Change 100

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for a while now, but some exciting things are soon ahead for Jazzy and I and I’m excited to share them here.

AS you might know, I graduated from University with a 1st in English Literature in 2016. Since then I stayed in the city I studied in, hoping to find work. I would like to work in Communications, doing things like writing press releases, managing social media platforms etc. I’ve had some experience working in the Corporate Communications team of my University while I was studying, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find work in the sector since graduating.

The process of looking and applying for work as someone with a disability is a topic I’ll expand on in another post, but for now I’ll share the fantastic news that I’ve finally gotten an internship for the summer which will hopefully go a long way to helping me into full time employment.

I’ve gained this internship through the Change 100 Programme, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability aiming to help disabled students and graduates into work by offering internship opportunities and mentorship. It’s a relatively new programme that is gaining success every year, this year partnering with organisations to offer 140 internships to disabled students and graduates around the country. Find out more information about the Change 100 Programme via this link:

https://www.leonardcheshire.org/support-and-information/life-and-work/skills-development/employment-programmes/change100

Undertaking the internship means relocating for Jazzy and I as we’ll be working in London. We’ll be living just outside the capital and commuting in every day, working five days a week for three months. Inevitably it’ll be a big change for both of us and though it sounds a little daunting I’m excited and confident we’ll both take it in our stride.

We’ve already taken steps to ensuring a smooth transition, having mobility and orientation in London and escalator training for Jazzy. It’s important to take my guide dog into account whenever big changes like this are on the horizon. Thankfully Jazzy is an adaptable and confident dog; she is very quick to learn new routes and enjoys doing it so I don’t foresee any problems where she is concerned.

I’ve also had my first experience of applying to Access To Work; a government funded scheme intended to level the playing field for disabled people in work by providing accessibility equipment and support for a disabled person so that they need not depend on their employer for those adaptions. Access to Work has a somewhat mixed reputation and from my experience with them so far, I’m not sure that reputation is unfounded, though my dealings with them are currently ongoing so I’ll update on my experience with them in a later post.

For now, I think that’s as much as I can say at this point. I start my internship in a couple of weeks so I’ll be sure to keep my readers updated with our progress adapting to working in the big city. Until then, wish me luck!

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Getting back in the saddle

My mum says that from the time I could walk and talk I showed a huge fascination with horses, so much so that everything from my favourite toys to the painted stencils on my bedroom walls were all horsey themed. To be honest, not much has changed now. I mean, my bedroom walls were painted over long ago, but I still have as much, if not more love for horses than I did then.

I started riding lessons when I was about seven. Some of my favourite memories of being a kid are of our Saturday mornings at the ranch. Mum and I used to ride at our local school. It wasn’t a specialist RDA school or anything, but back then I had significantly more vision than I do now, so not much was made of my visual impairment when I started riding because there wasn’t really any need to. 

Riding lessons continued pretty consistently while I was growing up, until our local ranch closed so the lessons came to a halt (excuse the pun). I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’m sure there was maybe a three year gap until I started riding regularly again when I was thirteen.

This time we encountered a bit more trouble trying to find me a riding teacher. By then my vision was deteriorating so that I was severely sight impaired. We again approached a local teacher but I remember my dad having to argue my case pretty fervently for me to have lessons; the teacher in question was reluctant to have me at her school because of insurance and health and safety concerns. Thankfully we managed to persuade her to let me ride; I ended up having lessons regularly at that school for around four years and the teacher and I ended up getting on really well.

During that time, my teacher and I developed a number of tactics that enabled me to ride safely and independently, whilst also progressing my skills. I would count the horses strides so that I would know when to turn e.g. sixteen strides in trot along the length of the school before a right turn and ten strides along the with before another right turn and my teacher would stay central throughout and be constantly talking so that I could orientate myself by her voice. She encouraged me mostly to learn to interpret the horse’s movements for myself, so that I could tell by feel if I was walking straight etc. It did a lot for my balance and coordination, especially the dressage stunts involving riding over poles and very precise turns.

I’m really grateful to my parents for helping me pursue horse riding because it’s something that I not only love so much, but it also helped ground me when I was losing a lot of sight as a teenager. At a time when a lot of things were changing for me, when I suddenly couldn’t do a lot of things any more, horse riding was a constant that never changed. It was something active; something physical that took my mind off other things. It was also something I was good at and that I could take pride in at a time when my self-esteem was taking a bit of a beating.

There’s something about horses, being so powerful yet so gentle that really fascinates me. I can think of few things more peaceful than grooming a horse. At the same time, I can think of few things more exhilarating than sitting on a horses back as it canters at top speed. It’s thrilling and so freeing. I struggle to put it into words. 

I was lucky enough to own my own horse for a couple of years, but with me leaving home for University we sadly weren’t able to keep him for very long, and a negative experience with uni’s equestrian society meant that I hadn’t ridden a horse for around four years… until today!

Mum and I found a Groupon voucher for a 30-minute private lesson and 1 hour hack at Matchmoor Riding Centre, so we dug out our boots and hats and trotted off to Bolton excited and a little nervous. We didn’t need to be though, because as soon as we got in our saddles it all came flooding back and neither of us stopped smiling the whole time we were there. It really is like riding a bike, it all comes back to you straight away. It’s definitely rekindled my desire to take up riding regularly again as well, I didn’t realise how much I miss it until this afternoon. 

RDA

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is a UK charity bringing education, therapy and fun to the lives of disabled people. They hold local RDA groups all over the country that can be a great place to start if you’re interested in horse riding and you have a disability, but they also offer disability awareness training and specific teaching qualifications to riding schools as well, so even if there isn’t an RDA group near you there may be RDA trained teachers at nearby schools. The RDA’s slogan is ‘it’s what you can do that counts’ which I really like; it promotes an ethos that they focus on people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities. Check out their website via the link below:www.rda.org.uk

Cyprus with Seable and VICTA

I was recently lucky enough to spend the week in Cyprus on a trip organised by VICTA Children and Seable Holidays. Along with nine other visually impaired people and four sighted guides, I spent a week making the most of everything Cyprus has to offer; from sun bathing to pottery making we did it all!

The trip

Though it could appear daunting to go on holiday with a group of people you may never have even met before, I can say from personal experience that VICTA and Seable are so welcoming and friendly that the atmosphere of their trips are great from the get go. The ethos of VICTA trips is to encourage as much independence as possible, so while sighted volunteers are on hand to guide where needed, they also encourage us to help ourselves and each other as much as possible.

Upon arriving in sunny Cyprus after a stress free flight, we made our way to the hotel and spent the rest of that day orienting ourselves around the building, our rooms and most importantly the pool, before having dinner at a local restaurant.

Our first full day in Cyprus was our chance to try some arts and crafts. We visited a local centre where we learned from local artists all about glass making, tapestry, mosaics and much more. We also were able to try our hands at a bit of pottery and magnet making ourselves. Personally, the pottery instructor told me that he’d never met anybody as terrible at pottery as me, so I won’t be taking up that career any time soon but I’m glad to say that others in the group had better luck. We finished off the day with an afternoon on the beach and more wonderful food.

The next day was all about Paphos, as we explored the archaeological park in the morning and roamed the harber in the afternoon. This was personally one of my favourite days of the trip as I was just blown away learning about the history of the ancient ruins and local mythology. The House of Dionysus, one of the ruins we visited, was extremely accessible having braille information and small scale tactile representations of the mosaics. That evening myself and a few others decided to sample the local delicacy of maze, which consists of lots of small dishes being brought out to share among the table. The food was stunning, though I think we were all more than full by the end. I believe we got up to ten courses all in all!

The following morning we waved goodbye to Paphos and made our way to Troodos where we’d spend the rest of the week,not forgetting to stop for a wine tasting on the way. The afternoon was spent hiking on Troodos mountain lead by a local guide. The weather was fantastic and the nature beautiful, the views weren’t half bad either so I’m told 😉

For our last full day in Cyprus we visited a local botanical garden, a sweets factory and rose factory. The botanical gardens were again beautiful, full of all sorts of fantastic wildlife. The sweets shop was a sweet-tooths heaven; jams, marmalades and sweets of all kind, all home made and made from local produce. And of course the rose factory was fascinating. Not only did it smell beautiful, but the owner who came to speak with us about her business was obviously very knowledgable and passionate about her work and was extremely accommodating in letting us feel and sample all of the different products they produce. I just couldn’t resist spending my remaining euros in their gift shop and I got some lovely suvineers.

All in all it was a very relaxed trip, full of fun and laughter. I can definitely say that I’ve come away from the week with great memories and really good friends. I would absolutely recommend VICTA and Seable to anyone for their services, information about which I’ll post below.

Who are VICTA and Seable?

VICTA (Visually Impaired Children Taking Action) are a national charity serving visually impaired children and young adults and their families. They organise residential weekends and international trips throughout the year that are intended to raise the independence and confidence of young VI people. I’ve been attending VICTA events since I was around 15 and have made countless friends and made fantastic memories through the experiences I’ve had with them. They plan activities for a range of age-groups, from family weekends for young children and their families to international trips for 18 to 30 years old like the one I attended to Cyprus. Check out their website for more information: http://www.victa.org.uk

Seable is an award winning social enterprise organising accessible and active holidays for individuals, couples, families and small groups. They can arrange trips to a number of locations including Sicily, Slovenia and Roam and will taylor your holiday to your spesific access needs. They are an invaluable service for those of us who have disabilities but who also want to see the world by going on fun, interactive and relaxed trips where your disability won’t stopd you from doing anything. So far I’ve attended two Seable trips including the recent one to Cyprus, but fully intend to go on many more and would recommend anyone who likes to travel and who has a disability to consider them before booking your next holiday because I promise you won’t regret it. Click on the link below to check out their website: http://www.seable.co.uk

Skiing with DSUK

I first tried my hand at skiing when I was 17. I went on a school trip with New College Worcester, The residential school for the blind I was studying my A-levels at. That trip stands out in my memory as the first time I experienced true freedom, and I’ve never forgotten it. The second time I got to ski on real snow didn’t disappoint. I hoped that it would be like riding a bike, and thankfully it was. By my second session with my instructor I was automatically snow plowing without thinking about it.

I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie; I love rollercoasters, have always wanted to skydive and generally enjoy throwing myself into anything new and dangerous. So it’s probably no surprise that skiing is right up my street. But I’m sure many of my readers are probably wondering, how exactly can you ski when you can’t see?

The answer is very simple… Just like everyone else. I keep an upright posture, my arms extended and slightly bent at the elbows; I snow plow to stop and push down hard on my big toe to turn. Oh yeah, and I’ve got someone shouting directions skiing behind me.

What I will say is that it requires lots and lots of trust. My safety when skiing independently depends on my guide being my eyes at all times; being clear and loud with their instructions and confident in their directions. I’ve been very lucky to have fantastic instructors on both skiing trips I’ve attended.
My boyfriend and I attended a Disability Snow sports UK (DSUK) trip toNeiderau, Austria earlier this month. DSUK are a national charity that organise several skiing trips a year in Europe and the USA which are open to anyone with a disability. No previous skiing experience is required, obviously I had skied before but my boyfriend had no more experience than an hours session at the Chillfactore in Manchester. This made absolutely no difference to our enjoyment of the trip however. By the end of the week both of us were skiing at a similar skill level and we’d barely landed back in Gatwick when we were already planning our next trip.
The activity week was attended by 10 people with disabilities, five qualified instructors and a handful of volunteer helpers. We stayed in a four-star hotel for seven nights and had six half days of skiing with a one-to-one instructor each. The atmosphere of the whole trip was incredible. Everyone got along brilliantly, there was a real range of characters and several unforgettable moments. My personal highlights include A quiz night that had me almost crying with laughter, attaching ski poles together with masking tape so that my instructor could hold one end and I could hold on to the other as he guided me faster down the slope than I could have imagined, and “borrowing” The witches hats and broomsticks spotted earlier in the week being used by a ski school of toddlers to play some snow Quidditch. 
I would definitely recommend skiing, and DSUK to everyone. I love skiing so much because I spend so much of my time being physically guided by others, human or canine, that being able to move through space at a considerable speed entirely independently gives me a sense of freedom like nothing else does. DSUK are a fantastic charity with a wonderful ethos that made the trip relaxed, memorable and most of all fun.
DSUK are based in the Cairngorms in Scotland and also have instructors dotted around the country at various indoor ski slope’s including Manchester, Hemel Hempstead and Tamworth. These experienced instructors can teach you to ski or snowboard whether you need shouted directions or a tethered sit-ski. One of our group is visually impaired and has Limited mobility, so he used a headset and a sit-ski to fly down the black slopes. Hopefully that will be me one day!
Find out more about DSUK here: http://www.disabilitysnowsport.org.uk/

#HowISee

93% of people registered blind or partially sighted can see something, meaning that only a very small percentage of visually impaired people are completely blind. The RNIB’s #HowISee campaign aims to raise awareness of this fact and dispel the misconceptions that surround visual impairments such as using a guide dog or white cane means that you are totally blind, or that not using a mobility aid means that you are fully sighted.
Watch the #HowISee video here

 

I am one of the 93%. I have been registered blind since I was seven years old, but I have a limited amount of residual vision which I used to its full advantage.

 

I have a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) which means that my retinas don’t function properly causing my Visual impairment. I also have Nystagmas meaning an involuntary movement of the eyes as they try to focus.

 

My condition has meant that I have never been fully sighted, but when I was a child I did have a considerable amount of residual vision which meant that I could read, see colour and use magnification for a time.

 

The nature of my condition however means that my site has been gradually deteriorating since birth, culminating in a sudden deterioration in my teens. This left me with light perception in my right eye and a small amount of residual peripheral vision in my left. My site has stabilised since, though there is the possibility that it could deteriorate again.

 

I try to use my remaining vision as much as I possibly can, which is something I have had to learn to do. It was only when I received mobility training from a rehab worker who is actually also visually impaired herself two years ago that I was able to teach myself to utilise the remaining vision that I have.

 

With the peripheral vision in my left I, I can distinguish contrast and rarely I can make out a bright colour. This doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be surprised how useful even that is in daily life. It means that I can follow a building line by distinguishing a white building from a darker one; I can see distinctive road markings such as a zebra crossing; I can find the counter in a Starbucks by spotting the bright lights. All these things help immensely in my orientation and are things I use on a daily basis when getting around independently.

 

This is my experience of visual impairment, my experience of LCA. But that is not to mean that everyone’s experience is the same. Out of all the visually impaired people I know I don’t think I know two people who see the same thing. Not even people with the same condition as me. I know others with LCA who have enough residual vision to read print and yet others who are totally blind.

 

I am often asked if I am my guide dogs trainer because I apparently “don’t look blind”. I’m not entirely certain if this is because of how are use my residual vision to get around, or just because I am a reasonably confident young woman who doesn’t fit into the traditional stereotype of a plain old blind man with a white cane. Either way this always feels like a bit of a backhanded compliment to me, because besides the fact that I’m not totally blind so why would I look as such, what does blind look like anyway?

 

I have mentioned previously on this blog that the spectrum of visual impairment is huge, as is is the spectrum of ways that people live with their visual impairment. This is why it’s problematic to put people in boxes such as guide dog user must be totally blind, or symbol cane user must be able to read small print.

 

The important message that the #HowISee campaign is trying to convey is not to judge a book by its cover, or a blind person by their mobility aid (or lack there of). Everyone is an individual, even blind people 😉

 

Join in the campaign by explaining how you see the world and sharing your own stories of any awkward moments or misconceptions you’ve experienced using the #HowISee hashtag throughout August.

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!

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

#VIPTag

VIP tag
I’ve been tagged to complete the VIP (visually impaired people) tag by a fantastic blogger who I follow diligently. Check out her blog called Thinking Out Loud here: http://www.thinkingoutloud-sassystyle.com/vip-questions-tag/
1. What medical condition caused you to be blind or visually impaired?
Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and Nystagmus
2. In 3 words, describe your vision. 
Confusing, temperamental, unreliable.
3. What is the hardest thing to do being blind OR visually impaired?
Interpreting body language – 90% of human communication is done non-verbally, so not being able to tap into that information can sometimes put me at a disadvantage when meeting people. Not being able to interpret body language and facial expressions can make trying to connect with someone a little awkward in certain situations. 
4. What is the best part about being blind? 
We live in a world and a society that places so much emphasis on the visual that being unable to see can often feel somewhat of a barrier to a lot of different things. However I believe that it’s not so much a barrier as just a block for one particular path. I think that being blind has made me open-minded and able to think outside the box in terms of problem solving to find ways around things that might initially seem impossible to do without sight. I’m forced to think of ways around doing things every day, from reading the instructions on a food packet to finding a specific shop. I think it’s also made me a determined, resilient and ambitious person that I might not be in the same way if I wasn’t visually impaired. 
5. What question do you get asked most about or because of your vision? 
“Are you totally blind?”
I’m registered blind and can see very little, but the light perception and tiny bit of peripheral vision I have comes in really useful sometimes – I try to use it to the max. I think this makes it confusing for people though because sometimes it’ll seem like I can see something and other times I won’t, so most often I get questions about what I exactly can and can’t see.
6. Do you have a cane, a guide dog, or neither? 
I have a guide dog, a 2 year old black Labrador/retriever called Jazzy. I also have a cane for non-dog-friendly situations
7. What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is losing, going to lose, or has lost their vision? 
Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t allow yourself to wallow. Of course it’s natural to feel the loss of something as integral as your sight; I think it’s important to let yourself feel the sadness, anger, fear and whatever else comes with it so that you can work through these feelings in a healthy way. But once you’ve dealt with the grief, don’t let your loss take over your life. Losing your sight can feel like the end of the world, but it’s really not. It just means that it’s the start of a new chapter in your life, a chapter that will make you stronger, more resilient and a boss at problem solving like I mentioned above 😉
8. What is one piece of advice you would give to a sighted person about interacting with a person who is blind or visually impaired? 
Never assume, always ask:

Uncertain whether a VI person needs help to cross the road? Don’t assume they want you to grab their arm and escort them across, ask if they’d like your help. If they accept, feel good that you assisted someone who needed your help. If they decline, respect their answer and feel content that you offered. 

Assumptions can often do more damage than good because your assumption is rarely accurate. This is especially true of visual impairment which is an umbrella term for a huge spectrum of conditions and abilities, not to mention the vast variety of ways that people deal with their visual impairment. Even people with the same conditions can have different levels of useful sight and can have different ways of dealing with their impairment. No two people are the same, even blind people. 
When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.
9. Why did you join YouTube/ Blogging?
I created this blog because I wanted to show people that it’s perfectly possible to lead a normal life despite not having much sight. The fear of the unknown often means that people can’t imagine doing barely anything without being able to see; that’s just not true and in my blog I try to demonstrate that.
10. Name 3 people to do this tag next.
I’m tagging three visually impaired bloggers who I follow and admire. Check them out via the links below.
Fashioneyesta – http://fashioneyesta.com/

Where’s Your Dog – https://wheresyourdog.wordpress.com/

Life Unscripted – https://blindbeader.wordpress.com/
Thanks for reading and if you’re visually impaired why not get involved and post your own VIP Tag!