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Monday, 01 February 2016 14:22

Mr Cane in the Rain

Over the years I have become more and more anxious in and around London. I live about 40 minutes away from the city in a small town. Not a lot goes on in the town I live in. 

Growing up I loved visits to London it really is fantastic, a City I love.

However, as my sight progressively got worse, I became more stressed in crowded areas, that horrible feeling of claustrophobia.

Moorfield Eye Hospital became the only reason I would go to London, a day at Moorfield Eye Hospital is not a pleasant day out. 

At one point I was living independently on the outskirts of London, from a convenience point of view and as a guide-dog owner, this was fab. Hopping on and off the bus to get anywhere, the buses were so regular and reliable, I loved it. 

Being on the outskirts of London was perfect, it was not as busy as central London,  yet it was ‘happening’ enough for me and Unis to get about with ease and no stress. Independence was grand.

On a Moorfield eye appointment day I would take Unis, usually my Mum drives us into London, so I am able to avoid the crowding on public transport. Being driven in saves me the anxiety I feel on crowded public transport. 

Being out with guide dog Unis in the busiest parts of London I feel incredibly stressed, worrying more for her safety than myself particularly as I've had a few bad experiences of her being trodden on, I'm sure by accident but as I can't see I can't save her from harm and it's incredibly upsetting.

People in London are always so busy rushing around, rarely considering others.  It's something I am not used to and it troubles me.

I know lots of people who live in London and have guide dogs and for them it's all very normal but I am a small town girl and that is what Unis is used to, just the way it is.

I have lots of friends in London and I'm often invited to meet with them but I'd talk myself out of going because of the anxieties I feel about using Unis and in effect missing out on lots of social events.

I am very fortunate to have friends who understand my challenges and do go the extra mile to help/ support me whenever they can

Yesterday I was invited into London for the day. 

Knowing my anxieties my friend offered to meet me at Paddington Station which would have meant me just getting on the train local to me and getting off at the last stop.

However, I was feeling brave and wanted to try to get further into London independently, with my cane, Mr Cane that is.

I would have to tackle the underground, I was going to need lots of confidence but it also meant independence. 

I got up and took Unis for a long free run, and made sure she was happy with a few goodies, the company of my parents and her big box of toys, it was her day off.

I dusted off one of my red and white canes and off I went.

I still can’t believe I did it.

I was cane trained at 12/13 and I absolutely despised everything about it. 

At the time I did cane training I was in absolute denial, completely refusing to believe I needed any help let alone a cane. 

Even when I went on the waiting list for a guide dog it was extremely rare that I would use my cane - except for the Moorfield trips with my Mum. I never minded this because in the busy hustle of London smoke, who was going to know me? 

I did not want to be seen with it locally period.

Having had Unis now for 4 and a bit years, I have fully accepted my condition and accepted needing Unis on a daily basis for my independence. 

I have accepted Ushers syndrome, Deafness, blindness and Unis. 

However, could I truly be brave enough to brave London with the dusty Mr Cane I have done my absolute best to avoid it up until now?

I really did surprise myself.

It was raining, Unis was wet from her free run.  It was just as well she wasn’t having a day in London on such a wet windy day she would have been smelly (sorry Unis) and another reason to avoid going in. ‘Nope’ I thought to myself, no excuses today.

My Dad gave me a lift to the local train station where I spoke to someone at the desk and got my ticket using my applewatch and I was on my way. 

The ‘Tube tamer’ app is brilliant, sadly not accessible on my applewatch which is a shame so I had to use my iPhone to check my route. 

I screen shot 3 different routes just in case, and saved them as my wall paper, so I could quickly remind myself of the route/ tube line/ direction I was heading.  

Screen shooting is something I do regularly to make life easier for myself.

I did get lost. Of course I did! 

But for what it was worth, I really enjoyed testing myself. 

I interacted with a fair few Londoners that day, don't let anybody tell you Londoners aren't friendly, they are and they offered me help and reassurance that I was heading in the right direction. 

Tube maps are impossible for me to access, and my Applewatch was inactive underground. 

TFL (Transport for London) staff were all hugely helpful. 

I did not feel like the cane was my label that day, I actually felt that the cane was my reassurance and my safety. 

I did not care at all that I had this red and white cane in front of me, I could sense people staring but did I care? 

For the first time since 14 using Mr Cane, I did not care. I was more focused on getting where I needed to be, safely.

I got there in good time and had a lovely day. 

Whilst with my friend I folded and packed Mr Cane away in my bag and enjoyed being guided by my friend. I was guided around successfully, no bruises or bumps!

It was a good day.

It took years but finally at 21years old I managed a whole route into London from the small town I come from, just me and Mr Cane.

Let me tell you, despite the great day I had and the beaming pride I felt, returning home in the dark after a long wet day in London I was mighty pleased to see Unis again. 

Unis will always, as long as I have her, be my number one mobility aid, but now I have a ready and able alternate in Mr Cane.

Wednesday, 06 January 2016 14:16

My Applewatch Experience 8 Months On

I thought it fitting that my first blog of 2016 should be an update on "My Applewatch Experience" after 8 months and to mention the project set up to fund it for others.

I’ve read lots of posts about applewatch, some very technical, some good and some bad.

For me it has been more personal, more about accessibility and inclusivity and how it has changed my life, enhanced it in ways I didn't believe to be possible.

Who would have thought a watch could bring independence, aid mobilty, reduce isolation and along with it confidence.

In my first blog http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days I talked about maps and safe navigation using taptics, my world has opened hugely and I have used this feature a great deal not just around the UK but also in Boston and Miami. It is very accurate and very impressive. 

I’ve now found applewatch apps for public transport which have taken a lot of stress out of getting around independently.  I can now access information via the watch like train platform numbers and departure times, this is something I could not do before, unable to access moving information boards or hear muffled tannoy in noisy crowded stations, I can also flag a taxi without any hassle using my watch.

Stress free navigation has been huge for me.

Applewatch is simply part of my everyday life, its features have eased my daily challenges.  I have invested in a couple of new straps which allow a little variation on the look.  I personally love the look, shape and size of my Applewatch, I think it’s chunky look is quite trendy.

Usage wise and from a health and wellbeing point of view I am no longer using my iPhone as much as I did which has reduced eye strain and migraine, I’m able to rely more on what my watch offers.

I enjoy the Activity feature, I walk a lot with guide dog Unis and find a satisfaction in knowing I have achieved certain goals.

My life in general is also less stressed than it was.  

Usher Syndrome is deafblind however deafblind is only part of this disability, mobility is a major issue and cause of much stress when you cannot see or hear properly and this has been well addressed on applewatch as detailed above.

I have found voice to text very useful and fairly accurate, I would however like any text or message sent to state ‘sent via applewatch' just so the recipient is aware should the text be slightly out rather than possibly assume my English questionable!

Alerts via taptics is brilliant and over the months I have realised that text messages, whatsapp, tap, sketch and phone calls all have customised vibrations which means I only look at the watch if I feel I want to, again resting my eyes more than I’d previously been able to.

I still use taps as a quick and easy way of getting attention if I need to, very clever and easy on the eye too.

I use the Starbucks app regularly and also love Applepay as it means not only do I not need to carry cash but I don't feel the vulnerability and stress I used to at opening my purse and struggling with money and change.  Being able to access my bank details on my watch is also so useful as cashpoints for the deafblind are very challenging, pretty inaccessible and something I would dread.

I personally don't use my Applewatch for accessing email preferring a bigger screen for anything long, however I have recently found the App Spark which I think would work for me if the text was bigger.

Applewatch is hugely convenient for anybody, even more so for somebody deafblind like myself for whom it becomes a reliable friend.

In my first Applewatch blog I wasn't using Voiceover just because of personal preference however, I have started using it on my other iOS devices and have found some speech preferences.

For those not aware Voiceover is a built in accessibility feature in Apple products which is a navigation service that reads aloud EVERYTHING you scan with your fingertip.

I feel there is room for improvement on Applewatch, it doesn't work in the same way as on other devices because of its much smaller screen.

on iPad and iPhone one finger is used to scan and listening to what is being said is fairly easy for somebody blind, for me, thanks to my Linx2 hearing aids I too can hear if I’m in a quiet environment, however, scrolling down a whole screen using Voiceover you have to use three fingers, this does not work on Applewatch.

The small screen of the Applewatch works well for somebody with very limited vision like myself and able to access text, however if reliant on voiceover I’m personally not too keen.

On the home screen the icons are very small, I struggle to see them, if you scan with your finger Voiceover will read them to you which is very useful however, moving the screen to see hidden icons whilst on Voiceover, is a real challenge, in fact, I still haven't sussed this out!

I personally would recommend setting up glances if available on your iPhone as it is much more easily accessed this way and then mirrored on the watch by swiping rather than straining your eyes to see tiny icons.

I set up as much as I could on my iPhone and it has definitely made using applewatch very easy.

There are lots of apps on my iPhone that would be very useful to be on Glances, I’m hopeful more and more will become available.

 Looking back to before applewatch I used my iPhone all the time, I worried it would be snatched from me as I couldn't see or hear things around me particularly outside, I worried about battery life, would rarely venture out of my comfort zone, I really felt very vulnerable.

I had to hold the phone or have it very close to me to feel a vibration indicating a text or call and even then often missed them.

 I am now easily contactable, I am well connected because of state of the art accessible assistive technology.  

It has made me feel independent and confident and such a long way from the isolation I once felt and sadly so many others with Usher Syndrome still feel.

Technology does change lives and it will only improve, it needs to be available to all. 

I feel so passionate about this technology that my charity The Molly Watt Trust has set up it’s first GlobalGiving project to fund applewatch for others living with Usher Syndrome https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/deafblind-need-access-to-life-enhancing-technology/

Thursday, 08 January 2015 00:00

Job Interviews - My Access to Work

I always wanted to work, I'd never considered that getting something part time around my studies would be an issue because "I know my own capabilities" clearly few others understood or wanted to understand, at least that's how it felt.

Both my brothers had part time jobs in local supermarkets whilst doing their A levels, both are sighted and hearing and neither had a problem getting employment.

Neither particularly liked the job but it was pocket money and as my Dad always says "Good grounding" working with the public.

They were both employed to work at the checkout which meant sitting at an electronic till that scanned and did all the adding up, totalling and even told them how much change to give to the customer.

I know fully well I could have carried out that job with only minor modifications and a little consideration for myself and my guide dog but I was never given the chance.

I applied for job after job to be told, I'm sorry not hiring or my application just completely ignored.  I began to feel despondent and very negative about myself. 

My friends all had part time jobs and as a result they also worked during the school holidays and made new friends, once again my condition, although invisible isolated me from people, things and experiences.

The feeling of rejection as a teenager was very painful and although I wanted to just give up something inside told me not to.

Then just after my 18th Birthday the local pub had a new landlord and was looking for bar staff and after an interview of sorts he, knowing my condition decided to give me a chance, I was so excited and absolutely loved that job.

Fully aware of my disability and my guide dog the landlord was very accepting.  There were a few broken glasses and calamities but, I think on the whole all went ok until two things happened!

The first one was that winter came and the dark nights, the lighting in the pub became incredibly difficult but I enjoyed being in the pub, meeting people, being part of a team, it felt good to be out there doing it.

Then I went on holiday with my family and when I came back my job had gone!

Sorry no hours for you Molly, followed by no replies to my texts and that was that.

I was devastated and to this day do not know why I was ignored and rejected in this way.  It was painful and crushed my confidence and totally unprofessional an attitude.

It took me quite some time to get my confidence back and to start looking for part time work again but in the meantime I worked for my Dad when I could and always happy to carry our charity work to keep busy.

Then I was fortunate enough to learn of a job with a well known local retailer and to get an interview, I was delighted but so nervous as I knew my disability had to be explained and I also knew how few people understand Usher Syndrome. 

The common misconception that deafblind always means hear nothing and see nothing and the shock that I can speak too! I can also communicate with BSL and tactile signing but neither are my chosen method of communication, however, I learnt it to communicate with those who sign as a first language.

A long chat with my parents and friends made me feel better and up for the challenge.

I was very nervous on interview day and it didn't help that I arrived slightly late and the hotel receptionist didn't have a clue where the interviews were being held but after some discussion with a colleague directed me by saying and pointing "You go up there and round the corner and its a room down there" - I'm blind, I couldn't see where she was pointing and where is "there" anyway?

After asking for better instruction I got where I needed to be and in I went.

It was a group interview and I could sense people looking at me. 

Thankfully they were a friendly bunch and I was made to feel at ease.

The interview certainly made me think a lot, not just about my responses but to the responses of the others at the interview. 

I found myself feeling quite confident and able to be myself.

At the end of the interview I was quite sensitively asked about my disability and I have to honest I'd rather be asked and give an honest answer to any question than for others to assume.

I wasn't sure how the interview went but I decided positive or negative result this was a good experience for me as if nothing else I had made each of the people at the interview aware of Usher Syndrome and that has to be a good thing.

Being invited for a second interview was great for my confidence but this time I was nervous not just because I really wanted the job but that my guide dog and I had to negotiate London in the rush hour which is quite a challenge in itself.

I won't go into great detail about the interview except to say as nervous as I felt I was able to be myself and to explain myself, however I was very anxious about my journey home!

As a result I did leave the interview without staying to ask questions which I wasn't happy about, however, I did take the time to email my questions and explain my reason for not staying behind at the end.

I was offered the part time position, both myself and my guide dog feel very welcomed and accepted and I thoroughly enjoy the job.

I feel a valued member of staff, I just wish all companies were as open minded as this one.

Sadly there is too much ignorance of disability in the workplace and it needs to change.

Awareness and understanding is all it takes and we can do the rest.....