Tag Archives: disability

Shopping During the Pandemic

Being in need of some new trainers (the 2 pairs I own are fine for walking the dog, but not much else), I visited TK Maxx with a friend yesterday.

According to this Guardian article, https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jun/10/shopping-for-clothes-is-about-to-get-weird-heres-how-to-make-it-simpler, one can expect the following when clothes shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Staff wearing masks.
The presence of free hand sanatiser in stores.
A 2 meter social distancing rule,
And any clothes touched by customers quarantined (if not bought) to prevent the spread of the virus.

Being blind, I did my shopping with the assistance of a sighted friend.

Sure enough, on entering the store, we where directed to hand sanatiser which we both used prior to commencing our shopping.

“Are the staff wearing masks?” I enquired?”, as we stood by a clothes rail. “no”, my friend replied.

In England, its compulsory to wear masks/cover one’s face on public transport. However the wearing of face coverings in most other settings (including shops) is voluntary.

Whilst in store, I tried on several pairs of trainers, one of which I purchased, whilst the others where returned to the shelves.

My friend and I both handled clothes and put back those we did not purchase, as there seemed to be no separate place for depositing garments destined for quarantine.

In England, the 2 meter social distancing rule has been reduced to 1 meter plus. This means that 2 meters should still apply when practicality allows, but 1 meter is allowable where 2 meters is impossible or unreasonably difficult (for example in the hospitality industry). TK Max had a 2 meter distancing rule, which customers all seemed to be respecting.

Following our visit to TK Max, we went into a nearby Sainsburys. This was much busier than TK Maxx and I was glad to have my mask on (although just how effective face coverings are is still a matter of debate). Unlike TK Maxx, Sainsburys did not appear to have free hand sanatiser available for their customers use, although its possible that we failed to spot its presence.

Conclusions:

Pre COVID-19, I would, as a blind person enter a shop and take the arm of a member of staff who would conduct me round the store, help in the choosing of items ETC. Whilst under the Equalities Act stores (and other businesses and service providers) have to offer assistance to people who are disabled, just how this will happen during the pandemic is a cause for concern. For example would a member of staff be happy for a visually impaired person such as myself to take their arm? My own view is that with the wearing of a mask and the cleaning of the arm once the assistance has been provided, should greatly reduce the risk of transmission of any infection.

I have no idea what the policy of TK Maxx is as regards guiding, as I was guided by my friend. The store staff where pleasant and helpful and I’ve no negative comments. However I can’t help wondering what my experience would have been like had I gone in alone, with my guide dog or white cane.

The apparent absence of a quarantine pile for unwanted items did not entirely surprise me, as I’m not sure how practical such a policy is. Even where such a policy exists it is, of course dependent on customers remembering to place unwanted items on the quarantine pile.

As for masks, I am not sure how effective they are. I don’t wear them on the street, in parks ETC. However I will wear them in crowded shops. Although they are impractical in settings such as pubs and restaurants.

How to Assist a Blind Person During Social Distancing

I received this message from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA), the charity which trains guide dogs in the UK, and thought it would be of value to my readers as it offers useful tips on how to assist a visually impaired person during this time of social distancing:

“Did you know that only one fifth of the public ‘completely comfortable’ offering to help someone with sight loss while social distancing is in place?*

“Today Guide Dogs has launched a new campaign called ‘Be There’ to give the public ways of supporting people with sight loss during social distancing.

“Social distancing is the most challenging aspect for me in the whole Covid-19 situation… it would really help if people have an awareness of how they can play their part.” Jonathan, guide dog owner

Jon is not alone in this, we’ve heard similar stories many times over the past few months. That’s why we’ve come up with 3 simple tips for the wider public to help them support people with sight loss:

1. Keep your distance, but don’t disappear – People with sight loss may find it challenging to social distance, so if you see someone with a Guide Dog or a long cane then you can help them by making sure you keep 2m away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also offer your help.

2. Say hello and offer your help – Simply by letting someone with sight loss know you are nearby; you are giving them the opportunity to ask for any help if they need it. People often feel unsure about their ability to help someone with sight loss, but their request could be a simple as finding out where a shopping queue starts, or if there is a safer place to cross a road.

3. Describe the scene – We’ve all had to adapt to unusual sights during lockdown – people standing apart in long lines outside of supermarkets for example. But those with sight loss haven’t always witnessed this to the same extent, which can be isolating and confusing. By describing what you can see to someone with sight loss, you can help them to understand the environment and navigate accordingly”.

As a visually impaired person and a guide dog owner, I have, I think been lucky as I’ve continued to find the public helpful during the current COVID-19 situation. Just last evening I was walking home after having spent a couple of hours with a friend in Crystal Palace park, when I became aware that the pavement was blocked by workmen carrying out pavement works. Without me asking, one of the workmen offered me his arm and guided me passed the obstruction. Again, a few weeks back, a gentleman helped me navigate fallen branches in my local woodland by allowing me to take his arm.

(You can find out more about the work of Guide Dogs here, https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/).

Lockdown and the Visually Impaired

As a registered blind person, I rely on the assistance of others (often strangers) in unfamiliar situations. My guide dog Trigger does an excellent job of helping to navigate London’s busy streets safely. He can not, however help me to find the platform in a station I rarely (if ever) use. Consequently I rely on sighted assistance in such situations.

The best way to guide a visually impaired person is to allow them to take your arm, and I have been assisted in this manner more times than I’ve enjoyed hot dinners. However, with the Social Distancing introduced as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, this kind of assistance is, apparently becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Take, for example this email I received in response to my query sent to Transport for London:

“This question has actually been raised and answered already in our FAQs for station staff. Our intention is to carry on assisting Visually Impaired People in every situation. We will continue to provide assistance when asked, escort VIPs to platforms and onto trains, and also radio ahead for assistance at destinations whenever requested.

The two metre distancing rule will indeed mean we have to avoid direct contact and will make it harder to escort customers within stations, so extra time should be allowed for this. Nevertheless we will continue to do it as best we can.”

Just how (applying the 2 metre rule) will a visually impaired person be prevented from falling over obstacles, tripping on escalators etc?

Whilst I do, of course recognise the need for TFL employees to remain free (so far as is humanly possible) of Corona, I can’t help but wonder whether the use of a mask by employees, coupled with the changing of overalls after having conducted the visually impaired person would not be a more practical and sensible solution. Indeed if the visually impaired individual takes a bare arm, then the application of soap or hand sanatiser after the guidance has taken place would, surely be sufficient to prevent the possibility of COVID infection?

If any scientists happen to read this post, I would be interested to know your thoughts. In particular what are the possibilities of COVID being passed from a customer to a member of station staff (or, indeed the other way around) in what is, almost always a transaction of a few minutes?

Whilst walking through the woods yesterday, a gentleman offered his arm and helped me to pass some fallen branches which were blocking the woodland track. This response heartened me and contrasts quite starkly with the beurocratic position adopted by TFL and (doubtless) other service providers.

Of course the gentleman and I where in the good fresh air which does, I understand greatly reduce the possibility of passing the virus, particularly if one is in contact with another person only briefly. However this gentleman showed common decency and I’m grateful to him for his act of kindness.

There have been reports of neighbours and others reporting people for breaking social distancing rules. Perhaps the most famous example of this (although I have no idea who tipped off the press, or whether it was down to investigative journalism or muckraking depending on one’s perspective), was the revelation that Neil Ferguson (the scientist who’s work persuaded the government to introduce the lockdown here in the UK) had, himself been breaking social distancing rules.

The government had advised those in a relationship to either move in together (and not change between their respective homes), or to stop seeing one another during the Corona pandemic. However Professor Ferguson (a proponent of lockdown and social distancing) was found to have been seeing his married lover, (see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8289921/Scientist-advice-led-lockdown-QUITS-breaking-restrictions-meet-married-lover.html).

There was, I believe a public interest in publishing the fact that a leading proponent of lockdown was breaking the rules which he himself was advocating. However would I, personally report a neighbour if I became aware that they where seeing people in their home who did not form part of their household?

The answer to the above question is no. Whilst I am, of course concerned about Corona, I don’t wish to live in a society where (as in the former East Germany/the German Democratic Republic) or Nazi Germany, people inform on their neighbours. To me someone beating their partner (or a child) is a very good reason for calling the police, but that same man (or woman) seeing friends, a partner who doesn’t live with them, or a casual lover is not. To me what goes on behind the closed doors of a person’s home is no concern of mine (apart from the exceptions outlined above).

Kevin

Is your blog accessible to blind computer users?

My thanks to Chris Graham (AKA The Story Reading Ape) https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com, for drawing this article on why much of the internet is inaccessible to blind people to my attention, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-49694453.

As many of you who follow my blog will know, I lost the majority of my eyesight at 18-months-old. I am unable to read print and use software called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a Windows computer or laptop. For anyone interested in finding out about JAWS, please follow this link, https://www.freedomscientific.com/products/software/jaws/.

The article linked to above, details a number of problems faced by blind users of the internet, many of which I have experienced whilst navigating the World Wide Web. For example, the piece explains how blind computer users can be faced with unlabelled links on a webpage meaning that what is heard is next to useless. I have myself been faced with a page where JAWS reads “link, link, link”, meaning that the only way in which I can ascertain what the content of a particular link may be is by clicking on said link. This is, obviously a very tedious undertaking and, in many instances I have given up on the site in question and visited a more accessible alternative.

Turning specifically to sites hosted directly on WordPress (such as my own blog), these are, on the whole accessible. For example all the social media sharing buttons on kmorrispoet.com are labelled so anyone using a screen reader such as JAWS will hear “Twitter, Facebook” etc voiced by JAWS. Likewise the comments form is clearly labelled as such meaning that anyone logged into a WordPress account can easily post a comment.

In contrast I have found that many of the self-hosted WordPress sites are not as accessible as those hosted directly on WordPress. For example I often come across unlabelled sharing buttons on self-hosted sites so the only way in which I can determine what the button in question may be, is by actually clicking on it.

Whilst some comments forms on self-hosted sites are labelled with fields such as “comment”, “your name”, “email address”, others are not. In the latter instance the JAWS (or other screen reader user) is forced to guess what each field is or, more often simply to give up on their intention of posting a comment and navigate away from the site/blog in question.

In my experience the vast majority of bloggers care about their readers and wish to ensure that everyone is able to access their sites equally and enjoy the same ability to participate in discussions. However, unless a blogger is themselves blind (or knows a blind screen reader user), its perfectly possible that they have little (if any idea) as to how blind web users access their site/blog.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has links to useful guidance explaining how webmasters can ensure that their sites are accessible to those with site loss. For anyone who is unsure whether their blog and/or website is accessible, you may find it helpful to visit here, https://www.sightadvicefaq.org.uk/independent-living/accessible-website.

Kevin

I Wont Distract You!

Yesterday, I was traveling up on the escalators at London Victoria underground station with my guide dog Trigger, when the following incident took place:

Man a couple of steps above me, speaking directly to Trigger,
“I know you are a working guide dog so I wont disturb you”.
Me, “thank you”.
Man, (looking directly at Trigger, “I wont distract you”, at which Trigger wags his tail and becomes rather distracted!

The above incident is, on one level comical. The comedy arising from the man in question doing precisely what he said he wouldn’t do, namely distract my working guide dog! However the actions of this gentleman where potentially dangerous and (not to put too fine a point on it, stupid)!

Guide dogs are trained to assist visually impaired people to navigate safely around streets, roads etc. They do wonderful work. However they are, when all is said and done dogs, who love attention and who can, when given it, become distracted.

I am very happy (when Trigger is not working) for him to receive strokes and cuddles (provided the person giving the attention has asked first). I rarely refuse a request to pet Trigger. However it is my absolute right to give such a refusal and the stupidity (albeit unintentional) of the gentleman in question had the potential to put my safety (and that of others) in danger. For example had Trigger pulled forward to reach the gentleman I might have fallen putting myself and those behind me, on the escalator at risk.

Fortunately the overwhelming majority of people behave responsibly around guide dogs. I only wish that everyone did so.

Kevin

The Dos And Donts of Interacting with a Blind or Visually Impaired Person

People come to my blog either because they like my poetry, or due to a post on a subject of interest to them catching their attention. Most of those clicking on this site are unaware of the fact that I am registered blind (unless they click on my “About page and see a photograph of me with my guide dog, Trigger, or they come across one of the few posts in which I talk about my visual impairment).

Not being aware of my blindness means that my readers interact with me as they would with anyone else (which is, of course as it should be for I am not defined by my visual impairment). However, when I meet people in the real (off-line world) I do come across individuals who are unsure how to interact with a visually impaired person, indeed some people are downright embarrassed.

A few days back, I came across this excellent post on “Life of a Blind Girl”, https://lifeofablindgirl.com/2019/06/02/the-dos-and-donts-when-interacting-with-a-blind-or-visually-impaired-person/, in which the author talks about the dos and donts of interacting with someone who is blind or visually impaired. In essence, as the author states, one should interact with a blind or visually impaired person in the same way in which one would interact with anyone else.

However (as the blogger points out) many people do not follow this simple rule. Examples of the behaviour identified by the author (and experienced by myself) include: speaking to the non-visually impaired companion of the blind person rather than addressing the visually impaired person directly, asking personal questions one would not address to a non-disabled person and being afraid of using commonly utilised language such as “see you later”.

In terms of the latter, I have lost count of the number of occasions on which someone has said “see you around” only to apologise to me for using visual language!

As someone who is blind, I use such language all the time and I don’t expect people to avoid utilising it when interacting with me. In fact by employing such language people demonstrate that they regard me (and other blind/visually impaired people) as individuals who are not defined by our disability.

There are too many self-appointed spokesmen who claim to speak on behalf of the visually impaired (and, I would add other groups), who say that one should not employ such and such language. Many of these people are well meaning (but wrong) while a few do, perhaps wish to use disability politics for their own unholy ends.

I commend this article to anyone who has ever felt unsure (or embarrassed) as regards interacting with a visually impaired or blind person.

Kevin

Writing Blind

This list of writers, who where blind makes for interesting reading, https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/from-homer-to-borges-a-list-of-blind-writers. The list includes Homer (although there is debate as to whether the author of the Iliad did, in fact exist), John Milton, James Joyce and Borges.

In terms of living writers, I am aware of Giles L Turnbull, http://gilesturnbullpoet.com/ and Victoria Zigler, http://www.zigler.co.uk/victoria.htm, both of whom are blind. Coincidentally Giles and I attended Swansea University at the same time, and Giles has been kind enough to write a review of my book, “The Writer’s Pen and Other Poems“.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Victoria (Tori) and her husband Kelly. So I am personally acquainted with 2 blind writers.

I myself am also blind and have written about my visual impairment here, https://scvincent.com/2017/02/06/guest-author-kevin-morris-visual-impact/.

While being visually impaired may exert an impact on the way in which writers express themselves, this is not, in my experience a primary determinant as regards their literary output.

As always I would be interested in the comments of my readers.

Kevin

Meeting Inspiration Again – guest post by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Meeting My Inspiration Again

By Abbie Johnson Taylor

One sunny spring afternoon, I was resting in my recliner, listening to the drone of lawnmowers and whine of weed whackers as my landscapers did their weekly
chores in my yard. Suddenly, I heard a crash. It was a lawnmower colliding with a parked car in my neighbor’s driveway. I know this only because one of
the landscapers, not knowing me, came to my door, thinking it was my driveway and my car.

According to a policeman who showed up a couple of hours later, the car sustained a lot of damage. I gave him the landscaping company’s phone number, and
he gave me his card, saying he remembered asking me years ago if drivers were stopping to let me cross streets with my white cane. I couldn’t believe it.

In the fall of 2002, I was single and living in an apartment complex subsidized for seniors and people with disabilities. A registered music therapist,
I was working in a nursing home. On a day off, I was walking home after my water exercise class at the YMCA. I’d just jaywalked in front of my building
and  stopped to talk to a neighbor in a wheelchair when she told me there was a policeman behind me. I turned around and there he was, on a bicycle.

Where had he come from? Had he seen me jaywalk? Was I about to get a ticket, my first ever brush with the law?

To my surprise and relief, he asked me if I was having difficulty crossing streets because drivers weren’t stopping. I told him that as long as I used
four-way and other intersections where drivers were required by law to stop, I rarely had a problem. I also explained that I couldn’t see well enough to
get the license plates from offending vehicles. He said he would bring up the issue at roll call and rode away.

Now, I was again flustered, even though I’d done nothing wrong this time. All I could tell him was that our first meeting had inspired my first novel.
I should have given him my card, but I didn’t. He probably thought I was nuts and wished he’d given me that ticket for jaywalking years ago. In any case,
we parted amicably enough.

After I posted about this incident on Facebook, someone asked if the story would continue. That remains to be seen. I may never see that officer again,
but I’ll always have the memory of how our first meeting inspired We Shall Overcome. As for the damaged car next door, my landscaper told me his insurance
would pay for it, so all’s well that ends well.

Bio

Besides We Shall Overcome, Abbie Johnson Taylor has published two poetry collections and a memoir and is working on another novel. Her work has appeared
in Magnets and Ladders, The Weekly Avocet, and other publications. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, she cared for her late husband
Bill, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. This is the subject of her memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared
for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. To learn more about her and her books, please visit her website at
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com.

“Not Our Kind: the Problem of Book Reviewing Through Tribal Identification”

https://freebeacon.com/culture/not-our-kind/.

The above article is worth a read and is self-explanatory. As for the poem which sparked the article (which is linked to from within the piece), from a personal perspective the literary work is not particularly to my taste. However the attacks on the poet, Anders Carlson-Wee), which are detailed in the article, appear to me to constitute a gross over reaction to what he wrote and I must confess to being somewhat surprised by the fulsome apology of the periodical which published it.

The poet subsequently apologised for the poem and was (again” criticised for saying that the comments received where “eye-opening”, the criticism being predicated on the fact that blind people can not see and, therefore the language being construed as “ableist”. As someone who is registered blind I have no problem with the use of terms such as “eye-opening”. Indeed I have used this term myself and also frequently say to friends or acquaintances “see you around”, by which I mean not that I will (literally) see them, but that our paths will cross again.

Ultimately any work of literature should be judged on its literary merits not whether it offends a particular community and/or individual. Writers should not be constantly thinking could what I am writing possibly cause offense? If we go down that road we risk a stilted literary environment in which I don’t wish to live.

Publishing And Diversity

On 9 June, the author, Lionel Shriver, published an article in The Spectator, https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/. To give a quote from that article which does, I think sum up Shriver’s argument:

“Second: dazzled by this very highest of social goods, many of our institutions have ceased to understand what they are for. Drunk on virtue, Penguin Random House no longer regards the company’s raison d’être as the acquisition and dissemination of good books. Rather, the organisation aims to mirror the percentages of minorities in the UK population with statistical precision. Thus from now until 2025, literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual preference and crap-education boxes. We can safely infer from that email that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling”.

Shriver has received a good deal of criticism. However, as a disabled (blind) poet I have some sympathy with the argument she makes (although I wouldn’t have expressed my views as Shriver does).

I wish to be judged on the merits of my poetry and not given preferencial treatment due to the fact that I am registered as being disabled. Having said that, I welcome initiatives to encourage the participation of under represented groups in the literary scene (provided that such initiatives are not prescriptive and do not entail the employment of quotas).

Amid the overreaction to Shriver’s article, one of the more balanced responses (with which I have considerable sympathy) can be found here, https://emmalee1.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/publishing-and-diversity/.

Kevin