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!

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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

#BlindGirlBeauty tag

This tag was started up by Emily Davison AKA Fashioneyesta and Molly Burk; two awesome visually impaired beauty bloggers that I follow diligently on pretty much every social network imaginable and who I’d definitely recommend checking out if you get the chance!
Since their first colab YouTube videos, the #BlindGirlBeauty tag has snowballed! I recorded my version on Audioboom previously after being tagged by AsianLily19, also on Audioboom. I then tagged the girls at BlindNotBored and Beauty Within to produce their own #BlindGirlBeauty tags and they didn’t disappoint! Links to all of these #BlindGirlBeauty tags will be at the bottom of this post if you’d like to check them out.
So let’s get on with my #BlindGirlBeauty tag!
 
Q: What is the hardest makeup product to apply as a person who is blind or visually impaired?
A: For me this has to be fake tan. There are just so many things that could go wrong! It can look streaky, you can end up looking like a tangerine, and it can stain your hands and clothes, so it’s basically a big no-no for me. I don’t bother with sunbeds either because of the health risks involved, luckily I’m naturally pretty tanned anyway so I don’t worry about it too much.
Another product I’ve found that’s a tricky thing to master is eyeliner. Honestly I’ve never experimented with it much. The couple times I have, I’ve not been able to trust myself not to poke myself in the eyeball or something, but I do wear it if I can have someone else’s help to apply it. It’s something I’m very careful about because of the sensitivity of my eyes – if anything upsets them they get very red and watery and totally ruin my whole look! It’s definitely something I’d like to get the hang of though and I’m really excited to try out an eyeliner stencil that I’ve recently ordered and will be doing a review of on here as soon as I’ve given it a go!
 
Q: What is your number one tip for shopping with vision loss?
A: From my experience, I’d recommend taking someone along with you who you trust and who has the patients to help you. I’m not ashamed to admit that I could be considered a bit of a nightmare to shop with; I ask a lot of questions, I want a lot of detail and I usually want to try before I buy. So personally, having someone with me who has the patients to go through all the minor details, who knows my style and who’s willing to put the time and effort in to help me be absolutely sure of something before I splash the cash is essential. Being able to visualise what things look like and how I’d look in them is really important to me. If I can’t picture it, 99% of the time I won’t buy it. Those minor details are crucial for visualising things in my minds-eye, and since I go by memory most of the time for putting together outfits and applying makeup, knowing exactly what shoes go with that top and which shade of eyeshadow would go nice with that dress goes a long way in giving me that extra confidence boost.
 
Q: What is one beauty item you stay away from due to vision loss?
A: Going back to the first question, my answer to this one has to be fake tan. It’s more trouble than it’s worth! Eyeliner is difficult, but like I mentioned earlier I don’t stay away from it. I like wearing it if I have some sighted assistance for applying it. But fake tan is definitely a no-go zone!
 
Q: What tips would you give to a young girl struggling with vision loss who wants to get into makeup and fashion?
A: My tips would be:
1. Research – the internet, fashion and beauty magazines, friends and family, all of these hold a whole world of information. Use them! Get to know the industry and familiarise yourself with the basics.

2. Seek professional help – several high-street shops have a personal shopper service you can access. A personal shopper is someone in store who can consult you about things like styles that flatter your body shape. The consultants at the beauty counters are there to do a similar thing with makeup; they can help colour match products to your skin tone and suggest different brands that would work better for your skin type etc.

3. Experiment – I personally think of fashion and beauty as avenues to express your personality, so get creative! Try things out, find out what you like and what you don’t. See what makes you feel most comfortable/unique/confident. Ultimately it’s not about anyone else, it’s about you! So don’t be afraid to try things out until you find your personal style.
 
 
 
Q: How did you learn to apply makeup as someone who is blind or visually impaired?
A: When I first showed an interest in makeup, my mum made an appointment with our local beautician who spent almost two hours giving me a full makeover, teaching me about the different products, making me a list of recommendations and teaching me techniques. This is the absolute best thing she could’ve done and if you can do something similar I can’t think of a better way to get started. You’re always going to be better off learning from someone who really knows what they’re talking about, but who don’t have an agenda to sell you certain products like you might get at beauty counters. Now that I know the basics, I watch tutorial videos to get the idea of something and then usually ask a friend or my sister to go over something with me to make sure I’ve got it right. I recently learned to contour by spending time with a friend on FaceTime describing exactly where and how to apply bronzer, blush and highlighter on my face.
 
Q: What is one thing you think every girl should be able to do without looking?
A: I would say that lipstick is a pretty safe bet for this. You’re lips have a pretty defining shape, easy enough to follow by feel. I favour pencil lipsticks as I find them easier and more precise to apply with. As long as you kiss a tissue to get rid of any excess and make sure you haven’t mixed up your lippy with your eyeliner or something, I think anyone should be ok doing lippy without a mirror.
 
Q: Do you think not being able to see yourself effects your self-confidence?
A: This is a difficult question to answer because it’s hard for me to admit that it definitely used to. I’ve always been visually impaired, but I lost a lot of sight suddenly in my teens which I initially found tough to deal with. Part of this was due to frustration at not being able to judge my own appearance. Having to rely on other’s opinions of what looked good and what suited me made me feel like I wasn’t able to express my own personality and identity through beauty and fashion. I didn’t have much confidence in my own opinion, but found it difficult conceding to other people’s opinions too. I just wanted to be able to decide for myself. This obviously effected my self-confidence because I’d sometimes feel uncomfortable wearing things I didn’t really feel were very me. Thankfully with time I was able to find my own methods of approaching beauty and fashion, and now I’m a self-proclaimed shopaholic again!
 
Q: Name one thing you need help with when it comes to beauty and fashion?
A: The one thing I need help with is colour matching; whether that’s coordinating outfits, matching makeup to my skin tone or choosing a colour to dye my hair or paint my nails. I’m fortunate enough to have understanding of colour having grown up with more sight than I have now. So I might know enough to work out what might clash, but I still have trouble picturing things sometimes so I always get a second opinion!
 
 
Q: What is a blind girl beauty makeup or fashion essential?
A: In answer to this, I would say that a good skin care regime is essential because no amount of makeup will ever give you good skin, in fact the more makeup you use the worse your skin can get. But taking care of your skin isn’t just about cleansing, toning and moisturising, it’s drinking lots of water, eating healthily and most importantly removing your makeup before you go to sleep. That’s more of a lifestyle than a specific product, but I’d say it’s pretty essential.
 
Q: What is the best part about applying makeup as a person with vision loss?
A: I would say that the best thing is that, the fact that I don’t need a mirror means that I can do it anywhere. I’m a girl who really loves her bed, so on those far too frequent occasions when I’ve gotten up late and had to rush to a lecture or something, I’ve been able to sneakily finish off putting my face on at the back of the lecture theatre or in the back of a taxi. I also find that I’m able to do it quicker than my sighted friends – I don’t know if that’s because their taking more care with the detail, it’s just how it seems to work.
 
Q: Have you ever experienced any major makeup or fashion disasters in the past that are due to having vision loss?
A: The short answer is yes. When I first started wearing makeup, one of my teachers commented that it looked like a three-year-old had done my makeup when I went into school one day with waaaaaay too much sparkly blue eyeshadow on and made me take it off. More recently, I was on work placement and had done my makeup in a bit of a rush one morning after getting up late (I told you I like my bed!) When I got into the office, one of my co-workers discreetly told me that I had big black streaks across my cheeks. What I’m guessing happened is that I must’ve managed to smudge my mascara in my rush. I had to run off to the toilets to try to get it off, but it knocked my confidence for the whole day because I couldn’t be 100% sure I’d gotten it all off. Nothing says professional like messy war paint eh?
 
Q: Do you ever have people commenting that ‘you don’t look blind/visually impaired?’
A: Again, my short answer to this is a very big YES! I’m always being asked if I am my guide dog’s trainer, because she couldn’t possibly be my working dog right? I’m not sure whether this is due to me not looking blind or lack of knowledge about guide dogs. Though I suppose it’s true that I don’t look like the traditional stereotype of a guide dog user; I don’t wear the dark glasses, I don’t carry the cane, and shock horror I’m not on my pension!
I know that I also confuse people because I have a lot of habits that may make it seem like I can see more than I can. For example, I usually look at my phone when I’m using it, even though I’m actually listening to the speech software and haven’t been able to read the screen for years and in fact my screen is usually turned off to save battery! I also try to make a point of looking directly at people when I speak to them which some people find confusing. This is something I actively practiced when I was younger for the exact purpose of not looking obviously blind. My visual impairment has nothing to do with my actual eyes, so there is nothing physically wrong with my actual eyeballs that might alert you to the fact that they don’t work brilliantly. I suppose I could forgive people for not knowing that I’m VI just on that basis, but the guide dog by my side should be a pretty big give away to be honest!
 
Q: Do you use any pieces of assistive technology or apps to help you when putting outfits together or doing your makeup?
A: Basically, not really. I have gadgets I could use like a colour detector which announces the colour of something when it’s pressed to a material, but it’s not always that accurate. Apps like Taptapsee, a camera app that announces the object you’ve taken a picture of, can be more accurate but isn’t 100% reliable. Sometimes I’ll use my Pen Friend to label different products by stamping them with a sticker which I can record a personalised message onto that is played back when touched by the Pen Friend. But honestly I use my memory for most things. I have a sort of mental catalogue of all the clothes in my wardrobe and can visualise an item when I recognize it by touch. I use this visual bank, along with all the information I gathered when buying that item to coordinate outfits and imagine what it’d look like. I always get a second opinion the first time I wear an outfit, but I’m usually ok at guessing what will go with what. There are loads of different things out there though, so if I ever needed anything I’d know where to look.
What I would love is an app that could do the final check of my makeup for me. That would be fulfil all my #BlindGirlBeauty dreams!
 
That concludes my #BlindGirlBeauty tag! As promised, below are the links I mentioned above so please check them out if you can and get involved by posting your own #BlindGirlBeauty tag!
 
#BlindGirlBeauty tags
My tag on Audioboom Part 1: https://audioboom.com/boos/3262336-blindgirlbeauty-tag-part1
Part 2: https://audioboom.com/boos/3262338-blindgirlbeauty-tag-part2?playlist_direction=forward
Fashioneyesta: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM24BgH1B2k
Molly Burke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_67UjeUfUM
AsianLily19: https://audioboom.com/boos/3260863-blindgirlbeauty
BlindNotBored: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XtprcGwfN8
Beauty Within: https://wakeupandcthemakeup.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/116/