Confessions of a VI theatre lover

 

Being a literature student, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that I am a self-confessed theatre buff. Plays, musicals, dramatic monologues; the theatre is one of my favourite places to go because I just adore the magic of the stage. I believe that there are fewer things more electrifying than being privy to a really powerful performance.

I’ve been to the theatre twice this summer and am due to go again this weekend, not to mention having a few performances lined up for the rest of the year. So seeing as it’s something of a regular occurrence for me lately I thought I would explain a little bit about what it’s like to go to the theatre as a visually impaired person.

Audio description and touch tours

Visually impaired patrons of the theatre can attend specific performances that feature an audio description service. During these specific performances, anyone who is blind or partially sighted can request a headset through which they can hear a live commentary of the visual aspects of the performance. The commentary is designed not to impede on the dialogue so that you can keep track of the action on stage while picking up the description simultaneously.

Audio described performances also often include a touch tour. Usually scheduled at least an hour before the curtain goes up, the touch tour gives visually impaired patrons the opportunity to get hands on experience of the stage, costumes and props. Exploring the layout of the stage and being able to inspect the props and costumes close up certainly helps me build up a more accurate picture in my mind enabling me to visualise the performance. It’s an added bonus if the actors come to meet you during the touch tour!

My most recent trips to the theatre have been to see To Kill a Mockingbird (TKM) at The Barbican Theatre and The Importance of Being Earnest (IBE) at the Vaudeville. Very different stories, but both equally brilliant performances. I received audio description for both and got there in time for the touch tour for IBE.

To Kill a Mockingbird

TKM is a very emotional story and I’m not ashamed to say that the intense atmosphere and fantastically talented actors had me welling up on more than one occasion. I was blown away by the child actors playing Scout, Gem and Dill, not only because their accents were amazing!

Having the actors address us in the audience as if we were the jury during the court-house scenes was particularly powerful, and the tension in the room when Boo Radley finally appeared on stage was incredible!

The Importance of Being Earnest

I was welling up during IBE as well, but because I was laughing rather than crying! The Vaudeville’s auditorium is much smaller than that of The Barbican’s which made for a much more intimate atmosphere. This meant that when Algernon addressed the audience with some quip or comment about his companions, it really felt like he was sharing a secret with you. All of the actors were spectacular but David Suchet’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell was a particular hit, having the audience in hysterics more than once!

Attending the touch tour for this performance definitely made a difference. I was able to appreciate the speed of the scene changes that much more after having exploring how small and crowded the stage was for myself. Getting to see all the props up close, right down to the intricate paintings on the walls added that extra bit of detail that made it that much easier to picture the opulence and wealth depicted in the set in my mind.

Vocaleyes

The audio description and touch tour were produced by Vocaleyes; a registered charity dedicated to the description of the arts. Vocaleyes provide audio description for theatre performances including plays, musicals, ballets and opera’s, as well as recorded audio tours for museums, galleries and architecture. They also provide training and advice on how to best support blind and visually impaired customers to venues with assisted performances.

I must say that every assisted performance I’ve attended with Vocaleyes has been brilliant. The audio description is descriptive without being intrusive and the commentators attentive but not overbearing. All Vocaleyes staff I’ve met have been friendly, accommodating and happy to help. During IBE, I took advantage of Vocalise’s service to arrange for someone to take care of Jazzy during the performance. She was returned to me at the end of the play fed, watered and walked, much to her enjoyment! Vocaleyes provide an excellent service making the arts as accessible and inclusive as possible.

To find out what Vocaleyes are getting up to in your area, check out:
http://www.vocaleyes.co.uk

I hope I’ve shed some light on how it’s possible to experience the theatre as a visually impaired person and if you’re blind or partially sighted and have never been to the theatre before, I hope my post has succeeded in encouraging you to try it; there really is nothing like it!

Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog all about my weekend seeing the sights in London!

<Confessions of a VI theatre lover.docx>

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Come fly with me!

This summer has been a summer of firsts in many ways, including the first time I’ve flown without sighted assistance. When I say without sighted assistance, I mean without having someone with full vision in the group to be the eyes of the operation. What I did instead was book special assistance to get me headed in the right direction for my holiday. And this is what happened…
 
My boyfriend and I were looking forward to a relaxing week by the pool staying at his relative’s villa in Catral, Valencia. We were flying from London Luton to Murcia and doing the same to return in 7 days’ time. Both of us have about as much sight as a blindfolded bat between us, so I wasn’t expecting it to be any easy task to get ourselves on the right track to say the least. Fortunately, like most things these days, there are ways around things like not being able to see further than the end of your nose in a crowded airport.
 
Outward
 
When booking our tickets with Ryan Air, we also booked special assistance on both outward and return journeys at Luton and at Murcia airports. We were instructed to get ourselves to the special assistance desks at least two hours prior to our departure time, so that is what we did. Upon our arrival we were met by a member of staff who helped us check in our luggage and get through customs. On the other side of security another member of staff got us to the special assistance departure lounge where she left us to wait for our flight to be called. So good, so far!
 
Before we knew it our flight was being called and yet another member of staff was leading us out onto the runway to what I assumed was the plane. After curtly instructing us to “wait” our member of staff seemed to disappear. This is when I experienced the beginnings of a mild panic attack, when I realised that he’d failed to give us back our passports and boarding passes before his vanishing act. As we were both performing the classic airport patdown of our pockets, our documents were waved in front of my face along with an impatient shout of “passports!” I interpreted this to mean that they were safe in the hands of another official and tried to get my breathing back to normal.
 
My attempt to regulate my pulse wasn’t helped however when the earth beneath my feet started moving! I soon realised that we were in fact standing on some sort of lift that, I again assumed, was lifting us to the entrance of the plane. We had been asked if we could use the stairs and we had answered very confidently and adamantly that we could, but obviously someone somewhere had deemed us incapable of bending our knees so up we zoomed in the weird lift.
 
Upon reaching the grand height of two feet above the ground, the demanding voice who’d claimed our passports barked “forward” and directed me into what I was still assuming was the plane. It was only when I stumbled ungracefully into a seat that I realised that we weren’t in the plane, we were on a bus. I concluded that this must be the Minnie bus that would take us across the runway to the plane.
 
A distinct atmosphere of trepidation enveloped us as we rode in silence along with around ten other passengers (who’d been allowed to climb the two steps into the minibus by the way) until we came to a shuddering halt. About fifteen minutes followed, during which our passports were given back to us and taken away I think three times without explanation, until we were finally herded onto the aircraft.
 
Once we were settled in our seats the flight itself was fairly uneventful. A stewardess introduced herself to us before we took off and showed us how to find the call button if we needed anything and we listened to the safety instructions with mild interest. The same stewardess led us off the plane when we landed in Murcia and onto another strange lift, which deposited us in another bus. We were met off the bus by a member of Murcia airport staff; a lovely tiny Spanish woman who took both our hands and made polite attempts at pleasantries whilst guiding us through the maze of people.
 
She listened intently to our description of our suitcase and seemed very pleased with herself when she managed to bring us the right one on the first try (I was impressed too if I’m honest). Then she sat us down on a bench and asked us to rate her service.
 
At this point we still needed her help to find our welcoming party, so it was quite a strange position to be in; on the one hand, if the service had been awful and you wanted to be honest, how awkward would it be to say this to her expectant face and expect her to help us to the exit afterwards? On the other, she had delivered a very good service and I was happy to tell her so, but it did feel somewhat false and forced, because am I really going to say that she was terrible when I’m still depending on her? Never the less she wrote down our sparkling review and happily took our hands again, leading us to the exit and straight to my boyfriend’s relatives.
 
Return
 
After a wonderfully relaxing week of sunbathing and eating far too much ice-cream, we once again found ourselves at Murcia airport preparing to head back to the grey and gloomy UK. Our return journey was somewhat less bizarre than our outward adventure, following much the same pattern as before. A member of staff checked in our luggage and escorted us through customs, left us to wait for our flight and came to collect us when it was called.
 
He led us into the queue of people waiting outside to be admitted into the plane. He left us to attend to something else, but never returned. This might have been disconcerting in certain situations, but the fact that we were in the middle of a queue of people who were easy enough to follow meant that we didn’t worry too much. When the queue moved, we just followed the people in front. There were staff milling around so I’m sure if we’d looked lost someone would’ve come to our aid, but we were able to make our way to the stairs up to the plane easily and made our way to our seats with no problems.
 
A stewardess again introduced herself to us and showed us the call buttons, but in addition this time she gave us a one-to-one demonstration of how to use the life jacket and oxygen mask which was reassuring I have to admit. Other than that the flight passed without much to report. When we landed in Luton, again we waited for everyone to get off before making our way to the exit.
 
The only thing to note when we landed was that our special assistant was vastly overstretched. She was solely supposed to help two blind people, three wheelchair users, a person using a walking frame and an assortment of others through customs and to collect their luggage. It was obvious that more than one member of staff was needed for this operation, but never the less she managed really well and even went so far as to escort us to the disabled parking pick-up point to meet our friends who were giving us a lift home.
 
Conclusion
 
So all in all a successful experience of airport special assistance. I’ve heard horror stories of airport assistance being shockingly lacking in awareness training, so I was thankful that at least nobody tried to plonk me in a wheelchair. Ultimately I think the lack of communication on the outward journey was the most frustrating thing, and I’m still not really sure why we were the only ones made to use the strange lift after specifically confirming that we were happy to use the stairs. The process was definitely more relaxed on the Spanish side of the journey and the poor woman in charge of all of us when we landed in Luton deserved a medal for herding us all through without a fault.
 
I hope you’ve enjoyed your journey with me today and thank you for flying with See My Way 😉
 

Dog blog: international assistance dog week

Hey!As its International Assistance Dogs Week, I thought I would introduce myself. My name’s Jazzy, I’m two years old and I’ve officially been working for seven months now!
 
I love my job because it’s never the same from day to day. It can be demanding, but it’s very rewarding. I know I’m very lucky to have my job. Most of my kind have to stay at home all day while their owners are at work or school. Not me though; My job is to go with my owner, everywhere. And I mean everywhere! This year alone I’ve attended lectures and work placements, I’ve been to restaurants, cafes and even the cheeky pub or two, I’ve been to the cinema, I’ve been to comedy gigs, I’ve even been to a play in the West End!
 
I get on well with the boss too which is always a good thing. It’s taken us a while for us to get to know each other and to establish a good working relationship, but now that we’re there we’re like a well-oiled machine. We’ve gotten really good at realising when one of us has a problem so the other can step up to take charge.
 
For example, I know that the boss doesn’t like crowded places, so when we find ourselves in the middle of a mob I do my best to get us out of the situation quickly and calmly. On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of sudden loud noises; they can totally throw my focus and give me a bit of a fright if I’m not careful. Thankfully, the boss has a knack of changing her voice to get my attention and to get me back on track. Dream team or what?
 
There are a lot of perks to my job too. I know I’m doing a good job, just because of the number of people who like to tell me so every day! Not to toot my own horn or anything, but we can barely go to the shops without being stopped by someone telling the boss how beautiful I am and asking to give me a fuss.
 
I know that the boss is usually very flattered by this, but sometimes she has to ask them not to fuss me, in case I get distracted from my work. I’m never one to shy away from attention, but I do understand when the boss has to do this as well because I know I have to be focused when I’m on the job.
 
Some people think that those of us in my line of work get no rest, but I assure you it’s definitely not all work and no play! I get plenty of playtime and time to relax, I overheard the boss tell someone once that I have more toys than she has shoes! That was a slight exaggeration in my opinion, but it’s true that I have plenty of choice of things to play with.
 
We go for a big long walk to a park or a field every week when I get a chance to really let my hair down. I can run, jump, roll around as much as I like, as long as I always go back to the boss when she calls.
 
I’m always rewarded with a tasty treat for good behaviour, but only at the bosses discretion. I need to watch my figure after all! Someone thought they were being kind by slipping me a treat without the bosses permission once, but the boss had to tell them off because I had an upset stomach for the rest of the day, which meant I had to take time off work!
 
I know I must be special to have been picked for this kind of job. Lots of my friends didn’t make it through the 18 months of training I had to do beforehand, and I can understand why. It’s a difficult job sometimes, always having to be on the lookout for obstacles and trip hazards, keeping an eye on the boss behind me and keeping an ear out for her instructions.
 
Lots of people think that it’s always me making the big decisions like when to cross the road, but I’ll let you into a little secret. It’s actually the boss that tells me when it’s safe to cross, by listening to the traffic. She understands cars and traffic better than I do, so it’s safer to leave that decision up to her.
 
But I have to make the big decisions sometimes too, like when there’s a car parked on the pavement and there isn’t enough room for us to get passed. When this happens I have to stay put, no matter how much the boss tries to encourage me forwards, until she realises that I’m being stubborn for a reason! Then I have to help the boss figure out how to get around the obstacle safely, which can sometimes mean us walking in the road if the pavement is completely blocked.
 
I suppose I should’ve mentioned this earlier really, but you see, my job is to help the boss get around safely because she can’t see very well. Essentially, I have to be the bosses eyes. My job even has a fancy title. I am a Guide Dog. It’s a great job; I get lots of breaks, the job security is brilliant and I’m always employee of the month! If you like challenges, don’t mind long hours and like attention, I’d definitely recommend it.
 
The boss wrote a piece for the papers a couple of months back, explaining how I’ve helped her and what kind of things we get up to. I really enjoyed posing for the pictures for the article and now we sometimes even get recognised in the street! If you’d like to check it out, here is the link to our story:
http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/porthmadog-students-new-lease-life-9441333
 
So that’s it from me for now. I need to get back to my friend Bella, who the boss and I are staying with over the summer until we go back to college in the Autumn. It’s great having another four-legged friend to play with, even if she does take up all the room in my bed sometimes!
 
Until next time,
 
J