For this award we wanted to hear about national organisations who have demonstrated a commitment to make a difference to blind and partially sighted people locally. It may be an example of a national or more locally focused campaign, project or initiative that has had a positive impact on the lives of blind and partially sighted people, facilitated additional support or has made a significant difference to a local organisation. This award is open to any organisations with a UK-wide remit that is a Visionary National Partner. National partners can nominate themselves, and nominations are also welcome from Visionary members wishing to highlight positive work by national organisations in their local areas.
At the Braillists Foundation, they believe that everyone has the right to literacy, and blind people are no exception. That’s why they have now offered braille for Beginners courses to over 150 participants, distributed over 250 items of low cost braille equipment at no charge throughout the UK, and are delivering a series of masterclasses enabling experienced braille users to improve their skills further.
Their sessions take place via Zoom or over the telephone. Their masterclasses are recorded and available via smart speakers, British Wireless for the Blind and many other platforms. Furthermore, handouts and text transcripts enable deafblind people to make use of the material.
All of their sessions are delivered by blind and partially sighted people, as are many of the administrative functions, thus increasing employment opportunities within the vision impairment community and providing participants with credible role models.
Many Braille for Beginners participants have graduated to a new Beginners Book Club, with many more continuing their learning independently. They say they have become much more independent since learning braille, with a large number using braille to accomplish everyday tasks such as labelling.
Masterclass participants are using braille in the workplace as an aid to making presentations or chairing meetings and are reporting that they feel much more productive as a result.
The work of the Braillists Foundation has facilitated several international relationships, bringing global innovations in braille learning to the UK for the first time. With momentum still increasing, they are excitedly looking forward to 2022!
Macular disease is an extremely isolating condition and lockdown saw those affected more cut off than ever, resulting in increased feelings of loneliness and declining mental health. When the pandemic hit many of Macular Society’s face-to-face services had to stop. Macular Society knew they urgently needed to keep their communities connected and did so by setting up conference call support groups and a popular Winter Warmer programme.
Digital accessibility can be challenging with sight loss so Macular Society trialled group conference calling. This was so successful they sourced and purchased a number of conference calling telephone lines for rolling out to all their groups. Macular Society also worked in partnership and made this available to various local sight loss organisations so they could support communities in their local area.
As a result people were able to provide support and information at a critical time. A programme of guest speakers was arranged for the conference calls, from eye care and health advice, how to access essential services including local food shopping, to entertainment and general interest speakers.
Their innovative approach to support the community and to support other local sight loss organisations, meant that they were quickly able to make a difference to people affected by macular conditions and despite the pandemic the Macular Society has continued to Beat Macular Disease.
When the pandemic hit it was vital that Retina UK protected their finances for the long-term future of the organisation. But they also appreciated that the inherited sight loss community needed their support more than ever before. Retina UK were determined to be there for them.
Despite using the furlough scheme and having very few staff working, the team worked together and pulled out all the stops to upgrade their helpline to ensure the increased numbers who reached out to them were able to connect with their service. Many of the team carried out work outside of their usual roles to get the job done.
Retina UK also acknowledged that their helpline volunteers, all of whom have lived experience of inherited sight loss, were experiencing higher call volumes and lengths that were often challenging in nature, with callers experiencing isolation, anxiety and fear for the future. They quickly put in place enhanced support for helpline volunteers to ensure they were able to manage their own mental health and in turn provide the best possible service for those who reached out to Retina UK for help. Retina UK are already further building on this work with wellbeing and mental health support remaining a priority for 2022.
They are proud of the transformation they made to services during what was a very challenging time and the difference this made for those who needed their support.
The onset of the Covid pandemic and the national lockdowns which followed had a massive impact on the emotional wellbeing of people with sight loss. Many clients were experiencing anxiety and stress, and faced long waiting times to access existing counselling services.
Following a conference call arranged by Visionary, Devon in Sight and Beacon Vision developed a shared vision for recruiting a bank of qualified counsellors in their local areas who would be given specialised training in sight loss awareness, and in therapeutic approaches best suited to people with sight loss – an approach which would be fast and scalable.
RNIB were approached to see if they would support a pilot project and adapt their Counselling for Sight Loss Course for delivery over Zoom. Amanda Hawkins, Strategic Lead for Counselling and Mental Health, Confident Living & Skills Development at RNIB and course author couldn’t have been more helpful. Together with course co-author Dr Mhairi Thurston, they adapted the course and delivered the pilot to 10 counsellors in Devon and Wolverhampton in December 2020, as well as providing guidance on setting up and running local services.
“Amanda and Mhairi’s approach is one of true partnership, bringing together shared experience and expertise to achieve more for those impacted by sight loss. Says Lisa Cowley, CEO of Beacon. “The project not only provided the skills and experience locally to facilitate mental health support for our members, but brought us closer to RNIB and enabled us to support local mental health charities and further strengthen local networks.”
Devon in Sight has also reported really positive outcomes for clients using its reporting framework.