Veteran with vision impairment regains love of reading newspapers with magnifier from Scottish War Blinded

Posted: 18/04/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

A former journalist with sight loss has regained his love of reading after receiving a specialist magnifying gadget from Scottish War Blinded.

Findlay McQuarrie, 90, of Helensburgh, has no central vision as a result of eye condition macular degeneration.

His vision impairment has left him struggling to read newspapers, books and letters since his diagnosis three years ago, snatching away his life-long passion for reading news.

It was “devastating” for the retired newshound, who was first a reporter for the former Bulletin and Glasgow Herald in the 1950s, and in that capacity also contributed to the Evening Times, before joining the National Trust for Scotland in roles in PR and the organisation’s directorate from 1961 to 1992.

Findlay (right) with his CCTV reader (left) with a newspaper on the screen

But now with the help of a CCTV reader provided to him free-of-charge by charity Scottish War Blinded, Findlay, who is also a National Service veteran, has been able to read his newspapers once again.

The specialist electronic device projects anything held underneath its magnifier onto a large monitor, with the picture easily adjustable to make even the smallest print legible for him.

“This CCTV reader is an indispensable piece of equipment for me,” Findlay explained.

“I use it every day, all the time. This past year I’d read very little as I didn’t have the means to do it.

Findlay (left) and Outreach Worker Allison (right) sit together on the sofa holding cups of tea

“It’s so simple to operate. It’s clear, I can simply magnify the letters to the size that I want them and I can change the background colour.

“It’s simplicity of operation, which is a big attraction. It responds to all my reading requirements – it’s contributed to getting my independence back.”

Findlay says he first started noticing there was a problem with his vision while volunteering as a reader for Helensburgh-based talking newspaper, Headline Helensburgh.

The initial impact of his sight loss and losing engagement with the written word was “devastating,” says the veteran, who has lived alone since his wife, April, passed away in 2005.

Findlay said: “When I was reading one of the pieces for the talking newspaper, the print was so light I couldn’t read it. That was awful. That was one of the early indications that my sight was failing.

“It was devastating. When you’ve read a lot, it’s devastating to find that your sight is a sense that is going to diminish. You take it for granted, and, quite naturally, don’t realise how often you need your sight for everything.

“My level of sight is poor now. I’ve lost all my central vision, so it’s just the peripheral vision I work with. I need to magnify all print.

“It’s difficult to go shopping without someone. The other big thing that comes with the diagnosis is that you can’t drive. That’s a big loss. It’s the beginning of a sense of isolation.

“I’ve been on my own a long time. My wife passed away in 2005, that was truly devastating, we’d been married for 50 years.”

But Findlay’s sight condition and his time served with the Royal Army Service Corps for his National Service from 1947 to 1949 made him eligible for support from Scottish War Blinded – which he describes as “the long arm of friendship and care”.

Since he became a member in June last year, Findlay has been assessed by the charity’s expert rehabilitation team, who worked closely with him to determine which kinds of specialist equipment would suit best.

He also receives regular visits and support from Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker for Helensburgh, Allison West.

“It’s just so good to have an immediate contact there – Allison knows I’m fond of a cup of tea,” said Findlay.

And each Monday he also travels with free transport, provided by Scottish War Blinded, to attend the charity’s activity centre for veterans with sight loss in Paisley – the Hawkhead Centre.

Ever the reporter, Findlay says he’s found it fascinating to meet fellow veterans with sight loss from all walks of life and make new friendships at Hawkhead.

He said: “The centre brings in the opportunities for so many activities. It’s new interests, comradeship, friendship.

“That’s been a real benefit for myself. Everybody has got a real bond with each other in the disability that they have. You only have to listen in the dining hall to the laughter and the chatter to realise how it is.

“There’s also the services dimension to it. The members have all got tales to tell, it’s just lovely listening to them. It gives you a comradeship that we all pick up again. That comes back absolutely naturally.”

“I’ve done archery, I.T. sessions, music, the gym and exercise classes, and played bowls and curling. I’d never have thought I’d do these things.

“The charity understands what the issue is and provides solutions at a time when people are elderly and perhaps are more isolated than you would be at a younger age. It’s a sense of caring, welcome and sense of friendship, all of these things come together.”

Rebecca Barr, Director of Scottish War Blinded, commented: “We’re delighted that Findlay is getting on so well with his CCTV reader and has reconnected with his love of reading.

“Sight loss is different for everyone, so we offer various types of vision aids for our veterans, free-of-charge, from hand-held electronic magnifiers, audio aids and CCTV readers to phones and tablets with Synapptic software.

“Our expert rehabilitation team are able to visit members at home to help determine which specialist equipment suits best, and give training to ensure our veterans can maintain as much of their independence as possible, despite their vision impairment.”

Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker, Allison West, who supports veterans with sight loss across Argyll and Bute, East and West Dunbartonshire, and Stirling, and is based in the Helensburgh and Lomond Carers Centre, added: “There are many ex-servicemen and women based in the Helensburgh area, and we’re very keen to welcome more veterans with sight loss into our community.

“We can offer a variety of social opportunities, and several of our veterans from the area are enjoying regular visits to the Hawkhead Centre in Paisley.

“If you are a veteran with sight loss, or you are a relative, friend or carer of someone who is, we’d love to hear from you.” 

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.