5 Things I have Learnt from my Visual Impairment

Eek this is my first post! I am easing myself into the world of blogging by discussing the top 5 things I have learnt from my visual impairment. It has definitely given me more than it has taken away.

Here is how I see the world without glasses

This picture is taken from a standing position looking down. At the bottom you can see my white runners. The rest of the picture is made up of pebbles an stones of various sizes in different shades of grey, purple, blue and brown. The whole picture is blurred

1. Resilience

It’s a simple fact of my life that I have to work a bit harder at some things compared to fully sighted people. Whether that be crossing a road, reading food labels, buying clothes or simply recognising other faces. It also means that I have to do things a bit differently, such as requesting reasonable accommodations for studying or work or finding a job that suits my eyesight and capabilities.

Yes, this can be incredibly frustrating, epecially when the built environment is made for full sighted or fully abled people. On the other hand though, I have learnt to never give up, to always try again and to keep going even when it’s not easy. Sometimes this is for basic tasks, such as getting a bus or meeting a friend, which can lead to worry and some anxious thoughts;

  • What if I get on the wrong bus? (I’ve done this many times)
  • What if I walk past my friend and they think I’m weird and rude? (Also, yes, many times)
  • What if I walk into the men’s bathrooms by mistake, that would be so embarrassing! (Thankfully have not done this, but have had many close misses!)

So, despite these stresses and worrysome thoughts, I just keep going, keep trying and use some innovative thinking and self-belief to get me through. More on these below!

2. Self belief

From a very young age, my parents taught me that I can do anything a fully sighted person can do – within reason! I will never drive a car/bus/train/plane and probably never be a vet (my childhood dream!), I’ll probably avoid mountain biking, cross country running and all ball sports for good measure too.

That said, I can do almost everything else, sometimes with some extra help. I spent over 20 years riding and working with horses, I’ve been working fulltime since finishing college in a variety of roles in HR, fundraising, marketing, innovation and operations management, and I completed my education up to Graduate Certificate Level 9.

My parents instilled in me a sense of self-belief that I am forever grateful for. It has enabled me to see past my crappy eyesight and to focus on what I can do, and how to find workarounds for the stuff I can’t (i.e. The Driver!)

3. Organisation

Yes I am that irritatingly organised person – not by choice but by necessity. I need to know where things are, plan how to get from A to B before I leave my house, have all the right apps and maps, and just generally have my sh*t together.

Great skills to have but these were developed out of necessity rather than choice. The built environment (roads, buildings, public infrastructure) can be so inadequate for those with varying abilities. I have to be organised, or I cannot safely and efficiently get from place to place. I can’t read street signs, bus numbers or see far ahead of me and so without a map or an app, it would be ten times more difficult to move about independently.

At home and in the van, I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of where things are, so I can find them easily. I can put my hand into almost any drawer or press at home and find what I’m looking for by touch alone – including my clothes. This has already come in useful trying to find pyjamas in a dark van for a 4am toilet dash!

4. Technology

Linked to organisation skills, is technology, which I have fully embraced. Smartphones have transformed my day to day life. I use my phone for nearly everything from reading labels and signs to cooking.

Apps on my phone are pretty essential to help me get around. I use maps, transport apps and my camera daily. I also use an excellent app called Google Lookout which uses the camera to read text and speak it back to me. This is great for labels, packaging or medicine boxes, basically anything that has teeny, tiny lettering. The other feature on my phone I use is the Android Accessibility Suite. This allows me to increase font size, change the contrast on the keyboard and to setup up the Magnification or Select to Speak features which are brilliant. Some of these features don’t come as standard on most phones so you will need to download the Android accessibility suite app to get them.

This is an image of the accessibility suite app icon and name from the Androix Play store. The app icon is a blue background with a white stick  person in the centre. The app name is Android Accessibility Suite. It has 4.1 out of 5 stars based on 3 million reviews. It has 5B+ downloads.

Throughout school and University, I used a laptop to take notes to do my exams. I was also very fortunate that the schools and University I went to had good disability services which gave great support and access to further technology should I need it. Having these services levels the playing field somewhat and allowed me to perform and learn as well as the other students in the class.

The really exciting thing about technology is that is ever evolving. Maybe someday I’ll have a driverless car, maybe someday there will be glasses that will allow me to see fully, or maybe someone will develop a piece of medical equipment that will fix my eyesight permanently. In the meantime, technology is improving daily. Right now I am dictating this as my keyboard ran out of battery. More and more people are embracing voice notes which are great as it mean I can listen to texts rather than read them, which really helps with eye strain. If I lost my smartphone, I would be lost myself.

5. Innovative Thinking

Finally, all of the above learnings come together to to shape how I think and do things. This means that I tend to think about things in a practical sense yes but also innovatively. I was also been fortunate enough to earn a living from using these to skills having worked in innovation for 2 years. It has taught me to question, to ask why or why not., to push for more, and to encourage others to do the same.

Not only that, it is taught me the value in not following the crowd, in not doing things the way others do “just because”. It taught me to forge my own path, do things that work for me and ultimately live my life despite what challenges are thrown at me. Isn’t that what we all really want?

Thank you for getting to this point reading my ramblings. I hope this blog post has gives you some reassurance or gives you some ideas or just allows you to scratch that itch of looking into other people’s lives (don’t worry, I have that too – no judgement here). In writing this blog I hope to to share my experiences as a way of giving others an insight into what it’s like to live with a visual impairment and what I have learnt from living with it for the last 30 years.

Let me know what you think in the comments and come join me on Instagram @lifeintheblurrylane to continue to scratch that nosey itch of yours.

8 thoughts on “5 Things I have Learnt from my Visual Impairment

  1. Excellent blog Aoife. Claire passed it on to me. I work with students with different disabilities including VI and have got great tips from your blog. I have downloaded the three apps that you recommend and will be sharing your blog with several of my colleagues. Well done Aoife

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