Sunday, 31 January 2021

Robert’s Covid Year

Photo of Rob at SRSB
2020 started really well as I became a Grandad in February and my music trio made its debut at a local pub. As Chair of Deafblind UK, I started meeting with our Social Groups across the UK beginning with meetings in London, Peterborough and Belfast. I gave a talk to the Business Disability Forum in London and it is hard to imagine now there were nearly 200 people in the room! My band also enjoyed playing at a Valentine’s Afternoon Tea Party at Mappin Street and I enjoyed a couple of excellent hill-walks with the SVIWG (Sheffield Visually Impaired Walking Group).

The worsening Covid-19 outbreak and the first lockdown, changed everything.
The local pool closed and the SVIWG also stopped, and we’ve all missed our guided walks for over ten months now. The other thing we noticed was the quiet on the roads in the Derbyshire Peaks where we live. It was very pleasant and I was amazed how much birdsong I could hear when out walking with my wife Louise and our two dogs. All the more so as I’ve only been able to hear birds at all these past 20 years, because hearing aids have improved. As we are surrounded by sheep farms Louise often has our dogs on the lead, which makes it difficult to guide me as well. Consequently, I learnt to walk with 2 walking poles feeling my way behind her, whilst Louise warns me of rocks, tree roots, over hanging branches and steep drops etc. As we walk everyday, I got better at it and by the summer I was even able to cross the stepping stones across the river, feeling for each stone in turn. It is slower going at times but I enjoy the increased independence!

Aside from walking I have an exercise bike and rower at home to keep fit as well as a safe running route which I do twice a week.

We’re lucky to have all the essential shops including a butcher, greengrocer, pharmacy and a small supermarket, a short walk away in our local village. However social distancing was still difficult as I’m not always aware of others approaching or how far away people might be, especially indoors. Shops I know well became obstacle courses as I can’t make out floor and stop markings, so I may have skipped a few queues! Masks also make it impossible to lip-read shopkeepers and other customers, which resulted in some interesting conversations! However, my red and white cane is now a familiar sight in our village and most people know to give me space and some also lift their masks when talking, which is a great help. Our routine food shop now involves Louise popping inside each shop to pick up our essentials while the bag carrier waits patiently outside to carry it all home! I know how lucky we are as it must be much harder for those living in or near busy centres like Sheffield and Rotherham.

Socially not being able to see our two daughters, grandson and Louise’s elderly parents who all live close by, was very hard during Lockdown. I also missed playing guitar with my band and with the exception of some practise in the garden late summer, we have resorted to sharing songs and chat on zoom, like so many this past year.

Like many others we enjoyed the relaxation of rules in the late summer and meeting up with our family and some friends again, not to mention resuming my swims in the local pool. One sunny afternoon in August we even managed a picnic lunch in our garden with all our family together, a memory to treasure. Despite being able to meet up with others outside, not being able to shake hands or hug is not the same and whilst I’ve been luckier than most, the sense of isolation and not being in-touch is very real for many, particularly for those who also endure sight and hearing loss.

Being in a support bubble with one daughter meant we were also able to see her regularly over the winter months and Louise continues to walk in turn with her mother and our other daughter to keep in touch, which is great too. 

At Deafblind UK we’ve had a busy year video-conferencing without the need to travel to Peterborough but as with SRSB, it hasn’t been possible to keep the offices open and attend regular events.

Living a more solitary stay at home life meant I hadn’t travelled by train or bus or been anywhere busy since early March last year. When I popped into Sheffield by train over Christmas, wearing a mask was the least of my concerns as I’d forgotten how difficult it is to make things out inside the carriage. There were a lot of other passengers too so I needed help to find a seat. It reminded me of the importance of routine and how not travelling or being close to larger groups of people for a long time, really can impact on one’s confidence, particularly in these challenging times. It was worth the trip though, as Father Christmas gave me a very nice guitar Amp!


Christmas passed by pleasantly though our son was unable to join us as he lives in London and the Government announcement the weekend before meant he had to stay at home. We just had time to post his presents, so we were able to share giving and receiving gifts on-line together.

Now we are back in Lockdown again and rediscovering the quiet and a more solitary life again. The weather isn’t as good as last spring and whilst I am missing the pool again, there are some bad weather days when I miss it less! 

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel with the roll out of the vaccine and like most of us, we will follow the rules and allow the NHS to do their magnificent work. 

Stay safe, well and positive everyone, we will meet again!

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Picture Sheffield Website - Graham

Graham here! As people who know me know, I am a long term user of SRSB’s services, but I do have enough residual sight to enjoy looking at photos if they are blown up large enough. I used to be a keen amateur photographer before my sight put the mockers on this. I still have enough sight left though, to enjoy looking at photos on a large PC screen, so I still get a lot of pleasure from family snaps, scenery and more recently looking at old historical photos.

I was recently ‘tipped off’ about the Sheffield Archive which now has an extensive collection of old mostly black and white photos of the Sheffield area through the ages. It is FANTASTIC.


The website is Picture Sheffield and for partially sighted users, the pages and links are pretty bold and obvious and the site works with speech software.


If you have some residual sight and are interested in local history or just curious about what ‘old sheffield’ looked like, check it out.


Particular pics that I was impressed with include Chesterfield Road Toll Gate. A then rural area where B&M is now. A burning building in the city centre with an abandoned tram in silhouette I think on the high street. The Bombed out old Redgates Building on the Moor. The old Classic Cinema, one of my favourite old haunts as a teenager, burning to the ground with firemen sillouetted against the flames coming through the roof.

And particularly for me at Chapeltown  loads of photos of Newton Chambers works all gone but for a much smaller cleaner ‘Business Park’ within sight of our home.


One particularly relevant picture that has relevance to my earlier life is the photo of the clothing shop Tramps on King Street. I bought my first wedding suit here. Black shiny crushed velvet £9.99. I looked AMAZING!!!   .. Errrr I think....


Picture Sheffield is a fantastic free site to explore for you if you have some sight and for the rest of the family.


Friday, 16 October 2020

Pattison the Ghost at Tapton Mount School _ Carol

Carol shares a story about their school ghost!

“I don't remember how old I was when I first heard about Pattison's existence but, memories of having to go down into the cellar to have showers still stick in my mind. I must have known because I never wanted to be the last one to go back up from the cellar. I remember when I had to stand in the corridor for being naughty and being scared that Pattison would come and get me. I vaguely remember it being a threat from the housemothers if we did anything wrong.

“We were all scared of the thought of him, we knew he had been there for a very long time. I don't ever remember anyone saying they had heard or saw him except for adults.”

Memories from Tapton Mount School - Carol

We recently did an online presentation about our long history with Sheffield to celebrate our 160th Anniversary. Some of our clients attended, and it prompted some memories – these memories are about the school Tapton Mount from Carol:

“I remember how big the school seemed and how the corridors echoed at night.

“I looked forward to the tape lessons when I was very little, this was wearing head phones, which were extremely big and heavy which were connected to a tape recorder. You had to Braille on your Perkins Braille machine, which was also big and heavy. Everything that the person on the tape said, for example, bag (b a g), write a line of the word bag and so on. That's how we learned our Braille.

“I loved the drama room and the musical movement things we use to do. The assemblies where we would sing hymns and I loved and the choir.

“When I first started we had to do basket weaving which I found extremely boring.

“The library was a big room that smelled funny but had many books in Braille.

“I loved going to Brownies and getting out of the school once a week to take part in the Sheffield Junior Choir's rehearsals. We did a big concert at the City Hall and Albert Hall for Christmas which was an amazing experience. That's where I first made friends with sighted girls my age.

My memories of Tapton Mount School were great, much better than my next school at Tapton Comprehensive, except for the house we stayed in called Hallam Lodge on Tapton Crescent Road.

At Tapton Mount there were kids from all over the country, and we played all sorts in our dormitories including with a football.”

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Gardens at Wentworth Woodhouse Trip - Graham

Photo of Graham

Strange times for all of us, sighted and sight-impaired and although there are some great walks in the woods near where we live, you can sometimes have too much of a good thing. So it was interesting to hear that Wentworth Woodhouse just past Chapeltown has opened its gardens to the public as part of its fund raising work to restore the house to its former glory.

If pre-booked, it is only £5 per person or £7 for those who just turn up. A couple of my friends are volunteers in the gardening team and they were so encouraging, we decided to give it a try. I went with Marie and we met our daughter there not really knowing if it would be OK. You know how it can be if you have poor or very little sight, it sometimes seems to be not worth the trouble.

This definitely WAS worth it. There is no other option really but to go in the car, but there is plenty of parking near the garden entrance which is through the arch of the original stable yard.

Once through the obvious, but temporary entrance, it is slightly daunting as you don’t know if you should go to the left or right, but it doesn’t really matter. We went left past the old ‘ice house’ to a cosy but nice walled garden and then came back in the other direction, through some trees and as the view opened out any fears of social distancing issues were left behind.

The gardens are massive with open grassy areas, flower borders that are amazing at present (early August). Clean toilet pods are scattered about and they are spotless with hand sanitiser as well as the usual…

We didn’t have much idea about where we were going but walked round following paths and grass areas with flowers everywhere and looked at the various ornamental bits including the low back wall with spectacular views towards Kepples Column and Rotherham. We took a few photos and had a sit down in deck chairs that were scattered about in fours for everyone to use if wanted. They also were like new.

Anyway, 3 hours after entering we were totally relaxed and ready for the trip home.

A great afternoon out and we all said that next time we go we will take out own picnic (which is encouraged) Drinks were available, but we had taken our own... but a picnic sounds a great idea to me.

Highly recommended, but this trip would definitely need help from a sighted person.

2 hours later at home Marie and I were still ‘chillaxed’ and sat in our garden planning our next visit.

Note. Guided tours are also available and I think that for many people they would prefer this option as you would learn so much more about the history of Wentworth Woodhouse.

Warning: Don’t get mixed up this and ‘the other place’ Wentworth Castle. This is a different building and gardens at Stainborough near Barnsley.

           UPDATE to this story. Graham asked Wentworth Woodhouse about carers and they              responded to say "We allow all carers free entry to our gardens and house for all                      events and visits. Please contact us (Wentowrth Woodhouse) on 01226 749639 for                  more information."


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Social Distancing and Accessibility - Amy

Getting out and about is very challenging for people who are visually impaired even in normal circumstances. As we all know, things have changed a lot over the last few months, and going out has become even more of a challenge.  

Some visually impaired people will struggle more than others depending on what useful vision they have. Some people do not have good central vision, whereas others do not have good peripheral vision. Even two people with the same eye condition may have a very different level of sight. It also depends on how confident the person is when they are out. Some are more confident than others which makes a huge difference. Some people may be more confident at doing certain parts of the journey, not necessarily the whole thing.  

I have not had the opportunity to get out far myself yet, but I have been to my local shop occasionally and to a few parks.  Luckily I have had my Mum or Dad with me when I have been going to these places otherwise I would find it extremely difficult. Even though I have not been to many places myself, I have heard about the changes that have been made in most places. I have also been told how difficult some of these changes are to understand and cope with.  Based on my experiences and things I have heard, so far I have been really quite frustrated about how inaccessible places have become for people who are visually impaired.  

Many places have signs up that can be hard to see, never mind read. There are also floor markings which are hard to follow. My local shop has introduced a one way system around the store which I do understand the purpose of, but I can’t always tell which way the arrows are pointing, so how am I supposed to know which way to go? I have also been told that some places have foot print markings instead of arrows, I imagine that I would struggle with that even more.  Queue areas also have two metre markings so that people do not stand too close to each other. It is often hard to tell who is queueing and who is shopping because of the large spaces between people. Plus if I am stood two metres away from the customer who is being served, I can’t always tell when they have gone, depending on the layout of the checkout area. I haven’t had to deal with these situations on my own, because I just won’t go on my own while all these changes are in place. I find it difficult at the best of times, but impossible with all of these changes. Having to rely on others so much is not a nice feeling. It is really important to me and other visually impaired people to be as independent as we possibly can be, however much this is. In the current circumstances I don’t feel able to be independent at all. The time I feel the most independent is when I am volunteering at SRSB. I do still need help sometimes, but I can walk around a busy building without feeling rushed or worrying about walking into something. Everybody understands, even staff and volunteers who are not visually impaired understand.  We all give each other plenty of time and space when we are walking around the building. This is the only building of that size where I can do this. I haven’t been able to go in while all this has been going on and I really miss it.  

I saw a video online yesterday which actually made me think. I did already know this, but it did help to jog my memory. The video was about a lady who has a guide dog and how the guide dog is not trained for social distancing.  Obviously I was aware of this, but it did get me thinking.  Guide dogs are trained to help people travel and go out more easily, safely and independently. As most of them were trained years ago, they have no idea of what social distancing is. The lady on the video said that her dog was trained to take her to the door of a shop, not queue up outside a shop. So when her dog has taken her to the door of the shop and not the back of the queue, somebody in the queue rudely shouted at her. Guide dogs are also not trained to keep a two metre distance from people. I do not have a guide dog myself, but I do know that they are very stuck in their ways and stick to what they have been trained to do. I sometimes have a guide dog laid under my desk when I am volunteering at SRSB. She lays there because that is where her owner sits, he wasn’t in the room at the time but didn’t need to take her with him. In the past people have tried to move her to give me more space and she was very reluctant to move. This is because that is where her owner sits when he is using a computer, so she was trying to make sure that he got his usual seat, which would make things easier for him. Just to point out, I didn’t steal his seat, he was out of the office for quite a while and we are usually in on different days. It is also my usual seat. I don’t mind her being there though because I don’t want to unsettle her, so we just leave her now and she keeps me company.  

One of the things that I really don’t like about social distancing is that people are not allowed to get close enough to help. My friends are not allowed to help me if I see them because I don’t live with them. And I can’t see them without needing some kind of physical help or guidance. So I just haven’t suggested meeting up. One of the things that I am so desperate for is for the rules on this to change, so that we can have physical contact with our loved ones again and give them a huge hug. The time that we need a hug the most has turned out to be the time when we are not allowed. And it’s horrible. I don’t mind not being able to go to restaurants or have my hair done, I just want a cuddle with my boyfriend and to hug my best friends.  

Friday, 19 June 2020

My Sight Loss - Tia

In November 2019, I was dealt a blow that after 6 months of regular hospital visits, surgery and various treatments, that nothing else could be done to improve the vision in my right eye. I would now be classed as blind.
Feelings of shock, hurt, grief and anger followed, I was trying to make what limited sight I had better with the surgery, not worse. I was supposed to be enjoying the last few months of my maternity leave with my first child, not worrying about what this meant for me and how was I going to cope. I felt like I was letting my baby girl and the rest of my family down.

Since my childhood diagnosis of Ushers Syndrome, I've always known that my vision would deteriorate gradually over time. I honestly didn't think it would be this soon and I don't think I was prepared for it as much as I thought I was.

I spent the next weeks in denial, trying to ignore what had happened, and struggling with daily tasks. Then I was dealt a second blow in December that I was to be made redundant from a job that I had loved and dedicated 10 years of service to. My confidence and self esteem absolutely plummeted. How on earth was I going to find another job that I could physically do and do well. And how could I do this on top of everything else that I was still trying to figure out.

It was then that I asked for help, and to my surprise many people responded, SRSB was one of the first that I contacted and that's how I met Heather. She regularly visited and kept in contact, she listened, she answered questions (she really knew her stuff!), she found additional support for me, she offered advice, she supported me, and most importantly she showed me that I wasn't alone. She introduced me to the wider community of SRSB. My little girl first met Santa at the SRSB Christmas party. I remember feeling an absolute nervous wreck before as it was the first event that I'd taken her to alone. But everyone was so friendly, welcoming and helpful. I left the party with a very happy and tired out baby, but also a confidence boost and a feeling that I can do this.

Heather and everyone at the SRSB, along with my family and friends, all paid a key role in the past 6 months.

I have accepted and am slowly embracing my differences. I have learnt new skills, knowledge and technology to help me continue to do all the things I need and want to do. I have learnt new ways of doing things and it has built my confidence back. For every new challenge that I came across, I have adapted and become stronger. I hope to continue this with all the new challenges yet to come.

The job situation is the next hurdle but I will tackle it once I am able to as the Covid-19 pandemic has put a hold on it. But I feel more prepared now and I hope to use the help and resources that SRBS have to help me when I can.

I have seen kindness and thoughtfulness that surprised me. It really is the case that if you ask for help, there are people that want to help you. I am forever grateful for the part that the SRSB played with helping me to feel like me again and being happy.