One man’s struggle to come to terms with his visual impairment
A few years ago, I featured on the BBC’s Saints and Scroungers programme talking about my experience of dealing with my eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa) from a young age. I talked about the bullying I faced at school and how bullies used my visual impairment to take advantage. They would call me names such as “blind bat”, “Mongol” and “Batman”. I found this very traumatic and upsetting and I would often take out my frustration on my mum when I got home.
Whilst at mainstream secondary, I remember people asking me if I was blind and I would respond by saying, “Not me; I think you’ve got the wrong person.” I did not want to admit my eye condition to myself, let alone to anyone else. I would become extremely angry with teaching assistants who would follow me around; I felt they were making my disability more obvious and not allowing me to interact with fellow students. I would tell them that if I needed their help, I would request it. I also got embarrassed that my handouts were in large print and I would try and hide them in class. I felt that some teaching staff at the school regarded me as being “trouble”and that they didn’t really understand the difficulties I was dealing with on a daily basis.
I really wanted to join the Police Force and to drive a car; the realisation that I wouldn’t be able to do this was too much to comprehend. I wanted to be “normal”, just like my peers, but I quickly realised that life would never be normal for me. My dreams and aspirations as a young man would not become my reality and I had to deal with severe depression, even taking steps to try to end my life.
Blindness had very negative connotations for me and I felt useless. What could a blind man do? What type of job could a blind man get? I felt my life had become worthless. One time, I became so angry with the world that I stole my mother’s car. After a number of failed attempts, I managed to get it started, eventually steering the it into a nearby car park with my mum frantically chasing me.
My eye condition became my main focus. I started researching and watching programmes on TV and became fixated on the laser eye surgery adverts that were shown regularly. I believed it was the answer to my prayers and I contacted a number of companies, only to be told that this would not be of any benefit to me. However, the more I researched my condition, the better my knowledge of what it is, and what I could expect, became.
At the age of eighteen, I enrolled with a college for the blind, full of nerves and trepidation; I had never come across a white cane, let alone 200 of them and guide dogs galore. This was a massive turning point in my life. No longer did I have to hide my eye condition or be embarrassed to have large print material or specialist equipment. Whilst at college, I had counselling by experienced counsellors in the field of visual impairment. I met people who inspired me and gave me the confidence to realise my own potential and that there was life after blindness. I studied health and social care, sociology and business and went on to university, where I achieved a Foundation Degree in Rehabilitation Studies for People with a Visual Impairment. I was a young man on a mission to prove that sight loss did not mean job loss.
After working in several fields, I was acutely aware of the lack of knowledge surrounding visual impairment, and this gave me the determination to make a change. Two years ago, I set up my own business to help organisations and individuals become disability confident. It may have taken me a while, but my acceptance of my condition has been one of the most positive forces in my life.
Daniel Williams runs Visualise Training and Consultancy: