New programme aiming to help improve services for the blind

Lisburn in Focus co-ordinator Claire Patience, project participants Katy Leach and Lee Woodward and coach Tracy Dempsey of soulambition.com
Lisburn in Focus co-ordinator Claire Patience, project participants Katy Leach and Lee Woodward and coach Tracy Dempsey of soulambition.com

A Northern Irish life and business coach has been working with a group of people in Lisburn living with sight loss in a bid to help cafés, restaurants and shops improve their services for people with disabilities.

Tracy Dempsey of Soul Ambition said: “Many people in Northern Ireland aren’t comfortable speaking up if they’re not happy with the service from a local business, but if you’ve got sight loss or any other disability, it can feel like even more of a big deal to raise your concerns”.

Tracy was invited to develop the “Speak Up” coaching and training project for the Lisburn In Focus programme - a five-year, Big Lottery-funded project aiming to turn the City of Lisburn into a model of excellence for people with sight loss.

The course covers wellbeing research and confidence-building and assertiveness strategies.

Common issues in cafes and restaurants include poor lighting, small-print or wall-mounted menus and staff not approaching people in need of extra assistance.

Simple fixes such as having a few large-print versions of their menu, getting braille versions printed (for free, via the Maghaberry Braille Unit), having appropriate lighting over steps and tables and generally being attentive to customers with disabilities.

One gadget, RNIB’s “Pen Friend”, is a cheap and effective way to give independence back to customers. The audio labelling device is the size of large pen and comes with a set of special adhesive labels. The user attaches a label to an object, touches the Pen Friend to the label, and records a description. The pen will then play back the message when it touches the sticker again.

Speak Up participant Katy Leach said: “There’s a stark difference between a good and a bad experience in a café or restaurant. Staff that are in some way aware of your needs or at least are willing to respond if you ask for help, a well-lit area, being conscious of where to find a seat and so on – the minute all those sorts of things are made easy, the experience is relaxing and enjoyable and you might want to go back. The minute that doesn’t happen, the whole thing just seems to collapse in a heap and be dreadful.”

At the heart of change is a more welcoming attitude towards customers with sight loss and other accessibility needs.

Lisburn in Focus Project Co-Ordinator Claire Patience said: “Often, staff in public-facing services are fearful about doing or saying “the wrong thing”, and maybe avoid interaction with customers with disabilities. To help with this, RNIB Northern Ireland offers visual awareness training options to businesses and services wanting to learn how to be more accessible to customers with sight loss.”

The free Speak Up programme will run again in Lisburn in August; call 028 9032 9373 or email lisburninfocus@rnib.org.uk for information and registration.

For information on Soul Ambition training visit soulambition.com/training.