The simplest actions that make a huge difference to someone with sight loss

Nicky Shaw, of Blind Veterans UK, gives her top tips for social workers helping someone with sight loss

sight loss
Photo: John Birdsall/ RexShutterstock

Losing your sight is often a fundamental fear for many people.

Our experience helping people face it as a reality has taught us that in fact the most devastating impact is the loss of independence and confidence that happens when someone begins to lose their sight.

Regaining independence

Those who lose their sight often feel that others don’t understand the problems they face and can feel overwhelmed by the huge number of things they can no longer do for themselves.

Regaining that independence and rebuilding their confidence is at the heart of our work and quite often it’s the simplest of things that can make a huge difference.

Here are my top tips for social workers working to help someone with sight-loss:

  1. Remember how important verbal communication is when someone has lost their sight. From letting them know that you’re there, to telling them when you’ve put something down in front of them, or simply describing things to them. These all help them to make sense of the world around them that they can no longer see.
  2. Make sure you always leave things in the same place so they are able to locate what they need.
  3. Research simple equipment that could make life easier such as talking watch or a liquid level indicator so they can make a cup of tea for themselves.
  4. Offer them social and recreational opportunities such as gatherings that take place in a regular location where they can be allocated a regular place to sit and talk to people over a cup of tea.
  5. IT training to help them use a computer or smartphone with special software catering for those with sight loss which can help them build virtual support networks as well.
  6. Counselling and emotional support is important not just for the person who has lost their sight but also their whole family to help them adjust and cope with the life-changing effect of sight loss.
  7. Remember help and support will need to be tailored to each person in terms of what will help them feel more confident and in control.

Case study

When I first joined the charity six months ago, I had the opportunity to shadow one of our newest veterans. He’s 77 and had lost his sight due to diabetic retinopathy. He’d managed reducing sight loss with limited support and was quite apprehensive about visiting our centre. (When a veteran first comes to us they are invited to one of our centres on an introduction week where they work with our staff, meet other veterans and learn more about the support available and how we can help them).

He was a keen internet user but losing his sight meant he was no longer able to see the screen easily so our staff provided IT training and specialist software so that he could get back online.

He hadn’t read his daily paper for years but with the new equipment he could start to do that again. He had training with a long cane, so that he could feel more confident about going out by himself, and he tried hobbies such as audio shooting and arts and crafts.

He realised he wasn’t alone

By the end of his week he told me that he’d been trying to find ‘the catch’ to the support all week, but he’d realised that there isn’t one and we are a charity there to offer free, high quality lifelong support. The impact of the stay was significant. He met other veterans, some with similar conditions and some with no sight at all. He realised he wasn’t alone and he made a good close friend who he has since stayed in touch with.

He had been re-enabled to do things that he had given up hope of doing again and he described having his faith restored in the kindness of human nature.

Battling sight loss for six years without support

Currently we support over 4,000 veterans and their families, but we also know that there are tens of thousands more veterans now battling severe sight loss who could be eligible for our support, but are not aware of it and are missing out. Of the veterans we currently support, a quarter of them told us that they battled severe sight loss for six or more years before finding out about the support available – we need this to change.

For more information about how you can request free, lifelong support for a blind veteran call 0800 389 7979 or visit www.noonealone.org.uk.

Nicky Shaw is Director of Welfare (West) at Blind Veterans UK

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