Old friend meets new

Prawns and leeks –an unusual and simple starter for novice California cook Jennison with the help of Hampshire kitchen master, John https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adrVxI6Dq38&feature=youtu.be.

Star of many of the Baking Blind cooking videos over the last few years, John featured in the Three Blind Mice episode https://youtu.be/6SaB88MiUu4  when we made cakes for a Comic Relief bake-sale.

We first met years ago as he is one of the regular taxi drivers who have been ferrying me around for, heavens, about quarter of a century!  As usual, I’d been chatting away and doubtless nattering on about my latest recipe or similar when he revealed that he’s an avid cook too.  After that, there was no stopping us: every journey was a feast of food, recipes and tips.

He has links to the Royal Navy too having cooked in local naval establishments, galleys and wardrooms before moving on to catering in several local pubs.  Now he’s a leading light of the largest local taxi firm which gives him more work flexibility.   We have spent many happy times on journeys: swapping recipes and techniques.  John is just like so many of the other chefs and cooks I met around the world: full of cheer, generosity and enthusiasm.

He often drove me when I got back to the UK after the car crash and took special care when I was still coping with my driving-related PTSD.  He turned up with boxes of his home-made suppers and lunches which were invaluable when I didn’t have the strength to cook.  John even made over 200 roses for my wedding cake which he’d iced, and his brother-in-law had made.  Our cooking has made a special friendship.

So, he was exactly the person I asked to collect Jennison from his Heathrow hotel: he knew all about helping a blind passenger and could regale him with our shared kitchen experiences.  And he’d volunteered to give LinkedIn’s technology accessibility champion, Jennison, a day of his time too.  Our first recipe was this prawn and leek starter and next week we find safe ways for blind people to triple cook the best chips ever.


Help or what?

Kate and I roared with laughter as we tested one of those kitchen gadgets that are utterly useless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKd7uD4GTbk&feature=youtu.be and end up languishing unloved and unused at the back of a drawer.

She’s a wildly enthusiastic supporter of the visually impaired people who are assisted by Southampton Sight  www.southamptonsight.org.uk

She’s passionate about encouraging blind people from the city and further afield in Hampshire to get back in to the kitchen: more independence, more social activity and more pleasure alongside better health and  better budgeting.  No wonder she loves her job when she can make a difference for so many.

We had embarked on the classic English chicken and mushroom pie when she produced what appeared to be a pair of scissors with a small chopping board attached to one blade.      With all the enthusiasm we could muster (and even more strength), those scissors just couldn’t get through something as soft as a chicken breast.  We gave up and went back to a trusty sharp knife: does the job and easier to wash-up.

I love kitchen gadgets and wouldn’t be without my talking scales and thermometer plus the gizmo that will read any barcode and record my own voice label.  But, otherwise, all my kitchen equipment is the same as anyone else’s.  Years ago, I had an audio alarm designed to sit on a mug  and beep when water, tea or coffee got near the rim.  But now there’s a super heater that will boil and pour the right amount of water with one button press – on sale anywhere.  I must have been given at least three talking jugs but I never used any of them: they take up too much space, are too fiddly and too slow.  It’s easier to remember that 100cl water weighs 100g and use the scales instead.

Visually impaired herself, Kate described how she manages and completely understands how gadgets that claim to be “disability-friendly” don’t always do the job.  Often choosing mainstream kit that is familiar  and easier to find is the answer.    That water heater fits the bill as do a chopping board with a rim on one side to reduce spills,  a knife-block that stores the knives between bristles rather than hard-to-find slots, a knife sharpener that clamps to the work surface and more.  None of these are more expensive or difficult to find but they are gadgets that are slightly more thoughtful than the norm.

My top two kitchen tips are about storage.  A blind person hunting for the right-sized lid for a plastic storage box is either super-organised or wildly frustrated.  My answer is Lakeland stacking boxes: three different size boxes that all use the same lid.  The joy of throwing the old mismatched collection away.

Secondly, I got rid of most of the kitchen cupboard shelves and replaced them with two or three metal “vegetable or pan” drawers in each.  No more scrabbling around to find what has slipped to the back of the cupboard.  A wonderful friend (Clare) gathered over a hundred ice-cream boxes from her daughter’s café (again, same size/same lid) and these neatly slot in to the drawers to keep the contents separate and neat(ish).

The moral of this tale is that making a kitchen or other space more accessible doesn’t always mean spending lots of money or getting specialist kit.  Understanding the core problems, making the most of off-the-shelf solutions and using your imagination can make a massive difference.

And thanks to Hampshire County Council for sponsoring our cooking sessions for local people with visual impairments.




Accessibility designed out

If you like cooking, have you heard of Thermamix?  I made bread https://youtu.be/n01siF8Lp9o with one of these machines in Melbourne, Australia, with food writer and author, Dani Valent www.danivalent.com.

Thermamix machines combine weighing scales, food processing,  heating etc –like a soup-maker on steroids.  They are pricey large pieces of electrical kitchen kit that many people in Australia and world-wide swear by.


Dani invited me to use either the sleek modern digital plastic version with carrying handle, touch-screen and more or the old metal TM31 with tactile buttons, knobs  and dials.  No choice: the new version is wholly inaccessible for a blind  cook whereas I learned the trusty and satisfyingly sturdy old one in a matter of minutes.  All the TM31 needs is an audio chip to speak the digital display and it would be the perfect cooking aid for anyone with visual impairment.  Meanwhile, those smug designers have excluded us from the market and   consigned us to find second-hand old TM31s.


But how did it make the bread?  Just excellent: two minutes stirring and warming the yeast before the flour was added for a 2 minute knead.  Then the dough was out of the machine, shaped and baked in under 20 minutes!    No excuse for running out of bread ever again.  The rolls were perfectly fluffy and light with a crisp crust – no wonder people like this machine so much!

Next time, Dani is talking about her Thermamix cook book and an ingredient that you can’t even buy!




Website accessibility

What do you think:

  • Website designers taking account of adaptive technology?
  • Which screen-magnifiers, screen-readers and voice recognition solutions are most used?
  • What about all the others who use adaptive IT?

You can cast an eye, screen-magnifier or reader over the results of a recent survey of the sorts of adaptive information technology used to access the gov.uk website at:


Useful in parts although only just over 700 responses were gathered over six weeks from users of the Government’s main website – perhaps other users of adaptive IT (like me) have found websites so difficult over the years that we really don’t try them anymore.  There’s probably a good case for giving more visibility (excuse the pun) to all the developments in web design in more recent times.

Meanwhile, this data is likely to influence how Government websites are tested and further improved – so other designers might care to follow suit.

And the problem with pdf documents got another airing – no-one should be using this format unless the original document was properly designed for accessibility.

Don’t forget: any organisation that provides services to the public (whether a private business, public body or voluntary or community sector organisation) has the legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to make information and communications accessible to everyone.  And “reasonable” is usually going to mean that the larger the organisation, the bigger the effort they need to make.

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Poor accessibility review for Rome – but great assistance.

What do you think:

  • How to pick up men in Rome?
  • Accessibility more than just lifts and ramps?
  • Physical impairments limit work in the fitness industry?

How to pick up men in Rome?

Relaxing at destination


Completely impossible to book passenger assistance at the main Termini railway station in Rome –lots of long-distance phone calls rang impregnable option menus but never quite connected with a living, breathing human.    It feels rather like a metaphor for modern life.

Faced with a trolley-free panorama, I and utterly diminutive co-traveller, not-quite-shoulder length Rosemary, exerted our double death grip to drag stacked luggage towards the distant horizon beyond the station’s 20-odd platforms.  As Number 1 hove in to view, we knew that the struggle was succeeding –the medley of directions had all confirmed our train was just around the corner and along a bit.  Celebrations all round and Rosemary deployed on lunch logistics.

Nonchantaly confident, I stood guard over the bags and surveyed the station soundscape (basic building site).  Same sensors picked them up: incoming at 12 o’clock and another to starboard; close range; Intelligence limited but signalling native, purposeful, non-hostile – General Alert but Hold Fire.  “Are you Penelope and where is your friend?” was subtle opening gambit: superior Intel on force composition and deployment.  Need to avoid friendly fire and decode remaining unintelligible message.  Colossus-like, the enigma came through en Claire: SIGINT discarded as phone calls had target-error; honey trap HUMINT source confirmed as conversational airport assistance (code name Guiseppe) deploying tradecraft to side-step the system.

OK, it was two of the station assistance chaps offering us a lift in the buggy –but how was I to know? And, when Rosemary got back, we had to be persuaded that just around the corner and along a bit really justified the help.  But it seemed discourteous to decline. Buggy was duly mounted and Rosemary consigned to luggage bay.  Off we trundled, round the corner and on a bit – and a bit more and then a very lot more: down slopes and up again, out of the main station, along seemingly endless stretches of concrete with no perceptible alternative life forms except the odd birdsong.  It measured at least a mile by buggy and an impossible 10 by bag-dragging foot – we would never have made it alone.  Our laughter became increasingly hysterical as we realised the disaster so narrowly adverted.

Lessons learned:

  • Be as chatty and nice to anyone who helps you – you never know when you might need them and their friends again.
  • Tempering flight or fight urges is one of the advantages of being blind.

Taxis can be safer and easier – but far less exciting!

Accessibility more than just lifts and ramps?

Even leading UK retailer Marks and Spencer has realised that awful music doesn’t improve our shopping experience.  And you can imagine that noisy venues are even more difficult for people who rely on their hearing, have hearing loss or find that volume disturbs their mental health – we just spend our money elsewhere.  The new international Access Earth website allows anyone to rate venues on their accessibility and provide comments about places to eat and drink, sleep, shop and do other activities.  Hopefully they might extend this to other less-optional venues such as doctor and dentist surgeries, schools and colleges, hospitals and other public buildings such as Jobcentres and Council offices.  There will be a mobile app too in a couple of months.  Visit: http://eab.li/1m

Physical impairments limit work in the fitness industry?

Of course not.  We all know that physical impairments don’t stop sports fanatics competing at the highest level such as the Paralympics.  So it makes complete sense that work in the fitness and leisure industry can also be open.  The award-winning “Instructability” programme run by charity Aspire is one route to such jobs.  Visit: www.aspire.org.uk


There’s also a vacancy for a part-time “inclusive sports coach” in Liverpool – a good way of getting on to the sports and leisure industry ladder.  For an application form, or if you have any further enquiries or issues, please contact Daisy Inclusive UK on 0151 261 0309 or email info@daisyuk.com – closing date for applications is 8 August.


Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000