When it comes to sight loss, dialogue can only get you so far.  No matter how eloquent the speaker, describing an everyday life with no everyday normal can be a frustrating and fruitless pursuit.  How best to illustrate the sight-loss experience to the sighted?

So it was that I found myself faced with the task of helping to train a gaggle of highly motivated – and highly sighted – Sight Loss Nurse Advisors from Southampton General Hospital.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and their genuine passion and commitment to improving and adapting how the eye clinic approaches those most vulnerable of patients called for something special.

We here at Southampton Sight pride ourselves on our person-centred, needs led ethos and the mantra of early intervention – the sooner we can help someone in their sight-loss journey the better.  Seeing less is a scary prospect for everyone.  The fear of the loss of independence and the inability to maintain a happy and fulfilling life can leave even the most assertive of us reeling.  Sight loss is not, however, terminal, and a positive early introduction to adaptive aids, social groups and a positive, welcoming community can make the difference between isolation and fulfilment, depression and contentment.

And so, blindfolds in hand, we walked the nurses through some simple, but enlightening, everyday tasks complicated by visual impairment.  First, the deep end – toasting and buttering entirely blind.  Although total sight loss is uncommon, often those who come to us are far along in their condition. Having been too often left to fend for themselves, bad habits and poor mental health has left them vulnerable and dependent on others.  Uncertainty, self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy have taken hold, something our brave trainees soon discovered. No matter how common the act, diving in without suitable guidance and aids will only lead to failure… or in this case, half-toasted bread smothered in inch thick spread.

And so to the main event, cheese scones.  But this time the blindfolds were gone, replaced by simi-specs made to mirror a less severe loss of sight.  Talking scales, measuring jugs and high contrast equipment, together with the less high-tech large-print recipes, came to the fore, high-lighting how a few adaptive practices and a handful of visual aids, combined with some helpful and encouraging guidance can make all the difference.  Although still a daunting task for the learner VIP, what had at first seemed an unsurmountable undertaking soon became just another afternoon’s baking session.

This hands-on experience showed rather than told everything the nurses needed to know – that the loss of sight does not necessarily lead to the loss of life.  Early intervention, coupled with a positive and self-affirming environment, can support, nurture and rehabilitate those going through the transitionary path to a full and independent life, no matter how severe the sight loss.  Empathy is a powerful motivator, and understandably heightened through personal experience.  One afternoon in the shoes of the visually impaired is worth more than a week’s worth of lectures. But don’t take my word for it – the nurses themselves said it was simply the best!

And rest assured – no scones were harmed in the making of this programme.

Kris Gibson

Southampton Sight (Sight Loss Advisor)


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