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www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk

SI G H T

Artwork by

IAN M C K AY


Sight: a sense

which the majority of us

take for granted.

sight [noun]

1. the power or faculty of seeing; perception of objects by use of the eyes; vision 2. an act, fact, or instance of seeing. 3. one’s range of vision on some specific occasion 4. a view; glimpse. 5. mental perception or regard; judgment.


4-5 Mark Kendal

6~7 Helen Markey

8~9 Alyson Mousley

10 ~ 13 Steph Cutler

14 ~ 15 Toby Davey


In 1980 Mark was employed in his local Civil Service Department and was selected for training as a computer programmer. Since then he has been involved with computer work in one form or another, until being made redundant in June 2011. He is now looking for work and facing the quandary of deciding the right moment in the recruitment process to discuss his sight loss. Outside of work Mark married

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with two children. His son graduated from university a couple of years ago and lives away from home, his daughter is about to embark on her AS levels. Mark’s interests include music, sailing and walking and he will be blogging about the joys of each, as well as the issues brought about by not having full vision. He is also very involved in his church; helping with their IT requirements, and looking after the music team.


Job Hunting Job hunting: a bit of a challenge this. I’ve been actively looking for work since last September. I’m starting to get a little tired of my daily session of searching through email alerts for jobs that I’m unlikely to get! This first blog is in danger of turning into a bit of a rant so I must be careful not to let it, but… I’ve been told by friends who from time to time recruit staff; that it’s wise to recruit for attitude and train for skills. In the world of computer projects, application development and analysis, the other view seems to hold sway. In many ways, of course, this is fair enough. To be a productive applications developer in a particular computer language, most people would need to have been doing so for a couple of years. But, there are other jobs in the world of computer projects. For example: analysis, liaising with users, speaking with suppliers, leading projects etc, where I’d like to think that a good grasp of the principles and the ability to speak and listen to people, might also be useful. My challenge is that my skills are not current as my last job was working on a system that was nearing the end of its rather long life. So I guess I need to consider looking at different areas to work in, or maybe getting some (rather expensive) training. Watch this space! You never know, someone out there just might need a member of staff proficient in technology that’s five years out of date!

I probably won’t recognise

Do You Consider Yourself to be Disabled? This phrase appears on many job application forms, usually as part of an equal opportunities form Questions cover things like nationality, gender and sexual orientation. I wonder about this question. What does this mean? In this context what does the word disabled mean? What does the word ‘consider’ mean? I am visually impaired, I know that I can’t see as well as most other people, I know that, for example, I’ll never be able to get a driving licence. I know that I probably won’t recognise a close friend, my wife or one of my children if they approach me in the street unless they call out “Hi Mark, it’s X”. I know that I need my computer screen to be very close to me and even as I write this I have the font size set to 24. So, back to the question - “Do I consider myself to be disabled?”, how should I respond? I recognise that I have limitations and face challenges that many don’t. I know that I can’t really do many of the things that fully sighted people can do easily. But, do I feel disabled? I don’t really know what it is to consider myself disabled. I lead a pretty full life complete with all the joys and frustrations that other people face but, what does it actually mean when it says “do you consider yourself to be disabled?”

a close friend,

my wife,

or one of my

children

if they approach me in the street

Do I face challenges? Do I find some things difficult? Would I prefer to be able to see better? Well, yes, to all of the above. But, do I consider myself to be disabled...

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Little Lady, Big Journey

~ ~Notes from a visually imparied traveller ~

Alyson is married to Martin and has 2 children; James, aged 8 and Emilia aged 4. She lives in the north of England, just above Manchester. She is a chartered tax advisor by profession but has not worked since having Emilia, although she still helps people out when she can. She loves saving money on purchases, getting the best deal and making sure big companies

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don’t get away with bad service! Alyson really enjoys cooking and listening to audio books. Alyson has arthritis, and following a spell on some medication, her eyesight began to decline and she was registered blind last year. Alyson’s motto in life is ‘don’t complain unless you are prepared to do something about it’. But she admits that this can sometimes get her into trouble!


“ The world

can be a daunting place for those of us living with

There are many aspects of everyday life which require us to tackle many obstacles in order to live our lives to their full potential. One of these aspects which takes a lot of our consideration and poses a daily challenge, is transport. We have to find a way that suits us best in order to maximise how effectively we navigate our way around the many transport links available to us. Transport can often be problematic, and often isn’t geared up to support the need of the visually impaired traveller. For this reason, it is of high importance that we take certain steps, for example: Trouble shoot out daily journeys, plan before we undertake that unfamiliar journey, those trips across country and beyond, and that we have the time and opportunity to prepare ourselves. GET ME THERE It is essential to be well prepared. To have as much information as possible, consider all eventualities and having a ‘Plan B’ in mind are all helpful steps to assist us when undertaking these journeys. Having experienced all modes of transport as a VI person, I have often had many positive experiences as well as negative. I recently travelled from Manchester to Kent using train and tube services, and found that this journey was surprisingly easy. You get a wonderful sense of independence and achievement when finding your own way there and back in a relatively straight-forward manner, and in one piece! Of course having access to the content on the internet makes life a lot easier in many ways, giving us access to site maps, journey routes, and alternative routes as a back up plan. LARGE SIGNS + PUBLIC TRANSPORT = GOOD FOR US Praise is due in particular to Euston Station, well laid out with announcements in a specific area, and a Customer Service desk to offer help if needed. The London Underground is a slightly more complicated situation, a seemingly endless maze at times, with so many directions to go in. The staff are always willing to help, and our own pre planning when using this service can only optimise our chances of getting around independently. What are we waiting for, lets get out there and put them to the test!

sight loss.”

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Alyson is married to Martin and has 2 children; James, aged 8 and Emilia aged 4. She lives in the north of England, just above Manchester. She is a chartered tax advisor by profession but has not worked since having Emilia, although she still helps people out when she can. She loves saving money on purchases, getting the best deal and making sure big companies

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don’t get away with bad service! Alyson really enjoys cooking and listening to audio books. Alyson has arthritis, and following a spell on some medication, her eyesight began to decline and she was registered blind last year. Alyson’s motto in life is ‘don’t complain unless you are prepared to do something about it’. But she admits that this can sometimes get her into trouble!


M Y BRIGHT S I DE

My mummy has funny eyes and she can’t read little letters, they have to be

I have never been very good at spelling. I never understood the shaking heads when at six in a catholic school I wrote vicar instead of priest as it was easier to spell. The Olympic gold rowing duo would never have recovered from my essay where I replaced x with ck while writing about the success of the coxless pair! In the age of computers it’s easier to get words checked and I have my husband now who’s good at grammar. Bad spelling held me back in my professional life as my work sometimes had to be checked and rechecked taking time in a fast moving business. From their early years I have been determined that my children would spell well and that’s where being blind has helped. From the time they knew their alphabet, when I couldn’t find my magnifying glass or when we are out and about, I’ve asked my children to spell out words so I can read the text. My son got 28/28 on his spelling test today, so there’s one bright side to being blind!

this big

T O TE LL O R NO T TO T E L L?

as she held out her arms as wide as she could.

This week I told an acquaintance of a few years that I was registered blind. “You don’t look blind” she said, then realised how that sounded and immediately got embarrassed. I didn't say it to make her feel awkward, but I did realise that I have never considered how or when to tell someone about my eye sight. Family and long term friends leap out at me in the supermarket in case I haven’t noticed them, read menus in funny voices for me and tell me when things don’t match. It's particularly the people I meet now, through school or on holidays, I am thinking of. While I am a confident person; I don’t feel “My name’s Alyson and I am registered blind” is quite my style. So, when is the right time to tell? While I ponder whether to tell or not to tell, my children just get on with it! When I was handed a document to read recently, my four year old daughter said, “My mummy has funny eyes and she can’t read little letters, they have to be this big” as she held out her arms as wide as she could. That certainly told them.

S H ADE S O F G REY

So many friends and family participate in book clubs. Whether their aim is to broaden their horizons, enjoy intellectual banter or simply enjoy a glass of wine and time out its fun and something I feel excluded from. Although large print books are available my arthritis prevents me from picking them up, so for many years I have download audio books. The problem here is the cost and the audio books not always being released at the same time as the paper versions. My feelings of exclusion have been more intense recently due to the wide spread discussion on the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy (a bit explicit, I am told). Reviews from friends fall into four categories: the disgusted and then binned group, the poorly written but can’t put down group, the thoroughly enjoyed group, and finally the inquisitive husband group. To join in with this discussion I have waited until my opinion is sought and to simply say I am waiting for the audio book! After a look of shock, people suddenly want to borrow my version! 09


My Philosophy

Steph’s background is in the highly competitive fashion industry. She has worked in designing, marketing, buying and sales for companies such as Ted Baker and suppliers to Marks and Spencer. In 2003 she experienced unexpected sight loss which led her to become self employed. Her business, Making Lemonade specialises in delivering personal and career development work shops, motivational

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speeches and life coaching. She regularly supports people who have recently acquired sight loss and empowers visually impaired people to achieve their work aspirations. An innovative entrepreneur, Steph and her businesses have won national recognition in several high profile business awards including Enterprising Young Brit 2006 and Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year 2008.


MY SIGHTLOSS FROM DAY ONE As this is my first blog post for Action for Blind people I thought I ought to introduce myself. I decided looking back to the time I began to lose my sight would be a personal way to introduce who I am and how I view life. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but less than ten years ago I had little central vision in one eye and was waiting for the central vision in my other eye to deteriorate. It was a funny old time as I did not quite know what to do with myself and did not know what it would be like when my overall central vision was affected. Time passed and my good eye remain good and so my overall sight was unaffected. Not knowing quite what to do or how long to wait I decided to apply for work. At the time I was a fashion designer so I worked hard on a new portfolio and secured a job with a well known high street retailer. It was a great next step for me. The position gave me more opportunities to travel, more money and more responsibility and I relocated back to London with enthusiasm.

Bit random, but in hindsight it was a good suggestion. I had never been on the London Eye before so it was a brilliant opportunity to see the city I love. The timing couldn’t have been better as I didn’t know how much sight I would be left with. As we crossed the bridge over the river Thames we walked past a man on bended knee proposing to his delighted girlfriend. I distinctly remember thinking to myself while I am having a bad day which I will never forget, this couple are having a fantastic day which they will always remember. I looked at them and thought, today is a memorable day for both of us but for totally different reasons. Today is their amazing day and my amazing day will come. Since then I have never thought, ‘there’s always someone worse off than me’ to make myself feel better. I know people say this to themselves to motivate themselves but I don’t really understand this. Why take solace from knowing others are worse off than you? From then on I think, while I may be having a bad day someone else will be having an amazing day and my amazing day will come. This motivates me and feels like a better way to look at things.

“While I may be having a bad day, someone else will be having an amazing day ... My amazing day will come.”

BEGINNING OF SIGHT LOSS I started on the Monday and it was evident by Wednesday that my sight loss had begun. Looking back I suspect it already had started to deteriorate and I was denying it to myself. I wasn’t doing this consciously but I think I was concentrating on what I could see rather than what I couldn’t. Maybe my sight got worse quickly or maybe it was being in a work situation that made it evident. For example, I was given a tiny laptop to work on and I could not see the screen or the keyboard and it wasn’t until I was asked to colour match that I realised I couldn’t identify colour well. Either way, I did not make it to the end of my first week and reluctantly I went into work knowing I would have to tell my manager that it would be my last day. I don’t actually remember the conversation but I left before lunch. I can’t remember exactly how I felt when I left the building. I seem to remember feeling a bit lost and so I called a good friend. I told her my sight loss was happening and I had left my new, exciting job. She took the afternoon off with immediate effect (what I mean by this is - she told her boss she’d see him in the morning)! I met my friend and she told me she was taking me on the London Eye.

CHAMPAGNE & THE LONDON EYE As we got to the London Eye my friend produced a mini bottle of champagne. Looking back, it is questionable what we were celebrating but it seemed a nice gesture! I don’t think I wanted tea and sympathy, perhaps she knew a bit of bubbly was the way to go! We smuggled our bottle past security and onto the capsule and drank it out of paper cups we had scrounged from the café stand. We drank and gossiped the whole way round the circuit. When we got off I laughed to myself because I hadn’t looked out at the view once! There I was with possibly my last chance to fully experience the London Eye and take in the famous sights of London and I had not done so. I realised there and then that friendship was far more important than sight. A view is a view but if you have no one to share it with (or in my case ignore it with!) then what good is full sight and beautiful views? These things have stuck with me ever since and helped me understand what is important in life. You will have bad days but your good days will come and as long as you have great people to share both with you will always be alright. 11


Sight Loss has Nothing to do with Vision

People who have vision are the most exciting people I know. They are also the happiest, most fulfilled and often the most successful. The people I am referring to are both sighted and visually impaired. In my experience, they are equally exciting, equally fulfilled and equally successful. Having a vision is exciting because it inspires spontaneity, creativity and promotes action, but it has nothing to do with sight loss. When I talk about vision, I am referring to what you see when you close your eyes. I am talking about the vision you have for your future; what you would like it to look and feel like. WHAT’S YOUR VISION? Many of the people I work with do not have a vision for their future. This is sometimes because they have recently acquired sight loss and so are adapting to their new situations and sometimes because they have got stuck in a rut. I acquired my sight loss in my twenties and so I understand how it can impact on your life and you as a person. However, while it is a difficult time on lots of levels I believe that creating a vision for yourself is the best thing you can do at this difficult time. If you close your eyes and take some time to consider how you want things to be you are starting to build for a better future. This is important as it can help you stay positive on the inevitable bad days and be a motivating factor. FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE Nobody ever creates a vision for themselves that is more negative than the present. Your vision is personal to you and can be anything that improves your situation. By focusing on a more positive future you begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. What’s more you can begin to explore what it is going to take from you and what external support you will need to make your vision a reality. You need to allow yourself to banish all real or perceived barriers and be open to dream of how you would like things to be. Most of us don’t

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do this; we begin the process and say ‘yes, but....’ when we get close to creating a vision. The trick is to be conscious that when you feel yourself starting to say, ‘yes, but......’ you knock it on the head and continue to focus on how you want things to be. The hard bit, in my view, is not creating the vision it is making it happen. This is where the hard work begins as you will undoubtedly need to get out your comfort zone and try things that you are not confident in. However, the good news is that the more you dare to do this the easier things become and the closer you get to realising your vision. The people I work with who have become stuck in a rut have often tried this and, when it hasn’t worked quickly, or easily, have resorted to the safe place of living with their lot. They still would like their vision to be real, but they have not tried enough times, or in enough different ways, to enjoy the results. I could be describing here as many sighted people I know as visually impaired people I know. The process is the same for both, and the result is both regularly do not lead the fulfilling life they desire. In addition, they do not fulfil their potential or utilise their talents, which I always think is a terrible waste. CHOICES The first bit, creating the vision, is no harder for visually impaired people than it is for sighted people. The second bit, putting it in action and taking the steps required, is arguably going to be harder for visually impaired people. Yet, it is possible for both. How do I know this? Simply because I have personal experience of putting this into practice and I know visually impaired people who have been successful in making their vision a reality. It is a choice thing. You can choose to accept your lot or you can choose to have a vision about how you would like things to be. I reiterate the point I made at the beginning. The people, sighted or visually impaired, who dare to try new and difficult things and demonstrate the determination required are positive and exciting company. They inspire me and others and tend to lead happier, more fulfilled lives.


BBC’s ‘The Voice UK’ has been giving Simon Cowell a run for his vast amounts of money in the Saturday night TV ratings war. ‘The Voice’ is a singing contest but it differs from the format we are so familiar with seeing on this prime time slot. In the initial stages the coaches sit with their backs turned to the performers and if they like what they hear they press a button and their chair spins around, so they can see the performer. This signifies they are interested in coaching the singer. The idea behind this is that the coaches judge the contestants purely on their voice and not on their looks, personality, stage presence or dance moves. There is no opportunity for the coaches to get distracted by external issues or discriminate. This got me wondering how this concept would work in other walks of life? What would happen to the employment rates of blind and partially sighted people if their interviews were conducted by interviewers with their backs turned and their fingers on the swivel button? I suspect a greater number would receive job offers.

THE BODY LANGUAGE BARRIER It is also known that, if there is conflict between the words you say and your body language, your body language will be believed. Reading body language is a real barrier for most blind and partially sighted people. One which I think many overcome by being attentive listeners and good at reading voices. I accept that being aware of our own body language, as blind and partially sighted people, is harder but I do think it is possible. I know this as I have coached and offered guidance to job seekers with a whole range of sight loss who have vastly improved how they communicate n o n - v e r b a l l y. Truth is, many sighted people are unaware of how their body language may be better used to communicate to others. They too would benefit from getting a second opinion and becoming mindful of how to communicate non-verbally to greater effect. The other two, far smaller, ways in which we form a first impression are the way we say what we say and the words we use. This includes the rate, pitch, tone and volume we speak at. Many blind people I speak with feel that the visual stuff can be distracting and that without this distraction they are naturally nonjudgemental. They don’t see this as a disadvantage they feel it is a better way. I feel sure it is a better way; BBC audiences seem to feel it is a better way but sadly it is not the widespread way. Danny, one of the coaches on ‘The Voice UK’ has been quoted as saying he wants to be judged on his music and his voice but also says image is important. I have had many heated debates with blind and partially sighted people about the importance of image, but I am with Danny on this one. I am partially sighted and I want to be judged on my abilities to undertake a role, to deliver a project or to be worthy of spending time with first and foremost. However, I believe image does matter. When you accept this, begrudgingly or otherwise, you can use your image to your advantage. It is a tough world we live in and if I can use my image to show I care about what I do and I am positive in my approach to undertaking it then I will. What I have found when putting this stuff into practise is that not only does it have a positive effect on how I am perceived, but it has a positive effect on how I feel.

What if we did things ‘The Voice’ way ?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Interestingly, when the blind audition bit on the show was over the coaches were accused of being ageist in the decisions they made when choosing who to select. I think many of the blind and partially sighted job seekers I work with would be right up for interviews with swivel chairs. They feel they are often unfairly judged and this would provide an equal playing field. This ‘The Voice’ style of interviewing would remove real or perceived judgements influenced by prejudice or misconceptions. The reality is we do live in a very visual world. Research tells us that by far the greatest ways in which we form first impressions are visual. They are appearance, followed by non-verbal communications. Nonverbal communications include body language such as; facial expressions, gestures, eye contact and posture. This mainstream research did not take sight loss into consideration. Appearance and body language will not be the majority way in which visually impaired people form first impressions. In fact, blind people reading this are probably laughing at the novelty of The voice’s ‘blind auditions’ as this is their real life without the swivel chair! So, while blind and partially sighted people may not make impressions based on visuals, I believe it is worth noting that most people do. If we go back to the interview scenario, it is important that all of us look the part and are aware of our body language.

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Guide, Companion, Man’s Best Friend, a Mobility Aid and Two Big Brown Eyes...

Toby Davey was born with retinopophy of prematurity some 40 years ago and is registered blind. He has a degree in photography and his passion for the arts has led him to his current role as deputy

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director for VocalEyes, a national charity providing access to the arts through audio description. He is also a keen sailor and has represented Great Britain at international blind sailing championships.


here comes a time in probably every blind person’s life when that question comes: ‘So when are you going to get a guide dog?’ Well I answered that question about 10 years ago when my eyes were doing some very strange things and it had nothing to do with what I had been drinking. I had to start using a white stick during the daytime and personally I hated it. The blooming thing kept on getting caught in paving slabs and in between KERRIE people’s legs and that was something I could not I am now with Kerrie my second always get away with!

So I picked up the dog guide dog a Lab/retriever cross who is very and bone and gave Guide Dogs a call to start different to Dixie, while Dixie was more like a the process of applying for a furry mobility aid. catwalk model, Kerrie is much more a bit jolly hockey-sticks kind of girl. She seems to push APPLYING FOR A GUIDE DOG commuters out of the way as we fly through It’s quite a strange experience applying Liverpool Street station on our way to work. for a guide dog, not only having to walk around The best thing for me about being a guide dog your local area with owner is not only the someone from Guide Dogs company of having a dog taking the role of a guide and the companionship dog, well not on all fours, that brings but on the routes but with them on one end she knows well I can switch of a harness and you on the off and think about other other. What might be seen things while she is guiding as a mad process, is actually me round lamp posts and to make sure you can not other dangerous obstacles. only respond to what the dog is doing but that you are LIVING WITH A able to reprimand the dog GUIDE DOG if they are up to no good. There is a place in Then on to what Liverpool Street station I can only describe as a where she knows we bit like filling in an online either go off home or dating questionnaire. Well on to the gym and she is you are asked all sorts of more inclined to point questions about your home her paws in the direction life, social life, work place, of home rather than the what you get up to in the gym. I have threatened to evenings and weekends put her on the treadmill to make sure that the next to me if she goes the prospective guide dog has wrong way again as it is the right character and not good for my fitness temperament to work well in all the situations regime! She can be quite stubborn at times but you might get in to. So my first dog had to like my wife thinks they have made a good match! pubs, theatres, boats, planes and the great outdoors. You have to work at the partnership and look

“They say that it can cost up to the price of a Porsche Boxster to cover the costs of a guide dog from puppy through training and working life into retirement, but I would have a pooch rather than a Porsche any day!”

MY FIRST GUIDE DOG I was matched with my first guide dog, Dixie, a wonderful yellow Labrador who became a very cultured dog having to accompany me when I went to the theatre for both work and pleasure. If she did not like what we were seeing she would just curl up and go to sleep, she would have made a really great theatre critic!
Now she is enjoying a wonderful retirement in the Hampshire countryside, back home with Marilyn her puppy walker.

after your dog; take her to the park for free runs , take her to the vets for regular checkups, feed and water her, take her out to do her business and yes you have to pick it up too! They say that it can cost up to the price of a Porsche Boxster to cover the costs of a guide dog from puppy through training and working life into retirement but I would have a pooch rather than a Porsche any day! Now off to take Kerrie to the vets for her MOT, hope she passes with flying colours...

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sight [noun]

1. the power or faculty of seeing; perception of objects by use of the eyes; vision 2. an act, fact, or instance of seeing. 3. one’s range of vision on some specific occasion 4. a view; glimpse. 5. mental perception or regard; judgment.

Sight  

Sight is a magazine based on true stories from blind and visually impaired people. The stories are taken from the online blogs on www.action...