Last week I had a great time at the Sight Village South East event in Kensington Town Hall. It’s an annual exhibition showcasing the latest technology, products and services for blind and visually impaired people, and is one of a few Sight Village events held around the UK by Queen Alexandra College every year.
I’ve attended previously in 2016 & 2017, so having missed last year’s event it felt like a good idea to go back this time. But this occasion was slightly different, because although I did have a little look around, I actually spent most of the day working on one of the stands. So it was very interesting to be on the other side of the desk, as it were, talking to curious visitors rather than being one of them myself. So I just thought I’d give you a quick rundown of the day and who the exhibitors were.
I was on the VocalEyes stand, with Charlie Morris from the charity. As regular followers of my blog will know, VocalEyes provides and promotes audio description in theatres, museums, galleries, heritage sites, etc, to make arts and culture accessible for the visually impaired. About half of their events are in London, but they operate across the UK as well.
I only discovered them when moving to London nearly 3 years ago, since when I’ve been to many audio described theatre shows and museum tours, as there’s always a lot of choice for things to go to. It’s opened up a whole new world for me, enabling me to appreciate, enjoy and engage with arts and culture in a fulfilling way that I never could before.
So it was wonderful to talk to people about my experiences, particularly those who had never been aware that this type of service existed. It felt very rewarding that people were immediately interested in the idea and keen to find out more. So Charlie ended up with a lot of new additions to the mailing list. It was also lovely talking to people like myself who already knew about VocalEyes and enjoyed using audio description in the arts. It really does make a huge difference, and I for one am very grateful such a service exists. So thank you to Charlie for inviting me along, it was a great pleasure to help out.
We were right next to the stand for the WESC Foundation, who are a school and residential centre in Exeter for children and young adults who have visual impairments coupled with other disabilities and special needs. They provide the children with education, skills for work and employment, along with services for therapy, mobility and health. They also provide adult care and support services.
I was particularly happy that they were next to us, because that’s the school I used to go to! And Richard Ellis, who was running the stand by himself, is a member of staff I got on very well with. We’ve been reunited at previous Sight Village events, so it was fantastic to be able to catch-up with him again. The school’s changed a lot since I was there, as they’ve evolved quite a bit since I left, and I’m glad to see that they’re still operating and doing great work.
Congratulations also to Richard on his recent charity cycle ride over 14 days from Lands End to John O’Groats, a challenge her took on as part of his 60th year. He’s already raised an incredible £1,147 for WESC Foundation at the time of writing (which comes to over £1,400 with Gift Aid). And donations are still open as I post this, if you want to support children with visual impairments and other disabilities, Tell him I sent you if you do.
So I loved chatting to Charlie from VocalEyes and Richard from WESC Foundation throughout the day, I was in very good company. And various other people I knew also came up to the stand during the day to say hello, which was cool. So the time flew by, and thank you to everyone who approached our stand to talk to us.
I did step away from the VocalEyes stand for a little while in the early afternoon, to have a break and a little look around for myself. I started off by having lunch in the refreshments area downstairs, having a lovely bacon roll and a big chocolate croissant with lots of chocolate sauce inside, which kept me going during the afternoon nicely! The lady serving me was very helpful too, kindly reading everything out to me so I knew what they had. Indeed, all of the staff and volunteers were fantastic, not just in the food area but throughout the event. I noticed a lot of people being taken around by sighted guides during the day, which was great. So thank you to all of the staff and volunteers for their time and hard work.
After lunch, I then had a little walk around the exhibition, selecting a few stands to approach and chat to the people there, mainly at random depending on who was free at the time. Many of the others who I didn’t see are companies that I’ve already looked at when attending in previous years, or I already knew about in general anyway. I didn’t go to any of the talks, but I’ve included them in the list below so you can see what was available.
As always, there was quite a variety of exhibitors for people to check out. For my own personal needs, there wasn’t anything particularly new or special that stood out as something I might want or need. But all of the stalls were getting a steady level of interest from the busy crowd during the day as far as I could tell, and all of the products and services on offer would have been useful to some people.
So here’s a list of all the other exhibitors at the show, with a few notes here and there. Please note that mentions are not necessarily endorsements of the products and services that are being offered. I’m simply listing them because they were there. You will need to do your own research to determine if a product or service is right for you.
- Advantage Carbon Fibre Cane (QAC)
- All Formats Transcription Services – Service for companies and individuals to have documents translated into braille, large print and audio format. The lovely lady I spoke to there was called Lauren, I believe, it was good to chat to her.
- Amazon Echo – Talks about using Amazon Echo devices were taking place on both days. I didn’t go to them myself, but one of my friends that I met during the day said that attendees of the talks had been given free Echo Dots. We already have plenty of those at home anyway, although I should explore their capabilities more really, and try out new skills beyond those I already use.
- Arikovani UK Ltd – This company have developed WeWalk, a smart cane that detects obstacles, allows you to manage your phone by connecting it via the WeWalk app, and has the ability to integrate with Google Maps and Uber. I had a quick look at it, and it’s basically a regular long cane that has been modified with a special unit attached at the top. While an exhibition space isn’t reflective of a real life environment, and I’m not personally a long cane user, it did seem to vibrate correctly when it detected obstacles around me. So it may well be of interest to some people. The business card I was handed even had Braille on it, which is a nice touch that doesn’t happen very often.
- ATW Solutions – They gave talks about support in the workplace.
- Barclays Bank PLC – They were showcasing the Pingit product, which allows you to use their app to load up wearable items like wrist bands with money, which you can then use to pay contactless when out and about. It will work with cards from any bank.
- Bardet Biedl Syndrome UK – A very rare condition that I hadn’t heard of before. They were giving out some cute rainbow coloured pencils among other things.
- Blind Aid – Not one of the exhibitors, but a representative of the organisation gave me one of their cards when they came over to talk to us. They provide practical and emotional support services to visually impaired people in the 12 Inner London boroughs (Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Islington & The City, Kensington & Chelsea, Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets ,Wandsworth, and Westminster. So I’m outside their target area, but if you’re in one of those boroughs listed, you may want to find out about them.
- Blind Ambition Ltd – A Disability Equality Consultancy who can provide disability training to organisations and help them to become fully inclusive. It was good to chat to Managing Director Seema Flower and her colleague at that stand. They’re quite rightly very passionate about what they do, and the more awareness and training that people like them can provide to employers, the better.
- Blind Veterans UK
- Bristol Braille Technology
- British Blind Sport
- British Wireless for The Blind Fund
- Cadent Gas
- Calibre Audio Library
- ClearVision Project – Postal lending library for children, with books in print, braille and tactile formats. While not a service I require, it was still nice to chat to the lady about it. Anything that gets children into reading can only be a good thing.
- CMF Recruitment Services Ltd
- Computer Room Services
- Dolphin Computer Access Ltd
- En-Vision America – They held a seminar entitled “A Life Saving Service – The Expansion of Audible “Talking” Prescription Labels in the U.S and Canada”.
- Friends of Moorfields Eye Hospital
- Goalball UK
- Guide Dogs Services – As well as their stand, they also held a seminar for parents, about how to support children with visual impairments in their early years of education, including details of their Specialist Education Support team, statutory support, and other general information and advice.
- Home From Home Care
- Innovative Safety Group
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Keratoconus Self-Help and Support Association
- Linden Lodge School
- LOOK UK
- Macular Society
- Metro Blind Sports
- Microphthalmia, Anophthalmia & Coloboma Support (MACS)
- New College Worcester
- Optelec Ltd
- Optima Low Vision Services Ltd
- OrCam Technologies
- Owlett – This is a small device containing a camera that you can put anywhere in your home, and it will identify and read any objects that you hold up in front of it. Which is a very neat idea, although I can’t help thinking that the free Seeing AI app on the iPhone already has very similar capabilities, and you can carry that around with you anywhere. But for people who don’t have a smartphone, this could potentially be quite useful.
- OxSight Ltd – Smart glasses to expand the visual field of people with central vision loss. I didn’t try the glasses, as they’re not designed for me, so I can’t say how they compare to a product like OrCam. OxSight also held seminars during the event to promote their product.
- Pamtrad Seeing Solutions – They held a seminar to promote the Mercury Magnification and Text-to-Speech Software, as well as having a stand in the exhibition.
- Professional Vision Services
- Queen Alexandra College (QAC)
- Retina UK
- Royal National College for the Blind
- Royal Society for Blind Children – I was given a leaflet advertising their Live Life Go Further project, which aims to give children confidence and independence, including help to learn new skills, make friends, have fun and so on.
- Seable Holidays
- Sight and Sound Technology – They are the headline sponsor of the event, and as well as showcasing their technology, they held a seminar entitled “Technology Solutions in Practice”, which was A CET course for optometrists, opticians and optical health professionals.
- Starboard Hotels
- Stargardt’s Connected
- Synapptic Ltd
- Talking News Federation
- Technology Association of Visually Impaired People (TAVIP) – Formerly the British Computer Association of the Blind (BCAB). Although not listed in the programme or on the website as far as I could see, I was aware from a friend that they would be there, though I didn’t see them. It turns out from looking at their Twitter feed later that they had a table in the café area, which I must have walked straight past when I went in there for lunch. Never mind!
- VI Talk – Not an exhibitor, but their flyer was included in the bag I was given at the entrance, which was a nice touch.
- VisionAid Technologies Ltd
- YGA – They held a seminar entitled “Investigating the Mobility and STEM education of the Visually Impaired”, promoting their services and also looking at technology such as the WeWalk Smart Cane.
So there was plenty to look at there as you can see. If you’ve never been to the Sight Village exhibition before, it’s well worth popping along to see if there’s anything that grabs your interest.
Aniridia Network Meetup
It’s become traditional for members of the Aniridia Network to meet in London after the Sight Village event, as it makes sense to make the most of the day if people are going to the exhibition anyway. And this year was no exception. We had a good group of 9 people altogether, meeting at Pret for a drink before moving on to Bill’s restaurant for a nice dinner. It was a lovely chatty evening, and it’s great to have these opportunities to socialise with people who have the same condition as me.
The Aniridia Network also have another meetup this month, and this will be their first ever event in Scotland. It takes place next Tuesday, 19 November, from 3pm-9pm. Trustee Eleanor Burke will be hosting the informal get-together in the bistro of the Best Western Kings Manor Hotel, which is a a 13 minute train (or 33 minute bus) ride from Edinburgh Waverly station. So if you’re in that part of the country, do check it out. Or if you know someone who might be interested in going, do let them know. Patients, parents, children and professionals who have experience with aniridia are all invited.
Altogether it was a long and busy day, but a very productive and enjoyable one. It was great to be able to promote VocalEyes after everything I’ve gained from using their services, wonderful to chat to a good friend from WESC Foundation throughout the day, interesting to explore the exhibition, and fun to relax afterwards with my friends from the Aniridia Network. So it was well worth going along!