Deferring my dissertation

10 May has been a date branded onto my memory for months now. Why? Because it is the deadline date for my dissertation. Or at least, it was.

When I started my third and final year of university, I made a promise to myself that this year it would be different. That I would get organised, manage my time brilliantly, get all my work done on time and meet all my deadlines. When I came back in September I felt wildly optimistic that I would power through the year and emerge on the other end with a first class degree. 

I say wildly optimistic because my time at university hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride. My struggle in Higher Education isn’t really something I have gone into great detail about on this blog. I intend to, one day, after I’ve finished my degree. But for now, those of you who don’t know me personally need to understand that it has not been easy. I’ve struggled socially, mentally and emotionally and I’ve been so tempted to drop out on numerous occasions.

I think the only reason I haven’t dropped out is because I’m stubborn. I have a fierce desire to prove people wrong; to show that I am just as capable as anybody else of doing everything, even getting a degree, despite my Visual impairment. In fact, this often leads to me wanting to overachieve, not just to do as well but to do better than everyone else to prove that I can. What this means is that I end up putting a enormous amount of pressure on myself. Worse, because I feel as if I need to be able to do everything on my own, because nobody expects me to be able to, I used to feel unable to ask for help for fear of being labelled incapable. Thankfully this has gotten much better recently, proven by my action of requesting a deferral for my dissertation.

In September 2015 I felt like requesting a deferral would make me a failure. I thought that getting extensions would make me a failure. I thought that coming out with anything less than a first class degree, would make me a failure. I want to stress again that nobody explicitly said this to me. It was all me, all these expectations and ambitions were in my head. 

I can think of a few reasons why I feel like this, one being that being undermined and degraded on a daily basis because of an impairment that has nothing to do with my intelligence or mental capability makes me feel so patronised that it drives me to want to prove myself. 

I’m not someone who lets been disabled get them down often. I’ve said before on this blog that I feel 100% content with who I am, blindness and all. The main thing that I struggle with is societies attitude and treatment of me because of my Visual impairment. This is why I’ve think I’ve developed this instinctual determination to exceed expectations. Because if you’re treated and meant to feel inferior for 90% of your life, then if you don’t have some kind of drive and faith in yourself, you will start to think of yourself as inferior.

Anyway, back to the point. It was this attitude that make me so reluctant and somewhat frightened of the possibility of requesting extensions. I’m not going to lie, third year terrified me. The pressure and stress I put on myself to be the best in everything often makes it hard for me to fulfil my potential. In first and second year I had been forced to request extensions usually because of institutional failings. With third-year being such an important year, I was determined that I would need to be on the top of my game to make sure that all of my materials were accessible, that all of my note takers were arranged, that I would have a suitable place to study and that everything I would need academically would be put in place. This did happen; ironically, and terms of accessibility my third year has been the easiest of my whole degree. 
What I didn’t count on was me sabotaging myself and my own ability.

 I spent so long focusing on how I could make sure that nothing to do with my visual impairment would get in the way of me meeting all my deadlines, I didn’t stop to think about what I could put in place to ensure that my mental health would not impact on my work either. So that’s what happened. I became ill, I eventually sort help and I was granted a deferral for my dissertation until August.

It was a very hard thing to be for me to accept, because when you’re so used to dealing with a physical disability, a mental illness is a completely different ballgame. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is the fact that in spite of how people treat me, my intelligence and mentality is not compromised by my disability. I have a visual impairment, this is what I tell people; my eyes don’t work, it has nothing to do with my brain. So just because I can’t see you standing in front of me doesn’t mean that I can’t hold a conversation, alright an essay. So, to then be dealing with a mental illness that does impact on that element of myself that I had always depended on being so stable was very disconcerting.

I definitely think a part of the reason I struggled to understand and accept my mental illness is also because of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Even me, as someone who lives with a sensory impairment and therefore nose in some ways what it feels like to be treated differently because of something that is out of your control, still subconsciously harboured these fears and misconceptions of mental illness.

I am however pleased to say that I feel much better. Even though my year didn’t go to plan and I ended up doing the thing that I dreaded most, I’m now quite proud of the fact that I have asked for a deferral. It doesn’t make me less capable, it doesn’t make me less of a person and it doesn’t make me a failure. I think it makes me someone who understands themselves, someone who is self-aware and better for it. 

So even though the 10th of May is almost been and gone, I will carry on chipping away at the D-Word, I will feel proud of the achievement of just completing a dissertation never mind what grade I get, and I will take the obligatory submition selfie in August 😉

A huge congratulations to everyone who has submitted their dissertation so far, everyone on my course who submitted their dissertations today and everyone who will be submitting in the next few weeks. Be proud of yourselves! You did it!

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I’m tired

This is a bit of a different post from the type that are usually right. This is a one off, right it all in one go, let it all out and get it over with kind of post.
Basically, I’m tired. I’m tired of fighting all the time. To be treated with respect, to be viewed as an equal, to have even the basic things like having somewhere to live and being able to ride in a taxi. I’m exhausted by feeling like every decision I make is bigger than it needs to be because of all the possible repercussions and consequences. 

I’m tired of having to worry about whether I tell potential landlords that I have a guide dog or not before or after I view a property. Because if I tell them before, then it gives them the opportunity to pawn me off with some excuse. If I don’t, it gives them the opportunity to discriminate against me to my face. 
I’m tired of being paranoid everytime I book a taxi that I might be faced withconfrontation again, because if I don’t tell them about my guide dog the driver might refuse me. But even if I do tell them, that still might happen. When all I want to do is get from A to B. 
I’m bored of asking people to talk to me, about me, instead of to my friend/family/whoever happens to be with me. Because apparently the fact that I can’t see very well also means that I can’t speak for myself. Or maybe it just means that blindness comes with deafness as well and the problem is that I can’t actually hear what they’re saying?
I’m exasperated by well-meaning members of the public who take it upon themselves to decide what help I need and that they will provide this help, without even asking me first. So that when someone grabs my arm and starts taking me across the road, where I didn’t even want to go in the first place, I then look like the ungrateful bad guy when I try to explain that I was perfectly fine without them.
I’m sick of feeling like every day is a battle; of having to plaster on that polite smile when someone tries to feed/ped/distract my working dog; of walking that fine line between assertive and aggressive when all I’m trying to do is make my voice heard.
Somebody recently asked me if I think I have excepted my disability. I can 100% say that I am perfectly happy and content with who I am, disability and all. What I struggle with is the way that I am treated because of my disability by other people on a daily basis. This isn’t to undermine those wonderful gems who’s help and understanding I truly value. I just hope that, whoever you are reading this, you understand that I’m human and I get tired too.

Access refusal: being refused by a taxi driver because of my guide dog. #AccessAllAreas

On Monday, 4 April at approximately 12 PM midday I experienced my first serious access refusal by Albatross Cars.
I had spent the weekend with friends in Derby and had booked a taxi with Albatross Cars to take me to the train station. I had arranged passenger assistance for my train journey and had booked the taxi to pick me upso that I would arrive at the station with plenty of time to receive my passenger assistance.
Under the equality act 2010 it is illegal to refuse a guide dog owner entry to any public establishments or business. This includes taxes, either privately owned or otherwise. Failure to comply with this legislation can result in prosecution and a hefty fine. 
Usually, when ever I am booking a taxi I always let them know that I will be travelling with a guide dog. I am not obliged to do this but I do because I would prefer to avoid any conflict concerning my guide dog. I just want a taxi, I don’t want hassle.
However, on this occasion when my friend booked the taxi I didn’t bother to remind her to mention my guide dog. This is because when we had phoned the same company on Friday, 1 April and asked for a taxi that would allow my guide dog, A representative from Albatross Cars assured us that we had no need to mention the dog because none of their drivers were legally allowed to refuse working dogs in their vehicle. At the time my friends and I were impressed and reassured by this response.
Myself and three friends Georgina, Sarah and Shane waited outside the house for the taxi. Myself and George were planning on travelling in the taxi, Sarah and Shane (who’s house I’d stayed at) were waiting with us to help us with our cases and to wave us off. George is also visually impaired and was accompanying me to the station to help me find my passenger assistance before she headed off to work.
When the taxi arrived myself and George entered the vehicle,Sarah helping me to the front passenger seat with my guide dog Jazzy and Shane loading our suitcases into the car. I entered the front passenger seat and asked the driver whether I could push The seat back so that’s my dog could sit in the footwell. He complied and showed me where the button to move the seat was.
However, when I told Jazzy to get in the car the driver said 

“no no, I don’t take dogs, I am Muslim, I don’t take dogs, get the dog out. I am Muslim I don’t take dogs.”
Jazzy was sitting between my legs in the foot well calmly, not touching the driver and not reacting. Sarah asked if she could explain that the dog was my working dog and that I have a working dog because I am registered blind. The driver did not seem to take notice of what Saraj or I were saying, only repeating that he could not take dogs because he is Muslim.
The discussion became increasingly heated as the driver raised his voice and refused to take notice of mine or Sarah’s explanations that my dog is a service animal.

The driver vacated his car and continued arguing with Shane who was attempting to explain to him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog. Eventually Sarah helped me get out of the car as we decided that we would simply ring for a replacement because it was obvious that there would be no reasoning with this driver.
After George and I had left the car and while Sarah was getting our suitcases out of the car, I faced the driver and told him that he was breaking the law by refusing my guide dog, that he could be fined and prosecuted for his actions. I began to reach into my bag to show him a card that Guide Dogs provide all guy dog owners with that indicates the legislation allowing working dogs access to any business. Before I could reach the card to show him, he had gotten back in his car and driven away.
Sarah then called Albatross Cars and explained what had happened. I was shaken and she was understandably quite emotional. The representative she spoke with from Albatross Cars assured her that they would send a replacement right away and that they would log her formal complaint.
We remained outside the house waiting for the replacement taxi. In the meantime, I phoned the nonemergency police number to seek advice. No replacements from Albatross turned up. We attempted to contact them again but where repeatedly hung up. When we did eventually get through to them the representative on the phone was agitated when informing us that The replacement they had sent had failed to find us and the first driver was claiming that we had damaged his car and that he had refused to take us in his car because there were five passengers attempting to get into his four seater vehicle.
Sarah explained to the representative that there were only two passengers, accompanied by two other people who were helping us get in the car as both passengers have a disability. The representative on the phone said that if we would be willing to resolve the matter privately they would abstain from reporting as to the police. Sarah assured them that we would be reporting them to the police.
By now I had missed the train that I had arranged passenger assistance for. We ordered a taxi from a different company and whilst travelling to the station in this taxi I continued speaking with a member of the nonemergency police who assured me that the Muslim Council states that any Muslim must accept working dogs into their businesses or establishments, including taxes. He advised me that, being a matter of civil law, I should report the incident to the council.
When I got to the station I explained to staff what had happened and they were very understanding. However, I had to get on a different train than I had previously arranged. This meant that when I arrived at my connecting station the assistants were not there to meet me as they were not aware that I would be arriving on a different train.
Since the incident I have written a Facebook status about my experience that has received over 1000 shares. I wrote a review on albatross cars Facebook page and I tweeted them asking for action. I have also been in touch with Guide Dogs Nottingham who have contacted the company on my behalf.
Unfortunately, albatross cars have chosen to stick to their original story that the driver refused me because five passengers were attempting to answer his four seater vehicle and that we vandalised his car. In a comment on Facebook they stated that according to their investigation my story did not match their evidence and that they have reported myself and my friends to the police.
I can only assume that they are now fabricating evidence to support their cover story. They are lying about five passengers trying to get in the car so I wouldn’t put it past them to lie about the damage to the car either. Who is to say that the driver himself didn’t damage the car after leaving us and then convinced his managers that we were to blame? I have been informed that as the company themselves did not refuse my guide dog, that it was one of their self employed drivers who refuse me, then Albatross Cars technically did not refuse me access. However, even if this is technically the case, it should have been Albatross Cars responsibility to apologise for the behaviour of one of their drivers and rectify the attitude of that driver. I am disgusted that they have chosen to support one of their discriminatory employees rather than admit the mistake and resolve to improve the situation.
They are also claiming that they have records of a phone call in which they clearly state that the driver is happy to carry my guide dog. A phone call of this nature did occur on Friday, 1 April. No such conversation occurred on Monday, 4 April, the day of the access refusal. Even so, the representative on the phone may have assured me that none of the drivers were legally allowed to refuse my guide dog, but the issue remains that when the driver arrived he refused me access to his service on the grounds that my dog offended his religious beliefs. This is an example of why the message must be relayed from booking to driver that the passenger will be accompanied by a guide dog. This gives the opportunity for any drivers who are not happy to carry guide dogs, for whatever reason, simply not to accept the job.
I also feel the need to point out that if Albatross Cars intend on using the phone call from Friday, 1 April in which they clearly indicated that the driver would be happy to except my guide dog as evidence of their cooperation, they should also offer the recording of the phone call following the incident between Sarah and the company representative in which Sarah clearly explained what had happened and that two disabled passages and a guide dog were intending to travel in the taxi, two others were helping as load our luggage.
There have been reports of many incidents concerning service dog users and Muslim service providers, as many Muslims believe that coming into contact with dogs is haraam (forbidden or unholy). Following discussions with several of my friends who practice lamb and according to my own research, it is my understanding that while Islam does consider dogs to be and clean or impure, it is not strictly haraam to be in proximity to a dog. I was also reassured by the member of the nonemergency police that I contacted immediately after the incident that the Muslim Council of Britain indicates that no Muslim should refuse access to a service dog user on the grounds of their religion in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.
I had hoped that the company would react apologetically to the incident, hopefully learning from the incident and resolving to work with Guide Dogs to ensure that nothing similar would happen again. Obviously this has not happened. The company has gone on the defensive, making wild accusations to attempt to cover their own backs. I feel that this leaves me with no choice but to take the matter further and pursue the incident in court.
This is not what I wanted! I wanted to get a taxi that would get me to the station so that I could and a brilliant weekend with my friends easily and happily. When this didn’t happen, I wanted to raise awareness of the discrimination I faced so that hopefully it would ensure better treatment of guy dog owners in the future. I wanted something positive to come out of such a negative experience. I wanted people to learn.
I don’t know what will happen now. I am going to be in touch with RNIB’s legal team so that they can advise me on what to do next. The Derby Telegraph is running a story on the incident soon and I will be giving a radio interview on Monday, 11 April.
I knew that this would happen eventually because access refusal is not a rare occurrence. I just didn’t think my experience would be this dramatic. I’m so thoroughly disappointed and personally insulted by the company’s reaction to fabricate excuses. Discrimination is not acceptable and it never will be.

Discrimination and why we should shout about it #AccessAllAreas

Yesterday a friend of mine was refused entry into a restaurant on the grounds that she was accompanied by a guide dog. She posted a video of the incident onto social media and received a range of responses. 
Holly, a 22 year old blind student at Coventry University had planned to celebrate her birthday with a friend at PGR Coventry. When Holly, her guide dog Isla and a friend arrived at the restaurant she was refused entry. Holly, who caught a part of the discussion on film, was told by a man referred to as the owner that dogs were not allowed in his establishment. He later asked Holly to either sit outside (on a freezing February afternoon) or leave her dog outside. Despite Holly explaining that to refuse her entry with her service dog is a finable offence, restaurant staff continually insisted that she not be granted access to the establishment while accompanied by her service animal. 
Watch Holly’s video here:


The public’s reaction to Holly posting the video of this incident has been fascinating. The majority of viewers have shared their own messages of support for Holly, many expressing their own anger and frustration towards the manager’s clear lack of understanding or care for Holly’s needs. But she’s also been on the receiving end of less encouraging messages. Some accused Holly of behaving too entitled, arguing that the restaurant did offer a reasonable alternative for her to sit outside with Isla.
Some argue that the incident might have been the result of a lack of understanding of UK laws, while others support the manager’s decision on the basis that Isla the guide dog might have posed a threat to the restaurants hygiene. 
Perhaps most concerning though are the comments who doubt Holly’s disability, asking for proof that she is blind and arguing that if she’s able to read all the comments she’s receiving, surely she can’t be visually impaired. People have suggested that she’s making a big deal out of something that doesn’t need to be newsworthy; that she is ruining people’s lives by highlighting the discrimination she faced and that she spent more time than was necessary arguing with people when she could’ve just gone somewhere else.
Watching Holly’s video had my blood boiling for so many reasons. I am fortunate that in my short time being a guide dog owner, I have experienced nothing like this level of discrimination. But what fuelled the fire for me was reading so many uneducated and frankly ignorant comments that blatantly miss the point of why this incident was an issue, but also why Holly was right to bring it to the media’s attention. So let’s break things down and explore exactly what happened to Holly yesterday. 
Why was the restaurant at fault for not allowing Holly to enter with Isla her guide dog?
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) is the main disability discrimination law. It bans any discrimination against disabled people by employers or service providers by imposing a duty on them to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people can overcome any barriers they may face. This includes a duty to wave any regulations regarding not allowing animals in public places such as restaurants with regards to service animals such as guide dogs. 
Laws and legislations such as the DDA exist so that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to access any service, regardless of their impairment. By failing to take into regard this legislation, PGR Coventry were failing to adhere to the DDA and were breaking the law. This offence could lead to prosecution and a hefty fine.
Why was the managers offer to seat Holly outside not a ‘reasonable adjustment’?
In accordance with the DDA, Holly and any other guide dog owner has every right to access any place that is open to any other member of the public. By offering to seat Holly and Isla outside, PGR were not making a reasonable adjustment, they were offering an alternative. These are not the same things, in the same way that asking someone to sit in a different area on a public bus because of the colour of their skin is an alternative rather than a reasonable adjustment.
Why was Holly right to report PGR Coventry for discrimination?
Holly’s experience is evidence of disability discrimination that happens far too often today. The comments on social media that question Holly’s disability because of her ability to film a video or read comments, is further testament to the issue of misconceptions surrounding disability that evidently still exist more than twenty years after the DDA was published. 
Holly was right to post her video on Facebook a YouTube, to go to the local newspapers and to appear on her local radio because she is right to highlight discrimination. She is right to make people aware that refusing her access because of anything to do with her impairment is illegal, and she is right to teach people that this kind of behaviour is not okay.
She is right to demonstrate that people with disabilities have the same rights as able bodied people. She is right to challenge misconceptions that make people with disabilities other, or unequal, or unworthy. She is right to spend time trying to educate ill-informed citizens rather than giving up and going somewhere else, because she is right to want to make the future better for other people with disabilities. She is right to fight for equality because she’s right to think she, and all the rest of us, deserve it. 
I’m hugely proud of how Holly dealt with this situation, not only as someone who knows her but as someone who also has a disability, someone who also has a guide dog and as someone who will also inevitably face a similar situation in the future. I say this because I, like Holly, know that disability discrimination still happens. It happens every day in big ways like this, but in innumerable small ways too. 
I also know that the only way to challenge discrimination is to shout about it; to share it on the internet and in the media and to make people see it because if we don’t, it will never go away. It might not be our fault that we face discrimination, but it’s our fault if we don’t at least try to do something about it. So you’re right to recognise that the way Holly was treated by PGR Coventry was appalling and unacceptable. But if you’re thinking that she’s an entitled girl making a big fuss about nothing, you are wrong and you are part of the problem.

Please follow this link to sign a petition calling for the government to make refusing a guide/service dog a criminal offence enforceable by the Police:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/119134
Link to an article about Holly’s experience in the Coventry telegraph: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/video-blind-student-refused-entry-10936161?ICID=FB-Cov-main

International Disabilities Day: Cuts to Disabled Student’s Allowance

Why I’m against cuts to DSA
In light of today being International Disabilities Day, I wanted to share my thoughts on the issue of the UK government’s current plans to cut government funding for the non-medical help supplied by Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA). 
This morning I read this article which brought the issue to the forefront of my mind again:

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/dec/02/government-to-cut-funding-disabled-university-students-jo-johnson
In this article Jo Johnson, the Minister for universities and science announces that from next September onwards, higher education institutions will be expected to pay for non-medical support for students with disabilities and that funding for specialist technology and adapted accommodation will be reduced.
Upon reading this article, I couldn’t help imagining how different my university experience could’ve been if I’d chosen to start my degree in September 2016 instead of 2013. 
How has DSA helped me?
Before starting my degree in English Literature in 2013, I used DSA to purchase a range of accessibility technology including a laptop, a scanner and software, a screen reader, a Dictaphone and a braille display. My laptop and screen reader is technology that I quite literally could not study a degree without; I access all my course material electronically and I’m able to complete all my assignments and exams independently using this technology. All of this essential equipment alone cost more than £5000.
I’ve also use DSA to fund non-medical support throughout my three year degree programme. This includes note-takers who write notes for me in lectures and who type them up in an accessible format for me in their own time. It also includes my research assistant who helps me access books/inaccessible materials that I need to complete my course, often spending hours manually scanning book chapters into electronic formats and helping me navigate the often complicated and almost always inaccessible online library. Additionally, during my first and part of my second year, non-medical help funding was used to pay for my mobility on campus. This was essential in enabling my independence and wellbeing, as being able to orient myself independently gives me much more freedom rather than having to rely on sighted guides. 
How would cutting DSA affect me?
If my university weren’t able to fund the non-medical help available to me through DSA I would be unable to:
• Take notes in class – I can’t listen to the lecturer, follow the handout with my screen reader and take notes all at the same time.

• Access course materials– If I was required to adapt all my course materials myself, I’d have no time to write my assignments, let alone have a social life (that is assuming I’d have the technology to do my own scanning).

• Complete required reading – I’m studying English literature, so without my library assistant scanning chapters and sometimes whole books for me I simply wouldn’t be able to study my course.

• Complete my assignments – without the notes from my lectures, completing the required reading, accessing course materials and having the ability to source secondary texts, how could I possibly write an essay or exam?

• Write a dissertation – without my research assistant supporting me in the library and sourcing accessible materials, I would be unable to complete an 8000 word piece of work comprising entirely of individual research, which is a required part of my degree.

• Get around campus independently – no mobility training would’ve deprived me from familiarising myself with campus consequentially restricting me from attending lectures, participating in clubs/societies and orienting myself independently.
DSA has been utterly essential in making my degree as inclusive and accessible as possible. The support that DSA has enabled me to access is something that I, nor my family, would ever been able to source from our own pockets and without being able to access that financial support,, I can say with absolute certainty that it would have been virtually impossible for me to obtain a degree.
Why is DSA, and getting a degree, so important to me?
I wanted to get a degree because I want the best chance possible of getting a job, building a career and making a life for myself. I have worked damn hard during these last couple of years to make the most of the opportunity given to me because I fully appreciate that without the support and resources available, like DSA, it would be impossible for someone like me to even consider attending University. It’s been difficult, draining and almost unbearable at times; my mental health has suffered and I’ve contemplated quitting more than once. But I’m still here and I am determined to come out of this with a first. 
Why? Because I read somewhere once that a disabled person with a degree is about as likely to be employed as your average Jo with standard GCSE’s. If that’s true, I don’t really want to contemplate what my chances of getting a job would be without any HE qualifications. Contrary to a depressingly common misconception, most people with disabilities wouldn’t prefer to be unemployed. Living off benefits, without a purpose or anything to get up for in the morning is not the life I want for myself. I want a career; I want success; I want to prove that I, and others like me, can do absolutely anything in spite of our differences. For me, the best way I feel I can achieve this is by getting a degree. And the cold, hard truth of it is that without support like DSA that would be impossible. 
What does cutting DSA funding mean to me?
Cutting government funding for disabled University students is to deprive us of our right to education, our right to equal opportunities and our right to shape our own futures. The quality of support available to students with disabilities is already so varied among establishments that expecting Universities to fit the bill of non-medical support is an unrealistic expectation that can only lead to even more inconsistency. . I fear that this is only the first step towards bigger and more damaging cuts to provisions for students with disabilities in the future and I believe that it’s a mark of how disconnected our current government is from the realities of what it’s like for young people with disabilities living in the UK today that they would even contemplate this ridiculous course of action.

#EndTheAwkward

Disability Charity Scope UK’s #EndTheAwkward campaign is back stronger than everv trying to end the awkwardness surrounding disability.
 
“Two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability”
 
Emily Davison AKA Fashioneyesta recently made this video telling her stories about the awkward moments she’s experienced due to her disability.

 
So after she tagged me to join in, I couldn’t wait to get involved and share my own cringey moments in a bid to #EndTheAwkward.
 
“Are you blind love?”
 
This first awkward moment happened a few years ago when I was travelling alone on a train. I hadn’t long been travelling independently and was still getting used to using my cane on a regular basis. Growing up, I always felt that the cane made me stand out and was reluctant to use it for fear of not looking “normal”. It wasn’t until I was about 18 that I really gave into using it productively.
Anyway, so there I was. Sat happily on the train, feeling quite pleased with how the journey had gone and enjoying the boost in confidence I’d gotten from visiting my friend. Along came the food and drinks trolley and feeling pretty thirsty, I plucked up the nerve to say “excuse me” to flag the trolley down.
I think this was the first time I’d done this; not being able to make eye contact or see peoples facial expressions has always made me a bit nervous of situations like this. There have been far too many occasions when I’ve answered someones cheery greeting, only to realise that they’re actually on the phone, or I’ve asked someone for directions only to find out that I’m actually chatting to a lamppost for things like this to come easily to me.
So riding on my recently boosted confidence I asked the man pulling the trolley, “Do you have any drinks on this trolley?” (This may have been a stupid question, but in my defence it made sense to me to make sure that this was the food and drink trolley before I asked for a diet coke). My enquiry was met with the scornful and disbelieving reply, “do I have any drinks?”
“Yeah…” I said, a little uncertainly. To which he replied, obviously not trying very hard to suppress a snigger and feeling very proud of himself for this witty comeback,
“Ha! Are you blind love?”
“Well, yes” I said, casually lifting my folded cane from the seat next to me to show him.
The deathly silence that enveloped the passengers within our vicinity let me know that this encounter hadn’t gone unnoticed. Now, I obviously couldn’t see how red he went. But considering the tremor in his voice when he listed the soft drinks and how much his hand shook when he dropped my change, I think he was a little embarrassed.
But he’d embarrassed me too. His ignorance and smart-arse attitude made me feel so small and stupid. But at the same time I knew that he was the one in the wrong. In the long run the experience only served to thicken my skin against such comments.
 
The invasion of the prams
 
This awkward encounter again went down on a train (I travel a lot).
The rail assistance had put Jazzy and I in the disabled seats because the train was so full that some passengers were forced to stand. We don’t normally do this because if a wheelchair user gets on and needs the space we have to try to find another alternative, but on this particular occasion we had no other choice.
In fact I don’t know what would’ve happened if a wheelchair user had needed to board the train because following us into the carriage came no less than three sets of families with a pram each. I was asked to move to make room for the prams, but I had to explain that on this occasion I couldn’t due to their literally being no alternative and my needing space for my guide dog. My reply was met with grumbling and mutters but I was challenged no further.
Sometime into the journey I became aware that Jazzy was eating something. When I investigated I discovered that she was eating crisps that seemed to be falling from the nearby pram. I tried to draw the attention of the childs mother, but her reaction made me feel very embarrassed, undermined and incompetent. She loudly shook off my request saying,
“Oh they’re only crisps love, she doesn’t mind sharing.” I gathered from her response that her child was actually trying to feed Jazzy, so I asked again if she minded preventing her child from doing so as it would interfere with my guide dog’s training. She seemed to take offense at this and said,
“Well if she’s so well trained she shouldn’t be eating my kids crisps then should she?” and then proceeded to explain very loudly to her child so that the whole carriage could hear, “no don’t give the doggy your crisps love, that poor doggy isn’t allowed any food. Doggy shouldn’t have been eating your crisps anyway should it sweetheart, come here don’t look at the doggy anymore.”
She called the care of my guide dog into question and made me out to be the bad guy, but I wasn’t confident enough to stand up for myself and explain properly. I get very tongue-tied when faced with confrontation and find it hard to articulate myself clearly, so I felt powerless to defend myself or Jazzy. This was also quite early on in mine and Jazzy’s relationship and I hadn’t really encountered this kind of thing before. But all the fun of Jo Public’s varying reactions to my guide dog is something for another post.
 
Hiking stick or mobility aid?
 
This awkward moment is the most recent and funniest that I’ll share today.
Only about a month ago, myself and two other visually impaired friends had just gotten off a train and were standing outside figuring out whether to get a taxi or to walk home. I had Jazzy with me while both my mates were using canes. However, one of my friends has chosen to jaz up his mobility aid by opting to have a bright blue cane rather than the traditional white.
We were talking amongst ourselves trying to work out what to do when a young guy came up to us and quite smugly said,
“Did you have fun hiking today guys?” We stopped mid-conversation, thinking we’d misheard.
“Those are some funky looking hiking sticks you have there” he elaborated, going on to ask us where exactly we’d been hiking, in Cambridgeshire, where there are no mountains…
It finally dawned on us that the poor guy had mistaken the canes for hiking sticks. We explained that we hadn’t been hiking, that we were blind and that they were our canes whilst trying not to laugh along with his mates who’d witnessed his blunder. I chipped in sarcastically with,
“yeah, she’s my hiking dog. I ride her up the mountains…” which I was rewarded for with more laughter. The poor guy was pretty embarrassed and very apologetic, but we tried to reassure him that we weren’t offended.
Occasions like this present a different kind of awkwardness I think. From my experience, it’s much better to laugh at yourself and with others rather than get stressed out or touchy about silly mistakes. What makes it awkward is when the perpetrator of the misunderstanding can’t laugh along with you. They’re too mortified at having possibly offended you to relax enough to see the funny side. This often makes it much more awkward than if they’d just share the joke.
 
#EndTheAwkward
 
I could share so many other awkward moments, but I don’t think I’d ever finish this post. There’ve been times when canes have been mistaken for fishing poles, when strangers have wanted to pray for me to be healed, when my guide dog has been described as “magic” and all sorts of wonderfully weird situations have arisen.
What I’ve come to learn is that your own awkwardness about your disability is reflected in others. If your uncomfortable about your impairment and don’t know how to talk about it/understand it/laugh about it, you’re not in a position to make others feel comfortable addressing it either.
Scopes #EndTheAwkward is a fantastic steppingstone towards dispelling the taboo that surrounds disability, but I think it’s important to remember that it starts with us; only by accepting ourselves, our capabilities and limitations and by understanding our position in society can we begin to change it.
 
Find out more information about #EndTheAwkward here:
http://www.scope.org.uk/awkward
 
And I tag these bloggers to share their own awkward moments:
Beauty Within http://www.wakeupandcthemakeup.wordpress.com
Freely Me marameeh.wordpress.com
Dekota Rose https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty8cFHexOEs&feature=youtu.be
 
Thanks as always for reading and please enter your email address in the box below to get my posts sent straight to your inbox.

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 😉