Visual impairment


Two things happened in the space of about twelve hours to prompt this post. First, I spent a little time last evening with one of the tenants of the supported housing of the small charity for which I work part time. Second, I read some comments responding to the latest post on Australian photographer Leanne Cole’s blog, which I follow from my photo blog.

I spent the time with Gordon, completely blinded and brain damaged in an accident when he was young. One of several of the tenants who have been known to say “I’m not disabled; I just can’t see”. But what was he doing last evening? Scaling the climbing wall at a local leisure centre while I watched safely from below (taking pictures and making a video clip).

Gordon, blind and with severe brain damage, nearing to top of a climbing wall on 27 June

Gordon, blind and with severe brain damage, nearing the top of a climbing wall on 27 June

Comments on Leanne’s blog postulated that we now treat people with a disability better than we used to. That, in general, is undoubtedly true, but they are still discriminated against quite disgracefully.

Just one example, the response of a decision maker at the local authority on being told that a tenant needed more support to get out of the house more regularly: “Well many elderly people don’t get out at all”!

I’ve been completely hooked by blogging but I’ve never felt the urge to create a Facebook page and, although I have a Twitter account, the only thing that is tweeted, automatically, is a new post here.

As far as Facebook is concerned, I have a strong aversion to it – born of my wife’s announcements like “?? says she’s sitting in ?? celebrity restaurant drinking her seventh vodka and ?? (celebrity chef) has just spoken to her” and then shows me a picture of said ?? obviously very drunk in said restaurant. Who cares?

Poster promoting the new Wilberforce Trust 'Living & Learning Zone' blog, Facebook page and Twitter

However, for promoting an organisation it’s a different matter so, having recently created a blog for a particular activity of the small charity for which I work, I’ve gone the whole hog and also created a Facebook page and a Twitter account for it. Now I’m getting out a flyer promoting the three communications media to all local libraries, community centres, etc.

The blog is very simple, it is just a weekly update of the activities in our specialised community centre, catering for people with sight loss and additional disabilities, posted every Monday as a reminder for the activities during the following week.

The Facebook page is used to post very short reports of activities with one or two photographs.

As for Twitter, I’ve now got participants in the courses and other activities doing live tweets during the sessions.

There have been some very interesting and helpful posts from WordPress in the past couple of weeks; I was particularly taken by one describing how a magazine, Beatroute, had used the Oxygen theme to make a ‘blog’ version of the magazine.

I’ve been pondering for some time how to distribute ‘electronically’ the quarterly newsletter I produce for the charity for which I work. Sending PDFs isn’t really satisfactory. The ‘blog’ magazine seems the ideal solution though it will be a lot more work than just turning my newsletter InDesign files into PDFs.

It’s worth mentioning that the text here is not in the typeface which is default for the theme. The default text is a seriffed typeface – like this

typeface

 – which can be very difficult for people with sight loss to read. I also bumped the size up a bit and immediately got some ‘thanks’ messages from people who would not be considered to have a ‘visual impairment’.

However, ‘electronic’ communication is often much better for people with sight loss as the computer and other devices can make things much easier, including of course speaking a text. Apple have excelled in this.

I would like to introduce you to some remarkable people, having a go (yesterday) at something many of you ‘foodies’ reading this might do from time to time – making bread. Imagine doing that if you could not see, or had one or more additional severe ‘disabilities’ – physical or mental. Many of the people here, if they can speak but several of them cannot, will say “I’m not disabled, I just cannot see”. Their enthusiasm, zest for life and willingness to tackle anything, is an inspiration to me. As usual, just click on the first picture to see a slide show with a description of each picture.

I have mentioned that I work for a small charity in York (York, UK that is). As York’s oldest charity, the Wilberforce Trust has been supporting people with sight loss in and around York since 1833 (the year William Wilberforce’s died); it was set up – originally as the Yorkshire School for the Blind – in his memory that year.

Now, with a number of houses offering supported accommodation and a variety of services to the larger community, it specialises in supporting people with sight loss who have additional severe disabilities, including learning disabilities.

The introduction to bread-making is one of a number of activities  – a social club/games night, art activities, using computers and internet for people with sight loss, cooking, flower arranging, personal safety courses, and more – which take place in the ‘Living & Learning Zone’, a specialised community centre in the Wilberforce head office in Huntington, York, where I work a couple of days a week

Not all the participants in this session are shown; those who are know me very well so gladly allow me to take their picture; some who have newly joined Wilberforce activities did not yet want their photo taken.

I’d add that the supporters pictured here, both Wilberforce staff and volunteers, are remarkable people too.

How does someone blind

Who cannot see the sky’s blue

Create this art work?

Functional art; a multi-coloured 'bowl' made by someone with sight loss

This ‘functional art’ multi-coloured ‘bowl’ was made by someone with sight loss on a course intended to help them find employment

One of the great things I’ve discovered from beginning to ‘blog’ – only a couple of weeks or so ago – is that it opens the way to so much inspiration. Someone ‘likes’ your blog, you go to look at theirs, so often you find something to inspire you, especially to inspire creativity; you ‘follow’ them and, wow, you begin to be inspired daily. I’m going to mention below some of the blogs which have inspired me.

Another inspiration for me comes from the people I come across in my part-time job with a small charity, based in York, UK, which supports people with disabilities, often very severe and multiple disabilities, to live as independent a life as possible. Many of them are blind, or have very limited sight or, in the professional jargon, have a ‘visual impairment’.

The charity has recently been running a course to open the way for people who have sight loss to find employment. They’ve been making things to sell – ‘functional’ art objects, and food items (chutneys, jams, etc) – in the practical part of the course and I’ve been lucky enough to watch their confidence and independence grow week by week. Next Wednesday evening they’ll be showing their wares at a charity wine and cheese evening on a boat on the River Ouse in York, which ends with an auction of things they’ve made. The ‘bowl’ pictured is one of them. It inspires me.

A haiku seemed the best way to sum up this inspiration.

The background music will be provided by another inspiration, blind schoolgirl flautist Holly Tuke..

Holly playing her flute

(By the way, if you live in York and want to go to the wine and cheese evening – 5.30 – 7.30pm Wednesday 11th July, call the charity, the Wilberforce Trust, on 01904 760037. Tickets cost £10).

Some blogs which have inspired me (there are many more but these are just some of those which seem to do it almost every day):

Haiku – http://fivereflections.wordpress.com/

Creative writing – http://cristianmihai.net/

Food & cooking – http://madamecroquette.com/ , http://rantingchef.com/

Photography – http://hovercraftdoggy.com/

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