APP: Accessibility, Podcast and Poetry
Back on 1st August 2017, I set foot outside my hermit hole on a Welsh hillside, to venture to London to participate in the recording of a podcast. This blog post is a reflection on that experience, and other podcast-related stories.
Mounting the Iron Horse
As a blind person the gap between a railway station platform and a carriage really can seem like mounting and dismounting a horse! On BBC's disability podcast, Ouch, this was discussed in detail.
Tangles with Trains
What's it like to step off a station platform into thin air, instead of on to a train? Three blind journalists tell their tales of travelling on trains when you can't see.
Episode presenter, Damon Rose, relates that all his blind friends have fallen onto the rails at some point. Johny Cassidy relates how he fell onto the rails at London's Victoria station when the 8-car train that arrived didn't stop as far up the platform as the usual 12-car train did. He moved towards where the door would normally have been, and his momentum carried him over the edge of the platform.
My diminishing sight reached the level of legal blindness whilst I was living in Atlanta, GA. The vision rehab training I was able to do at Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI) included a visit to the Avondale MARTA station, where a train carriage had been parked for the blind students in my group to have a look around, allowing us to familiarise ourselves with the layout and the location of the doors and alarms — interestingly it seems that the MARTA system has just installed urine detection alarms which they seem to be very proud of, because that is the only information that shows up if you search for how to sound an alarm on a MARTA train ... I wonder about people's priorities sometimes!!
We were able to use our white canes to reach over the edge of the platform and find a crawl space underneath which we could roll into if we happened to fall off the platform at any time. I have no idea whether such crawl spaces exist on British stations, overground or underground, but I will definitely be making my investigations.
Poetry on the Moon
I was delighted to be invited to participate on a Lunar Poetry Podcast, discussing a range of issues relating to access to publishing for disabled, disadvantaged and minority groups. Here is the direct link to the Access to Publishing episode, where you will also find links to an episode transcript and to the Lunar Poetry Podcast blog .
I know, I'm focussing on the transportation aspects here, but that's intentional — I could fill three weeks’ worth of blog posts talking about the issues that were discussed in the podcast, but you can't do better than to go listen to the podcast yourself in the first instance. As the notes on the podcast page mention, all the participants are happy to discuss specific questions following on from the podcast, time-permitting. I'm always happy to talk about anything related to blindness and low-vision if you get in touch through this blog, or through my Facebook or Twitter profiles, which you can find the links to on this blog.
The one comment I will make that is directly related to the experience of being on the podcast, is that Khairani Barokka (Okka), who hosted the episode, ran it perfectly! I'm a fairly quietly-spoken person and would fair horribly in a Question Time kind of discussion. I just don't have the voice power to make somebody shut up if he's (it's usually a he isn't it!) talking full steam ahead. I have to wait until somebody pauses for a moment of breath and then try to get my voice heard. I don't have this problem performing my poetry because the audiences are there to listen to the poetry, so I'm not competing with a barrage of other voices. Discussions went around the table, with nobody speaking over anybody else, and it was lovely to be part of that conversation, so equal thanks to my fellow partypants, Raymond Antrobus and Sandra Alland.
There and Back Again
It's been a while since I've been to London, and it was only the second time I've been there since losing my sight. Having lived and worked in London for two years as a fully-sighted person I'm comfortable with Tube travel around the city, but I knew my dad, acting as my sighted guide, was concerned about me managing the escalators and getting on and off both the mainline trains and the Tube trains.
Ups and Downs
I've always been fine using escalators, fond of them even, using them frequently back around Atlanta early in my blind life. Escalators have a distinct advantage over stairs in that, if you're listening out for them, you can hear their whir as you approach, and you can feel the incline levelling out as you hold the moving bannister on the way up, and the steps levelling out beneath your feet on the way down.
I have struggled with stationary steps since 2016. After my kidney transplant I was very weak after discharge, needing to haul myself up the stairs using both hands on the bannister on the left hand side of the stairs. In the 4 years since then I've got better, but still cannot make it up a flight of stairs without a bannister on one side or the other for assistance. And of course, the stationary step trouble applies exactly the same to stepping up into trains. For me, finding the rail on the inside of the door is the first step. I then hold my cane on the first step and pull myself up into the carriage. That's not too bad in most trains.
The tubes were a dream. The doors are at platform level so there's no real difference in level between the carriage and the platform. Just like the noise the escalators make that help a blind person line themselves up, the swish of the Tube train doors opening can be pretty easy to navigate to; having a sighted guide makes that a cinch :)
I rarely travel anywhere unaccompanied, so finding a seat is usually no problem. When I travel on trains I'll usually book a seat so the station person assisting me will take me to it. On the rare occasions I have travelled on buses by myself, I usually end up standing at the front holding onto the rail, unless the driver is well-trained and shouts back for somebody to stand up and let me sit down ... my experience of this has been variable! On the Tube lines with my dad, he was able to guide me to empty seats, but on two occasions where the train was busy, people in the priority seating got up to give me the seat, and whoever was sitting next to them in the regular seating, offered their seat to my dad, which he didn't take up, but it was an appreciated gesture :) We travelled Paddington to Baker Street on the Bakerloo line, then Jubilee line to Canada Water, and finally overground to New Cross. All stages were smooth and relatively relaxing :)
We finished recording the podcast and saying our goodbyes by 4pm. The journey back to Paddington was just as smooth as before. We got to Paddington at 4:40pm and there was a train headed to Newport at 4:45. Dad and I quickly made our way to the departure platform in the hope that our tickets might be valid on that service. We were expecting not to be able to travel until after the rush hour,. The guy at the barrier confirmed this, unless we wanted to pay £50 each to upgrade our tickets. We didn't, so we walked away and pondered how to spend the next 2 hours. The barrier guy beckoned us back over and said, “Let's have a word with the train manager and ask if he'll accept your tickets on his train,” ... and he did — That's one of the perks of being blind, sometimes people will stretch the rules a little for you :)
The only minor train hiccup came at the very last station, Newport. We made our way to the door and dad got out first. He told me there was a step down (inside the carriage), which I did, and then he said one more step down, which I attempted to do ... my brain had assumed it was another step down inside the train, but it was the step down onto the platform, which was quite a significant distance below where I was anticipating. I think back to the Ouch podcast, and the experiences of other blind people who have managed to fit themselves and their guide dogs between carriage and platform. I've not managed to do that myself yet, but I guess one day I'll probably manage it.
@damonrose @johnycassidy @mailbykite @san_alland @RaymondAntrobus @Silent_Tongue