A veteran's vision
Blind Veterans UK beneficiary, Tony Harbour, shares his experiences of sight loss and the difference that rehabilitation officers have made to his life
For nearly nine years I served in the Royal Air Force, before being discharged in September 1961. Like many of the veterans who are supported by Blind Veterans UK, I lost my sight later in life, long after I had left the Royal Air Force.
It was in 2009 that I became registered blind after I was diagnosed with glaucoma. The loss of my sight was truly devastating. I couldn’t imagine my future at all, certainly not positively. There were times when I found myself feeling suicidal. Medically, professionals did everything they could to try and stop my sight loss deteriorating, but to no avail.
My lowest moment was when they told me that there was nothing more that could be done.
A supporting situation
Eventually, with the support of Blind Veterans UK, I learnt how to move forward. The charity’s rehabilitation officers for visually-impaired (ROVIs) helped me come to terms with the loss of my sight, and I slowly learnt how to adjust and perform everyday tasks that allowed me to live my life again.
The ROVIs helped me in every area of life, from using a white cane to making a cup of tea. Without their help I’d be lost.
Above all, Blind Veterans UK helps veterans gain back their confidence and independence through rehabilitation and training, which is vital in helping people adjust to sight loss.
"The loss of my sight was truly devastating. I couldn't imagine my future at all, certainly not positively"
With the charity’s support I have actually become more confident than I was before I lost my sight – so much so that I abseiled down a building three days after my 80th birthday.
I think it’s vitally important that people with sight loss maintain their independence, and that’s exactly what the training from the ROVIs provides.
When I was first diagnosed with glaucoma, I thought that I would have to give up my role as treasurer for the Royal Air Force Police Association, but the rehabilitation training helped restore my confidence and I’m still treasurer. It might take a bit longer, and I need a bit of extra equipment to perform the tasks required, but I’m still doing my bit.
I know that I’m not alone – there are many other people like me who’ve gone through fear and isolation after losing their sight before getting back on their feet and achieving great things. Whether it’s running a lunch club or a blind association, to getting back into paid work, we can all achieve so much with the right support.
Asking for help
It’s vital that people are given the support they require as soon as possible after diagnosis.
Yet, I know that Armed Forces veterans like myself can find it hard to ask for help. We are used to being self-reliant, active and independent. And, if we don’t look visually impaired, that can be another barrier to asking for help.
"The ROVIs helped me in every area of life, from using a white cane to making a cup of tea. Without their help, I'd be lost"
Many people assume that to be a member of Blind Veterans UK, you would need to lose your sight while serving, but in fact the charity helps anyone who has ever served in the Armed Forces, or did National Service, no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.
Blind Veterans UK estimates that there are currently 59,000 blind veterans who are not receiving the help they need and deserve, simply because they are not aware of the charity, or that they are eligible for support.
We need more people to spread the word, and make sure that every veteran with sight loss, for whatever reason, knows about them. Optometrists shouldn’t be afraid to ask patients: “Have you ever served in the Armed Forces? Or have you heard of Blind Veterans UK?” By doing this small thing, the charity can effectively reach out to more people, and together, we can make sure that no one who has served their country has to battle sight loss alone.
Visit the website for more information on Blind Veterans UK.