Belfast Telegraph

Watch: What's it like to tackle Belfast streets with sight loss?

By Christopher Leebody

A Co Down man has told how an innocuous accident playing football changed his life for ever after his eyesight deteriorated.

Ken Carson was speaking as a charity took to the streets of Belfast yesterday to demonstrate the "spectrum of sight loss" that affects more than 50,000 people in Northern Ireland.

Ahead of National Eye Health Week - September 23-29 - the Royal National Institute of Blind People gathered volunteers on a lunchtime walk through the city centre from its Gloucester Street HQ to Cornmarket.

There was also an opportunity for people to experience what it is like for someone with sight loss.

Highlighting the many everyday challenges that people living with sight loss face, volunteers told their personal stories of how they are affected.

While calling for more empathy and awareness of different forms of sight loss, they called for greater vigilance of eye-care and changes in vision.

Mr Carson (53) from Bangor is a volunteer with RNIB NI. He was injured in "an innocuous accident" when he slipped and fell while playing five-a-side football.

Concussed, he thought nothing more of it. Five years later he was told something was not quite right as a result of his fall.

Mr Carson explained: "Over the next 10 to 15 years my eyesight gradually deteriorated.

"It was a bang to the brain, there was a delayed reaction which eventually caused my sight loss. Something as simple as that changed my life for ever."

Christopher Leebody in Belfast with the RNIB’s Stephanie Holland
Christopher Leebody in Belfast with the RNIB’s Stephanie Holland
Chris Leebody
Christopher Leebody in Belfast with the RNIB’s Stephanie Holland

Mr Carson developed optic neuritis after his fall shattered an optic nerve and damaged a pathway from the back of his brain.

In another blow to his vision, he suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 which left him with just 2% vision, forcing him to give up both driving and work.

Describing life, he said: "I can't make out any detail, even if someone is in front of me. It is all voice recognition I rely on.

"I can no longer see colour. The little I can see is very black and white.

"If someone goes any sort of distance, it is just all blobs and very cloudy."

Whilst the physical side of sight loss is challenging, Ken describes how the "mental side of blindness is a lot harder than physical side".

Mr Carson referred to the sense of isolation many suffering sight loss face.

But he is keen to stress the benefits of new technology and social interaction in battling the depression he suffered.

He added: "I used to love to read and I couldn't read any more.

"Then I discovered audiobooks and talking books. They just paint the pictures and make all the difference."

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