I just wanted to share with you something I learnt this week. I went to do a half-day of sight loss awareness training, which might sound a bit daft, but my blindness was caused by prematurity and my being given too much oxygen. Having been blind all my life, I don’t know what it’s like to suddenly lose my sight.
I’m not sure how this plays out across the world, so I’ll just tell you what happens here. In the UK, when you’re first diagnosed with sight loss, you apparently get a phone call from social services. You’ve had a hospital appointment with an ophthalmologist, who’s passed your information on to them, and they ask you whether you want to be registered (I didn’t know registration was voluntary). Legally, you’re blind if your sight is so poor that you “Can’t do work for which eyesight is essential”.
So, let’s say you agree to be registered, and they agree to come in twelve months to see how you are. What happens during those first twelve months, especially if you have no support network? And when they’ve visited and assessed you, and given you what you need, if you have an eye-condition where your sight deteriorates gradually, common sense tells me that in a few years, you’ll need more than you did at the time of their assessment.
The organisation I trained with went to see a lady who’d decided to apply for a guide-dog. (I wasn’t asked to keep this story confidential, so my guess is she’s given permission for it to be shared.) The lady had been diagnosed; she’d waited the first year; she’d had her assessment from social services, and she’d been given a symbol cane. This is exactly as it sounds: A cane that symbolises to others your lack of sight. A person can use one of these if they’re partially-sighted. It’s a short cane they hold across their body as a symbol, while still using their vision to get around.
Years passed before the lady I mentioned applied for a guide-dog. When the organisation went to see her, she was walking the streets bent double, dragging this symbol cane along the edge of the kerb and following the double-yellow lines on the road. She’d had no formal mobility training and her sight had deteriorated so much, this was the only way she could cope. I think they were as shocked as I was, and gave her the support she needed. They trained her up with a long cane (which comes approximately to your breastbone and you swoosh it from left to right in front of you, so it hits any obstacles before you do). Suddenly she could stand up to her full height, look straight-ahead, and walk along the pavement without having to follow the kerb. It made a huge difference.
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Why am I telling you this? I suppose to highlight the lack of support out there for someone who’s just lost their sight, and to encourage you if you know someone in that situation to please, please try to be there for them. It’s a huge adjustment they’re having to make. Maybe they won’t want to discuss it at first, but it might help to have someone there when they do.
But once they start talking, how do you handle it? What can you do to support them? I thought perhaps we could explore this over the next few weeks. Are you with me?
(Linking up with Tuesday at Ten on this week’s prompt: Change)