Friday, 11 October 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

Here is a compiled list of my most frequently asked questions, as a useful resource for those of you who would like to learn more about the girl behind the blog!

If the question / answer you are looking for isn't listed here, you are more than welcome to post to my ask.fm profile or tweet to my Twitter account. I will try to answer you as soon as possible!

• Have you always been visually impaired?
Yes. I was born as a premature baby, 2 months too early, and contracted my condition in the womb. I have been severely sight-impaired all of my life; though my sight condition was overlooked until I was 4 years old. I spent the majority of my childhood at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, in London, having various procedures and operations.

• What is your sight condition?
I was born with underdeveloped optic nerves, due to being premature, and suffered from Congenital Cataracts that affect only 3 or 4 in every 10,000 babies and can cause blindness if left untreated - as was my case. I have amblyopia where one eye is much stronger than the other as well as Nystagmus where my eyes are constantly moving to seek out the light.

• How much vision do you have?
I have 10% central vision in my left eye and only light perception in the other. It has deteriorated over the past 5 years or so but appears to be stable for the time being.

• What can / can't you see?
Having only 10% central vision in my left eye I have no peripheral vision, so have a very limited scope to see with. Generally everything is very dark to me and I struggle to make sense of what's directly in front of me. I cannot determine depth or distance of objects as they appear two-dimensional and blurry, and colours are faded and washed out. Imagine looking through a very dark veil placed over your left eye and that is what my vision is like.

Why do you wear UV glasses?
I wear the darkest UV lenses possible, in a dark green shade, blocking out roughly 80% of the light because I struggle with it so much in various situations; whether that be on a sunny day, a cloudy day where the sky is completely white, and in artificial lighted situations such as in supermarkets or hospitals. I struggle with the light constantly as I suffer from glare and receive frequent migraines from it. My glasses also hide my Nystagmus in both eyes and squint in my blind eye, and are also a great protection from low-hanging branches - which I seem to have a constant battle with! You can read more about my UV glasses here.

• Do you have any siblings? Do they have a visual impairment?
I have a younger brother, who is 1 year, 1 month and 1 day younger than me, called Daryl. He isn't visually impaired and has fully-fuctioning 20/20 vision. My mum, however, has recently started to develop her own sight problems, where she is now partially sighted, suffering from Cataracts, Posterior Vitreous detachment, and scar tissue at the back of the eye.

• Why did you decide to make a blog?
I wanted to create my own little corner of the internet, in late 2013, where I posted about my life as someone who is nearly blind; from my illustrations as a severely visually impaired artist, as well as my Guide Dog training and qualification process, campaigning work with Envision, volunteering and fundraising work with Henshaws and Guide Dogs, Braille progress, mobility sessions with a long cane, weekly trips to Henshaws in their various groups and courses, and accessible visits to museums and art galleries. I felt like I had interesting stories to tell that hopefully would provide a unique and personal insight to my readers.

• How did you create your blog?
My blog is hosted on Blogger, partnered with Google+, using the Awesome Inc. template. Header image and all graphics were created by me using Adobe Photoshop CS5. The majority of sidebar components are of my own HTML creation and not available on Blogger. Photos are owned by me unless otherwise stated.

• Do you blog for anyone else?
As well as maintaining my own blog, I'm a frequent blogger for Henshaws Society for Blind People, Manchester's oldest charity and an organisation I am a service user of and volunteer for, as well as Living Paintings who help to create touch-to-see books for blind and partially sighted people.

• What are your hobbies and interests?
Art and illustration, first and foremost! I also enjoy various crafts such as knitting, crocheting and looming as well as volunteering, listening to audiobooks, walking, baking, writing and travelling.

• How long have you been drawing?
For as long as I can remember, drawing has been my main passion in life. The very first thing I did when I entered Reception class, on the initial day of Primary School, was head straight for the easel to draw with the multicoloured chalks! As a child struggling with very little vision, I enjoyed giant print children's books and pouring over their beautiful illustrations. Having spent the majority of my childhood in hospital attempting to stabilise the little vision I had left, in another city a long way away from home, my only constant was drawing and colouring with the paper and crayons they had in the waiting rooms. My interest developed from there and I built up my portfolio and materials ever since. Art remained my favourite subject throughout school life, receiving an A* in my GCSE's, and well into adulthood as a now-commissioned illustrator.

• What mediums do you like to use?
I love all materials and mediums but mainly favour coloured pencils, as I feel I have more control over the distribution of their colour. I also like using fineliners to outline my work and help me to determine where the shapes are on the paper. I previously used Crayola pencils and Berol fineliners, but have now invested in Prismacolor Premium coloured pencils and their anime-style fineliners.

• How do you draw with such little vision?
As with everything, I have learned to accept what little vision I have left and adapt with it to each individual task; whether that be cooking, travelling independently or drawing. I draw and colour in by using my hands as a 'barrier' to prevent the unwanted overflow of colour outside the lines, and use black fineliner to outline my work to help define it better. I have labelled all of my tools, from pencils to paints and brushes, using a Dymo Braille labeller to identify the ones I want to use. I swatch each colour on a scrap piece of paper before working to ensure I'm using the desired shade in my piece. I use additional aids such as bright lighting provided by a Daylight lamp and a foldaway table to help elevate my work, much like an easel, to bring it as close to me as possible. The rest is down to practice!

• How do you use a computer or mobile phone?
I use an accessibility function on my MacBook Air, found in the 'Universal Access' area of the main settings, called VoiceOver. The same is standard across all Apple products, including the iPad, iPhone, iMac computers and Apple Watch. I have been using Apple products for 14 years now, receiving my first flower power iMac G3 in 2001 when I was 11 years old. I have witnessed first-hand the accessibility features on their devices going from strength-to-strength. On the iPhone I use something called the Rotor, when using the VoiceOver functionality, to switch between handy features such as handwriting on the screen, rather than struggling with the keyboard, and the Braille Screen Input. 

• Do you have a Guide Dog?
I do! Her name is Tami and she is my first Guide Dog. I trained and qualified with her in December 2014 and I've had her for 5 months now. She's a 2 year old Labrador Retriever Cross with a delicate nature and lovely temperament. She has made a massive difference to my life in the short time I have had her and feel so much more confident and independent when out and about.

• How does your Guide Dog help to support you?
Contrary to popular belief, my Guide Dog doesn't look at the lights and know when to cross and she certainly cannot read the bus numbers! Guide Dogs are trained to walk in a straight-line principle, stopping at each down-kerb positively allowing you to determine when it's safe to cross each one, judging by the sound of the traffic. The dog will cross when there is no sign of near traffic but will not cross if a car is passing by. They are trained to avoid obstacles, like A-boards, bins, cones, safety barricades and so on, and to find items of interest such as a postbox, stairs or the lights to cross. Over time they will remember your regular routes and you won't need to command them as often. My dog helps me to find an empty seat on the bus, tram and train but she cannot determine where they are going! I have to ask, or use a timetable app on my phone, to ensure I'm on the correct route. It's a combination of this training, along with having a mobility aid and a companion, that helps to instil confidence and independence in someone who is blind or partially sighted.

• What is Braille and do you read it?
Braille is a tactile form of communication, or code, made up of 'cells' that contain 6 dots. Each arrangement and combination of the dots help to create letters of the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, short-forms and contracted words. I've been reading Braille for over 2 years after completing a course, in just under 5 months, at the Henshaws Resource Centre in Manchester. This has been a vital skill for me as I am now able to read my own letters and menus in restaurants, for example.