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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.