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Blindness for Beginners

Peter White is joined by Chris and Mike McMillan to answer listeners' questions about being newly blind, from living alone to identifying coins and making a cup of tea.

Chris & Mike McMillan join Peter White to answer listeners' questions on being newly blind or partially-sighted.
Listener Richard asked for advice on dealing with visual impairment when you live alone. Chris and Mike advised him to speak to the RNIB helpline and his local voluntary society for VI people.
Listener Doreen wanted advice on how to make a cup of tea safely and measure food in the kitchen. Chris advised using an electronic liquid level indicator (available from the RNIB and others) to measure liquids. The RNIB and other suppliers of aids for VI people also make talking measuring jugs and scales. Chris and Mike also advise using colour contrast and bright, uniform lighting to help with cooking.
Listener Beryl asked about how to identify coins if you are unable to feel the thickness of the individual coins. Mike advised a coin sorter (which used to be available from the RNIB) to separate change. Chris advised a segmented purse, or sorting change before you leave the house into easily identifiable sets. Both Chris and Mike use contactless payments on their phones and cards which they find easier than carrying change.
Producer: Cheryl Gabriel
Presenter: Peter White.

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20 minutes

Transcript

THIS 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 – Blindness for Beginners

 

TX:  06.03.2018  2040-2100

 

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

 

PRODUCER:            CHERYL GABRIEL

 

White

Tonight, we’re offering a crash course in some of the things it may help to know if you’re in the process of losing your sight or you’ve done so relatively recently.  Now we know only too well that this can’t be exhaustive, there is so much to know, so we’ve made a deliberate decision to concentrate on practical problems and their solutions.  Just under 20 minutes of solid no-nonsense suggestions is what we’re aiming at.

 

I’ve been joined by married couple Mike and Chris McMillan, who’ve spent a lifetime, much of it together, finding alternatives ways of doing things which allow for the fact that you’ve got poor sight or no sight.  Just quickly, both of you, what would you say to people who just feel as if everything they try to do now – in the kitchen, trying to get information, venturing out on your own if you’ve got the confidence still to do that – is a struggle, is there a way of thinking about things which can make that feel a bit better?

 

Mike McMillan

When you’re newly blind or maybe losing your sight it’ll seem to hit you.  Now taking it one aspect at a time, so you can tackle perhaps one difficulty, is probably far better than trying to do everything at once.  So, it maybe you want to work in the kitchen or you want to work in the garden or go out for walks.  Take one of those and work out how you’re going to do it.

 

White

Chris, if you were talking to people about this what would you say?

 

Chris McMillan

I would suggest either contacting the RNIB’s helpline, if you don’t know anything else, people know a national organisation.  And asking them for contact for your local voluntary organisation for visually impaired people.

 

White

Yes, because perhaps they don’t get as much publicity and the fact is they are on your doorstep, they vary in quality but I guess that is a good place to go and they are nearby.

 

Chris McMillan

Yes.

 

White

We’ve been very much guided by In Touch listeners’ questions with what we’re going to deal with and this first one goes to the heart perhaps of where you get information from.  It comes from Richard Tomlinson from Stoke-on-Trent.

 

Tomlinson

I have something called Choroideremia, which basically is a genetic disorder that affects mainly males.  I am 54 and most people who have it are fully blind by the time they’re 60.  I live on my own and I manage alright at the moment but I realise that in the future this may not be the case.  And I just want to know what I can expect in terms of what help’s out there, social services or even local blind organisations and what will be available to me in the future.  I’ve heard more than once that the best aid to a visually impaired person is their partner and a lot of people do seem to have partners and they manage very well but without their support or somebody close to you how do you get by?

 

White

So, in a nutshell, where does Richard go for help initially because people are hearing so much about cuts, that in itself must be a bit frightening.  Mike?

 

Mike McMillan

Get registered, you’re not registered at the moment are you Richard, so get that underway, even if it takes a little while you’re prepared and ready for it when it happens then.  As things get worse, which they inevitably will by the sound of things, you are more accustomed to what’s available to you and what isn’t.  You’ll get to know the people who can help and it may be there’s a volunteer in your area who you can get to know or several volunteers.

 

White

But some people are worried about getting registered, they feel it’s a very final step don’t they, that somehow the door’s shut.

 

Chris McMillan

It’s a passport to many other things which you can’t access unless you are registered.  Then in order to take the baby steps and the length of time it takes for some of those baby steps to be achieved having that piece of paper is a comfort.  And particularly if you’re in work, that’s probably the big thing, if you’re in work or are on benefits getting more benefits will only happen if you’re registered and particularly the way benefits are dispensed these days.  So, it’s better in Richard’s case, because he knows it’s coming, to be well prepared.  I wasn’t a guide or a scout but yes be prepared.

 

White

And what are you entitled to from social services because people will be told – go to social services, there is help available – but what actually can you expect to get?

 

Chris McMillan

They come to your home and they have a look at your house and they’re the ones that can advise you on how to make your home accessible, safe and show you some of the equipment that is easily available but you haven’t been able to find because you don’t know what to find.

 

White

But we do keep hearing how stretched they are, don’t we, we hear sometimes how often it takes – how long it takes to get a visit and in a way I suppose what I’m saying is what are your rights, what can you actually think I’ve got a right to this and I can make a fuss if I don’t get it?

 

Chris McMillan

I think if it comes from a voluntary organisation for the blind it happens much quicker than the social services.

 

White

Right, do you have to approach them or will they approach you?

 

Chris McMillan

You can approach them or a GP can do it or a friend or relative or the hospital but it’s probably better if you do it yourself because you know what you’re doing, you can ask the questions that you don’t know you need to ask almost.

 

White

I mean, as I understand it, you do have the right to an assessment of your…

 

Chris McMillan

Yes.

 

White

…and what does that mean exactly and what will they be assessing?

 

Chris McMillan

If they come to the house they will be looking around and advising you on what is available to make life easier for you and obviously some of these things are available from within the community, they’re not dedicated things for a visual impairment.  And I hope one or two of the things that we’ll be showing this evening will bring that aspect out.

 

White

You see Richard says he doesn’t need help at the moment.  What would you say to that?

 

Chris McMillan

I would say that there are things that you don’t know you don’t know until you realise you haven’t got it.  So, things like cooking – you suddenly realise I haven’t seen something or I’ve made a mess there – Oh I didn’t see that, I wonder what I can use to make things better.  So, that would be things like colour contrast in my world. 

 

White

Right, we’ll come on to colour contrast, as well.  I mean we’ve also heard from Doreen Smith.  Now Doreen has lost some sight, she’s 91 but she still lives alone in North London and she rather goes to the heart of one of the most basic things that you would want to be able to continue doing for yourself.

 

Smith

There are all sorts of things in the kitchen that I can’t manage, I’m sure there are very simple solutions for them but I haven’t been taught them so I don’t know.  For instance, when I fill a cup of tea, when I come to boil the kettle, the water into the tea I’m forever scalding my hand because I go over the top or I don’t pour enough – I can’t judge the top of the tea – the cup – and I find that with all pouring now.  And I don’t know how to measure things.

 

White

Let’s start with you Chris, I mean what would you recommend?

 

Chris McMillan

I would recommend a simple little device called the liquid level indicator, which Mike’s going to describe for us.

 

Mike McMillan

If you can imagine a drum shape, half the width of your hand, I won’t put it in centimetres or inches, and it’s got two legs, now those legs dangle into the cup and the weight of the unit itself that’s going to make the noise, sits over the edges and is secure.  As you fill it, it’ll start to make a noise and you can – there’s two different lengths of leg on the ones I’ve seen, so you have an indication of how the full the cup is.  This saves you scalding your fingers and I know people who’ve got calluses from not using something like the liquid level indicator.  So, it’s a good idea to use one of those.

 

White

I mean but it seems a very cumbersome thing when you’ve been used to just picking up a kettle and pouring it into the cup.

 

Mike McMillan

Yes, but which is easier to be scalded or to have a thing that goes beep?

 

White

I mean I know quite a lot of people who – including totally blind people, I do it myself – who do one of two things.  They either – because you can of course sense the heat as it gets near the top and they really do dangle their fingers near the top of the cup.  But there are also people who use the sort of timing method and also the sound that it makes.  Is that something you’d recommend to someone who still had some sight, like Doreen has?

 

Mike McMillan

I think I could get away with using the sound as it changes.

 

Chris McMillan

I certainly wouldn’t, definitely not, no, I don’t use my ears sufficiently well.

 

White

Right, so really you would say equipment is the right way to…

 

Mike McMillan

I think so.

 

White

…someone to do it.

 

Chris McMillan

Yes, and the other thing of course is, as we’ve all been taught to do for a long time, is to fill the kettle to the minimum amount.  So, you could be filling it with cold water and using a finger there safely and then using your liquid level indicator to make sure that you’re pouring it in safely from the kettle.  So, you’ve boiled your minimum amount and saved your electricity at the same time.

 

Mike McMillan

If that cup is sufficient to cover the element in the kettle then what you pour in is what you’ll need to pour out and you’d be right.

 

White

And of course, pouring is vital in all sorts of elements of cooking as well.  So, are there – there’s quite a lot of gadgetry around, aren’t there, including sort of measuring jugs and things like that?

 

Chris McMillan
Yes, there’s a talking measuring jug which I haven’t actually seen, just in catalogues, so that was one thing that I quite liked the look of.  And I loved the idea that we now have a no boil jug that you use in the microwave, so much better than the old milk saver, which I never really felt confident with…

 

White

Just remind people about the milk saver.

 

Chris McMillan

The milk saver was a little round disc, either of metal or glass, and you put in the bottom of your saucepan, put your liquid in and it rattled away very loudly.  Which was fine but you had to use a slotted spoon to get it out again and I never felt very safe doing that.  So, finding that a well-known cookery department store, which has been around by catalogue for many years, produces a range of equipment which is all in red and one of these is a no boil jug sounds absolutely ideal.

 

White

And we will have information both on our website and we’ll be telling you how to get some of this equipment that you’re going to be talking about.

 

There are environmental things you can do in your kitchen, aren’t there, to make things easier and to maximise the amount of sight that you’ve got left.

 

Mike McMillan

Yes, and in our own instance we were in the fortunate position of having our whole kitchen refitted some years ago and we decided we were going to do it the way we want it.  We couldn’t do much about the height of working units because that’s pretty much an EU regulation almost but we were able to have good lighting overhead in the form of fluorescent tubes, under cupboard lighting and I exchanged the lamps, which were in the cooker hood, for LED lights.  Now it means when we’ve got those on I’ve got very even light throughout the whole of the kitchen.  So, there’s no deep shadows anywhere.  It also gives me the chance to see the colour of things that I’m cooking, whether they’re the brownness I want and when I’m cutting or sorting anything out, cleaning – I’ve got a good light to see exactly what I’m doing.

 

White

And what about in terms of actually where things are, how near a window it is, that use of natural light?

 

Mike McMillan

Yes, I make much use of the natural light during the day because our sink, like in many houses, is positioned with the window directly behind it.

 

White

And I guess the other point where colour actually comes in is the actual implements themselves – your cups, your plates, your bowls – that sort of thing.

 

Mike McMillan

Yes, I was in Moorfields Eye Hospital some years ago for an operation and on recovery I was just given a help to the dining room, sat down, it was a white tray, with a white plate with white fish in white sauce with mashed potato.

 

White

So, a lot of people don’t get this point really about colours and light and making use of it.

 

Mike McMillan

Indeed.  We tend to use our favourite which is the willow pattern plates, well that’s blue and white with a form of a pattern, we don’t try and scrap the pattern off so we’re alright.  But the tablecloth is a different colour and our tableware tends to be different colours again.  And utensils are stainless steel.  So, most times, whatever’s on the table is easily distinguishable.  Doesn’t stop you slopping things though but I can see what I’m doing.

 

White

And Chris, we’ve been putting this in terms of the kitchen but presumably this is something that applies to all sorts of things that you’re trying to do in your own home to make them easier?

 

Chris McMillan

Yes, and I’m particularly pleased that the trend today is to have bright colours for cooking utensils.  And although they tend to change and you can’t always get matching for everything I’m particularly keen on the bright green, rather than the red but I’m having to get used to red or white because that seems to be what works.

 

White

And I guess this does vary from person to person…

 

Chris McMillan

Yes it does.

 

White

…perhaps with the kind of eye condition they’ve got.

 

Chris McMillan

Yeah it would do.

 

White

So, it’s something you need to do with trial and error.

 

Chris McMillan

I think because we’ve always done it because when we first got married it was stainless steel or nothing and there weren’t many utensils that you needed, whereas now everything you buy you’re looking to see that it’s a bright colour and it plays into your hands quite often.

 

White

And just before we leave the kitchen, I mean thinking about gadgets, any other sort of favourite – I mean there’s hardly anything that doesn’t talk these days is there?

 

Mike McMillan

That’s right, I mean I’ve got a timer here, if I just very briefly demonstrate, it’s set to speak…

 

Timer

One hour, two hours.

 

Mike McMillan

And so forth.  So, as you put in minutes and seconds and when that counts down it then has a hen clucking at the end, so you can set it to any time you require.

 

White

We’ve been talking so far almost exclusively about things in the home but people will still want to get out and about, of course, either alone or with help.  This certainly goes for Beryl Prince on the Isle of Man.  One thing in particular has been causing her a problem.

 

Prince

I find difficulty in sorting out coinage.  I have, apart from being partially sighted, I have rheumatoid arthritis and I also have nerve damage in both hands which means that the majority of people who can feel the edge of coins and can differentiate I can’t.  I really have a problem differentiating between the 10p piece and the new pound coin.  The old pound coin was thicker and you could feel that, you could feel the thickness of it and you knew what you were handling.  But the new one, one can’t.

 

White

If there was some kind of perhaps a dispenser or something that you could actually carry about with you and use in the shop would that help so that you could put separate coins in separate compartments?

 

Prince

I wouldn’t want to use it in a shop.  If I could use it at home, yes, it would be invaluable.

 

White

So that’s Beryl.  Whatever happened to coin dispensers, where you could keep different denominations in little pockets, Mike?

 

Mike McMillan

I think we should campaign the RNIB to bring them back.  I’m holding a little black coin dispenser with slots or holes for five £1 coins.  They were made for the old £1 but they hold the £2s quite easily as well.  Now I don’t make a lot of use of them because I’m one of those who uses technology and I use a card which I can swipe or I use my phone.  But if you need to use cash this is one way of doing it.  I think we should campaign because unless there’s something like that, where you can prepare your coins in advance of going into town, you haven’t got the independence you want.  You don’t want to be standing there and scratching around, I know, so let’s get them to bring it back.

 

White

Chris, any other answers for Beryl?

 

Chris McMillan

The only option Beryl is to use a purse or a couple of purses probably with two or three zips in each and then you can sort your coins – one coin out.

 

White

So, you can have like your twos and your fives and your 10s in one.

 

Chris McMillan

Yeah or you could even just have twos and ones in one or ones and fives.  I find the fives are a pain in the whatsit.  They give me more trouble than anything because they’re difficult to see, never mind pick up.  I understand Beryl’s problem with her fingers because I too have very stiff fingers and I’m quite cack-handed, so dividing my coins up into a couple of purses is really my only solution to do it out and about.  Or to only carry a £1’s worth, which was a tip I heard on In Touch many years ago.

 

White

Well we save them up, yeah.  What about contactless cards?  I mean it sounds like a solution but people worry about security and so forth?

 

Mike McMillan

It is fairly secure.  Apparently using a phone is even more secure because of the encryption…

 

White

What a smartphone?

 

Mike McMillan

Yes, but if people aren’t in the position to have one or use one then a card is safe.  I find with a card the right amount is taken and you’ve got your receipt and it’s over and done with.  Because carrying cash is a darn nuisance.

 

White

Well we may get some reactions to that.  That really is all we’ve got time for.  We know there’s so much more we could say and it may well be you’re thinking at home – well that’s all very well but you haven’t answered the question I would have asked.  If that is the case, ask it and we may well repeat this exercise in the near future.

 

To put your question, you can call our actionline on 0800 044 044 for 24 hours after the programme.  You can email  intouch@bbc.co.uk and if you’re able to go online you can click on contact us on our website, that’s www.bbc.co.uk/intouch, from where you can also download tonight’s and many other editions of the programme.  Many, many thanks to Chris and Mike McMillan, who, I’m sure, we’ll be hearing from again.  And that’s up to you in a way if you ask the questions.

 

Mike McMillan

We look forward to it.

 

White

Thank you both very much.

 

Chris McMillan

Thank you Peter.

 

White

From me, Peter White, producer, Cheryl Gabriel and the team, goodbye.

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