Sunday, 22 March 2015

Review: RBS and NatWest
Accessible Debit Card

Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have recently revealed their first ever accessible Debit and Savings Card for partially sighted and blind customers, designed with ease of use in mind. They worked very closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to create the card.

The new cards address some of the most common problems faced when using standard cards and have implemented new features, including; Braille markings to identify which card is Savings and which card is Debit, a notch cut on the right side of the card to help customers insert their card into ATMs and PIN pads correctly, showing telephone numbers where they will be most clear and using a large font on the back of the card to make the phone numbers easier to read.

The launch of the card can be viewed in the video here.

I was very kindly sent an example of the Debit card to try out and I wanted to share my thoughts, in comparison to the Debit card I currently use with Lloyds Bank. The first thing I notice when placing the cards side-by-side and feeling their perimeters is the tactile carved 'notch' on the new RBS / NatWest Debit card, indenting at roughly the same size as the width of your finger, making it much easier to identify which side to place into a PIN machine or ATM - something I always struggle with.

Using the Braille cell located on the right upper-side of the card, it is now easier than ever to place your card into machines the correct way without the help of a sighted person. The Braille symbols (a full cell of six dots for the Debit card and just one dot for the Savings card), also mean that you can now differentiate between your cards easily.

As well as these features, the phone number on the back of the card has good colour contrast (bolded white numbers against a dark purple background) which is now 50% bigger in font size than before, for the partially sighted customers with some remaining useful vision.

I spoke with a member of the Media Relations team of RBS of how and why the cards were produced. She said, "A year ago our CEO Ross McEwan was doing a customer listening event in Edinburgh. One of our customers, who is blind, asked him what he was going to do to make it easier to differentiate between his bank cards. He showed Ross that he’d had to resort to using bits of tape to help him work out which card was which. Ross committed to doing something about it and approached our card design team. I’m sure you can appreciate it’s not easy to completely redesign a card whilst ensuring it’ll work in every ATM around the world!

In designing the Accessible Debit Card we worked extensively with our card manufacturer and the Visa card scheme to understand what was possible given the constraints. Visa suggested the notch size and its position since they had already done some tests which indicated that that location and size would not cause an issue for card use. What had never been done before however was adding an embossed identifier near the edge of the card.

Once we had a number of concept cards, which we knew would work, we took them to the RNIB and they supported us in conducting customer tests where blind and partially sighted people tested being able to identify them accurately and gave feedback on the design. We worked together with them to agree a final design which met the needs of our customers and also the card scheme requirements. One thing which came out of that research was that many blind and partially sighted customers don’t read Braille, so actually generic markings using a series of dots were the preference. We looked a layering ink to create ‘feelable’ markings but many blind or partially sighted customers also suffer from Diabetes which effects their ability to feel very well, so embossing was the preference.

One important consideration was that we wanted the card to work for blind as well as partially sighted customers, so using colours and ink to define an identifier or a card orientation aid was not an option. We also wanted our blind and partially sighted customers to be able to have the same card as everyone else rather than a special ‘disability card’ which perhaps labelled them as being different. So, for example, if a customer has a Black Account they get the same ‘Black’ branded card as everyone else but with the supple features added to help them use it."

From the press release, Ross McEwan, CEO of RBS, said: “We want to be recognised as a bank that listens to its customers and responds to their issues. It’s really important to me that we make banking as simple and easy as possible for all of our customers and our accessible cards are another step towards us earning back trust. This is the first banking product designed specially for blind and partially sighted people. RBS has worked closely with the RNIB in the development of this card and in recognition of this work the new debit and savings cards will be the first banking products to be awarded the new national quality assurance mark, ‘RNIB approved’.

Steve Tyler, Head of Solutions, Strategy and Planning at RNIB said, "We are delighted to have worked with RBS on making debit and savings cards more accessible. The very basic requirement of identifying the right card and quickly determining which way the card slots in to a machine or payment system has been solved by this development. Simple as it is, creating a card with tactile indicators that identify the card type as well as the way in which it should be used, is an engineering challenge, particularly to ensure that it doesn't disrupt machinery. We look forward to working with RBS in to the future and enhancing even more of the daily payment challenges that blind and partially sighted customers experience."

What I really like about the cards is that the new amendments are not too obstructive and apparent to the overall design; they are quite minimalistic, whilst still keeping their functionality. I hope that the launch of these new cards by RBS and NatWest will prompt other banks to release something similar to their customers - as I mentioned previously, I'm with Lloyds and would love to be offered something like this in the near future.

You can find out more information on the Accessible Debit Card by visiting the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest websites.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Dinner in the Dark event
for Henshaws

I recently attended a 'Dinner in the Dark' event earlier this month, arranged by Emblaze Events based at Manchester Metropolitan University, in support of Henshaws Society for Blind People. The event was held at Revolution in Deansgate Locks and featured an art exhibition, two course meal, live singing, raffle and vodka tasting.

The theme for the evening was that of New York City and included many meticulous details; from little yellow taxis printed on the straws of drinks, to the menu for the evening being designed as a newspaper article from the New York Times!

The art exhibition featured Braille works from one of the students including Braille essays replicated in fine sheets of metal, housed in plinths, and jewellery embossed with Braille letters. Live singing was performed by another of the students, providing a Bluesy and Jazzy New York environment.

The evening began with an introductory cocktail shortly followed by the main course. As this was an insight into what it's like to be blind, blindfolds were essential and long waterproof napkins were also provided for those who may have made a mess! As this is something I am used to, eating with very limited vision, I breezed through my meal and finished rather quickly!

After the main course, it was time for me to give my speech. I opened with an introduction to my sight loss from a very young age and how I discovered Henshaws, talked about how Henshaws have helped me in various ways such as confidence-building, developing independence and learning new skills, and how I now volunteer on a weekly-basis to give back to the charity.

As the night was food-themed I also thought I'd share how visually impaired and blind people, such as myself, prepare and cook meals safely, how we label and identify foods and how we choose our items from the menu when going out for something to eat. I gave an overview of the essential accessibility apps I use on a daily-basis which help me with a wide variety of tasks, and have recently been told that one of the professors at Manchester University, who attended the Dinner in the Dark event, now uses one of those apps in his classes!

My speech was followed with dessert, then the raffle (the prizes included a large Henshaws-themed cookie kindly donated by Millie's Cookies!) with the evening ending with vodka-tasting - comprising of three different flavours to try; maple syrup, lemon meringue and vanilla shortcake.

I had an absolutely wonderful time at the 'Dining in the Dark' evening and would like to say a big thank you to all involved with Emblaze Events, helping to raise funds for Henshaws, and to everyone who came along!

All photos © Emblaze Events

Sunday, 15 March 2015

More RNIB Snaps!

As my previous post was so popular (more than 250 views!), I thought I would share a few more snaps from the RNIB photoshoot that I took part in back in January. A few more photos were kindly sent to me which you can view below:

At Salford Quays waterfront with my hair blowing everywhere!

Sitting in the Blue Peter gardens, at MediaCity UK

Tami and I walking over The MediaCity Footbridge

All photos © Mischa Photo Ltd.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Upcoming Events:
March - May 2015

Spring is well on its way and I have quite a busy few months ahead which, of course, means the opportunity for more exciting blog posts! Here's what I'll be getting up to in the coming weeks:

Monday, 16th March
30 minute 'equality and diversity' speech and presentation for Cargill; whose staff have been volunteering at Henshaws over the years in a variety of roles from bag-packing to supporting social groups. I was kindly invited to give a presentation on how Henshaws have supported me over the past 2 years and how people can help to support blind or visually impaired employees in the office environment or when out and about.

Tuesday, 24th March
RNIB Group workshop at Judd Street in London, to develop work with children and young people - helping to shape the services that Action and RNIB provide. Parents, children and young people will have the chance to share their experiences. I will be giving a 5 minute speech on the importance of independence and how the Envision campaigning network helped in giving me mine.

Wednesday, 25th March
Visit to Windermere, in the Lake District, to an Action for Blind People event for young people to help present a workshop focused around the Envision campaigning network, that I am currently Co-Chair to. I will discuss how I came up with the name of the network, how it has helped to expand my confidence and independence, develop my interest in Politics and grow my campaigning skills.

Thursday, 26th March
I will be filmed by the Books@Home service, part of Salford Libraries, who deliver audiobooks to me each month free of charge. I enjoy a huge plethora of books and have done so for nearly 2 years now. I will be helping with a short film that will show me receiving and listening to my books, and then give an interview on what the service means to me in terms of accessibility, equality and inclusion. The film will be shared with peers and partners of Salford Libraries to show the importance of the service to those who are visually impaired.

Monday, 30th March
Visit to the University of York to test the accessibility of websites for a student's accessibility study (in the Human-Computer Interaction Research Group). I will be evaluating 6 websites, spending between 40 - 60 minutes on each, using a Mac computer with built-in VoiceOver (my preference!) to undertake regular tests and identify possible problems. 

Thursday, 2nd April
Visit to Madame Tussauds in Blackpool for an accessible hands-on visit of their collection. The staff have kindly arranged a visit for me to have a sighted guide and interactive experience of what they have to offer.

Tuesday, 7th April
'Being Safe Online' module workshop at the Henshaws Resource Centre, in Old Trafford, as part of the TechTalk group. It will be a 70 minute session covering a variety of areas, such as; cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, trolling, identity theft, sexting, grooming, webcam blackmail and e-mail scams. The session will be interactive with both individual and group discussion and quizzes.

Sunday, 19th April
'Swap With Me' event with First Bus in Bolton, giving the opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to speak directly to bus drivers and staff about their experiences and concerns, as well as the challenges that bus travel can bring. There will also be a session on learning the different types of bus layout, with parked buses in the depot, as well as the chance to sit on the driver's cab and experience things from their point of view. Drivers and staff will be asked to undertake a number of activities including scanning a pass and finding a seat to understand the needs of visually impaired passengers.

Thursday, 23rd April
Visit to the Manchester Art Gallery, with the Henshaws Art Galleries and Meseums group, for an audio described talk and tour of the 'Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design' exhibition. The show features over 1,500 years of the rich craft heritage of Japan, Korea and China with exhibits ranging from magnificent court treasures to masterpieces by contemporary makers. It will include historic works from Manchester's collection which have not been exhibited for over 30 years!

Saturday, 9th May
Collection event for Guide Dogs at Tesco Extra in Irlam.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

'Election! Britain Votes' Exhibition
at the People's History Museum

Today I visited the 'Election! Britain Votes' exhibition at the People's History Museum in Manchester, as part of the Art Galleries & Museums group based at Henshaws. The exhibition highlights over 100 years of elections, from 1900 to 2010, with the exhibits evolving in the build-up to the 2015 campaign.

Audio description was provided by Anne Hornsby of Minds Eye Description Services, joined alongside Chris Burgess who shared vast knowledge of each object and poster from every election over the past 100 years. Josh Butt made the arrangements for the day with Mary Gifford, group leader, organising the event.

The exhibition space is divided into three areas; the history of previous elections containing various promotional campaign posters and objects (from 1900 with Lord Salisbury winning the election right up to 2010 with David Cameron), a collection of materials from the current 2015 campaign for each participating party, and information about voting; how to vote, who can vote, forms of government, our system, the counting process, the election night, and so on.

Our visit began in the first section of the exhibition focusing around a plethora of historic campaign posters, pamphlets, leaflets, comic strips, newspaper articles and other items of propaganda. A multi-coloured line chart featured across the walls, depicting the popularity of the parties that took part in each election, and it was interesting to see the rise of Labour and the fall of the Liberals - especially since they were so popular in the early 1900's. The display even included Harold Wilson's pipe and Michael Foot's glasses!

Another interesting aspect was observing how advertising in posters has evolved throughout the century, yet the marketing strategies and themes within them have remained very similar over time.

The next area we visited was the voting information area; complete with a voting booth and ballot box! The exhibits here were designed very much like a board game, with cartoonish graphics and bubbles of information generated into a colourful, educational flowchart. Topics covered the different forms of government, our government and system, the Lords and Peers, how elections are called, campaign spending and spending limits, who can vote, how to vote, what happens when the polls close, voting systems and election night.

I found this part especially interesting as I learned many new things. I had no idea that the Queen can vote (though she tends not to, choosing to remain neutral), MPs can vote (usually for themselves!) and homeless people can vote - even though they don't have a fixed address. I also found it fascinating to learn more about the counting process when polls close, how to run as a candidate and form a new government!

The third and final area housed various items pertaining to this year's election, divided into sections for each contending party; The Labour Party, The Conservative Party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party (SNP), United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), The Green Party, and Others (Sinn Fein, Alliance Party, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and so on). It features a flat screen television playing news footage related to the upcoming election and a note board where visitors can write which qualities they would like in a Prime Minister, which areas they would like to see changed, etc. 

This section also houses a replica of the famous black door of Number 10, Downing Street, with a selection of props to use for a photo including hats, ties, tails and sashes! I had my photo taken with a St. Trinian's-style hat and a sash that read 'Votes for Women'. The area will continue to grow and expand as the election approaches. 

I had a wonderful time at the exhibition today and I would like to say thank you to Mary Gifford, Anne Hornsy, Chris Burgess and Josh Butt for a lovely outing! I would recommend that anyone visit who has an interest in the subject of the election; it's informative, educational and fun! You can find out more by visiting the People's History Museum website here.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Volunteer for Guide Dogs

Over the course of the past few months, with being fully-qualified alongside my Guide Dog, Tami, I have quickly become an active member of the volunteer team at my local Guide Dogs branch of Salford.

I originally signed up to be a volunteer during the Summer of last year after undertaking a two week work placement at the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh, as part of the Skillstep course at Henshaws, with my information and references approved in October. I received all of the items I needed within my roles but was advised not to start until I had trained, qualified and settled in with Tami first.

Along with my general volunteering role, attending collection events at local supermarkets and other stores, I am also a Collection Box Co-ordinator. Within this role I identify suitable shops to place boxes where I think they will be popular and generate kind donations from the public. When a box has been placed, I take note of its individual number to track all boxes on a large sheet and the amount of money they raise each month. I also ensure they are safely chained to the counter and have my contact details and the Salford branch details on a sticker underneath.

When it comes to emptying a box which has become rather full over the duration of the month, I take it home, count it up in sections pertaining to each coin type, and give a 'thank you' slip, provided in a book by Guide Dogs, with the total amount to the shop it has come from - as well as providing the date when I'll be banking the amount. I have a Guide Dogs bank book and I have to keep track of all of the money I collect from each box. I will then travel to Eccles, where my nearest HSBC bank is, to cash in the amount to the Guide Dogs account and have my bank book stamped. To finish the process, I send off the top copy of each page in my bank book to the Treasurer of the Salford branch.

So far, I have raised well over £100 from my boxes since I officially began my role in January and have also helped to collect at a local Morrisons store in Eccles. I will be helping with collections again in May - this time at a Tesco store in Irlam.

I've been enjoying my time as a volunteer for Guide Dogs tremendously so far and am really pleased to be able to give back to this fantastic charity who have given so much to me already. I now have the independence to go anywhere I want knowing that Tami will keep me safe from obstacles, obstructions and oncoming traffic and I am thrilled to have to opportunity to show my appreciation and support of the life-changing work they do.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Henshaws Annual Review 2013-14

The Henshaws Annual Review for 2013-14 is now available to read online!

I'm featured in the volunteering section helping to give an insight into what it's like to be a Henshaws volunteer, why I decided to donate my time to the charity on a weekly basis and what I get out of the opportunities I receive:

Could you support Henshaws by becoming a Volunteer?

Many volunteers, of all ages, give their time to Henshaws. In fact in 2013-14 we had an amazing 232 active volunteers! We wouldn't be able to run our services without them.

We always need volunteers to help across our services in all our centres. We welcome all levels of experience and in return we offer interesting and rewarding activities, a sense of achievement and fun.

Kim is a service user in our Community Services in Manchester. She started volunteering this year and has supported the Marketing team in a whole host of tasks including writing blog posts and press releases, working on social media, talking at events and doing bucket collections.

"Henshaws has been an amazing support to me and I wanted to give something back, to say thank you for giving me my independence. It makes me feel really positive and optimistic about my future and it's always nice to see other people's generosity. It's also been great to learn new skills, which I'm learning all the time as a volunteer!

I really recommend other people get involved. It's so rewarding, you get to meet lots of new, friendly people and experience many exciting opportunities. I've loved being able to use my writing skills to help out but there are so many different ways you can help, from driving, supporting IT classes and doing sports activities, to running social groups and helping out at events. Just get involved!"

To find out more about our current volunteer opportunities call Christine Turner on 01423 541558, e-mail christine.turner@henshaws.org.uk or go to www.henshaws.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/

You can read the full Henshaws Annual Review either in PDF or Word formats.