Archive for the ‘visually impaired’ Category

Disabled Invisible? Or the Government and Most Mainstream Media Blind, Deaf and Dumb?

May 13, 2011

The 11TH of May 2011 will go down in history. Sadly, only a small sector of the British population will be aware of why.

The conservative government are bull dosing a welfare reform through parliament that will effect hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled individuals. Not only are local councils cutting services to their disabled constituents but the government is putting disabled people under siege by dramatically changing the benefits they are entitled to claim.

Not only will the long term sick and disabled only be allowed to claim Employment support Allowance [esa] for twelve months but the transformation of disability living allowance will not be recognised as something that helps disabled people live their lives. Taking the mobility component from people in residential care who are able, with that extra financial support, to visit friends and families and go to social groups that improves their quality of life, will reduce them to emotional despair. With that component gone, it will leave many isolated and unable to keep in contact with relatives and friends whilst participating in social activities that keep them integrated and active.

The extremely generalised assessment process neither assists those in need or accurately assesses disabled individuals needs correctly. And if found “fit to work” physically, is not to say someone is mentally prepared or actually able. Putting disabled people in to the “lion’s den” of the commercial workplace is going to destroy people. Having rejection upon rejection, while being virtually “bullied” by job centre Plus advisors so they can meet their targets, will mean many people are placed in frightening situations and pushed into a potentially soul destroying path.

Imagine, applying for a job, being interviewed over the telephone only to be told, when you have a disability that they are not sure how they can accommodate your needs, time and time again. Regardless of laws against discrimination, some of the reasons employers cannot employ a disabled person are not always their fault. For blind people, working with money is not practical, employers wouldn’t feel comfortable with money exchanging hands from a blind person to a sighted or vice versa in case the notes are not accurately identified or fraud is being committed. Blind people’s assessment of their own money often takes longer than that of a sighted person, so time pressure would be on them. And that’s if the technology, such as a cash register is accessible. Many are not and never will be in our lifetime.

Wheelchair users can only access buildings with ramps and lifts. And in fire situations, lifts can never be used. Not many employers are willing to take a risk of putting a wheelchair user on the sixth floor in case there is a fire. Some organisations have a buddy system but even if their intentions were their, many insurance companies would not cover the company for such circumstances.

The assessment deems myself “fit to work” if all criteria I have read and been informed about so far is accurate, because I have a guide dog. With the RNIB recently publishing a statistic 92% of employers would not employ someone with a visual impairment, where does that huge misconception that employers have no issue employing the blind come from? do the people behind this horrendous attempt at assessing disabled and sick people for work take into account that despite wanting to work, many being qualified, the employers are not able to for physical or legal reasons employ the disabled. And do these great minds who have created this ludicrous test not think that just because someone has a guide dog or a wheelchair that it can suddenly change employers or insurance companies minds? Changing the “being able to walk” criteria to “being mobilised” was a very devious thing for this government to do. Many disabled could “mobilise” themselves but for how long or how successful are many other questions that are not addressed.

Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, [if she can call herself that], stated that it is a system that is not working if there are more alcoholics and drug addicts claiming DLA than the blind. Well, Miss Miller, if your government has your way under personal independent payments, there will be very few blind people claiming dLA’s successor. Not to mention the fact that the statistics tell a different story? This is people’s futures, Ms Miller, not Jack and Ori.

The media have done nothing but promote the government’s propaganda efforts by publishing in various news sources that 94% in the Mail and 75% in the Daily Express incapacity benefit claimants are deemed “fit to work”. That figure blows my mind. Take away the fact for many disabled, they want to work but are refused employment because of their disability or lack of support into work, what about those suffering from cancer, HIV, MS, chronic arthritis that physically cannot work efficiently every day? That represents only six percent of incapacity claimants? Well, of course not. As usual, the press are promoting government support for tight reform with miscalculated, misinformed, and mostly outright . wrong statistics

The media proved yesterday how much they didn’t care about this society’s disabled. The only major news programmes to cover the march were ITV evening news who did a good piece of coverage and Channel four’s news at seven. BBC had mentioned it during the day but it was missing from it’s popular six o’clock showing on BBC 1 while it was covered on it’s website reasonably well. Sky News, one of the biggest news channels in the UK and streamed around the world mentioned it maybe once but nothing on their website at all. They were able to cover all the things going on in Libya, many foreign stories, even the sentencing of actress Lindsay Lohan but nothing on its website about the thousands of disabled marching through London to protest against the cuts.

It angers me that only the Guardian have been forth coming and extremely supportive of 11TH May protests; having constant updates on a live blog and several write ups both on its online distribution and paper broadsheet. A huge thank you to the Guardian, ITV News, and Channel 4 for having some great coverage of the protest and even interviewing Liam Burns, the shadow work and pensions minister.

None of us expect to be top of the hour news, or front page in the news papers but for crying out loud, we are still here, in our millions as a disabled community! Can this government not hear us? Do they not understand? If they want to cut the deficit, which we all agree on, why target those of us who fight enough in our every day battles with discrimination! I know cuts need to happen, but why are they cutting the quality of our lives? Why are they not recognising blindness as a disability, assessing it below even the threshold to gain a place on the into work scheme under the new ESA benefit, despite having input from organisations such as RNIB who feels their input has been ignored? How can they “assume” that my guide dog makes me more employable than a cane user who may have more sight? How can they say someone with MS can work for eight hours every day if they don’t see them in pain and unable to get up for work because every muscle in their body hurts? How can an abled bodied so called health professional, who is repeatedly passing people fit to work who clearly are not, capable of assessing someone if they’ve never dealt with that disability, some even come across it? If they are not willing to understand and take a fifteen minute snippet with a rigid questionnaire to assess someone’s abilities, it is clearly just a tick in the box and one more person off the sick and disabled list, the better, right, Mr cameron and co?

They say they’ve had conversations with organisations about these changes, but if that was true, then how was it that staff from over forty organisations representing disabled people across the board were marching alongside those people on 11TH May? Richard Leaman , Guide Dogs own chief executive marched alongside clients, dogs and staff alike to protest. Do you think if Guide Dogs as an organisation had agreed to the governments extraordinary changes that he would risk his reputation and the one of his organisation just “for kicks”?

Miller talked about the drug addicts and the alcoholics claiming both DLA and incapacity, and the media have publicised that fact over and over again, but what about those who are disabled who are going to get theirs cut? We didn’t make a life style choice to be blind, lame, deaf, or feel as though our body was on fire, we didn’t abuse the system so then why are we being punished, ignored, sidelined and forced into another system that has not worked for many?

I’ve claimed job seeker’s allowance. I claimed it for almost three years! During that time, neither I nor the job centre could find work. The disability employment advisors did not understand my needs as a blind client or how my blindness would effect me in the work place. No information was accessible to me. Not leaflets, their computer systems, the forms I had to sign every two weeks. It was only through my own research that I attended the royal national college for the blind and transferred to incapacity benefit. After I’d left college, I still couldn’t get work. And despite continued efforts to search, apply for different jobs, I am still unemployed. I was never understood and felt abandoned during that time. Ms Miller speaks of disabled people being abandoned on the current system, so what is she doing then? Throwing many into a system that is not designed to support people with extensive needs; Throwing them into a world of ignorance that no government has tried to change. She says attitudes have changed toward disabled people, really? I must have missed that evolution. We’re still pitied, avoided because people fear the unknown, shunned by others because we’re deemed too needy, patronised because we’re seen to be unintelligent and treated like second class citizens as we always have been, the media have only enhanced that point this week. And society’s attitudes have changed? Just because children are being educated more within mainstream education Ms Miller, it does not mean society’s attitudes have changed just because we’re not locked up and hidden away. The stigmas toward many disabilities still exist and many VI children are segregated within VI units within their school along with other special needs children. Being taught in the same building does not make society’s attitudes toward them any different!

Last year I started a home study degree which was funded by the university so I did not have any fees to pay. Because of the increase to come in for tuition fees, the scheme was cut at the end of my very successful first year. I couldn’t afford the fees and was forced to withdraw. I have and continue to try to gain work or qualifications to be “more employable” on a qualification basis but the truth is, unless my blindness miraculously disappears, or the attitudes of society, the employer’s being educated and insurance companies not deeming disabled people high risk enough to boot premiums to a devastating price change, I will remain unemployed from the mainstream workforce. I take offence to the many headlines calling incapacity and DLA claimants “scroungers” or “lazy” as While looking for work I’ve done everything in my power to gain employment. I’ve attempted study, I volunteer to gain work experience, I blog and participate in accessibility podcasts to widen my knowledge and experience while educating and informing the world best I can about blindness, access technology and guide dogs. I do not sit around, or enjoy four or five holidays to Spain, I do not own extravagant items or go out every weekend to clubs. I’ve tried, I continue to try to make my life productive and full but I can’t single handedly change the attitudes of employers.

Unless I gain employment within a sector for visually impaired or set up my own business, which I eventually would like to do, I will be punished for being blind and become isolated because I cannot fund my disability.

I keep hearing the phrase, “Genuinely disabled,” yet I and others seemingly do not fit into that category. As I stated earlier, the current assessment for ESA would maximumly gain a visually impaired person nine points or less and fifteen is required to qualify for the into work program. So, I clearly am not “disabled” according to these guidelines and to the media who have deemed many claimants to be “scroungers” and have insinuated “faking it”. What an actress I must be, to have faked blindness all my life!

Many do abuse the system and those people need to be caught out, no one would refute that. And that is why we are not asking this government to leave things the way they are but to listen, understand and implement changes suggested to them by the people who know. Realism and practicality need to be adopted here or else the government has outrightly broke its promise to protect the disabled and vulnerable in our society.

As MP Hunt said, stop providing abled bodied, healthy individuals from pushing out three or four children at the tax payer’s expense. If people want to reproduce, they should pay for them. My parents have worked every day of their lives and have contributed to this system and they, like others who are parents of disabled people are angry that it is more socially acceptable to get pregnant and have a child for the sole cause of living off of benefits when disabled families are having support, care and benefits cut.

Miller talks about the numbers of alcoholics and drug users on DLA and incapacity benefit, well stop them claiming it! Children born with disabilities don’t have a choice, soldiers fighting for this country don’t have a choice whether they are hit or not, police and fire service people do not have a choice if they are hurt while on duty, and yet those without the choices are the ones being punished.

This past few days, I’ve felt disappointed, angry, concerned, surprised, shocked and proud for a variety of reasons. Proud of the ones marching; proud of the efforts by those who couldn’t make it who have expressed themselves on the web; proud of some journalists who have maintained their integrity by reporting the events as they are. I was surprised how quickly my MP responded to my email that I sent her only the night of the march and even more so of her support. And yet I’ve been saddened, shocked and rather disgusted with the lack of coverage by many media outlets. No need for breaking news but it still happened! It was one of the biggest, if not the biggest march of its kind in regard to the disabled people in numbers present at a protest, and that wasn’t news worthy? I was also disappointed by the lack of response by some visually impaired people I know. Some were fantastic online yesterday and others I know marched while some remained quiet and as though it wasn’t happening to them. You may not believe writing to your MP will work, or that you’ll lose followers or friends on social networks by mentioning it, but if they’re real friends or interested in what you have to say, isn’t that better than being ignored by the government? I’ve heard people say it won’t have made a difference, maybe not but maybe it will open some eyes. It’s our future and if we don’t help shape it, then we have no real future to call our own.

Miller in my book represents nothing but an empty promise and a cruel and misconceived idea of what disability and sickness really means and how it effects those with it. She was more interested in the prime minister’s question time than the people she’s meant to represent. Even in a committee meeting about the welfare reform, she was vague, unable to give detail or straight, decisive answers to questions posed to her. Cameron’s conservatives are ignorant and malicious. Despite what they’re telling the media the reality of the assessment process, changes to DLA put the disabled in poverty and isolation, stripping them of dignity and independence. No wonder their precious media won’t report it and are more interested in US politics, affairs abroad and war because it’s not affecting them. If Hunt had denied Murdock the deal for Sky, we’d hear about that all right in its entirety but a few blind, wheel chair bound, deaf and sick people are invisible to them. Why hear the cries of the needy while you’re sat eating your finest foods and enjoying your life? Why take notice of a bunch of disabled people, “We’ll get over it,” right? Why take from the rich, corrupt bankers when you can target the ones in need? It seems they have enough money to bail Greece, Ireland, Portugal and others out of debt, give money to the rebels fighting in Libya, donate millions to countries in need and all because they neglected their own people! I feel for other countries plights, but Prime Minister, you and your government are meant to be the British government, here to make Britain better, but you’d rather help other country’s people than your own vulnerable and disabled people! If you want to cut the deficit, give us a chance to live and change the attitudes of employers and society as a whole, because without those changes, we’ll remain invisible to all while we suffer.

If that’s the society we live in, then by God help us all. Because wait until they cut child services more, or petrol prices rise again, that will be top news. I hope anyone who has blatantly ignored this demonstration of courage and pride by the disabled people of Britain never finds themselves in a similar situation. Because where will your loyal government be then? Helping Pakistan, or fighting in the middle East, or bailing out European countries or lending money to some superpower, and giving you nothing!

“The Invisible Disabled,” it seems so but I pledge to you I will not go unnoticed and neither should you. The women who fought for women’s rights were taken seriously eventually , and some would argue there were many more but many were too afraid to fight the system then. Let’s fight for our right to live good qualities of life and to gain opportunities like everyone else. Change society’s attitudes for the better, Clegg and Cameron, don’t change our lives for the worst.

[note. I am totally blind and cannot comment in detail on how people’s disabilities effect them. Hope I grasped the concept of anger we’re all feeling]

Interesting entertainment links

That’s a Cut, SunnieDae1
Broken Britain’s We have A Dream Speech, hardest Hit
Hardest Hit, Day of Action, Scope for Equality

Banks Brilliance!

May 10, 2011

In the past few years, not many would have ever thought anyone would call the banks brilliant but an experience I had today warrants such praise.

As visually impaired individuals, we often are discussing inaccessible products or services. But this morning when a package arrived from my bank, I was initially confused, then unsure and now extremely pleased and happy that a international bank would do what they have without being pushed into it by advocacy groups or implement the accessibility as an after thought.

I’ve been with HSBC since I was fourteen and in high school. I’ve always been pleased with the accessibility I have had with them. My letters and statements always having been in braille, the level of security they offer amongst the highest and overall, a good service has been experienced for me, so far.

I’ve used their telephone banking service for years and in the past few years their internet banking service which I’ve found to be incredibly accessible.

So when my peculiar package arrived this morning, which I was not expecting as I clearly didn’t really read the last letter they had sent to me, I was confused what it was for and was pretty sure it wouldn’t be accessible.

I opened a box containing a braille letter and braille instructions and a keypad that looks like the keypads we pay on our cards in stores, minus the car d slot. There was some headphones and I was truly baffled.

On a quick glance, I realised it was about security and as I said, if I’d read the previous letter, I probably would have had a better understanding of what this cool device would do.

Sitting down reading the instructions I learnt it was a security key which enhances the level of security of your online banking. Every thirty days or so, it’ll give you a code to enter and it is generated by the security key, or the cool key pad thing. So, you can imagine my scepticism. They’ve given me a device, which will generate a code and I have to read this code to access my online banking. Great, I thought, more inaccessibility. At this point, I joked that they had sent me accessible instructions for an inaccessible device. Boy, was I to be proven wrong.

I soon learnt that the regular customers have these security keys issued but their keys are the size of a credit card and I had noticed a speaker on the rear of the unit so maybe, did I dare to believe it true?

Further reading demonstrated that not only did this cool device speak but the instructions how to use it, set it up were all clear, concise and accurate. Even the point where you have to insert the security key’s serial number was accessible. Not only was it printed on the unit but it could be accessed through speech on the unit. Crazy right?

But within ten minutes, I’d activated my key, by entering my serial number into my account online and followed the online steps, inputting a random security code and hey presto, my account is now paired with a device that will randomly make me input codes every thirty days to prevent someone hacking into my bank account.

Until this morning, I’d not heard of a security key, and whether you think they’re a good security device or a pure pain in the backside, I’m ecstatic I have one that I can access independently.

New customers started receiving theirs in March of this year, current customers from April onward. So, HSBC get a huge thumbs up from me. They’ve made everyone’s account secure and made it a purely accessible process.

Part of me hopes that these devices can lead to further access to cash machines somehow. I’m impressed HSBC, it has to be said. If you can make all cash machines accessible to the blind, I’ll be incredibly thankful. Thank you for not making your blind and visually impaired customers an after thought.

Speed, volume can all be changed and it auto turns off after about a thirty-second standby.

If anyone else’s bank has done this, let us know. I’m lost for words how I appreciate what they have done. They didn’t just send me a regular security key, they thought about it, put it in place and all within the same timeline as all their customers.

So no matter what you may think about the banks and the economy of today, you have to give HSBC some credit that they’ve achieved this in the same time frame for all their customers in a perfectly easy, accessible way. Great job! Brilliant!!!

How much I appreciate My Guide Dog

November 24, 2010

On Saturday I went to the movies and on the way home from the city, on a very packed bus, I missed my stop. I got off of the bus with only a vague idea of where I was. But my trusted four legged friend trotted along side me, confident and determined to get us home.

Guide dogs don’t know where they are going but I think that night Bailey had a clue that we had to get home and the fact he’d not had his dinner yet probably helped that matter. I knew which direction to head in and maybe this is Bailey’s personality, everything does seem like a huge adventure to him but he confidently guided me even though for around 10 minutes I had no clue where I was. It was dark and we don’t often work in the dark although he is pretty good late on at night if we do work in the dark but I was simply touched on how well my pup worked.

Once I knew where we were, it was almost like he knew I’d taken over the reins again, as we were passing a wall he had a little sniff which I corrected him for and we trotted home merrily.

Having him that night, just clarified for me as it often does, why I wanted a dog and why I wouldn’t be without one. He gives me so much independence with my mobility and the ability to get myself out of sticky navigational situations he is priceless to me and my life.

So thank you Bailey 🙂

Guide Dogs, in my Eyes

November 7, 2010

[Note to Reader] I live in the UK so all information is correct as I am aware only as a guide dog owner from the Guide Dogs For the Blind Association in the UK.
Association

Guide dogs have been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember. My first memory of knowing what a guide dog was and how it related to my life was when I was seven years old and at the Adam Brooks hospital in Cambridge with my parents at an eye check up. They had a huge ornament of a guide dog in harness standing in the waiting room at the eye clinic and my dad took me over to show me what it was. I felt the smooth impressions of the labradors face, the big ears and the smooth curves of it back, on which sat a harness. I proceeded to ask my parents what it was for and they told me to raise money for guide dogs which I then asked what a guide dog was for and why it wore a harness. My parents explained it was to help the blind get around but even then, I don’t think my parents would truly appreciate the length to which a dog could assist their daughter in the future.

I was seven then, and recently had lost my sight completely and so this news that I could use a dog to get around and break free from the new prison that I’d been placed in because of my eyes made life seem a little easier to handle at my young age. I kept this memory with me for all this time and twenty years later, I’ve been a proud, successful guide dog owner for four and a half years.

Although my journey is barely beginning with the association, I feel its time I shared my own guide dog story with you all.

The rules have changed along with procedures even since I became involved with the association. And surprisingly, my journey began before I even contemplated a dog. I was taken for a visiting day to the local Guide Dogs centre that was in Bolton when I was around nine or ten. I only really remember the puppies in the kennels, jumping and being playful. My experience then was limited but I think I had already decided that I’d love to have one of those four legged companions walking by my side.

At thirteen, our local mobility service had been stripped of several mobility officers and so a long cane instructor from Guide Dogs taught me long cane work for a few years. We chatted lots about guide Dogs and dogs in general. I’ve always loved animals, their innate ability to be loyal and non-judgemental always touched me.

Friends and family continued to ask me through my younger teenage years if I had ever considered getting a guide dog and when I said yes, they automatically asked: “at 16?” I always knew I didn’t want a dog that young. I’d rather be out with friends and doing things a regular sixteen year old would do. Since then, the rules have changed and there is now no lower limit to apply for a dog. But even with that limit in place, I wanted to have freedom and wanted to go off to university with no responsibilities. Maybe if I’d had a different personality, my choices may have been different.

However, once at university, I started wondering if I had a dog would my mobility be increased? I was in a different town, with limited mobility sessions and the area was difficult to work in with a long cane. So, I called up Guide dogs and asked to have a talk with someone. That someone turned out to be my old mobility officer who worked at Guide Dogs. After a long chat with him, I knew even then I was not ready for the responsibility of a furry friend. I had plans to do an exchange programme to the US and he advised me to wait until I came back.

I heeded that advice and after my exchange a two month trip, I finally decided I was ready for the responsibility of a dog. I knew I more than ready for the mobility adjustment but nothing could have ever prepared me for the real experience.

The assessment process began with an application form which I completed in December of 2004. In the January I had a general assessment shortly followed by a mobility assessment where a trained mobility officer walked with me on a route to check my safety and overall mobility skills. After I’d cleared that section of the assessment a guide Dog mobility Instructor came out to assess how I would work holding onto the dog’s harness. The guide dog Mobility Instructor is the person who trains the dogs in the advanced part of they’re training, where the dogs are placed in harness and taught to guide effectively. A double ended handle was used with the instructor acting as the dog would. It felt strange and even that could never prepare you for the real thing. The instructor also did a further application form with me and went over information about every aspect of owning a guide dog. Feeding routines, spending routines, to things I liked to do, social activities, my level of possible work load with the dog. This is to help the team recognise when a suitable match comes in. There’s little point giving an older person a dog that wants a high work load and someone with a hefty work load having a dog with the desire to only walk to the local shops and back. The matching process is a very good one and many around me have suggested my match was perfect because of my personality.

I was twenty-one when I applied for a dog. After four months of assessment I was placed on the waiting list. January 2006, I received a call from the guide dog mobility instructor [GDMI] who had assessed me for the dog section of the assessments. She told me she may have a possible match and could she bring the dog out to meet me.

The dog and instructor arrived and we went on a route I knew well with me holding the handle of the dog’s harness. This was incredibly scary yet altogether amazing. I relished in the idea that one day soon I may have a dog at my side. This little labrador wasn’t for me though. She was sweet and not really cut out for the lifestyle she’d be living in. I liked her but as I suspect the instructor knew, there was little potential of bonding.

A week or so later, she called again and said she had another dog. In bounced Bailey. He literally jumped through the door, a ball of energy and excitement. I remember my mum saying she didn’t like him because he was so boisterous but I fell in love. He followed me around the house, even upstairs and the walk out with him was incredible. Bailey and I bonded and after a month, my GDMI called with the great news that we would be going onto class.

The Guide Dogs for the blind Association has changed over the past ten or so years in how training is done. They used to have residential training schools but the majority of teams either train in the home or train at the a hotel and the surrounding areas. So off I went to Bolton, as the old centre was still there then and waited patiently in my hotel room after eating lunch and meeting the other potential guide dog owners. And in bounced Bailey again, full of love and affection. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to start our training.

We were taught obedience skills, the voice commands of forward, down, sit, wait, stay, come, steady, and taught to control our new friends. Feeding and grooming and learning how to spend our dogs correctly was covered and a health care session was held to educate us how to take care of our new friends, filling in vet books and how to contact Guide Dogs if our dog had to have treatment outside the realm of normality. In the UK, Guide Dogs is a charity and depends solely on donations from the general public and generous businesses to keep the services and production of more guide partnerships going. Vet bills and food are covered by the association if the person is not in a situation they can pay for those things independently. You can opt to pay for one or both of these financial areas if you are able too and would like to contribute. It’s a great service and means that people are not discriminated against for enhanced mobility if they need and want it.

So, after the two weeks we were permitted to take the dogs home for a further week of training and settling in at home. I was excited and nervous. I loved Bailey already but I was uncertain if I could cope with this new responsibility once at home.

He seemed a little unsure when we got home and his instructor had left. It was just he and I until the Monday when she would return to train. I cried like a baby the next few days. We had trouble with his spending due to a heavy snow fall and unfamiliar surroundings for him. But once we were out and about with the instructor, as the dog and you are housebound until you are qualified, it felt great to get him on the harness and working in my home environment. After three days of training at home, I was pronounced Bailey’s owner, and he my guide Dog. We were fully qualified and I could now work him independently with continued checks from his instructor for around a month and working reports submitted for six consecutive months with a check annually after the six month period.

Suddenly walking down the street felt like a breeze. No more catching lamp poles, bollards, shop displays on the pavement, Bailey guided me down the centre of the path, turned left or right on command and when asked to find doors, he would. Finding the crossings to get across the streets safely was now easy as he walked up to it once asked to find it and put his nose on the pole. A quick feel for his soft wet muzzle told me the pole was there and I directed him to the kerb and we waited to cross. On my forward command he moved straight across the street and I didn’t drift dangerously or feel unsafe or uncertain with him by my side.

There are myths, or not necessarily myths but different ways of doing things in associations around the world. Our guide dogs are asked to find objects, such as doors, crossings, or post boxes, and kerbs. We don’t instruct them to go to a specific store but Bailey at least with my experience usually tries to preempt where you want to go if walking on a certain route. He often gives my secrets away and I sometimes think smells of places have him wanting to enter those establishments, pubs and Starbucks or bakeries are usually the culprits. Others would argue it’s because I frequently visit starbucks that he wants to go their but I maintain its the scent of coffee that he may recognise, as we frequent a few different Starbucks around Manchester. He’s not trained to find an empty seat, just a seat and so you have to use other senses to know if someone’s seated there already. He does not dictate when we cross the street, I’m in charge of knowing when its safe, however, if I’ve not heard something that is coming he is taught to ignore my command. He’s rewarded when he’s found something or got through a difficult section of a route with a piece of his dried food and praised vocally and physically by a pat. He is asked to lay under tables or at the side of me in restaurants or cafes and many other public places. The dog does not have a GPS system in his head and usually goes off my body language for when its time to get off of the bus, collecting things together gives him a strong indication.

Bailey helps me primarily with my day to day navigation in familiar areas. His instructor will come out if we need to adjust or learn new routes. She’ll also check on us once a year to see how he and I are doing as a partnership. The aftercare never stops with Guide Dogs here in the UK. She’s on hand with virtually any problem I may be having with working with him while the health care team are always on hand if we have a health issue.

Bailey’s worked with me for almost five years and I can’t imagine life without him now. Sadly, he will retire one day but that is still in the future hopefully. Once he’s slowed down, wanting to take an easier life Guide Dogs will assist with the process and be on hand to support all the way. I will apply for another dog as I value the mobility a four legged friend can offer but Bailey shall never be far away. Depending on my own personal circumstances will depend if he can stay with me but plenty of people, including my parents who Bailey has lived with for the whole time he’s been with me are more than happy to keep him during his retirement.

I have so much respect for this organisation. Earlier this year I began fundraising for them so that they can keep offering a number one service to guide dog owners present and future. My thanks to them for what they have given me, not only with the enhanced level of mobility, the confidence I have going places independently with him by my side but the incredible companionship I have from him and the world class service and support I receive from the Greater Manchester Team. If I ever had the money to sponsor a dog myself, I would because everyone deserves a Bailey or one of his thousands of brothers and sisters treading the pavements of the UK. Let’s hope the patter of paws continues on our UK streets and the many campaigns the association is involved with continues to blossom and changes for the way the visually impaired community move around with their furry companions is nothing but a success.

The iPad: A Review

May 29, 2010

[Note to reader; I’m assuming you’re familiar with the iPhone OS to some extent in this article].

 

Since the US launch of the iPad at the beginning of April, worldwide customers hankered for the news of their own launch dates. Just a few weeks ago, UK customers, along with those from eight other countries, including, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Japan were able to pre-order their iPads for a 28TH May release date, while other countries still anxiously await their launch date, expected to be announced sometime in July.

 

I, along with many others, pre-ordered my iPad, opting for the 32 Gig wifi model and impatiently waited for it to arrive. It came early though, a day in fact and am I glad I was home Thursday morning to receive my new toy. I created an unboxing podcast and could not wait to play with the iPad.

 

Initial Reaction

GORGEOUS!

It’s sleek and very aesthetic, even to the touch. A slightly curved back with the smooth glass touch screen we were promised. Everything about the iPad, before you switch it on is beautiful. And I don’t believe I’m saying this because I genuinely love Apple products. The keys are seamlessly fitted into the device and nothing looks out of place on this sleek unit.

 

Setting Up!

 

The setting up process is such a breeze. Literally, plug it in, register it and turn on universal access and off you go.

[Note, the device needs to be connected to a computer running the latest version of iTunes for it to work so you do need a computer to utilise the iPad.]

setting up voice over or Zoom or contrast on the iPad is very similar to the way it is achieved on the touch, iPhone, nanos and the shuffles. In summary within the iPad, or as voice over calls it in iTunes, iPod scroll area, VO to universal access and select voice over on under the “seeing” section. Once the iPad has synced, voice over will come on as I’m sure the other desired methods will.

 

You have a choice to use back-ups from any other devices, I.E. iPhone or I’m assuming iPod Touch. I chose to not do this as I wanted to customise the iPad at my own leisure and although I have put a few of my iPhone apps on the device, I didn’t want them all there.

 

First Use!

 

Using the iPad is as Steve Jobs said, “Magical”. It feels at home under your fingers and when taking the experience at a leisurely pace, you can truly appreciate the style the iPad has. It is a lot bigger than other touch devices that people may be used to using but that is an advantage. Using apps like settings, mail and safari gives an intricate experience with the iPad screen. Now, you can select a general setting in the settings app and see all of your choices without having to go back to the previous page if you want to select the mail/contacts/calendar settings, for example in Settings. Mail is beautiful on the iPad, being able to see your emails in the left column and read the message in the main screen area. And Safari definitely utilises the screen giving the browsing experience a whole new level of smoothness and realness.

 

iBooks, worth it?

 

Although the UK store is not populated to capacity, and I am realistic about this fact, it will take time to become my primary book source, it is amazing. I’ve downloaded a few free classics so far and have searched the store for some titles and found a few that I shall be purchasing soon. The search function was a little tricky at first but this is where one of the new gestures comes into its own. Although, the four-finger-swipe can be used in apps like mail or settings to jump from the selection list down the left side to the content area and vice versa, I didn’t comprehend it would work in the app or iBook store. But it does. I four-finger-swiped and was able to type my search, swipe again and see the results. A wonderful edition to the Apple repertoire of gestures.

 

Actually reading on the app is wonderful. I can lay my iPad down and let it read to me or use my fingers to scan down the page. It’s a very personal experience of reading books I’ve not experienced before. Braille has to be read word to word and audio has someone else’s voice and interpretation while iBooks utilises the voice over voice, your own interpretation is very real.

 

Twitter, IM and social Networks?

 

As I no longer have a facebook account, I shall comment on the social networks I have used on the iPad. Twitter Apps are few and far between on the iPad right now. Some of my favourites have not yet transgressed to the iPad. However I’ve found an app for the iPad that is accessible and works good enough. Not had that much experience to comment on some features but it reads your timelines, you can reply, DM, retweet and such but no list support as yet. And I’m assuming there’s multiple account support but haven’t tried so don’t quote me on that. That app is Tweet and it’s free.

 

I haven’t found an iPad specific app for apps such as Fring or Nimbuzz which I use on the iPhone so I’m using the fring app for now. I have it in full screen mode and still works nicely. They tend to only work in portrait and seen as I have my iPad in landscape for the majority of use, this can be a slight annoyance but once the app is Ipad specific, [let’s keep hoping], it’ll work beautifully. There is a slight border around the screen in full mode but it is still workable.

 

Skype works nicely on the iPad too. In the UK, still no iPad specific app but I’m told they have one in the US now so we’ll just have to wait for our version to hit the App store.

 

Typing!

 

I immediately opted for touch typing mode which I love. This can be changed while in an edit field with the rotor setting. I am finding I’m becoming quicker all of the time but will still opt for my wireless keyboard for extensive use. Touch typing will become easier and feels very natural. When I go to type on my iPhone, I hold the key down to hear the phonetic letter and it of course never comes and often forget to split tap to enter text. I cannot wait for touch typing in 4.0 on the iPhone. Typing on an almost full sized keyboard feels good and even if your finger is a letter out, sliding it to the right letter and lifting up feels great. Double tapping here will lead you to the need of a lot of deleting.

 

The phonetic speaking letters are a welcome edition to the iPhone OS and will strongly be looking forward to utilising this function on the iPhone.

 

 

Sound quality!

One Word! Awesome! The speaker sounds wonderful and the US voice I opt to use sounds incredible. Music and videos perform nicely and even though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m assuming headphones will sound just as crisp and clear.

 

Weight!

 

It is heavier than the touch and iPhone but this seemed obvious to me. Its compact and durable and I like the weight so I don’t lose it somewhere. It is not so heavy you could not carry it around with ease and yet it’s not light enough that you will forget it’s on your lap.

 

Overall Impressions!

I waited eagerly since the announcement in January and I have to say I am delighted with the product. Is it worth the money? Ask me that after a few weeks of working with it but I will go out there on a limb and say yes, I’m glad I paid for such a revolutionary product. Do I think it’s an oversized iPhone? No! It’s a different product entirely and the beauty of it is, people will choose to use their iPads for their own uses. There’s no rule book when it comes to the iPad and that is what I love the most about it.

 

 

Opening The Door with Apple’s IPad?

April 1, 2010

With the launch of Apple’s next big thing on the US horizon, it is hard to escape the many articles either reviewing or speculating about the IPad.

When it was announced back in January that the IPad, otherwise known as the much anticipated Apple Tablet, rumours began to fly about all kinds of things. For those of us interested in the accessibility, Apple did not fail to deliver, including the much loved and used voice over feature on the IPad.

Since its introduction last June, the voice over feature on the IPhone and IPod Touch consequently in september, has enabled thousands of visually impaired users to utilise the products as freely as their sighted counterparts with no extra cost. Despite everyone being uncertain whether it would be introduced last year, it has possibly become an assumption that Apple would not leave out this excellent, innovative feature. And even as the IPad was launched, we soon learned that voice over was indeed featured on there too.

However, questions began to rise in conjunction with a new Apple store launching and what it would mean for the visually impaired and dyslexic users of the IPad and its technology. IBooks promise to potentially open up doors never as open as before. As true that there are organisations in many countries around the world that offer merely a fragment of printed materials in alternative formats, the amount of that content available compared to the general market is miniscule.

Enter the IPad

At launch, this product seemed as though it could be the answer to many avid readers’ dreams. Especially those with a “print impairment”. If the voice over stretched to the IBooks feature at least. However, anyone who has been around this debate for the last year or so, will know that there has been many fights about whether Text to speech is actually a violation of audio copyright.

Most of us sensible people would state that audio books are completely different to those read by a screen reader. However, the author’s gild did not agree with that notion and filed a suit against Amazon and its Kindle reader last year to ensure a feature was available to authors/publishers to turn off the speech functionality of the Kindle if they so desired.

granted, I realise that this protects the content somewhat from hackers but as no expert in the matter I will comment no further on this except to say, while you’re keeping the hackers out you are also blocking millions of readers from accessing the material because of an impairment. Even though the Author’s gild still seem rather adamant about the reading aloud situation, I’m not entirely certain Apple will back down as easily as Amazon did.

Apple’s policy of universal access would completely be in disarray if Apple allowed the voice over feature to be turned off on certain books. Not to mention the fact that it should be an individual’s right to choose how they read a book. For those who are print impaired, walking into a bookstore and picking up a book is not an option. Audio books are only on occasion made in comparison to publication of print books so Ebooks seems like the most viable option to not only avid readers but to students alike.

Imagine, trying to study and be unable to get hold of the core text because it is simply not available in the format you need. Thousands of print editions but no other alternative and if there is, I.E. an Ebook you are unable to read it because the devices capable of doing so have been blocked access because the author’s gild deem your screen reader as equivalent to a human voice.

It does seem Apple have not gone into this with their eyes shut, they rarely do but after reading and rereading the statement on their Ibooks feature page where it says,
“iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page.” and maybe I am reading too much into this but it says can read the contents of “any page”. That suggests that the DRM ability like so many other devices has protected against the “print impaired” users accessing the books does not exist here. Apple does not state, will read all the content on an unprotected book’s page or anything to that affect. So, I do conclude that Apple have
A. Thought this through and
B. are keeping to their universal access policy.

The IPad, along with being a potentially fun and innovative way to do work on the go or watch movies in the car could also possibly open up the reading and studying world for millions of people that has remained firmly closed because of simple red tape.

Welcome the IPad and yet another product from Apple that just keeps making me and many others love their products more.

Anticipating The Big Bite?

January 25, 2010

And it is that time of the year again where we anticipate what Mr Jobbs and his buddies over at Apple have cooked up for us. As usual the rumour mill has been filled with all kinds of teasers and the grand unveiling is two days away but I had to report what I’ve learnt.

There is a rumour of an Apple tablet. a device that is somewhere in between a computer and a smart phone, all touch screen. But along with this piece of information, Sky News today reported that Apple are supposedly in talks with publishers, magazines and news Papers to allow the new Tablet to become some kind of reading device on the go. This of course is not new in itself but what is potentially interesting is the potential for Apple’s increasing scores of Visually impaired and Dyslexic users.

If as Sky News predict, and Apple are in talks and continue their dedication to their own policy of universal access then this could mean that books, news papers and magazines would be as readily available to not just their sighted users but to all of their users.

As a student, I really hope for this tablet to be three things.
1. accessible
2. the ability to buy and read books with voice over.
3. Relatively affordable.

If Apple can pull this off, surely some of the educational hypocrites could change their attitudes. But as I just told someone on Twitter never get complacent.

I hope for all of these things and would be shocked and very disappointed if the tablet isn’t in the least accessible to Voice Over users. So we will see.

Other trinkets of goodies may include an Iphone 4.0 update. That may be very interesting. Wish they’d sort the battery lives out, seriously. I’m tired of charging mine. And I personally suspect a new shuffle but we will see.

I’ll update when I know more.
Later Apple heads!

What’s Best?

January 19, 2010

People with disabilities are presumed by the majority of society to be “incapable” and “needy” of a “able bodied” person to help them in every day tasks. This is just one of the stereotyped beliefs that the majority of society beholds about disabled people. And while some of us, along with friends and family attempt to fight this stereotype, there are some within that community who do nothing but prolong that stereotype.

I’ve been visually impaired since birth and totally blind due to complications since I was six and a half years old. My mother found it difficult to come to terms with my blindness but after she realized that my sight was not miraculously going to come back, she decided that she would not always be around and so tried to give me as normal of a childhood as possible. This included not spoiling me, punishing me if I was bad, and ensuring I was educated as most of my other piers were in mainstream education. And above all else providing me with the tools to become as independent as possible. Her theory of not being around forever and ensuring my independence and integration into society meant I grew into the independent, open minded, all rounded individual I am proud to be now.

I dread to think how things could have been so different.

During the past few years, social networking has meant I’ve come across many people who are also blind. While some of them have seemingly grown up with parents who had a similar notion to my own mother, a lot of them completely play into the stereotype of helpless, strange individuals.

I say strange because most of these people have only been around other visually impaired people and their families their whole life and social rules I learnt throughout school and extracurricular activities have never entered these people’s lives. Depending on others for the menial tasks of every day life is “normal” to them and having the world handed to them on the plate is taken for natural. Asking for an expensive piece of equipment and receiving it is an almost every day occurrence to these people and actually having to wait for something is beyond their existence. Finding ways of doing something that the sighted world does with no issue for themselves is unthinkable. why do something with a little effort if you can have someone else to do it for you? And their sense of reality is completely distorted.

Some of the extreme behaviours that are perceived by society to be related to blindness are not always visible. These people believe they are not among the stereotype but often you have to speak to an individual and learn their attitudes toward the rest of the world to appreciate if they are indeed categorized within that stereotype.

Generalising anyone is not always a positive act but these individuals can be spotted a mile off. They hardly use a mobility aid and expect a friend/relative to walk everywhere with them. They daren’t venture anywhere alone.
They have every “blind specific” product on the market and will not try anything unless its been recommended by another like-minded person or an organisation.
They have their family weight on them hand and foot. Making a drink for themselves is just never going to happen let alone cooking a meal for themselves.
Cleaning up after themselves is “impossible” as they “can’t see”
And subsequently they use that “I’m blind card” constantly.
They think cyberspace is reality and never attempt to form “real life” relationships.
They really believe they are like “everyone else”.

Overall, they are almost incapable of coping in society independently.

So, who is to blame?

In my humble opinion it’s the organisations that pamper these individuals. Some charities and institutions reinforce this notion that they are visually impaired and “need help”. I’ll be the first to admit, certain things, I’d like help with. Everyone’s needs are different but my want for help is so I am able to live my life as independently as possible. I.E> labeling food helps me not to waste things so when the shopping arrives home and its labeled, I will correctly open a can of baked beans rather than a can of spaghetti hoops when making a casserole. If my pills aren’t labeled and there’s only one way to identify two lots of medication apart by labeling then I’ll have a sighted person help me label my medicine. Luckily for me, most of the manufacturers are helping this issue but if they didn’t my health is too important to warrant a risk. But in order to live as independently as possible those are minor sacrifices to make. Instructions for food should be read and noted down so you cook food properly. If you buy the same product often enough you’d remember it but say you wanted to try a new brand of something, its likely the cooking time may be different. No one wants food poisoning. And lastly, not all companies send things in accessible formats. True, with the advancement of technology, we can receive a lot of things via email and over the internet which has proven vital for most visually impaired people but just say a doctor’s letter came and it won’t scan or read properly, wouldn’t you want a sighted individual to just read over it for you. scanners and reader software have advanced greatly but not everyone has those pieces of equipment to do so but those small things just help someone to live independently.

Some parents however, seem to have the misguided notion that they will be around for their “poor disabled” child forever. I have news for you, you probably won’t. Giving them everything is not going to benefit them in society. Locking them up with other visually impaired kids with teachers who pamper their disabilities will only hinder their growth as a human being. “protecting” them as you believe you are doing from society will only make it worse when the day comes when they are forced into society’s cruel realm. And if your child is lucky enough to go to a school where being independent is a compulsory factor is great until they get home and you do everything for them. Your guilt cannot hinder your child’s progress.

Give them the tools to live within society and function effectively because the world is a hard enough place regardless of disability. If you don’t prepare them then what chance do they stand? Some would say mothers like mine were cruel and hard for allowing us to walk into doors, burning ourselves on a hot stove while cooking but she was kinder in the long term. I’m able to live independently and travel with confidence with my four legged friend because she gave me the tools to do so.

And there are some wonderful individuals that despite having overbearing parents still manage to be independent through their own spirit and belief in themselves, congratulations. You did it. And to those who enjoy being catered to, you’re a disgrace to the rest of us who constantly fight against this stereotype. And to those parents of disabled kids who believe your child needs you, yes they do, to show them how to be a human being.

Petition

October 16, 2009

Sign this petition for Ebooks to be available to all.
Ebooks for all

DOGS AND CANES, PROS AND CONS

October 16, 2009

DOGS OR CANES, WHAT ARE THEY PROS AND CONS?

Since losing my vision completely at the age of six, I was introduced to the long cane. It was an intrusive thing that I resented for many years, not truly comprehending the advantages to using one. But then at twenty-two I qualified with my first guide dog Bailey and never really looked back. So what were the pros and cons of the cane and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the four-legged friend?

Pros of a cane

1. It can fold away in your bag if it’s a folding cane.
2. You never have to take it out, feed it, groom it, exercise it, take it to the vet, cuddle it.
3. Doesn’t cost you anything to travel abroad with it or have to make special privileges.
4. It really can go anywhere with you. [I took mine to a concert with me lol]
5. It’s always ready to work and never gets sick.

Cons of a cane

1. It gets stuck in every crack of the pavement.
2. If it has a roller tip, the roller gets clogged with leaves/dirt/crap from the floor and gets jammed.
3. After using it for a while, Repetitive strain injury may occur.
4. People look at you as though you’re an alien with it and as though you must be nuts to carry a white stick around with you.
5. YOu can’t talk to the cane, well, you could if you wanted to spend some time in the psych ward.
6. If its windy/raining hard, you can guarantee that you’ll be all over the place instead of a straight line.
7. You hit every bollard/lam pole/trash can on the pavement.

Pros to a guide dog

1. They are cute and irresistible.
2. They usually have you walking in a straight line.
3. If they are excited, you are guaranteed to walk faster to your destination.
4. They remember, usually which shops you’ve been in and if they like the shop try to take you there again. Works great for shops you like to go in regularly, I.E. Starbucks and the Apple store for me.
5. You’ve always got a friend especially if you’re lost.
6. You avoid the annoying obstacles that the local authorities love to plant in your way.
7. People tend to want to help Guide dog owners, we seem more approachable with the cute cuddlies by our sides.
8. You seem less vulnerable with a dog, this for me, being a woman is very important.

Cons of the cute cuddlies

1. They are cute and irresistible, making the public see them as a magnet for strokes, pets and all over attention seemingly when they are working.
2. They bring with them a lot of responsibility, walks, feeding, grooming, general well being.
3. They cost money, [even though guide dogs pay for their vet bills and food] you just can’t resist buying that one new bone or cute toy that your pup just would really love, and the new beds, collars, bowls, etc.
4. Sometimes they get sick and you need to care for them and can’t use them until they’re better.
5. They are still dogs, and still love to do the doggy things, I.E. sniffing, rolling in dirt, barking at other dogs, etc.
6. Not everyone likes dogs. Can get really problematic in getting into taxis or being permitted to some places If the manager/driver doesn’t like dogs, even if it is discrimination.
7. You can’t leave them alone too long so weekends away, vacations have to be planned with the dog in mind.
8. And last but not least, you get emotionally attached to those cute ears, wet nose and wonderfully waggy tail and sadly at some point that pup has to leave. It must be the most heartbreaking moment for any guide dog owner, a moment I will have to endure but hopefully not for a long time yet.

Conclusion

Despite the pros and cons of both, I can honestly say that the pup wins every time. despite the responsibility and the emotional attachment, my pup is my world and I can’t imagine not having the comfort of my eyes by my side. The cane is awkward and has a very negative connotation in society so Guide Dogs for Life for me.