Belfast Telegraph

Christoper Leebody: Walk showed me how precious vision is

By Christoper Leebody

When it comes to eyesight, it is a sense most of us take firmly for granted. The optician appointment regularly goes to the back of our minds as we move on to more important things. I know I'm as guilty of this as anyone, despite being short-sighted and requiring glasses.

However, it only took a brief experience of the world of someone with a severe sight loss condition to suddenly put an emphasis on just what a precious gift vision is.

Taking part in a walk through the busy streets of Belfast alongside other members of the media to mark the upcoming National Eye Health Week, I was led by RNIB NI employee and guide for the day Stephanie Holland, whose day job involves supporting blind and partially sighted people into employment.

I was equipped with a white cane for feeling environmental hazards and replaced my normal lenses with a pair of "sim specs", designed to simulate the effect of retinitis pigmentosa. The inherited eye condition has no cure and the glasses led to a complete loss of my peripheral vision and turned what was a sunny Belfast day into a fuzzy dot in front of my eyes.

Walking on the uneven pathways through the city centre while holding my cane, I got an acute sense of just how much concentration and spatial awareness even the most mundane journey requires.

Even with Stephanie to guide me, it was tough to avoid the flows of busy people going about their day while recognising the many hidden hazards you can never appreciate when blessed with healthy vision.

Cars parked on the pavement, bumping into the wing-mirrors of trucks, tripping on kerbs - these were just some of my experiences on a 15-minute walk, but they make up a daily reality for those suffering sight loss.

As the walk concluded, I took off my sim specs and breathed a sigh of relief. For many in Northern Ireland, there is sadly no such relief.

Belfast Telegraph

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