Stephanie and Vision Through Sound

Stephanie is blind and worked as a computer programmer for 20 years before training as a rehabilitation worker for newly blinded adults. Through her work she found herself sharing information about the technology she used with other people. When she was made redundant, she decided to take her skills and knowledge and use it to help others.

I wanted to help blind people and wanting blindness to be an asset rather than a hindrance. I developed repetitive strain injury in both wrists, which meant many things I used my hands for caused pain, including reading Braille. I was devastated, as touch is of incredible importance to a blind person. Yet I knew that God loves me, and put me on this earth for a purpose, He could also give me the power to forgive those who put obstacles in my way. Bit by bit I discovered using my strengths, rather than looking at my weaknesses, using what I can do, rather than what I can’t do, has made a huge difference to me.

Entrepreneur and change agent

Stephanie established a Community Interest Company (CIC) 2 years ago. She teaches blind people how to use technology to improve their life and give them skills to do what they want to do. She helps people access technology such as talking computers and phones that speak. She also leads the development of new equipment and software and explores ways to use existing technology in different ways. For example, ‘talking beacons’ which use a phone app to inform blind people which shop or building they are about to enter. Stephanie advises on information and accessibility, helping organisations who want to ensure their website is accessible and creating braille or tactile information for councils.

Stephanie also does a lot of work to open opportunities to blind people who live in Zambia, with an orphanage, school and group of blind adults.

I found them portable solar powered bibles in their own language, and they were over the moon… I learnt so much by going over there, because most of the equipment that we have won’t work over there, because they’ve got nobody to repair it, they’ve got no electricity to run it…so to have solar powered was just what they needed.

What helped?

Stephanie has a guide dog who is key to much of her independence. In addition, the Government Access to Work scheme provides Stephanie with financial help to work and to run her enterprise. She uses the money to pay 3 different assistants each of whom has a very different skills set.

I couldn’t do any of this on my own…they provide 12 hours a week of help from a sighted colleague…to do all the things that I can’t do without sight, like mainly filling in print forms, and driving, things like that.

Stephanie gained help from Community Catalysts, Business Start-up at Bromsgrove Council and social enterprise development agency Blue Orchid who offered business advice and helped her secure a small start-up grant.

Community Catalysts has been a great boon to me, because Christine really understood, and was prepared to listen to what I can do and support that, where so many previous start-up schemes that I had been on were trying to fit me into the box…

Stephanie is a Christian which motivates her, and she has been supported by her Church.

Challenges

Stephanie has been challenged by the low expectations of others.

I think sighted people had low expectations of blind people, and of disabled people generally, and I’d been discouraged

Stephanie found setting up a new Community Interest Company and other activity that involves form filling and paperwork very challenging.

It’s such hard work and the forms are an absolute nightmare. It took me a good 2 months to fill them all in. Paperwork is always a problem, even the lottery funding, the form was difficult to fill in, I could do some of it online using NVDA Non-Visual Display Access, where the computer talks to me but that didn’t always pick up everything on the form…

Achievements and impact

Stephanie is a strong role model for blind people in the UK and Africa.

I’d always wanted to go to Africa for ages and I thought…because of being blind I would be more trouble than I was worth, but now that I have found blind people that really need my help, and the effect of having me over there… I don’t have to say anything, just by standing there, I’m proving that a blind person can do things, it gives them hope, it’s quite dramatic

Starting her own enterprise and working to help others has had a hugely positive impact on her personally.

It’s made me easier to live with, you know when you are comfortable with yourself, and you don’t feel the need to prove that you can do it, and you’re not fighting people all the time

The future

Stephanie is leading a project on the development of the User Interface Braille Kindle, the Canute from Bristol Braille Technology. She has taken it to schools and to groups of blind individuals all over the country and found 50 potential customers for a project that will shortly be available for public sale.

People will be able to read thousands of braille books in one machine rather than having piles of books all around the house…I’ve been instrumental in developing the user interface and designing how the user can operate it…

In the future she plans to provide technical support for this machine from home and also take it around the country to sell it to people.