The Partially Sighted Society in Doncaster hosted an open day showcasing local and national organisations, both mainstream and specialist, who have an interest in sight loss. I attended with Kristian Whawell to represent The VIP Lounge. We were met by Anita and Michaela from the Partially Sighted Society who welcomed us warmly and introduced us to some of the exhibitors. Two other high-profile people attended: David, the mayor of Doncaster and his wife, and the previous MP for Doncaster who both showed keen interest in the work we do.
We were able to talk to Professional Vision, a company who specialise in providing magnification and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software and hardware to visually impaired people. Robert was able to demonstrate how some of their software worked. One piece of equipment that caught my eye was a MagnaLink Student magnifier and OCR device that is able to read text on paper and on a smart board making it handy for students. They except both Access To Work and Disabled Students Allowance payments making it easier for people to purchase the equipment. If I had known about this when I was a student, I would not have had so much bother with textbooks.
Other organisations we managed to speak to included O2 Guru; Creative Well-being; Look; and Orcam. We also established links with St Leonard’s Housing, the housing association arm of Doncaster Council. We were also able to speak directly with The Partially Sighted Society who gave us a run-down of some of their services, including books and products for children and schools. They have ranges of diaries and calendars suitable for children and adults, including homework diaries. This makes it easier for children to feel included.
So let’s look at each one in turn. O2, a mobile phone company, sent along two of its Gurus to demonstrate the benefits of smartphones to blind and partially sighted visitors. They were able to show them how Siri worked when doing things like sending text messages. As many people new to sight loss, or who are adapting to a change in their vision may feel that such technology is behind them, they found that they don’t always need to go to Apple or Sony for help with their phone.
Orcam were able to spend some time with me to demonstrate the benefits of using this particular piece of equipment. I was able to wear a pair of glasses that had a camera attached to them. The speaker was close to my right ear which made it easier to hear what was being said. I was able to read an instruction manual; figure out what was on a menu, identify whether there was anyone in front of me; and read signs from across the room approximately 20ft away. Mark was able to let me know about two products they have and how to get in touch with them.
Creative Well-being is a local group that support people with a variety of conditions including visual impairment. The provide opportunities for people to get creative. They made a model of a fairy house using plant pots, lolly sticks and plants. They were giving people a chance to plant some herbs so that they could benefit from the sensory aspect of gardening. They have a sensory garden at their offices as well as holding a group a couple of times a month. One of their members of staff was losing his sight and wanted to show people that he could still do what he previously did for an occupation. He was a flower arranger and was able to continue his work by using textures and smells instead of relying on colour. A really inspirational story that has inspired many more.
St Leonard’s Housing, the housing arm of Doncaster Council, were interested in the work we do. They also get involved with local groups and take part in events to give people an idea of what is available to them.
Charlotte from Look, a sight loss charity based in Herefordshire was totally unaware that The VIP Lounge existed. She is keen to link in and promote us as well as being promoted through us. They regularly link up with RNC’s students to provide them with an opportunity to practice podcasting. Further opportunities for The VIP Lounge to spread the word about are services are on the cards.
And finally, the most important people of the day, the hosts. The partially sighted society offer a wide range of products and services to support blind and partially sighted people to become more inclusive. They provide low vision assessments; groups that meet regularly, including knit and natter, a group run by a blind lady; and products for schools to help integrate visually impaired children. Both Andre and Anita were able to tell me about their respective areas. The Partially Sighted is a national charity providing individual support.
The day was enjoyable and informative with several interviews from well-known and not so well-known organisations.
Written by Hazel Hyland