10 Years With A phone

I’ve just listened to a documentary on how Voice Over was 10 years old on the iPhone and it got me thinking of my journey using a phone in general.

I must have been about 17 or so when i realised that you could get phones that could talk however no-one seemed to know where i could get a phone with the Talks software on it. We called in to the RNIB shop in Belfast and they recommended that i go to the Vodafone shop as they knew exactly what the Talks software was and they knew who to send it to to get it put on to a phone. I finally got my first phone when i was 18.

My first phone was a lovely little Nokia E51. I loved that phone and literally used it until it no longer functioned. Even sending a text was so cool. The fact that i could have a phone that talked to me was just amazing. I went from the E51 to an E65 to a C6 phone which had a touch screen and a qwerty keyboard and not the T9 keyboard that was on previous phones.

I had heard about the iPhone by this stage as the people who were making Talks weren’t making it as much any more and the operating system wasn’t supporting Talks. People were suggesting that i should get an iPhone as it had Voice over built in to the phone, but the thought of this scared me a little. After seeing my friends’ iPad, which also had voice over and a blue tooth keyboard, i began to wonder if an iPhone could be compatible with a blue tooth keyboard. It was after buying my first iPad that i decided to go for the phone but i was still reluctant to get one.

I got my first iPhone in 2013 and even something as simple as making a phone call was a real challenge for me. When i found out that you could get a blue tooth keyboard for the phone, that was me hooked and i haven’t looked back since. Whilst i can use the touch screen, it is very slow and cumbersome for me at least.

I am still using an iPhone today and i can’t believe how back in the early days of Voice over that it was considered merely as an afterthought. Now though, voice over and accessibility in general is very much integrated in to the iPhone and other Apple products as standard. In fact most phones now come with accessibility features installed. Sometimes it can feel as if voice over isn’t that important, particularly when an app isn’t accessible, but overall, the fact that you can just buy an iPhone and it will speak to you is brilliant. I hope accessibility is just as important in another 10 years’ time as it is now.

The documentary which made me want to write this entry can be found


Being More Connected

Yesterday i attended an information day ran by the

Campaign to end loneliness


There were a number of things happening throughout the day such as an information morning in City hall, a thing called “chatty busses” which were designed to stimulate conversations, a documentary and a disco. Everything was designed to get people to become more connected with each other. I was asked to attend the information morning to help promote the

My guide service

From Guide dogs to people and see if they would be happy to volunteer for it. I have recently become involved with training volunteers to deliver this service myself. There were a number of other stalls there too such as the Red Cross, Age NI, the police, as well as many other organisations. There was also a pop up choir. All of this was designed to get people more connected with each other.

After a spot of lunch, the people from the campaign organised a mini bus to take us over to attend a free screening of a documentary called

Older Than Ireland

Which was about 30 people who had lived to be 100 years old and their lives. I had never seen it before so decided to go along to see what it was about. It was held in the Queens’ film theatre in Belfast. When we arrived, we were given a cup of tea before watching the documentary, followed by a question and answer session with a panel of speakers. It was a very funny documentary and my first thoughts were when watching it is that loneliness can happen to any one of us, and it doesn’t have to be something that only happens to older people. This could be through something as simple as moving to a new area or starting a new job. I got thinking that we all have to make an effort to do something to stop us becoming lonely if we can such as starting a conversation on a bus or just saying hello to someone.

It was home time after this but there was also a disco later on that night which i didn’t go to.

It was a great day and i think there should be more days held like this to bring everybody together. It was such a simple concept too, but one that people seem to have trouble with as we’re always in a rush to get somewhere or be somewhere. I don’t think there will ever be no loneliness, but i do think we can all do something to help.

One Year Retired

I can’t believe that Ushi is retired a year already. It really doesn’t feel that long.

Other guide dog owners would have always said that you would know when your dog needed to retire,

But i never really believed it. Ushi certainly was telling me loud and clear that she wanted to retire. So much so that every day was a battle with her and i never knew from day to day if she would work or if we would get to the top of our path before having to turn back home again. Even on the day that guide dogs came out to see her to consider retirement, we barely got two car lengths up the street before she had made her final decision. Even then, it was incredibly slow going and we were literally crawling up the street.

I did keep Ushi for a month after she retired, and i’m glad i did. It was hard though as when i took her for a walk with my cane, she was so far out on the pavement. Even when i was being guided, she walked so so far over to the left that we took up quite a lot of room on the pavement. It wouldn’t have been fair though for me to keep her longer than a month though as she really was ready to go to her new home.

People have often told me that retiring a dog must be like your dog dying but i don’t like that analogy. Yes, it was hard when she retired, but i guess it was easier because she retired when she wanted to and she had worked her full term. I might have found it harder if, say, i was on my own or if it was sudden but it wasn’t as hard as i expected it to be and deffinetly nothing like a dog passing away although i am sure for some people it probably is like this.

During the last year, i made myself keep up with using my cane. I knew it would either be a case of using my cane or ending up in a very different place mentally. I also didn’t want to forget any routes i’d learned for when i got a new dog. This really was hard as it took so much concentration. I knew i had to do it though. I also didn’t feel as fit using the cane and would just go to where i needed to go rather than going for a walk or exploring places. I continued walking parkrun too but i still knew i’d lost some of my fitness that you only get from whizzing about with your dog.

I would say this last year would have been so much harder if i didn’t get matched with Vivvy six months after Ushi retiring. I thought i’d have been waiting at least a year if not more for a new dog.

The year really has flown in and i am making tentative plans to see Ushi in July possibly so i can’t wait for that. People still ask me how Ushi is doing and some people even have thought that Vivvy was Ushi. I still get regular updates and i really do know that Ushi is well and truly settled in her new home.

Exactly One Year

It was exacctly one year ago today that Ushi, my last guide dog had what was to be her final good walk.

I wasn’t sure if i would take her with me as she hadn’t been working well in the days before, but i was so glad i did and i was so glad Ushi actually wanted to work that day. We had gotten the train to Holywood, where we joined in with a walking group and we walked along the sea front. Ushi was walking well and striding out nicely. It made me long for her to keep working, but i knew deep down that this was our last, good walk together. It was so lovely just to be striding out in front of everyone.

After a few hours, we ended up heading for lunch, before we all got the train home again. I had already made the call that every guide dog owner dreads, but needs to do, saying that Ushi really wasn’t working well, but i knew i had to make that final call to say that Ushi really was ready to retire. That again was a difficult call, but even though we’d had a good walk that day, i had to face up to the fact that our walks hadn’t been so good before that. A date was set and the instructor would be out within a few days of that call.

We finished that day with a cheque presentation for Guide dogs. I tried working her over the days that followed, but they were not to be. I really did enjoy our last walk together and we both knew that this was our last as a working team.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post was, other than i’m feeling reflective. Things are a lot more different now a year later, which i didn’t imagine having another dog so soon, but that’s a post for another day. I will write another post on her retirement anniversary but this is just to say that if anyone is going through similar, you will get through it. It will be hard, but you will manage somehow, and you will always know when the time is right for you and your dog for retirement. I never understood this but you really will know.

Use Your Senses Belfast

Today i took part in a 5 K walk with a difference. Around each kilometre, there was a “sense station” which corrilated with the 5 senses.

I got the train around 9 o’clock, where i then met my guide and we headed up to the Stormont estate where the event was happening. We all milled around for a bit and people could buy Use your senses t shirts if they wanted. Due to the nature of the run/walk, guide dogs couldn’t walk with us, so i left Vivvy with a volunteer who happened to have been her boarder in training, so it was a happy reunion.

Next, we all headed off to the start line to do some warm up exercises before we we were off. The first sense station we came to was scented bubbles. Next, there was a choir and band playing. Next, we got some sweets for the taste station, before getting covered in coloured powder in guide dogs colours. Finally, it was time to run and walk through a foam pit. The 5 K was two loops, so we did it all again before we got given our medals.

Even though there were the 5 sense stations, we were all accompanied by lots of music and drumming the whole way round.

The event was so well attended. There were close to 300 people there i think. It was incredibly well organised and everyone seemed to enjoy it, even if we were a little messy towards the end. I really enjoyed the day and i hope it will become a regular feature.

If anyone would like to donate to my just giving page for this event, you can do so


The British Blind Sports Have A Go Day

Today, there was a have a go taster day ran by

British Blind Sport

Which was the first of its’ kind here in Northern Ireland. It was held in conjunction with Antrim and Newtownabbey counscel, Guide dogs and Angel Eyes NI.

The day started at

Around half 10 with regestration and a talk about the day, before we all got started in our different groups. We all wore coloured wrist bands so that we knew what group we were in.

It was Goalball first, followed by tandum cycling. The cycling was done indoors which was a bit strange. We then went outside for some football, followed by lunch.

After lunch, it was time for some tennis. We then did guide running, followed finally by pilates. I’d never done pilates before, so this was a new experience. A lot of it was like yoga though but you had to hold the poses for much longer than you would in yoga.

It was a brilliant day and it was good to see so many people attending. Thanks to all the volunteers, coaches and clubs and of course to British blind sport. I am looking forward to more days like this.

The Belfast Marathon 9 Mile Walk Four years On

Today I completed the 9 mile walk as part of the Belfast Marathon.

The last time i completed the 8 mile walk, as it was then, it was back in 2015. After doing that, i wasn’t sure if i would do it again as i’d already done it twice so figured that there would be nothing knew if i did it again. When i heard though that the route was changing and was going to be starting on a Sunday, i thought i would give it a go. I didn’t support any charity this time around, although there were some great charities who were the official charity partners for the marathon this year. After floating the idea around a bit, i found a guide and signed up. I was amazed at how many people had offered to walk with me so i had to make the hard decision of choosing who would guide me. I was advised to let the marathon organisers know that i was visually impaired and would be walking with a guide. They very kindly gave my guide a complimentry entry which was fantastic.

I decided to stay up in Belfast the night before so that i was there in good time and wasn’t rushing to get there especially as it was starting at Stormont and not the city hall like in previous years. Plus they were closing the roads to traffic from 8 o’clock onwards, so i didn’t want to get the train and not be able to get up there.

I left the Holiday inn where i was staying

This morning around 8 o’clock and walked to the city hall where i got a shuttle bus up to Stormont. I needn’t have worried though as the bus got us there in plenty of time. I just had the task of locating my guide who was waiting for me. After a bit of phone tag, we finally caught up with each other and headed towards the start line. As always, there was a great buzz and atmosphere about with music to get us going. After a few minutes, the runners were off, followed by all the walkers. There seemed to be loads of walkers which was brilliant to see.

The route was very flat for the whole way.

We left Stormont and headed along the newtownards road, before eventually getting to the Castleray road, before heading along Montgomery road to eventually end up heading along the toepath and back to Ormeau park where the finish line was. There had been some contraversy about the marathon being on a Sunday, but a lot of churches lined the route with jelly babies and water for everyone. There were bands and music at a lot of the stations too which was brilliant and really added to the atmosphere. We stopped along the way for photos and just enjoyed ourselves. I didn’t care how long i took to finish, just as long as i did it.

When we got on to the toepath, my guide got the tunes going and we were singing away. We then found ourselves kind of gently jogging when Fleatwood mack came on and just got in to the rhythm. We hadn’t planned to, it just kind of happened. A bit of Tina Turner soon braught us back to our normal pace though. We completed the walk in 2 hours 45 minutes which was only 6 minutes faster than when we did it back in 2015. I was really pleased with that.

After getting photos done of us and our medals, we collected our goody bags and headed home. It really was a brilliant day and it didn’t feel like 9 miles at all. I really liked the new route too and think it is far better than the old route. I would like to thank my guide for walking with me. We really did have a blast.

Here is a photo of my guide and i after we’d finished the walk. Thanks to one of the marathon officials for taking it for us.