The following is part of an interview I did recently with a young lady who is blind. My aim is to find out first hand what it is like to grow up with a visual impairment.
My eye condition is retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). It is because I had too much oxygen when I was born. I was born three months premature. I don’t have light perception. If the light goes on I can feel it. Your eyes flicker because you can feel the heat. They said there is an awful lot of scar tissue at the back of my eyes. They couldn’t operate because if they did my eyes would ‘collapse’. I’ve got cataracts as well.
My earliest memory was when I was two or three. They didn’t know properly (that I couldn’t see) till I was 6 months old. My mum was marvellous. She took me round the garden to feel all the plants and flowers. She’d help me make cakes. I love animals and she’d let me stroke the animals. She was always very good at pointing things out to me. Because she knew I was having to go away to boarding school she prepared me by doing little jobs in the evening. Before that we’d always been very close. She prepared me by working in the evenings and my dad would (spend time with me and) put me to bed. All the same I was still very homesick when I went to my school because I love my family. That was the school for visually impaired children (L). I was there till I was eleven. Then I went to CW for a while because I was being bullied at the other school. That was a grammar school, a girl’s grammar school for visually impaired children.
Why was I bullied? It was because I wasn’t always good at some of the things like games and maths and things like that. It wasn’t all bad; it was a very happy school. They tried to do their best to make everyone happier. It was a fairly caring sort of environment. We had house mothers and someone used to read a story to us at night, some nights anyway. When I was first there Mr ‘J’: he was scary. Then we had Mr ‘M’ and he was great, really nice. MG was head there when I left. She was very nice actually.
I love Braille, I love reading. I started learning when I was five. It has changed a lot now. I haven’t kept up with the new Braille system. I suppose it still takes between three to four years to learn to do it properly. To read grade 1 Braille which is writing everything out in full and then grade 2 which is more like a shorthand. I found writing hard because I’m not so good at practical stuff. So reading was easier. But reading is a real pleasure. I don’t use a Braillenote, I just use a Perkins. You can’t beat the good old one it’s such a good machine, it’s been going so long. It’s noisy, but if you’re on your own it doesn’t really matter.
I remember we lived in a little wooden cottage it was quite cute. I remember I used to love running round this post we had in the middle of the room and I remember being in my playpen and playing. I remember the first day at school. The big kids were scary. One of the challenges I found at school was getting around. That was the hardest thing. I can get around but in the dining room you take your plate to the hatch and you have to find your way back to your seat. That was hard. It was a bit easier at CW because tables were set out in rows. There was one row on the left and then a row on the right. But at L it was a different shape sop you couldn’t follow from one table to the other. I ended up getting a bit lost and sometimes finding my way round the grounds was a bit difficult. I didn’t have a dog. I didn’t have training. It was better when you got older getting round the shops and things. At CW they gave us a very good grounding mobility wise round the building and round the grounds but at L I could have done with a bit more help. I do sound a bit negative but I could have done with more help.