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The stress of travelling to work as a blind person

Stress awareness month has been held every April, since 1992. During this annual period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across work to increase public awareness about both the causes and potential cures for this modern epidemic. According to a July 2021 study, 79% of UK adults feel stressed at least one day a month, and a third of adults (30%) feel stressed ten or more days a month.  In fact, millions of working age people around the UK are experiencing such high levels of stress that their health is at risk. Despite stress being a significant factor in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, it’s concerning that impact of stress is not taken as seriously as other physical health concerns.

Stress Awareness Month

Those of us who are a working age will have experienced our fair share of stresses over our years working; but those of us that work in London will have experienced the particular kind of stress associated with getting to work on time while navigating London’s buses, trains and tubes. For Stress Awareness Month, Hassan Khan, wrote about the unique stresses he experiences just trying to get to work as a blind person:

“As you sit on the tube, idly wiping the sleep from your eyes, reading or lost in your smart phone, across from you sits a blind guy, also making the same journey, but with stress etched all over his face. He wonders whether today will be the day the announcements stop working, or he isn’t met off the train, or even the day one of you walks into him, causing him to shout: “Watch where you’re going!”

Getting to work

As a blind person, my journey into work isn’t as simple as one would assume, and I have more than just physical obstacles to contend with! It’s like World War III in my head, the initial battle is with the Uber app: will it work? Will I get a driver that stops in front of me? Will a driver refuse my journey because I’ve sent a note stating that I’m blind?

Once I track my driver down, I’m often dropped off close to bus lanes or left to battle busy roads, because they have another job. As soon as I have exited their car, my security is no longer their responsibility and they’re off before you know it. At this point, out my cane and the pure determination that screams at me:
“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough”

Commuting

Sadly, it’s not just Uber drivers abandoning me in the road or lack of announcements on train and buses that add to my stress levels, as often as not it’s my fellow commuters. While commuting, I’ve been elbowed in the mouth, grabbed by the shoulders and shoved, screamed at and told to travel after 10am. As you can imagine, experiencing all of this before I get to work can ruin my day before it’s even really started.

Switching off from the commute

How do I manage then? I tend to listen to podcasts or audio book whilst on the move, which usually reduces the stress and stops me from thinking about announcements and what other people are doing or thinking. I also make sure to give myself extra time and put effort into planning my journeys; but above all I’m not shy to talk about the stress of travelling to work. The most crucial thing you can do when you are stressed or anxious is to make sure you are continuing to look after yourself. Make time to relax when you need to and learn to say no to requests that are too much for you.

I am lucky to work for an organisation where I am surrounded by empathetic colleagues and managers who support me through the sometimes unbearable process of just getting to work. I have an understanding manager who allows me to avoid peak hours, which helps me manage my stress levels and my work.

As I said previously, one of the most important things to do when tackling stress is talk about it. In order to address this epidemic we need to reach out to friends, family and colleagues; or to professionals”.

For more information and for useful links, please visit Anxiety UK’s website.

Hassan Khan

Retinitis Pigmentosa and data visualisation – Ashfaq’s experience

It’s hard to introduce myself without it feeling like I’m announcing myself at Alcoholics Anonymous, but here goes I am Ashfaq, I’m 32 and have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). In this blog I want to share some of my experiences working while dealing with the condition, hopefully you find it interesting and don’t get too bored – and I’ll talk about some of the ‘hacks’ I developed during my different roles.

First diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa

I was diagnosed with RP in 2012 when in my first job following university. I was probably affected throughout my school years too, just never knew it. With RP, low levels of light make it difficult to see, and who hasn’t accidentally sat on someone when trying to find their seat at the cinema? It can’t just have been me! Day to day I wasn’t really affected: I had an active social life and was doing well at work. My role required me to work with large datasets, analysing and processing data – essentially staring at a screen all day working with spreadsheets. I was registered partially sighted back then but didn’t take up any access to work assessments or make any considerations for the future. Looking back, I suspect I was reassuring my friends and family that I was okay more than myself. My vision was slowly worsening, and I started to make minor changes to my working habits. Larger icons, larger mouse pointer with that weird mouse trail thing – which weren’t particularly different to anyone else’s setup.

New roles

In 2015 I moved into a role in healthcare – something I was much more passionate about. Not long after starting, I got my first white cane, a guide cane. I struggled with this at the time, especially when having to meet old friends who didn’t know me as a cane user: being the ‘blind guy’ wasn’t particularly appealing. Sometimes I got away without people knowing, but there were times when people did find out or the time to mention it came up; then the mask would drop, and I always felt awkward. This came from not wanting other people to be awkward or uncomfortable or feel like they had to act differently… I suspect this is something that many people experience.

However, in this job I was mostly secretly visually impaired. I did engage with Access to Work and had a relatively useless assessment. My manager at the time was brilliant though, and keen to ensure I had everything I needed. It just kind of happened that I didn’t know what I needed. Despite this, I progressed in my role and slowly transitioned to using more tricks here and there to get around the different ways my RP affected me. Eventually, I was able to gain a new role in a more senior managerial capacity where I discovered the ultimate coping mechanism – delegation.

I am only half joking of course, I really enjoyed managing a team. I’m very much a team player and teaching, supporting and mentoring is just something I’ve always been drawn to and I like to think have been quite natural at. Of course, you’d have to ask the people I managed….

Career progression

My next career step led me to a much larger organisation: 2000 odd employees split across two offices in the City. It was hectic to say the least. I had been at my last organisation for four and a half years, had gotten very comfortable and taken for granted how my vision didn’t really impact me. Things were very different at this new job. They were welcoming and open to support me however they could, but the onus was on me to know what I needed but the reality was that I was still clueless.

Their machines ran on a new operating system, so all the tricks I used before were no longer relevant. I needed to pick up functionality of programs new to me. All these issues were compounded by being in a more senior role. I just couldn’t hit the ground running like I had in previous jobs. I found myself blaming my problems on my sight or lack thereof. This is where I was wrong to just blame myself. Moving to a new company, picking up new working practices and meeting new people are difficulties everybody faces. If you have ever felt like I did, remember it isn’t just you or because of your vision.

In 2019 I decided I should probably engage a bit with others dealing with being vision impaired (VI). I joined the RNIB Connect group on Facebook and it led me to tandem cycling with Merton Sports and Social Club (MSSC). I went along and amazingly this was the first time I met another person who was vision impaired. I had been diagnosed for 7 years yet not once had I reached out to anybody else going through what I was. Through MSSC, I met people I was able to share my experiences of sight loss with and knew they truly understood and could relate with their own experiences. I really recommend reaching out: learning from others about how to cope with certain issues, things available to you both professionally and recreationally or just having somebody to moan to has changed my life.

Moving into the sight loss sector

I now work for Thomas Pocklington Trust, a charity that supporting blind and partially sighted people. I still work with data and stare at spreadsheets, but I am surrounded by experts, colleagues who are themselves VI and sighted colleagues who have vast experience in the sector. Every VI person doesn’t need to work within the VI sector but having the right support is paramount. I get that from those around me but there are forums and workshops designed to support and I’d encourage you to seek them out. I have no doubt that its possible without it but trust me it just makes things way quicker. You’ll end up being proactive rather than reactive in the way you manage.

Being visually impaired and working in a field which is all about data visualisation really doesn’t seem like the best match does it? But it is possible with the right adjustments. RP is degenerative, and there are times I feel like I’m on top of things and then some other thing comes my way. However, information and support make me feel like I’m ahead of the curve rather than constantly falling short or being taken by surprise. I may have to use magnifier software or JAWS in the future, but I actually know about this stuff now. A year ago, I genuinely had no idea.

Some of Ashfaq’s top hacks that you might like to try:

Notepad++: This is a text editor but you can use high contrast setting (white text on black background for example). Notepad++ has quite extensive customisable colour/formatting preferences so if you’re doing a lot of text editing then check it out.

VirtuaWin: This allows you to partition your work into different ‘screens’ and flick between them according to what you want.

AltMove: Essentially it lets you move windows about more easily (if you have two screens perhaps move a window to the other screen by click and drag). Instead of having to place your mouse right at the top of a window you can hold the Alt Key and drag the window with your mouse anywhere within that window.

High contrast mode on Windows: You can find this in your settings, and it has a few different contrast options.

Purple Tuesday and the WelcoMe App

Purple Tuesday and the WelcoMe App

Today is Purple Tuesday – the UK’s awareness day for accessible shopping. Since the inaugural day in 2018, the aim of Purple Tuesday has been to recognise the importance and needs of disabled consumers and promote inclusive shopping. It’s named Purple Tuesday after the Purple Pound – which is the spending power of disabled people and their families. And did you know that this spending power is worth £274 billion, rising by 14% per year?

Despite this serious economic power, less than 10% of organisations have a targeted plan to access the disability market. Purple Tuesday was created in response, to encourage organisations to make public commitments to ensure sustainable changes are made to increase accessibility. The bonus for organisations is that it results in the opening up of products and services to the disability market.

Neatebox’s WelcoMe App

As part of Purple Tuesday, London Vision is highlighting Neatebox’s WelcoMe App – an app which is a game changer for businesses wanting to provide better and more inclusive services to their customers. The WelcoMe App combines a smartphone’s proximity awareness with an app that allows a visitor to interact with a service team prior to their arrival. Visitors can input their specific access needs into the app, and participating businesses will know how to assist visitors when they arrive. This also means that a visitor can interact with a service team prior to their arrival, and crucially, this interaction can be carried out automatically purely by the person approaching a building they want to visit.

Proximity-based tool

Invented in 2018 by Gavin Neate, CEO and founder of Neatebox, WelcoMe became the first staff training and awareness proximity-based tool in the world and has been gathering both users and venues since its launch. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has increased the need for WelcoMe even more. Many disabled and vulnerable people have become more anxious to leave home because of the pandemic and are nervous about being able to properly observe social distance rules in the venues they wish to visit. The WelcoMe App can alleviate some of this stress. By using the app, you can be certain that the venue will know you are coming and that you will be provided with the support you need.

User feedback

For example, users so far have been blown away with the service, with feedback like:

“I used WelcoMe having a mobility impairment and was met at the door by Judith who even had a fold out chair ready for me in case I needed it”.

And: “I had booked my visit to the bank with WelcoMe and it was confirmed before 9am. As usual I received fantastic service and four members of staff actually spoke to me this time. 10/10 for RBS Haddington”.

The idea for WelcoMe App

Neatebox’s founder, Gavin Neate, says the initial idea for WelcoMe came to him in 1996 when he joined Guide Dogs UK. Gavin worked as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor (GDMI) for 18 years, and during that time he became increasingly aware of the value that technology was bringing to his clients’ lives, to the extent that by 2006 he was including Tech Talks in every single one of his classes. As a GDMI Gavin’s job was to circumnavigate problems but increasingly he saw a way in which he could use technology to help his clients in their day-to-day lives.

WelcoMe is a reflection of this. Gavin had noticed that staff, when called upon to interact with his clients, tended to miss out important pieces of information. This ranged from failing to introduce themselves, grabbing clients’ arms instead of asking about their guiding preferences, or even talking to guide dogs instead of their owners. On investigation Gavin realised that traditional staff training wasn’t providing employees with the pertinent information required to properly assist disabled people, and more often than not, training wasn’t provided at all.

Improving customer service for people with disabilities

Instead, the WelcoMe App addresses a very real need in improving customer services for all disabled people and is now available in limited venues in London. The secret to its roll out was explained by Gavin:

“For too long disabled people have had to wait and take what was given to them when and if it arrived. I wanted a business model that responded to our members. In the app we encourage people to take a more active role. We want them to tell us where they need us and to tell their local venues about the service. In this way we empower the users of our service to be in control of not only the level of service they receive in their favourite venues but to take an active role in suggesting new venues for the app”.

WelcoMe is available on both Android and Apple devices and can be found in the UK and Ireland under the name “Welcome by Neatebox”. Gavin is also keen to hear from people so please write to at hello@neatebox.com

Braille and me

Braille: perhaps the most well-known thing associated with blind people. It is a curious fact that the overwhelming majority of blind people do not use it. Another fact worth mentioning is that it has remained unaltered pretty much since Louis Braille took an existing tactile reading system and refined it into the one that bears his name.

So why don’t more people use it? Perhaps they don’t want to which is of course their prerogative. People are often heard to dismiss braille as redundant and moribund, particularly in the light of the availability of alternative means of accessing text. Over time there have been many of these: the human reader, the audio cassette, the CD, MP3 files, print scanners, screen reading software and, most recently, smartphone apps. All of these function in an auditory way. Unquestionably, the majority of people prefer the auditory to the tactile. Arguably the auditory is easier than the tactile as the latter involves learning a system and practise to improve speed and fluency.

Braille today

One wonders how widespread opportunities are to be taught braille today. I would like to think that our education system still provides blind and partially sighted children with the chance to learn this skill. Even so, Louis Braille’s system is still with us and that says a lot for it.

I was asked recently for an example of how braille proved crucial to me. I once enrolled for a Spanish GCSE course at an adult college. The exam comprised four components, the oral paper which tests spoken Spanish, the composition which tests written Spanish, the aural which tests listening comprehension and finally the reading paper to test reading comprehension. My intention was to access the exam papers with the help of a screen reader on a laptop. The exam board agreed to this but with one fundamental caveat: the reading and comprehension paper would not be marked, meaning that I would not be awarded the full qualification but could instead receive what they called an endorsed qualification. Their reason for not marking the fourth paper was that by listening to an auditory version of the text, I would not be reading: in other words, they did not class listening to text as reading. The same would apply for listening to a human amanuensis reading the text to me. Meanwhile, they did regard braille as a form of reading. Naturally, I wanted the full qualification and not some quasi, caveated and therefore inferior version whereupon I changed my mind and opted for braille exam papers instead, despite my reservations about my reading speed.

On the day of the exam I ran out of time but thankfully not badly enough as I was more than satisfied with my grade A. I was also grateful for having learnt braille at school, but supposing I hadn’t? Suppose one of that majority of non-braille users had wanted to study for a language qualification? They would have had to accept one of a much lower status.

Braille and Right to Read

So, is it accurate to assert that, without braille, blind people are in fact non-readers? Is it something which should concern us? On one hand, who cares so long as you can access the content? The Right to Read campaign is about getting publishers to provide alternative formats for their books including auditory ones, so clearly, they class listening as a form of reading. To conclude, braille has many uses in everyday life, but many of them can be fulfilled by other means, however, without good old Louis Braille, I would not have any of my modern language qualifications.

Liam O’Carroll, 8 October 2020

Unsure about how to offer assistance to blind people? Here’s how!

As part of Blindness Awareness Month which runs for the whole of October, London Vision’s Liam O’Carroll and Jonathan Ward have put together some useful tips for assisting blind and partially sighted people (if they need it), without causing annoyance or offence.

The world at large

Try during small talk to discuss topics of general interest as you would with anyone else. Don’t assume blind people are desperate to discuss the subject of visual impairment: they may in fact be sick of having to answer questions like ‘have you always been blind?’ or ‘How did you lose your sight?’ and so on.

When a blind person approaches, please carry on with your conversation. If you go quiet at that moment, you will remove the very thing they were using to navigate around you so they will no longer know where you are. It will also make them self-conscious as it will seem to them as though they were the cause of the silence.

Work in hospitality or the service sector?

If you work behind a bar, counter or any customer help point, please do not keep quiet: how will the blind person know that you are ready to serve them?

Please let the blind customer know that you have brought over their drink, meal or whatever: please don’t just put it down without a word and go off.

If a blind person is paying for something, please don’t give their change to any sighted companion who may be present: please give change to the person who owns it.

If you really want to take the accessibility of your venue to the next level, think about making use of WelcoMe by Neatebox – find out more here. 

Final thoughts on offering assistance

Remember everyone with sight loss has different needs and these may vary in different situations:

  • Be open and friendly and don’t be shy about asking what help people with sight loss need
  • Don’t forget to identify yourself as a member of staff or introduce yourself
  • Say when you are leaving the room and reintroduce yourself on your return
  • Don’t point or say it’s over there
  • Don’t worry about saying “did you see” or “see you later”
  • If a person with sight loss regularly uses your service let them know if anything has changed since their last visit
  • Support people to take part by telling them it’s their turn remember a person with sight loss won’t necessarily see body language or other social cues.
  • Ensure your websites and information are easily accessible and contain information about accessibility both of your service and local transport
  • Make sure your signage is large and clear and your facility makes the best use of colour contrast, lighting, and tactile indicators
  • Keep your facility clear and free from tripping hazards
  • Allow people with sight loss the time and space to be independent
  • Consider facilities for guide dogs such as water bowls and spending areas

We hope you’ve found these tips and suggestions useful! A polite offer of help can sometimes really help alleviate the stress of crossing a road, or enable someone to make a choice in a shop or a café. Please do remember that blind and partially sighted people don’t always need your help – don’t be offended if your offer of assistance isn’t taken up!

Want to know more about sight loss? Visit our Managing Sight Loss pages. 

Check out this blog for tips on guiding, including guiding in a pandemic!

Tips for travelling abroad when you’re visually impaired

We all love going on holiday, but unexpected issues can arise that can test your patience and you’ll soon feel like you wish you had never left your house! Here are 5 tips that can help you have a smooth and trouble-free holiday when travelling abroad:

Tip 1. Go on holiday with a reliable travel provider

Do your research about travel providers catering to visually impaired people. Seable organises accessible holidays for solos, couples, families, group of friends and charities. There is also TravelEyes who offer the opportunity to travel with other VI people and sighted guides.

Tip 2. Book special assistance in advance

Always inform your hotel and transport provider if you require special assistance in advance as this removes the hassle of having to request on the spot. If you’re travelling with a guide dog, specific guidelines can be found here. You’ll also need to check your hotel’s policy on guide dogs to ensure you and your guide dog are not denied entry.

Tip 3. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from locals

If you’re in a country where you can’t speak the language fluently, don’t feel worried to ask someone for assistance. It’s more likely they will offer you help than refuse. If you find yourself lost, there’s even more reason to ask others for help.

Tip 4. Use tactile labels on your luggage

Using raised stick-on labels will make life so much easier when you’re trying to identify your luggage. If you have some sight, tie a coloured ribbon around your luggage. If you’re a braille reader, invest in some braille labels with your name and hotel address on it.

Tip 5. Research attractions and venues that are accessible to people with visual impairments

Lots of attractions around the world offer free entry for visually impaired people like the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Also, the TripAdvisor website is a great resource for reviews about travel providers, destinations and places of interests. You can check if your dream destination has VI-friendly attractions before booking your holiday.

Lastly, if you’re worried about travelling abroad solo, here are some extra travel bits you should know:

  • Use a backpack instead of a suitcase. This will allow you to travel hands-free, and, if needed, use a cane or your guide dog.
  • Carry spare change – not all places accept card payment.
  • Label your medication so it can be identified easily.
  • If you don’t use a cane or a guide dog, then carry a medical letter from your GP or doctor containing details of your visual impairment and the type of assistance you’ll need.
  • If you’re a white cane user, make sure to pack a spare cane just in case your first cane breaks or goes missing.

Written by Raymond Calamaan

Want more tips for living with sight loss? Visit the Managing Sight Loss resource page!

Renu Walia – London Vision virtual intern

Hi, I am Renu and in March 2021 I joined London Vision as its very first Virtual Intern on a three-month placement. I am registered severely sight (SSI) impaired with a rare genetic eye condition called Achromatopsia. My condition basically means that I am ‘day blind’. No matter what the weather or lighting condition is, I will struggle to see during the daytime. I need to wear a pair of dark sunglasses to navigate outdoors during the day, and in some cases indoors where lighting is bright.

I have been partially sighted since birth and was registered SSI in May 2018. Having had a visual impairment since birth I have had to really work hard to become a confident and independent individual with a visual impairment. Through my journey of life, I have learnt to remain positive, optimistic and a strong individual,  and I have embraced many changes and challenges in my life.

New community

Up until recently I had not met many blind and partially sighted people, and had always felt somewhat isolated from this community, but I carried on with life with a smile. About 2 years ago I was introduced to the sight loss sector after visiting an event and in turn many more blind and partially sighted people. I now feel a part of a wider sight loss family I never knew I had!

I was also introduced to lots of useful assistive technology that I never knew existed. I took it as a challenge to learn and use new assistive technology for my personal development. Now, I use large icons and magnification on my phone, and my laptop or PCs I need to have high contrast and use voice over features on each device.

Embracing the white cane

I have newly embraced the white cane which I had never used in my earlier life. This was because there were cultural sensitivities around such tools, leading to me feeling embarrassed and vulnerable about using it. However, I now hold my cane with pride; I am proud of my visual impairment, it has taught me so much through my life and is one of the reasons I am a strong, positive, and optimistic person.

In fact, as a visually impaired individual, I often find myself supporting sighted people more than fellow vision impaired people. For example, I am frequently asked for directions (despite holding my white cane!) and I happily assist with a proud smile. These days, if anyone asked me if I wished to be fully sighted, my immediate response would be no. I can honestly say now I feel excited about achieving a lot more in life and I will continue to grow higher and higher. The sky is not the limit for me it is a goal for me to go above and beyond.

Work experiences

I have been working ever since I was 17 and my first job was working for Pizza Hut. I worked there for six years and I had my challenges but still thrived by remaining positive and strong. Since then, I have been working in administration for 15 years and with some reasonable adjustments, support and courage I have managed to achieve many skills and qualities that I thought I would never be able gain as a visually impaired person. However, in my professional life to this point I could feel something was missing until I came across the Virtual Intern role with London Vision.

 

The Virtual Intern role has given me a  chance to explore my passion for the sight loss sector and the opportunity to carry out tasks that positively impact blind and partially sighted people. Since being a Virtual Intern for London Vision, I feel I have achieved so much in such a short space time. The London Vision team is a pleasant team to work for and again I feel like part of a truly passionate team striving to make a difference.

My motto in life is: keep thriving, keep learning and best of all keep curious.

Renu Walia, April 2021

Renu’s internship is part of the Thomas Pocklington Trust internship programme

London Vision CEO moving to new role

After four years as CEO of London Vision, Cathy Low will be moving to our funding partner, Thomas Pocklington Trust, to take up the role of Director of Collaboration from 1 May.  Nicola Parks, currently Head of Strategy and Operations, will become the lead for London Vision.

Cathy was instrumental in the formation of the charity which was formally registered in 2019. She said: “It has been a real pleasure to see London Vision go from strength to strength. I will still have close contact with London Vision as part of my new role with TPT and know the charity will be in safe hands with Nicola. She will, however, be taking maternity leave in the summer so we are advertising an interim to cover this leave.”

For more information on the London Vision Chief Officer maternity cover role and to apply, visit this page.

Bhavini Makwana to represent London Vision on Tier safety board

London Vision will be represented on the new UK and Ireland safety board launched by Europe’s largest e-scooter operator Tier. The board will aim to raise the bar on safety standards across the sector. It is comprised of senior independent experts in road safety, Covid risk, accessibility and visual impairment, with leading figures representing Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, UCL Centre for Transport Studies, Transport for All, and London and national sight loss charities.

London Vision is represented on the board by Bhavini Makwana, Engagement Manager for London Vision. Bhavini said: “London Vision is pleased to be a member of the Safety Board to work to improve safety standards on behalf of blind and partially sighted people”.

Read the full article here.

Challenges of celebrating Diwali in lockdown

Diwali is on the 14th November this year and celebrations usually start a few days prior. We decorate the house with colourful rangoli patterns (a colourful design using coloured rice powder), lighting divas (oil lamps), and making delicious Indian snacks and sweets. We dress up in bright traditional outfits, some of which are brand new or received as gifts and prepare for a big family get together.

We also perform rituals/pujas, visit the temple and our elders to pay our respects and seek blessings. This is followed by visiting more family and friends and in the evening reuniting with the whole family at one household for a fireworks display and to enjoy eating Diwali food.

Diwali in lockdown

However, as you can imagine, things are a going to be a bit different this year. The majority of normal plans have been put on hold, and many families instead will switch to Zoom celebrations. Temples have put together programmes, such as a virtual Diwali on the Square, and community groups are also hosting a variety of events and shows to celebrate over video conferencing platforms. Some celebrations have already taken place, with dancing, singing, activities and sharing stories of Diwali for children – with much more to come this weekend.

I am joining a family Zoom call, but everything is so visually orientated on video conferencing platforms I find it difficult to stay engaged. Unfortunately, most planned events are not audio described and I find that my interest levels quickly diminish, especially if I have been on MS Teams of Zoom for work at work during the day as well. As a result, I am not feeling the usual excitement for Diwali this year, though I am trying to get into the spirit of things!

Snacks and decorating

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the switch to online Diwali celebrations, I will still indulge in some of my usual rituals. I will certainly set some time aside to make my favourite Diwali Indian snack – chaklis – which are made from rice flour, yoghurt and spices. Using a specific machine to release the dough into spiral shapes, which are then fried: the crunchy snack is delicious. I will also light up my house with bright colourful divas. I now use the extra-long matches which means I can light up the candles and divas myself. I use one hand to hold the wick and the other hand to light it so that I can do this independently.

Rangolis

My children and husband have taken over decorating rangoli patterns as this is something I am no longer able to do. I do love the templates you can buy but I must admit I have not been out to even get any colours this year. I previously loved designing my own patterns and decorating them. When I was younger, and before my symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosa developed, I entered competitions via my community and Gujarati classes and for several years I came second each time amongst over fifty participants. The colours can be made from dry or wet powdered rice, dry flour or powdered quartz. There are so many talented artists who create such beautiful designs.

In spite of 2020’s challenges, people will be celebrating the best way they are able, and I would like to wish all those celebrating a very Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year. In the Hindu calendar, the start of the New Year follows Diwali, and we will be entering the Year 2077.

May it be full of good health, an abundance of joy, wealth and positivity. May the light guide you in the right direction always.

Bhavini Makwana, Engagement Manager for London Vision

woman with a dog