Life Hacks for Hospital and Travel

By Susan Thompson

In October’s edition of Blind Citizens News, I introduced a new feature I hope to bring to readers. With the help of Convention sessions past and future, various online resources and contributions from readers, I want to create a resource of “Life Hacks” for meeting some of the challenges we might face as people who are blind or vision impaired.

In my last article, I started the ball rolling by giving you my very own tip for peeling potatoes. In this edition, I am bringing a few of the great tips from workshops on both travel and being in hospital which were part of the recent BCA National Convention, held in Hobart.

Taking the Stress out of Travelling Alone

This workshop featured three seasoned travellers – Jaci Armstrong, Rikki Chaplin and Judy Small. They shared some of their strategies for getting the most out of a trip and practical ideas that make things run more smoothly and help avoid stress.

Three of their key tips were:

  1. Consider saving up just a bit more to enable you to afford some of the things that can make your trip smoother or more enjoyable. These include an annual subscription to airport lounges where you can receive better personal assistance, or arranging personal tour guides who can help you get that much more out of your visit.
  2. Packing is important! One panellist said she tries wherever possible to pack all she takes in one carry-on bag so she doesn’t need help finding luggage at airport baggage collection. Some other suggestions about packing included a power board to plug in all your devices in one place, downloading relevant information or apps in case you lose internet access, and packing using pack cells (nylon and mesh bags) to help you keep items sorted in your bag.
  3. Stay calm so anxiety doesn’t overpower your ability to problem-solve when things don’t go so smoothly. And keep a friendly attitude as generally people are very willing to help.

Surviving Hospital When You’re Blind or Vision Impaired

This workshop featured Martin Stewart, along with Susan Thompson and Helen Badge from the NSW Centre for Clinical Innovation, who are conducting a project to improve the in-hospital experience for people who are blind or vision impaired. We heard about personal experiences of hospital from Martin, and some practical ideas for both planned and unplanned trips to hospital. Then Helen and Susan Thompson outlined the project on improving the hospital experience, and some of the findings from interviews with people who are blind or vision impaired as part of the project.

Although there is still a lot of work to be done to improve hospital experiences for people who are blind or vision impaired overall, some ideas for making our stay easier included:

  1. Take advantage of pre-admission meetings when available and make sure there are good precise notes about you and your needs.
  • Develop your own hospital plan, containing no more than five points you would like or need in relation to your care when in hospital. One particular thing to consider is whether or not to have signage advising of your vision impairment for all staff to read and your preferred wording for this sign.
  • Consider utilising My Health Record to have this plan stored and available to health professionals whenever you are in hospital.

More information about these and other tips for travel or hospital stays can be heard in recordings of these sessions, which are available to stream or download via the “Audio” page on our website.

Contribute your Life Hacks or ask the collective oracle

In future issues of Blind Citizens News, I will bring you more great tips on dealing with our frequent challenges from fellow blind and vision impaired people. If you have a question to ask, or a tip to share with others about how you have overcome a challenge, we’d love to hear it.

To submit questions about daily tasks in which you’d like some advice, email with the subject line “Question for Life Hacks”. Likewise, those with great tips to share can send an email to the same address with the subject line “Tip for Life Hacks”.

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BCA on Expert Advisory Group for 3D Printing Project

By Ramona Mandy

I am representing BCA as part of an expert advisory panel for an Australian Research Council funded project. This project is looking at 3D Printing for accessibility. The project title is “Using 3D Printing to Improve Access to Graphics by Vision Impaired People”. It is mainly being carried out by researchers at Monash University, but they are working in collaboration with several organisations from the blindness sector, such as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC), Statewide Vision Resource Centre (SVRC), Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc. and the Department of Education and Training, Victoria.

In brief, this three-year project will investigate the use of 3D printing as a new means of accessing graphics for people who are blind or vision impaired. Generally speaking, it is about exploring feasibility of 3D printing for such things as STEM materials, tactile literacy and maps for O&M.  The project’s goal is to overcome the existing barriers to accessible 3D printed models by developing evidence-based guidelines for their use and design, and building capability in the blindness sector.

There are four research aims:

  1. Determine the kinds of purposes for which 3D printed models are well-suited, with a focus on education and O&M training.
  2. Evaluate strategies for touch reading 3D prints.
  3. Develop design and production guidelines for accessible 3D prints.
  4. Develop effective interfaces and low-cost technologies for augmenting 3D prints with interactive audio.

The project has been broken into six work packages, each with distinct objectives and areas of application. They vary in their planned start and end dates but usually span one to two years. The work package areas are: teaching tactile literacy, maps and plans for O&M training, adding interactive audio labels, teaching place and geography, teaching STEM, and building sector capability.

The Expert Advisory Group comprises the researchers from Monash University, the partner investigators from RIDBC and SVRC, and representatives from Round Table, the Victorian Department of Education, Guide Dogs Victoria, Royal Society for the Blind, Tactile Mapping Solutions, Vision Australia and BCA.

The expert advisory group met for the first time in November last year and will meet every 3 months from March this year. The group’s role is to:

  • Help guide the research, making sure it is on track and addressing the needs of the sector.
  • Facilitate communication, representing our respective organisations and liaising between the Expert Advisory Group and our own organisation.
  • Disseminate what the project is doing within the broader community.
  • Help with evaluation, connecting the researchers with testers.

The work that the project staff are undertaking in this first year includes:

  1. Having brainstorming sessions with stakeholders, looking at some initial 3D models of shapes and book characters for education, and experimenting with methods for connecting pieces. Magnets are working best so far.
  2. Investigating maps and plans for O&M training and components being developed that will be used to construct models for a variety of road crossings, and exploring methods for representing multiple floors/levels on a 3D map.
  3. Commencing investigation of methods for adding interactive audio labels to maps and STEM materials.

There are a number of planned activities for reaching out to the blindness sector and promoting the project work and developments as the work progresses. This includes presentations and workshops at sector conferences such as Round Table and SPEVI and national and international O&M conferences, media releases and placing articles in organisational newsletters and journals.

It is very pleasing and important that those undertaking the project have included the consumer voice in the form of BCA representation on the advisory panel that provides guidance to the project. I’m very happy to be involved in this way. I am totally blind, a braille user and I have personal experience of my learning being enhanced through 3D models.  I look forward to the exciting outcomes that I anticipate will come of this project, and I expect you will be hearing more on this topic before too long.

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What is a Peer Mentor, and How can a Peer Mentor Help You?

By Naomi Barber

Peer mentoring is a form of mentorship that usually takes place between a person who has lived through a specific experience (peer mentor) and a person who is new to that experience (the peer mentee). (Wikipedia)

BCA members often have significant life experiences, and newer members may be seeking the knowledge and expertise of someone who has walked in their shoes. More than a support worker, or a formal support, a mentor is someone with whom we can develop a relationship and trust to listen to us, someone who understands our challenges, walks beside us and helps us find the answers to our questions. That’s why BCA has invested in a group of people who are blind or vision impaired to become the next generation of mentors, people the community can look to for guidance and support to help them adjust, achieve and succeed.

In 2019 BCA has been delivering training through the Information Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) funding as granted by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).  Specifically, a group of approximately 30 people met on a weekly basis to learn, develop skills and competencies, and explore the challenges and the powerful impact of Peer Mentoring.

The group was comprised of people of various ages and life stages, people who were born blind and those who have lost their sight more recently.

There were men and women, those from non-English speaking backgrounds and many from remote and regional areas. The group members linked via teleconference and shared their thoughts and experiences with the weekly facilitator. The ultimate aim was to equip BCA members with the skills and resources to act as confident mentors, supporting other people within their community to achieve their own goals.

The topics covered included communication, expressing yourself, boundaries, learning styles, perspectives, empathy, self-management, stigma, considering others’ viewpoints, coaching vs mentoring, setting vision statements, advocacy for others and for yourself, empowering others and motivation.

While conducting a teleconference with around 30 participants posed some unique challenges, it also provided us with significant lessons, and ideas on how to progress our learning and development strategies into the future. Congratulations to all who completed the training, and will now look to acting as peer mentors to others on their journey of life.

Some of our participants have shared the following insights:

“I have grown in confidence from being part of this training.”

“I’ve met other blind people and heard their stories for the first time.”

“I’ve learnt that I have skills and capabilities that I have developed over the years that I can now use to help others.”

“Having access to a teleconference means that I can talk to people from other states in other parts of Australia. This includes access to facilitators and presenters. This training has opened my eyes to so many possibilities.”

“I’ve really enjoyed it.”

“Thank you for the information during the last six weeks. It’s been invaluable and lovely to meet other members.”

If you are someone seeking a mentor, give BCA a call to discuss your needs, as we may be able to assist in linking you with a suitable graduate mentor.

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Introducing Our Life Ready Podcast Series

By Sally Aurisch

The word “diversity” is often used to describe different cultural backgrounds, but its meaning goes much further than this. Diversity recognises all of the differences that make us individuals, with unique stories, experiences, values and dreams.

Through BCA’s Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) project, we are highlighting some of the diversity within the blind and vision impaired community through a series of podcasts. These podcasts feature five very different members of BCA, and begin to share their stories.

This series of podcasts follows a session at our National Convention on “The many faces of Independence”. The discussion, hosted by Rikki Chaplin and Steve Richardson, raised the notion that although we have different strengths and skills, and choose to live our lives in many varied ways, this diversity is a strength, not a weakness for our community.

The Life Ready podcasts are now available for download from our Audio page, or through the Blind Citizens Australia podcast feed. Have a listen and continue the discussion on the importance of diversity within BCA, and how we can use it to bring us closer together, not further apart.

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Letter to the Editor: Observations on Travel

Dear Editor,

Recently I spent a few weeks travelling in Sweden and Ireland, and I found it interesting to take note of what I encountered along the way as a blind traveller. I’ve been doing this for quite a long time now, in many different parts of the world, and it has been interesting to note the changes over time and the differences between countries.

Air travel, for instance, has changed both a lot and very little. There is increasing reliance on electronic ticketing – not necessarily easy for a person without sight to manage in crowded, noisy environments under time pressure (assuming, of course, the possession of an appropriate device).

Then there’s the airport security – a nightmare for most people, but with its own special challenges if one is blind:  being separated from all one’s possessions, often for lengthy periods and without any means of keeping track of them; being separated from one’s mobility aid and often manhandled by staff without any experience of either guiding or interacting with blind people; and, especially where there is no shared language, being instructed, led, pushed, pulled without much, or any, knowledge of what is happening, and why.

On long-haul flights especially, there is much emphasis on in-flight entertainment systems as a source of diversion and, increasingly, information about the aircraft, flight details, amenities, and so on. A growing number of airlines even include Audio Described movies among their offerings! But here we encounter a problem: the controls for the devices which deliver all this are mostly touch screens – so no independent access to anything for those who cannot see.

On some of my recent flights, I couldn’t even adjust my seat without using the touch screen.

And, while Audio Described movies might be quite an advance, if no one tells you they are there, any advance is entirely hypothetical. I found on most of my flights that the cabin crew did not know how to access the Audio Description – presumably because they weren’t familiar with it. So operational training remains important, no matter how much automation and software is incorporated into the picture.

The big long-haul planes are becoming increasingly complex environments for passengers, so a lot of information is required to know what’s available, where, when, and how to use it. This information is delivered to passengers in a variety of ways, but little of it is routinely given to blind passengers. On a recent flight I was unaware, until just before landing, that right behind where I was sitting there was an area where passengers could help themselves to fresh fruit throughout the flight – and I had been hanging out for some fruit for hours!

If information is provided in any alternate format, it is almost always in braille (used by only a small proportion of us), and is restricted to the most basic information about the aircraft safety features. We need more than that, obviously, if we are to be safe, comfortable, and even fed and entertained!

In both Sweden and Ireland, I was interested to find that Audio Description on television was available – and the (sighted) people I spoke to were really interested to find out about this, as they had no idea such a thing existed. In Sweden the Audio Description was not of any use to me as it is, of course, in Swedish (not a language in which I have any facility!). But in Ireland it was a delight to be able to consult the programme guide about which programmes were Audio Described (quite a few) and then to select what I wanted to watch. It reminded me of the much-enjoyed ABC trials, now only a distant memory in Australia!

Interestingly, while Sweden is in many ways a progressive social democracy which has high levels of services for citizens (and others, too, in many instances), I wasn’t especially impressed by the accessibility of many public institutions. Physical access had been given some attention (for instance, widespread use of ramps and tactile ground surface indicators), in a context where many buildings are very old and pose difficult access problems.

The place where I encountered really limited access for vision impaired people was in some of the major cultural institutions. I found little evidence of braille, and almost nothing which made museum collections, for instance, accessible. With the help of Swedish friends, I went to the websites of these places before visiting them, but there was little to indicate disability awareness. Even the audio guides which were available at the major museums were touch screen devices which were completely inaccessible without sight.

After one frustrating visit, I contacted the museum’s access person to ask about access arrangements – but the best she could offer was that from time to time they had exhibitions which blind people were allowed to touch. Not impressive! By contrast, in Portugal (a poorer country, not especially known for progressive or democratic social policy) I was on numerous occasions offered braille guide books and encouraged to go into areas where I could have “close encounters” with rare and precious exhibits.

These are just a few of my observations from my recent travels. Rikki Chaplin’s article in the March issue of the News reminded me of the vulnerability we often experience, or anticipate, when travelling – but it reminded me of the kindness of strangers, too. When we choose to put ourselves “out there” we encounter both, I suppose, and sometimes forewarned is forearmed. In any case, I’d really be interested in learning more about other people’s travel experiences, wherever they are.

Lynne Davis


Thank you, Lynne, for your very thoughtful remarks. Some readers may not be aware that you are a former Editor of this publication, so this is in fact a Letter from one Editor to another. It’s a real privilege to have you in the conversation.

I was struck by a repeated theme throughout your comments. You mentioned several occasions where accessibility had been attempted, but not at all well-implemented. It’s frustrating to feel so close, and yet so far, from genuine inclusion. You’re right, of course, to point out the importance of people in achieving genuine accessibility. A little more training for flight attendants would have gone a long way, as, I suspect, would better consultation with the blind and vision impaired community during the planning stages for some of these features.

I also think it’s fascinating to compare attitudes and policies in different countries, and would love some input from other travellers around accessibility in the places they visited. But like you, and like many of our readers, I’m intrigued by all travel experiences, by the unique challenges we have to navigate, and the unique rewards that send us questing out of our comfort zones. If you have a story to tell, write us your own Letter to the Editor, or get in touch with us via phone, Facebook or Twitter.

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