There’s a new Visually Impaired Persons Tag doing the rounds at the moment, initiated by My Blurred World and Life of a Blind Girl, and Fashioneyesta has also responded to it at the time of writing. They’re all superb posts by superb bloggers, so they’re worth checking out. Although I’ve not been tagged myself, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and join in anyway, as I do think they’re great questions. So hopefully nobody will mind. 🙂
The questions are divided into a few sections:
Beauty & Fashion
Ok, so I can’t say much about beauty. I don’t have a special regime there and I don’t use makeup. But hey, I’m handsome enough already, right? 😉 Still, I do wear clothes like everyone else of course, so I can still apply most of these questions to myself.
1. When preparing an outfit, do you have your clothes set out in a specific way so that it makes it easier for you to choose an outfit yourself?
I do keep clothes of a similar nature together, but that’s nothing unusual to what most people do I’m sure. Smarter clothes that I wear for work are separate to my casual wear for instance – e.g. my black socks for work are in a separate drawer to the white socks I wear with my trainers, so I can go straight to what I need without digging through a whole pile of them. My work trousers are grouped on hangers on one side of the closet, while casual trousers are on the other.
I like wearing cargo trousers when I go out because of all their pockets, given that I’ll be carrying my phone, wallet, monocular (a small telescope for reading signs and things) and sunglasses. I don’t want to be wearing a coat to carry stuff in if it’s warm, nor do I want to carry a bag around unnecessarily. I could wear my monocular around my neck, but I only do that if I’m using it a lot.
I loved the suit I wore when I was best man at my friend’s wedding last year too. The lady who helped me, the other best man and the groom was also very kind and helpful. And she was also visually impaired in fact, but it didn’t stop her putting together great outfits for us. As people like Emily Davison and many other blind bloggers have proved, you don’t need to be able to see to appreciate fashion and be an expert on it. But I’m certainly not an expert on it personally!
2. When you want to buy new clothes, do you shop online on your own, or go shopping with someone?
I prefer to shop in person, getting help from someone in the store if need be, because I can see and feel the clothes and try them on. For instance, that was really handy when I got a new pair of shoes for work recently, as I had to try on a few pairs before I found shoes that fitted me well. The assistant was very friendly, patient and helpful, measuring my feet, getting shoes for me to try on, and giving her views as I was walking up and down the store with each pair on. She didn’t just try and sell me the first pair I had or the pair that was the most expensive – she made sure I was absolutely happy and had a pair of shoes that were as comfortable as possible.
That said, I live in a small town where there are barely any shops of interest to me, so I do just tend to buy clothes online as and when I need them. I tend to stick to the retailers I know as a result, as I know what sizes to get from them. So I’m not very adventurous when it comes to fashion, I tend to play it safe and simple. However, I am hoping to relocate soon, so if all goes to plan I’ll be in a much better place with much more numerous and interesting places to shop, not just for clothes but for all sorts of things, in person rather than online.
Shopping on the internet is brilliant for convenience – we do big grocery shops that way for instance, as it’s easy to go through our favourites and add to the basket from there. Plus I buy all my DVDs online, as it’s easier to quickly search for the titles I want rather than hunting around a physical shop that has a much more limited selection. But for things like clothes, furniture, and new technology like smartphones and TVs, etc, it’s much better to shop in person where possible so I can see things up close and try them out. Pictures on a home computer screen can only tell you so much, if you can even see them properly to begin with.
3. When you go shopping with friends/family is there anything that you ask them to do for you to help choose clothes/makeup you might like?
Well the makeup part doesn’t apply to me, but for clothing it’s useful to have someone with me. They will help me to find things, as it will be difficult for me to know exactly where in the store to go, and they can spot things at a distance far better than I can. Having to hunt through racks of items to find the right size is also difficult, as I have to lean in and look closely at the size labels – whereas if I’m with someone who can see, they can flick through the items on their hangers more quickly. Stores often have different coloured labels for different sizes, but unless you happen to know what size each colour relates to (which I don’t), it’s pretty useless. Even more so if a red label has black text on it, so I struggle to read it even up close.
They’ll also be able to give their opinion as to whether something looks good on me and fits me well, which I find really useful. I’ll know if it feels comfortable of course, but I won’t necessarily notice if something’s a bit too long or if I’ve done something up incorrectly. I’m not necessarily a good judge of whether the person I can see in the mirror looks good or not either, and I can’t look behind me to see how I look from the back. So having the extra pairs of eyes to help me out is great.
4. Do you find it difficult to pick out an outfit due to your visual impairment?
Not particularly. As I said above, I keep things organised in a way that makes it easy to pick out what I want, and there’s nothing particularly adventurous in my wardrobe. As long it’s comfortable and I look ok, I’m happy. I can’t claim to have any fashion sense beyond that! It’s an area I should work on really, though I would need help there to know what really looks best on me and what styles suit me.
5. Do you find online shopping accessible?
Generally, yes. I can see well enough that I don’t need to use speech systems like VoiceOver, so I’m able to look at the website and figure out where things are. That said, it still depends on the design of the website or the app they’ve created, as some are much more user-friendly than others. For instance, I like Amazon a lot because I’m very familiar with their layout and it works well, but the redesign Marks & Spencer did for their website a while back is frustrating, because it doesn’t render properly in my browsers and it’s much harder to find and read things.
6. Does your visual impairment stop you from applying makeup? If so, why?
This doesn’t apply to me. But I’ll keep the question in the list for any ladies, and indeed any men as appropriate, that want to answer it.
7. How do you organise your clothing/beauty products?
I’ve answered this in question 1. I keep all my clothing organised by type in my wardrobe and drawers – casual wear and work/smart clothes are kept separate, and within those areas things like shirts, t-shirts, trousers, etc are kept together accordingly. I can see colours well enough, so I don’t bother sorting by that as well (e.g. I don’t keep all my blue t-shirts together or anything like that).
8. Do you have any kind of mobility aid? If so, what is it?
No. I can see well enough to get around on my own for the most part. That doesn’t mean I don’t bump into things or trip up sometimes, but I usually manage fine without an aid.
9. Do you prefer using this or to be sighted guided?
I’m happy to be sighted-guided when necessary, which happens sometimes. A common example of this is if I’m going into a bar or restaurant with someone, when it’s much darker inside compared to outside. It takes my eyes longer to adjust than for normal people, so sometimes I’ll have to hold on to my friend’s arm or shoulder just to make sure I don’t get lost or trip up or bump into anything. I am effectively blind for a few brief moments in situations like that. Even when my eyes have adjusted, it won’t be perfect either, so I may still need some help depending on how well-lit the place is. Other examples where I need a guide might be when I’m in unfamiliar places and/or there are hazards like steps that I can’t see clearly.
10. If you use a cane, do you feel self-conscious whilst using it?
I don’t use a cane. I used to use a short cane in school, because the mobility team there trained me to use one. And it made sense at the time, being a visually impaired child and thus at greater risk of being harmed on the roads if I wasn’t careful enough. But once I was allowed to stop using it, I did so. I can see enough not to need it, so it doesn’t help me – holding a short white stick in front of me serves no real purpose other than to be a label telling others what I am, so it’s just an inconvenience to carry it around. If my sight got to the point where I needed a cane or a guide dog, which isn’t beyond possibility in the future, then I would consider my options to see what was best for me. But right now it’s not something I need.
11. When it comes to transport, do you go on the bus, train etc. by yourself?
Yes. I have a pass for the buses which allows me to use them for free after 9:30am, while for the trains I have a Disabled Persons Railcard, which gives me (and a friend/carer travelling with me) a third off train fares.
I’m happy using either, though it can be harder to plan journeys on buses compared to trains. For buses it can be difficult to find out what bus to get on and where the stop is to catch it, and then knowing when to get off and where to go from there. Whereas finding train stations and planning routes to and from them feels a lot easier. But train stations often aren’t close enough to where you want to go, of course. So journeys can be a mixture of trains and buses, and even taxis sometimes.
The internet helps a lot with this of course. Bus and train timetables are readily available online from the company’s websites, or through sites like Traveline that combine multiple modes of transport. So a bit of online planning first often makes things a lot easier.
12. How do you feel about travelling independently?
I love it. It’s great being able to get out and about by myself, and I don’t want to rely on others unless I really have to. It can take a bit of extra planning than it would for ordinary-sighted people, but it’s worth it. Advances in technology have really helped me to be a lot more independent too, especially when planning journeys to unfamiliar places. Looking up bus and train timetables as mentioned above is one such example.
Another online resource I use a lot is Google Street View, on their Maps site. I can’t just be told the names of roads to use, as it’s impossible for me to read them unless I stand on every street corner and use my monocular to look at them. However, I can recognise distinct landmarks and the general layout of the streets.
So, by using Google Maps and Street View, I’m able to take a virtual walk along the route first, and familiarise myself with the directions. I won’t memorise it frame by frame, but I will pick out important elements that help me recognize where I’m going – distinctive buildings, street corners, grassy areas, trees, road crossings, etc. Whatever jumps out at me as being significant basically.
So instead of thinking that I need to look for, say, Kings Avenue, I’ll tell myself that I need to keep going until I’ve passed a zebra crossing and a set of 4 terraced houses – which tells me I’m going the right way – and then turn down the street that has a tall block of flats with big, wide balconies on the front. If friends of mine are giving me directions to somewhere nearby, they will try and describe things in a similar way e.g. take the second street on the left, where there’s a pub on the corner, and the place you want is just by the bus stop.
Now that I have an iPhone as well, once I’m at the location I’m also able to use Google Maps again to guide me. Not only will it show me the map on screen, with a clear line to show the direction I’m going in, but it will talk to me as well, telling me when to turn in a new direction. I used this when visiting my friend for his wedding last year, so I could find my way from the hotel to his flat and the church when I needed to. That’s one of many areas where smartphones are extremely useful, giving you a guide that you can call upon at any time to help you.
13. Do/did you attend a mainstream or specialist school?
I went to a mainstream school briefly to begin with but, after getting no support from the teachers and being bullied by some of the other kids, I was swiftly moved to a specialist school for the visually impaired. It was the right decision, as I did very well academically, made a lot of very good friends and my initially shattered confidence grew massively over the years I was there. I did go to a mainstream college though, which worked out fine. I did still have additional help with my coursework back at the school during that time, as they had a college section too, but my actual classes were taken in the mainstream college with everyone else.
14. If you had a choice, which one would you prefer to go to?
If the mainstream environment had been more supportive and helpful, I would have happily stayed there. But I also loved the specialist school I went to – everyone was wonderful there and they work so hard to help people like myself and many others with far more severe disabilities. So it’s hard to say definitively that one is better than the other, it strikes me as a very personal thing. Some people will need the additional assistance that only a specialist school can provide, but others will be fine in mainstream education.
15. Overall, was your experience of education as a visually impaired person mostly positive or negative? How could it have been improved?
My brief spell in mainstream was entirely negative, as I was bullied and couldn’t achieve anything in class, because the staff simply didn’t understand how to help and support someone like me. Training is vital there, to ensure the teachers demonstrate respect and compassion, and are willing to communicate and be adaptive and flexible, to ensure that everyone is able to understand and join in the lessons together. I expect it’s better today than it was when I was a youngster in the 80s & 90s, but even so, there’s probably more that can be done.
Being in a specialist school was quite the opposite though, it was very positive and helpful and worthwhile. Things have worked out very well as a consequence, as I’ve had a good, solid career for over a decade since leaving the education system. I did still have a small problem with bullying at the specialist school very early on, but that was due to me being shy and vulnerable after my mainstream experience. And as I got to know the people who teased me back then, I came to understand why they behaved the way they did and we did actually become friends. So, that bumpy bit of the road aside, there were never any serious problems, it was just a very friendly, supportive and comfortable environment to be in.
16. Did you carry on into further/higher education? If so, how did you feel about this transition? If not, why?
After passing my A-Levels in Maths, IT and Economics, I did go to university, and came out with a 2:1 degree in Accounting & Finance. It was hard work, because there was a huge amount of material to read and a lot of coursework to complete. But it was well worth the effort, and the staff at the uni were very helpful. I was given electronic or paper versions of slides used in lectures, for instance, large print versions of worksheets, extra time for the exams, etc. Fellow students were supportive and friendly as well, so it wasn’t difficult to get on with people and do group assignments with them.
It all paid off, because I got a good job soon after leaving uni, and I’m still doing it now, many years later. It’s not in the subject I studied though – it was really a couple of modules within the course that helped me catch the eye of the employer in question, combined with the general fact that I had a degree in the first place. It was also a position that interested me, and I was able to prove my potential and ability to pick things up through a bit of initial work experience. And they’ve been very supportive of my sight problem. So it all worked out well. I won’t go into details, but I’m basically an IT developer, making extensive use of basic and specialised office software, and doing a bit of programming in languages like Python. It’s varied and interesting, that’s for sure.
17. What is your opinion on assistive technology for blind and visually impaired people, do you think it is vital?
As the guy from the Fast Show would say, it’s brilliant and fantastic! It gives a lot of help and enables a lot of independence for so many people. Not just the blind and visually impaired, but people with all sorts of disabilities. Not every device, app or website is fully accessible, so there is still much work to be done. But a lot of great progress has been made, especially when you can now get iPhones and other models with accessibility features built in, so we know these things are possible. It’s just that some companies need to be pushed to make their products and services accessible to everyone – at the very least it shows respect for the disabled, plus the disabled community is a huge and valuable market for any business to tap into. Ignoring us can only be to your detriment.
18. Do you use assistive technology?
Yes. I use adaptive screen settings on computers and my phone, to zoom in on the screen and to turn the colours negative so there’s no white backgrounds to glare at me. I also have a CCTV magnification unit at work that I use to read things sometimes, especially when copying from a piece of paper to the screen, as I can divide the screen in half with the paper document on one side and my software package (e.g. Word) on the other half.
19. What assistive technology/specialist apps could you not live without?
Magnification software, allowing me to change the screen colours and zoom in, is essential for me. It makes everything a lot easier and less straining on the eyes. Programs like Google Maps and Apple Maps are also incredibly useful for finding my way around, as well as Google Street View, which I talked about earlier. I also use Readdle’s Scanner Pro app on my iPhone for scanning things in, so I can bring them up large on my computer screen too for easier reading at my leisure e.g. booklets in CDs or DVDs that have small print.
I don’t use speech output, though I am tempted to try Voiceover and other apps I’ve seen blind people mention, out of sheer curiosity to see how I would get on as a completely novice user. Could be interesting to blog about.
20. If you could recommend one piece of technology for a blind or visually impaired person what would it be and why?
The bloggers I linked to at the very start of this post all cited Apple products in their answer to this and, at the risk of being repetitive or sounding like an Apple fanboy, I have to agree. I have an iMac desktop computer and an iPhone and they both work very nicely together. Like any smartphone, the iPhone shouldn’t be thought of as a phone, not really. It’s a pocket-sized computer you can take everywhere with you that just happens to be capable of phonecalls as well. It has speech, magnification and other accessibility features built into it, it’s purposefully designed to be simple to use, and there are a huge number of apps you can get, many of which are free or very cheap, to make your life easier.
There may well be phones on Android and other systems that are good in these ways as well, I just don’t have the experience to comment fairly on them. But finally getting an iPhone last year has made things so much easier and more interesting for me. They may not be cheap, but you get what you pay for considering what they’re capable of.
21. What’s one piece of assistive technology that you’d really like?
At the moment I can’t think of anything I particularly want. I can get through life very comfortably with what I have. And where my iPhone’s concerned, it’s still relatively new to me compared to some people who have owned such devices for years. So there are probably apps out there that I’d love but haven’t discovered yet.
I know self-driving cars are in development, but I’m still not sure if I’d want one. I don’t need one to get around, as public transport is fine, and probably much cheaper. And what would you do when, as with any computer or mechanical device, it breaks down? A rare occurrence hopefully, but it will never be beyond possibility that things go wrong with them, and I wouldn’t be able to manually drive it anywhere myself. I’m sure we’ll see lots of them on the roads eventually, but it’s not an essential thing I’m looking for in my life.
22. Do you mainly have sighted friends or blind/visually impaired friends?
I have a mixture of both. When I was younger it used to be predominantly visually impaired and blind friends, but I have a lot of sighted friends as well these days, particularly through my work.
23. If you have blind/visually impaired friends, how did you meet them?
I met them at the specialist school for the visually impaired that I attended. The people I consider my best friends are from there.
24. Do sighted peers understand your disability and try to help you?
They do. It takes new people a little time to fully understand how much I can or can’t see, or they may be nervous about what they can or can’t do or say around me, which is understandable, but they’re fine once they get to know me a little bit.
So yes, everyone I know is very respectful and supportive. This is particularly true of my work colleagues, with whom I really feel a respected and valuable part of the team, and not just someone who’s there to make up the numbers for equality assessment purposes. They help me when I ask for it, but they don’t force help on me. And they don’t just give me easy jobs to make my life simple, I get difficult jobs and problems to solve just like they do. It is genuinely a very equal environment.
25. What’s one thing you wish your friends understood about your disability?
I don’t think people fully understand exactly what I can or can’t see, because it is hard to describe it to them accurately. When you’re used to normal sight, it’s difficult to imagine anything less than that unless you wear special glasses to give some sense of it. Even then it won’t exactly be what I see. And to be fair, I don’t know what 20/20 vision is like either – and glasses won’t give me that experience, so I’ll never know.
Other than that, as per the Scope campaign that inspired me to start blogging in the first place, I don’t want people to feel or act awkward around me. Just be yourself and be respectful. You don’t have to worry about offending me or anything like that. You can offer to help, just don’t force it on me. And I don’t mind you asking sensible questions to find out more about me either, whether it be about my disability or anything else. Just be normal, because I’m normal too. It’s only my eyes that are messed up, the rest of me’s fine. 🙂
26. Who do you tag to do this tag next?
Some have been tagged by others already, but they’re worth mentioning anyway:
And that’s it. Thank you to My Blurred World and Life Of A Blind Girl for starting the tag in the first place, and thank you to anyone who’s read my responses to it. Feel free to share the questions and answer them yourself. 🙂