Rocking it blind – Fashion as I see it

When you are blind, putting an outfit together could be a minefield. Especially when so many people are telling you different things. My advice, keep it simple. The fact still remains that you cannot see what you are wearing and until you feel confident enough with your understanding of how colours work together, don’t go trying to match pinks with reds because some fashion expert says they’re in because you need to know that perfect shade of pink that goes with red, or that perfect shade of yellow that goes with orange. I haven’t found that perfect colour detector that tells you these things so I’m keeping this simple.
Here are some tips I would like to share.

1. Colour detector:
I could not live without this device. Get one from the RNIB. I think it costs about £84. This device will tell you the colours of your clothes simply by switching it on and placing it on the item you want described to you and ensuring that the lights in the room are on. Mind you, it does get confused with pale colours like, cream, pale pink, pale yellow, white, etc. It may just tell you that those things are “(light grey olive green” but it would recognize bold bright and dark colours and save you from going out in totally mismatched clothes.
Please note: it is not great with patterns hence the need to ask people to describe your clothes to you at the initial stage of purchase or receipt.

You can get it here:

http://www.shop.rnib.co.uk/cobolt-talking-colour-detector-1.html

For those in America:

http://www.braillebookstore.com/Cobolt-Talking-Colour-Identifier.1

2. If you are blind, it is always useful to own black or navy blue trousers or skirts. This is because they will go with just about anything. If you are the type to want to look striking, then team these with any bright coloured tops such as: Red, Orange, Pink, Purple, Yellow, Green, white, Gold or Silver and you will be sure to look great. For men, you can wear similar coloured shirts for leisure but for a corporate look, I think people prefer it when you are in white, pale blue, black, pink, or maroon shirts. You could also have shirts with pin stripes or checks in any of these colours. you can wear v neck jumpers over your shirts for work if you wish to keep warm in the winter. It helps if the jumper is the same colour of the trousers you’re wearing so that the light or bright colour of your shirt peaks out at the top. If you’re going casual, you can still team the dark coloured bottoms with nice jumpers in your preferred bright or dark colour.

Woman wearing red top and black trousers

Man wearing green jumper and navy blue jeans

 

3. Avoid wearing separate pieces of clothes with patterns: So If you want to wear a top that has any patterns, be it floral, stripes, aztec, swirls or checks etc., ensure that the bottoms you choose to wear are of one colour. The same applies if you choose to wear bottoms with patterns, then you should ensure that the top you are wearing is plain. It’s OK to where a whole outfit of patterns if the shop sold them together as a pair. This way the patterns would be the same or complement each other. If you can, try to ensure that the plain top or bottom you are wearing has one of the colours in the pattern of the other item.

Woman wearing white shirt with flared patterned trousers. Colours is pattern are: red, green, black, white.

Woman wearing white shirt white shirt with blue and green floral pattern and blue trousers

Daniel Radcliffe wearing a black suit with black and white checked shirt and black tie.

Navy blue and white striped T-shirt and blue trousers

 

4. If you are in a situation where you are unsure of two pale colours you have, always team the pale coloured outfit with a dark coloured clothing item. For example, if you have tops that are pale versions of pink, blue, green, grey, or just cream, you’re safest wearing it with dark coloured trousers. This is where dark grey, dark brown or maroon bottoms could also complement the pale top you are wearing.

Kate Moss wearing a black shirt with pale pink trousers

Man wearing a pale blue jacket, white shirt, navy tie and navy trousers

Man wearing a pale blue Denim shirt and navy blue trousers

 

5. You can also team pale coloured tops with white or cream trousers or skirts if you want a fresh spring or summery kind of look. Lilac, turquoise or aquamarine are colours I do not quite understand but they go with these as well as pale pinks and blues. (please note: sky blue is pale blue)

 

Woman wearing white top and pale pink shorts

Man wearing pale blue shirt and white trousers

 

6. Dresses
They are by far my favourite item of clothing as you do not have to worry about matching them. If you are the type who likes dresses, get a few of them as your staple clothing items as they rescue you on those mornings when you can’t seem to find those trousers or that top you really want to wear. In winter, I particularly love to wear jumper dresses either with V necks, cow necks, scoop necks etc. In summer, I go to town with dresses that have lots of lovely colourful patterns or just one bold bright colour.

 

White dress with blue and green flowers

Woman wearing cobalt blue wrap maxi dress

Orange midi dress

Hot pink cashmere jumper dress with turtleneck

 

7. If you are buying any items of clothing, or you are being given any, do not be afraid of asking the person to describe it to you. After all, they liked the look of it, that’s why they picked it for you so why shouldn’t you have the pleasure and delight of knowing what it looks like? I often find that having items of my clothing described to me in detail gives me confidence because I feel I have made an informed decision when choosing to wear it.

8. Texture:
It is often helpful to buy clothes with various textures you can feel so if you are in a hurry, you can tell which top you are pulling out of the wardrobe. For example: Zara and Gap do these ribbed thin jumpers in different colours. If you know the colours you bought, and you pull it out, simply find any trousers or skirts you have (because you know they are dark colours), and team them together and you’re ready to go. Winter clothing is great because of all the knit patterns you can feel. Cable knit, crochet knit, ribbed, etc.

Multi-coloured crochet jumper, colours are dark green, grey, yellow, maroon, white, salmon pink, light blue and dark blue. The colours are done in horizontal stripes up to the middle of the jumper, the colour patterns become random afterwards.

White turtleneck cable knit jumper

Mauve turtleneck ribbed jumper

 

9. Scarfs:
Keep it simple as you don’t want to have too many scarves to choose from each day. Think of the colours that dominate your wardrobe and pick the most common colours you have. For example, if most of the things in your wardrobe are dark, pick a bright scarf to give your outfit a lift. Especially if you are wearing a black or dark coat. If most of your outfits are bright, then it’s safer to pick a dark coloured scarf except on occasions where you are absolutely sure that the bright scarf you’re choosing goes with that particular outfit. If you have a patterned scarf, it’s safest to team it with outfits that are plain. It is helpful if the outfit has one of the colours in the patterned scarf.

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Woman wearing blue jeans, black jacket, black and white stripy top and a yellow scarf

 

10. Shoes:
With regards to shoes, I am afraid to say I remain conservative and mostly wear dark coloured shoes. In the summer, I do experiment with colours like sparkly gold, or silver because again, they are neutral and can be easily matched with many things.

Silver sparkles on the straps with the inside being gold.

Plim soles with a white sole, gold mesh and silver threads all around the top and sides

 

I once recall buying a pair of sparkly pumps that reflected all the colours of the rainbow. I’m afraid to say that I can count the number of times I have warn these pumps as I was worried they wouldn’t go well with my often multi coloured summer outfits.

Pumps with sparkles of many colours

I thought to share these tips as they are guidelines I use for myself and they have worked wonders for me. It helps if like me, you have a good memory as I can describe to you, every single item of clothing I own. Having been sighted before, I can still see things in my mind. I do hope though that I have helped with this post.

Have you got any tips you would like to share? Comment below. I would like to hear your thoughts. Until the next post, have a colourific week! :)

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How do I look?

This is a question very often asked by blind people when trying on an outfit. We often get given answers which inform our decision to proceed with what we’re doing, or change our approach, but the truth is that we will never really know what our answer to that question is. We are relying on a trusted source of information but if we could really see what we were trying on, would our choices be different?

I decided to write this post after reading this:

http://silkspun.net/2017/02/06/on-blindness-and-the-body/

I was deeply moved by her article and thought it would help to share my experiences and how I have gradually learnt to take control of my appearance in the hope that it will help others in a similar situation.

 

Victoria wearing a multi-coloured dress, standing in front of an artwork

 

Victoria in a long white dress, with black and brown braids, with a sunflower Alice-band around her head

 

Victoria in an orange cow-neck fitted jumper dress, standing in front of a Christmas tree

 

I lost my sight at the age of 7 as a result of some eye operations going wrong. Until then I was partially sighted enough to attend mainstream school, watch television, draw, paint, and do all the things a sighted child could do.

A partially sighted Victoria age 6, standing in a white dress with her birthday cake

 

After losing my sight, I remember my mum and sister teaching me how to recognise things with my hands. Such as knowing how to tell if my clothes are inside out, locating the right buttonhole for the buttons on clothes, learning to eat with a knife and fork without making a huge mess, etc.

I often hated mornings when it was time to get dressed as my mum and sister did not just lay out my clothes for me, they asked me which outfit I would like to wear. When I made my choices, they would then describe what I had chosen, and ask me why I chose them. A discussion would then occur after which I would realise why I could not wear that combination. After a while, I started to choose my own outfit combinations following the colour rules I was given. At that time, I was not aware that they were helping me take control of my image.

 

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My Mum and I

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My sister and I

 

My sister always told me about the importance of being presentable. It is more so if one has a disability because there is a tendency for society to expect less of you. You defy their expectations by appearing in a way that says “my disability does not impact on my ability to take pride in my appearance”, and you are taken more seriously. In saying this, she was not advocating that appearance is everything, but in a situation where a blind person doesn’t have the advantage of using eye contact to draw the attention of someone, it is far easier to be approached by other people who are often led by visual cues, if you are looking presentable.

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My sister and my nieces

 

So how does one get to a point where they are happy with their appearance when one cannot see?

I must admit, seeing is important because it helps us confirm how great we look, or what needs adjusting. As a blind person, I learnt a lot from growing up in a family of people with good fashion sense. Conversations I have had with my sister, my Mum, my nieces etc have helped me build on ideas of how to dress myself in a way that makes me feel confident in my appearance. I can now go shopping independently and ask questions that ensure that I am choosing what is right for me.

 

Victoria in a multi-coloured, flowery top and black leggings touching shoes in a shop

 

I also think that one power we have as blind people is the ability to summon a feeling when we want to. I do have days when I feel really out of sorts and no matter what outfit I wear, I feel that I’m not looking great. Such days, I would “Look” at myself in the mirror, say to myself, “Victoria, you’re totally rocking this dress”, before I leave the house and I sincerely hope that I do.

I have made some errors in the past by wearing things that don’t quite go well together, or sometimes, I am in such a hurry that I have worn two different shoes. On such occasions, I “Own” my mismatched appearance and because it is a rare occurrence, people tend to think I was double dared to do so.

Negative comments about my appearance? Yes I have received quite a few of those from those close enough to give them, and yes, they do hurt at the time you are being told, but I would rather be aware of things I have to work on, because again, it is giving me control over my appearance. I must admit it does reach a point where I censor what I take in, especially if the person I am interacting with is in the habit of giving me negative feedback all the time. Some people have extremely high standards and they may want to foist those standards on to you. There is nothing wrong with having high standards of fashion, but for me, if it gets to the point where it causes me constant worry, I take what I can from what I am being told, and ignore the rest.

For example: I have been told that my eye lashes look better with mascara on, but whenever I try to apply it, I end up jabbing my eye or dropping blobs of it on my cheeks hence ruining my blusher. You know what? I have given up on them. I would only wear mascara if I have the help of a sighted person.

 

Victoria in a strapless gown with brown hair and blonde tips, full makeup with mascara

 

Victoria in a headshot, full professional makeup (didn’t do this myself :)) Photo by: Lilla Nyeki

 

I know I couldn’t get any blinder from a mascara injury, but I still would like to keep my eyes intact thank you very much. Another example is when I am persuaded to choose clothes that need constant adjusting during the day such as tops or dresses that hang off the shoulder. Yes, I know they are “In” but I have more important things to worry about when I am out or on stage than having to constantly hoist up a sleeve that keeps sliding off because it is hanging precariously around my arm.

So I do not think there is a clear answer to whether we as blind people will ever know how we look in any outfits, or how we look as people. We will get honest feedback from people we trust and we can work with that as guidelines. The important thing to remember though, is that to the people who really matter, what we look like will only matter to them a little bit as they will be more interested in what we carry in our hearts.

I will be posting something else about ways to bring outfits together if you are blind and have no concept of how colours work. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

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.

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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

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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…

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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