Coping With Blindness
The level of handicap caused by blindness often depends more on a blind person’s attitude than on the degree of sight loss. A well-motivated blind person can often overcome most of the consequences of their disability. Blindness need not affect the person’s ability to engage fully in education, a career, family and social life. But people who have lived most of their life with full vision often find that it takes time to adapt to a sudden reduction in or loss of sight. There are many sources of support for them.
People adjusting to the loss of sight should keep in regular touch with ophthalmologists and other medical professionals. The management of many of the causes of blindness is continually being improved. A full eye examination with an optometrist will establish what the best level of achievable vision is at any given stage. The optometrist may recommend magnifiers or low vision aids (LVAs) to help a person to read or watch television. This low-vision assessment is often carried out within a hospital department after referral from a GP. But some optometrists in the community specialise in this area and can also offer the test. Your local health authority should be able to provide information about these services.
Social services provide rehabilitation officers who make home visits to people with restricted vision in order to ensure that their living environment is designed to support them. For example, they may make recommendations on how to enhance the contrast of different surfaces and improve lighting in the home. Rehabilitation officers can also provide mobility training and explain other potential sources of practical help. Social workers can offer counselling, including advice and assistance for the family and friends of those who have lost their sight.
For visually impaired people who work, on-the-job assessment of an individual’s needs can be carried out. Aids such as portable CCTV systems make it possible for many people with severely impaired vision to read or see a screen well enough to perform many jobs. Children with vision loss may still be able to go to an ordinary school. Education advisers and specialist teachers can design a management plan and provide appropriate LVAs to help a child through school and into higher education.
Charities and self-help groups are often the best sources of information and practical support. They also provide contact with people who have had experience of losing their vision. Among the listed charities and groups, the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) provides practical support, information about groups within each area and advice on training with techniques such as Braille reading. It lends and sells books and magazines in various formats, including Braille and large-print.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association supplies trained dogs for placement with blind people. The dogs make it much easier for blind people to cope with the everyday hazards of urban life, such as crossing roads and negotiating busy public spaces. The association also provides training in using a long cane to aid mobility and reading and writing Braille.
Royal National Institute for the Blind 105 Judd Street, London WC1H 9NE (020) 7388 1266; helpline 0845 766 9999 (Mon–Fri 9am–5pm); RNIB Talking Book Service 08457 626843 (www.rnib.org.uk)
RNIB Customer Services PO Box 173, Peterborough PE2 6WS 0845 702 3153; minicom 0845 626843. Publications, games, equipment, library services, books and magazines in Braille, Moon and large print, and on tape.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Burghfield Common, Reading RG7 3YG 0870 600 2323 (www.gdba.org.uk)
Partially Sighted Society PO Box 322, Doncaster DN1 2XA (01302) 323132
Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (01435) 866102 (www.tnauk.org.uk)
International Glaucoma Association 108c Warner Road, London SE5 9HQ (020) 7737 3265 (www.iga.org.uk)
Macular Disease Society Darwin House, 13a Bridge Street, Andover, Hampshire SP10 1BE0845 241 2041 (www.maculardisease.org)
LOOK National Federation of Families with Visually Impaired Children, Queen Alexandra College, 49 Court Oak Road, Harbourne, Birmingham B17 9TG (0121) 428 5038 (www.look-uk.org)