I was diagnosed with the eye condition coloboma at 3 months old, and as a result, I have never known what it is like to have good sight.
Coloboma is when part of the eye does not develop properly during pregnancy. It usually affects the iris, lens, or, in my case the retina. A large part of my retina is missing. It is most notable in my right eye because the pupil is small. I have very little vision, but I can see the outlines of objects and people. I have more sight in my left eye and this is the main one I use. I am also short sighted, and I wear glasses with a high prescription.
I use a white long cane with a ball on the end to help me with uneven pavements, navigating stairs and using public transport, and to make people aware that I have a visual impairment. People have told me before that I do not look visually impaired, although I’m not quite sure what that means.
My job in London is as an Admin and Marketing Intern for Illuminate Freedom, which is supported by Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT).
I begin my journey to work at my local rail station where I try to find a member of staff to tell me the time of the next train and how many carriages it will have. Sometimes staff will help me on to the train and ask if I need assistance at my destination. However, often I have arrived and found that there is no assistance, which is very frustrating. As I am travelling to work during rush hour, I frequently must negotiate people pushing and jumping over my cane. Sometimes I am offered a seat, and other times people will just ignore me, and continue looking down at their phones or newspapers.
For this World Sight Day, I would like to ask sighted people to take a moment to try and do more to help blind and partially sighted people, particularly on public transport. This could just be taking notice of the people around them, and offering up seats to people with mobility canes, and people with other disabilities, because travelling on the tube or bus can be disorientating, and it helps to be able to sit down. On occasion I do ask other passengers for assistance, such as to help me get off the train as I struggle to judge the gap between the carriage and platform. I find that most people are helpful, although occasionally they are not. At the station, I also make sure to take my time walking down steps, as I cannot distinguish one step from another, and how low the next step might be, especially if the steps are the same colour.
When I eventually arrive at work, I spend most of my day working on my laptop. I use assistive technology such as Zoomtext to enlarge font on my laptop and I also use voice over to read information for me. The office is open plan which I like because it’s well lit, and it is easy to move around as we have contrasting flooring – which helps blind and partially sighted people to know where they are.
My role entails researching information for the Illuminate Freedom newsletter or potential venues for our activities. I also manage our social Facebook profile, as well as recording data in Excel and booking clients who request to use our service. As the day comes to an end, I once again brace myself for travelling at rush hour, and hope that other commuters might offer me a seat on the way home.