Society for the blind provides great service

Joyce Anderson at Morpeth Rotary Club.
Joyce Anderson at Morpeth Rotary Club.

MORPETH ROTARY CLUB

Joyce Anderson became partially sighted some years ago, but she found it was not the end of the world and with specialist help she carried on working until she was 62.

There was no specialist society in Northumberland at the time so she joined the Newcastle Society for the Blind and they referred her to training.

She had developed late onset retinal degeneration and was no longer able to see a computer screen or use a mouse. She was taught to use talking technology and was able to continue to work at Morpeth Library.

Her trainers asked her to come back to help to train others. She agreed to go on a Train The Trainer’s course four years ago and work with the not-for-profit organisation. She is now a trustee and board member of Visual Awareness Training, which works closely with RNIB.

It offers training to the staff of universities, social services, the MetroCentre, the NHS and others. Mrs Anderson has helped to train 100 MetroCentre staff, 50 graduates on a Masters course, students on a GP practice course, staff at the Freeman Hospital and staff at Newcastle Cathedral. Another role is helping to train young blind people.

Training is accredited through the Open College.

Mrs Anderson is also a member of Northumberland Low Vision Action.

Rotary members and guests had some work to do when they were invited to take part in a quiz of what was ‘true or false’ in a list of stereotypes of blind people:

l People who are blind can hear better — false. Blind people have to use their senses more, including smell and hearing.

l Females are twice as likely to go blind as males — true. Generally women live longer than men and many eye conditions are age-related.

l Smoking causes sight loss — true. It is important to have checks of eye health at least every two years as a half of conditions leading to blindness are preventable if caught in time.

l Thirty per cent of blind and visually impaired people are of working age — false. The figure is 66 per cent. Employer attitude is important, with nine per cent of employers thinking that blind people are unable to work, but with the right training and support all of them can.

l Registered blind people cannot see — false. Only four per cent have no sight, most have some residual vision. Mrs Anderson has no central vision, but has peripheral vision. She knows a guide dog owner who reads a book when he gets on the bus with his dog.

l Guide dogs tell their owners when it is safe to cross the road — false. They are only taught to stop at the edge of the road. A guide dog has the mental capacity of a two-year-old child.

l Only two per cent of blind people now read braille — true. New technology has caused change.

l Registered blind people can watch TV — true. Mrs Anderson can if she is 12ins from the screen. Forty per cent of programmes are now audio described.

l A blind person with a red and white striped cane supports Sunderland — false. It means the person has sight loss and deafness.

Mrs Anderson gave a few tips on how best to communicate with blind and partially sighted people.

It is always best to introduce yourself as not everyone will recognise a voice. Say if you are moving away or leaving the room as this avoids embarrassing conversations. Never suddenly grab someone’s arm, let them take yours.

Always ask if help is needed. If it is, the helper should be one step ahead. If the path is narrow, put your guiding hand in the middle of your back and let them get behind.

Never push someone into a chair, but put one of their hands on the back or front of it. When helping people into a car, place one of their hands to show where the roof is.

Some simple gadgets are very useful. Put a rubber circle or square on the buttons of the operating system of a washing machine or oven to know which sets the right cycle or temperature. Use pegs to keep matching shoes together. Mrs Anderson has a talking microwave and kitchen scales.

John Wylie, of Newcastle College, developed ‘Wylie Cards’. Written on one side are the six most common eye conditions. On the other side is a description of what that person can see.

Mrs Anderson knows three people with retinitis pigmentosa, but each has different symptoms.

She has a voice recorder/labeller pen called a PenFriend. It can place a label on anything, including clothes. If you hold it against one of the labels, it will give verbal information on what it is, what it contains, etc. A sighted person should help to prepare the labels.

Another device will say the colour of an article if you hold it close. That will help to colour co-ordinate the clothes that you wear, and of course she has a talking mobile phone.

Mrs Anderson does voluntary work for RNIB. There were 268 referrals in Northumberland between January and the end of June.

Other problems to deal with include street furniture, freestanding advertising boards, and cars and vans parking on the pavement. On the plus side there are two new pedestrian crossings in Morpeth, which, as well as lights and bleeps, have a revolving touch cone for when it is safe to cross.

The vote of thanks was by Alan Clark.

Three new Rotary members were enrolled by the new President of Morpeth Rotary Rhona Dunn and warmly welcomed by members. They are Mary Kendall, Bob Kendall and Malcolm Thomas.