Dear Mr Sight Loss
I’m writing to you today to update you on how I’m doing. I thought you’d like to know. I had never really thought much about sight loss or visual impairment until 4 years ago. My sight had always been ok, apart from normal stuff like glasses for reading. I never expected to be writing this letter to you.
But here I go….
Who knew that suffering a stroke, as a result of bacterial meningitis would affect my vision!? As if having to re learn how to eat, talk, walk and use my arm again wasn’t enough! You then decided to pay me a visit and mess about with my sight. Thanks a bunch mate! I never knew that you could lose sight as a result of a stroke. Apparently, sight loss from a stroke is about brain damage and blocked pathways to your brain, not about damage to your eyes. You learn something new every day!
I suppose I’m quite lucky though in the sight loss world. I still have a lot of vision. I can see quite clearly to the right. It’s the left side that’s the problem. And who would have thought that losing your left side peripheral vision would be any real problem? I never thought it would be such an issue. But I’ve been surprised by just how much it’s affected me, especially in the early days. It really knocked my confidence.
On a day to day basis, around the house, I’m generally ok, apart from the odd thing I knock over when I’m cooking or bumping into door frames or treading on the dog. It’s being out and about that’s more challenging. Crossing roads, being in crowded places like restaurants, cinemas, theatres or supermarkets. They all present their problems now. And I never expected that this sight loss would contribute to me having to retire prematurely from my career as an early years teacher. But nursey classrooms are busy places, and small children are not very keen on being trodden on or bumped into by a big lump like me who doesn’t see them properly. But I’m not letting you get the better of me Mr Sight Loss!! I’ve been proactive in learning a lot about you and how to deal with you…so I’m getting on with my life thanks very much!
Luckily I’ve had so much fantastic support from Sensory Services at Southampton City Council. They helped me emotionally to understand my new vision. They properly explained what had happened to me. They helped me see myself not as Disabled but as DIFFERENTLY ABLE. They taught me how to get out and about confidently in places I am familiar with. With their support, I learned how to track ahead for obstacles and to scan for traffic and pedestrians. I was introduced to my symbol cane that I now carry everywhere I go. It’s to indicate to others that I’m visually impaired and that I might not see things in the way they do. It’s useful for my own safety as well as the safety of others. I’m proud to carry it with me. I’m not ashamed of my sight loss. I’m now a champion of the white cane and visual impairment. I’m on a mission!
You’ve heard the saying “When life gives you lemons…make lemonade…?” Well that’s just what I’m doing. Since my life changed I’ve been busy, actively helping others to learn about sight loss. So that they know about people like me and realise that we are just “normal people”, who might have to do some things in different ways…but our sight loss is not stopping us!
I’m volunteering for Southampton Sight. They have given me a new purpose after my retirement from work. Thank goodness for Southampton Sight and their ongoing mission to educate people about sight loss and visual impairment! They recognised my skills and my desire to give something back. They allowed me to set up a Sight Awareness Workshop programme, which I planned and designed for primary schools. The interactive sessions we run for classes of 6-7-year-olds every week give children the chance to explore ideas about sight through hands on, practical activities. They experiment with sight simulation glasses, try out mobility tasks with white canes and explore ideas about how visually impaired people might need to use their sense of touch more. We discuss images of visually impaired people engaged in a variety of tasks and activities so they realise visually impaired people can still do lots of stuff that is practical and fun. They talk about their ideas and feelings in response to the activities they take part in. We give positive messages not doom & gloom. The children become part of our Southampton Sight Team as Sight Awareness Champions. They are sent out on a mission to share their learning with their families and friends.
Why would you do this sight awareness work with children I hear you say? They’re just kids! What do they know? Well we’re on your case Mr Sight Loss! We believe in starting young. Children are more open and responsive to new ideas than adults. If we get messages out there early then we are likely to grow a generation of children who are more aware. If we want a better society for everyone, we need to start with early education. It’s the key to everything in my opinion! So why not sight awareness too?! And we have discovered something else from our workshops. As children get to meet people who are visually impaired, like me and Kate and Kris, they engage with positive role models of people with sight loss. “VI people are just normal people!” one six-year-old told us. And we in turn get so much from our work with the children by sharing our lived experiences of sight loss. So because Southampton Sight believe in us and our project we are working practically and effectively with hundreds of children every year, to help them understand that some people see the world differently because of visual impairment. We are teaching them about empathy. What it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. And that can’t be a bad thing in this day and age! I couldn’t be more proud!
So Mr Sight Loss, I’ll sign off now. I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing ok. It has been challenging dealing with you, but I am lucky to have had the best people around me to help and support me. I know that you’ll inflict yourself on many, many more people over the years, but people are stronger than you think. Just you remember…sight loss is not the end of the world, it’s just a different way of seeing the world.
Thanks for listening…..have a glass of lemonade on me!