was about ten paces outside the pub when I heard an “excuse me miss” I turned around to be greeted by the barman. He had seen me finish my drink quickly and my sharp exit. He wanted to double check I was safe and if I needed any assistance. He told me that the man I was with had made no move to follow me and asked if I wanted him to walk me back into the pub by another door. I explained I was alright, just foolish and thanked him for his concern.

And then I reached out and spoke with a dear friend. She reminded me it was best to get this sort of rubbish out of the way quickly and that I didn’t need to waste anymore time on it.

I, like many with any disability have faced my fair share of people not understanding. I have been quizzed by strangers when I have used my phone or picked out my own shopping. I have also had people I believed to be close to me not understand.

Sight loss is a spectrum, it varies greatly and is not as simple as sighted or blind. Just as some who use a wheelchair can also walk, some registered blind (severely sight impaired) have some usable vision.

In all honesty, walking with a guide dog gives me a greater confidence than when I walk with my cane, she is a literal extension of my left arm that makes moving around appear effortless; even in a busy pub.

I have not yet undertaken a truly solo adventure, as I have always had my guide dogs with me, just as when I cycle I have a pilot on my tandem (I think riding it alone would look a little concerning!) and in the very same way that when I climb I also have a partner. I do much of ‘life’ with what I call blind hacks and tweaks. And as I have said before; I wont apologise for that.

This is one of those ‘chalk up to experience and move on’ moments.

It was not said as a compliment. Or as an admiration.

There has been no further contact and nobody has been blocked.

For now I am thinking of going ‘old-school as regards dating. I will hold out for that ‘eyes locking across a crowded room’ moment.

Oh wait…

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.”

Puzzling perceptions

Always one for challenging myself.

However, this challenge is on a totally different level than any other I have done before.

It’s not particularly physically challenging, rather mentally challenging and reliant heavily on a sensitive touch. (A skill I am working on improving)

What is this challeng? I hear you ask….

It’s a puzzle, not as in I am teasing you all; but rather an actual puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle that is.

With my lack of sight, the actual picture on the puzzle is redundant. So, for this reason I have chosen one made up of butterflies, in varying colours and shades, to give a finished puzzle that is almost a rainbow.

I will be honest, it’s been hard work. There has been tears and just to get to this stage has taken many a late night.

It all started with finding the edge pieces. Then out came my magnifier; so that I could separate the pieces by their main colour, which is easier said then done as several of the pieces morph into the next colour.

So, for now this is where I am.

Image of a white board with all the edges of the colourful jigsaw pieces on it.  Sat in the centre is a tray with the separated colours in.

London sans guide dog.

I am just heading home after an amazing evening at the theatre.

With my dear friend as my sighted guide I left my leading lady Fizz with a friend for a doggy-sleep-over. 

With work commitments it was literally up to London for the show and home again, not really ideal given the wintery weather. Also I would not be alone until on my own home territory; Fizz deserves to be able to put her paws up and relax.

There are few positives about me going out with my cane against going out with Fizz, however one of the biggest makes me act a bit like a kid in a sweatshop, which would be …………….. Travelling on escalators!!

No need to hunt for the stairs, or find the lift. I can literally get swept along with the crowd at London Victoria and (remembering to stand on the right hand side) travel up and down the series of moving stairs.

No walking out of the station; into the rain to find the obscurely placed lift that has only been an addition in recent years.

My friend was born and brought up in London, so she was a brilliant guide. However, London theatre district on a Friday evening is not a place for the faint hearted!

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t make the odd ‘deliberate’ cane tap with Mr and Mrs Arrogant. (Fellow long cane users will know where I am coming from on this)

However we both survived.

We enjoyed the comedy.

I succeeded in making my friend laugh with my ability to act as if I were Moses, parting the oncoming crowds as if they were the sea.

And all while not having to think of where the nearest patch of grass or earth around a tree was.

It isn’t often I would venture into the capital without my guiding girl Fizz, but given the times of the travel, not leaving London until just before midnight it was much more important to ensure Fizz’s needs were met….. While pleasing another of my friends as Fizz went to hers for a sleepover and a play date with her pet dog.

Time REALLY DOES Fly when you are having fun

Fizz sat in front of a Mini the Minx statue on the street in Dundee

As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.

This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.

However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.

This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.

Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.

For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)

I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…

Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.

I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!

This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.

(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.

I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!

When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone

You turn your dog around. Right where you are!

My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.

Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.

If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.

And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.

I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.

Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.

And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.

Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.

Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.

She has been my rock.

She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.

It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.

And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.

Changing Perceptions

I am in the midst of working on my 2020 challenge, but in a bid to let Fizz work and for me to get a change of scenery we popped into town.

But not before I packed a book I am reading at the moment. An actual hard covered book with pages as not all books are produced equal and come with an audio version.

There was nothing to tempt me in the sales, so off to Caffè Nero we headed. (Other coffee shops are available)

Coffee ordered, seat located and Fizz happily hoovering crumbs; I reached for my book. Realising that in my eagerness to get out I had forgotten to pack my magnifier. No problem though, I could always just use the magnifier on my phone.

My book is fascinating, but all the will in the world I can’t hold it, my phone and my coffee cup all at the same time. So I pop my book and phone down to enjoy some coffee and give my eyes a brief break.

When I hear

“Dad, I didn’t realise blind people could read?”

From a young girl and as the saying goes ‘out of the mouths of babes’ I was not expecting to hear what came next.

In fact it was such a shock I actually found myself fighting back tears. But not in the way you may think.

“Blind people can do ANYTHING, they just have to tweak how a little. That lady is using her phone to magnify the words so they are big enough for her to read, it’s not the reading that’s the issue, it is just the seeing bit.”

His reply to his daughter was perfect. All too often parents and adults shush children when they comment on someone or something that is different. But in my experience it is simply because they do not know or understand, so rightfully they have questions. And they aren’t saying it to be embarrassing or rude.

I personally am happy to answer questions, especially from children as they are raw and genuine.

Yet on this occasion I don’t think I could have added anything to what the dad said; which was just as well because his explanation brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

Myth Bust: Blind Girls (and guys) Can Wear Contact Lenses

Just as someone who is severely sight impaired (blind) can and does often wear glasses; they are also able to (sometimes) wear contact lenses.

And why ?

For the same reason anyone else would wear contact lenses…. And for me, wearing contact lenses enables me to wear non-prescription sunglasses; among other reasons. (Vanity induced)

Until I wrote this post, it is part of me that very few know about.

Having had hard contact lenses when my sight was much more complicated as a teenager I did not get on with them.

Yet now with my simpler prescription I have been introduced to the world of soft monthly disposable lenses and for the past month or so I have been trialling them and find them so comfortable and easy to use and wear.

I thought I would write this post because earlier this week I was asked to ‘prove’ that I wore them. (By someone of authority-not just a random stranger)

This found me standing in the middle of a very busy London area, cleaning my hands, then moving and removing one of my lenses.

Which was followed by apologies and a long conversation about assumptions !! (And me getting a little bit told off for being ‘sarcastic’ )

My visual field is now at less than 3% and even with the best lenses I still can’t make out the top line of the eye chart, yet I still wish to make the most of my remaining vision and as I have found the days getting brighter (another part of my sight issue) I find contact lenses with wrap around (non-prescription) sunglasses help me with this.

I guess the point I am trying to make here is that it is the assumptions of others and people’s need for ‘proof’ of disability that needs to change; which is only going to happen by people asking questions (something most adults aren’t good at) and by people having conversations.

Those who know me, know I will happily have these conversations over and over again…. But I am just one person.

Myth Bust: This blind girl CAN shop!

Today I had a very rough encounter with a shop assistant. A very quizzical, judgemental encounter….. But rather than be negative, this got me thinking; unless you have a visual impairment or live within close proximity to someone who does, this may be a common misconception that anyone of my readers may also hold.

So here in a series of blogs I am going to look at busting some myths and misconceptions. Now as my blog is all about me (selfish I know!) what I write here works for me and is my point of view. Sight loss has a MAHOOSIVE variant in the many that it affects, so what works for me may not work for another. After all VIs (Visually Impaired) are unique Human beings with their own individual characteristics.

I personally love to shop! Muse through rails of clothes, feeling the different texture. I find some shops easier than others, I also have my staple ‘go to’ shops for my essentials.

When I trained with my guide dog (both of them) it was explained to me about how a dog works in certain environments. How a dog works in a supermarket for example is different to how they work in a clothes shop. And most of this is down to how we as humans move around in said shops.

Mostly because of how the shops themselves lay out their stock. A supermarket is quite regimented, with aisles and shelving. Where as clothes shops work with rails, displays and a more ‘hap-hazard’ movable approach.

So, when in a clothes shop I do not ‘work’ my guide dog Fizz. By this I mean I do not hold her harness handle and ask her to guide me around….. Manly because we wouldn’t get past the first row of clothes as the space between rails isn’t wide enough for Fizz to work properly!

So once inside a clothes store I will simply hold her lead, I will keep her on my left hand side and I will use my right hand to feel my way around the store, feeling out mostly for the ends of rails that could cause me issues if I bump them.

The stores I frequent regularly are used to me and Fizz, they even know that at times she will just lay down if I am spending too long looking at a section! After all she is a dog; she has no need or interest in clothes!

But when we go into a different shop (which doesn’t happen often) the other shoppers (as today) and the staff appear amazed by it.

Today’s encounter saw me being asked to leave. And this was because the store assistant believed that I was not VI and that my guide dog was just a pet. (Despite her harness and all her ‘uniform’ stating she is just that)

The store assistant had watched me move around, touching the clothes, but that my dog was just walking behind me. I did explain the main reason for this was because the space between the clothes was only just big enough for me to walk in, let alone Fizz to walk beside me.

I explained how I am trained with Fizz and how dropping harness means she doesn’t have to be responsible for trying to navigate in such an unnavigable space. To which the store assistant became very interested and was then asking questions out of interest not judgement.

Another point to make is that clothes shopping isn’t a rushed affair (not for me anyway) So I take my time, I can focus using what little sight I have left on navigating my way around. It’s not ideal and at times it doesn’t always work. But it is making the best of the situation.

For me, I prefer to shop alone for clothes, not be rushed or concerned with someone else getting bored or fed up with me. So this is how I work around it. It’s a quirk and it is following my guide dog training; which means I can’t be the only person who does this.

After all VIs shop, VIs go out alone and VIs above all else, have their own minds.

Personally I would not consider going clothes shopping using my long cane. As most clothes are hung on rails a cane could alert me to the floor being clear, but won’t alert me to the tops hanging from a rail (if the lighting isn’t right for me to see) And for this reason I do understand why some VIs prefer to shop with others.

So, I hope you have enjoyed this Mythe bust? Feel free to comment below on this subject or other myths you may have questions about.

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