Blogging 101:Thank You Translink

Today our local public transport provider Translink, took part in a fantastic event to understand the difficulties faced by visually impaired people.

This morning, i headed up to Belfast to meet the chief executive of Translink along with some people from guide dogs. The chief executive was going to be doing a blind fold walk with a training guide dog to understand some of the issues faced by blind and partially sighted people in relation to public transport. While we waited for everyone to arrive, we had time to stop for a quick cup of tea.

When the people from guide dogs arrived, i was asked if i would do a phone interview with the radio station
U105
As they were running a feature on the event. The station also wanted to talk to the campaignes manager from Guide dogs about what was happening.

After that, we headed back to meet the others. Altogether, there were 3 guide dog owners including me and 2 white cane users. We also met with a couple of Translink people including the chief executive himself. A lady from the BBC was there too, and again, they wanted me to do an interview about how i found Translinks services.

Next, it was time for the chief executive to put on the blind fold and walk with a dog. He was with a guide dog mobility instructor totalk him through the experience. The journey started at Translinks office across the road from the train station. He had to walk in to the station, before going to get a train and experiencing the level of assistance offered to help him out to the train. We all climbed aboard to join him and discuss how we found the service. I must add personally here that the level of assistance on the trains is second to none. All the train staff are trained in how to sighted guide a visually impaired person, as well as how to deal with getting wheelchair users on board too. It’s as if it is second nature to them and nothing is too much of a problem for them.

After that, we headed back in again where it was on to a goldliner bus. These busses are the busses that run outside of Belfast. I stayed behind though with someone from Translink as it was all getting a bit too much for the training dog, what with there being 3 other guide dogs to distract him. Plus, there isn’t really a lot of room on the Gold liner busses. Ushi goes right up to the back of them because that’s where she can find the most room. So i think it was a bit of a tight squeeze to get the other dogs on and comfortable.

For the metro bus which was next, it was just one other guide dog owner who went on out of all of us. We stayed behind to look at a new app that is in testing at the minute to help people locate busses around them. It’s not going too well, so i think there are more tweeks to be done to it. The train and the gold liner weren’t moving, but the Metro bus was so that the chief could see the audio announcements in action. The blind fold was taken off between each thing i think, but am not too sure.

We hung about for a while before heading back over to the Translink office to watch a dvd that Guide dogs had made a few years ago discussing best practices for busses pulling up to the kerb and such. We discussed that before wrapping things up.

I would like to thank Translink for letting us chat to the chief and for him taking on the blind fold challenge. Fair play to him!

If anyone would like to hear my radio interviews, you can
Listen to my interview with Frank Mitchel
And you can
Listen to tonights Edition of Evening Extra
Where the report is about 12 minutes in.

It was a really fabulous day. It couldn’t have gone any better. Fair play again to the chief executive and to Translink in general for letting the chief experience this somewhat challenging day for him.

As a side note, i must work on my “ums” and “ya knows” on radio :).

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The 7 Wonders Of Tactile Paving

Today, i learnt all about tactile paving, and the types that are available. Guide dogs nationally have developed a self training pack, primarely for blind and partially sighted people, but it can be used by sighted people too. The pack is being tested by a few teams to see if it would be worth making more of them to teach people about the types of tactile paving there is and what each is used for.

We first of all talked about what was helpful for us in our environments both inside and outside. We then started to explore the packs. The pack consists of a booklet full of diagrams of the different types of the paving, along with a booklet of descriptions to accompany each diagram. Each diagram had 3 sections A, B and c. The first section of the diagrams were a side on view to the particular type of tactile paving. I personally thought the side on view seemed a bit pointless, but that could have been because i’ve never had vision. The next section was what each bit of paving looked like, and the third bit was it in a real situation such as a road. Each bit on the real thing was labeled in braille and large print. There is also audio with the diagrams for people who don’t read braill. They asked if the large print was okay along with the braille or if it got in the way, but i found it grand as the print was far enough out of the way of the braille. It would say things like “pavement” then flat kerb where the kerb would be, and then it would say “road” where the road was.

The first type of paving was the blistered type found at crossings. When the crossings are controled, the paving is an l shape and has a tail or stem which goes back to the building. If it is a side road then it just is the squares of it. Next, was the type found at the top and bottom of steps. This is ribbed so you know the difference. Next, was the type found on train platforms which are like the blistered stuff, but they are laid out slightly differently. I asked why the tactile here doesn’t go right up to the edge of the platform but it’s to give people time to stop in time. This goes all the way along the platform edge. Next, is the paving which indicates a footpath with a cycle lane running along side it. There should be tactile which is like horrizontal bars for the pedestrians which should be along the path, and the cycle lane has the bars going vertically along for the cyclests. Unfortunately we do not seem to have this much here. Next, was something called guidance paving, which is meant to guide people if they are walking through an open area. This again is like bars going vertically up the middle of the pavement i think, but again, we don’t seem to have this anywhere. Next, was the tactile on tram platforms. This is like ovals. Again, we don’t have trams here, so we couldn’t see what it would feel like. I should go down south to Dublin to find some lol Finally, it was the informational paving which is like the stuff found in playparks which is kind of spongy underfoot. Apparently this is used for places where there are a lot of visually impaired people, lke the RNIB. I shall have to search this one out too lol.

At the back of the booklet with the diagrams there was a sponsor a puppy advert in braille. As far as diagrams go, i thought this was very very well done. A lot of thought had clearly gone in to what things should look like. The only issue i had was with the side on view bits as i really didn’t see the point.

We filled in questionaires after this as this is still in the trial stages. If it is a success, then it could be used for counscils and things. I think more people will give feedback before the final thing is developed.

I must say the session was very useful, and i deffinetly think people could learn the different typesif they wanted to.

It will certainly be interesting to see this being taken forward. I never even knew there were 7 types :). Deffinetly a very interesting presentation.


A Humbling Experience

Sometimes you experience something or you meet someone that just makes you stop and think. Tonight was one of those ocasions.

So tonight, i was in the loo waiting on a train home. These two ladies were standing in the corner. They wanted to stroke Ushi so i let them as i washed my hands. When i came over to get Ushi again, they started to talk to me. They started to tell me that they were both losing their sight due to a genettic condition. They told me that they didn’t know if they could trust a dog to guide them, so i explained about the different services guide dogs offered if they ever felt they needed anything. One of the woman seemed to get quite cut up and explained that she had lost her sight in her left eye and that she had partial sight in her right. She told me that she did use a cane but got knocked down whilst using it, so that has completely knocked her confidence. She told me that her pet dog seemed to know she was losing her sight, as he would have crossed in front of her when she came toa kerb, for example.

We chatted for at least another 10 minutes, and i get the feeling they probably have never met another visually impaired person. I asked if they had received any help from the health trusts, and they said they didn’t. I found that very sad. They both told me they just were getting on with it. They were very fistey women who weren’t going to let it get them down. I told them that at the end of the day, we are the same as everyone else, and sometimes you just had to get on with things. I obviously wasn’t that preechy. That last sentence seemed preechy anyway lol.

I finished the conversation by telling them to take good care of themselves. I honestly felt very humbled or something after that conversation. I’m not even sure humbled is the right word, but i thought about those two ladies all the way home.

I hope the two women got something out of the conversation, even if it was just kisses from Ushi, and a chance to pet her. I really do hope they get help at some point if they need it. I felt that they really needed to talk though. It’s good to listen sometimes :).


Tellington T Touch Workshop

This one’s a monster, so i hope you’re comfy. Today i was at a Tellington T touch workshop.

A couple of Months ago, i happened to mention to one of the puppywalkers that i had heard about T touch and would love to learn how to do it. The puppy walker happened to be reading a book about it and said she would contact the author about getting the book put in to audio format. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the book wasn’t available in audio, and nobody taught T touch here in Northern Ireland. The author of the particular book said she would be willing to take a class for us. The puppy walker checked it out with the relivant people from guide dogs, and they agreed as a pilot, they would try it out with a few puppy walkers, plus a guide dog owner. If itwas a success, they would offer it out to other guide dog owners. As i had been one of the ones who had braught it to peoples attention and had expressed such interest in it, i was allowed to go on this first class.

Enter Lisa Dillon, of
Pets in Harmony
Which is a company she has set up. She is a trained T touch practitioner. She also does dog training as well. She has done T touch on anything from Rabbits to horses. She even told us today that she did it on a snail and it stretched all the way out.

Each of us who wanted to go on the course had to pay for it. If guide dogs started paying for it here, then everyone would probably want to do the course, and the woman would lose business. I wouldn’t expect guide dogs to have to pay either as that just wouldn’t be fair. Plus the woman was giving up her day to come and teach us. So a date was set and the puppy walker went off to find somewhere we could have it that would be accessible both for parking and public transport. So with venue booked, and Lisa willing to come up from Dublin, all that was needed nowwas for us to bring a lunch and something for our dogs to lie on. All was sorted. All we had to do now was wait.

So this morning, me and Ushi headed off to get a train up to Botanic station. I was a bit panicky since there had been terrible delays across that train line throughout the week, but thankfully they were sorted today. When i was on the train, there was a family who were polish with two kids. They were telling me about how one of their kids was autistic and since they baught a dog, it had calmed him down. I was fascinated by the fact that they could go from speaking polish to speaking English just like that. They were a lovely family. Anyway, i’m getting side tracked.

When we got to the station, we were met by a dog boarder who used to be a puppy walker and we headed off. There were only 10 humans altogether in the group, so it was a nice small group for Lisa to work with. I was quite saddened to see that most of the dogs who were there were withdrawn dogs from the program. I suppose though it made just as much sense for them to be there as it did any of the other guide dog pups. Ushi was the fully working dog and there were two other potential workers.

First of all, we learnt about what T touch is, and why it was invented. We then learnt how to observe your dog. We learnt that the back of the hand is where the lightest touches would be, so to observe your dog and figure out where he might be holding tention, you would run the back of your hand down your dogs coat and watch for signs of discomfort or tention. These could have been very subtle like lip licking, yawning, the colour and texture of the coat, turning away and many other things that would indicate that the dog wasn’t very comfortable with being touched on that part of the body. All these signs would depend on the circumstances to which they happen and the dogs coat and how it was normally etc. It was all about knowing your dog and how he liked to be handled. We were then split in to groups of 3 and advised that it may be helpful to have someone else observe your dogs reaction, or to have you doing the touch and getting someone else to observe because they might notice something you haven’t picked up on. I asked what would make a dog have tention and Lisa told me i could be for a number of reasons. It could be that the dog is reactive to other dogs, it could be because the dog is nervos, or it could be just with walking, for example. I thought it was something bad but it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It could just be that the dog holds tentionin certain parts of the body just like we do. It did make me stop and annalyse everything Ushi did though for a second though.

I had mentioned that Ushi didn’t like when her tail would be touched, but of course she didn’t mind because she was saying hello to other dogs. We were told that if the dogs wanted to move away for a bit or needed to investigate another dog, that was fine, as it was dictated by their own pace. When Ushi’s belly was touched though, people noticed that she arched her back for the tiniest wee second. They didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but it was just an area she didn’t like being touched. Apart from that, she was grand.

After that, we had a break and that gave us time for comfort breaks for both the humans and dogs. We got a cup of tea as well. Lisa had also said that any time the dogs needed to leave, they could just go no questions asked.

After our break, we learnt some of the actual touches. The first touch we learnt was called a Zebra, or zigzag. This is where you have your four fingers bent, and you start at the shoulders and have them close together and when you get to the top of the legs you spread your fingers out, only to bring them back in again going back up to the shoulder blade. You could do this on any part of the body but it was always best to start from the shoulders.

The next thing we learnt was ear work. This is where you place your thumb at the base of the ear and move your thumb out in a long stroke out to the end of the ear. This is apparently especially good for a dog who has tummy troubles. It can also be good to make your dog burp if you feel it needs to. I notice if Ushi doesn’t burp after her meals, she will be sick, although you can’t even call it being sick as it’s just a wretch or sometimes it’s just a tiny mouthful of food she brings back up. If she burps though, that doesn’t happen. Random. Anyway doing this earwork is meant to help with that so i’ll have to try it out.

The next thing we learnt was called a “belly lift”. This is where you put your hand behind their front legs and gently press the belly in. You don’t do it hard at all. You breathe out as you do it as it’s meant to be easier. You then let it fall back again ever so slowly. We were warned that this movement can make the dogs pass wind more regularly lol. Of course Ushi decided she’d give me loads of paws and licks as i had gotten down on the floor with her at this point.

The final touch we learnt was just called a circular touch. This was where you’ imagined that you were on a clock face. Your thumb was an ankor which you kept there all the time. That would be 6 o’clock. YOu’d gradually work your way back up from 6 until you got back to 6 and then you’d go to 9 o’clock to complete the circle. You would do it in a clockwise manner. You would do it nice and slow. You could do it in big or small circles with any part of your hand. If your dog got stuck with something, like it didn’t want to do something, you could do a quick one of these to get the dog “unstuck”. Or you could do a belly lift if you wanted to. If you wanted to calm them down, you’d do nice slow movements.

One of the puppy walkers showed me on my arm how to do it, which i admit did feel rather nice. This was exactly what we had to do as all the touches need to be practiced on yourself or someone else before doing it to your dog. A dogs skin is easier to move compared to a humans lol. That was what we all noticed anyway lol.

We were all given the opportunity to practice the touches, but i flitted between all four touches, so i’m not surprised that Ushi got a bit fidgety. Plus, she needed out for busies. All the dogs were in very close proximity to one another, so we would notice more of a reaction to the touches in our own homes. As long as we remembered to keep it slow.

It was lunch time by this stage. I should have braught Ushi’s nylabone, as every other dog all had one so that was the sound track to our lunch lol. AS an aside, i had those Sandwich thins which have been advertised for lunch, and they were lovely.

After lunch, we looked at “Boddy wraps”. These are where you wrap something around the dog to provide a constant pressure. It sort of calms them down. It’s similar to the “Thunder shirt” you can get for fireworks if your dog is scared of them. Lisa just uses ace bandages as these are very elasticated and provide pressure, whereas a cheaper bandage may not provide the same pressure. Again, we had to put it on ourselves first, so i volunteered to go up this time. The wrap was put around my shoulders and i was then guided around for a bit to see how it felt. It felt like someone was litterally holding up your shoulders so you had to walk straighter. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but you knew it was on. Everyone else had to try it on too before we put it on our dogs.

We were told to gradually introduce the wrap to the dog by first letting the dog sniff it, then laying it on the dogs back and taking it off again, and finally wrapping it around the dog. We wrapped it around the dogs chest first, then under the tummy, then we tied it at the side. We then walked around the room to see what the dog would be like with it on. I noticed that Ushi didn’t pull on the lead which she can do sometimes if she is on just her lead, but i didn’t notice much else.

Lisa told us about how the wraps have been used to stop dogs from spinning. I didn’t know a dog would do this but apparently they do it if they have been in a kenel fora long time or something. That would break your heart. There was also one of the dogs in the group who was very nervy and panty in the room. Once he got his wrap on though, he was a totally different dog, complete with such a waggy tail. Nobody could believe the transformation.

After this, was something called “Ground work” which is basically getting the dog walking around things, and the dog had a harness on. The dog got two points of contact from the harness as there was a lead that clipped on to the front and the back of the harness. The dog had to then walk around the poles and different surfaces. We all weren’t sure about it, so some of the x guide dogs did it instead as we didn’t want it contridicting our dogs training. So we got to do more of our touches and the wraps. Lisa had also braught along different textures to try on the dog. Including paint brushes if the dog had sensative paws.

We finished up with a final loo break and an evaluation. Lisa had also given everyone an information pack with everything in it. She was going to email me, but i said i would rather have them on audio as normally i would be grand with email, but with this i wanted to play it as i did it. I am going to contact a company called visual access to see if they will put this in to audio.

I would like to thank Lisa so much for agreeing to do this. Normally she works with more challenging dogs, so she said it was nice to work with our dogs. I would also like to thank the first puppywalker who came up with seeing if she could get the audio book, and everyone else who made it such a good day. I certainly learnt a lot. Thank you again all. I am totally exhausted now :). Was a fabulous day though and a great learning experience :).


Hello Talking Bus

I’m just home from a fabulous day. Today was the launch of the first talking busses in Northern Ireland.

Back in 2011, a pilot was launched to trial the audio visual announcements on the busses. It was only on one of the Metro 5A busses. From what i remember it was only on for a limitted time as well. The pilot was a success, so then lots of meetings with the Minister for regional development insued, along with lots and lots of campaigning.

IN October last year, the minister for regional development announced that funding had become available and the audio visual system would start to be rolled out by the end of the financial year on some of the metro services. This was great news to look forward to.

I found out last week that the service was going to be launched today. Of course i was very keen to go, as i had been so heavily involved in trying to get it rolled out.

So this morning, a lot of us met at Donnygall square west. Translink put on a bus especially for the launch, so it was a bus that went a different route than it normally would go. I can tell you, it was rather tight as we had at least 7 guide dogs, and more were at the Scanos centre which was where we were heading. I thought it was cool! All the stops were announced. I wanted to sit on the bus all day to see where it would go lol! The stops were announced as you would come up to them to give the driver time to stop and so that you could ring the bell in time to get off. The stops were also displayed on a screen. The company who made the technologywere called Vex technologies and apparently they were the ones who put the equiptment in to the London busses.

When we got to the Scanos centre, there were yet more guide dogs. There were about 30-40 people altogether with and without dogs. There were a few speeches to get done plus a cup of tea and a scone, of course.

We all then crammed back on the bus, and it was an even tighter squeeze to get all of us on. We headed up to Stormont to meet with the minister for regional development and to get lots of photos taken. The belfast telegraph were there as well as Cool FM and City beat radio stations who interviewed the minister. I made a bit of a mistake at this point though. The minister was asking how i was and i accidentally called him by his first name when i was talking to him. Oops. He didn’t even notice though. I just thought he was a person like everyone else, so why wouldn’t i call him by his first name. I’ll know for future though.

Lots of photos were taken both on and off the bus, and the minister went on the bus for a bit and we then headed back to stormont for some more photos.

By this stage, most of us needed a comfort break, so we headed over to Dundonald park and ride to avail of the facilities before going back to Donnygall square West where we’d started from.

It was a brilliant day. It’s only some of the busses that will have it from tomorrow onwards, but hopefully it will be eventually on all the metros. I hope even more that it will be eventually on the ulster busses too that are outside of Belfast.

I would like to thank the minister for agreeing to install it, plus Translink itself. It will make such a difference to so many people. It’ll be interesting to see what the public think of it.

Who knows, it might even make me want to go to yoga again lol.


Media Coverage For Talking Busses

At the end of March, I met with the
Minister for regional development
But i didn’t think much of it and thought he was just saying the right things. I thought that was the end of it, however guide dogs had launched their report on bus travel for the visually impaired called “the road to nowhere”. I can’t be bothered looking up the link for that.

I was out on Monday when i got a call from the media guy at guide dogs. Apparently
BBC newsline
Wanted to pick up the story and wanted to know if someone would be available to do a short interview the next day. guide dogs had decided that i would be a good candidate as i was only recently taking busses on my own. So me and Ushi headed up to belfast.

It was orriginally going to be that i would be filmed getting off the bus, but the bbc people were late. When they got there we took a few pictures of me on the bus then getting off, then walking into the station. We then sat down in one of the many caffes to do the interview. I was amazed at the amount of kit they had with them! Ushi just lay down the whole time looking bored apparently. After the interview was over though she wanted to sit up when they wanted another shot of her lying down!

They were lovely people and couldn’t have been any nicer. I was shown on Wednesday nights program. They also interviewed another guide dog owner. The amount of people who’ve stopped me in the street to say they watched it is mad!

My uncle wanted a copy of the clip to keep. So the searching began for the video. I had to email the bbc and they posted it again, but i couldn’t find out how to download it! I now know it goes into your actual downloads folder. I don’t know why i didn’t think of that. We also found this
BBC version
*I had posted a youtube link, but was alerted today that that had been taken down because the account was terminated. Rather strange. I’m not sure how long the bbc version will still be around for*.
Which was much better. So my uncle now has a copy he can watch until his hearts content. What a palarva it was to find it though! I was so worried he wouldn’t get to see it.

I’d just like to thank the bbc for wanting to cover it. Let’s hope the minister sees it!


“A Sense Of The Past” And Busses

Today i wanted to go to a thing up in the guide dogs office, so decided to get the bus up. I’ve only used the bus once before to Cushendall, so technically it wasn’t my first independent journey today. Suggesting it was the hardest part though. My family are quite good, but for some reason they weren’t so keen for me to do independent travel. They came up with very good excuses like how would you know where you were going etc. Thankfully they agreed no problem this time.

 

I asked on facebook if anyone was going just to see if someone could meet me off the bus. A guide dog owner said she would so that was fab.

 

Me and the branch organiser went to a presentation first, to collect a cheque that a school in Antrim had raised for us. We walked in to the kids doing something called “brain gym” which was where they were bouncing up and down and stuff. It was to help kids who had reading difficulties. Ushi thought this was great and wanted to join in! Then the bell was rang for the kids to go to assembly. I think 10 o’clock is deffinetly a good time for assembly rather than when we had it at a quarter past 9! Suppose that got it over and done with though. The kids had held a non uniform day and raised £232 for us which was brilliant. Members of the school counscil and the boy who suggested it were invited up to give us our cheque.

 

After that, other certificates were presented for a five asside football ternament, and then the branch organiser was asked if she would help present the certificates for the “star of the week”. This was for kids who tried really hard at their reading, team work etc. It was pictures next for the Times and the guardian. Ushi jumped on top of the photographer and started licking away lol. I had kept her harness on just because i thought she would be calmer. No chance!

 

The branch organiser left me to the bus station after that. I didn’t realise we were going to be finished so early, but thankfully there was a bus just pulling in. So the branch organiser got me a seat and then got off again. I was panicking when it came to my stop, and wondered would the driver actually tell me, but he did more than that, he pulled up to right outside the station, and got a passenger to make sure i was alright when we got inside. the man unfortunately was a bit elderly so it was a case of “right you’re inside now”. I said i would text my friend and the next thing i knew he had gone! I stood waiting for a while until one of the staff came up to see what the craic was. I said i was waiting for someone but asked if he would take me to a seat. I said my friend was a guide dog owner so he said he’d keep an eye out. My friend then phoned to say that the person who was dropping her off would give us both a lift up to the guide dogs office. I hope i didn’t confuse the poor man though when he came back to tell me that there were no guide dog owners yet. He seemed grand though and wished me well as i left.

 

When we got to the guide dog office, Ushi and the other dog who was there, Zeta, went mad as soon as they got out of the car. They ran round the carpark like maniacs. I was dreading in case anyone looked out of the window and thought i couldn’t control Ushi or something. They eventually came back to us though and we harnessed them up. We were very early for what we were doing, so the girls played together as we sat and chatted for a while.

 

The thing we were taking part in was a project run by RNIB and the heritage fund or something. It is called “a sense of the past” and it’s all about the last hundred years and visual impairment. When it’s finished it will be produced in print and audio and there will also be an exhibition to try and make museums and that accessible. That’s what i understand anyway! Guide dogs decided to do a piece too on it. There were four of us together. Some of the things the two older guide dog owners told us were just shocking. Things like how before the centre opened here you had to go to exiter or forfar in Scotland. You qualified there and then were sent home. You didn’t really get matching visits apparently they just assessed you and worked on that info. If you had trouble you had to wait weeks before someone could come and see you.

 

They also talked about what working a dog was like during the troubles. It was all very interesting stuff.

 

At about three o’clock, we were all sent home early as the snow got very heavy. It’s a good job i did go home with a member of staff though since they offered, as the busses weren’t able to go because of the snow.

 

Apart from that it was a great day!