Sunday, 5 February 2017

Traveleyes

Traveleyes is a company that organises group holidays for not only visually impaired people, but sighted travellers too. Their slogan is ‘share the adventure’. To make it enticing for both visually impaired and sighted travellers they have two main selling points. If you are visually impaired, you can book on to a holiday as an individual with the knowledge that you will be provided with sighted assistance throughout your trip and therefore have the opportunity to explore the world independently, a task that would otherwise be quite challenging or near impossible. If you are sighted, you can book on to a holiday at a substantially discounted rate, sometimes up to 50% less than what a visually impaired traveller is required to pay. It is then expected that you are prepared to ‘lend your eyes’ to the visually impaired participants throughout the trip. Ultimately, everyone gets to discover a destination with likeminded people.

Traveleyes have been on my radar for some time. I have been lucky enough to travel to lots of countries over the years, but when I holiday with my family we rarely go on organised excursions opting instead to stay around the hotel or self-explore. This has always been fine and something I plan on continuing to do. However, I also want to experience the world in a more adventurous manner. So last year when I saw Traveleyes release their holiday to The Gambia and one of the tour highlights was seeing monkeys in the wild (my favourite animal), I was immediately interested.

The thought process had to be quite quick since Traveleyes always emphasise how popular their holidays are at the bottom of their promotional emails and I know through word of mouth that places get snapped up pretty fast. So, within less than 24hrs of the trip being advertised, I decided that I definitely wanted to go and to my surprise my family were keen to come too, making us two sighted and two visually impaired travellers. It was the weekend so I registered our interest through the website and found out on the Monday that the trip was already fully booked, but we would be placed on a waiting list. I honestly couldn’t believe at just how speedily the places did go. The following week we were informed that they had increased the number of places available due to popular demand and we could now go. A deposit was paid with the full balance due 12 weeks prior to our departure date.

Right now, I should be boarding the plane to The Gambia. Only I am clearly sat at home writing this. For months I have been looking forward to visiting a new country, experiencing its wildlife and culture and generally getting some winter sun. Hence, I was deeply disappointed when The Gambia hit national news a few weeks ago when the former Prime Minister refused to step down and military action was being threatened. At the time I felt a little selfish that my main concern was worrying about whether or not my holiday would be cancelled and whether or not I would receive a refund when hundreds of people were fleeing their homes in fear that a war would break out in their country.

Traveleyes were prompt at releasing a statement regarding the trip when the news first broke and assured us that our safety was their main priority. The holiday wasn’t cancelled immediately. Despite the Foreign Office declaring it is now safe to travel to The Gambia, Traveleyes were advised by their suppliers to cancel. This was only last week and already we have a full refund, which softens the blow a little.

I was hoping to blog about travelling with a company like Traveleyes, but it looks like it will have to wait for another day. If you would like more information about Traveleyes, you can visit their website here.



Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Year That Was

It is New Year’s Eve again and once more I am in a pair of Disney pyjamas reflecting on the year that was. Perhaps some things are destined never to change. However, each year we face the unknown and learn that little bit more about ourselves, other people and life in general…

2016
This year has taught me so much about myself. I know at the beginning of the year I was feeling quite low. When reading my blog back, I was surprised that a black cloud hung over my writing as well. It may not have been apparent to a casual reader, but knowing myself better than anyone, I sensed the lack of sparkle and drive in my posts. It wasn’t until the summer that I noticed a marked difference. It was as if I had a giant jigsaw puzzle in January with no idea where to start, then all of a sudden come July, I didn’t find one corner piece, but all of the corner pieces and everything just started to fit together.

July was a poignant month. Birthday celebrations with true friends, a long awaited PB over 100m, racing in GB kit in front of 50.000 people at the London Anniversary Games and training for a job that I not only love because it is varied and stimulating, but that fits perfectly into my lifestyle. These four instances have made the second half of 2016 worth living and I mean that whole heartedly. As this year draws to a close, I am feeling genuinely positive about 2017. I have discovered I am a strong person. I may get knocked down, but there is no way that I am staying there forever.

A couple of other bits to note about the year: I joined the 21st century and got an iPhone! How I ever managed to function without one before, I will never know. I also got a Fitbit, technology may just be a wonderful thing after all. The final mention needs to go to my partner in crime, Calvin. He decided to wrap 2016 up in memorable fashion by spewing up in my bedroom whilst I was out at the gym earlier. Demonstrating his Labrador logic, he helpfully re-consumed 95% of the contents! Yuck!

2017
It hasn’t even started yet, but already I am feeling a little smug about the year ahead. It is going to be full of new adventures and achievements of that I am certain. Now I have started that jigsaw puzzle, I need to finish it. I was listening to my beloved Westlife the other day and a lyric grabbed my attention and is going to be my ethos for the year ahead. ‘If you believe the wonder of a fairy tale, you can take the future, even if you fail’.

If you are reading this, thank you. Thank you for taking an interest in my life. I hope 2017 provides you with a happy ever after…

Monday, 28 November 2016

Lucky 7

Calvin and I have been a partnership for seven years this month. I cannot express enough how incredibly lucky I feel to have him as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. We all know that Calvin isn’t a paw perfect worker, yet he does some outstanding work when I most need him to. I can rely on Calvin to help me out at times where I am too proud to call my trusty parents for assistance when I have somehow managed to lose my way.

Having just light perception in my left eye makes navigating tough. I can’t see shapes, colours or even shadows. If I’m out at night, I may see a flash of light from a car’s headlight or if I’m looking really hard the light on a lamppost. People with residual vision are lucky. To be able to see a building as a blob or a white splodge signalling a door is definitely useful and shouldn’t be taken for granted. To be able to have some visual stimulation as you walk enables you to keep a focus. All I have are my ears, nose, feet and Calvin the dog who finds leaves wondrous and spits out rotten apples in exchange for a treat at our front door. My point is guiding someone with no useful vision is a much harder job than guiding someone who can see even a tiny little bit. Calvin has managed to do this demanding task for seven whole years, longer than some Guide Dogs manage to work for and he is showing no signs of slowing down. I live in awe of his abilities, understanding and affection.

Most days of the week I participate in some sort of sporting activity. This could be a simple swim, exercise class, Goalball, track or gym session. Either way, I spend a lot of my time feeling not just tired, but exhausted from the constant exertion. The combination of fatigue and having no useful vision often results in me switching off as I walk with Calvin. I sometimes cross roads without realising or drift round a corner taking me off route. By the time I have regained a focus, I can feel hopelessly lost even if I am actually only a short distance from where I need to be. Sometimes my surroundings don’t feel or sound quite right and I accidently encourage Calvin to go off route. It is a frequent nightmare and I kick myself every time I do it. Making these minor and major mistakes come back to haunt me too, as Calvin remembers them and assumes I may want to re-visit the places we have been.

I rarely leave my house without my Trekker Breeze, so when I do get lost I can attempt to find my way again. However, there have been times where the Breeze is not much help. For example, earlier this year when I pressed the ‘where am I’ button, it announced that I was on the M1 motorway! A feeling of utter panic quickly followed even though there was no way that I had stumbled on to the motorway. The Breeze wasn’t being completely inaccurate as I was near a motorway bridge that runs very noisily above my head on one of my regular routes causing me to feel disorientated each time I am near it. It blocks my hearing, which I rely heavily on for spatial awareness.

Whilst I am trying to work out how best to proceed, Calvin takes the opportunity to munch on some nearby grass. Nobody is around and I need to get to an appointment. I literally didn’t know whether to turn left or right. Having a cautious feel round with my feet and hands I come across some sort of railing, which is either blocking us from the pavement or protecting us from the very busy road. I am totally confused, tired and stressed, yet I know I can’t stand there forever. I can feel Calvin tugging at the lead as he stretches to chew on more grass. They say dogs are meant to recognise when a person is distressed. At this moment in time, mine appeared completely oblivious. Irritated by Calvin’s lack of empathy, I snapped at him to find the way and well that’s exactly what he did. I couldn’t be sure that he was taking me the right way, but at least we were moving. He guided me to a crossing, crossed without stopping in turn making cars horn crazily at me. The extra noise really wasn’t helpful. After removing my heart from my mouth, I made Calvin ensure he found the crossing box for me prior to crossing the next road, as we were now in the middle with cars racing in front, behind and above us. I am not sure, but I think we crossed a few more roads to make it across this dual carriage way. Why and how we were on the other side I still can’t work out, but we had never crossed over at this point before. Once over the other side, Calvin took a right with no instruction from me and shortly after the Breeze announced a road I recognised. Interestingly, Calvin was heading towards the location where my appointment was rather than turning left, which I now realised would have taken us back home.

On that day and many other similar days, Calvin is my hero. When he is lying on his back with his paws in the air like he just doesn’t care, clutching a ball as well as a soft toy in his mouth, I find myself thinking how does this dog do it. He acts like a muppet one minute then does something amazing the next. Without consciously teaching him, Calvin understands so many words and has learnt how to communicate with me in return. It is like we have a telepathic connection or I have developed a mothers instinct.

As I said before, I am extremely lucky to have Calvin as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. I sincerely hope we make it to eight great years by which time he will be nearly ten, the age I have been told that they definitely want Calvin retired by. However, if he is healthy and willing to work, I’m going to fight to keep him as my Guide Dog for as long as possible.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Fitbit

I got a Fitbit Charge HR for my birthday, which means I’ve had it for about four months now. I requested that model as it was the cheapest Fitbit without a screen that measured your heart-rate. Whilst I like the sound of the more expensive models, Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Surge, it would have been pointless getting one since the interfaces would not be accessible to me and I would therefore be unable to take advantage of the extra features. I did consider asking my parents for an Apple watch instead, which has the Voice Over screen reader inbuilt meaning I could access the watch to its full potential, but the price was too steep. My Fitbit Charge HR cost £100 and I’m very happy with its capabilities.

I say my Fitbit doesn’t have a screen, but in fact it does, just not one you can interact with. There is a button on the side of the watch and each time you press it, it displays different information, including the time, the amount of steps I’ve done that day and my current heart-rate. None of this information is accessible to me.

Setting up the Fitbit is also an inaccessible process, as you need to type in the code displayed on the screen in order to synchronise it to your smart device. However, once you are set-up there are tons of statistics at your finger-tips.

The App
The app itself is generally accessible. I am able to view the majority of information available with ease. The only feature on the app that isn’t accessible are the graphs that show progression or a lack of. This isn’t important, as Fitbit emails a weekly report and you are also able to view a breakdown of figures in number form in the app. When the battery level is low, Fitbit will again send an email to notify you, but this is visible in the app too. The battery lasts four or five days on average and takes about two hours to charge fully.

Steps
The daily recommended average is ten thousand per day and surprisingly, I find it quite difficult to reach the target on non-track days. I like trying to meet the goal and I still get a tingle of excitement when my Fitbit vibrates to inform me that I’ve managed it. Since having the Fitbit it has encouraged me to be more active.

Floors
The recommended amount is ten flights per day. This isn’t difficult to reach. I find the badge rewards quite fun, telling me things like I’ve climbed the height of a hot air balloon or I’ve walked the same distance as a marathon.

Sleep
This is one of my favourite features. Every morning the first thing I check is how much sleep I got the night before. It lets you know how long you slept, how many times you woke up and how many times you were restless. I have learnt that I require at least eight and a half to nine hours sleep per night to be fully functioning the following day. It is a miracle if I sleep straight through and I appear to be quite a restless sleeper, which I put down to dreaming nearly every night.

Heart-Rate
Ok so this is another feature I love. At the moment my resting heart-rate is sixty-seven beats per minute, which is fairly rubbish for a so-called athlete. Embarrassingly, when I first got my Fitbit it was seventy beats per minute and it has only recently started to decline. However, it proves that winter training is working and I’m getting fitter. To further prove this theory, I have been able to see my average heart rate on the long runs I have been forced to endure, as it automatically recognises and logs when I’ve gone for a run, walk or exercised. When I first started my long runs my average heart rate was over one-hundred and sixty beats per minute. After a couple of weeks that decreased to one-hundred and thirty beats per minute. The heart-rate feature is also good to track and prevent illness. One morning I noticed my resting heart-rate had spiked from the previous day warning me that my body was working harder than usual, possibly fighting off an internal infection. I did feel sluggish that day and ensured I didn’t exert myself unnecessarily. After a couple of days my heart-rate returned to its usual status and I felt back to normal.

Other
A useful feature on the Fitbit is that it vibrates when my phone is ringing. This is quite good when I’m out and about and my phone is in my pocket or handbag and I can’t hear it. You are also able to entre in manually your weight, water in-take and calories eaten. I don’t really bother with this stuff. For a bit of fun, if you have friends who have a Fitbit you can challenge them to see who can do the most steps in a week or other games. There are probably more features that I have yet to discover too. Personally, I find it all fascinating and definitely recommend purchasing a Fitbit Charge HR if you either want to get fitter or monitor your fitness.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Online Dating

In this day and age, if you are single, people’s default response is to urge you to go online. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, everyone does it and it actually works! For some people that is. I myself have two friends who met their respective fiancĂ©’s online and another friend who is about to move in with their partner who they also met online. But what is online dating like for someone like me? Well, in a nutshell an unpleasant experience that I won’t be in a hurry to repeat.

I spent six months on popular dating website Plenty of Fish or for those in the know POF. I chose it for a variety of reasons, firstly it was free, secondly one of my best friend’s had a very positive experience and thirdly the site is pretty accessible for a screen reader user. The app is also ok, but not as good as the main site on a desktop computer.

In six months of being online, I managed to go on let me just count them up, zero dates. There were a couple of males who suggested going out ‘some time’, but then they would simply vanish from the face of the earth one day. This was a common theme. You will have a conversation with someone for a week or so, then they just stop speaking to you for no apparent reason. The irritating thing is that you can see when they are online and blatantly blanking you. It seems to be acceptable to be rude online.

A good feature on POF is the block button. This was used frequently to block guys who were just after one thing and had no shame in asking up front. This made me question whether ‘honesty’ was really an admirable characteristic or not.

I’m not sure if my downfall was my profile. Do you drink? No. Do you smoke? No. Do you drive? No. Do you have children? No. What is your religion? Muslim. This is all before I reveal I have a disability. I chose not to state I was visually impaired in my profile. However, I did give little hints, such as ‘I enjoy walking my Guide Dog’ and had a picture of me with Calvin. I’m lucky that in photos I can hide my blindness. Generally, most people didn’t read your profile and messaged you based on your profile photo. For me this meant I received lots of messages from Asian men, which is fine, but when you’ve grown-up in a predominantly white area and your cousins call you a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the in) it means you struggle to connect with the majority of Asian males. Tecnically, I’m not even Asian as my Mum is from Mauritius and my Dad is from Kenya. Geographically that makes me African.

I tried to be open minded when talking to people and reading their profiles. Obviously, I couldn’t see their profile pictures, but POF tells you their hair, eye and skin colour, as well as their height and age. This enables you to create some sort of image in your head for evaluation. I wish it told me attributes like facial hair, piercings and tattoos, but you can’t have everything.

I spoke to hundreds of males online. Some messaged me first, others I messaged first. I was very careful, which was another thing that went against me. When people asked for my number I politely told them that I would prefer to keep chatting via POF until I got to know them better. Lots of guys didn’t like this and would move on to their next victim. My friends and family all knew I was online and if I did go on a date it was agreed that someone would be watching nearby. At the end of the day, I am a vulnerable individual no matter how independent I try to be.

Overall, online dating left me feeling deflated and undesirable. Therefore, I deleted my account and plan to explore other avenues in my quest for love. I’m glad I tried it and it is great that it works for some people, it just wasn’t designed for someone as unique as me. If you do try online dating, please stay safe.


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Job Vacancy - Female PA

Female PA required to support visually impaired athlete with sporting activities, such as swimming and gym classes at David Lloyd Narborough.

No experience necessary
Car driver essential
Wednesday/Friday daytime
Aprox 2-4hrs per week
£8 per hour and 45p per mile

To apply please send CV and covering letter to: selinalitt@googlemail.com

Closing date: Tuesday 1 November 2016.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Rio Paralympics

So Rio 2016 has come to an end. Initially, I imagined my thoughts on the Paralympics would be very similar to my thoughts on the Olympics. However, the Paralympic experience for me was completely different. I guess because it is closer to home in the sense that whilst Athletics features in the Olympics it isn’t actually an event I could ever participate in.

It is terrible to say, but I wasn’t inspired by the Paralympics this time. Maybe it isn’t physically possible to be inspired over and over again. The concept of people overcoming adversity and achieving great things in sport isn’t something that is new to me. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing performances and acts of courage. They just didn’t feel relevant to me. This could be because we had a very limited number of visually impaired athletes competing, so very little visually impaired sport was televised. We had no Goalball teams, no blind football team, no S11 swimmers, which would be my classification and whilst I know we sent athletes in the Judo, I’m not sure if anyone managed to medal. Apologies if they did, but it must have passed me by. We did grab a handful of medals in the athletics, swimming and cycling from athletes who are mostly partially sighted. It makes me wonder how totally blind young people can aspire to represent their country at a Paralympics if they have no role model to follow. Personally, watching Tracey Hinton in Beijing was my first glimpse of what a totally blind athlete could do on an athletics track and later she became my rival.

Despite not seeing visually impaired sport, I did watch the Paralympics religiously every day and enjoyed it overall. The Channel 4 coverage was cringe worthy at times with stuttering presenters and their lack of knowledge, yet I know Channel 4 tried their best, which is all you can ask. I did surprise myself how much I know about not only Athletics, but other sports too when the presenters gave incorrect facts. It was common to see on social media incorrect classifications and facts too. To be fair the classification system is a tough thing to get your head around. I know the Athletics classes inside out and I’m reasonably familiar with the classifications in other sports. That’s because I’m involved in disability sport. For the general public including my parents, they find it confusing. They asked me what is the difference between a T34 and T54 athlete, as to them they both compete in wheelchairs. Also, in the swimming they were cheering the athletes with amputations because visibly to them they must be more impaired than someone with all four limbs. I noticed that the LEXI guide to classification wasn’t used much, as there was simply no time due to the amount of British performances that needed squeezing in.

The medals just kept on coming. 147 later and as a spectator I was a little bit bored with all of the winning. The medals didn’t feel as special compared to the Olympics especially when some people managed to collect three or four. In future I think they need to reduce the amount of events for certain classifications. It is a bit bizarre that some athletes are able to compete and medal over so many different disciplines. That isn’t possible to do in the Olympics, so it shouldn’t be possible in the Paralympics. I do know in the athletics that they took a fair few 200m races out so some athletes were unable to double up. This process needs to be continued on a class by class basis.

Reading back, this does seem to be quite a negative post. So to end on some positives…

Rio delivered. They got the crowds in and backed their athletes whole heartedly. When Brazil clinched the Bronze in the final swimming event, a relay of some sort, it brought a tear to my eye, as on classification points it shouldn’t have physically been possible. The crowd’s reaction was mind blowing. And I say I got bored of us winning all of the time, but 147 medals for Paralympics GB is an incredible achievement. Only China with a disabled population of a mere 65 million could beat us.

Next up Tokyo 2020. This last four year cycle I didn’t aim to become a Paralympian. Dare I say it, but I would love to be in Tokyo. I wish I didn’t love athletics so much, as I would consider doing a different sport to aid my chances, but the truth is the only sport for me is track and field. To get there as a sprinter would be a tall order. If I’m lucky we may have a relay team by then or I may discover a hidden talent for another event. It is always good to dream.