Room 101 – my visually impaired frustrations

Post date: 
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Photo of Glen wearing a red shirt and smiling in front of a building

Glen Turner (pictured), Well Eye Never blogger, lists his top 10 pet peeves as a visually impaired person to get them off his chest and hopefully spread some awareness in the process.

Here are the top 10 things that frustrate me as a visually impaired person, which either affect me directly or have an impact on my friends and family. If you’ve done any of these by mistake, please don’t feel bad. All I ask is that you take this on board for future reference.
 

1. Cars parked on the pavement

RNIB and Guide Dogs have ongoing campaigns about this, and with good reason. If a car is parked on the pavement, people have to go into the road to get past. This is not only dangerous for blind and partially sighted people, but also wheelchair users, elderly people, parents with babies in pushchairs, and so on.
 
Also, visually impaired people like me might not even know the car is there until they smack into it (which I’ve done on a dark evening before – it hurts!). Even if they’re using a long cane, they still won’t necessarily notice if it happens to sweep the gap beneath it without touching the wheels.
 

2. Cyclists on the pavement

Most cyclists are fine, but some seem to use the pavement without any regard for the pedestrians using it. It really unnerves me when a cyclist flies past on the pavement, because I fear that one day I’m going to get knocked over by one of them.
 
Even if they ring their bell or call out, I’m not able to figure out exactly where that sound is coming from in time to know where they are. So I either stand still or just hope I’m walking in a straight line until they go past.
 

3. Other obstacles on the pavement

Even if we take drivers and cyclists out of the equation, pavements can still be obstacle courses. Common hazards include:
  • lamp posts and bollards in unexpected places
  • chains or ropes between bollards
  • overhanging bushes and tree branches
  • signs on the pavement outside shops
  • uneven paving tiles that are easy to trip over
  • steps and kerbs with edges aren’t marked
  • roadworks and scaffolding
  • puddles you don’t spot until you splash right into them
  • people suddenly stopping right in front of you so you nearly trip over them
  • people wandering unpredictably across the pavement when they’re staring at their phone, rather than where they’re going.

4. Silent cars

We’re getting an increasing number of electric cars on the road these days, many of which make little or no noise. This is extremely concerning and dangerous for visually impaired people who rely on their ears to figure out when it’s safe to cross the road.
 
And sighted people are at risk as well – for example, if an electric car turns a corner that they can’t see around. So these cars really need to make some kind of noise or there are going to be serious accidents.
 

5. Having to book a wheelchair at airports

I booked a trip away earlier this year and as it involved flying from an unfamiliar airport with an airline I’d never used before, I emailed their access team to ask if I could have guided assistance through the airport and onto the plane. I’ve done this with a different airline and airport before and it worked wonderfully on multiple occasions.
 
But with this airline, I could only have the guidance if I booked a wheelchair. Why? My legs are fine – it’s my eyes that are dodgy! And if they have to assign a member of staff to push me around, why can’t they just walk with me without the chair? It just doesn’t make sense.
 

6. Asking “Won’t glasses help?”

This is the most common question I get when I tell people I have a visual impairment. I do appreciate that it’s well-intentioned, but if you think about it for a moment the answer is obvious. No. Glasses don’t help, because I’d be wearing them if they did. (Although I do wear tinted glasses to help reduce glare when I’m out and about.)
 

7. Saying “It’s over there!”

That’s meaningless to a visually impaired person when they ask you where something is. To a blind person, you could be pointing anywhere between the sky and the floor in the 360-degree space around them. And to a partially sighted person like me, even if I can see the general direction in which you’re pointing, there’s still a large amount of space in that direction. Unless what I’m looking for is large and easy to spot, or it’s obvious because there’s nothing else around it, then I’m likely to still miss it.
 

8. Denying assistance dogs access

I don’t have a guide dog myself, but I have many friends who do and it always annoys me when I hear about them being denied access to things like taxis, restaurants, shops and public transport.
 
Assistance dogs provide a vital service to their owners and refusing them entry is illegal. It causes a lot of distress and embarrassment, and shouldn’t still be happening. Emily at Fashioneyesta has made a video about access denials and Guide Dogs also has a PDF on how to deal with access refusals.
 

9. Poorly contrasted text

It’s really frustrating when text and background colours are so close to each other that it’s difficult to read things, for example red on black, yellow on white, or green on blue (and vice versa). This can be in magazines, leaflets, websites, smartphone apps, computer software, and so on.
 
Even inverting the colours using my phone’s camera or on my computer screen won’t help, because it just inverts the colours to the equally close negative versions.
 

10. Lack of audio description

I don’t use audio description (AD) much myself, but I know plenty of people who do (including my mother), and there doesn’t seem to be much consistency as to when audio description is provided for shows or films. For example:
  • Some really popular shows never get AD at all.
  • Some shows have AD on TV, but it’s rarely copied to DVD releases.
  • Some DVDs don’t do AD for all releases in a series.
  • Some TV series’ may get AD for a few episodes, but then not others.
  • Some TV shows state AD is available in the electronic programme guide, but then it turns out it doesn’t have it (or, less often, it’s not listed when it does have it).
  • Some shows have AD when originally broadcast, but then it isn’t available on catch-up services.

But what about my visual impairment you ask?

It may cause frustrations sometimes, but I don’t feel upset that I have it. I’ve had it since birth so I’ve never known any different, therefore I don’t feel I’ve lost anything because I never had normal sight to lose in the first place. I’m happy as I am, so I have very little to complain about, and thus rarely do so.
 
Source: This blog originally appeared on the Well Eye Never website and has been republished with permission of the author.
 

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