Veteran with sight loss calls for more understanding in society about living with a visual impairment

Posted: 11/03/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

An RAF veteran with sight loss is calling for members of the public ‘not to underestimate’ people with a vision impairment.

 

Eddie Carroll, 66, who has hereditary eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and is registered Severely Sight Impaired, has spoken out about his experiences of ‘ignorant’ comments from strangers and invasion of his personal space.

 

The dad-of-two, of Inverbervie, says he has always adopted a defiant and determined attitude regarding his eye condition – which will one day lead to total blindness – and admits that regular comments questioning his sight loss can make him extremely frustrated.

 

With additional support from charity Scottish War Blinded, who have provided him with life-changing advice in cane use, Eddie leads a busy life as a Hospital Information Officer, helping people who have been newly diagnosed with a sight condition.

 

Eddie Carroll stands with his long cane

 

He is asking for more awareness and understanding about what life is like with sight loss.

 

Eddie, who lives with his wife of 33 years, Cheryl, and their two dogs, Brodie and Orrin, said: “I hate visually impaired people being stereotyped.

 

“I often get people invading my personal space and making comments like, ‘You’re no blind – are ye!’ and ‘Why are you so slow’. The anger stays for weeks.

 

“One Saturday, coming out of the bus station in Glasgow, a chap ran straight through me. I was on the deck, and my cane was somewhere else.

 

“I have never had a problem with my eyesight, but it feels like sometimes some sighted people seem to have a problem with my eyesight. I have this spark in me called ‘defiance’, and it helps me get back up every time I fall down – metaphorically speaking, of course.

 

“For me, visual impairment is not the top of the league table of worries. There are worse things, but that is for the individual to decide.”

 

Edward was diagnosed with RP in February 1997, and says he has adapted to the condition all his life – even as his sight deteriorated rapidly in the first three years following diagnosis.

 

Now with “no visual fields to speak of”, the condition results in ever-narrowing tunnel vision for Edward, and could eventually render him with only simple light reception. There is no cure.

 

“I’d had it all my life and obviously in my ‘ignorance’ unconsciously coped without realising it was supposed to be a problem,” Eddie said.

 

“Though in conversation with the consultant, multitudes of dominoes dropped. I could go back to the age of four onwards and see where I had found my way around problems. 

 

“The first three years after diagnosis were the hardest as my sight deteriorated rapidly.

 

“Seeing shadows becoming solid, roads bending up to meet me, wardrobes falling on top of me, bushes becoming people, stepping over imaginary dogs – visual distortions are part and parcel of deteriorating vision. Understand that, and your anxiety reduces markedly.

 

“Darkness remains a non-problem for me; mainly because of my cane and my mental mapping memory.”

 

Eddie, who served with the RAF for three years as a Workshops Fitter, specialising as an advanced machinist, has been a member of Scottish War Blinded for five years after a former colleague of his who worked with the charity encouraged him to join.

 

Expert advice and specialist equipment from the Scottish War Blinded rehabilitation team, as well as outings with fellow veterans with sight loss, have boosted the grandfather-of-one’s confidence even further.

 

“My former colleague dragged me into membership kicking and screaming, but it’s one of the best things I ever did,” Eddie said.

 

“Before I joined Scottish War Blinded, I was holding my own on my own resources.

 

“At the Thiepval Memorial on Scottish War Blinded’s Somme Battlefield outing, one of the rehabilitation officers, Sharon McAllister, noticed I was using a ball tip for my cane. She suggested I try a wheel type tip. I couldn’t see it working, but I changed the tips and have never looked back.

 

“Until then, I had tried every cane tip known to man, and none have coped with broken terrain and broken pavements remotely as well as the wheel tip. The confidence I’ve found using it has freed up my residual vision to take pleasure in looking about me, whether it be scenery, architecture or a painting.”

 

And Eddie added that the one-to-one support he receives from the charity’s rehabilitation team, and his Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker Carole Martin, makes a huge difference.

 

“On the occasion I was knocked to the ground at Glasgow Bus Station, knees skinned, I still had to go where I needed to go. My cane was retrieved and bent back into a rough shape and I paid my visit and went home,” he explained.

 

“On the Monday morning I phoned Scottish War Blinded and spoke to Sharon and learned my lesson on personal visibility.  A new cane, two new disc roller tips and a visibility vest arrived on the Tuesday morning. How’s that for service and support?

 

“The charity’s rehabilitation team make a difference because it’s client-centred – entirely individual. The member’s view is important – even more so as we live in an age of unnecessary complexity.

 

“Carole’s support has had a huge impact. Suffice to say that when needed, she has never failed to listen, to insightfully question, to probe gently and help me deconstruct and then re-construct my issue in a way in which my control is restored and I am empowered to do something about it.”

 

And the veteran hopes that by sharing his experiences, there can be an increase in understanding within society regarding living with sight loss.

 

“The Scottish War Blinded staff have accepted me for who I am, warts an’ all,” Eddie added.

 

“I am proud to be a member of Scottish War Blinded. I often refer patients to the charity, and continue to advocate for Scottish War Blinded in my work.”

 

Sharon McAllister, Scottish War Blinded Rehabilitation Officer, commented: “The Scottish War Blinded rehabilitation team works closely on a one-to-one basis with each of our members to ensure they feel comfortable, confident and safe in being out and about.

 

“We can provide cane and route training for our veterans, as well as equipment free-of-charge to help them maintain their independence.

 

 “But the more awareness sighted members of the public also have about what it’s like to live with a sight condition – emotionally, physically and practically – the better people with vision impairment can be supported to live full, independent lives.”

 

More information on living with sight loss, as well as the free support Scottish War Blinded gives to ex-servicemen and women of all ages – no matter when or how they lost their sight – can be found online at www.scottishwarblinded.org.

 

If you or someone you know could benefit from Scottish War Blinded’s activities and support, call us free today on 0800 035 6409.