Before I had my interview for this job, I had never knowingly had a conversation with someone who was vision impaired. Suffice to say, once I was offered a position at East London Vision, I had a lot of learning to do!
People sometimes ask me whether there are any differences when working with vision impaired colleagues, and the fact is that there are some small adaptations that I make on a daily basis. For example, I’ll sometimes be asked to choose the photos to add to a colleague’s piece of work, or if we’re going to an external meeting at an unknown venue, my colleagues might ask me to meet them slightly earlier at the nearest station to help guide them to the location. These are all very minor adaptations that don’t take me much time, and have little effect on my everyday workload. In fact some adaptations, like describing our surroundings or giving verbal cues instead of nodding or using facial expressions to communicate, are now so ingrained that I find myself doing them even outside of work with sighted friends!
The biggest effect that working with vision impaired people has had on me is probably how much I have learned. One of the main skills I have gained is sighted guiding, which I do on a regular basis. But despite having been guiding various people for the past two and a half years, I’m still constantly learning. I once told someone in a bus that they were able to sit down, but neglected to tell them that the free seat was the aisle seat and not the window seat, which resulted in them trying to sit on someone’s lap. Suffice to say, I now always specify which seat it is that’s free!
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned through my time at ELVis, though, is how much is possible for people with sight loss. Losing sight is often something that fully-sighted people are very afraid of, and people will often say they’d rather lose their hearing or a limb than lose their sight. However, since working with many VIPs and seeing how they’re able to live a life that is just as (and often more) active than mine, I have to say that the thought of potentially losing my sight in the future, while of course it would still be difficult for me to adjust, is no longer the scary prospect it once might have been.
Written by Nicola Stokes