Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Sensory Haven


Victoria Vivace

Soprano, Singer/song writer, and teacher of singing.

A sensory haven is something I often find my self seeking whenever I feel the need to relax. When you’re visually impaired, going out to socialize can sometimes be really stressful as the city is full of noise. Noise made inevitably by the millions of people that inhabit one city.  

I often find that if I need to go out for coffee or lunch with a friend, I have to go on the internet to read about lots of restaurants to find out which one I will find lively enough to be exciting, but quiet enough for me to be able to hold a decent conversation without losing my voice in the process. It is really hard to have conversations in a noisy place if you’re blind, because noise has a negative impact on your well being.

A blind person can only have a good sense of where they are and a good sense of balance when they can hear the walls around them, or hear the space around them. What noise does to you if you can’t see is that it totally engulfs you in this deep river of sound. You almost feel like you’re drowning in it as you can’t tell who or what’s in front of you, or what is about to happen to you.  If you have to hold a conversation, you often find that you can’t hear your friend, or yourself, and of course you have no visual clues to compensate so in cases like that, you would often go quiet and seek some sort of escape.

In my case, I often start to hum a song to myself. I never knew I did this until I observed over a period, my friends and my nieces asking me why I often started to hum to myself when we’re out walking, or sitting in a restaurant. I told them that it was my only way of staying calm because noise often makes me feel agitated.
I then started to devise certain coping strategies. I would often ask for a table in the corner, and to be sat next to the nearest wall when I go out to eat with friends. This way, I can guarantee that at least one part of my surroundings will be quiet. I then focus my attention on that bit of wall where there’s no noise coming from, and it calms me. 

Another thing I’ve also noticed, is that shops now play loud music all through the store and it not only turns the shop in to a rather stressful place to be in, but it makes communicating with the staff a huge challenge if you can’t see. It’s almost as if the music is being used to coerce people in to picking up things in a hurry and paying for them with out having the presence of mind to really think about the purchase they’re making. I have often gone to the customer desk to ask for the music to be reduced so I could do my shopping in peace. In some shops, they have been obliging but others have just apologised to me, saying that they couldn’t control the system as it was central to the whole store. There must be some law on the level of noise that’s acceptable in an enclosed public space isn’t there? 

A good example of such a place is Selfridges. Don’t get me wrong, I love Selfridges because they have all my favourite concessions under one roof, I find The staff extremely courteous and the people at the Mac counter provide an excellent service when I go to replace my make up, but   I often dread my visits because of the volume of the music. The store has high ceilings resulting in an echo which makes it noisy. When the noise of people shopping, is coupled with a cacophony of music coming from every concession on the shop floor, it is indeed unbearable.

I recall one time I went in there with my niece to try out new lipsticks to buy, and there was a queue.  Whilst we were waiting, we were being blasted with Beyonce’s “Run the world” so I said to my niece “Let’s go to another part of the shop for a while” so we walked towards the high street brands, and Rihannah’s “Rude boy” was bringing down the roof there as well. We then decided to go to the shoes and handbags, but Adele’s “Rolling in the deep” greeted us! It was as though we were witnessing the battle of the stereos, so I begged my niece to get me out of there. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love those artists I mentioned, and loud music is very welcome at a party, night club, or a disco, but do we need to have music playing so loud in a department store? 

John Lewis on the other hand, is a place I enter with a sigh of relief. They have no music playing in the store. I think the noise level there is managed because people sense that they’re walking in to a quiet place, so they’re more conscious of the noise they make. Everyone goes about their business so quietly that I sometimes don’t notice that the shop is crowded. I often choose to meet up for lunch or coffee with my work colleagues and friends in one of their restaurants.

Most times when I’m out and I get really stressed, I often seek out certain places I call a sensory Haven. Lush, which is a store that specializes in the sales of natural body products have always proved to be a great place of refuge for me. I would often walk in to the branch on South Molten street, in London,  to try soaps, hand creams, and some times, treat myself to a little shower jell or soap. They sometimes have some very soothing music in the background, and the girls there, are always ready to go round the store with you, and show you as many products as you like. What I find really impressive about their service, is the way all the stores have staff with a similar warm and welcoming attitude. I went to Lush when I visited a friend in Glasgow, and we both had a warm reception. Last year, when I was in Auckland New Zealand, someone pointed out a Lush to me in the town centre. I went in with my friend and again, I had such a great time in there that I came out with two new bath bombs. The staff at Lush not only sell their products, they believe in them! You can tell because of the huge dedication they show by going out of their way to describe each product’s properties and what they do for the skin. It’s like they’ve all been to a school of trichology. I often come out feeling soothed. 

As a blind person, if you think a lot about the discomfort you have to endure each time you go out, you would never leave your home. Home is a place where everything is safe, and predictable, but where is the fun in a life with out adventure? We need variety in our lives just like everybody else, but we also have a right to experience life in a tranquil environment. The noise levels in the cities are a huge cause for concern, not just for blind people, but for everyone. We all know it, but we have chosen to accept it as an inevitable aspect of socializing. If we all came together to agree that something ought to be done about it, we would have a more peaceful society. 

Try to imagine a world where you can leave your office at lunch break, and have lunch with your work colleagues or alone, in a place that offers a serene ambiance. You’ll go back to your duties feeling refreshed.  

Possible solutions:

There should be a cap on the level of background music that is considered to be acceptable in a public place.

Restaurants and cafes should define themselves clearly as quiet or noisy.

Public places that utilize background music to create ambiance, should ensure that background music remain in the background.

 
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