I was in denial about my blindness – until I was hit by an electric car
Though perhaps better for the planet, eco-friendly cars can sometimes be deadly – especially for people like me, who are blind.
While I can hear and usually identify planes, trains and automobiles – the silent glide of electric vehicles is a problem when it comes to crossing the road.
Except, I would admit that being hit by one, back in 2019, has changed my life for the better.
That it finally helped me come to terms with living with sight loss. No longer embarrassed, ashamed or in denial.
As soon as my life was at risk, I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I started losing my sight when I was 15. I was working part-time in a car wash and, within three months, I was struggling to see its sign.
My eyesight had been perfect until then – I never needed glasses or anything – but, now, everything was hazy.
I’ve had to overcome many obstacles in life. In a way, it made me resent my sight loss even more
After seeing an optician, I was rushed to hospital with sudden sight loss – with doctors worried I had an infection.
Over the next few months, I used steroid drops, and was back and forth to hospital constantly – with specialists finally diagnosing me with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy.
It’s a hereditary condition that affects my optic nerve, meaning that I have no central vision. I have a little bit of peripheral vision, but can’t clearly see faces, or read print.
As you can imagine, for a teenager, it felt like the end of the world.
I had to give up playing football, something I loved. And going from being a cocky young lad, with a big group of mates to losing about 80% of my sight within a matter of months was life-changing.
My mates talked about footie, and starting their driving lessons – I’d wanted a moped more than anything, but it started to dawn on me that my life would never be the same.
I was massively in denial and embarrassed about my sight loss – trying desperately to be like everyone else my age. I refused to wear glasses, thinking they were uncool. I was conscious of my image, and how I looked to my friends.
But, in the end, my life shifted – it had to.
My school was very supportive and tried as much as possible to help me, but after I finished my GCSEs, I left home to go to Hereford’s specialist Royal National College for the Blind.
Everyone there was my age, and just like me – so I no longer felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
Still, like a bereavement, I grieved the loss of my sight.
I was at college for three years – learning about how to use accessible technology, how to live self-sufficiently and the like – before going to Sheffield Hallam University at 19 to study business management, with sport.
Though I felt more comfortable and confident in myself, I never divulged how my sight loss made me feel to anyone – not even my mates, not really.
Although I was outgoing, enjoyed a social life and went to local bars with friends, for a long time I only told people I was blind if it was absolutely necessary.
People would often respond with: ‘You don’t look blind,’ which made me feel even worse.
As someone with sight loss, I felt like I needed to work and study harder to prove myself. I knew that finding a job would be trickier for someone like me, through no fault of my own.
And I was right. I’ve had to overcome many obstacles in life after university. In a way, it made me resent my sight loss even more.
It made me feel embarrassed, ashamed. Frustrated.
When I was out and about, I just about managed to get round, but if it was really bright or dark, I struggled.
In 2019 – while studying for a law degree in Birmingham – I was hit by an e-car, and rolled over the bonnet. I hadn’t seen or heard it, and had hurt my shoulder quite badly – having to crawl across the road for help getting up. I felt really embarrassed.
It was the wake-up call I needed to get help. By then I had two kids, now aged 10 and eight, that I shared custody of. What would have happened if they’d been with me when I’d been hit? I needed to get help for them, as well as for myself.
It was then that I connected with Guide Dogs, the UK’s leading charity for helping people with sight loss. They matched me with Ringo – my four-year-old labrador.
After a few months of intense training, I felt brave enough to step out with Ringo – who now helps me navigate my life with confidence.
People see me with Ringo and automatically know about my impairment, avoiding any awkward conversations. He’s my biggest badge, and means I no longer have to hide.
Ringo has been life-changing. He takes the anxiety away of walking around, or crossing the road. With him I feel safe and confident – and I can safely say he’s been a great friend to me, too.
I couldn’t imagine life without him now, and he has helped me come to terms with my blindness. He helps break the stigma, and I finally have the confidence to talk openly about my sight loss.
Ringo and I even featured in a TV advert for Guide Dogs earlier this year called Find My Way – showcasing the My Life Skills service the charity offers, and the importance of children with sight loss learning everyday life skills from a young age.
Now, aged 34, I’m about to study for my barrister training alongside my current job as Head of Internships at the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national charity supporting blind and partially sighted people.
I want to specialise in employment law as I want to ensure people with sight loss are treated fairly in the workplace.
When it comes to my blindness, I’ve come to terms with it. With Ringo by my side, I feel like I can take on anything.
For more information, visit: guidedogs.org.uk/we-find-the-way/
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