My name is Charmaine and since early 2021 I have been a volunteer member of the London Sight Loss Council. I came to volunteering after becoming gravely ill in 2018; as a result of this illness, I am now registered severely sight impaired, am also hearing impaired and have mobility issues. During the time of my illness and recovery I was given brilliant care by the NHS and then rehabilitation workers. It was this care, and the love and support of my family and friends that helped me get back on my feet.
Wanting to give back
By 2019 I had regained some mobility and wanted to give back in a small way by volunteering to help other people. I began working with Vision Foundation in 2019, taking part in awareness raising videos and telling my own story of sight loss. Before the pandemic hit, I had taken part in assemblies at my daughters’ primary school with a colleague from Vision Foundation. The assemblies taught the children about sight loss and how I use my long mobility cane. We also touched on the importance of compassion and understanding and that sometimes people with disabilities need a bit more time or help to do certain things.
As it did with most activities around the world, the pandemic put a halt to the assemblies. However, I was able to volunteer again with Vision Foundation in the summer. We worked on a piece that addressed the unique challenges people with sight loss were facing when trying to social distance, and other new barriers that had sprung up because of pandemic restrictions.
Happily, as lockdown began to ease in March I was able to volunteer again with my daughters’ school. The school was about to welcome a child with vision impairment, and the deputy head asked me to help the school prepare by coming in and giving guidance. I was able to use my own lived experience to help the school understand some of the barriers the child may face, and how to try and remove them.
The deputy head and I had a look around the school and talked about how good contrast can help people with a bit of residual vision, and the tools that the new pupil may use – like magnification. We also discussed the importance of good lighting, and the fact that levels of residual vision may not be stable, so things that help one day may not help on another.
It was refreshing to know that the school thought carefully about how to ensure a smooth transition for this pupil. It was a pleasure to use my own experience to play a small part in making sure that this pupil would feel welcomed and supported. I hope the measures put in place will help this pupil feel comfortable advocating for their own needs in the future.
London Sight Loss Council role
More recently, I have been a member of the London Sight Loss Council. Sight Loss Councils aim to tackle the issues affecting people living with visual impairments. Our role is to campaign around issues the impact people with sight loss, and also advocate on their behalf. We have been meeting regularly since January 2021 and have produced factsheets that address inaccessible formats and mental health issues. I am excited about the work we are planning for the rest of the year and look forward to continuing my volunteering journey in this role.