The biscuits are so near yet so far. Blindfold, it’s hard to fathom which packet contains the chocolate ones.
I reach out, nearly knock over the milk, then bypass telltale rectangles of boring bourbons to something – promising.
If that’s not a packet of chocolate biscuits I’ll eat my – crumbs! Digestives – and past their use-by date if my nose and tastebuds are still working.
I’m on a visual awareness training course which takes the biscuit – in every sense.
The challenge has been thrown down by N-Vision, The Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, at Bosworth Place, Squires Gate.
The half day courses offer rare insight into the needs of those certified as severely visually impaired – note only four per cent of those certified/registered have total sight loss. The term blind has fallen from grace too, although it remains in the society’s title. While Americans prefer the term ‘legally blind’ Brits opt for visually impaired or sight impaired. “The words used can have real impact and can make all the difference to the person concerned,” explains the charity’s community services manager Judith Harrison. “So many emotions are experienced with sight loss.”
If you’re one of the six in 10 who wear glasses or contact lenses – as I do – you’ll know that feeling of panic when you can’t find them first thing.
But the long and short of it is – our sight issues can be corrected by prescription lens.
What if life was permanently a blur – or worse?
Recruits include Iwona Sowka who recently started work at the Princess Alexandra Home- the society’s residential home for visually impaired adults after working in resort hotels.
In her native Poland Iwona was studying to be a physiotherapist and helping disabled children. “I feel my destiny is calling me back to work that helps people,” she explains. “I want to extend my skills so I can help them more.”
Peter Richardson, 24, is studying neuroscience which gives him a particular interest in the work of the society. Janet, a My Guide volunteer, has helped support a lady with sight loss, and assist with guide dogs as a puppy walker/boarder. Both help read the news on rota to subscribers to the charity’s Talking Newspaper, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in June.
It’s not long before all four of us realise how covering your eyes helps you see a much bigger picture – an insight into the world of others.
We’re challenged – blindfold – to find 39p each in loose change. No cheating by using one of the distinctive new £1 coins as no change will be given. Finding a 20p gives me a head start. I later learn that 10p and 5p silver coins are ridged at the rim, copper coins smooth.
Crack that and your cuppa is on its way. For those who take sugar and milk (I don’t) it’s a challenge to pour, stir and sip without scalding yourself or crying over spilt milk.
Across the table, brainy neuroscience student Peter asks where the biscuits are.
“Have one of mine – they’re a bit stale,” I offer graciously.
I hear a crunch. “They’re not so bad,” he says.
You can always tell a student, even blindfold.
Out and about the blindfolds come off, briefly, to enable us to see the high visibility green line which leads to and from Starr Gate tram stop, via the nearest bus stop. It helps give visitors their bearings and bypass hazards en route and marks a personal triumph for the charity’s Low Vision worker Brian Casey, 51, who lobbied for it. He travels by tram daily from his Fleetwood home and encourages others to use public transport rather than rely on friends and relatives for lifts. “It’s important to keep your independence, your mobility. Don’t lose your confidence as well your sight.”
Only four per cent of those registered blind have total sight loss but what others ‘see’ isn’t necessarily helpful.
Blindfolded, we brave steep steps of the nearby railway bridge, cross roads, pass railings, bollards, cars parked on or driving across pavements, try to avoid low lying branches, and dollops of dog dirt deposited outside a centre used by sight impaired clients and residents of the home.
N-Vision is in a predominantly residential area but just off the beaten track of busy retail, tourism and business and enterprise district Squires Gate.
The walk around the block is an exercise in blind trust in guides giving clear information on gradients, kerbs, doors, steps, yet more dog poo. They guide rather than lead.
It leaves us all slightly shaken. Iwona admits it ‘really helped’ when Peter, acting as guide, gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “It just made me feel safe.”
Linda, more accustomed to assisting those with visual impairment, found the ‘cuppa’ test more challenging.
My crisis of confidence comes when I’m left alone near a door, in a corridor. I’ve been firing off a series of shots on my camera, aiming in the direction of sound, voices. The sudden silence and sense of isolation is crushing.
After the cuppa the blindfolds come off and we realise we’re back where we started in the Low Vision Centre, surrounded by large dial smartphones, electronic reading aids, magnifiers and more talking clocks than the film set of Beauty and the Beast.
The lesson in perspective continues as we don glasses to replicate the restricted or impaired vision incurred by different eye conditions, illnesses, and injuries.
Central vision gone, peripheral vision affected, sight in one eye, tapestry of lace or crazy paving, a pinprick of light.
And it’s nothing, but nothing, like the blur caused by a missing pair of specs in the morning.Lesson learned.
- To learn more, attend a session, support the charity, visit the home or centre, or help sponsor the Talking Newspaper’s 40th anniversary celebrations later this month (June), contact Judith Harrison, community services manager, on (01253) 362696.
Helpful hints for helping others with reduced vision
- Ask if they need help – don’t show somebody across the road if they didn’t want to cross it in the first place
- Ask about the level of their vision – and pitch your help accordingly and with respect
- Speak to the visually impaired person on approach, always use your name, ask the person’s name and speak to them directly
- Offer a guiding arm, never push them ahead or leave them in an open space
- Be aware of likely obstacles and give adequate verbal warning on approach
- If showing someone to a table, place their hands on the back of the chair, this allows them to orientate themselves to which way the chair is facing, where the table is, and then seat themselves
- Use verbal responses – the individual with poor sight will probably not be able to see your facial expressions and gestures
- Use specific directions – right, left, straight ahead
- And when you’re leaving – tell them so…