Sunday, 31 May 2015

My UV Glasses:
"They are a huge part of my identity"

The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) recently shared a handy article focused on the 5 steps to selecting the right glasses for those with light sensitivity, featuring various shots from my photoshoot with them earlier this year. As I'm often asked about my UV glasses, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you why I wear eye shields and how they benefit me as someone with a severe visual impairment.

I was born with Congenital Cataracts, underdeveloped Optic Nerves and Nystagmus, meaning that I now have just a tiny amount of central vision left - made almost entirely of light perception. As a result, I'm constantly struggling with different lighting conditions. It's almost impossible for me to find the perfect situation as too little or too much light further decreases the tiny amount of useful vision that I have left. Whether indoors in supermarkets, with brightly-lit ceiling lights, or outdoors on a cloudy day, where the sky is filled with endless white, my eyes strain painfully and I just want to shut them completely!

After some research, I discovered the benefits of wearing UV glasses and how different coloured filters help to give varying levels of protection to your individual needs. The green filter seemed like the best choice for me, filtering out the most light with 19% visible light being transmitted through the lens, as the other high contrasted filters seemed far too bright. They were described as being "suitable for high degrees of light sensitivity or for use in bright situations" and giving "more definition and protection due to having good blue light absorption."

It wasn't long before I purchased my first pair, back in early 2008, and although they helped me tremendously I found that the design of my glasses were entirely too masculine; especially for a 19 year old who was still discovering her style and exploring fashion trends and accessories.

That all changed in 2013 when the RNIB released a new line of UV frames finally aimed at women! The 'Audrey' glasses were styled after those frequently worn by icon Audrey Hepburn, which brought a much-needed touch of femininity and class to a helpful aid that, for some reason, is often designed in such a masculine way. With large circular lenses encapsulating the full eye, protecting from bright lights and UV rays, incorporating jewelled sequins along the arms of the frames - it was hard for me to say no, and they were quickly added to my online shopping basket!

I have been wearing them every single day since! As well as being fashionable and functional, they are a huge part of my identity and have helped to improve my sense of confidence and self-esteem. Along with protecting my eyes from unwanted light, they also protect me from low-hanging branches and foliage that I would otherwise be injured by when I'm out on a route with my Guide Dog. As a lover of greens and blues they, more often than not, tend to match my outfits and I regularly receive compliments for colour co-ordinating - even though it wasn't intentional!

If you constantly struggle with the light as I do and are considering wearing UV glasses then please read the RNIB's top 5 tips! They have a range of eyeshields and UV glasses available to purchase from their online store.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

New Henshaws Photos!

Here is a selection of photos from my newest photo session with Henshaws Society for Blind People. It was lovely to be able to represent Henshaws again as a service user and volunteer; this time with my Guide Dog, Tami, by my side!

Photos © Gwen Riley Jones

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Why Daredevil is Important

Charlie Cox as Matt Murdoch / Daredevil
Warning: this post contains some minor spoilers and possible fangirling

"But you're blind!"
"There are other ways to see."
Claire Temple and Matt Murdock

As with many fellow superhero fans I am currently hooked on Netflix's latest release, Daredevil, portraying the transformation of Matt Murdock; from newly-established attorney-at-law to Hell's Kitchen hero. He is also blind, after a childhood accident, and is therefore the one superhero that I have always identified with and felt a connection to. I don't, however, seem to have an acute sense of hearing or smell due to my failing sight and certainly cannot do so through walls to track people - though that would be a pretty nifty talent to have!

With its sleek script, gorgeous cinematography and great performances it has fast become one of my favourite series in recent memory, joining the likes of Hannibal and Penny Dreadful among my top 3 shows. It is also, very conveniently, available to watch with audio description so extra points to Netflix for that!

So, just why is Daredevil crucial in today's social climate? What makes it so important to me as someone who is severely visually impaired?

To start with, the series is going to raise a tremendous amount of awareness to the public regarding people who live with sight loss and help to spotlight our abilities, rather than focus on our disability, which can only be a good thing towards breaking down barriers. There aren't that many roles on television today portraying someone who is blind, so having a recent adaptation of Daredevil helps me, and others, to feel represented among the sea of sighted characters currently on our screens. Matt as a character is a great role model shown to be independent, determined, strong-willed, approachable, easy-going and well educated. He has got on with his life and adapted accordingly after accepting his blindness at a young age and isn't seen feeling sorry for himself or asking for sympathy. One of the many powerful and inspirational quotes in the series for me was when Stick, Matt's blind mentor and temporary father-figure, informed him as a youngster to not feel sorry for himself because no one else will.

Young Matt Murdock sat with Stick, his mentor and father-figure
"Are you going to spend your life crying and rocking yourself to sleep at night, or are you going to dig deep and find out what it takes to reshuffle those cards life dealt you?" Stick to a young Matt Murdock

Even though Matt functions better than most sighted people because of his other heightened senses, when out of the public eye, many elements of his "day persona" are rooted in reality. The more people who begin to notice a white cane and what it's used for, the better. I cannot count the amount of times I've been asked in the past, before qualifying with my Guide Dog back in December, what I was scanning the area for - not buried treasure, I can assure you! Matt gets from A to B independently using his long cane, rarely relying on the help of others. Many people I came across in the past were unsure of what to make of my cane; one even standing on the tip whilst I was waiting in a queue, and nearly breaking it off. I'm certain that that will never happen now that I have my canine by my side!

Also portrayed is the fact that Matt reads Braille, a tactile form of communication using a 6-dotted cell system, and uses a Braille display to read what's on his computer. He even answers burning questions such as, "How do you comb your hair?" replying that he simply hopes for the best. These little bits of information peppered throughout the show will certainly help to better inform people and highlight the aids that visually impaired and blind people use - whether it be a cane for mobility, a talking alarm clock or a Braille display for reading electronically - and how they help us adapt and perform daily tasks.

Matt Murdock and best friend Foggy Nelson at college
"Most people dance around me like I'm made of glass. I hate that."
Matt Murdock

When it comes to public perceptions of blind people, I often find two polar opposites. People either ignore me and my Guide Dog and leave us to get on with things, or think of me as a sorry case who cannot get around on my own and overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable - either by grabbing me, spinning me by my shoulders into another direction entirely, forcing me to cross the road without me having asked to do so, or even holding my hand - all because I asked for assistance in regards to my whereabouts on a route. I appreciate that people think that they are helping me but, in fact, they are causing great alarm to myself and my assistance dog. Foggy Nelson, Matt's partner attorney and best friend, is the perfect example of someone who knows how to best support someone with a sight impairment. He is willing to aid his friend when assistance is asked for, avoids treating Matt like he's 'made of glass' and approaches his friend's needs with sensitivity. When people are too visual in conversations for example, whether in a professional or social setting, using body language rather than being vocal, Foggy will ensure Matt is informed of people's visual clues for his friend's benefit.

This blind girl absolutely loves how passionate the cast are towards the show, and their roles, and just can't get enough of what has been described as a 13 hour movie. I am eagerly anticipating season 2!

All 13 episodes of Daredevil's first season are available to watch now on Netflix with audio description provided.

ETA: I want to say a big thank you to Deborah Ann Woll (who plays Karen Page) and Toby Leonard Moore (who plays James Wesley) for favouriting my blog post on Twitter. It means a lot to me that you both took the time to read my post!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Salford Community Leisure Video

As a regular service user of books@home, a mobile library resource provided by Salford Libraries for those living with disabilities in the local area, I was invited to be a part of a filming session to highlight what the service provides to someone like me living with a severe visual impairment.

The books@home team and I demonstrated how the service works; with monthly deliveries from a member of the team providing books in an audiobook, large print or MP3 format and presented in your own individual canvas bag. Each new title and blurb within your bag is read out and you are invited to request any particular books for the next month, or discuss a genre that you would like to explore further. The staff eventually know which authors and titles you will most enjoy, with a few surprises thrown into the mix as well! The following month, the previous books are exchanged for a new collection to enjoy over the course of the next 4 weeks. The service is free and you can receive as little or as many books as you'd like.

The final film, encompassing a whole range of services within Salford Community Leisure, can be viewed by clicking on the video below. The books@home segment can be seen from 1:28 to 1:35.

It was a pleasure to film with the books@home team and members of Salford Community Leisure and I would like to say a big thank you for inviting me and my Guide Dog to be a part of the project!

You can learn more about what Salford Community Leisure provides by visiting their website here