#HowISee

93% of people registered blind or partially sighted can see something, meaning that only a very small percentage of visually impaired people are completely blind. The RNIB’s #HowISee campaign aims to raise awareness of this fact and dispel the misconceptions that surround visual impairments such as using a guide dog or white cane means that you are totally blind, or that not using a mobility aid means that you are fully sighted.
Watch the #HowISee video here

 

I am one of the 93%. I have been registered blind since I was seven years old, but I have a limited amount of residual vision which I used to its full advantage.

 

I have a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) which means that my retinas don’t function properly causing my Visual impairment. I also have Nystagmas meaning an involuntary movement of the eyes as they try to focus.

 

My condition has meant that I have never been fully sighted, but when I was a child I did have a considerable amount of residual vision which meant that I could read, see colour and use magnification for a time.

 

The nature of my condition however means that my site has been gradually deteriorating since birth, culminating in a sudden deterioration in my teens. This left me with light perception in my right eye and a small amount of residual peripheral vision in my left. My site has stabilised since, though there is the possibility that it could deteriorate again.

 

I try to use my remaining vision as much as I possibly can, which is something I have had to learn to do. It was only when I received mobility training from a rehab worker who is actually also visually impaired herself two years ago that I was able to teach myself to utilise the remaining vision that I have.

 

With the peripheral vision in my left I, I can distinguish contrast and rarely I can make out a bright colour. This doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be surprised how useful even that is in daily life. It means that I can follow a building line by distinguishing a white building from a darker one; I can see distinctive road markings such as a zebra crossing; I can find the counter in a Starbucks by spotting the bright lights. All these things help immensely in my orientation and are things I use on a daily basis when getting around independently.

 

This is my experience of visual impairment, my experience of LCA. But that is not to mean that everyone’s experience is the same. Out of all the visually impaired people I know I don’t think I know two people who see the same thing. Not even people with the same condition as me. I know others with LCA who have enough residual vision to read print and yet others who are totally blind.

 

I am often asked if I am my guide dogs trainer because I apparently “don’t look blind”. I’m not entirely certain if this is because of how are use my residual vision to get around, or just because I am a reasonably confident young woman who doesn’t fit into the traditional stereotype of a plain old blind man with a white cane. Either way this always feels like a bit of a backhanded compliment to me, because besides the fact that I’m not totally blind so why would I look as such, what does blind look like anyway?

 

I have mentioned previously on this blog that the spectrum of visual impairment is huge, as is is the spectrum of ways that people live with their visual impairment. This is why it’s problematic to put people in boxes such as guide dog user must be totally blind, or symbol cane user must be able to read small print.

 

The important message that the #HowISee campaign is trying to convey is not to judge a book by its cover, or a blind person by their mobility aid (or lack there of). Everyone is an individual, even blind people 😉

 

Join in the campaign by explaining how you see the world and sharing your own stories of any awkward moments or misconceptions you’ve experienced using the #HowISee hashtag throughout August.

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RNIB Young People’s Ambassador: being a student and guide dog owner

Around this time last year, I signed myself up to volunteer as a Young People’s Ambassador for RNIB Cymru. Being an ambassador gives me the opportunity to share my insight and experience of growing up as a visually impaired person to help and advise others in a similar situation. RNIB Cymru has a number of ambassadors located across Wales, whom they will match with any young person who contacts them seeking support or advice from someone who’s been there and has the T-Shirt to prove it.
I know from my own experience how valuable a service like this would have been to me when I was a gawky teenager trying to figure out this whole “sight loss” thing, so I take my roll very seriously. Of course I am not a trained professional in the subject of blindness, but I hope that my personal experience of both mainstream and specialist education, higher education and being a young guide dog owner qualifies me to some degree to advise others on the topics. After all, you can study something until you’re blue in the face but you’ll never understand it as well as if you’ve lived it.
Most recently I was contacted by the RNIB to do some ambassading about having a guide dog at University. Most of the questions were ones I’ve been asked by blind and sighted people alike and that I myself had before becoming a guide dog owner, so I thought I would share a few examples of how I answered the FAQ’s about having a guide dog at University.
 
Q: How do you manage other people and students reactions??
 
A: I think it makes a massive difference if you set the boundaries straight away. The first time I brought Jazzy to a new lecture, I asked for a minute before the tutor began to introduce her but to explain that she is a working dog doing a job an consequentially should not be touched, fed or distracted. Clear explanations make people much more understanding and cooperative in my experience.
 
Q: When you’re in lectures or seminars, do you take a blanket or a bone for her?
 
A: I don’t. Usually she will sprawl out and fall asleep for the duration. I only poke her if her snoring gets too loud!
 
Q: In a lecture theatre where the seats are tiered, where do you sit?
 
A: I sit on the end of the row to allow her room to spread out, especially if it’s a long session. As long as she’s not blocking the way too much for anyone getting passed, there should be no problems.
 
Q: What if a flatmate/classmate is afraid of dogs?
 
A: Again, I think full disclosure is the best policy in this case. Be open to questions and be patient. When Jazzy moved into my flat, I distributed little leaflets under every door on my floor with some information about guide dogs and an invitation to knock on my door if anybody had any questions. Make sure your accommodation department is aware that you’re bringing a guide dog so that they can ask your potential flatmates about allergies before move in day.
 
Q: What do you do with your dog when you go out clubbing?
 
A: Guide dogs advise that it is fine to leave our furry friends alone for up to five hours, providing they’re in a comfortable and secure environment. When I go out without her, I leave some entertainment like a bone or a chew and leave some music/TV/audio book on to mute the noise of other students. I leave fresh water out and lock the door and she’s pretty content. At least I’ve never had complaints of howling or come back to a trashed bedroom, so I assume she just enjoys the alone time.
 
I hope this post has cleared up any trepidations you might have if you’re a guide dog owner soon to be fresher, but also that I’ve hopefully managed to clear up any confusion or questions about the logistics of being a student and owning a guide dog.
 
I will soon be writing a post about some blind student life hacks I’ve picked up while at University, so please keep an eye out for my upcoming blogs and remember to check out the Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up to date with See My Way!