Wednesday 28 February 2018

Visual Spaces

By Roiben

I write this, looking back over a lifetime of not fitting into boxes. I have a severe hearing loss. I am Type 1 Diabetic. I have a mental illness. I am bisexual. I am many things that do not fit the “norm”.

Today though, I want to talk about the thing I probably spend the least time talking about. I am visually impaired. I had cataracts as a baby, which permanently damaged my vision. I am blind in my left eye. It notices change in light and movement — but it can’t tell what is moving. My right eye has some damage to the cones and rods which mean I find it hard to distinguish between certain colours and shades. I also have Astigmatism and, as the right eye is doing all the grunt work, it can get tired easily. I also, thanks to years of Diabetes, have Stage 1 Retinopathy.

Ultimately, this means I lack stereoscopic vision — I am not able to judge distance or speed of objects and have no depth perception. I am one of those people who need markers on steps and curbs to get around in my day to day life.

What does this have to do with boxes, I hear you ask. Well, although I am visually impaired, I am classed as having too much vision in my right eye to be legally classed as Partially Sighted. The regulations and checks require a significant loss of vision in both eyes to count. So, despite being fairly severely visually impaired in lay-man’s terms, I do not fit into the legal box-ticking exercise that could enable me to get more assistance.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK’s leading charity supporting blind and partially sighted people, there are over 200 eye conditions — and there are many, many people, like me, who do not fit the boxes. As is the case with many such boxes, there are many people falling between the gaps, who perhaps actually need the help the box checking would provide. It is perhaps more well known in the case of Mental Health, where someone can literally be told they are too ill, or too chronic to get the help they so desperately need. In this instance, I wonder how many of those people who do not fit the regulatory definitions and limitations could actually really, really do with the help?

As things stand, my vision in my right eye is deteriorating. The Astigmatism is getting worse and I have had to change my glasses prescription to match. I have to keep a close watch on my blood sugars as well, because that affects my retinopathy — which is always at a risk of getting worse.

Maybe one day, I will fit into that box. Maybe I never will. Either is okay. I am me, and I have grown up with all these things and in doing so have put in place my own coping mechanisms. I learn routes and places. I am a creature of habit and often put things in the same places, or walk the same route from A to B. I know how many steps there are on certain staircases and with practice can walk the ones I know with ease. I have learnt to keep a clear route between my bed and the door, kitchen and toilet.

The main problems come when there is a change. A diversion. Shoes left out in my “path” or a chair moved. When walking unknown places, or a different route, I tend to slow down, to take more notice and be more cautious. I trace my route along walls and banisters and follow any signs or maps I can find. Then I remember it, in case I have to take the same route again.

As with all my disabilities, I have adapted and learnt ways “around” it in order to continue living life the best I can. I just worry for those who perhaps have not yet learned adaptations, or who struggle in their own ways and could do with getting more help.


About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


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