After diagnosis of a serious eye condition or sight loss, whilst the initial shock and fear is one hurdle to overcome, you may have no clear vision of who you then turn to for help. A certificate of visual impairment is important, but will it provide you with the information about a wide range of support that you are going to need? To live independently and with a sense of well-being, it will be an advantage if you are well-informed about the sight loss pathways and how to access them.
I can’t see the path
One of the issues which is often neglected is how you will cope emotionally with the life change. The need for emotional support should be highlighted at the point when you are first told about your condition. Ideally, this should be information about services and organisations who can give advice and support. Without this, the fear, isolation and additional pressure on family and friends can impact badly and lead to serious mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Yet levels of mental health conditions among blind and partially sighted people could be significantly lowered if the correct referral pathway could be followed at an early stage.
The way I see it
Should an optician or ophthalmologist know about the services available to help with adjustment to sight loss? You may think these professionals will inform you about support, where and how to access it, immediately after diagnosis and as a routine part of their job. It might come as a secondary shock that this often not the case.
Whilst these professionals are excellent at what they do, which is the cause and diagnosis part of the pathway, they are often not equipped to deal with what comes next. What about the myriad questions about how you can adapt to the various changes in your life? Where are you going to find the support you need, will it cost you and who is going to provide it? Can anyone help with your emotional well-being and provide mental health support?
Where do I find the path?
Professionals are simply not trained to know about local support organisations for blind people, mental health associations for sight loss and rehabilitation services for serious eye conditions. They may not even be aware of the correct sight loss referral pathway and may not be able to provide you with any information at all.
Yet it is vital that nobody is sent home, having been told they have sight loss that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, without understanding their condition, what it means for their future, and the help they can get.
Where can I find vision rehabilitation?
Most councils provide support and advice on adapting your home with enhanced lighting, mobility, talking equipment and guide/grab rails. The government also offer an excellent scheme called Access to Work which helps, and funds, adaptations you may need, to remain in your job. A good website is www.sightlinedirectory.org.uk where you can find local services to you.
Development of UK Vision Strategy
The UK Vision Strategy is led by the RNIB, in partnership with other organisations associated with sight loss. This sets out a framework for improvement to the UK’s approach to eye health and the impact for people with sight loss.
Three distinct outcomes have evolved:
- Addressing eye health awareness, together with health and social care practitioners.
- Focus on the individual with sight loss, with integration of the relevant health and social care services.
- Addressing the difficulties that affect people with sight loss: employment, traveling on public transport, education, leisure, use of technology.
Whilst sight loss isn’t all about mental health, there is a strong association between visual impairment and an increased risk of depression.
With all of this in mind Daniel Williams has partnered with Peter Black, Orbita Black with support from Thomas Pocklington Trust they will be delivering a a UK wide CET road show to Optometrists and Opticians to enable them to “see beyond the eyes” empowering them with the knowledge of who to refer patients too for support, how make their practices more accessible and how to communicate effectively with patients who have low vision. These courses will be delivered at local blind associations across the country so that Optical professionals can see all of the resources available and meet the key staff they need to connect with locally.
Daniel Williams and Peter Black have already ran pilot sessions and received great feedback.
Daniel said “I am passionate to empower optical professionals as they will be the first person generally to see a patient that has low vision they need to know who can support them next on their journey, I am delighted that Thomas Pocklington have been able to see the benefit in such a great imitative and I am blessed to work with great people on this project” “By the end of this project I would like to see more blind associations receiving greater referrals from optical professionals and no patient leaving a clinic with no referral implemented, I would like to see blind associations and Rehab professionals keeping the Optometrist informed of their patients journey and continue to build relationships”
For more information on the Continuing Education Training road show for Optometrists and Opticians visit – https://visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/training/cet-accredited-training-seeing-beyond-eyes/