1. What should I do if I think I have a sight problem?
If you think you have a sight problem you should first go to your optometrist/optician or GP. If they feel there is an urgent problem they may send you direct to the hospital. Likewise, if your GP thinks specialist help is needed, you will be referred for an appointment to the hospital eye clinic. In either case, in an emergency you should go straight to your local accident and emergency department where you will probably be referred to the eye department for further treatment.
2. How often should you go to the optician?
It is recommended that everyone should have an eye test every two years. Not only does an eye test examine your vision for glasses but they are also an essential health check for your eyes. High Street optometrists/opticians can check for eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. They can also check for glaucoma, which left undetected may take away a lot of vision without you noticing. Eye tests are now free for anyone aged over 60.
3. Where can I get more information about my eye condition?
Your GP or High Street optometrist/optician will be able to help, but there are also many leaflets which you can get quite easily. IRIS stocks most of these, and you can come to the IRIS Centre or we can post them to you if you wish. If you have access to a computer, a great deal of information is available on-line – for example the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) at www.rnib.org.uk or Action for Blind People at www.afbp.org.uk. You can also contact the RNIB Helpline on 0845 766 9999 or the Action for Blind People Helpline on 0800 915 4666.
4. I have been told that I have Low Vision. What does this mean?
A person with low vision is someone who has a visual impairment which cannot be fully corrected by conventional spectacles, contact lenses or medical intervention. Typical eye diseases which cause low vision are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, although other conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can cause low vision, and eye impairments can result from other ailments such as strokes.
5. What is a low vision service?
A low vision service is one which helps people with low vision make the best use of their residual eyesight. It is usually viewed as part of a broader rehabilitative process which helps people learn how to cope with their limited vision by addressing their psychological and emotional needs and their need for general information and advice, as well as assessing their suitability for various items of equipment such as magnifiers and lighting.
Some High Street optometrists/opticians can provide low vision assessments, although equipment normally has to be paid for. Free NHS provision is normally available from your local hospital eye clinic, and IRIS also provides a free service, under contract to the NHS, for people living in the area of the Central Cheshire Primary Care Trust (which includes Crewe, Nantwich, Winsford, Northwich and adjacent towns). See our Low Vision section for more details.
6. I can't see my watch or clock because of my sight loss, and have trouble cooking. Is there anything to help?
There are now many items of helpful equipment available for visually impaired people, ranging from relatively inexpensive clocks and watches through to talking microwaves or kitchen (or personal) scales, through to more expensive items of new technology, such as CCTVs which magnify books, magazines, letters and bills onto a TV screen to enable you to read them. IRIS stocks many of these items - see our Aids & Equipment section for more details.
7. What other help can I get to stay independent despite my poor sight?
There are numerous sources of help and support, ranging from local charitable bodies such as IRIS, Vision Support (www.visionsupport.org.uk – 01244 382222) and Age Concern Cheshire www.ageconcerncheshire.org.uk – 01606 881660 – 64) through to the national charities mentioned above and important local public authorities, such as Cheshire Community Services Department (which used to be called Social Services)
The Community Services Department may be particularly helpful as they employ social workers who can help assess your needs and work with you to meet them, as well as specialist staff – called Rehabilitation Officers. The aim of the Rehabilitation Officer is to enable visually impaired people to lead independent lives. They can offer:
• information to visually impaired people to help them adjust to their new situation
• guidance on where to get advice on rights and benefits
• teaching in communication skills, such as using large print, understanding Braille or Moon, developing keyboard skills and using telephones and cassette recorders;
• advice and training on all aspects of independent living, such as using adapted cooker dials, pouring hot drinks etc...and giving you the time and the opportunity to try out some of these new ideas without feeling rushed
• help with basic or independent mobility
• advice on safety within the home and can provide equipment to reduce risk
You can contact the Community Services Department via their Access Teams.
8. I’ve heard about registering as a visually impaired person. What is Registration?
The Community Services Department is required to keep a register of people with a visual impairment, but registration is entirely voluntary, and help from the Department, including help from Rehabilitation Officers, is not dependent on registration.
There are in fact two categories of registration - for those assessed as Severely Sight Impaired / Blind and those who are Sight Impaired / Partially Sighted. The actual assessment, and the process of arranging registration, is undertaken by a Consultant Ophthalmologist (eye specialist) at your local hospital eye clinic. If you are already attending an eye clinic you should ask to be assessed for registration. If you are not attending you should contact your GP, who will refer you to the eye clinic if necessary.
9. What are the advantages of registration?
Depending on your assessment by the Consultant Ophthalmologist, registration can help you get the practical support you need because you will be visited by a Rehabilitation Officer. It can also be your ‘passport’ to services, concessions and benefits, and helps councils to plan and provide the best service they can for people with sight problems, by giving them a record of the blind and partially sighted people in their area and what kind of services they need.
For details of the services, concessions and benefits which may be available, contact IRIS or any of RNIB or AFBP Help lines referred to above.
10 Are there any financial benefits from the government for visually impaired people, whether or not they are registered?
There are no State benefits available solely on the basis of you having a visual impairment, but there are various disability benefits available which you should consider claiming – especially Attendance Allowance (for those over the age of 65) or Disability Living Allowance (for people under the age of 65), as neither of these benefits are dependent on your current level of income.
For further advice and help contact Vision Support on Freephone: 0800 028 1111; or the RNIB Information & Advocacy Service on 0113 224 9475; or the Action for Blind People Freephone Helpline on 0800915 4666.
11. How can I get a Talking Newspaper?
The National Talking Book and Magazine Association offer a subscription service to provide on audio tape or CD some 230 national newspaper and magazine titles. Details are available from www.tnauk.org.uk (01435 866102).
There are also local Talking Newspaper organisations, and details can be found on the www.tnauk.org.uk website. The local Crewe & Nantwich group offers tape cassette versions of local papers free of charge, and can even supply cassette players at no cost. They can be contacted at www.cntn.org.uk (01270 568267)
12. And what about books?
Many people with a visual impairment have found that a magnifier supplied after a low vision assessment has enabled them to read books again without too much difficulty. However, there is plenty of help for those who need books with a bigger type-face or who prefer to listen to books on audio tape. And both are available from private, public and charitable bodies.
Cheshire County Council libraries stock a extensive selection of large-print books, but also have many titles available on cassette tape and CD. Details can be found on the Library Services section of their website - www.cheshire.gov.uk/Libraries.
The National Library for the Blind is currently merging with the Royal National Institute of the Blind to create a sizeable library of books in Braille and Moon for visually impaired people. Details are available from the National Library for the Blind website – www.nlb-online.org.uk ( 0161 406 2525). The RNIB also runs a substantial talking books library available on subscription – details are available from www.rnib.org.uk/talkingbooks. Another charity - Calibre Cassette Library – operates a free lending library of talking books on cassette tape. Details are available from www.calibre.org.uk.
There are also commercial organisations which sell audio books such as ISIS Publishing – www.isis-publishing.co.uk (01865 250333).