An edited version of this post appears on the RNIB Connect website.
For this post, I thought I’d do something a bit like the TV show Room 101 (where celebrities nominate their pet hates to be locked away forever). It’s named after the torture chamber in George Orwell’s novel 1984, which is said to contain “the worst thing in the world”. We also had a Room 101 at my college which was rather memorable, because it was the examinations office! So that felt both appropriate and ominous!
So I wanted to do a post along those lines, using it as an excuse to list some things that frustrate or irritate me because I have a visual impairment. I’ve also made a Youtube video to accompany it. It’s not at all intended to be offensive or to upset anyone, and I’m not a negative or moaning person. I’m actually very positive, as I’ve hopefully conveyed throughout this blog. But it’s nice to get some things off your chest now and again, and to try and spread a bit of awareness in the process.
So here are 10 things that frustrate me as a visually impaired person, which either affect me directly or have an impact on my friends and family. I could think of more, but this is plenty. If you’ve done any of these things, please don’t feel bad about them. We all make mistakes without meaning to, that’s life and that’s fine. All I ask is that you take it on board for future reference.
1. Cars parked on the pavement
The RNIB and Guide Dogs have ongoing campaigns about this, and with good reason. If a car is parked on the pavement, people have to go into the road to pass it. And this is disorientating and dangerous not just for blind and partially sighted people, but also wheelchair users, people with other mobility problems and disabilities, elderly people, parents with babies in pushchairs, and so on.
Also, visually impaired people like me might not even know the car is there until they smack into it (which I’ve done on a dark evening before – it hurts!), because they’re naturally not expecting it. Even if they’re using a long cane, they still won’t necessarily notice if it happens to sweep the gap beneath it without touching the wheels.
Of course, there may be a few exceptions where drivers have no choice but to park in this way. But a lot of drivers are doing it when there isn’t any excuse. So it would be appreciated if drivers were more considerate about the obstruction they’re causing. At best it’s a nuisance, at worst it could get someone killed when trying to dodge traffic.
2. Cyclists on the pavement
Again this is something that Guide Dogs have been campaigning about. Most cyclists are fine, but some seem to use the pavement as a speedy shortcut without any regard for the pedestrians using it. It really unnerves me when a cyclist flies past on the pavement, because they pass really close to me, and I fear that one day I’m going to get knocked over by one of them.
If they’re coming towards me, they’ll be moving so quickly that I can’t see them until they’re right on top of me, by which point it’s too late to react. And if they’re coming from behind, I can’t hear them until it’s too late. Even if they do ring their bell or call out, I’m not able to figure out exactly where that sound is coming from in time to know where they are, because it’s too sudden. So I either stand still or just hope I’m walking in a straight line until they go past – but for all they know, I could veer off to one side or turn to walk in a different direction.
So I would ask all cyclists to use the road or a cycle lane when possible, you’re not pedestrians. And if you really have no choice but use the pavement, please be mindful that some pedestrians like myself won’t be able to see you until you zoom past us, so I may inadvertently move into your path without meaning to. It always catches me off guard and makes me feel disorientated. Likewise, it completely throws me off my stride if a cyclist zooms through a read light just when I’m starting to cross the road. Things like this make me feel as intimidated around you, as you feel around speeding car drivers when you’re cycling on the road. So please be considerate, by following the 5 rules suggested by Guide Dogs.
3. Other obstacles on the pavement
Even if we assume that cyclists and car drivers are behaving properly – which most do – many pavements can still be obstacle courses. It could be:
- Lampposts and bollards in unexpected places.
- Chains or ropes between bollards that I don’t see.
- Overhanging bushes and tree branches that people can’t be bothered to cut back.
- Signs on the pavement outside shops.
- Uneven paving tiles that are easy to trip over.
- Steps and kerbs whose edges aren’t marked.
- Puddles that you don’t spot until you splash right into them.
- People suddenly stopping right in front of you to talk or look at their phone, so you nearly trip over them.
- People wandering unpredictably across the pavement when they’re staring at their phone, rather than where they’re going
- A group of people spread across the pavement instead of walking in a smaller cluster, so you can’t pass them and have to walk at their pace if they’re slower than you.
All sorts of things like that can make walking around a bit frustrating sometimes.
4. Silent cars
We’re getting increasing numbers of electric cars on the road these days, many of which make little or no noise. And this is extremely concerning and dangerous for visually impaired and blind people, who rely on their ears to figure out when it’s safe to cross the road. And even regular sighted people use sound as well as sight when crossing the road, so they’re at risk as well e.g. if an electric car comes round a corner with no warning. So these cars really need to make some kind of noise, or there are going to be accidents. There have been campaigns by the RNIB and Guide Dogs about this, and I’m sure there are other organisations and people concerned about it too.
5. Having to book a wheelchair at airports
I booked a trip away earlier this year to see a friend… which I had to cancel due to illness, so I’m doing it in September instead… and as it involved flying from an unfamiliar airport with an airline I’d never used before, I emailed their access team to ask if I could have guided assistance through the airport and on to the plane. I’ve done this with a different airline at a different airport previously and it worked wonderfully on the many occasions I did it, they were really nice.
But with this airline, I can have the guidance, as long as I book a wheelchair. Why? My legs are fine, it’s my eyes that are dodgy! And if they have to assign a member of staff to push me around in the chair, why can’t that member of stuff just walk with me without it? At the other airport I used to go to, there were a couple of occasions where the assistant was pushing someone in a wheelchair who actually needed it, and I was able to walk with them to follow them, which was ideal. It meant the member of staff was helping two people at once. But if it’s just me, I don’t know why the wheelchair is necessary. It doesn’t make sense to me, or to others who have experienced it like this guy.
Still, my friend informs me that this often happens with the airline in question, even though he’s tried to address it with them before. So when he books flights with them, he accepts the wheelchair requirement when requesting assistance, but then when he gets to the airport he tells the staff he doesn’t need the wheelchair, he just needs guidance. And apparently it’s fine from that point on. Which again begs the question as to why the wheelchair needed to be booked in the first place. But still, we’ll see what happens when I make the journey later this year. It could be interesting!
6. Asking “Won’t glasses help?”
This is the most common question I get when I tell people I have a visual impairment. And I do appreciate that it’s well-intentioned out of polite curiosity. I understand that. But if you think about it for a moment, the answer is obvious – no, glasses don’t help, because I’d be wearing them if they did. I do wear tinted glasses to reduce the glare when I’m out and about, but glasses for reading don’t help me.
7. Saying “It’s over there”
That’s meaningless to a visually impaired person when they ask you where something is. To a blind person, you could be pointing anywhere between the sky and the floor in the 360-degree space around them. And to a partially sighted person like me, even if I can see the general direction in which you’re pointing, there’s still a large amount of space in that general direction. Unless what I’m looking for is large and easy to spot, or it’s obvious because there’s nothing else around it, then I’m likely to still miss it. So being a bit more precise would be really useful.
8. Guide/Assistance Dog access denials
I don’t have a guide dog myself, but I have many friends who do, and it always annoys me when I hear about assistance dog users denied access to taxis, restaurants, shops, and other public establishments and public transport. It’s illegal, causes a lot of distress and embarrassment, and shouldn’t still be happening. Guide dogs and assistance dogs are not dirty, they’re not unhealthy, and they won’t interfere with anybody else. They provide a vital service to their owners and will be focused solely on that. So there’s no reason to exclude them. I’ve mentioned it before in my video about Guide Dogs, while Emily at Fashioneyesta has made an entire video about Access Denials, and there is also a PDF leaflet from Guide Dogs on how to deal with access refusals.
9. Poorly contrasted text
It’s really frustrating when text and background colours are so close to each other that it’s difficult to read things – e.g. red on black, yellow on white, green on blue, etc (or vice-versa for each example). This can be in magazines, leaflets, posters, websites, mobile phone apps, computer software, and so on. Even inverting the colours using my phone’s camera or on my computer screen won’t help, because it just inverts the colours to the equally close negative versions. So please try and use colours that are sufficiently far apart in the spectrum so the text stands out clearly. Otherwise I just won’t bother reading it if I’m unable to do so, meaning I could miss out on important information.
10. Lack of audio description
I don’t use this much myself, but I know plenty of people who do, including my mother. And there doesn’t seem to be much consistency as to when audio description is provided for TV shows or films:
- Some shows never get it at all, when they’re popular and really should.
- Some shows get it on the TV but it’s rarely copied to the DVD or Blu-Ray releases (which seems odd given that the audio is clearly available).
- Some DVDs don’t do it for all the releases in a series (e.g. only the first series or two of Lewis from ITV had it, and only the 3rd Die Hard film out of the 4 in my collection has it).
- A series on TV may get it for a few episodes but then not others.
- Some shows state audio description is available in the electronic programme guides, but then it turns out not to (or, less often, it’s not listed when it does have it).
- It’s not always available on catch-up services even if it was there on the original broadcast.
- It’s only available for relatively few things on streaming services like Netflix.
- On Youtube, there isn’t any provision for adding audio description to your videos – and there should be. We can add captions and overwrite the audio with their library music tracks, so I wish we could add a secondary audio description track.
So yes, it’s wonderful that audio description is provided for quite a few shows and films these days, and the provision is slowly getting better. Companies are making the effort, and I know it can take extra time to produce it. But it would still be nice if it was more widely available and produced as standard, rather than being so hit-and-miss. I’ve seen how it irritates friends of mine when they want to watch a show or a film yet it doesn’t have description available, it does mean a lot to them.
I’m actually going to see a theatre show and a film in the cinema with audio description soon, both of which will be new experiences for me, so I’ll let you know how it goes.
And that concludes my list. Like I say, I could probably double it if I thought about it for longer, but coming up with 10 wasn’t difficult. Feel free to let me know if you share any of the same frustrations. I also make no apologies for linking to so many videos featuring Fashioneyesta – she’s awesome and we seem to agree on a lot of things, so it was just a natural fit for a lot of my points. If for some bizarre reason you’ve never heard of her or checked her out, pleae do so. Her blog and videos are wonderful. 🙂
And finally, I would like to highlight the fact that the one thing I haven’t mentioned in the list above is my sight condition itself. It may cause frustrations sometimes, but I don’t feel upset that I have it. I’m actually comfortable with it as it stands. I’ve had it since birth, so I’ve never known any different. I therefore don’t feel I’ve lost anything, because I never had normal sight to lose in the first place, so I don’t know what normal sight is like. And not having normal sight hasn’t stopped me enjoying my life. I’m happy as I am, and I’ve achieved a lot already. So I have very little to complain about, and thus rarely do so.
So thanks for reading, I hope you found it interesting. I’ve got a few more posts lined up, including the first ever guest post on this blog, and a couple of guest posts by me on other sites, so keep your eyes peeled. 🙂