Group picture of cast members and touch tour participants on stage

Review: Ulysses with Audio Description at the Abbey Theatre

I enjoy going to the theatre, especially if the performance includes audio description. I was especially looking forward to this adaptation of James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses, at the Abbey Theatre because it included an accessible touch tour of the set.

What is Ulysses about?

I won’t attempt a summary of the original 1922 novel by James Joyce, it would not do it justice. The plot takes place on the 16th of June 1904, an ordinary day in the life of the protagonist Leopold Bloom. Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey and using various literary styles, the novel follows Leopold through Dublin and relates his encounters with other characters. There are plenty of philosophical thoughts, puns and analogies in the text, which make the novel the most discussed literary work in academia to date.

What is Audio Description?

You may know Audio description from TV. It is a voiceover giving blind and visually impaired viewers  information not conveyed through dialogue or sound. Ideally the information is as objective as possible, so that the audience can form their own opinion.

Unlike the audio description for films, the voiceover for plays is live, since the length of breaks in dialogues can vary slightly. At the Abbey Theatre audience members get a one-ear -piece headset with two wheels, one for turning it on and off and one to adjust the volume.

Participants of the touch tour gruoped around a piano with laptop inside

The Touch Tour

Ulysses was the first Abbey play where patrons availing of the caption or audio description service could attend a pre-performance touch tour of the set. There are a lot of different settings in the play and the actors used different costumes to change into multiple characters.  The programme notes promised the play to be “a pandemonium of live music, puppets, dancing, clowning, bowler hats and kazoos.”

The auditorium had been completely transformed for the performance. The seats were split up into two sections facing each other with the stage in the middle. Some audience members were seated at tables on stage. There was an old-fashioned piano with a laptop hidden inside, so it could play all kinds of tunes and sounds. The centre of the stage was occupied by a cast-iron bed where Molly Bloom delivers her famous monologue at the end of the play.  I was even allowed to sit on it. At the other end of the stage was a bar complete with Whiskey jars.

Touching all the different objects made me realise how much planning and detail goes into stage design. Setup and costume are described as part of the audio description at the start of the play, but often there is too much information to remember it all. Walking around the stage and touching props helped me to get a physical impression of the stage and made it easier to remember details.

Group picture of cast members and touch tour participants on stage

Meeting the Cast

We were shown around the stage by Lisa, who always makes sure patrons using audio description and captions get good seats and looks after the audio equipment. We also met Bríd “the Voice” of the audiodescription. Despite getting ready for the show, some of the cast members showed us their costumes and props. They were passionate about their characters.

The puppet citizen and his pupetier

The Puppets

When I heard there would be puppets in the play, I thought of marionettes moved on stage by invisible strings, but the puppets in this production were made of paper-maché and looked apart from their overly large heads extremely realistic. There was a ghost, a death mask and several minor character puppets all wearing clothes and with extremely detailed features. The actors strapped some of the puppets to their chests and could move their arms to create movement of the puppets’ arms and heads . The most impressive  puppet was the „Citizen“ a live-sized puppet that could be made to move as if it nodded and talked. The puppeteer said the secret is to breathe life into the puppet.

Conclusion

Due to its stream of consciousness style, the original novel by James Joyce is one of the most difficult modernist novels to read. I would have found it hard to follow the plot of the play without the audio description. It was helpful to be told who is speaking, what the characters are doing and where they are. Being allowed on stage almost made me feel part of the show. Thanks to the touch tour this was the first performance where I was able to fully appreciate stage and costume design and of course it was brilliant to meet some of the cast. Plays or audio adaptations are the best way to familiarize oneself with Ulysses. It is a fantastic work of literature and I think I will make another attempt at reading the original novel.

Audio Description is provided by Arts & Disability Ireland. Check out their website for upcoming accessible performances and exhibitions. Show notes in word and audio format are available to download before the show.

The next audio described play at the Abbey Theatre is Shakespeare’s Richard III on the 27th of October. To book tickets and to register for the pre-performance touch tour contact Lisa Farrelly lisa.farrelly@abbeytheatre.ie

 

 

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left to right Rahim, Louise, Sophie, Tina on a boat

Throwback: Watersports Inclusion Games 2017

I wrote this post for Vision Sports Ireland and the NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) last year. The Water Sports Inclusion Games hosted by the Irish Sailing Association will take place again this year from the  25th to the 26th of August this time in Galway.  It’s an event for people of all ages and abilities. I had great fun trying out the different water sports last year and I’m looking forward to this year’s event.  I lived in Galway for 3 years. It’s a fantastic spot for water sports and evening entertainment. There will also be a dinner on the Saturday, where participants can get together.

To find out more about the Watersports Inclusion Games visit the Irish Sailing Association Website and contact Johanne Murphy to book a place wsinclusion@gmail.com

A Fun Weekend at the Irish Sailing Association Water Sports Inclusion GAmes 2017

Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th of June we participated in the first ever Watersports Inclusion Games organised by the Irish Sailing Association at the Royal St. George Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire. The two-day event catered for people of all ages and abilities and offered an inclusive environment for trying out various watersports such as sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rowing and speed boating.

The event was very well organised and every aspect from registering to signing up for a time slot for each activity ensured nobody had to queue for long. A huge number of volunteers from local clubs were available. They were all very helpful and we always found someone to show us where to go next.

The instructors encouraged participants to get involved in the steering of the boats and answered questions about their particular sport and how to get involved. We were especially impressed by the sea scouts who went rowing with us. A lot of teenage girls wouldn’t be prepared or confident enough to spend their weekend bringing people with different disabilities out on boats. We had a great chat with the girls and they showed us how to hold the rows and counted the strokes. Volunteering for this event was great awareness training for them and they will have no issues interacting with people with disabilities in the future.

The whole event was free, including lunch and a healthy barbecue. Everyone enjoyed the sunshine and the atmosphere and we got talking to other participants. On Sunday the activities included fun competitions. The Watersports Inclusion games were a fantastic event for the whole family. Thanks to the Irish Sailing Association and especially to their Inclusion Officer Johanna Murphy for organising this amazing weekend.

There was also an exhibition area where organisations and clubs showcased their activities. Following on from this fantastic Weekend Vision Sports Ireland is planning to organise a have a try sailing day to encourage people to take up a watersport and get involved in a local club. Sign up for our newsletter at http://www.visionsports.ie, like Vision Sports Ireland on Facebook or follow @VisionSportsIrl on Twitter to get notified of upcoming events.

Especially team sports like rowing and sailing are accessible for people with vision impairments and many clubs also have double kayaks. So get out on the water this summer.

Feel free to contact Alex our National Sports Development Coordinator on sports@visionsports.ie or 0858500193 for advice on how to get involved in a local club.

First published on the NCBI Blog

 

view over Heidelberg

Interailing in Germany – Part 3: Heidelberg

The second stop on our interrailing tour of South and middle Germany  was Heidelberg. It is situated 80 km from our starting point Frankfurt. The journey took us about an hour by train and the connections are regular and cheap enough if you book in advance.

view of the town and river from the old bridge
View of Heildelberg from the old bridge across the river Neckar

Heidelberg has almost 160,000 inhabitants and is situated on the river Neckar. It is popular with tourists because of the picturesque old town and the castle ruins perched on a mountain above the city. Heidelberg university was founded in the 14th century and is the oldest college in Germany.

Where to Stay

We booked a double room in Hotel Central for €70 per night. The hotel is within walking distance to the train station, but the old town centre is a bit further away. However, several bus connections and a tram stop across the road from the hotel made this a short and easy trip.

The hotel was one of the best ones we stayed in during this trip and we would have loved to stay another night. The room was huge compared to some of the boxes we stayed in and it had its own balcony. The receptionist had brilliant English. We had a chat about what to do in Heidelberg and he explained to us how to get into town. He also apologised for not having bottled beer to sell, but a group of Scottish tourists drank it all and today was Sunday so the shops were closed. Only restaurants and petrol stations are open on Sundays in Germany. They tried to introduce a 7 day business week recently, but people working in retail didn’t want it. There are occasional open Sundays in summer or around Christmas, but I always avoided them because of the crowds.

Although it was raining a bit, we got the bus into town to Bismarck Platz and explored Heidelberg’s pedestrian area. The centre consists of a few long streets which meet in a central square with outdoor restaurants and a church. The main streets are connected through narrow alleyways. The whole pedestrian area is paved with cobblestones, which make it medieval looking.

Confessions of an Ex-Vegetarian

When I was living in Germany I was a vegetarian (or pescetarian, that is someone who eats no meat but fish) As a teenager I gave up meat to annoy my family and because I believed that way I could eat more chocolate without getting fat. Traditional German cuisine consists mainly of red meat and potatoes swimming in sauce. There are also cold, sliced meats on bread for dinner. After cutting out the meat I didn’t feel as if I had to take a nap after every meal any more.By the way the cocolate diet doesn’t work.

I stopped being a vegetarian when I moved in with my partner a year ago. He is the better cook and his chicken and lamb curries are to die for. We still eat vegetarian meals, but it is too much work to cook two different meals. We mainly eat chicken and turkey now and buy it from a local butcher.

inside the Kulturbrauerei
It’s not a great picture, but you get an idea of what it looks like

Where to Eat

Apart from last year’s Christmas dinner, I hadn’t tried many of the traditional German meat dishes myself in years. We treated ourselves to a dinner in the Kulturbrauerei (culture brewery).  It was too wet to sit in the beer garden, but the inside was a traditional food hall with oak paneling. I read on the website that the benches come from the Scottish parliament and some of the chairs and tables are from a Spanish monastery. I have no idea how they got to Heidelberg, but they were comfy.

My pictures don’t do the food justice, I was more interested in eating it. It was delicious.

Dishes on the menu included Tafelspitz (boiled veal or beef, served in broth with minced apples and horseradish) Kohlroulade (cabbage leaf stuffed with pork, apple and seasoning) and roast ox or rabbit. The dishes often come with red cabbage and potato dumplings.  Of course as the name brewery suggests, they also serve local beer. We had Dunkelweizen (a dark beer), but you can also get Pilz (lighter beers). We finished our meal with fresh apple strudel with ice cream.

Heidelberg Castle

Unfortunately, there was no free walking tour when we were in Heidelberg, so we did not get too see more of the city centre or the university, but we visited the famous castle ruin. We got the bus to Bismarckplatz again and changed to another bus that brought us to Kornmarkt from where a cable car brought us up the mountain. The cable car line consists of twoparts. The first one which we got to the castle uses modern carriages. You could go higher up the mountain to the Königsstuhl (king´s seat), where you get a stunning view over the castle and the city.We didn’t do that, but I read that this second part uses wooden carriages.

view of Heidelberg Castle taken from Wikipedia

The castle was easy to find from the cable car station. We walked around the inner and outer courtyard for a while and waited for the English tour to start. The day was extremely hot and the sun reflected off the sandstone walls made it difficult to see and the ground was a bit uneven in places, but that’s what we brought the canes for.

A very Awkward Guided Tour

The tour guide told us we were supposed to buy a ticket for the tour at the cable car station. Nobody had mentioned that to us, although I had asked. The guide appeared to have an issue with two blind people without “a helper” being on his tour, but he went with us to his supervisor who first said we could go on the tour for free and then changed her mind saying we had to buy tickets for insurance reasons. We didn’t mind paying, but she kept going on about the stairs we had to climb during the tour and pointed out that they offered tours specifically for people with disabilities once a year. We argued that we don’t need an extra tour, we needed it in English and we were only here for one day. We are adults and therefore can decide for ourselves whether we can manage stairs or not. In the end they allowed us on the tour but the discussion wasn’t over.

Maybe the guide was trying to be helpful, but we had an issue with his patronising attitude and the way he constantly made us feel different to the other participants of the tour. One minute he pointed out a detail of the castle and next he said to the whole group how privileged my partner and I were that he knew how to handle “handicapped” people. Some of his colleagues didn’t know that and if he wouldn’t have been there, we could not have joined the tour. My partner had an issue with the word handicapped, because it comes from hand in cap and suggests that disabled people beg and rely on the charity of others. I don’t like the word myself, but the German word for disabled “behindert” has many negative connotations, so people tried to come up with a replacement term.

In the end it wasn’t the word, but the attitude that annoyed us. We were just a couple wanting to take a tour of the castle. There were older people in the group and some of them wore glasses. They did not have to justify their participation on the tour. Public tours should accommodate every visitor without making a big deal about it and If we had needed help, we would have asked for it.  People don’t have to complete an accessibility course before they can interact with us. The tour guide really made us feel as if we were standing there cap in hand. He kept going on about how privileged we were to be on his tour. I tried to explain this to him, but nobody was here for a lecture in disability advocacy and the other tour participants started to get uncomfortable.

We later met one of the couples on the train to Stuttgart.  We had a chat and they told us about the house swap they are doing with a German couple. They had a normal conversation with us without having completed any disability awareness training.

Some Facts about the Castle

We didn’t get much enjoyment out of the tour, but the castle is worth seeing. The first structures were built in 1214 and it was expanded over the following centuries. It was built in gothic and later renaissance style. The castle was partially demolished in the 17th and 18th century. In the 19th century romantic artists were fascinated by the ruins, modified representations of which feature in many paintings of the time. That’s why the castle still attracts thousands of visitors each year.

burger with chips

More meat and a Laughing  Cow

We got the bus back into town. Now that the sun was out there was a great atmosphere around the square. The outdoor seating areas were filled with students and tourists. It was impossible to get a seat outside, but with the help of my prepared Google Maps list of places to go, we found a burger place called Die Kuh die Lacht (The Laughing Cow). When it comes to killing animals, German humour is rather dark, probably one of the reasons why I was vegetarian. I just hope the cow was laughing when He or  she was happily grazing. You can creat your own burger or choose one of the restaurant creations. We had a massive beef burger and a vegetarian avocado burger with sweet potato chips and homemade lemonade. Afterwards we went back to the hotel to pick up our suitcases and got the train to our next destination Stuttgart.

 

 

Interrailing in Germany – Part 2: Frankfurt am Main

In Part 1 of my Interrailing in Germany series I gave some advice on how to travel around Germany, with specific tips for travelers with vision impairments.   This post is about our brief stay in Frankfurt am Main, the starting point of our trip. We decided to start in Frankfurt because Ryanair offers cheap flights to Frankfurt Hahn. All I knew about the city was that it is the financial capital of Germany, so we expected modern skyscrapers. There are definitly a lot of glass and steel buildings, but Frankfurt also has an old-style main square and interesting history.

Getting There and Accomodation

 

It is an almost hour bus journey from Frankfurt Hahn Airport to Frankfurt city.  The main airport is closer but also more expensive to fly to. I booked one bus ticket for €15 online from the website of the bus company Flibco. I emailed the customer support copies of my ticket and my German travel pass and recieved the second ticket for free. Getting a free „assistant“ ticket was not offered on the website, but I usually ask anyway. The bus leaves only once an hour and we only got it because the special assistance at the airport skipped the queues with us. The journey to Frankfurt along the river Main is quite scenic in parts and brought us right into the city centre near the train station.

view from the Bus to Frankfurt Hahn, crossing the Main
View from the bus crossing the Main

Where to Stay

We got a double room in the Easy Hotel Frankfurt City Centre for €50. The location was definitely central, which also made it a bit noisy. The onsuite room was tiny but clean enough, which is all you can expect for that price. The staff were helpful and we could lock our suitcases in the store room  after check out.

Getting Used to the City

After check-in we went out to get a feel for Frankfurt. The area around the main train station is probably not the best place to be.  There are a lot of small shops and takeaways. We used our canes most of the time and never had any problems. Frankfurt is a  multicultural city. We heard a lot of Turkish being spoken on the streets and our noses led us to a kebab place. Most kebabs in Germany are really good quality.

The main Train station
The Main Train Station

What are all these people doing here?

With over 700,000 inhabitants Frankfurt is a large city, but I thought there  where unusually large numbers of people in bars and on the streets. I forgot to bring toothpaste,  so we decided to find a shop. There is a massive crossing outside the main train station, which is really confusing for people with vision impairments. We asked another pedestrian for help and finally made it to Königsstráße, the main shopping street and google maps directed us to the next supermarket.

Inside it was as if the whole country would soon run out of beer and crisps. The cashier kept shouting „next, next“ at the top of his voice. He wasn’t  going to help us in our quest for toothpaste, so we went further into the shop to try and find it ourselves. Germans are normally helpful enough, but when they want something (in this case obviously alcohol) they can be ruthless. We wondered around  for a while, touching random items to see what they were, when an older guy in a white tank top asked us if we needed help. It turned out the shop didn’t sell toothpaste, but he helped us to get water without gas, which can be hard to find in Germany. While cueing, I asked the guy in German why everywhere was so packed and he told me, that the Frankfurt Soccer team was playing against Munich in Berlin tonight. They didn’t expect to win, but it was a reason to party anyway. We had managed to arrive on one of the busiest nights of the year, but we couldn’t have known that, since we have no interest in Soccer.  The cashier still behaved like a drill Sergeant and I was relieved to get out of the shop. In the end the guy who had already helped us even walked with us all the way back to the train station and showed us a drugstore where we finally got our toothpaste.   We decided to go back to the hotel to rest and to use our toothpaste  for which we had fought so hard.

Breakfast

We usually don’t avail of the breakfast buffet at budget hotels. I would have to go really close to the food to see what’s on offer and people sometimes complained that I smelled the food. In the past I just grabbed random items from the platters and hoped for the best. Now, I ask staff for help and usually they are helpful. Still, the breakfast is continental and I would not pay more than €8 for it unless I’m very hungry or stuck for time. There are lots of excellent bakeries in Germany where you can get two fancy roles, 2 strong cups of coffee and a slice of cake to share for €10. Every larger train station has a bakery with seating.

breakfast rol with cheese and salad
Healthy Breakfast

“Free” Walking Tour

The best way to get a feel for an unfamiliar city is to go on a Hop on hop off bus tour or a guided walk. Sitting in a car makes me sleepy and I find things move past the window too fast, so I can’t see them properly, never mind taking pictures. We are huge fans of free walking tours. They are a great way to experience a city without having to figure out where to go next and having to google what the buildings around us are. Free walking tour means that there is no fixed rate per ticket. At the end of the tour people decide how much money they want to give depending how they found the tour. I think that is a fair concept. In our experience the guide makes sure we don’t lose the group, either because they are nice or because they haven’t got paied yet.  For some tours you can book free of charge online, but most people simply show up. Finding the meeting point can be a bit of a challenge depending on the directions on the website, but it’s not as risky as paying for a tour in advance and than not finding it.

Sky scrapers
Enter a caption

Red Lights and Skyscrapers

Benjamin our guide was from Frankfurt and he spoke fluent German, Spanish and English. I think one of his parents was from South America. He got us interested in a city that is mainly known for it’s airport, banking and the red light district. By the way, the red light district with its sex shops is a bit of a tourist attraction in itself now. It is policed, and prostitution is regulated.

The banking quarter with its shiny glass and steel high rise buildings is only a few blocks away from the red light district. The architecture here looks very American, which is why Frankfurt is also called Mainhattan, after the river Main that divides it. After the Second World War the US dominated not only the West German economy but also the building style.

Different perspective of sky scrapers

One of the most famous sky scrapers is the 150m high Euro Tower housing the European Central Bank. The free-standing Euro sign in front of it is probably the most photographed attraction in Frankfurt. There has been a competition among companies who built and occupied the tallest building in Frankfurt.  At present this “title” is held by the Commerce Bank Tower. With a Hight of 260m it is the second highest building in the European Union, but not in Europe.

Frankfurt Euro Sign
Euro Sign outside the Euro Tower

Stolpersteine

Benjamin showed us Stolpersteine (Stumbling stones), which can be found in different locations in various German and European cities. Stolpersteine are stone plaques to commemorate Jewish citizens who were deported and in most cases killed during the Nazi regime.  The stones are placed in the pavement outside the person’s former house and contain information about their life story. To me the message of this project is much more powerful than conventional monuments. It highlights the victim’s individuality and links them to the place where they lived. People can come across one when they least expect it. So have a look out for them when you visit Frankfurt or another city in Germany.

The New Old Town

Our walking tour ended in the Neue Altstadt (New Old Town).  This area with its half-timbered houses and churches provides another stark contrast to the banking quarter. It is called the new old town, because the majority of the houses were only built between 2012 and 2018. The original market square and its neighboring streets were completely destroyed during the 1944 air raid on Frankfurt. In the 1970s modern buildings were built instead. Some of the new houses are reconstructs of the originals. It’s a lovely square and we listened to a Glockenspiel (Chime). There are also little figurines coming in and out of the top window of the tower similar to a cuckoo clock, but we both could not see them.

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There was a great atmosphere in the city, because as I mentioned earlier the local soccer team had surprisingly beaten Munich and the team was due to return home for celebrations at the main square. However, we did not want to be in the middle of a crowd in an unfamiliar city so we made our way back to the train station.

Lunch and an Unusual Complement

We had lunch at Feinkost Paradies. It was near the shop Goldexchange on Kaiserstraße where we had met earlier for the walking tour. We wondered in to ask if this was the right place and the owner sold us delicious Turkish apple tea for a very good price. We had a chat and he told us that for him Frankfurt is a great place to live and very few people were racist towards his family. He was very helpful and said my eyes have a beautiful colour. Some women might find that creepy, but I think it’s a nice compliment. Part of my eye condition is called Nystagmus, which  means that my eyes cannot focus properly and move around. Sometimes people stare at me, making me feel very self-conscious. I was thrilled that for the first time someone remarked on the grey-blue color of my eyes, rather than pointing out that there was something “wrong” with them.

Fazit

We enjoyed our stay in Frankfurt. The city has more to offer than two airports and good rail connections. Unfortunately, we did’t get a chance to walk along the river Main, so we would like to come back. We recommend spending one or two days in Frankfurt. Other towns near by worth visiting are Marburg and Heidelberg.

 

The Killers on stage, Source Wikipedia

The Killers Live at the RDS in Dublin – Accessibility Review

My boyfriend and I went to see The Killers with special guests Franz Ferdinand in the RDS Dublin last week. Both are fantastic live bands and the crowd got almost 4 hours of amazing live performance. We bought the tickets last winter and when I realised it was going to be an open air concert, I envisaged myself getting drenched. Fortunately the weather was fantastic 24°C, a heatwave as far as Irish summers go. This post is more about my experience attending the concert as a fan with vision impairment.  For a music review have a read of this excellent Hot Press article.

 

We got the DART to Sandymount where the crowd was directed out of the station by security staff. We used our canes and followed people to the venue. The RDS is a massive complex. I had been in the main arena for a graduate fair before, but never in the open air area. We are still able to see the security people in their high vis jackets, so we asked the first staff member we saw for assistance. A lady called Emma looked at our tickets and brought us to the right gate. We had to walk around the outside wall for over 10 minutes,, which is no problem but would have been difficult without assistance due to the crowds and the fact that we are unable to read the signs.We were allowed to skip the queue where the bags were searched. Emma told us about some of the concerts she gets to see and showed us a place near the back where we could stand.

 

We arrived early to hear Franz Ferdinand.  I know some of their songs and they are a great live band. We put our canes away and went a bit further into the crowd. People will probably not notice them anyway when it is packed and dancing along to the music with a cane looks a bit silly, unless you are trying to use it as a limbo stick. During the break we asked another staff member to guide us to the toilets. We walked to the main arena, thus avoiding the massive que outside the provided WC containers. Again, it would have been hard to find our way there and back without help.

 

“Somebody Told Me” live at RDS Dublin on YouTube

The Killers came on stage around 9. We stood somewhere in the middle and for the majority of the concert it was not too packed. We couldn’t really see anything on stage or the big screen, but a good band for me is mainly about the music. Some of the green light effects when it got dark were cool. The Journal .ie reported the next day, people found the concert really loud. I try to avoid loud noise and I´m one of the first people to put tissue in my ear at concerts, but I didn’t find it loud at all. On the contrary, I couldn´t understand some of the announcements.

 

Irish Fan Danny playing drums on YouTube

 

The concert was brilliant. I love the band’s first 2 albums “Hot Fuzss” and ´”Sam´s” town. Some of their later stuff is still good, but I feel they got a bit too electronic and poppy for my taste in the last years. Live however, even their newer songs I don ´t know that well sounded great. They played more guitar and drumm riffs. Brandon Flowers´ voice is very distinctive and he is a fantastic live-performer who gets the crowd to sing along. People loved when he called a fan holding a poster saying he is a drummer up on stage to perform with the band. He was brilliant, whether the  part was pre-arranged or not.

 

We were delighted that they played many of our old favourites like „Somebody told me“ „Jenny was a friend of mine“, „Smile like you mean it“ and of course „Mr. Brightside“. It was a great experience to sing along with the rest of the crowd. It got a bit messy towards the end and especially when people were leaving. We didn’t buy the totally overpriced drinks, but by the end of the evening  my clothes were sticky with spilled drink. People were generally polite enough. One girl though had an umbrella hat and one of the spikes got entangled in my hair. That  was dangerous and I´m surprised  security let her in with that.

 

“When You Where Young” The Killers live at the RDS Dublin on YouTube

When leaving everyone got stuck in a bottle neck and I had to hold on to my boyfriend otherwise I would have been rushed along. It was much harder to find a staff member on the way out. We followed the crowd, not exactly sure which gate to go to. When we got to the gate and asked security staff for directions to the DART a guy came out of the crowd and said he was going there too and we could go with him. Turns out he works at one of my boyfriend´s previous workplaces and recognised him. Without help we would probably have missed the last train. Only in Ireland you meet someone you know at a concert with  20,000 people.

 

Fazit

Overall, we had a great time and whenever it got tricky we got help from staff members or other people. I generally find the security people at concert venues extremely helpful. But of course there will be crowds and some pushing at every concert. If you are worried about that you could try to contact the venue and ask if you can stand in the wheelchair accessible area, which is often less crowded. I have heard that some ticket providers give free tickets if you bring assistance, but I have never tried that. Here is a great article by Holly over at her blog Life of a Blind Girl on how to make concert venues more accessible for blind and visually impaired people.

 

I would definitely recommend going to  The Killers concert.

 

Has anyone else been there and what are your experiences with the accessibility of concert venues? Please feel free to leave a comment.

white High speed train leaving a station

Interrailing in Germany – Part 1: Tips for Travellers with Vision Impairments

Since I started working in Ireland, I use most of my holidays to go back to Germany for Christmas, celebrations or simply to have a proper summer. I love catching up with family and friends, but at the same time I also want to travel to new places.

This May my boyfriend and I combined attending a birthday party with sightseeing in Germany. Before this trip I had seen more of Ireland than of Germany. Most people don’t  travel their own country and Germany is a large country, so there were plenty of cities I hadn´t  been to. During this trip we visited Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, Augsburg, Leipzig and Gera, my home town in Thuringia. Visiting Germany as a tourist gave me a different perspective on some aspects of German culture.

Map of Germany showing the main cities

 

How Accessible is Germany for someone with a vision impairment?

It really depends on where you go and what you want to do.  German public places and tourist attractions provide reasonable levels of accessibility. It is rarely perfect but manageable. In most cities you will get along with English, although speaking German definitely helps especially when asking for directions or reading information on websites and listening to announcements on public transport.

I googled the museums we wanted to visit to find outif they had audio guides or special tours. If not we joined “normal” tours in English. Some museums said they would provide us with a “special” tour if we paid extra for the guide. That is fair enough if you are a group and can split the cost, but I argued that we we should have the same access to the museum as a sighted visitor and that people with disabilities can’t always be expected to turn up in a group. In every case I got a tour for free or to a reduced price. In return I promised to write reviews about our visits. They will follow later in this series.

 

Using Public Transport

 

You can get everywhere by public transport. Most cities have at least busses and trams, the major ones offer also subways or undergrounds. These well connected transport systems make it easy to get around, but it can be challenging to find the right platform in a station that looks like a gigantic shopping centre.

I still have a German travel pass, which means I and an “assistant” can go for free on regional trains and local public transport. For the fast trains (ICE and EC) I only get the assistant’s ticket for free. I bought our tickets for the longer journeys online through the DB Navigator App (Deutsche Bahn App) a few weeks in advance and never paid more than €30 per journey. However, these reduced tickets are bound to a specific departure time. I think the “assistance” is supposed to be sighted, but we always got away with it.

You can book assistance at the train stations to show you to the plattform and to meet you off the train to bring you to the exit. However, the service has to be booked through the Mobilitätzentrale (Mobility centre) at least 24 hours in advance. If you don´t speak German it would be easiest to send them an email at MSZ@deutschebahn.com with your contact information, travel details, what kind of assistance you need and if you travel with luggage and use a cane or guide dog. Bring the cane even if you don ´t use it, so  the assistance can recognise you. If you have some vision look out for someone with a bright red hat, shaped like a police uniform cap.

If you have an ICE or EC ticket the mobility centre also bookes you a seat reservation free of charge. That also makes it easier for them to find you on the train and you don´t  have to wander around looking for a non-reserved seat.

Overall the assistance works very well, the only disadvantage is that it can´t be used spontaneously. If we were  not bound to a certain departure time and the train was frequent enough, we turned up early and found the plattform ourselves. Ironically, the meeting points for the assistance are sometimes harder to find than a plattform.

Private Busses

There are also several private bus companies like FlixBus. These busses connect the major cities and even have destinations allover Europe. They are cheaper than the trains and the App is easy to use and the tickets are digital so I don‘t have to worry about paperwork I can’t read. There are no free tickets for travel pass owners, but on request  the bus companies often give a free ticket for the „assistance“. Contact customer service and give it a go.

green flixbus coach

My golden rule is: Always ask for reductions for people with disabilities, especially in tourist attraction. Public transport companies are not required to accept foreign travel passes. But you can always try, especially if you have a kane. Train conductors have to sell you a ticket at normal price without charging an extra fee for buying on board, because the ticket machines have touch screens. The larger stations also have a „Reisetenzrum“ travel centre with a ticket counter.

 

Planning is Key

This sounds stereotypical German, but I really believe that I get more out of a holiday, If I take the time to do some research.  Where do I want to go? What is there to see and how do I get there. Without planning I would waist valuable time finding out all this information when I get there.

Booking Hotels

I’m a big fan of apps. I find that booking.com and Tripadvisor for IOS are more accessible and less cluttered than their website versions. The IPhone speech software VoiceOver reads most text fields and buttons on the screen. I save all my travel documents to ICloud files and make them available offline to access them even without internet.

Listen to other people’s reviews on Booking.com. I booked a hotel with a 2 star rating in Frankfurt and regretted it. More about that in a future post on Frankfurt.  Read the property descriptions carefully. How far is it away from the hotel away from the centre, are there restaurants and shops nearby, how good is the transport connection. You can also look at the property in Google Maps, which leads me to the next point.

Google Maps Lists

For this holiday, I created a private Google maps list with places to go in each city we visited. These included not only tourist attractions, but also restaurants, pubs Cafés and parks.  Food-wise I want local cuisine and healthy and cheap options, which mostly turn out to be Chinese or Indian.  Read the reviews, sometimes they even tell you what is near the location. Use the public transport options in Google Maps for directions and select your hotel or a major train station or square as starting point.  Also have a look for a local public transport App in the App Store. Some cities even produce a visually impaired friendly version of their app. Don t hesitate to add more places than you will probably visit to your Google Maps list. You will find that some things are near each other and it is good to have a choice.

Screen shot of Google Maps list Munich
part of my Google Maps list

Overall, I would definitely recommend Germany as a travel destination. All the preparation sounds like a lot of work, but it will ultimately make the holiday more enjoyable and a bit more stress free.

What experiences do you have travelling to Germany? Or are you planning a trip to Germany and have any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments.

Accessible Guided Tour of Dublin Zoo

a group of elephants standing on stone steps leading into water

My last visit in Dublin Zoo was over a year ago. I wrote a German article at the time, however we were so impressed with the visitor service, that I wanted to write an English version – so here it is, cute animal pictures included.

I had wanted to visit the zoo for a while, but we thought it would be difficult for two people with vision impairments to navigate the grounds without sighted help, since we are unable to read signposts or maps. So we called a day in advance and asked if someone would show us arround. The lady at the visitor centre said one of their volunteers would be delighted to give us a guided tour of the zoo.

The friendliness of Irish people towards strangers fascinates me. Our guide Catherine was lovely. The guided tour was more like a stroll around the zoo with a friend. We had interesting conversations and some great laughs. All volunteers are trained and have an impressive knowledge of the zoo, including historical facts and information about the different species it houses. It was great to be shown the zoo by someone who is passionate about their work.

Dublin Zoo offers a number of facilities to make its grounds accessible to everyone. Apart from the guided tours they have wheelchair, accessible toiletes, facilities for minding service dogs and a number of tactile objects with braille. We could touch an elephant skull with tusks, a set of giraffe teeth and a tiger fur. It was helpful to feel the different structures and to get a better impression of the shapes of the animals.

The best part of our visit was watching the feeding of the elephants during which even the baby elephants came close to the water. The carer told us how much and what they eat. Some fun facts: The elephants are trained to lift their feed to get their nails cut; And as part of  the regular health checks their poo needs to be tested. In order to determine which gigantic pile belongs to what elephant they are each fed a bit of differently coloured tinsel.  Well, at least the carers can see the bright side of an otherwise not pleasant-sounding task.

Some animals like reptiles or birds can be hard to see for people with vision impairments. I brought a magnification tool, which I normally use to look at traffic lights and bus numbers. Another trick is to zoom in with the phone camera or to take a picture and zoom in afterwards to focus on an animal.

The landscape the animals live in resembles their natural environment. Especially impressive is the ape area consisting of numerous islands. The penguins with their black and white colour contrast were also easy to sse. We could even watch them swimming under water through a glass wall. It was similar with the giraffes and zebras in their savanna.

More fun facts> Catherine told us about a scientist who uses video footage to study how long each of the flamingos stands on the same leg. I would love to know the answer for my fun facts collection.

a group of pink flamingos

In many ways it is difficult for people with disabilities to live independently in Ireland (public transport is my favourite example). However, what makes it a lot easier is the willingness of many people to give extra time and effort to other people´s special requirements. In contrast, in Germany many employees only do what is required of them according to their job description. Volunteering is not as as large a part of German culture as it is in Ireland. There are special guided tours, but often only if you bring a goup, pay extra for it or arrange it months in advance. In Ireland we were always accommodated without lengthy arrangements.

Monkey climbing along ropes

Unfortunately, we could not find skunks, my favourite animals. I suspect it is because of the smell. Dublin Zoo is always worth a visit. Nature is fascinating and without institutions promoting the continuation and procreation of endangered animals a significant number of animals would have died out by now.

Photography Workshop for People with Visual Impairments in Dublin

I’m really excited to promote this fantastic project in Ireland. I participated in some of the workshops in Berlin. It was great and I was positively surprised of the quality of some of the pictures we took.

Photo Narrations

a black and white photograph of a woman with dark glasses and head holding a camera. Two younger women help her to take the picture.

What: Free 2 day digital photography and light painting workshop

When: Saturday 8th July, Sunday 9th July.

Who is it for: participants with visual impairments interested in trying out photography and sighted volunteers, no experience required

Where? NCBI Head Office, Whitworth Rd. Dublin 9.

How to register? Email picdesc@gmail.com for further questions and to register.

What to bring: enthusiasm for trying out something new, smart phone or digital camera and props e.g. scarf’s, hats, costumes and LED flash lights, if available

Run by: Karsten Hein (organises photography workshops for visually impaired people in Berlin)

Outcome: exhibition of photographs with accompanying texts, Permanent online exhibition and article at www.photonarrations.wordpress.com

The idea:

 The photography workshop challenges the prevailing misconception, that blind people have no understanding of and interest in visual arts. People with physical disabilities tend to be in pictures, rather than taking them. This project aims to turn…

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Studentische Auslandsmobilität Erhöhen – Diskutiere mit

Der DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) organisiert im Rahmen seiner Kampagne „studieren weltweit – erlebe es!“ am 19. und 20. Juni in Essen eine Tagung mit vorangehender Online-Diskussion unter dem Titel „„Studentische Auslandsmobilität erhöhen! – Soziale Diversität und Lehramt als Herausforderung und Chance“, die vier Gruppen in den Fokus nehmen möchte:

All diese Gruppen sind – aus verschiedenen Gründen – statistisch bei Auslandsaufenthalten unterrepräsentiert. Im Rahmen des Austausches und der Diskussion geht es um die Identifikation von Hürden und mögliche Verbesserungspotentiale im Sinne der jeweiligen Zielgruppen.

Ich bin studentische Themenpatin für den Bereich Auslandsaufenthalt mit Beeinträchtigung oder chronischer Erkrankung und lade euch hiermit herzlich ein, euch noch bis zum 19. May an der Online Diskussion zu beteiligen. Hier ist mein Video in dem ich erzähle, warum sich für mich als Studentin mit Seheinschränkung Mein Auslandssstudium in Galway akademisch und persönlich gelohnt hat.

Diskutiere Mit!

Im Bereich Auslandsaufenthalt mit Beeinträchtigung oder chronischer Erkrankung findet ihr Thesen und Umfragen rund um die Themen Planung, Finanzierung und Durchführung von Auslandsstudien und Praktika, zu denen ihr kommentieren und abstimmen könnt. Die Ergebnisse werden in der Tagung im Juni ausgewertet und diskutiert.

Im Abschnitt Deine Geschichte könnt ihr von euren eigenen Auslandserfahrungen berichten und Tipps teilen, um andere Studierende zu ermutigen diese Chance zu nutzen.

Folgt Studieren Weltweit auch auf Facebook, Twitter und Instagram

 

Clothes Shopping with a Personal Shopper

I’m not exactly a fashion enthusiast. I obviously want to look well and feel good about myself, but easy maintenance and practicality always come before style. When I moved to Ireland, I could no longer bring my mum a bag full of ironing every weekend. She gave me a precise list specifying which items could be washed together and at what temperature they had to be ironed and suddenly I was on my own. I gave up the good intentions of separating and ironing my laundry in the second week, colour absorbing tissues had to do the job and all the blouses and skirts, which definitely had to be ironed where banished back into the suitcase. Jeans, T-shirts and jumpers became my best friends.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I wanted to bring a bit of variety and colour into my wardrobe this season. Shopping in general, whether it’s for food, household stuff or clothes, does not rank high on my list of favourite activities. I can think of tonnes of things that are more fun than wondering aimlessly around a gigantic shopping centre, full of stressed people hunting for the latest bargains.

 

I n a leather skirt, black tights and a dark top with flower patterns.

Being visually impaired doesn’t make it easier. I have to take every item out of the shelf and hold it really close to my face or even use a magnifier to see what it is. Apart from people staring at me, this is very slow and frustrating. Initially, I was ashamed to ask for help and bought whatever I could identify. I ended up with rather random stuff in my trolley and if I was really unlucky I got meat pizza instead of the vegetarian version. After a while, I overcame my pride somewhat and now I get the shop assistants to help me. Most of them are very friendly, but in places like ALDI it can be hard to find someone. More upmarket places like Tesco do home delivery.

I enjoy clothes shopping with my mum. We are having great fun laughing about some of the more ridiculous fashion trends and I know she is honest when something doesn’t suit me, sometimes even too honest. But my mum is also the conventional Jeans-type, so I ended up buying similar clothes twice a year when I was home in Germany.

I have seen personal shoppers on TV, transforming slightly uncomfortable looking participants into completely new people with the help of high-maintenance haircuts, lots of make-up and pretty clothes nobody would wear in everyday life. But my boyfriend had used it before and was very happy with the service and encouraged me to give it a go. In fact, he made the appointment in the biggest New Look store in Dublin, otherwise I would probably still be talking about doing it soon.

I was very nervous and self-conscious in the beginning. I showed the lady who helped me some pictures of clothes I liked from the New Look website and half expected her to shake her head in despair saying these styles don’t suit me. Of course she didn’t. I managed to say that I want to wear something more adventurous and elegant than jeans and off we went through the fashion labyrinth. I took whatever she suggested. No harm in trying I thought. While I liked some pieces at first sight, I would have never even thought of trying a leather skirt for example. Surprisingly, it looked really good and I bought it. It’s one of my favourite skirts now and it doesn’t have to be ironed.

I had a whole changing area to myself and actually really enjoyed this shopping trip. We had a great chat about what colours and styles go together and it almost felt like a shopping trip with a friend. I realised that I had been too hard on myself when it comes to what goes with what. I’m a perfectionist, but as my granny says: “Nowadays almost everything goes together”. The challenge with skirts and dresses is to find matching shoes I can walk in, but we managed to find a pair with relatively small heels and like everything else it’s all about practice.

Since I don’t want to go shopping anytime again soon, I bought lots of stuff. That way you can make sure every top goes with every skirt, instead of buying single pieces, only to discover that you have nothing to go with it once you get home. I would definitely recommend availing of personal shoppers for everyone, visually impaired or not. It’s fun, efficient and full of surprises. A new style can make a huge difference and I got only positive feedback from my friends. The shop assistance are passionate about fashion and helping customers is a welcome break from stocking shelves or standing at the till to them. I’ll definitely be back in the winter season.