Friday, 4 November 2011

Sight Village, Kensington Town Hall, 1st and 2nd November ,2011

Update: 18/1/2012

Queen Alexandra College has announced the dates for Sight Village events during 2012.    I attended Sight Village 2011 at Kensington Town Hall in London and recommend this exhibition as useful for the visually impaired.  The exhibition is geared for the visually impaired market and it is important that the visually impaired themselves express their opinions directly to providers of services, whether through charitable organisations, businesses or government agencies.  There is always a danger that views expressed through third parties may miss out a vital link in communication. 

I have made some comments regarding some lack of blindness awareness by some of the exhibitors at the exhibition and trust that these ideas were at least taken on board and acted upon.  The more visually impaired people attend these forums themselves independently, the more relevant these will become. 

Edinburgh and Glasgow

The Sight Village Roadshow events in Scotland will take place in Edinburgh (Grosvenor) Hilton on April 24th and the Glasgow Marriott on April 25th. We look forward to welcoming visitors from throughout Scotland. (booking for exhibitors is now open)

Sight Village Birmingham

Our flagship event returns to the New Bingley Hall in Birmingham on 17th and 18th July 2012. It remains the largest exhibition of its kind in the UK. Plans include a number of Keynote speakers reflecting the issues of current importance to people who are blind or partially sighted. Sight Village Birmingham will aim to be of interest to people of all ages with features aimed at children and young people. The range of technology and services on display will enable visitors unparalled access to compare and experience the best of what is new and exciting and the range of support and services available. (booking for exhibitors is now open)

Visiting Birmingham - Need information?

If you are joining us for Sight Village in July and need some information or advice about the UK's second city, let us know. You can contact the Sight Village team by email and we will do our best to help.

Sight Village London Roadshow 2012

The London Sight Village Roadshow returns to Kensington Town Hall on November 6th and 7th 2012. Increasingly, people are choosing to visit both the Birmingham and London events, combining a shopping break in Birmingham and a London visit with attending Sight Village. Whatever you do either side of the show we know that you will find plenty of interest from our exhibitors.

(The above was taken from an email newsletter sent out by Queen Alexandra College.)

** end of update

I had included Sight Village on a previous post and was reminded of the event while at the RNIB shop last week.  I was further reminded of it with a tweet, so I decided to go and checked the website, got the instructions and tweeted my plans and set off. 

I knew that something was up when the Circle Line stopped at Royal Oak.  The announcement at Baker Street had said 'Circle Line to Hammersmith', but it failed to register with me which Hammersmith underground station.  I had to double-back and arrived at High Street Kensington and with a piece of information missing, took a wrong turning and got lost.  One retail outlet (footwear) was unhelpful if not downright rude.  However, a branch of Ryman’s couldn’t have been more obliging and said I ought to continue along to a McDonald’s at the corner, turn right and Kensington Town Hall was further up the road on the left (look out for scaffolding on the pavement). 

I got to the Sight Village exhibition later than I had intended and checked in.  I commented that my own tweet had a missing piece of information and it might have been an idea to have some alert at High Street Kensington or instructions should a visually impaired person arrive.  The check-in and registration people pinned my badge on, which is a nice gesture as it is too easy to wander around with a badge the wrong way round.  I was also asked if I wanted to see something specific and was taken there. 

I had a long day there on my own and only got round about 40% of the exhibition, which was in three rooms, one of which was downstairs.  This is not obvious on arrival. I went back the next day with a sighted friend in order to check out some of the items I had both tried out and some which I had obviously missed. 

I’ve been used to exhibitions and conferences most of my professional life and this was the first exhibition primarily aimed at the visually impaired market.  One could be cynical and say that visually impaired / stroke industry, as there were quite a few organisations busy networking and doing business, which is the primary purpose of an exhibition.  The charities were out in force, as were technology suppliers, user groups, interest groups, the Metropolitan Police, the DWP; outlets related to travel and communications, colleges, audio and audio description enablers plus digital switchover groups. 

Speaking as someone who has been both in front and behind an exhibition stand, I can honestly say that it is very hard work for both parties.  Many companies use exhibitions as a so-called treat with expenses paid for some of the staff but sadly some of the exhibition staff had poor awareness training in the needs of visually impaired people.  For example, I hadn’t a clue what a given exhibitor stand was about.  I didn’t know in some cases if there was anyone there, but in a few cases I was aware that in an otherwise empty and silent stand a pair of hands was realigning obsessively leaflets into neat piles.  I still don’t know what they were exhibiting.  The attitude of some exhibitors was different when I was accompanied and on a few occasions I was treated as an onlooker rather than being the sales target.  First rule of marketing: find the MAN.  This is not sexist, it stands for Money, Authority and Need.  Sales and marketing people ought to learn this first rule.  That said, I found the exhibition really interesting and apart from a few examples outlined above, got a lot out of it in terms of how technology is developing and how those with visual impairments can increase their participation in society without being marooned in “disability korner”. 

I found several inspiring people and as I have no requirement yet for a guide dog and can’t do Braille, I would like to mention Neil MacDuff from Blazie and Dee Beach from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.  I learnt more from these two inspiring people in a few minutes than many so-called experts in social care/counselling.  It would be invidious to point out other people as anyone reading my twitter feed and blog posts would know that I have an interest in getting tactile maps and plans made more available; and an interest in audio description and its strengths and weaknesses, speech to text and text to speech technology.

I thought I would have had no interest in magnifiers but I came across several examples using CCTV where I could make out my name on the screen for the first time in 10 years!  This was more of a shock to the friend I was with as I had virtually given up on being able to read again from the printed page.  My eyes did hurt at the end of trying out several different approaches so I’m not sure if I’ll go down this way.  Still, the technology seems to have improved a lot in the 10 years since I lost my sight.  One hilarious event was when my name was picked up from the screen into a screen reader and predictably stuck an extra consonant in.  I’ve had this problem so Professor Whitestick became Professor Whitenstick for a brief moment.  This technology would be quite useful in skip reading applications and a normal flick through an item with residual vision and getting the screen reader to do the next.  Doing a search command is all very well, but keywords have to be known in advance so that the opportunity for something ‘catching your eye’ is lost.   

I was pleased to note that on the second day of attending Sight Village, Ray from QAC was at the station doing a great job of greeting and meeting.  My friend noticed quite a few independent cane users and visually impaired people with guide dogs, so it was encouraging to note that it is possible to do this exhibition on one’s own. 

Tip for attending exhibitions:
If you don’t have electronic ways of keeping your information and contacts, it’s a good idea to ask for a business card and get the person to date it with your recollection in a few words of what you discussed.  You can gather the cards and either keep them for scanning and getting your comments recorded by a third party, so that you have reference at least to the person who told you about the product. 

Tip for exhibitors: 
If someone is staring at your exhibition stand and has a dog or a white stick, they may not see you and you will have to both greet and welcome them to your company.  If you hear someone say, “Is there anyone behind this stand?”, you may have failed your disability awareness training.


This is a comment that I made in response to a Guardian article on disability issues, which as it says in the title, is more than just building wheelchair ramps:

I agree with much of the sentiment of Matthew Harper. As a blind person, I frequently have to use my hands to eat, am messy at a table and of course cannot read a menu. I don't consider being given a menu at a restaurant as being made to feel inclusive, when it ought to be clear that some alternative should be offered, or the menu read to me. The use of the word 'apartheid' is one which I have hesitated to use in disability circles, but I think the time may be right to use this word in terms of the 'disability korner' mentality, where 'we' tend to be grouped.

Recently, I was at an exhibition geared towards the visually impaired 'market'. At several stands I stood and had to ask: "Is there anyone there?" It wasn't a seance. These are so-called disability professionals. If a blind person has to ask at a reception desk, at a till or at a help point if there is anyone there, then someone has just failed their disability awareness qualification.

Being visually impaired means I can't judge the non-verbal communication of others who witness my appearance or even behaviour. The old maxim of "Does he take sugar?" still applies; it's something we get used to, but it always grates and it often hurts and seldom makes one smile.