Wales

Vision loss: 'I couldn't see as I walked down the aisle'

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Media captionRachel Jones says since she got help from a vision rehab specialist her life is better than ever

When Rachel Jones walked down the aisle she could not see where she was going or her future husband waiting for her.

Born with a degenerative eye condition, her sight deteriorated dramatically just before her wedding.

As her sight worsened she struggled to leave the house, but after she got help from a vision rehab specialist she says her life is better than ever.

But charities claim a shortage of rehabilitation officers in Wales is putting people's safety at risk.

Rehabilitation Officers for Visually Impaired (ROVIs) help people adapt to daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and crossing the road, when their sight deteriorates.

Charity guidelines suggest people with sight loss should get access to a ROVI within 28 days of contacting their council or being referred.

But a new report, compiled by vision charities, claims people's safety is being put at risk due to a lack of ROVIs, with some waiting months for help.

The report states only 12 local authorities meet minimum standards of one ROVI per 70,000 of the population, with 34.2 full time equivalent ROVIs practising, below the 45 guideline amount.

Dianna Evans, who works as a ROVI in Torfaen, said the service was under increasing pressure, with waits for help putting people at risk of burns and falls.

Image copyright Anthony Jarrett
Image caption Rachel's sight started to deteriorate significantly when she was in her twenties, at about the time she was leaving university and planning her wedding

Rachel knows all too well how important the service is.

Born with a retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic degenerative eye condition, her sight started to significantly deteriorate when she was in her early twenties - just as she was planning her wedding.

"I didn't realise until I was at the wedding that I couldn't actually see the guests," said Rachel, now 34, who lives in Knighton, Powys, with her husband Myrdd.

"I was tying to find my way down the aisle, I was trying to find where my husband was because I couldn't see him.

"It's not how you might expect your wedding day to be when you are five or six but it's something I coped with, I was determined and it's made me a stronger person."

Image copyright Antony Jarrett
Image caption Rachel said she realises now she spent a lot of her time looking down at her feet to see where she was going as the carpet in the venue was red

As her sight continued to worsen Rachel had to give up her job and felt like she lost her independence.

But in 2017 she was registered blind and her consultant referred her to the council's vision rehab service, who she says turned her life around.

Laura, her ROVI, visited within three months, and Rachel says she feels lucky that she didn't have to wait longer.

She helped Rachel to adapt her house, apply for benefits, and showed her how to cross the road safely and access public transport.

Image copyright Anthony Jarrett
Image caption Rachel handmade the wedding cake and organised the wedding herself, but now says she was being stubborn and should have asked for help
Image copyright Rachel Jones
Image caption Rachel made all the centre pieces for her movie themed reception in 2012

Rachel, who is an avid movie and Games of Thrones fan, now runs her own charity and volunteers helping others with sight loss.

"I think part of your brain thinks, that is not going to happen to me, and then it does," said Rachel, who was diagnosed with the condition when she was seven.

"I was negative, I felt everything was going to be bleak, I thought it was going to be the end of the world, but she (her ROVI) helped me so much."

Image copyright Anthony Jarrett
Image caption Rachel says she loved her wedding day, but now realises she should have admitted she needed help as her vision was failing

But charities say not everyone is so lucky and some are waiting much longer to get an initial assessment when their sight fails.

There are also concerns that pressure on the service will increase, with the body overseeing ROVIs claiming about a quarter of those practising are due to retire in the next five years.

Elin Edwards, from RNIB Cymru, said councils needed to invest in the service to help people keep their independence when their sight deteriorated.

"Vision rehabilitation keeps people safe in their home, and safe when they are out and about," she said.

"We've seen a decline over previous years and it's really essential now that local authorities look at the provision they have to make sure people have access to these services."

Image copyright Anthony Jarrett
Image caption Rachel could not see the faces of her guests on her wedding day but is now helping others deal with their sight loss

But the Welsh Local Government Association said councils were under significant pressure due to cuts and were working hard to preserve services.

A spokesman said: "Whilst local authorities have worked hard to preserve valuable services such as these, it has meant that difficult decisions have had to be made around service delivery

"Local government remain committed to meeting the needs of those who are blind and partially sighted."

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