Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Light - Amy

Today is the International Day of Light (May 16th), so I thought that I would write something to explain what a difference the light makes to somebody who is visually impaired. 

For me, I LOVE British Summer Time hours. Long light days mean that I can be more independent, for longer. In the dark I can’t see well at all, I am not confident going out alone in the dark. If I do, I get a taxi and I sometimes need help from the driver with getting into the taxi and walking me to the door when we arrive. When I am in the taxi I find it quite hard to tell where we are. I put my total trust and faith into the driver and hope that they get me there safe. What does help is when businesses and iconic buildings have decorative lighting or big clear signs that are lit up. For example I know I am near town when I see the big old building with the blue lights by the roundabout. And I know I am nearly home when I see the lights from the petrol station near my road. They help me a great deal to recognise where I am and also follow my journey and feel confident that we are going the right way. Busses, trams and walking alone are not an option for me at all when it is dark. If I am with somebody that I know well and trust then I am fine, but if not then I am just not confident enough. Talking busses and trams do help a lot and if it was guaranteed on every bus and tram every time, then maybe I would venture out in the dark. But I have heard stories of bus drivers turning the talking off because it annoys them, how true that is I don’t know. And so far in Sheffield, talking busses are just on one route, the 120 route. This is a bus I only usually use to travel through the city centre, so it is very helpful, but not a bus I use all of the time. And as I do not live near a tram stop it is quite rare that I use the tram. 

Light evenings mean that instead of aiming to be home for 4pm, I can aim to be home for 8pm or later. That is a massive difference. Depending on where I am travelling from and how confident I feel, I sometimes want to set off before it even starts to go dark. Twilight is worse than the dark in some ways. It is so disorientating. So in winter, this means leaving at around 3pm! Coming home in the light means that I can see where my house is, so that I can tell the taxi driver when to stop, more accurately. Plus they can read my house number easier when it is light. If I am confident with the route I may even decide to get the bus home. This does depend on how busy the busses are likely to be though. I do avoid going on busses alone during busy times as they are scary and hard to find a seat. Also if a lot of people are stood up, it is hard to see through the windows, so I will struggle to follow where we are and recognise my stop. 

Being in a well lit environment is also very beneficial for me. In a dull or very shaded environment I find it hard to see what I am doing, I find it hard to see where potential hazards are and I find it hard to look for things. Some restaurants and bars are so dull, the flooring is dull, the furniture is dull, the walls are dull and they hardly have any lights on!  Why???  It makes things so difficult. I understand the whole ambience thing, if they want to sit in the dark then fine, but they could do more to help. Like having the furniture a completely different colour to the flooring, so that there is a big contrast. Make it look funky with all bright, random colours and styles. Making doors and door frames a different colour to the rest of the walls. Make lighting good enough to read the menus and see your food.  There have been occasions where somebody I know has used their torch on their phone just to read menus. And she has quite good sight. I just don’t understand the logic of how some places are designed. One thing that I have noticed is that some places seem to forget that making things accessible, also means making things accessible for visually impaired people. Not just people with a physical disability. 

This is just a description of what is right for me. Everybody’s sight is different and some people really struggle with the light and brightness. That would be better described by somebody else. So if you are one of these people then please tell us what you think?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The London Marathon. Interview with Nicky.

This time we have decided to try a new way of doing the blog and have decided to do an interview. So this blog post has been written based on the answers to the questions we gave Nicky and the discussion between her and Amy:  

Nicky has always been visually impaired and has not known any different. She finds reading and writing very difficult and uses a guide dog to help her to get out and about and stay as independent as possible. However she hates shopping and does most of her shopping online. Her two favourite pieces of equipment are her iPad and her Apple watch. She told me that she doesn’t know where she would be without them. She uses her apple watch to give herself daily goals and achieve them. 

Nicky had always wanted to run, but never thought it was possible because of her sight loss. She was visiting the gym one day and spoke to her gym instructor at the time, Craig. He said to Nicky “We can do that”.

With his motivation and support she started running and her love and confidence for it grew. She worked her way up to doing at 10K race in preparation for a half marathon. The opportunity then came along through SRSB for Nicky to take part in the London Marathon. She had always watched the London Marathon on TV but never even dreamed that one day she would be running it herself. Craig really had boosted Nicky’s confidence and helped her to stop doubting herself and her abilities. She describes him as ‘the lovely Craig’. He guided her while she was running the marathon. Since doing the London Marathon Nicky has taken part in three more 10K races. 

She hasn’t always been an active person. Around ten years ago it came to a point in her life when she realised that she needed to do more exercise. She had been yo-yo dieting for years and had realised that she should work on her fitness. Her sight problems had always been a big barrier with this. Gyms can be very daunting places, especially when you are visually impaired. So she felt like there were a lot of things that she couldn’t do, or that would be too difficult. 

As well as running Nicky also enjoys tandem riding, walking and swimming. She also enjoys going to the cinema. 

She enjoys using the Ponds Forge gym in Sheffield because it is easy to get to and she has got to know the instructors quite well. I asked Nicky if more support was needed to help visually impaired people get into exercise and fitness. She told me that the support she got at Ponds Forge was very good, but other gyms and leisure centres vary a lot when it comes to understanding disabilities and offering the right support. Some are really good and some are awful. She said that it would be helpful if any existing VI gym members would make themselves available to show potential new gym users around and introduce them to people. This might help them to feel less alone and they would have somebody to chat to.
Nicky is unsure of her future in running as she is due to have surgery on her knee. She thinks that she will probably no longer be able to run, but she is staying positive and is going to take up tandem riding instead. 

She feels that she has gained a lot of confidence from doing the marathon, and she now believes that she can do anything if she puts her mind to it. She feels comfortable with leaving her life in somebody else’s hands and just having fun. 

On a personal note I heard Nicky’s story a few years ago on the news and she is the one that inspired me to take up trampolining again. I realised that if somebody who is visually impaired can run the London Marathon, then I have no excuse to not at least try trampolining. So thank you so much Nicky for sharing your story, inspiring me, and no doubt inspiring many others too. 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Feeling Spiritual - Amy

If you have seen one of my other blog posts you will have seen that last year I started a yoga class at SRSB. Yoga has helped me quite a lot recently and I haven’t really realised how much until I sat and thought about it properly. 

For the past five years I have known that at some point in the future I would need an operation. They were delaying it as much as they possibly could because of my other health problems. They said it would be quite risky and I wasn’t really in any pain. So they said it wouldn’t be worth the risk. Last year my condition was getting a lot worse quite quickly. At first I was getting sharp pains every so often, but it was mostly just discomfort. I didn’t feel safe doing trampolining anymore, which I love, so I decided to try yoga. Slower movements and a lot less risk of me injuring myself. I had never really been interested in yoga, but I was definitely hooked. I really enjoyed it and became quite balanced and strong and confident with some of the poses. My condition then started to get worse and this problem was getting bigger and more painful. I still managed to do yoga but some things were quite painful. Laying down flat was one of them. At the beginning of each session we have a few minutes of mindfulness and meditation. We lay down flat on our mats and pay attention to our surroundings, how we feel, and how our body feels. In one session the teacher told us to draw attention to parts of our body that need a little love and attention. My tummy was hurting. So I sent all my positive energy to my tummy and focused on how it felt and what it needed. I knew that I was getting nearer and nearer having my operation. I was worried and scared and trying to imagine what lying like that would feel like after the operation. Then I started thinking, I might not even be here after the operation. But that wasn’t going to happen, I was stronger than all that. I couldn’t imagine not having any pain though. That was my last yoga session before I ended up in hospital. Three times, I always do things in threes! I was on very strong painkillers and I was definitely having my operation. I couldn’t sleep or get comfy at all. Pain is bearable when you are able to find a comfy position, so at least you get a bit of a break and are able to sleep. With this, there was no comfy position. So when I couldn’t sleep and I was trying to relax I used to think about what the yoga teacher would be saying to me. I was definitely mindful of the pain I was in, there was no doubt about that, but I tried to make sense of it all and meditate. I tried to take myself to a comfortable and happy place. 

The night before the operation I expected to be so nervous and scared and completely inconsolable.  But I wasn’t. I still couldn’t sleep because all of these things were going around in my head. I wasn’t too scared though. I was just awake. I didn’t really mind though. I didn’t want to go to sleep, because then I would wake up and it would be tomorrow. The day of the operation. I was quite happy as I was. I would get plenty of sleep tomorrow anyway. For years I had been thinking the worst about the operation and trying to prepare myself for something going wrong. It’s not that I didn’t trust the doctors, I didn’t trust my body. It has gone through a heck of a lot and I really didn’t know how much more it would take. The night before I was really surprised about how calm I was. After a bit I got bored and decided I should probably try and get some sleep. They were going to wake me up really early to get ready for the operation anyway. I was first on the list. I am diabetic and they said that diabetic people recover better when they have had their surgery in the morning. So I was first on the list, couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing or not. At least I wasn’t going to be waiting around all day. It took me ages to get to sleep, so again I tried a bit of mindfulness and meditation. We are all so busy getting on with our lives and we often don’t pay attention to what our bodies are saying. So in yoga they teach us to tune in to our bodies and think about how it feels, if anything hurts, if you have any aches or pains, your breathing, which parts of your body move when you breathe. Just taking a few minutes to listen to what our bodies are saying to us. That night, mine was saying “I hurt, and tomorrow I will hurt more, but I’ll be ok, because I’m strong and I have been through worse, and I’ll carry on being OK and I’ll get better”. 

I stayed really calm right until I went in to the anaesthetic room. They wanted to give me an epidural, and all of a sudden the operation didn’t seem so bad. It was the epidural I was scared of. The thought of it made me cringe, a lot. For anybody who doesn’t know what an epidural is, I would explain, but I can’t without cringing. So Google it, or ask somebody who is a Mum! 

The operation went really well. I would say it all went to plan but it didn’t, it went better than the plan.  It was planned that I would spend a few days in the High Dependency Unit and that I might need blood transfusions. I didn’t need any of that. I just spent a bit longer in recovery and then went back up to the ward. While I was in recovery I saw somebody who I went to school with. She works there and was looking after me. They say that you always look your worst when you see an ex or somebody from school. I definitely did that. Fresh from theatre, in loads of pain and fashioning a hospital gown and oxygen mask. Stylish! It was nice to see her though, chatting to her was a good distraction from the pain. They let my Mum and Dad in as well so I had them to distract me too. 

Other than when I first came out of theatre, I wasn’t in as much pain as I was before the operation.  It is crazy to think your own body can hurt you more than surgery. I was in a lot less pain than I expected. My Mum said that I had already been through the worst. I wouldn’t be in any more pain than I was before the operation, it might just feel different.  I didn’t believe her, but she was right. Don’t tell her I said that! It didn’t take long for me to feel better than I had done in months. 

Twelve weeks later I was back at yoga. It was hard because I hadn’t done it for so long. But it was so good to start moving again and doing something with my body. A few of the poses were actually easier, because my tummy had been sorted. I expected to maybe still be a bit tender and not be able to do some things just yet, but I could. I could do them better than before. At the beginning of the class we did the usual meditation. I was laid there thinking, it’s gone, it’s over, there is absolutely no pain in my tummy while I am laid here and it feels strange. But I like it!  Five years of worry have come to an end, I don’t know what to think about now that I haven’t got that to worry about. That took a lot of getting used to actually. 

Together my mind and body have worked as a team. Now I can get on with the rest of my life, each day getting stronger and feeling free again. 

A massive thank you to everybody who has looked after me so well at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield!

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Last Christmas at SRSB - Amy

Christmas at SRSB is always fun, with lots of things to do for clients, supporters and volunteers. I bet the staff have a bit of a party too! 
Last year was a pretty rubbish year for me health wise so I had to take quite a long time off from the blog. By Christmas I was just about ready to come back and see everyone again. So I decided to go to the volunteers party and to one of the Christmas lunches. I was really nervous before the volunteers party. It sounds a bit silly but it had been three months since I had last been to SRSB or seen anybody from SRSB.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go, but I knew I would enjoy it when I got there. It was just my brain confusing me with negative thoughts as usual. I always used to follow these thoughts because they say you should always go with your gut instinct. I have learnt over the years that my gut instinct seems to be faulty. So I do the opposite! I am better off for doing it that way. As I expected, my gut instinct was wrong. I did enjoy myself. There were friends, food, music, coffee and Christmas sparkle. What else could I possibly want? I got lots of hugs and people saying they were glad to see me back. That always means a great deal to me, feeling loved and wanted and missed if I’m not around. So I left the party feeling very happy and excited to start work again in the new year. SRSB is such a lovely, friendly place. I always leave feeling warm and happy. It is just one of those places that you walk in to and instantly you feel the love, you feel welcome and you feel at home. There aren’t many places where you get that feeling. Especially when you are visually impaired. You are never made to feel awkward or different. Sight loss is our way of living here, it’s how we function, it’s how we work, it’s what we are respected for and we are always made to feel normal. As if there is no different, as if the outside world doesn’t exist. 

When I came for Christmas lunch I arranged it well so that I could go in the same day as some of my friends. There is always a Christmas tree in reception and they have Gerry Kersey from BBC Radio Sheffield to come and switch on the lights. They make it an event every year and have a few songs and a bit of a get together. When you go through into the dining area the room looks huge with a very long table. It’s a bit noisy and scary at first but I got used to it. The table was set with Christmas table cloths and crackers and napkins. All very festive. The arts and crafts group had made some decorations for the walls. The meal was cooked and served by mostly volunteers. They will have had so much hard work to do even just on one day. There is a Christmas lunch every say for five days so they must have been exhausted. They did a brilliant job though.  They have a raffle on each day and I won so many prizes I felt really guilty about it. I offered some of my prizes to people but nobody would take them! I thought about sharing them with everyone in the office but the only one I could really share was the selection box and that was mine!  Sorry :-) I heard that the day before I went, some of the Sheffield Wednesday players visited SRSB, so you never know who you might bump in to. 

Being in such a friendly and festive environment really cheered me up. It felt like I hadn’t been away and I was really looking forward to starting volunteering again in the new year. 

Now I am back and can’t wait to hear from you and all about what you have been up to recently.  Please share it with us so we can use it on the blog.  Email us at  Alternatively you can speak to Jane or me, Amy, in the Mappin Street Centre. 

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Looking Forward to Summer! - Graham

A few years ago I invented a completely new ice cream treat and have been having it ever since from Mr Ronksley our local ice cream van man...

Based on the fact that the 99 cornet is an intrinsically flawed design, fantastic at first but turns into a bit of an anti-climax at the end with just a bit of dry cornet that usually gets fed to the dog....


I started asking Mr Ronksley to slot the flake down the inside of the cornet BEFORE topping it with the ice cream and sauce etc.

It is a winner. No more anti-climax. Instead, a 'hidden surprise'.

I have been having this now for a few years and have at least 2 other converts (the grandchildren) but other than that, the world has carried on as if this amazing invention doesn't exist...

Then... My daughter dropped me round a small bag of the new lower sugar Cocoa Pops to try and I had an even better idea than the 'Hidden Surprise'.

I dipped my chocolate ice cream 'Hidden Surprise' into the cocoa crispies and they stuck to the ice cream. It looked good, so I dipped it again and rolled the edge in them as well.
Amazing doesn't even cover the result... The 'Cocoa Pop Chocolate Hidden Surprise' knocks everything else out of the ball park...


Friday, 1 February 2019

My Experience at Tramlines in 2018 - Amy

In July last year I had a very special few days. If you have read my other posts you will have noticed that I love a bit of public attention. I love putting my writing out there, I love being out and about doing things for SRSB and I love being on the radio.  You could say I’m a bit of an attention seeker! 

I had the opportunity to go to the Tramlines Festival. This is a big music festival in Sheffield that has grown bigger and bigger over the years.  Being a visually impaired person, when I think Tramlines, I think scary, daunting, extremely busy and very cramped. I have never really had an interest in festivals, but SRSB had been given some tickets from Tickets for Good. The tickets were weekend passes, which is extremely generous of them. I was also told that BBC Look North were interested in talking to whoever had the tickets.  So how could I refuse?  A free visit to Tramlines and my first opportunity to be on the telly.  As Tickets for Good had given SRSB two tickets, the other ticket went to Simon, a client of SRSB and motivational speaker. We were both able to apply for carers passes, as we both needed somebody to go with us. Simon took his wife and children, and I took my friend Chloe. Jane from SRSB also came with us. 

A month before the festival we had a meeting with Sarah and Cathy Booth from Look North. This was to discuss plans for filming and to become more aware of what they wanted from us. Sarah and Cathy were both really lovely and friendly. 

The day before the festival, filming started.  I was so nervous.  More nervous than I had been on the radio. When I got to SRSB, Simon had started his filming. When it was my turn I was thinking, I don’t want to do this!  But I did really. My job was to sit and pretend to work on the blog on a computer. I just scrolled through the blog and then did some typing. They said the first word had to be Tramlines, but then I could write whatever I wanted. So I just wrote whatever was in my head. Tramlines, Chloe and how I knew Chloe.  We then did an interview.  I got to wear one of those little microphones! My first question was, “what did you have for breakfast?” Random question, but they said it was to check the sound. The next question was “what is your name, and how do you spell it?”  Everybody does struggle with that one. It’s Rollitt, the o, is pronounced like it is in “on” But because it is spelt Roll, many people think like sausage roll.  I have even been called Rowlitt, like in growl. So that question was a useful one.  Then we went on to talk about my sight, support I had at school, and how I felt about going to Tramlines. Then we were done.  It was Joanne’s turn next.  Joanne is the Deputy General Manager of SRSB. 

After we had done the filming I felt very excited and very pleased with how it went. I felt a lot more relaxed about the filming we would be doing at Tramlines the next day. 

On the big day we all got a ride on the SRSB minibus to Hillsborough park, where the main festival was this year. It was their first year at the park this year, before they had been at Devonshire Green and Ponderosa Park. I thought this would make it worse, so much more space to fit so many more people.  But actually everything was so spread out, there was so much space.  There was nobody awkwardly in my personal space while I was watching bands, every group of friends had their own space and freedom. Me and Chloe wandered around for a while, checking out the place and Simon and his family went to check out the family area. Shortly after Cathy came and we started talking filming again. She asked us to do whatever we would usually do at a festival and to act natural. I didn’t know how to act natural, I hadn’t been to one before!  So we decided to sit on the grass and watch a band. They filmed us walking and then sitting down. When we were sat, Cathy then came to ask me a few questions about how I was feeling and what I was thinking. One of the questions was, “what would you say to a visually impaired person who was thinking about coming here for the first time?”  I didn’t sound very convincing at all, the end of my answer was “you’ll probably enjoy it”. Then I realised I should sound more enthusiastic than that so I said “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Let’s just say a certain person found my answer hilarious. We had a big laugh about it afterwards. 

Then we had finished. Cathy went off to talk to the famous people, not as famous as me obviously ha ha! Then it started raining, a lot. Me, Chloe and Jane all went and found shelter under an umbrella. We were all cold, soaked and covered in grass. The rain wasn’t giving in so we decided to leave. 

I went back to Chloe’s house where we sat with Chloe’s husband and son and watched ourselves on the telly.  I didn’t sound as good as I did on the radio, they definitely chose the funniest bits. We had such a laugh. 

So I would like to say a massive, MASSIVE thank you to SRSB, Tramlines, Tickets for Good, Cathy Booth and BBC Look North for giving me a truly amazing experience. And you know where I am if you want me for anything else!