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Young Blindness for Beginners

Comedian Tom Skelton, Blogger Joy Addo and BBC journalist Mani Djazmi join Peter White to offer tips and advice for young, visually impaired people on a range of subjects including looking good, eating out, and staying safe on a night out.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Cheryl Gabriel.

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20 minutes

In Touch Transcript - 17-10-2017

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

IN TOUCH – Young Blindness for Beginners

TX:  17.10.2017  2040-2100

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

PRODUCER:            CHERYL GABRIEL

White

Blindness for Beginners has been a regular slot for many years now on In Touch but we’ve always tended to interpret beginners as people who lose their sight in later life – they are in the majority after all – people who have to begin all over again.  But tonight, we’re going to concentrate on younger people.  After all when it comes to socialising – going out, joining in – that always feels like beginning for people in their teens, whether they’ve been blind from childhood or lost their sight a bit later on.  Believe it or not I was young once but people keep telling me it’s all very different now.  So I’ve drafted in some expert help from people who are still very active on the social scene and do actually remember those early days of trying to look cool when you’re scared to death.

So with me are blogger and mum Joy Addo, comedian and actor Tom Skelton and broadcaster and BBC colleague Mani Djazmi.

Now what might help us here is to find out first of all what you all regard as a good night out because we are going to kind of think in terms of nights out.  Joy?

Addo

For me I would say a good night out consists of lots of alcohol, a good outfit, some lip gloss and probably food.

 

White

And the kind of people you might spend it with?

 

Addo

I would say just my friends, my good friends, just people that like music.

 

White

Okay.  Tom?

 

Skelton

I suppose it starts in the pub and then at some point you have to make sure you get some food, at some point, and with friends and then maybe – maybe a little dance later on if there’s enough space, and I’m not going to bump into too many people.

 

White

Is there anyone here whose good night out doesn’t involve alcohol – Mani Djazmi?

 

Djazmi

Well I think what defines a good night out is the company that you’re with and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a venue that is a licensed premises.  I mean I’ve been to – I think you can go to the same venue with two different groups of people and it will feel vastly different according to how interesting and fun they are and what the chemistry is like between you.  So I think – I think company defines a good time more than where you are and what you’re doing.

 

White

What we’re going to take as a method for exploring this is perhaps though a typical night out and follow its progress.  But what I want to ask all of you really – were you ever fearful of going out, say early on when either, if you’d always been blind or from a very early age it was your first experience of it, or if it was something you were doing almost for the first time.  Mani, I’ll stay with you for the time being?

 

Djazmi

Absolutely, and in a way I still am sometimes but what I always worried about was whether I would have a good time and whether I would be able to contribute to the evening.  And I remember one time I was invited to a house party and I bottled it really, to use the modern vernacular, because I thought I don’t really know many people and who am I going to talk to, how am I going to start a conversation.  And in the end I didn’t go to this party, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do.

 

White

We’re going to talk about mingling a bit later but Joy, you come over as very confident but were there times when you thought – I can’t do this?

 

Addo

Yeah definitely and I would say I started losing my vision when I was about 14 and at that time, even socialising as a teenager, I found difficult.  I would say when I got to about 18 was when I started to be more confident with going out and doing more things.  And I would say I just kind of faked it till I made it really and you just have to be confident because it is difficult to interact with people in a place that sometimes could be busy or loud.

 

White

Was there anything that made you feel more confident, I mean did anything happen or was it just practise – making yourself do it?

 

Addo

What helped me was first of all hearing about other blind people that was going out and second of all, doing it myself.  So those things made me more confident.

 

White

Right.  Tom, you lost your sight a bit later on, around 20-21 I think, but what about getting back out there for you?

 

Skelton

Yeah that was definitely scary and difficult because I think having already done it and felt like you know how you go out and you have a good time to suddenly have to do it again but in a completely new context, that’s definitely scary and not knowing how I’d react to that.  But I suppose I always felt it was important to try and – well be as clear as possible about what is difficult and that’s much easier with your close friends than it is with strangers.

 

White

And what were the hardest bits?

 

Skelton

I suppose if you’re left on your own then suddenly you can’t go over and find someone, you’re not entirely sure what’s going on around you, finding your way to ask for a drink is always quite interesting if you’re not sure what’s there.  I think there was a lot of scary things to initially think about that actually if you are clear about them straightaway it’s not as scary perhaps.

 

White

Let’s do our chronology thing, which is to take a typical night out.  And I guess the first thing that happened is actually knowing what’s going on – who’s meeting who, where.

 

Joy, I’m rather assuming that now that would almost certainly involve social media?

 

Addo

Yeah for me definitely it does.  And there’s loads of things online, there’s loads of different club nights, there’s loads of different bars.  So a lot of the time I initiate stuff, I often invite friends over to my flat and have drinks there or I’ll just search things going on in my area – in London – and find something that I’m interested in and then get a group of friends together to go.

 

White

Mani you’re – I reckon you’re the oldest of these three and I’m not convinced – well I’m not sure how much you actually would use social media for that but that’s probably presumptuous of me.

 

Djazmi

No, no you’re quite right, I’m very flattered that you classify me in the younger category, you’ve clearly cryogenically frozen me in your memory.  No I don’t use social media for that, if I’m going on a night out with people then we text mainly or call.  But Joy makes an interesting point about going online and looking up places because now, far more than before, you can actually go online and see menus that places have – if you’re going out to eat.  I mean I still ask people to eat – not to eat for me – to read the menu for me.  But you can, if you want to, you can visit the website of wherever you’re going and see if they have a menu and just have an idea of what to expect when you’re going, which is quite useful.

 

White

Right, so you can do some planning.  I’m going to come back to food.  Did any of you ever have the sense of being left out maybe, not necessarily because people were ignoring you or discriminating against you but because it maybe didn’t occur to them that you might want to do it, you might not want to go to a noisy club?

 

Djazmi

Yeah I don’t go clubbing because it’s just – it’s a waste of time for me, it’s not an environment that I enjoy, that I can be a part of.  So I prefer pubs and bars.  But even in bars I mean there’s one scene that for some reason has always stayed in my memory.  I went out with some people and I always find myself being the person who’s kind of left out of the conversation because I don’t know – maybe it’s because people use eye-to-eye contact a lot when they’re talking, especially if there’s loud music and there’s a lot of people, and so on this occasion, this night out, I was kind of on the edge, completely on the edge, not cut adrift physically, geographically I was still with the group, but I found myself – I had kind of drifted out of range of the conversation.  And as I say I think that was probably because perhaps people – their body language is different, their body shape is different, they move into each other or they move away or whatever but when you’re totally blind you can’t see any of that, so you can’t respond to it.  Perhaps I wasn’t active enough in the conversation, perhaps I should have been a bit more sociable, maybe it was down to me but it happens less now.

 

White

Joy, Mani mentions eye contact, that may be a lot of messages are passed that way.

 

Addo

Yeah I mean I can’t see if people are giving me eye contact, I probably miss out on a lot of hot guys because of that but I would say it’s about kind of being – you have to be present and also it does depend on the people that you’re going with.  Definitely body language and eye contact is really hard but it’s something that I’ve learnt to kind of deal with and I just talk – all the time.

 

White

Tom, I’m quite interested in your case whether the differences between what happened before and what happened after.

 

Skelton

Well I think I definitely noticed early on that you make eye contact across a circle or with someone and that would be an indication to start a conversation.  It was initially confusing for some of my friends because I do do a good impression of giving eye contact.  But sometimes you’re just sort of staring across a room and you make eye contact, if it’s with strangers it can be confusing for people if you seem to be making eye contact then you’re not.

 

White

I’d like to look at – this is a slight side step – but the whole business of looking good on these occasions and may be choosing clothes and just wondering how you tend to do that – picking clothes, where you get advice.  Let me stay with you Tom, is that something now that you have to think more about?

 

Skelton

Probably, I tend to have a lot of same coloured – only black socks, only black socks – because then you can never get that wrong.  Tend to have black trousers, just because black goes with – with everything doesn’t it?  And then either the colours will be bright enough or clear enough that I’ll know what goes with what, although everything goes with black trousers.  Or I follow my mum’s or friends’ advices.

 

Djazmi

On the subject of getting ready, I’ve never been a fashionista, nowhere near a fashionista and I don’t know if that’s because I can’t see or if that’s just my personality.  What I’ve got actually – a few months ago I bought a gadget, I don’t have many gadgets that talk, but I did buy a colour detector.  And it’s really good, it’s brilliant, it helps me to obviously find out the colour of various clothes.

 

White

That is a start but it doesn’t actually tell you whether this really goes well with that does it?

 

Djazmi

No it doesn’t but the other strand to my pretty primitive strategy is if someone buys me clothes for Christmas or birthday or whatever if they get good reviews in the office I mark them down in my memory and if I’m going out on a date or something then I pick those out.

 

Addo

I often get advice from my sister or a friend that is sighted but also I think it’s all about having your own style in the first place, you do have to learn what suits you, what suits your shape, what colours go well.  But it’s all about educating yourself.  Yeah someone that you trust is always good to kind of lend a hand but then once you know the information you stick at it.

 

Skelton

A lot of my friends will often give me critique about my clothing and they’ll also – they’re often used to me presenting my front to them and then saying – Did I get food on me?  So the same ones who tell me if I’ve got food down my front will also tell me if my shirt doesn’t look very good with those black trousers.

 

White

Now I’m glad you mentioned food because that’s where I wanted to go next because this was my bête noire when I was young enough to worry about these things and that is food and I was really nervous to the point of feeling sick when I ate in restaurants early on.  I got really caught out once because someone had invited me out for lunch, I was still at school.  I managed to get myself committed to the sick bay with an imaginary illness in order to avoid it, then the next day they were so determined that they turned up again and I got dragged out.  It was pathological really and I didn’t analyse it at the time, as you often don’t when you’re young, but I guess it was because I was nervous about how I looked when I was eating and so forth, I just wondered if other people had ever felt the same?

 

Addo

Yeah definitely, I mean I’ll just start off by saying food means a lot to me, I’m a fatty, I love it.  And when I go out – it depends who you’re with and what kind of restaurant you’re going to but I would say to avoid spillage is maybe just get things like burgers, chips – things you can eat with your hands, that’s always good.  I mean if I was going on a date I wouldn’t order a steak with gravy because that is just guaranteed mess.  And also I think what we need to remember is that sighted people are really messy as well, like it’s not just us.  And they’re really clumsy, do you know what I mean, I’ve never knocked over a glass in a restaurant or anything like that and I’ve been with people that have all the time and I think at least I’ve got an excuse.

 

White

Let’s not forget the point of going out which is meeting people, talking to people, having a good time and we’re not always worrying about this and that.  But it’s how to make sure you have a good time I suppose.  I mean for a start it’s knowing who’s there.  I often feel this is harder sometimes for people with a bit of sight, Tom, I mean I just how you wonder how you deal with this.

 

Skelton

Yeah that can be…

 

White

You sort of half know who’s there don’t you.

 

Skelton

Yeah and then also sometimes you can have a strong suspicion of someone being someone and it turns out it’s someone just slightly similar looking from their outline.  But if it’s a big enough group I’ll probably try and say to the person next to me – Can you just tell me who’s sitting round the table?  But obviously people don’t always stay in the one place.

 

Addo

I think where we’re lucky as well is that we have to remember we have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people because people are more interested in us because we can’t see, do you know what I mean, and because we’re beautiful.  And – so even getting to the venue that you’re going to you could be speaking to the cab driver, if you’re going on the tube you can be speaking to the person that assists you and then when you get to the club or the bar or the pub the bouncer at the door might talk to you, take you to the bar.

 

White

What’s interesting about that is so many of us tend to get fed up with being talked to because we’re interesting as blind people, because we want to talk about something else, whereas you seem to be turning it into an absolute advantage.

 

Addo

Well the thing is I don’t just talk to them about being blind, I might answer a question if they have one, and then you move it on to more about you because you know we are blind but that doesn’t define us.

 

White

I guess some people may not go out because of genuine fear, I mean fear of safety.  Joy, I wonder, as a woman, what you feel about that and what you do about safety.

 

Addo

Yeah I would say that prevented me at first from going out and I always make sure I’m safe.  So first of all I make sure that I don’t carry too much, I don’t have a big massive handbag, just have your phone and your keys and things like that on your body, so that you can always get to it.  And I like to get cabs to places because that can always been tracked.  I do get assistance from the bar staff or from a bouncer because then they can help me into a cab, to make sure I’m going to the right car.  I just use the cab apps that I’m really comfortable with and as I say they can be traced and things like that.

 

White

We’re running short of time but I must ask you one thing because it’s all very well to talk about these fascinating people that you find, it is possible, as a blind person, to be talking to the most boring person in the pub and the question I want to ask you is how you deal with that because what a lot of sighted people would do is say – ooh I’ve just seen somebody – a friend over there, just excuse me a minute – and then you go and get lost in the room and it’s over.  But that’s not easy to do.  Tom.

 

Skelton

It’s always the toilet…

 

White

No, no they’ll want to come with you, they’ll want to help you.

 

Djazmi

Well the risk is when – coming out of the toilet and finding them waiting for you.

 

White

That’s true.

 

Skelton

Yeah I have had people desperate to take me to the toilet but I then have to insist that I know where it is, even if I don’t.

 

White

What do you do Joy or don’t you find anyone boring?

 

Addo

No I definitely find people that are boring but then I just say to them oh can we go and find other people to mingle with, to just say oh it’s been really nice talking to you, is Tom around anywhere?

 

Skelton

Hello.

 

White

What’s the one thing you all wish you’d known – the one bit of advice perhaps that you would pass on?

 

Addo

I think when I was younger the one thing I wish I would have known is that I can do it and when I say it I just mean everything.  Because when I was younger I didn’t, I felt like I was the only blind person in the world, that’s what I honestly felt like.  And now that I’m 23, I have a child and I’m just like – I’m out here, I’m living and there’s so many other blind people doing things as well that I would never have imagined.

 

Skelton

I think if you’re clear about what your needs are then it’ll just make you and the other people much more relaxed, so if you need someone to read the menu, if you need the barman to tell what you the drinks are, if you need someone to show you where the loo is – if you’re just clear about that from the beginning then it’ll make everything much more relaxed.

 

Djazmi

Play to your strengths.  I mean I went clubbing a couple of times at university, realised it was all a complete waste of time so I haven’t been since.  Don’t go to these events because you feel like you have to, because everyone else is going, let them go and then you’ll shine in whichever environment you’re most comfortable.  Just because you go somewhere and you can’t mix because it’s too loud or whatever that doesn’t mean that that’s going to be the case every time and that doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to offer because everyone has something to offer, you just have to learn.  And I learnt over time what that was and when you’ve figured that out then arrange events where you can shine and be the best that you are.

 

White

I wish I’d realised that people are actually pretty self-absorbed, they don’t actually care that much about you or notice you half as much as you think they do and I really wish I’d – I’ve learnt it now but it’s too late. 

 

And that is it guys.  Thank you all very much indeed.  And we just want more of that from people who are listening – your experiences, your disasters, your successes and particularly your successes.  The things you’d wish you’d known at the time and any advice you’d like to pass on.  And you don’t have to exclude yourself because you’re not 23, we’d like to hear from people who actually remember what it was like to be young as well.  And just before we go – Joy I think you’ve got a challenge.

 

Addo

Yeah I’ve got a challenge for people that are at home thinking I want to go out, I’m a bit nervous, we’ve all been there and I would just say please do it, just organise something – maybe it’s this weekend or next weekend – and just go out, have a nice time, enjoy yourself and just remember that there are other people out there doing it as well.  And then just let us know how it goes.

 

White

Yeah tell In Touch how it went.  Joy Addo, Tom Skelton, Mani Djazmi, thank you all very much indeed.  From me, Peter White, producer Cheryl Gabriel and the team, goodbye, have a good night out.

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