What it’s like to have VI at the most wonderful time of the year?

11 December 2020

Hey Guys, I am so thrilled to be back and writing a guest blog for WESC Foundation! My name is Hannah. I am a 23-year-old mum of two, who is also registered blind. My main conditions are Albinism and Nystagmus. I want to share with you some of the things I deal with over the festive period, things that are hard, things I love to do, and hopefully a story or two.

How I do my Christmas shopping

I will start with the big thing that actually we do all year round; shopping. Christmas shopping is stressful for absolutely everyone (unless you start shopping in July haha) but things can be especially difficult if you are VI or blind. I find it super tough to see price tags! Not only does this leave me disappointed when I have misread and realise the item I would like to buy is way more expensive than I thought but it can also be quite embarrassing. The other big thing about going into shops at this time of year is the number of people. Crowds are terrifying for me even when I have my guide dog, I feel very intimidated and would much rather not go into a shop and miss out than try and fight my way through. My advice for shopping is the same all year round but especially at Christmas time. Take someone with you if you can. It makes things a lot easier when they can direct you a certain way around a busy shop floor, they can read out price tags and even describe items for you depending on your levels of vision.

If you need to go shopping on your own, take a magnifying glass. They are so handy for reading price tags and you can get some fab pocket-sized ones that can be discreet. If you don’t have access to a magnifying glass, use your smart phone camera and zoom in. It’s a life saver for me haha. Finally, the best advice I think, if you start feeling overwhelmed and like it’s a bit too much for you, go and get a coffee and a piece of cake. Have a little break and let your eyes rest before either trying again or going home and online shopping. Online shopping is a fantastic alternative, but it isn’t for everyone so give it a try. I find it fantastic for certain things but others definitely need a trip to the shops.

Hetty the guide dog having a rest. She is wearing a Christmas bandana

Hannah’s guide dog, Hetty, having a break

How I experience Christmas lights

I can’t believe I didn’t start things by telling you all how much I LOVE Christmas. It really is one of my favourite times of year and I try to make the most of it. I love putting up the tree, decorating the house, making gingerbread and singing badly to every Christmas song I can think of but there is one thing I wish I could appreciate more. Christmas Lights. I love a fairy light for all occasions. So pretty and dress up anything super quickly. Walking past houses and admiring their outdoor lights and going into shops that are full of festive cheer is so much fun until… all the lights start flashing. Flashing lights are absolute agony for my eyes. They make them sting and give me headaches, but they are almost impossible to avoid. I’m not really sure where I can go with this because if I come across flashing lights I just close my eyes until they are out of view. I always feel kind of bad for the kids that we can’t stop and look at the flashing ones, but I try to make up for it where I can by seeing other displays.

Going to the Panto!

Now, who doesn’t love a Panto?! One of my absolute favourite things to do. Going to the theatre in general is amazing but there is something so special about a pantomime. I honestly think you can enjoy the show just as much if you are VI. There are so many different things going on and although that could be overwhelming for your eyes in some parts, I think it gives so many opportunities to appreciate all of the art and costume. Glitter is something I love looking at because it changes with the lights and that helps me notice it better. Everything is textured and brightly coloured and it’s also layered on the stage from back to front meaning its more likely to have elements that people with all different levels of vision are able to see. Everything is of course spoken out loud and music is used heavily which is a very important factor. Choose your seat wisely and don’t be worried about asking for help to find that seat in the low light when you arrive. I have always been supported brilliantly by ushers when at the theatre so please, please ask. If you do need a little bit of extra help to see what is happening on stage, most theatres have small binoculars you can rent for £1 on the back of the chairs in front of you. Super helpful little thing that I have used many times.

 

I don’t have much advice on wrapping presents. I usually just do a pretty bad job and follow up with an apology haha!

 

These are the main things I struggle with around Christmas but as I said above it doesn’t stop me loving it. I will add a little story below of one of my funniest and favourite memories.

Hannah taking a selfie. She is wearing Christmas PJs with candy canes onHannah's daughter, Lyra, in front of the Christmas tree

Hannah in her Christmas pajamas and her daughter, Lyra, in front of the Christmas tree

My favourite Christmas memory

Where I live in Milton Keynes, we have a big shopping centre that puts on a Christmas display each year. I think this was in about 2015 and I was walking around with one of my best friends, Naomi. We had just finished walking round the display and she pointed out large book along the side of the display. We wondered over and realised it was a story written is braille. I put my hand out and started feeling along the bumps, I remember it so clearly. I started saying ‘Once upon a time’ reading out a few sentences slowly. A family of 4 or five were walking past. They saw my guide dog and realised I was reading the book aloud. I carried on with another sentence before I noticed them and when I did, I looked over to Naomi to who had her hands covering her mouth and she had tears in her eyes. I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘That was amazing I’ve never heard you read braille before, I didn’t know you could.’ I turned to her and then to the family who were starting to walk away (Thankfully) because I explained that actually, I can’t read braille at all and I thought she knew that before I started. It was absolutely hilarious. She never lets me forget it to this day and we laugh about it so much. I still haven’t learnt braille but I would love to one day. Hopefully the next time I can impress her for real.

 

 

I hope that gave you a little giggle but more than that, I hope you all have a wonderful, safe and magical Christmas this year.

 

Hannah x

 

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