My PA and Me

My PA Emily and me

My PA Emily and me

I started employing the services of a personal assistant about three years ago when I finally admitted to myself that organizing my life to a point that would enable me to function to a high standard required some help from a sighted person. Having been in boarding school for most of my life, and living in a university setting for some of it, I have had the privilege of living in an environment that was organized and equipped in such a way that I could function independently.

However, starting life after school as a freelance opera singer and a teacher of singing gradually drew me out of my comfort zone, as I had to travel around London a lot and organize my lessons and my wardrobe to be suitable for different occasions. I also became a full time user of social media to expand my client base, keep people informed of my musical/ life journey and generally to stay in touch with all the people I have encountered so far.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t use social media independently as a blind person, but I am a firm believer in surviving in a world where visual content is vital in getting a message across or keeping people interested. This is where my PA comes in handy in helping me select the right images for any articles I write or for my posts on Facebook or Twitter.

My PA is also vital in helping me carry out tasks to a high standard. For example, if I need to prepare flyers advertising my concerts etc, we work together as a team, with me describing to her what I would like the flyer to look like, and she sourcing the materials to help me get my desired result. As I never fail to remind people: “I may be blind, but I do have a vision.”

I first of all heard about Independent Living Alternatives when I sang at the Liberty Festival and was assigned a PA to work with me for the day. We instantly clicked, not just as PA and PA user, but as friends, for the simple reason that she understood my situation when my curling tongs stopped working and I called her in panic mode, asking her to bring one along to help me get my hair looking nice for the event. She had already left home when I called to ask for her help with this, and she dashed back to bring me the tongs, and I got my desired hairdo for the event.

OK, this might sound completely trivial, but who doesn’t want to look their best when on stage? A sighted person has the ability to check their appearance in the mirror before they walk out of the house on a normal day, and on a special day, that check is even more thoroughly done.

In my case, on a daily basis, I could pull off a good enough look, but on a day that I’m to appear in front of a huge crowd because it’s a special occasion, I need my PA’s reassuring presence to see that everything goes just right. This frees my mind from worrying about my appearance, to focusing on the technical details of the performance I’m about to give.

OK… back to the point I was trying to make. I got on so well with the PA that was assigned to me that I instantly decided to employ her. She told me about Independent Living Alternatives and when I rang to thank them for recommending her, I asked the lady how she knew that I would get on very well with this particular PA.

She said: “I didn’t know you, but I had a look at your website and saw that you paid particular attention to detail with everything to do with your music and your appearance, so I thought she would be right for you”.

My first PA and I had a great working relationship that lasted a whole year, till I had to say goodbye to her because she got a full time job.

This was when I first experienced the Independent Living Alternatives matching process. I then approached them to find me another PA. I sent them a detailed job specification and answered their personality questionnaire. With this information, they sent me a few prospective PAs with personal attributes and educational qualifications which matched my requirements.

When I read through my current PA’s personal attributes, I knew we would work well together and I haven’t looked back since. In order for a PA to work well for you, the person needs to have a huge amount of empathy with your situation and a good understanding of what sort of help you need.

Emily helps me with tasks that require vision to complete: Reading my mail, filing print documents, sourcing sheet music, choosing images for articles, flyers and my social media, organizing my wardrobe for easy access, helping me with my food/grocery shopping and labelling of tinned food, accompanying me to events or to the theatre or cinema for shows that are not audio described, going to inaccessible shopping malls, helping me shop online by describing items on the display to me, and the list goes on, since each working day brings about new challenges.

She’s very intelligent but unassuming and I never know what she has up her sleeve until she reveals them. She is perfect in the sense that she keeps a professional distance but not so distant that I find her unapproachable. She is very intuitive and knows the difference between when I need encouraging to complete a very difficult task, and when I need her to intervene.

Being in control is vital to everyone, but it is more so to anyone who lives with a disability that makes them somewhat vulnerable. If you are visually impaired or blind, you are that little bit more vulnerable, as most people with other disabilities can still rely on their sight to fully assess any situation they’re in, whereas all you have to rely on is the tone of the voice speaking to you and what you’re being told. In order for a blind person to trust someone, the person has to give a bit more of themselves so the blind person is sure that they have their best interests at heart. My PA is highly aware of this so she is very good at expressing herself fully and in the most sincere form, that reassures me that I am being made fully aware of what is happening around me.

She only helps me with tasks that I ask her to… In time, she has come to know more about me, and my interests so much so that when we’re out and about, she instinctively draws my attention to things that I would have noticed had I been sighted. This I find invaluable as she practically acts as my eyes. We have a mutual amount of respect for each other and I have come to see her as a friend.

In order for a PA and a PA user to work effectively, there has to be a mutual sense of trust. I have to trust that my PA has my best interest at heart in order to trust her judgement. She has to trust that I am in control and capable of making the right decisions for me, and in cases where she is supplying me with information, that I am able to make decisions based on the information I am given.

I also believe that as a PA user, you are responsible for the wellbeing of your PA when she is with you so the caring element should be mutual.

The Threepenny Opera company's campaign to save the Independent Living Fund. Members of the cast hold postcards saying "Save the ILF"

The Threepenny Opera company’s campaign to save the Independent Living Fund. Members of the cast hold postcards saying “Save the ILF”

PAs are very useful in helping people living with a disability lead a life without limits. To some disabled people, having a PA makes a difference between their being able to eat, wash, use the bathroom  or carry out normal daily activities that many of us take for granted. The government cuts have resulted in the Independent Living Fund, which pays for such services, to be closed. This will result in many disabled people becoming prisoners in their own homes, or even worse, the death of many disabled people due to neglect, and depression.

I urge everyone to look up organizations like the Independent Living Alternatives (www.ila.org.uk) to have a full understanding of how vital their role is to humanity, and ask yourselves if the government have the right to deprive more than a fifth of the whole British population of their right to live a life without limits?

To find out more about the Independent Living Fund and to participate in the fight to save the ILF, please visit the following links:

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/03/back-basics-independent-living-fund
https://www.facebook.com/ILFpostcard
http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/threepenny-opera-ilf
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMl1Vl4SBwI

The true meaning of vision

Inner vision laughing

Inner Vision group photo

On the 19th of November 2011, I attended a workshop led by the RNIB and happened to come across a nice lady called Linda, who was accompanying her husband Baluji to the same workshop. She told me about what would later become the Inner Vision Orchestra, and asked me if I would like to join in the pilot project. I am always up for new experiences so I said yes, and that was how our journey began.

We had our first rehearsal in March 2012 and all the musicians (fabulous people I hasten to add) were introduced, and we had a musical jam.

I fast came to realize that there were many things I needed to learn about world music. Having come from a classical background where everything is set in stone, working with Inner Vision requires you to have a well developed inner hearing as you need to react to what is happening around you and interact musically to make the piece work.

OK, before I start to bore the non musicians reading this, I must get to the heart of the matter. Every member of the Inner Vision Orchestra is a barrel of laughs! It’s a wonder we get any work done because of all the banter we enjoy together.

Another thing you have to know about blind people is the never ending soundscape we are capable of producing with our instruments and our voices.

Ziad profile pictureZiad (our Lebanese oud player and singer), for instance, is able to do a whistle so loud I swear it would give the ambulance a run for its money. He also has a way of recounting events that add a flavour unique to him.
 
 

Fereshteh, Fershteh profile pictureour singer from Iran, and mother to Bruce, her very boisterous and affectionate guide dog, adds a very feisty character to the mix.
 
 
 
Rikki profile pictureIf you’re lucky on a long bus or train journey to sit beside Ricky, you will end up in stitches from all the jokes and limericks he creates off the top of his head. I tell you, as well as being an amazing musician, he makes a pretty entertaining comedian.
 
 
Takashi profile pictureTakashi (our Japanese viola player and singer), on the other hand, is whom I would call the group’s wise owl. This is because he isn’t often garrulous, but when he has something to say, it is very profound and unforgettable.
 
 
 
 
 
Abi profile pictureAbi, (our pianist, violinist, and clarinetist, from Somerset), is whom I would call the clever one. This is not to undermine anyone’s intelligence, but she came up with the phrase “optically challenged” as a substitute for visually impaired. Abi is very good with words so if you ever need to convey any message clearly, she’s the one for the job.
 
 
 
Peggy profile picturePeggy, our cymbalist who calls herself the simple cymbalist is one person who brings us all together and keeps us sane whenever we lose it. A good example is whenever the sound engineers at venues we go to do not get the balance right and we all get frustrated, and Peggy reminds us all of the fact that we all love music and we can still make music regardless of the sound balance being wrong.
 
 
Tristram profile pictureTristram, our enigmatic keyboard player is very instrumental in keeping us all together musically, as he often determines the speed of the music.
 
 
 
Baldev profile pictureBaldev is a good example of how music can unite, because his main language is Punjabi. In spite of this, he is able to keep the orchestra together with his tabla, which is as reliable as a heartbeat.
 
 
 
Baluji profile pictureThen I must talk about Baluji. He doesn’t like to be referred to as the leader of this group because he aims to empower everybody but one thing you must know, is that he is the brain behind the formation of this orchestra. He had a vision that was beyond what is physical. He often reminds me of water – the one thing apart from oxygen that we can not do with out. I say this because he has a gentle unassuming approach to everything, but he always delivers in the end.
 
 
Victoria profile pictureI am Victoria, the classical singer of Nigerian origin in the orchestra. One thing you will come to notice is that I laugh a lot and love all the improvised sessions we have, but there are a few things I do not laugh about: being too far away from a warm drink of lemon and honey, and being forced to eat things that don’t agree with my voice 🙂
 
So here you have the Inner Vision Orchestra, the orchestra with a vision to change the world’s definition of disability. The blind can lead the blind and get them to their destination in one piece. Watch this space. 🙂

Thank God for the Metropolitan Police

Me and my mobility cane

Me and my mobility cane

I remember the first time I started learning to use a mobility cane. I was doing my A- levels at the former RNIB New College Worcester and I used to think the mobility cane was the most uncool thing ever created. My views gradually changed as my mobility teacher started pointing out ways in which it would prevent me from hitting obstacles and scarring my legs or falling down steps. I also got to learn how to use my mobility cane to locate landmarks to help me get to where I need to go.

When I passed my test for mobility, I had the keys to the world in my hands. I could go just about any where if given directions. This led to my second fear: People!

When I was growing up, my family (my mum and sister especially), always made me aware of how tricky and unpredictable the world is, and how I should always have my wits about me especially since I don’t have the use of the most valued sensory organ: my sight.

In many ways I am glad I had been forewarned because I have come across some interesting people in my years of independent travel. They range from genuinely nice people with whom I am happy to engage in pleasant chats, to strange people who think I’m their good deed for the day by laying their hands on me to “cure my affliction” to dodgy people who take advantage of the contact they have when they take my arm to help me across the road, as an opportunity to chat me up inappropriately.

Most times I’m polite but if I start to feel like I’m being asked obtrusive questions, I firmly ask them to stop and walk away. If I am not in a position where I feel free to do that, I would raise my voice in the hope that someone else passing by would notice what was happening and help.

I sometimes get approached by beggars asking me for money, and in one case last year, I was followed after I had withdrawn some money from the cash point. Luckily I was with my friend who intervened by asking them to leave me alone. I got the feeling they were quite harmless but they seemed desperate as they kept insisting that I should give them a bit of money so when I got home I called the Met Police and made a complaint. They assured me they would do something about it and since then I have had no more bother from those people.

Another aspect of travel that disabled people have to deal with, is inpatient members of the public. I have often witnessed station assistants get some abuse from passengers because they are having to walk at a more steady pace helping me up the stairs or assisting me on to the train. They would often say things like “Hurry up we haven’t got all day” or “For God’s sake I have a train to catch” In this case, the station assistant would tell them they’re helping a VIP (Visually impaired person) and immediately the passenger would be contrite.

One of the great London Underground station staff

One of the great London Underground station staff

On one particular evening, the Oxford circus Tube station was congested and we had to wait in a queue for up to 20 minutes before we were allowed into the station. A kind lady was helping me down the stairs after expressing her concern that as a consequence of the crowded environment I would be accidentally pushed. On getting to the ticket barriers, she was in the middle of asking me who she should speak to about assisting me, when an angry voice from behind started shouting “Get out of the way! It’s people like you that cause the long queue and keep people waiting outside for ages” so the lady helping me explained to her that she was helping me because I was blind.

A Crowded Tube Station

A Crowded Tube Station

The passenger showed no concern. She went on to say that she didn’t care if I was blind or crippled or anything and that no one had the right to keep people waiting. At this point, I decided to speak up for myself. I told her I was in the queue myself and my journey had been delayed, but I would only travel safely if I got the help I needed hence this lady trying to get a station staff’s attention. I also told her that it was people like her who made life that bit more difficult for people like me.

When the angry lady carried on ranting, I decided there was no point having a logical conversation with her so I told her in no polite terms to keep quiet because her behaviour was unacceptable. On hearing shouting the police were called and we both had the opportunity to explain what happened.

At this point I was seething for the following reasons:

1) The station was so crowded I had no idea where I was standing, and I wasn’t standing in her way for more than 30 seconds.

2) She was venting her frustration out on me, forgetting that every one else at the station was experiencing the same thing.

3) If she had done this to another disabled person who might have anxieties attached with going out, she would justify their fears.

The wonderful police of London

The wonderful police of London

So when the policeman approached me, I made him aware of the situation and why he should have a stern word with her because in Britain, we respect people and we do not make disabled people feel like they are a public nuisance. It’s people like this angry lady, who make some people living with a disability terrified of leaving their homes and such behaviour in the public should be curtailed.

The policeman told her, that her behaviour was unacceptable and she was asked to leave the station.

So here is my word to all people living with a disability, all parents/carers who have to struggle with prams, and senior citizens.

1) We all have a right to travel safely. Even if it means we have to tread more carefully, so never let any one make you feel like you’re a public nuisance.

2) Don’t be afraid to report any one who makes you feel like you are a public nuisance when you’re trying to make your way in the best way you can.

3) Never hesitate to ask members of the public for help if you can’t find any staff around. Most people you will find, are willing to support you in any way they can, but remember not to take them for granted.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the unnamed lady who helped me down the stairs and got verbally assaulted by the angry lady. I didn’t get the chance to ask your name but wherever you are, may God send you an angel in your hour of need as you were mine at that crucial point in time.

Thank you to the Metropolitan Police for being the friendly calming influence that you are. You have helped me cross the road several times in my life and you always have pleasant things to say no matter how cold, hot, wet or snowy the weather is. I know you don’t often get people saying thanks to you, but I’m grateful to you for doing your best to make our cities safe.

Have you or any friends/relations experienced anything similar? I would like to hear about your experiences and your thoughts.

Life on the stage

Victoria full cast

Image above © Patrick Baldwin 2014: Me on stage with the rest of the cast, performing a song. We are standing still with our palms spread in front of us, and a screen above our heads displays the lyrics ‘For life today is cold and grey and ghastly’

I must apologise for not keeping you updated with my musings/activities.

As the title suggests, I have been on the stage most nights for the past few weeks, something I am grateful for. It has been an amazing experience, with never a dull moment. I often pinch myself to check that it’s not a dream.

The first leg of the Threepenny Opera tour saw us in Nottingham where we played at the Nottingham Playhouse for two weeks. We arrived two weeks prior to the beginning of the show and our time was mainly spent in rehearsals.

Going away for a long time is always a daunting prospect for someone with a visual impairment. You are leaving familiar surroundings behind and in many ways you are trying your hardest to maintain some control over how you choose to live. Rehearsals were a bit of a revelation to me. Having come from an operatic background where the orchestra is usually neatly placed in the pit or on the side of the stage, it was a bit of a shock to find that I had to share the stage with musicians carrying their instruments and sometimes moving around with them:-) This is a feature that is unique to an actor/muso production. The sound level was also a huge factor in affecting my orientation as I depend mainly on my ears to give me a sense of where I am on stage. I thought my challenges would be over when I got used to the sound levels but little did I know that there would be another aspect of the stage for me to tackle: the fall-back speakers. These speakers can make someone standing next to you seem like they’re standing somewhere completely different. Whilst they’re great for balancing out the sound, and helping the musicians keep together, they’re not so great for helping me gauge where I should face when I’m addressing someone on stage.

Victoria singing behind Gary

Image above © Patrick Baldwin 2014: Wearing a black dress, I am standing behind the wheelchair of my onstage husband Mr Peachum ( Garry Robson) with my hands on his shoulders.  I have a kind expression on my face, while he has his leather-gloved hands spread and looks serious.

Rehearsals also brought to light my need for simple and concise instructions during choreography sessions. It was very useful to have many rehearsals on the stage prior to the first show. I was able to familiarise myself with the stage with the help of my fellow cast members. We were also able to establish cues they could give me to inform me of where they were, or where necessary, the choreographer adapted movements to make things easier for me.

In spite of all the work that’s involved in rehearsals, there can be a few mishaps in a show. For instance, last week (our first week in Ipswich) I got  completely disorientated by the new space and the change in the nature of the sound output as a result of the shape of the theatre. I was about to faint (as was required by the script) on what should have been the platform but was the floor when CiCi Howells, who plays my daughter Polly, Garry Robson who plays my husband Mr Peachum and Will Kenning who plays Tiger Brown dived to my rescue just in time to prevent me from banging my head on the metal platform edge. It worked out really well as the audience would have thought my stage family were rather concerned about my health. There were also a few times that I have walked a little too close to the edge of the stage but fortunately, the stage manager had put two wooden pipes down, one to warn me that I’m too close for comfort, and the other to completely stop me from falling off. I often find that my adrenalin kicks in, giving any other scenes after such incidents more of a boost.

Afterwards I go over the incident with my support worker and cast members who are on set with me at the time, and we think of ways to prevent them from happening again. It could either be a case of me counting my steps, or getting a sound cue from one of them to reassure me, or to stop me from veering off too far.

In situations like this, I feel grateful to be working with such talented and reliable people. On the whole it has been a new and interesting experience being in an actor/muso production. I think the concept when its all put together works out really well as it gives what I would describe as maximum entertainment to the audience.

photo (8)

Image above © Patrick Baldwin 2014: I am crying in Garry’s lap while he shouts at Polly (CiCi Howells), who is standing to the left of us in her red dress.

Possible Solutions:

Ask to have more time in the performance space during rehearsals.

Ask to be shown around the set.

Ask to be informed of any changes to the set in great detail.

Don’t be shy about confiding in your fellow cast members. You’re only saying what they are already thinking because they are just as concerned for your safety.

Some blind people use their guide canes on the stage but I have often found the guide cane more of a hindrance than a help because it limits my ability to use my hands when expressing myself. I also find that my stick encourages me to look down instead of outwards because it channels my attention to the things on the floor that might trip me up.

I tend to rely on many rehearsals, because let’s face it, the stage could be as familiar as your bedroom if you’re on it long enough. Since I don’t use my stick when I’m at home, I feel that using it on stage is telling me that I’m not familiar with the space. This is in no way disregarding the choices of other blind people who may feel better using a stick, especially those with a little vision. The stage can be rather confusing for them as the flashing lights blur their vision, hence disorientating them.

When working with a company like Graeae it is easy to communicate this to the artistic directors, however with non-disabled theatre companies time is always precious as you don’t often gain access to the performance space until maybe two days before the performance. Even with the use of a guide cane that isn’t enough time to get familiar with the space. This is something that companies could think about as more and more visually impaired actors/musicians are emerging.

The Threepenny Opera is currently showing at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich until  Saturday 22nd of March. Then we’re off to Birmingham Rep, and then West Yorkshire playhouse in Leeds.

For performance schedule and tickets, visit: www.graeae.org/productions/the-threepenny-opera/

Click here to see some reviews:

http://www.disabilityartsonline.org.uk/graeae-the-threepenny-opera-review

http://www.insuffolk.com/threepenny-opera-insuffolk-review/

http://news.cision.com/dakota-digitalltd/r/graeae-theatre-company-presents-a-contemporary-opera-for-our-times,c9551566

To find out what we’re up to when the cast of Threepenny Opera are not on stage, visit Tash’s Threepenny Opera Blog:

http://graeaetheatrecompany.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/tashs-threepenny-opera-blog-4

My wonderful job!

singing close up attitude 1

Picture above: Me singing at the Attitude Awards

As most of you might have observed, I am a singer, songwriter, teacher of singing, and now to add to my skills, I have recently dipped my toes in to the whirlpool of acting as I embrace my role as Mrs Peachum in Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

Yes, I know I am lucky to be able to pursue my preferred career in this very competitive climate, and I never forget to be thankful.

I have wanted to be a singer ever since I was 4 and was mesmerized by the voice of Aurora in Walt Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, and my passion, with the help of my family and a lot of hard work, has taken me to music college where I honed my skills to make this happen.

How have I been able to pursue my career as a blind person?

Well, I have endured a lot of rejection and worked in a few productions where I was not necessarily playing a principle role, but I remained single minded and doggedly determined. The day I got the letter from Graeae Theatre Company asking me to audition began a turning point.

Graeae Theatre Company are a force for change. They make theatre accessible to musicians and actors who live with a disability or multiple disabilities. In fact, they cut through all the what-ifs, and buts, and make it happen!

Of course, everyone undergoes a fair audition where a number of experienced artistic and musical directors observe each candidate doing what they do best and pick who is best for each role. I remember having two call backs before I was offered the role of Mrs Peachum! And you should have seen the ceremonial dance I did in my hotel suite (as at that time, I was back in Nigeria because I had been invited to sing at the Musical Society of Nigeria’s gala concert).

The amazing thing about the cast they have put together for this show, is that a lot of the actors/singers are also part of the orchestra! The cast also include a few actors/singers who do not have a disability.

Graeae rehearsal space

Picture above: inside the Graeae studios

Working for Graeae these past two weeks has been such an amazing experience. Unlike most theatres I have been to, the Graeae building is very accessible. Most times I do not feel the need to hold my stick as I walk around the building because there are no sudden steps or obstacles to trip me up. The freedom has been amazing in giving me the confidence to participate on stage unaided most times. I also have the help of a support worker who is always there to help me with orientation and with anything else I need. If she is not available, another member of the cast often describes what is happening during rehearsals hence keeping me up to date with any changes, or making me aware of what the joke is when there is sudden laughter.

Picture below: Me standing with my onstage hubby Mr Peachum and daughter Polly, with MacHeath and Jenny in the foreground

photo (4)

My onstage family – Gary Robson who plays my husband Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, and CiCi Howells who plays my daughter Polly – are very experienced actors/singers. They are also very aware of ways to make their presence known to me so I do not end up directing my comments into space.

I am really enjoying the work in progress because for the first time, I feel like my skills are being utilised to the fullest. Mrs Peachum is a role that requires a lot of presence. She is a harridan to say the least and it has been quite a journey to get from the smiley Victoria to this other person I become on stage.

Mrs Peachum and Polly

Picture above: Mrs Peachum (Victoria) and daughter Polly (CiCi Howells) in a silent stand-off

There are a lot of things that a blind person worries about whilst on stage – where props are placed and where people are being at the top of the list. This is why I appreciate the repeated runs we have to help Amelia, who plays Jenny, and I familiarise ourselves with the lay out of the stage. Amelia and I also have an action packed scene which I won’t let out of the bag till you see the show…

photo (5)

Picture above: Sharing an onstage moment with Amelia – she is leaning on her cane, looking at me seriously, while I look back defiantly

I do hope that you can all come and see the show! I’m telling you, it will be an unforgettable experience! The dialogue is colourful and the songs range from well known jazz standards to some rather operatic songs. You will definitely be leaving on a high!

I will paste the link for you to book tickets. We are showing at the following venues:

Nottingham Playhouse from 21st Feb to 8th March 2014,

The New Wolsey Theatre from 12th March to 22nd March 2014,

Birmingham Rep from 27th march to 12th April 2014,

And West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds from 24th April to 10th May 2014.

Please find below the following links:

To book tickets, click here

For Mrs Peachum’s story, click here

Click here to see the promo for the show. This week, Mr and Mrs Peachum AKA Garry Robson and Victoria Oruwari are flying the flag!

To find out more about Amelia Cavallo, visit her blog here

My Gadgets And Me

One thing doctors should remember to tell people after they’ve been diagnosed with a permanent condition that renders them disabled is that living with a disability is very capital intensive. I tell you! The number of extra things you need to function are endless!

I’ll only focus on being blind as that’s my specialty.

First you need a white stick:

white_cane

And also an orientation officer which thankfully the British social system make available for free.

Then you need little things like

1) A water level indicator:

Liquid Level indicator

I don’t use this often because I’m now able to detect from the sound liquid makes when it’s being poured that the glass is almost full but it is very useful when the kitchen is full of other noises that might distract you and cause accidents.

2) A Pen friend:

penfriend

It is just like a pen which comes with many little sticky labels. So when the pen is put on the label, you can name the item you want that particular label to recognize, and the next time the pen is placed on that same label, it tells you what it is. It is very useful for labelling food, clothes, cds, etc.

3) A colour detector:

colourdetector

I make use of mine very often. It does what it says on the package. Tells you what colour your clothes are, though sometimes it confuses some colours such as pink and red, or purple and blue, or grey and cream.

4) Loc8tor Tag:

Loc8tor Lite

My orientation officer just introduced me to “Loc8tor” tags and they have been so helpful. You know those mornings when I’m getting ready and I can’t find my hair brush, keys, etc? Well I now have them tagged to this device that makes them beep when the device is pressed so I can locate them.

5) Braille note:

braille noteThis is just like a mini computer though it works with a Braille key system, and a Braille display. With this, you can check and send emails, browse the internet, record, and read any print files once it’s been transferred on to it.

6) Jaws: Job Access With Speech is the name of the screen reader on my computer that enables me to make full use of my laptop. It basically reads every thing on the screen. Instead of using the mouse when operating my laptop, I use short cut keys to get me to documents, the internet, and every other place I decide to locate on the computer. Jaws needs to be updated at least once a year as it has to be compatible with the ever changing web browsers. Another capital intensive venture.

7) Victor reader:

victor reader

Before the iPhone became accessible, blind people needed devices like the Victor Stream, Iriver, Phlex talk, etc to enable them to listen to their music, store downloaded audio books, and record things on the go. In many ways, though the iphone has come to stay, I still take my Victor Stream with me because it has a longer battery life than my iphone. I also think many blind people would agree that the iphone still doesn’t beat the products of Humanware who created the victor stream.

8) Eye pal solo:

EyePalSolo

This is a scanner. This literally reads any print document to you! Just place the book, or letter etc on the flat surface and it reads it to you! Definitely on my to buy list!

9) Braille wrist watches and talking watches:

tactile_watch

The Braille wrist watch uses Braille symbols to enable you tell the time by feel. The face of the watch can be lifted to allow this. With the talking watch, you simply press a button on the side of the watch and it tells you the time. The thing is, Braille watches have to be replaced every 3 years because they get rusty due to constant exposure to dust etc.

10) Talking scales:

talking kitchen scale

They do just that. You can get ones for weighing yourself or ones for weighing ingredients.

11) Trekker Breeze:

trekker_breeze

This is a talking GPS that tells you where you are when you’re out and about. All you have to do is, press the button. It’s portable, and has all UK postal codes logged in the system. It may prevent you from getting lost but sometimes you still need an arm especially if you’re crossing an unfamiliar road or the path isn’t so straight forward.

12) Braille embosser:

braille embosser

This is a device that produces documents in Braille. It works a bit like a printer only what it churns out is Braille. Very useful for when I am sent a lot of print to read and I get fed up with having Jaws read it to me. Sometimes it’s always better to access information first hand. 

In many ways, we should be grateful to the very thoughtful people who create all this equipment to enable us function independently.

I cannot promise you that I have gone through the whole list of gadgets, I can only talk about the ones I make use of. To find out more about equipment for blind or partially sighted people, visit.

www.humanware.com

www.rnib.org

www.freedomscientific.com

The many shades of Christmas

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I have experienced Christmas in so many different ways when I was growing up. As a partially sighted child, it was a season I dreaded the most because I had to go and see Father Christmas. I’m sure you’d think that really odd because all children are meant to like him since he gives you presents and all, but I was extremely terrified of him because he didn’t look like a human being and I didn’t understand why I had to go in to this room alone, and talk to him. So I did what I did best. Screamed the place down until my mum or my Nanny was allowed to go in with me. I guess what people didn’t understand, was that being partially sighted, I also couldn’t see him very well. Santa’s grotto was a bit dark and even though he sounded quite harmless, I didn’t think I could trust him not to whisk me away in to a deep dark hole, and no one would be able to find me. So I endured the visits year after year until the year I lost my sight. That year was the first time I allowed Santa to put me on his knee and tell me the story about Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem and how if I was very good, one day, He would take me to Jerusalem to see where it all happened. He also showed me his costume and I realized that I shouldn’t have spent all those other years being frightened of him.

 An aspect of Christmas I remember very well was the flashing lights on our Christmas tree which turned our sitting room in to an enchanted place. The lights had so many different colours and because we had white walls, the colours turned the walls in to various shades of pink, red, blue, green, etc. I also loved the transformations in school and church where every place was decked with holly, and tinsel.

Picture of Christmas tree below:

 

 

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I wish they could make Christmas trees that had lights that made different twinkly charming noises. That would make it easier for blind people to appreciate.

 As I got older, I started to appreciate Christmas carols more and making cards for my friends. As a blind person, I find cards rather tricky to write as they have to be written in Print to my sighted friends. When I was in school, A friend of mine helped me figure out that you could tell where to write because the top and bottom of cards are blank. When the card is closed, the top half is longer than the bottom half so that way, I can tell that I’m writing in the correct places.

I have since used this method to write cards though it would be helpful if more cards are designed with tactile decorations to make access easier.

Wrapping presents is another minefield. Some wrapping papers have two textures where the outside is shiny and the inside is matted. It gets tricky when both sides feel the same as you can’t tell which way the wrapping paper should go.

Sometimes people wonder if I would appreciate being given a card and my answer is:

If the card has things I can feel, and the sender bares in mind my love for bright colours, I am always as happy to enjoy a card as I would if I could see it.

Picture of tactile Christmas cards below

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During my college years, Christmas became more about singing in concerts and attending many concerts and in time I got to memorize all the descants in carols.It was also about watching my adorable nieces and nephews open their presents.

 Now as a Teacher of singing, I arrange modern versions of traditional Christmas carols for my pupils and listen with pride when they perform them at their Christmas concert. It is also about going to various Christmas events where I am invited to sing.

My dream Christmas would be to spend it in a really cold country like Switzerland or New York where there is a lot of snow. On Christmas day, to wake up with loved ones in a 5 star hotel where there are lots of Christmas activities I can enjoy without having the extra stress of preparing them.

I am pasting below, a link to my arrangement of the Holly and the Ivy which I recorded last week. In this track, I am singing in one of my different styles and I am accompanied by a guitarist called Joao Smart, who was introduced to me by a friend. Joao who is a guitarist in a band called “the Rast collective” also produced the track.

I hope you enjoy it!

Have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!