Influencing Change: An interview with Jules Lee
Julie (Jules) Lee joined Merseyside Sight Loss Council in September 2020.. Since then she has been involved in many of its activities and campaigns. We interviewed Jules to find out more on the projects she feels passionate about and the impact Sight Loss Council members make.
Born with a Coloboma, a gap in the structures of the eye, which caused her visual impairment, we asked Jules about the challenges Covid restrictions have created for her shopping independently.
She said: “I need to pick things up to look at them. But that’s become really difficult during lockdown. I had quite a traumatic incident in one of our local supermarkets where I was challenged for doing this. This staff member shouted at me to stop touching the food. I was so shocked that he was so aggressive. I became aware that if he was challenging me, other people were probably looking at me and thinking ‘what on earth is she doing?’ It made me feel very uncomfortable.”
“Also a lot of signage is not visible for someone like me with a visual impairment. I recently went into B&Q. I asked a member of staff if they could direct me to buy some paint brushes. He was helpful and told me to go to aisle 20 but the signage was so small I had no realistic chance of reading it. And it was on a white background with orange text.”
“I suggested to the store manager that they mark the aisle number on the ground in yellow paint at the top and the bottom of the aisle. He said it was a really good idea and he’d run it past head office. I went back three months later, it’s still the same. It’s just so deeply frustrating because that’s something that would cost very little and would help visually impaired people to shop independently.”
How have you found getting assistance in shops?
“It’s a bit hit and miss. The reality is it’s not always that easy to find a member of staff. These experiences have left me with the feeling that I can’t go into a small independent shop on my own. That’s probably not because the retailer wouldn’t welcome me, but it’s because they wouldn’t recognise that I needed assistance. That’s why I’m so passionate about the work we will be doing around Purple Tuesday.”
Purple Tuesday is a nationwide campaign to improve the customer experience for disabled people and raise awareness of the spending power of disabled people. In the UK alone, the Purple Pound – the spending power of disabled people and their families – is worth a staggering £274 billion and is estimated to be rising by 14% per year.
What work are you doing surrounding Purple Tuesday?
“We will be engaging with shop owners and giving them guidance on what they can do to make shops more accessible such as making signage more visible, improving lighting and making staff aware of the assistance they can provide. This is really poignant for me because of the experiences I had during lockdown.”
What other projects have you been involved in?
“I’ve been working with e-scooter operator Voi. We’re really quite concerned with the pilots going on in Liverpool, because e-scooters are being dumped everywhere – left in the middle of pedestrian areas, outside shops, and people are riding them on pavements.
I went to Liverpool recently and as I exited the train station the very first thing I came across was a dumped scooter. The Sight Loss Council has been holding Voi to account. We’ve photographed abandoned e-scooters and reported them. The abandoned e-scooters are just left outside a train station on a pedestrian walkway for a long time, it’s impossible to know how many people that could potentially endanger. And it’s not just those with visual impairments. It could be parents with push chairs, elderly people or those with reduced mobility.”
Improving the accessibility of at-home Covid tests
“Along with the Merseyside SLC, I also got involved in a pilot where I reviewed the guidance and instructions for Covid home testing kits. Our feedback was used by the Department of Health & Social Care to issue accessible instructions for visually impaired people taking Covid tests at home.”
Why do you enjoy volunteering for Sight Loss Councils?
“It’s been brilliant because it’s opened up a completely new area of interest for me. Also, the work we are doing and the insight we provide is definitely having an impact on the lives of blind and partially sighted people.”