A typical day in the life of a sight impaired person

I thought it would be a good idea to let sighted people have a glimpse into what a typical day may be like for a sight impaired person.
Many sighted people don't realize just how much they use their sight every day for common tasks, so I thought it would be a good idea for them to see it from our side of the fence for a day.

MORNING

I guess every morning we have to get out of bed, so usually the first thing you may hear is the alarm clock.  Usually a sighted person is needed to set up the correct time and alarm functions, but once set up we usually know how to turn it off.  Most of us will usually use some type of talking clock, where we can hit a button and it will tell us the time or temperature if it has it.  I guess when the rooster crows, it's time to get out of bed. It's a bit harder on a cold winters morning though.

The next step would be to grab some clothes that we want to wear for that day.  Unless you have some sort of system to find what clothes you are looking for in your wardrobe, it would be like taking pot luck from your collection of clothes.  This means you could end up with any colour in any combination and it might not even match.  In some cases, some of us will label our clothes, (either with puff paint or some type of tactile label), so we have a better idea of what we are choosing.  Once we have gathered our clothes, usually the next step is going to the bathroom.  Unless we have our toothpaste, toothbrushes etc in certain areas, it may take us a bit of time to find what we are looking for. We usually like to keep our items tidy, making them easier to find.  We have to make sure that the items we go to use are the correct ones.  It is so easy for someone else to leave out a tube of ointment (for eg. Savlon in a tube) and almost get it mistaken for something else.

In the shower, unless we have it marked somehow between shampoo and conditioner, it would be so easy to put it on in reverse. Having a specific place to find the soap quickly means we do not have to search the shower to find it (and it may not even be there). Can you imagine how many items there may be in a bathroom cupboard that you may not be able to identify easily?

After the shower or bath, the next step would be to put your clothes on. It would be so easy to put your clothes on inside out or the wrong way around without some sort of way of determining which way it is meant to go.  Usually with clothes, they will have seams on the inside of the clothing, making it easier to determine if you have it inside out or not.  Most clothes will have tags on the inside at the back so we can tell the difference between the front and the back.  If not, we would have to hold them up by the shoulder seams and see which part drops down the most around the neck, and this will usually be the front of that bit of clothing.  The ones that aren't marked, once found will need to be labled (usually by their colour). This may also let you know where the back of the clothing is. This will vary with pants and skirts etc as some tags are on the side.

It is usually fairly quick for us guys to finish getting ready. For us guys, it may be a quick brush of the hair, a little bit of spray to smell nice and we are ready.  From the females point of view, it may take a little longer if they have different types of perfumes, lipsticks, powders and so on to put on.  If they weren't marked in some type of way, you would never know what colours etc you would be putting on.  It looks as though the guys have it easy there.

The next step, would be to have some breakfast in the kitchen.  In most cases, we will have pantries where our food is kept.  If we were to take all of the labels off the cans of food, would you be able to find what you were looking for quickly?  It just shows you how much sight is relied upon for everyday tasks.

In most cases, we would have our pantry either organised into groups or labled in some sort of way.  A couple of examples would be to braille the items to read, if you know braille, or the quickest way I have found since the release of the pen friend in late 2010 is to leave voice labels on each item.  I usually have a sticker stuck onto a magnetic label to record onto. I have labled music cds, dvds and a myriad of items with it.  Please see my pen friend ideas page for more ideas for this item. Once we have found the items we are looking for, we do the usual - just like everyone else.  Just to make sure, at times, we may use our fingers to line up food, (so it's dropped into the right place, and not onto the benchtop).  You get to know after a while what different items feel or smell like (eg the shape of a milk bottle, or the smell of an onion).  You would hate to mistake salt for sugar for your breakfast.  So you can see why we like to be organised.  Of course later on the dishes have to be done, so after doing them, the putting away of items in the correct locations is essential, making it easier to find at a later date.

THROUGHOUT THE DAY

The next step would be to do some of those household chores.  Just because we can't see properly, or at all, it doesn't mean we get out of housework.  Vaccuuming is pretty easy, you just need to map out in your head which parts of the loungeroom or room you have vaccuumed, until it's all been done.  Once that has been done, I guess the clothes may need to be washed. I use a clothes sorter, this way it makes it easier to sort out your colours etc.    Our clothes sorter is broken into 3 catergories,  one for towels, one for colours and one for blacks.  After a while you get to know what things feel like and know which colour they go into.  If you have a sighted partner, some of these things may be made easier for you.  With the new washing machines coming out now, most of them are push button with lcd displays (unless you are able to get the old dial type which was great).  We would have to be shown how to do the basic functions on the washing machine to wash our clothes; without labelling - any more than that forget about it, as we couldn't see what functions are being used.  For this part, I have pen friended (or audio labled) every function on the washing machine, (going from left to right) and saying what each push of the button does.  This means that now I can do any wash on that washing machine.  A big step up from before and just doing the basic wash. Once washed, the clothes are put into a washing basket and taken out to the clothes line.  We would have to make sure the clothes line arms are not too low, so as not to walk into them.  When hanging out the clothes, use the seams on the clothing to line it up to hang by (so as to reduce ironing) and make sure to unravel the arms so that items dry faster. If you have a clothesline that hoists up and down, when bringing the dry washing back inside, make sure you raise the arms high enough so as not to be able to run into it next time. If you have done the washing and it is raining, you may decide to put it through a dryer, which could be labled in some way (perhaps using tactile markers to identify the heat settings or times available on the dryer).

After the clothes have been dried, the next step is to sort them out. Again, if we have a sighted partner, it may make it easier here, so you don't get your clothes mixed up with your partners.  You do get to know what clothes are yours and what are theirs after a while by the feel of the fabric and placement of buttons etc.  Once sorted out, it is then off to the drawers, cupboards and so on they go - and placed in specific areas so they can be located quickly and pulled back out again for next time.

Even something as simple as putting sheets, towels etc into a cupboard needs to be organised to make it easier to find later on.  Would you be able to tell the difference easily between different items in there without using your eyes?
   
Once the housework is done, we may want to check our emails. With advances in technology now, we might have a computer.  Unless there is some type of adaptive technology on that machine, in most cases - it would be useless to us.  For if you can't see what is on the screen without it being magnified (or have a screen reader to read out what is on the screen to you), it would just sit in a corner as it would be innaccessible.  In my case, I use a free screen reader called NVDA, and it can be found at www.nvaccess.org For the stuff that I want it to do, it does the job very well.  This includes surfing the internet, checking my emails, using chat programmes and so on.  To read out material, I use a Canon multi function scanner, copier and printer in one.  It comes with omni page (which has built in OCR software). This allows for scanning in of different printed materials, to later be read out to me by the screen reader (once it has been converted to text or some other accessible format).  Sometimes, I may scan in materials and save it in another programme to be converted later on (eg into a pdf, txt or mp3 format).  This will be depending on what I want to do with it. Some don't even have what is mentioned above.
     
After using the computer while the washing machine finishes, we may be off outside to do some gardening.  If items are left on the ground like a hose reel, it is so easy just to trip over it if we aren't using our cane, (not that many of us use it at home).  Even low lying branches have to be avoided or cut off so we don't walk into them.  Most houses have garden sheds and they will be organised, one thing out of place might take us ages to find, where a sighted person would just say there it is and find it straight away. You could imagine the sort of things you would come across in everyday life around the home that could be a hazard to you.

Just like everyone else, some of us like to shop.  We can't drive, so we need to rely on somebody to take us to the shops, whether it be a friend in a car, or we may need to ring a taxi or get some other type of transport to get us there.  In my case, most of the time I walk up town. Even knowing what street you are on is visual. Knowing the house number you are outside of is visual.  also. It would be so easy to get lost, or walk right past your house if you didn't learn your area.  On the walk, there may be cars across driveways, damaged footpaths, roadworks, and once you get to town, there may be bikes on footpaths, skateboards and signs not in their correct areas and so on. Once we get there, if we are with someone, it is a lot easier to find what shop you are looking for.  In the case of there being a line of shops, and you are by yourself, it can be so easy to get lost, (unless you know your area really well).  In most cases, we might ask someone where we are in relation to the shop that we are going to.  Sometimes, we can be out by a shop or two and not know it, where a sighted person just looks and says there it is. We might be able to pick up where we are by smells or sounds coming from different shops, which can give us a better idea of where we are.  Most people are pretty good with helping visually impaired people.

Once we finally get to the shop and we are inside, if it's a new shop, we have to judge where everything is in the shop.  In this case I mean aisles, counter and so on.  I have found it a lot easier for the first time to stop near the door and ask where the counter is, then navigate to the counter, (unless they come up to me first in which case I get the store person to help me with my needs).  If we need to navigate anywhere in the shop, I usually ask the person to talk as we navigate the shop to the item we are looking at.  Most stuff is visual, so I may ask them to  touch the item or give me a good run down of what it may do.  This may be in the case of a tv, or its remote. After you have choosen an item, the item has to be paid for.  If using EFTPOS, these can change from machine to machine.  I have found it just as easy to ask for the layout of each machine as I use them, so I can get it right each time. The shop may have catalogues for people to read, but these are visual.  In my case, I am lucky to have someone to read out the catalogues  to me. This may be done at the shop, or at home when they arrive in the letterbox.

Whether trying to access information inside a shop or back at home, in some cases, people might use a video magnifier which will magnify what is on the object that they are looking at, so they can read it.  Some of us may use a computer with a scanner and OCR software to extract the text out of the item to read it as well.  This might be done at home with a computer and a scanner or magnifier, or it could be done using a portable unit. This might be to read brochures, magazines, newspapers or other visual items.  We are all different with our eyesight conditions and our various methods of reading.

When people are up town, they may want to have lunch (or a coffee) at a nearby cafe. The menus may be on a board to be read, or may be left on a table as well.  I have found it a lot easier to just go to the counter once it is found, and get them to read out to me what they have to offer.  I narrow it down quickly by hot foods, cold foods etc to get quickly to what I want, especially if its a new shop, and I don't know their menus.  If someone is with me, I guess I could borrow their eyes if sighted, to read out the menu or navigate the shop. Without assistance at times, to find a spare seat in a full cafe, could be a daunting experience for some.

On any given day, we may do food shopping. This could be at a local grocer or in a supermarket.  Without some sort of assistance usually, to grab the items that we require could be like being in a daze and not seeing anything around you clearly at all. In cases where we are lucky, we may have someone to help us shop and pick out our items; in other cases, we might be able to have a shop assistant help us grab our items.  Everything in the supermarket is usually visual, even down to the prices of the items that you have grabbed.  Once we get home, it's a matter of unpacking our items, (hopefully labeling them in some sort of way) and organising them so that they are easy to find and identfy the next time we go to the cupboard.

EVENING

Later on at night it might be time to cook tea.  You may need to grab some meat etc from your freezer. If it's not labled, it could be so easy to get items mixed up for tea.  Most items like peas etc are easy to identify, but it could be just as easy to confuse chicken with cauliflower - if they are packed in similar sized and shaped packages.  Before I labled items with the pen friend, it was more like pot luck, and that's what we had for tea that night, unless I could figure out what it was beforehand.

Most items for tea, can be cooked on or in an oven.  So, the setup of the oven will need to be learned for you to be able to use it.  If these are the ovens with dials, once labled they are useable.  I am not sure how this would go with touch screen ovens, unless some sort of system was worked out.

I guess the day is almost over and its time to relax.  Even watching the TV is visual, let alone using the basics of the remote. This is where having audio description on the TV (where available) comes in handy. It also pays to become familiar with the most common buttons on your remote control. If you do not have audio description, then perhaps someone can describe what is happening on the screen for you, so that what you are hearing makes sense.

I hope this gave you a little glimpse into the world of a visually impaired or blind person.  No two people are exactly alike in what we do, or how we get around things.

In this world, just about everything is visual. Imagine shutting your eyes and navigating your house, or trying to find items within your cupboards - let alone going outside your door and beyond.  You could see how much your world could change, let alone having it permanently for the rest of your life.

I guess if you are new to blindness and want to live a fulfilling life, then you have to be able to get over yourself, accept what has happened, and adapt yourself to your new way of life with whatever aides may help you.  In most cases these items are not cheap to buy; they could be ranging from a couple of dollars to thousands of dollars just to assist you in everyday life. These items may have to be funded by someone else, or out of your own pocket, especially necessary items that cost a lot of money. Some of these more expensive items may include commercial screen readers such as Jaws, video magnifiers to blow up the text so you can read, braillers and so on. There are also options to rent. It is a matter of getting on with life, and taking whatever steps are necessary to maintain your independence. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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