Leeds City Council awarded a contract to Action for Blind People and the Wilberforce Trust who teamed up as the Leeds Vision Consortium (LVC) in 2011. Lesley Sharp shares the work they do there.
As you know Lesley, it’s Action for Stroke Month. What experience have you had in supporting people who have problems to their vision after a stroke?
When you suddenly have problems to your vision, it can be an incredibly daunting and scary experience. For anyone who has had a stroke, because it is so sudden, we understand just how scary that can be as we’ve worked with stroke victims with sight loss. We know that literally one minute you’re ok, the next you’re not. But we can help and guide you through the options available to you, to help make your life better and help you to remain independent.
What sort of options can you help with?
We have a team of ‘Independent living coordinators’ who could help an individual regain their independence by providing information advice and guidance with day-to-day living needs, welfare rights, housing issues and managing personal budgets. As an individual’s situation changes, and in the case of someone who has suffered a stroke, very quickly, this is where we can step in to guide them through the support that’s on offer far more quickly than if they tried to do this on their own.
Another example of sight loss related to a stroke is when someone has ‘visual field loss’ – the most common problem we come across which makes everyday tasks like reading really, really difficult. This is where you can only see from the right half or the left half of each eye; having only a quarter of sight; loss of the entire upper or lower field of vision or patches missing in the field of vision. For this and other newly diagnosed conditions, we have eye clinic liaison officers (ECLO) who work in conjunction with opticians, doctors and hospitals, health services, social care services and other voluntary organisations to make sure the right support is given. It’s immediate too and not just limited to people with visual field loss. The whole process is made so much simpler – we know what’s available, we know what the options are and we know where to go and how to get what’s needed.
What about practical support?
As an example, assistive technology support, or what I call our ‘great gadgets’. Technology often makes life easier. I think of the internet and wonder how we ever coped without it! To email, shop on the internet, access services – everything can be done by someone who has a visual impairment.
Take something like using a keyboard. At first it could probably seem far from easy; too complicated and challenging. Again, we can help by providing training, support and practical advice to make this accessible. We ask the questions: what did you used to do that you can’t now? Can something simple help? With the right advice and right technology, independence can once again be yours.
What are the main challenges you face?
Challenges that we face? It’s spreading the word, spreading the message that support is available for everyone who has problems with their vision. As mentioned earlier, for someone who has had a stroke, it can be life changing within an instant. Click your fingers – as quick as that. I want everyone to know that they aren’t on their own and that if we can help, we really will and usually do.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s partly to do with what I’ve just said, that people don’t have to be on their own; they don’t have to struggle on in a solo world. It’s unimaginable for me to fully empathise with how it feels to so suddenly lose something you’ve always had as in the case of a stroke victim. I’d want support if I knew about it because I know the positive affect (sometimes life changing) we can have. The best part is turning that feeling of helplessness to hopefulness and we do. I’m proud to say we do every day.
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If you’ve had a stroke and have problems with your vision, are blind or partially sighted, please contact the team at LVC (details below).
Leeds Vision Consortium
Telephone: 0113 386 2888