Technology, support and companionship

OT  attended an RNIB and Optelec event to speak to providers about sight loss services and products

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) recently partnered with Optelec UK to host an event aimed at bringing providers together to showcase their products and services for people with sight loss. 

Held at the RNIB’s Grimaldi building in London (29 May), the event featured providers and affiliated charities, as well as representatives from RNIB services, who spoke to OT about what they offer and why their services are important to sight impaired people.

During the event OT spoke to representatives from four charities and service providers. Here is what they had to say:

1 Suzie Simons, RNIB National Volunteer of the Year and CEO of Eye Matter

Eye Matter is a multi-activity peer support social inclusion charity, which has built relationships and partnerships with a network of theatres and arts foundation for private and guided tours.

Simons explained that one of the things the charity organises is audio-described theatre visits. “We go up on stage,  feel the props, and then after that we have a picnic together so we all get to know each other really well. Then we go back into the theatre and we have headsets on and we listen to the description of what’s happening on stage,” Simons shared.

“It’s a brilliant way of being able to access all of the things that have been lost to us,” she highlighted.

2 Ben Rendle, regional manager for London for the Macular Society

Rendle manages the Macular Society’s services for London, which includes 20 local support groups across the capital and a remote befriending service.

Discussing the charity’s befriending service, Rendle told OT: “Somebody who has a macular-related eye condition can sign up and we pair them up with a volunteer. They will have a weekly, fortnightly or monthly phone call to talk about anything they want really.” 

He explained that while the charity’s groups and befriending service provide similar support, the key difference is that local groups come together for face-to-face meetings. “It is a collection of people with lived experience on macular conditions. They get together every month, typically for a couple of hours, and they share their stories,” he said.

Rendle encourages professionals, including optometrists, to get in touch with the Macular Society too. “We have a newsletter for professionals, we also provide updates on the research that we do as a charity, as well as the research that is going on generally about macular conditions.”

“It is also good for professionals to have that link with [the Macular Society] as we can update them on the services we have and invite them to events,” he added.

3 Uzma Galiara from RNIB Connect

Galiara explained that the RNIB community connection team supports blind and partially sighted people to access their local community in a number of important ways.

“We connect people to RNIB services by going out to local groups for the blind and attend exhibitions to tell people about what we do,” Galiara said.

The team also provides and helps connect people to peer support groups.

When a local peer support group is not available, Galiara and her colleagues will establish what she calls a ‘kick starter group.’

“The idea is that people come along, get to know each other, and support each other. It’s a really good way for people to connect,” she said.

4 Madleen Bluhm, RNIB Technology for Life coordinator for the South East of England

Explaining the role of RNIB Technology for Life, Bluhm told OT: “We are supporting technology and the journey of people through technology – we are here to support people with all aspects of technology.”

Bluhm shared that RNIB Technology for Life also works with partner organisations to provide training for their staff and volunteers, so they are able to better support their customers with technology.

She explained: “We have volunteers who help our customers throughout the country. If we speak to one our customers and we feel they need a little bit more help than we can give over the phone, we send one of our volunteers to support them from the comfort of their home.”

Bluhm highlighted: “It’s all about having options and choice. It used to be that we didn’t have the choice before, but now we have choice and that’s the best thing.”

“Don’t be scared of using technology, there is always support available,” she advised.