Back on 6 November, Vicky and I took our annual visit to the Sight Village South East exhibition at the Kensington Town Hall in London. Organised by the Queen Alexandra College (QAC) from Birmingham, The Sight Village exhibitions are held across the country and are the largest exhibitions dedicated to vision impairment in the UK.
As always, Vicky and I set off early to ensure that we got to the venue as the doors opened so that we could spend as much time looking around the exhibition and chatting to the exhibitors as we felt necessary. After a friendly welcome from the QAC team, we were quickly signed in and directed in to the exhibition halls.
We didn’t have any particular product or service that we wanted to find out about so just methodically took our way around the exhibits. There were many exhibits that we knew about but we enjoyed catching up with some of the staff and volunteers at some of these stands including TravelEyes, Metro Blind Sports, Retina UK, Sight and Sound, VocalEyes and the ‘My Guide’ team at Guide Dogs.
We also caught up with Stella at the Macular Society stand. Stella used to work with me at the RNIB and we’re still good friends. I also was tracked down by another former RNIB colleague called Andrew. Andrew still works for the RNIB as an Employment Officer. We chatted for a while about what we’re up to and I’m hoping to catch up with Andrew again soon in the New Year to discuss some potential joint working ideas.
Another stand that we visited was Computer Room Services. Steve Nutt runs this service, predominantly a website selling products for vision impaired people but also website design, management and hosting as well as training and tech support. I had met Steve several years ago and we’re both on an email list for blind self-employed people (UKVISE) so it was nice meeting up with him again and introducing Vicky to him. We discussed websites mainly and the accessibility with regard to updating one. Steve was really helpful and no doubt we’ll be back in touch with him for more advice when we’ve some spare time (as if we get any of that ha ha).
Another exhibit that was interesting was Oxsight (Oxsight smart specs). In brief, Oxsight produce a pair of smart glasses that have a camera with a prism lens that enables people that have tunnel vision to be able to see a wider angle image on the LCD screens within the glasses, thus being able to see more without the need to scan the area. Although I have tunnel vision, my central vision is pretty poor so these glasses wouldn’t work for me, however, I have heard podcasts about these specs and apparently they are really clever and work really well. The downside is that they come with a hefty price tag of over £2,000!
There were many other stands that we visited and there really is some great work going on but there was one stand that really stood out for me (and Vicky I think). This was the Aira stand and we chatted through the service with the very informative Director of Sales, Marty Watts. Aira, in my opinion, is going to be the largest growing service for vision impaired people over the coming years. Basically, Aira is a remote support service using video communication with a human agent. It works by the vision impaired person signing up to the service (charges apply) and using either the Aira App on a smart phone or the Aira smart glasses, connecting to an Aira agent who will be able to, in real time, provide support through a video call. The agent can help with providing instructions, reading signs, navigating around an obstacle, finding a product or the counter in a shop, describing a scene, take photos and email them to you and much more. Already Heathrow has signed up and now provide Aira access for free to all customers passing through the airport and it is hoped that other airports and shopping centres will follow suit. I can see me using this service in the future and it’s just another app that I’ve added to my blind person’s toolbox!
We like attending the Sight Village exhibitions and would recommend that, if you have a vision impairment or live with or work with someone that has a vision impairment that you make an effort and attend one of the exhibitions next year. No doubt Vicky and I will be back at the South East one again next year.
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
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Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.