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Monday, 29 June 2015 12:26

Coffee and Cake isn't Easy!

Up and ready to go out, mum notices my top on inside out, another of the joys of blindness, quick sort out and a check, hearing aids in, Apple Watch on wrist, iPhone charged and safely in bag along with spare hearing aid batteries, purse, reading glasses and case for dark glasses, tissues and doggy treats! Thankfully my bag isn't as full as it used to be thanks to a few things incorporated on my iPhone like magnifiers and torch, things I could never leave home without. Unis in Harness and we are almost ready to go, a quick check of the timetable on my watch and we leave. As we are going on a regular route to the train station Unis knows the way just by the direction we are heading, however since getting my Apple Watch I like to test it to make sure it is reliable so set it to maps and away we go. On reaching the station we approach the ticket office to buy our ticket, am hoping this is made easier when Apple Pay comes to the UK as I do feel vulnerable opening my bag and fumbling to find my purse, especially if there is a queue. I pay, carefully put my purse away and put my ticket safely in my zip pocket. We proceed to the platform. One thing I have learnt about travelling on the train and particularly the tube is public transport staff seem to be pretty well trained with assistance for blind people or deafblind in my case. I was told a while ago to use the first carriage as it is more likely to be less crowded. I also know to make myself known to a staff member, finding one with limited sight is often the hardest part. I would find it helpful if a staff member made themselves known to me! Anyway, Unis and I are used to the train so get on and having checked how many stops there are get comfortable for the journey, on this occasion we get a seat without any problem and I'm able to have Unis sit tucked in close beside me. There are seven stops before we need to get off so I sit back and enjoy the journey. It is very rare for anybody to ask if I need help or where I need to get off, I think it would be nice to be asked but I guess some wouldn't. Gets me thinking taptics could help here! At the seventh stop we wait for the carriage to empty a little and then we mobilise, now comes the main challenge, finding a staff member to help me navigate the underground. Unis is out of her comfort zone but always makes sure I am safe. Thankfully a member of staff taps me on the shoulder and offers help. We follow him down some steps and through a couple of tunnels and onto a very dark platform and all the way to the end where we wait for the tube. Wondering if there's an app that uses taptics through the underground, how cool would that be? When the tube arrives the staff member sees Unis and I on to a crowded carriage and moves somebody so that I can sit down and Unis be comfortable, he tells me I have six stops to go, he then radios ahead and gets off the tube. Again I sit back and count the stops and at the sixth stop I take a deep breath as I know I'm going to have to fight my way off with Unis, however, as the door opens I'm surprised to feel a hand on my shoulder and a man clearing the way for Unis and I to leave the tube safely. The staff member asks me where I'm heading and offers to "point me in the right direction" Thank you Transport for London, very impressive. Checking my Applewatch I know we only have a short walk to where we are meeting my friend for lunch so we set off. The taptics are brilliant on maps and Unis and I get through the crowds safely and into the coffee shop where my friend is waiting and greets us. We order drinks which I pay for with my Applewatch and sit back to enjoy my coffee and friendship before considering my journey back home! A few years ago I would not have attempted this journey, I could connect with my friends online so I would probably have made an excuse rather than admit my vulnerability and lack of confidence, that's denial. I was only kidding myself, but denial is a safe place to be, to hide, but hiding for me was only an option for so long! My day out to meet a friend is quite different to most people my age. Not only do I have to rely on Unis, technology and human kindness to be independent I also need to strategise and to be very organised. I do enjoy a day out but it is very tiring as I'm permanently concentrating on what happens next, having Usher Syndrome is exhausting but that's just the way it is. Life is a daily challenge but what's the alternative?

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Friday, 26 February 2016 15:12

My San Francisco Adventure

San Francisco had been on my long list of places to visit and I was lucky enough to go on a girls only adventure with Mum and my younger sister Lily.

Going away and out of my comfort zone can be very stressful, whether I am alone, with Unis or with others.

To deal with the anxiety I often feel I use my travel experiences as a mission to find who and what is accessible in my world.  

Whilst I’m concentrating on the good, bad and acceptable it gives me something to think about rather than feel anxious.

Our journey begins at Heathrow Airport and our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  Virgin were advised I am deafblind on booking and that safety instructions in large print be made available.  They were also advised I am most comfortable to board first to avoid the crowds which are uncomfortable.

I was escorted to the aircraft, Mum and sister following behind.  I was introduced to two staff and shown to my seat where I was made comfortable and provided with safety instructions in both braille and large print - impressive.

The nearest toilets and emergency exits were pointed out, not too far in front of me and button to call for assistance.

Very good, it would have been good to have the food menu in larger print as I did have to ask for help in choosing my meal, handy to have Mum and sister to rely on here so a little room for improvement but not bad.

It was a long journey, almost 11 hours.  

It wasn’t too bad as we arrived in a warm and sunny San Francisco, 8 hours behind UK time so quite tired but adrenalised to finally be there.  

This is the main reason I did not take Unis, long journey, time difference and we were only there for 6 days.  It would have been a lot to ask of her so she stayed home with my Dad and had a mini break from work!

Unis always gives me a hard time when I leave her, sulks for days when I get back, it was for the best, she just doesn’t realise it!

I was disappointed with SFO Airport, it did not have an assistance lane in the arrival hall.  I find crowding very stressful, especially when I am in unfamiliar surroundings, its very disorientating.

I was glad to have Mum and Lily to guide me.

I was really happy to arrive whilst it was light so I could appreciate the views from the taxi drive on our way to our hotel at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Check in was pretty painless and we were soon in the lift to our room.

A nice room but it was so dark, dark walls, dark furniture, and dark blinds.  Thankfully the bedding was white so I could at least see the beds ok.

There were lots of lamps around the room but not a ceiling light so the dreaded uneven light that my eyes hate, a kind of dusky light.

I had several bumps and bruises from that room set up #ushersyndrome #issues.

I really liked the area we stayed in, it was quite easy to get around by public transport using my applewatch.

At the core of my visit was a trip to the Apple Campus in Cupertino which was a bus journey followed by a train trip.  Pretty easy and pain free travel using my cane.  

I was impressed with the first bus stop I needed, it had both visual and audio description of which buses go where and when.  I didn't find this function at the train station but did find a very helpful employee who showed me to where I needed to be.

Yes, I am the deafblind one but I like to be as independent as possible so Mum and sister let me find out what I need to and of course if I need help they are there.

The train was great, really clear audible information from what sounded like a real person rather than the recorded voices on public transport in UK.

I liked to hear a real person sounding cheerful announcing each station as we approached it.

We disembarked at Mountain View and were met by a cheerful English driver who drove us to the Apple Campus.  It wasn't too far.  

Having been dropped off the driver made sure we were okay checking in and met with a couple of the staff we were meeting.

I was a quite overwhelmed to be visiting the Apple Campus, it was all quite surreal.

We got lunch and sat out in the sunshine speaking to various people from various of the teams based there and of course we discussed my http://www.mollywatt.com/blog/entry/my-apple-watch-after-5-days was an amazing experience for me.

We got to look in the newly refurbished Apple Store, I really like the shop, the lighting was warmer than lots of shops here in the UK.  The new large screen was awesome.  I also particularly liked the new shelving of the accessories, right height and so easily accessible, perfect.

Lastly a meeting with those who wanted to meet me, my last chance to talk about accessibility and how I and people like myself use apple products.

We were at the Apple Campus for the afternoon, time flew, it was an amazing experience, a real WOW and something I’ll never forget.

Taxi journey back to Mountain View and the train back to the City in the dark!

The train was well lit and busy but worked fine for me.

The bus journey back to Fisherman’s Wharf was straight forward once I had found the bus stop, this was not ‘Usher Friendly’, at least not the way it is here in the UK.  

Bus Stops in San Fransisco are not always obvious like in the Uk.  Some do have proper bus shelters, some appeared to be just poles with small numbers stuck on them or bus stop written on the road.  Thankfully I wasn't alone or I would have really struggled, particularly in the dark.

On the whole public transport in San Francisco is quite good, however I found road crossings are not ‘Usher Friendly’.

Here in the UK we have ‘zebra crossings’ which have flashing lights and they're very obvious, even to people like myself in San Francisco there are some pedestrian crossings which I understand however there were also crossings indicated by two thick white lines about 8 feet apart, however these were not obvious to me and I wasn't sure when it was safe to cross or who's right of way it was.  I was confused and Unis would have bee too.

We went shopping in San Francisco and I know all my Usher friends in the UK will be interested to hear that both Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch had decent lighting, not the awful darkness we endure in their shops in the UK.  

I used my cane a lot in the City centre and on the whole felt very safe.  We navigated around on foot to the various galleries and places of interest using my Applewatch.

As we were only there for a short time we decided to book a one day bus tour around the City.  This was a disappointment as on boarding the bus I advised the driver of my deafness, I was not offer a loop system or anything else to give me access to the onboard guide.  I definitely missed out on the audio, I relied on Mum and Lily to fill me in on what was being said.  I’m pretty sure we all missed out because of that.

Fisherman’s Wharf was a buzzing area, we walked there and enjoyed some sightseeing, which for me means taking copious photographs, a boat trip around the bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  

Mum and Lily pointed out sealions swimming alongside the boat.  At first I couldn't see them, one of those moments when I feel upset to have missed out, I took lots of photographs hoping I caught at least one picture of a sealion, fingers crossed. However as we were about to dock and disembark I looked down and there it was right there - it was my lucky day and as a bonus my snapping got me two pictures of sealions too.

I found San Francisco to be a friendly place and I would love to return, see and experience the things I missed. 

I know people with Usher Syndrome that live there who had hoped I was doing a public presentation, sadly not but maybe one day, fingers crossed.

We left our hotel with heavy hearts but I was looking forward to being reunited with Unis.

The check in with Virgin Atlantic at SFO Airport was straight forward and thankfully security not too stressful.  

Again I was boarded first and given accessible safety instructions and made comfortable.  Virgin were very good.

Now home in a very chilly Berkshire where Unis has stopped sulking and its back to normal, that said my 6 days in San Francisco have given me memories I’ll never forget.

Besides experiencing a beautiful city in the sunshine I got not just a visit to the Apple Campus but also to to meet and speak to some amazing people, a real WOW experience and a big thank you to those who made it happen.

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