Veteran with vision impairment's railway hobby back on track thanks to CCTV magnifier

Posted: 17/04/2019 | Scottish War Blinded

A Glenrothes veteran living with a vision impairment is back on track with building his beloved model railway after receiving a specialist magnifier from Scottish War Blinded.

After a diagnosis of macular degeneration in 2009, the eye condition has made it increasingly difficult for Barry Poll, 73, to chip away at his favourite hobby.

Scores of engines and a track that consumes his whole garage were lying untended – until a clever gadget from charity Scottish War Blinded got Barry’s pastime on the rails again.

The CCTV reader – an electronic magnifier provided to Barry free-of-charge – enlarges anything held underneath its magnifier onto a large screen, with the colour contrast adaptable in order to suit the RAF veteran’s needs.

Barry in his garage surrounded by his model railway

It’s made fiddly electronic fixes and reading instructions a breeze again for the train enthusiast. 

“One of the first things my Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker got me set up with was my CCTV reader,” said Barry.

“I told them about my model railway and explained that I had a problem with it. I knew what the problem was and I had the instructions and plans to tell me how to put it back together again, but I couldn’t read them.

“I used the CCTV reader to help me see to fix the parts and I realised what I could do with it. I’ve adapted to using it. Now I’ll be working with my hands and looking at the screen instead of what I’m working on, like a brain surgeon.

Barry (right) works on a train engine using his CCTV reader (right)

“I’m not giving up. I’ll get frustrated at times but if I do I’ll just leave it and come back to it. It does get tiring, my eyes get more blurred as the day goes on.

“I don’t know why it’s trains I like and not aeroplanes – having been in the RAF you’d have thought it would have been aeroplanes!”

Barry has been working on his model railway since 2010, and is delighted he is able to continue with his “relaxing” hobby.

The father-of-two has lived alone since his wife passed away eight years ago, and is determined to stay as independent and active as possible despite his sight loss. 

The veteran, who has also overcome a stroke and cancer, explained: “All I can see now is a blur, it’s become progressively worse. I see images and colours.

“Once the condition was explained to me I knew what to expect. I started meeting people with the same problem at a more advanced stage than me. I saw how they were coping, and I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it.’

“You have to be positive about it. I have to be, or else I’d just sit in a chair all day.

“I try to maintain my independence. I’m using my CCTV reader every day, for other things as well like letters and post.

“It’s made such a difference. Instead of waiting for my son to read small print for me, I can do it myself. I’ve just bought myself a new MP3 player and the instruction manual is tiny – I can read it easy as pie with the CCTV though.

“I’ve also had other bits of equipment from Scottish War Blinded such as talking kitchen scales. Everything in the house talks.”

Barry, who served with the RAF from 1962 to 1994 as an Aircraft Technician, joined Scottish War Blinded in 2016.

He has attended the charity’s Kirkcaldy lunch group for veterans with sight loss, run by Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker for Fife, Stephen Greig, since he became a member.

And he says it’s nice to meet other people who are in a similar situation to himself.

He explained: “It’s nice to meet other people. Just try it. If things don’t work out, just try again. And if you get frustrated, just stop, rest and then carry on.”

And he says being able to contact Stephen for any extra advice or support if he needs it is a big help.

“It’s really useful to have that support there,” Barry said.

“Other clubs in the area are social, but they don’t have that kind of support, as such. I’ll see my Outreach Worker Stephen once a month at least.

“Without the support from the charity, life would be very difficult. I wouldn’t be able to read or work on the model railway. I’d be a lot more reliant on my sons.”

Rebecca Barr, Director of Scottish War Blinded, commented: “It’s fantastic to hear that Barry is continuing on with his hobby with the help of his CCTV reader.

“Many Scottish War Blinded veterans are finding the electronic magnifiers we can provide, free of charge, to be hugely influential in allowing them to maintain independent lives.

“We can provide various types of these magnifiers, as well as anything from talking watches and clocks to tablets and cooking aids.

“Our outreach workers and rehabilitation team are on hand to give one-to-one assessments, training and support to our members to ensure they are provided with the most suitable equipment and support for their needs.

“We’d love to hear from you if you are a veteran with sight loss in Fife or know someone you think could be eligible for our support.”  

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to ex-servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service. The charity’s services include rehabilitation and training to adapt to sight loss, equipment to assist with independent living and home modifications.

The charity’s Kirkcaldy lunch group takes place monthly at the Waterfront Restaurant, High Street, Kirkcaldy, from 12pm until 2pm.

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