Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Absolutely. My name is Luci, I’m from South Africa but have been living in The Hague, in the Netherlands, for 7 years now.
I’m 42 years old and I’m married to Martijn, who I met in the Netherlands. We are expecting our first child, which will probably be our biggest life challenge.
I am a Senior Programme Developer for a global technology company. It was my company who gave me the opportunity to relocate to the Netherlands, so I guess they also enabled me to meet my husband.
I love the freedom in Europe and I now really enjoy walking. We’re very lucky to live so close to the sea and I love walking along just listening to the waves, people chattering and the bird call. I’m trying to convince Martijn to move to a nice seafront apartment, but he likes the very short cycle to the office and he does make a good point about the schools we have close by.
Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?
Yes, I guess my disability is usually quite visible. I have no useable sight, although I can see light and dark and so find good lighting extremely helpful.
I am also lucky to have my faithful sidekick, Bruce. Bruce is my first guide dog and has been with me for 5 years. In South Africa I hadn’t even considered getting a guide dog, however when I moved to the Netherlands and got a taste of outdoor life it seemed like a logical thing to do and so I started doing my research and after another 2.5 years I met my furry little friend. I had to have some training of my own to understand Bruce and make sure we are both safe and well, I hadn’t even thought of the human side to a guide dog partnership until then.
Bruce doesn’t feel like my seeing dog anymore, he’s more like my first child but with fur and four legs.
People often assume I can read braille, but I lost my sight due to an illness as a teenager so I’ve never learned how and just don’t feel the need to thanks to technology.
I use a screen reader on my laptop and voice over on my mobile telephone. I prefer a small laptop, as it’s so much easier to carry one handed and I don’t use the screen anyway. People are often curious how I’m working with my screen switched off, as I use a headset to stop the screen reader distracting anyone else. I don’t use a mouse either, as screen readers are very intuitive and work with keyboard shortcuts. Although, I can only access documents, websites and applications that are accessible.
If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?
The first thing that comes to mind is mindset. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me I’m “an inspiration”. Not because I have found a cure for a disease or because I’ve sailed solo around the world, no, simply because I go about my day-to-day life as most of us do. Since I’ve been pregnant, it’s been even more so, it’s like my eyesight is somehow connected to my ability to reproduce. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to inspire people for the right reasons, and I hope to inspire my child to work hard and be a good human being; but being disabled does not make me somehow inspirational by default.
If there was time, I’d also like to include some education on guide dogs. You may or may not be surprised by the number of adults who pet Bruce when he’s harnessed and working. Sometimes they ask and I have to politely ask them not to, other times they just go directly to Bruce. He’s a beautiful dog, with a beautiful nature, but distracting him could put one or both of us in danger.
Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?
Technology advances are really helping with accessibility for the blind, although I do often feel the world is still built for the sighted.
There are many websites that I can’t access and others that I technically can, but they just aren’t usable. No one wants a painful user experience accessing information or buying a new bathmat.
Similarly, there are still companies who send me hard copy documents or invoices even though I’ve told them I’m blind. Some people I speak to think they are helpful and suggest they can provide a larger font, getting them to understand it could be the size of my apartment block and I still couldn’t see it is quite a challenge.
At work, there are often communications I miss because they haven’t been created with accessibility in mind. Things like “refer to the above image”, with no alternative text on the image so I have no idea what I’m referring to. Not all images will be contextual, but it can be frustrating knowing there’s an image in use and not knowing what it is or why.
Many buildings aren’t what I would call blind friendly. Lighting levels are often quite low, particularly in lower use areas. Handrails on staircases don’t always start and end at the top and bottom, sometimes they stop too soon and others continue when there’s a landing space. Bruce is good, but he can’t tell me there’s a very wide step that I’m not expecting. And when it comes to accessible toilets I’ve seen it all, needing to ask for a key, having a very embarrassed employee tell me it’s being used as a storage cupboard, being lead about 150 metres around back of house corridors and being told the nearest ‘accessible’ facilities are on another floor of a large building.
Banks have really progressed though. I can use an ATM (cash machine) to do my banking without any assistance now, as my bank offers an audio option by just plugging in my headset.
Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?
Since living with Martijn I find I have far fewer challenges at home, as I can check with him. Although when he’s not around I do sometimes use an app to connect to a sighted community, for example if I need to check the colour of a scarf to make sure it matches my dress.
My main challenges at home would be packaging on food. So many bottles are remarkably similar and the packaging for readymade meals, Martijn and I don’t cook often, are often identical to touch. Some companies are becoming more accessible though, I can now tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner, as they have different tactile dots on the bottles.
Money can also be a challenge, but I don’t often carry cash so not something I personally have an issue with.
If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?
Right now, my main priority is finding a pushchair for my baby that I can pull along easily with one hand. I have tried at least a dozen so far and steering whilst pulling them just doesn’t work very well. We’ll still need Bruce with us and so I need to find the solution that lets us have some lovely walks around the city and along the coast without always relying on a carrier.
As I can only pick 2, I will say accessible communication. At work, as a customer and as a friend, with a bit of forethought it’s not difficult to include everyone.