Monday, 8 June 2015

Helping Others to 'See' Problems
in the Irlam & Cadishead Times

Header image incorporating the front cover of the latest issue of the Irlam & Cadishead Times and my articles

My local community magazine, the Irlam & Cadishead Times, celebrates its first birthday this month! To celebrate, a special bumper issue is currently being delivered to thousands of homes in the area. 

As well as being featured on the front cover, inside the magazine this month is a full-page spread incorporating two articles based on recent events I have taken part in; the 'Swap With Me' event with First Bus and a collection event at my local Tesco supermarket for Guide Dogs!

Helping Others to 'See' Problems

Irlam woman Kimberley Burrows may be severely visually impaired but that has not stopped her from living life to the full and helping others understand the problems that visual impairment can encounter.

Kimberley told the Times, "I'm 26 and have lived in Irlam all my life. I'm severely visually impaired with only 10% central vision in just one eye, the size of a pinprick, due to being a premature baby suffering from underdeveloped optic nerves and Congenital Cataracts that were left untreated until I was 4 years old.

My childhood was mostly spent at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London. This has never stopped me from loving art and illustration, however, achieving an A* in my GCSE and applying to the Leeds College of Art this year. I was previously the RNIB's Young Illustrator of the Year for 2014; with the Salford Mayor, Ian Stewart, and Michael Bond, Paddington Bear's author, among many who have given me such wonderful support and inspiration."

Kimberley recently attended a 'Swap With Me' event with First Bus at their depot located in Bolton. The event was designed to give blind and partially sighted people the opportunity to speak directly with bus drivers and staff members to raise their issues and concerns when travelling via bus with a sensory impairment.

The event began by discussing some of the most common challenges of bus travel, including; being unable to read the bus numbers, not seeing where the pass scanner is, the inability to identify which stop to get off at, inaccessible formats of bus timetables and schedules, dealing with too many pushchair users in the priority seating area, drivers giving too many visual signals and not identifying the correct stop to get off at when asked, and buses driving past.

Kimberley said, "Participants of the event even had the opportunity to sit inside the driver's seat and experience things from their point of view. One thing I discovered was how cut off drivers actually are and how it feels like another world inside the cab compartment, far removed from the bus itself. With the engine running, the sound of passing traffic and background noise from the passengers of the bus, it makes it very difficult to hear - on both sides of the perspex glass - as a driver and passenger. This really highlighted how important it is to me that drivers are as verbal as possible, rather than visual, to visually impaired (VI) passengers."

Drivers and staff were given simulation spectacles (Sim Specs) to experience first-hand the different sight conditions, and how they affect vision whilst boarding a bus, scanning a pass and making their way to a seat. They all agreed how very difficult they found the experience even though they knew where everything was located, because of the distorted remaining vision they had adopted. Their depth perception was skewed and items were much further away than they thought when relying on what little sight the glasses gave - a much better representation than just using a blindfold. Now they have to imagine finding everything while the bus is moving!

Other suggestions mentioned included in the debrief included better colour-contrasting handrails for those with some remaining vision (either a new hi-vis colour replacing the pink and blue, or adapting with hi-vis tape), using the ramp not just for those with wheelchairs but for those who find the large gap near the kerb disorientating, having the drivers more aware that not all blind and partially sighted people will have a visual clue such as a cane or a Guide Dog, supporting passengers by shouting the bus numbers as they board and when dropping off on a different route, or drop-off point, to let the VI person know about such a change.

Kimberley added, "The 'Swap With Me' event went really well and hopefully spotlighted some of the major concerns that blind and partially sighted people in the area face on a regular basis. I hope to encounter the aforementioned improvements in the near future as the First bus drivers and staff members in attendance seemed very keen, enthusiastic and responsive to our suggestions. I have also offered to help 'mystery shop' and test out the various First buses across Salford and Manchester, taking note of the bus number and time I travelled, to provide accurate feedback of the driver and my experiences."

Scan of my full-page spread in the Irlam & Cadishead Times

Kimberley and Tami Collecting for Guide Dogs

Visually Impaired Irlam woman Kimberley Burrows had a life changing start to 2015 when she trained and qualified with her first Guide Dog, Tami, who she has now had for 6 months. Kimberley told the Times, "Tami had changed my life dramatically! We travel up and down the country and I feel safe knowing that I have eyes, mobility and my best friend by my side."

She is now a volunteer for Guide Dogs, giving back to them by collecting at events and was recently at the Tesco Extra on Fairhills Road collecting for Guide Dogs with Tami that went down a storm with shoppers raising £428! Kimberley added, "As a collection box co-ordinator (many boxes can be seen in various shops along Liverpool Road and Fiddlers Lane), I have raised nearly £200 already from the boxes this year. Every little helps and I cannot tell you enough what a difference having a Guide Dog has meant to me. Please support when you can!"

The Salford Branch of Guide Dogs for the Blind Association are always looking for new volunteers. For more information call Janet Harper on 0845 372 7409.

Aside from illustrating Kimberley loves blogging and has her own personal blog at gleamed.blogspot.co.uk and also blogs for Henshaws Society for Blind People and Living Paintings about her life.

She added, "I am passionate about campaigning for the inclusion and accessibility rights of blind and partially sighted people living in the UK. I'm the Co-chair and comms co-ordinator of Envision, a young person's campaigning network working alongside the RNIB, and through this have had the fantastic opportunities of visiting both the UK Parliament and European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, to speak on behalf of visually impaired people and the need for a strong European Accessibility Act."

Not bad for a local girl from Irlam! Well done Kimberley and keep up the good work. Kimberley has agreed to join the team at the Irlam and Cadishead Times and will be writing her thoughts and opinions on local issues. Welcome onboard Kimberley!

As mentioned in the second article, I am now a columnist for the Irlam and Cadishead Times! I look forward to writing about local issues and sharing the things I get up to with local readers!

I would like to wish the Times a very Happy 1st Birthday! The 12th issue for June 2015 is available now on doorsteps across Irlam, Cadishead, Hollins Green and Rixton!