Today’s blog is all about some Sight Loss Awareness that Southampton Sight have recently delivered with Winchester Science Centre (WSC).  Winchester Science Centre have recently raised an incredible £1.2 million to update and improve their exhibits.  Their aim is to ensure that this new exhibit is as accessible as possible.  We were approached by the Widening Participation Officer to carry out some Sight Loss Awareness Training so that the staff at the Science Centre can better support visually impaired visitors of all ages.

Once we understood what the Science Centre were trying to achieve my manager Lorna suggested we offer a friendly audit of the centre as this would help us with tailoring our training.  The WSC were very open to this and we arranged to visit them on the 19th September.

Before we carried out the friendly audit, I read through their access statement and compiled my own list of points to consider for our time at the centre.

As we were about to walk in the main door a wall of sound hit me.  The explosion of noise was made by a large group of departing school children.  This was a shock to both of us.

Once in the building we waited to speak with the staff who’d invited us to visit at the reception desk.  Lorna had the interesting job of being my eyes on this visit.  Lorna described the space to me.  Lorna has never visited a museum with anyone who is visually impaired before; she has been to the centre many times with her own family, but this would be a very different experience.

We were greeted by Director of STEM* Strategy and the Widening Participation Officer.  They were honest about the amount of work they said the centre needed to do to make the environment more modern and accessible for everyone and they were keen to hear our feedback.

Lorna and I then began our audit.  We soon discovered that although many of the exhibits are interactive, they were quite difficult for Lorna to describe to me what each exhibit entailed for me to gain an understanding of what the exhibit was demonstrating.

While we moved around the venue I thought about my list of considerations, large print, audio instructions or better signage, colour contrast between different flooring or areas, tactile indications of stairs.

We then met again with the Director of STEM Strategy and the Widening Participation Officer to give them our feedback.  They were really engaged and took on board our feedback.

They also took the time to show me some of the tactile 3D models that are used when giving talks in the planetarium.  One of the models was the latest Rover that is being used to explore Mars.  Tactile props are something that the centre is hoping to make more use of during the planetarium shows.  This will increase accessibility through being interactive to visitors especially for those with visual impairments.  I found the visit interesting as I hadn’t been to a science centre since I was a child.

Following our visit, Lorna, Angela and I worked on putting together a bespoke Sight Loss Awareness training program.  This was made easier as we used my experience of visiting the centre to make the material relevant.

Our Sight Loss Awareness program has moved towards being led or facilitated by people who live with sight loss.  We know through experience that people who attend our training sessions really engage with the VI attendees.  They want to know how you manage with everyday tasks etc.  It’s also a chance for us to bust those myths that can surround sight loss.  Some of the topics we may cover are descriptive language and communication and how to guide someone.

This would be the first time I have delivered training in this way and we all felt a little nervous.

We would be delivering 2 sessions.  We set up the room and waited for our first group.  One by one our participants began to arrive.  There was lots of chit chat and a nice atmosphere.  I joined in with chat and it put me at ease, I could tell they were going to be a good audience.

With the help of my colleagues support and a very forgiving audience I warmed to my new role and successfully used my Braille sense Polaris to read my notes.  It will take some time to get used to the new way of delivering this training and over time I will hopefully grow in confidence.

In the past I wouldn’t have been ready to take the lead on a program like this but now I am enjoying the challenge of talking to different audiences.

If you think that your organisation will benefit from sight loss awareness training, then please contact us and we are more than happy to help.

* STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics

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