Why Social Groups are Important for Vision Impaired People

Let me tell you how I’ve become involved with East London Vision.  I became a member of the Hackney Vision Impaired group at the beginning of 2018.  I found out about the group through a Hackney-based organisation called Outward, and they referred me to the Low Vision Impairment Forum at Thomas Pocklington Trust, who then referred me on to ELVis.

Before joining ELVis, I felt completely isolated.  After graduating from university, a year ago, I couldn’t find work, so that led me to feel like I wasn’t doing very much and spending most of my time on my own.  It was a really depressing time for me.  When I spoke to Bhavini at ELVis for the very first time, she invited me along to the Hackney VI group, and I literally felt alive and hopeful that I would be back and part of the community again.

I started coming along to the Hackney group in February this year, and ever since then I’ve attended ELVis-supported events like the ten-pin bowling in Stratford, which I enjoyed very much.  The outings mean a lot to me and the rest of the group because it allows us to visit new places that we wouldn’t normally go to because ELVis always does a great job at making sure they’re accessible for vision impaired people, and that’s great!  We also have meetings with guest speakers like Graham from ELVis who gave us a demonstration of the Amazon Alexa and the Google Home speakers.  The group members find these meetings extremely useful because they’re informative and we learn about technology or services that can enhance our independence.

I feel really blessed to be part of the Hackney VI group.  I feel a sense of security knowing that there’s a group where I can meet other people who live with sight loss.  It has helped boost my confidence as I have more things in life to look forward to.  Also, social groups in general are important for vision impaired people because it gives us the opportunity to make new friends, exchange vital information and make a difference in the community.  I hope everyone who reads my blog post and isn’t part of a social group is encouraged to get out there and find one. Alternatively, if you live in Hackney, why not get in touch with East London Vision to sign up with our group.  I hope to meet you very soon!

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Photo of Tolga holding a bowling ball at a ten-pin bowling event with ELVis at Westfield Stratford City.

Written by Tolga, member of the Hackney Vision Impaired Group

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Why I Like Volunteering for East London Vision Charity

Some of us reach our ambitions, others don’t and some people have no idea which path to take but are looking for fulfilment.  As I wandered along my path looking at various side tracks I knew I wanted something that satisfied my need, as well as being of benefit to others.

I had worked in various professions, but I hadn’t found the one thing that set my soul on fire.  Then a miracle happened which gave me hope, I stumbled across an organisation called East London Vision looking for volunteers.  No matter how young or old you were you could help someone.  Skilled, unskilled you were offered training and there were a wide variety of causes to choose from.

As I have a disability that worries me, which is my failing eyesight, I was scared about how I would cope, but I feared even more the thought of becoming useless.  So I decided to apply as a volunteer without hesitation because I wanted to learn about life with no vision and to enhance my skills.  I had stereotyped visually impaired people as lifeless like vegetables, unable to do anything or move around, and wondered if I might get bored helping them.  I remember my first invitation to an event which was an awards evening.  I thought it was going to be a very formal affair and boring, but surprisingly it wasn’t! I saw blind and visually impaired people in a different perspective.  There was entertainment and to my amazement people were dancing and having fun.  They were enjoying life with a little bit of support.

Being new to volunteering with other vision impaired people, the users were more than understanding.  Sometimes I would make a mistake, but they were very supportive of me, and it made me feel valuable to them.  The best thing about helping other VI people is they’re all different and know how they want to be supported.  I had discovered so much about the users and have enjoyed many activities from coffee mornings, outings and even sport!

There are no barriers to becoming a volunteer as you’re given the skills to fulfil the role that’s needed.  The age range varies, but we all enjoy getting together, and the advantage is the older people teach the younger ones and the younger ones teach the older ones.

Before volunteering, I was feeling like my social life was to an end, but with the encouragement of the people I met, users and staff, to become more active in activities, I am feeling the benefits of belonging to ELVis.  I have been given a new lease of life which I love and I have learnt so much.

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Photo of Christine standing in front of a palm tree in Hackney.

Written by Christine Maker, Volunteer for East London Vision

How I’m Preparing to Run The Vitality Big Half Marathon

The journey so far

I am approximately half way through training for the Big Half, with exactly a month to go.  My first run was a test to make sure I could actually run for at least 30 minutes without collapsing in a big heap on the floor, which fortunately did not happen, and I felt invigorated to create a training plan, using resources from The Big Half marathon website and gathering advice and tips from friends who have previously run marathons.

There were a few initial points to tick off, and which I’ve already experienced the benefit of: get a good pair of running shoes, build up distance and time gradually, download a running app to track progress and take rest days in between big runs.  I wrote up my plan with weekly goals of what distance/time I wanted to reach.  Then suddenly the fear set in, and for the first week and a half of that plan I couldn’t bring myself to run.  I procrastinated through other means of building up my overall fitness; a yoga class, swimming and a couple of long cycles.  This definitely wasn’t a bad idea, as it gave me a chance to exercise and stretch other muscles in the body.

The breakthrough

Thankfully, with some encouragement, I managed to part ways with that apprehension and completed my first 5km run, and survived (side note: stretching afterwards is SO important!).  Each time I’ve trained since I’ve enjoyed it.  I realised that years of telling myself that I wasn’t a runner had instilled a belief that it must be an awful experience.  Running is certainly still challenging, and requires a lot of preparation [tip: set aside a good couple of hours for each run, to find that state of mind, warm up and cool down, perhaps take a shower after], and those first twenty minutes, for me personally, are a huge hurdle.  The self-doubt floods in, and I think about going home, or walking to the nearest coffee shop.  No, that can wait, I remind myself.

It’s all in the recovery

Last week I met with another friend who is taking part in the Big Half and we made more plans – but this time it wasn’t so much about the training, but for what comes afterwards: the Recovery. A huge meal on the Sunday afternoon post-race, then a sauna trip the next day and some more yoga to stretch out our sore muscles.  It’s also important, however, to build in room for recovery at every stage in preparing for the half marathon, and remember that you can’t expect to do it all in one go!

It was a great turning point to start thinking about what follows the race, and that there is still the rest of life to get on with once it’s over, but for now I am taking it, quite literally, one step at a time.  And with just four weeks left I’ve still got some way to go, and every little bit of support has given me a massive boost.  You can follow more of my training progress on Twitter and donate via my fundraising page here: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/joannalally1

Thanks for reading and all your support so far!  And if you’re free on Sunday 4 March then please come and join East London Vision to cheer me on along with the other race participants!

You can also watch my interview with Ray from East London Vision.

Written by Joanna Lally

 

Neil’s Horse Riding Experience with East London Vision

Neil Adie from Waltham Forest Vision talks about his experience of the horse riding session, organised by East London Vision and Metro Blind Sport, at the Lee Valley Riding Centre on 5th December 2017.

“I signed up to horse riding because I haven’t done it for a very long time, must be about 30 years.  I’ve always wanted to ride a horse again, but I just didn’t get a chance to do it until recently.  I still remember the riding techniques I learned when I was younger.

Before the session, I was a bit nervous and I kept thinking- do I need to do anything beforehand, like wear the right sort of clothes?  However, as soon as I arrived at the centre I became relaxed because I was in the right crowd.  Everyone in the group was a beginner at horse riding.

First of all, we had to wear boots and special helmets.  Then, we went outside past the stables and there were three horses already waiting for us.  It turned out that I was the first one to get on the horse.  The instructor told me to go up the ramp.  So I did.  I looked at the horse and thought this horse looks really big and would I be able to ride it?  I managed to get on to the horse and it felt a bit wobbly.  I started to worry if I would fall off, but I soon became relaxed and I was told my horse’s name was Bill.

It was nice to be introduced to Bill.  He was very calm.  However, when we made our way to the indoor arena, we passed the stables and Bill thought it was okay go back in.  Luckily, the volunteer pulled Bill away right before I nearly hit my head on the roof of the stable.  It was really funny!

Inside the arena, we learned to get the horse to move.  I gently tapped the horse with my right foot to get Bill to start walking.  To stop we were told to gently pull on the rein.  I could feel Bill’s teeth every time I pulled.  It felt really weird.  Then, we learnt how to do a trot and change the directions our horses walked.  This was the best part of the session!

Overall, the session gave me confidence again.  When I sat on Bill, all my memories of how to ride a horse came flooding back.  I just wish the session was a lot longer, at least an hour.  You get the feeling you don’t want to get off and you’re hungry to do more.

When the session ended, we went to a café and I was able to laugh about my horse riding experience with the two other participants.  That’s the great thing about ELVis events; you can share your experience with other people in the group.  I would highly recommend all vision impaired people to come to an event organised by East London Vision.”

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Neil sitting on Bill the riding horse with a Lee Valley Riding Centre volunteer.

By Neil Adie

Service User Daniel Develops His Confidence Attending East London Vision Events

My name is Daniel and I’m 36 years old. In my blog article I will be speaking about my memorable moments attending East London Vision events this year.

I attend the Beyond Sight Loss Group in Tower Hamlets. I have been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, night blindness and tunnel vision. My eye conditions affect me mostly during the evening so that’s when I need my white cane the most!

Coming along to ELVis events enables me to socialise and make new friends. The activities I’ve been along to include a visit to Clacton-on-Sea, a boat trip to Richmond Park and a quiz night in Newham. I enjoyed all the events, although I especially liked the quiz night because it was diverse. There was lots of delicious food to eat, games to play, karaoke and a raffle- which I won a prize from!

All the events I’ve attended with ELVis were accessible. I travelled by minibus to Clacton-on-Sea with the Beyond Sight Loss Group. And there were many volunteers assisting us on the day which was great! They demonstrated a lot of care and understanding towards all the clients. They even joined us on the rides.

I had a nice time getting to know Sandy and her husband, who are both ELVis volunteers. They’re both personable and have a great sense of humour. I enjoyed our conversations. Moreover, Bhavini Makwana who organised the trip came along. Her friendly personality made me feel very welcome, and I felt very glad I attended the trip.

It is very rewarding to come along to ELVis events. Not all places are accessible, and going out with ELVis challenges these barriers. I can now clearly see that my disability shouldn’t stop me from having a good time.

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Daniel (middle) with other ELVis members posing for a group photo during a trip to Clacton-On-Sea.

If you would like to know more about East London Vision, and for regular updates on events and activities for vision impaired people living in East London, please visit www.eastlondonvision.org.uk.

Alternatively, you can contact Nicola on 07914770909 or email Nicola@eastlondonvision.org.uk for more details.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my article. Thank you!

Written by Daniel Worrington

Katherine’s Kayaking and White Water Rafting Experience

ELVis member Katharine Way, 54, from Waltham Forest talks about her experience participating in white water rafting in Lee Valley, and undertaking a four-week kayaking course with the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre.

“I have retinitis pigmentosa. My father and grandmother had it, and it’s been in my family for generations. I’m partially sighted and I still have a reasonable amount of sight. But there are plenty of things that I can’t do, like driving.

I grew up around water in Swansea, South Wales. As a kid I enjoyed many summers by the beach and swimming in the sea near the Gower Peninsula. I occasionally go back to visit, and when I’m feeling brave enough I take a quick dip in the water. My parents also owned a kayak. My father was blind so my mother would navigate. As a family we’d go paddling in the Brecon Canals and Llangorse Lake, which I always loved doing. What can I say? I love water! Growing up by the sea you do, and I always try to find water again.

When I saw the opportunity to participate in water-based activities with ELVis I couldn’t say no. I went white water rafting at Lee Valley in May. That was a real revelation because I was so nervous I nearly wimped out on the day. But then I thought, when else would I get the chance to do this and have all the help I need. So I talked myself back in to it, and I’m very glad I did because it was a really fun experience. The only thing I found completely nerve-racking was the swim test because I had to jump in to the rapids and stay afloat. I managed it, and after that everything else was a breeze.

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Photo of Katharine under taking the swim challenge during white water rafting.

On the other hand, kayaking is definitely splashier than white water rafting. My favourite part was getting to explore the waters surrounding Canary Wharf. During the first week of the course I found it tricky to paddle, but now I’ve gotten the hang of it and I feel more confident moving around on the water. I’ve even learnt it’s important to keep in rhythm with the other person who is paddling. Also, the kayaking instructors were great because they’re really patient and they explain everything clearly. If they need to do what they normally do in a different way they do it, which was great.

Taking part in both activities made me rethink the whole way I deal with my disability. I thought there were a lot of things I couldn’t do anymore because of my sight, like rowing a boat. So accomplishing something like kayaking you start to think that you shouldn’t assume that there are all these things you can’t do, but instead find a way of doing them safely. So it’s been quite a big thing for me to take part in, and it’s built my confidence. Plus, it’s been liberating and fun. Don’t forget that!

The skies the limits now as there are so many activities I’d like to do. Thank you East London Vision for organising and subsidising these activities for vision impaired people. It’s absolutely heartening.”

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Photo of Katharine (left) in a double kayak.

East London Vision would like to thank the Primary Club for funding, which has made it possible to run the kayaking sessions for our members.

Written by Katharine Way and Ray Calamaan

Living with Aniridia

What colour are your eyes? Are they blue, green, or brown? It’s something most of us take for granted. But for me it’s not that simple.

My name is Glen, I’m 33, and I have a rare condition called Aniridia. This means I was born without irises, so I don’t technically have an eye colour. Aniridia affects just 1 in 47,000 people, and to mark the first ever Aniridia Day on 21st June 2017, I’d like to tell you a bit about how it affects me.

The iris has an important job. It adjusts the size of the pupil to control how much light enters your eye; they will shrink in bright light to allow less light, and expand in the dark to allow in more light and help you see better.

Without an iris, my eyes are very sensitive to glare and brightness.  On cloudy days I wear sunglasses because there can be glare coming off from things like clouds, walls, and windows. And it gets worse if the sun reflects of rainwater or if I’m feeling tired or unwell.

Similarly, computer programs often have white backgrounds, which also cause glare. So I invert the colours to give me white text on a black background, which I find a lot more comfortable. I then flip it back to normal when looking at photos or videos, or else they look weird!

Additionally, I also have to be careful when I’m going into a dark room. I may have to hold on to another person or wait a few minutes until my eyes adjust to the level of light available in the room.

Living with aniridia hasn’t stopped me from living my life though. I’ve graduated from university and I’ve been working in my job for over 12 years. I also love travelling and socialising. Furthermore, since I moved to London last Christmas, I’m having a great time exploring the city and making new friends – including the very welcoming members of East London Vision, and I’m involved with Aniridia Network UK as well. So I’m happy and comfortable, and the future looks bright as long as I wear my shades!

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Photo of Glen and a tour guide at the Natural History Museum holding a piece of zebra fur, during a trip to the museum in April 2017.

You can find lots more about my visual impairment and the things I enjoy at the following links:

Blog – www.welleyenever.com

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv7AcWqn3r_HxQRAtxVe5Fg

Twitter – https://twitter.com/well_eye_never

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/welleyenever/

Thanks for reading!

Written by Glen Turner