Sighted Guides – giving eyes to the partially sighted
Two years ago, after losing his sight in a tragic accident, a man began dreading a life of dependency. Today, he goes shopping and lives a normal life thanks to a sighted guide who became his eyes.
Important: Names of the victims have been changed following their request to remain anonymous.
On a quiet Sunday morning, Mark woke up to whispers from people in the room. His head was hurting, like he had woken up from a long sleep, his body was numb and his eyes had stopped functioning. He had gone blind. He tried blinking his eyes a couple of times but all he could see was a light patch. Suddenly someone held his hand firmly.
“Why can’t I see?” was Mark’s first question.
His partner replied in a low tone, “You have lost your eyesight in an accident.”
The 32-year old South Wales resident was driving home the previous evening where he met with an accident with an over-speeding car. The cars crashed and although he luckily survived, he lost his sight for good.
Two years after the incident, Mark smiles has he anxiously waits for a shopping trip with his sighted guide. She comes in once a week for two-hours and takes him out to do anything he likes, be it to visit someone or just take a walk around.
Unable to take up physical activities because of his impaired vision, Joy, a 20-year old too has received a lot of help from the service. Out of the fear of running into someone or tripping and falling over something, he stopped running which lead to an increased weight. Today Joy runs around with his sighted guide who makes sure he doesn’t run into something or trip over a road bump.
Like Mark and Joy, there are many blind and partially sighted who have been able to get back into their normal routines through the help of trained sighted guides.
Statistically, 76 people are registered as partially blind or blind every day within the UK. However, only 4% of those registered are actually blind, others are all partially sighted.
“Half of the partially sighted cases could have easily been avoided with an early detection,” says Ian. Generally, people think if they can read, write and drive, they are fine and they get accustomed to the weak eyesight until one day they realise they cannot see normally.
For a long time, the blind and partially sighted have been assisted by guide dogs. The dogs are trained to help the visually impaired walk around the streets giving appropriate signals when they approach a traffic signal, road blocks and pavements.
However, some patients need a person to help them especially in shopping with choosing articles based on colors and patterns. The Guide Dogs team then decided to fill the gap with the ‘My Guide’ service, where trained volunteers are provided to those in need, free of charge.
The process is rather simple. When somebody requests a guide, they start looking for a volunteer in their client’s respective area. If they have one already, they assign the volunteer to them. If they don’t have one, they advertise through different channels for a volunteer with or without any previous experience, who would be willing to join the team. All applicants then undergo checks on criminality. Once cleared, they are invited on a training day where Ian personally trains them.
“I teach about how to guide someone with a sight loss, how to keep them safe,” says Ian. “They are taught how to understand the emotional barriers their clients have and how to overcome them. For this, they are also practically trained wherein they are blindfolded and guided by each other in a room and taken outdoors too.”
Depending on the severity of the need and the availability of the volunteer, My Guide service matches the requirements and decides the time given to each client every week. On an average, clients avail a sighted guide service for two hours, once a week for eight months. Some, however, have been using sighted guides for over two years.
“Mark is now planning to go for a guide dog,” says Ian. “Training dogs takes time and individuals too need to be trained in order to receive external help. Sighted Guides help in overcoming that initial phase wherein they get used to taking assistance and then move onto getting a guide dog.”
How to connect with the My Guide Service?
Young individuals are encouraged to come forward and volunteer for the cause. Those interested can apply on their website. The service is absolutely free of charge and any extra expenses will be taken care of by the charity.
“It is a blessing,” says Mark. “I feel more independent and i look forward to our weekly trips. It makes me feel alive, active and positive.”