Leading the way for blind people
(Vision rehabilitation: specialist Vincent Godber helps Carlton Lambert with his white-cane skills (P)
Imagine seeing life through a greasy camera lens — colours are dimmer; contrasts less easy to discern.
Everything becomes harder: crossing the road safely, reading, recognising the faces of loved ones.
It is an everyday experience for many of the 2,460 blind or visually impaired people in Bermuda.
For others, it is like looking through bubble wrap — with much of it coloured over. The little bit of light that penetrates is not enough for a person to easily distinguish one object from another.
And then there are those whose sight gradually fades until they can only see pinpricks of light.
“When your vision starts to deteriorate, if you are not careful, your world shrinks really quickly,” said Vince Godber of the Bermuda Society for the Blind. “You’re not able to participate in everyday life. You might not be able to work any more but, with some training and some practice, you can open up life again quickly and restore the client’s dignity and skill.”
The vision rehabilitation specialist uses simple tools to help people function; an elastic band can distinguish a tin of pears from dog food.
“Or you can organise your cupboard so that certain types of food go in certain places,” he said.
A talking watch is a common solution for telling the time; assistive technology can help with the internet.
“I go to clients’ homes and offer several simple solutions to the problems they’re experiencing, and they pick out what’s best for them,” Mr Godber said. “The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that it is very easy for professionals and other people to dive in there with solutions, but the person quite often has to work through the problems themselves.”
He started his career teaching people affected by a range of disabilities how to kayak. He found those with vision loss most fascinating and became particularly interested after his grandmother developed a degenerative eye condition.
“She lived in a rural area and was mostly at home. She was feisty and figured out how to do a lot of things herself, but there were a few kitchen fires and falls along the way.”
He spent 13 years as a residential supervisor with the Royal National College for the Blind in the UK, before deciding to become a rehabilitation officer.
The two-year programme at the University of Central England gave him a taste of what life as a visually impaired person was like.
“We had to use a white cane, and learn to navigate with a blindfold on,” he said. “I have to say I’m good at helping people learn to use a white cane, but I’m rubbish at using one myself.”
When he graduated, he joined Blind Veterans UK, a group that supports anyone “living with significant sight loss” who has served in the Armed Forces or completed National Service.
“A lot of my clients were Second World War veterans,” said Mr Godber, who worked with the charity for six years before moving to Bermuda in February. “But I did deal with some younger men who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I had great resources at my disposal and was working with some incredible people who had had huge life experiences. It was nice to put something back for people who had fought for their country.
“[One of my clients] was at the pub on his 21st birthday when someone attacked him with a glass. He was blinded overnight, suddenly and traumatically. His career was over as a soldier. He had a huge amount of difficulty coming to terms with that.
“Today, 22 years later, he is married and has a family. He actually works for Blind Veterans UK in counselling and received an award from Buckingham Palace. We still keep in touch. That’s the sort of case that makes you say, ‘this is why I do this’.”
As Bermuda only started offering vision rehabilitation services four years ago, helping develop the programme “is really exciting”, Mr Godber said.
Especially fantastic is the assistance people receive from their families and the wider community.
“A lot of the older people I worked with in the UK didn’t have much emotional support. Families are so spread out because of work. [In Bermuda] while they are learning how to adapt, they have people there to help them.”
On the downside, there is less access to assistive technology and equipment. Mr Godber came loaded with special glasses to help see television, talking clocks and watches and other devices from Blind Veterans UK.
He attends a vision clinic at ophthalmologist Leonard Teye-Botchway’s office once a month.
“It’s just a question of listening and hearing what people have got to say,” he said. “A lot of what I do is counselling. Initially, when people are diagnosed, people don’t take in what has been told to them. They just hear sight loss.
“Quite often someone with a condition like macular degeneration or glaucoma isn’t aware that they probably won’t go completely blind. Their vision will reduce but they won’t lose it completely.
“Everyone imagines that pitch black that Hollywood is good at, but that’s not always the case. I also give them safety advice and direct them to resources.”
Mr Godber offers free consultations at Beacon House. For more information, phone 292-2321 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.