Beccles & District Lions Club and Observatory the Opticians, organised an event aimed to increase awareness of the challenges that visually impaired people face and overcome every day for Lions World Sight Day.
Among those taking part were Beccles Mayor Councillor Andrea Downes, who said “This was an experience very few sighted people get – being walked around town holding on to the sturdy arm of Beccles and District Lions Club President, Lion Chris Eglington while blindfolded.
I’d heard how senses are heightened when you lose one of them, but I was surprised at just how heightened they would be! The wind on my face felt very different and I could hear so many different conversations taking place around me. I was needing to concentrate on what Chris was telling me but found myself hearing the rustling leaves of the trees and the many conversations going on around me. It felt unnerving hearing people say ‘Oh look it’s Andrea’ or when people called over to me! It was absolutely exhausting and we were only out for 20 minutes. One of the exhausting things was being aware that I could knock someone with the cane. A stress we don’t have to consider as sighted people.
On our second outing we were fortunate to meet with a lady who is seriously visually impaired. This has made me incredibly aware of the challenges visually impaired people meet in the town. I know the area extremely well and yet felt completely disorientated. The positioning of lampposts, parked cars and mobility scooters, A Boards, etc. are real problems”.
The walk started and finished outside the optician’s practice in Exchange Square, travelling through the town centre before returning by the same route.
Practice Manager at Observatory the Opticians, Jacqui Sayer, said: “This event sounds like fun, but there is, of course, a very serious reason why we are doing this. Avoidable and unavoidable sight loss in the UK is growing and expected to reach 4 million people in the next 20 years. We want to raise awareness of the difficulties that visually impaired and blind people face as part of their everyday routines, such as entering shops, crossing roads, negotiating curbs and shopping in busy high streets”.
Observatory the Opticians employee Mornie Weakley, who also took part in the walk, said: "This was a very powerful and memorable experience, you feel incredibly vulnerable and disorientated without your sight walking through a busy town. Losing my sight is not something I had seriously considered and it has ultimately given me so much more of an appreciation for what people who have lost or are losing their sight go through every time they leave the house. It’s so important that we know and educate others about how best to help and all attend regular eye checks, as early detection can make a huge difference”.
The walk was organised by Beccles & District Lions Club, as part of the Lions World Sight Day and Club President Lion Chris Eglington said: “Issuing important health messages are a key part of the Lions eye health programme and working with such committed health care professionals such as those at Observatory the Opticians really boosts awareness within the town of Beccles. We do feel the town is continually trying to improve things for the blind and partially sighted within our community”.
Every day, 250 people start to lose their sight in the UK and at least half of all sight loss is avoidable (RNIB). The World Health Organisation has estimated that the number of blind people in the world could double in the next 25 years.