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Partially Sighted Society and Lighting

Anita Plant, CEO of the Partially Sighted Society talks to Peter White about the charity's relaunch and optometrist Louise Gaw gives lighting advice.

Tom Walker talks to visually-impaired attendees of the first conference of the Partially-Sighted Society.
Anita Plant, CEO of the PSS talks to Peter White about the charity's relaunch.
RNIB Optometrist Louise Gaw talks to Cheryl Gabriel about the way lighting can help someone with low vision, make the most of their residual sight.
Louise stresses the importance of getting professional help from a rehab worker or local blind society, to advise on the best lighting options, depending on the eye condition of the individual.
Claudia Hammond presenter of All in the Mind, tells Peter that the BBC's Loneliness Experiment online survey, which was previously inaccessible with a screen-reader, has been changed and it is now accessible.

Presenter: Peter White
Producer: Cheryl Gabriel.

Available now

20 minutes

Transcript

THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT.  BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

 

IN TOUCH – Partially sighted society and lighting

 

TX:  13.03.2018  2040-2100

 

PRESENTER:          PETER WHITE

 

PRODUCER:            CHERYL GABRIEL

 

 

White

Tonight, let there be light.  The difference a well-positioned lamp or the colour of the light bulb you choose can make to your eyesight.  And listener power – how blind and partially sighted protests have changed a BBC survey.

 

But first, one of the considerations we always have to weigh up on In Touch is the balance we strike between items reflecting the experience of total or near total blindness, on the one hand, and partial sight on the other.  Listeners soon tell us if they think we’re getting it wrong.  It’s perhaps worth reminding ourselves that only around 4% of the visually impaired population have absolutely no vision at all.  So, while there’s a lot of crossover people’s experiences can be very different.  Different enough to require the need for a partially sighted society.  But the organisation bearing that name has had a rather low profile in recent years and is now attempting to change all that.  Last Friday it held its first national conference in many years at its current headquarters in Doncaster.  Our reporter, Tom Walker, was there to check the state of its health and to meet some of the delegates and punters.

 

Brown

My name’s David Brown.  I go to the Partially Sighted Society for all the help they can give me.  I find them very helpful, very kind and considerate.

 

Walker

Is there anything you don’t get from the Partially Sighted Society that you feel you’d like to get?

 

Brown

No, I think they do everything okay.  Anything what I’ve asked for in the past they’ve always helped me.

 

Walker

What about members of the public – how do find attitudes towards you as a visually impaired person?

 

Brown

People don’t realise I’m blind, I can’t see much.  I think for me I tell them I’m blind but I don’t think people take any notice of it.

 

Walker

Do you think more should be done to educate the public?

 

Brown

Yes I do.  They should advertise it, the fact that people go out that can’t see very far, like meself.

 

Walker

Charlotte Carson is from Look UK, which provides support to visually impaired young people and families.

 

Carson

We offer a youth mentoring programme for young visually impaired people.  If you’re aged between 11 and 29 we can support you by connecting you with a VI mentor.

 

Walker

What are those young people telling you about the issues they face, particularly those who are partially sighted?

 

Carson

Education.  Young people are struggling in school, not always getting their work enlarged, not being able to follow the teacher to know what’s going on in the lesson.  We’ve had lots of university dropouts this year.  We don’t want to sit around and moan about things but actually sometimes you can only talk to other visually impaired people about these issues.

 

Walker

One of the youngest speakers at today’s conference is Kim Jeffreys.

 

Jeffreys

For a lot of people that have a bit of vision a lot of the problems is trying to get the right support because either they might look sighted and people don’t take them seriously or don’t believe them, in a way, especially people who are losing their vision and their sight, you could read this a month ago, why can’t you read it now.  There’s also the problem of maybe teachers not understanding – thinking that blowing something up to A3 in bad quality counts as large print.  So, a lot of it is to do with education, the teachers as well.

 

Hadfield

I’m Beryl Hadfield and I’m 88 years old.  I’m disabled and can’t walk very well and when I lost my sight or partly lost it I was deprived of my books, which were my great love, very important to me as I can’t get out.  The Partially Sighted Society was so helpful, they first of all reassured me that I would never totally lose my sight through Macular Degeneration and then they showed me a whole range of aids to help me see better.  And I came out of there feeling a whole lot better than I went in. 

 

White

An optimistic Beryl ending Tom Walker’s report. 

 

Well to take up some of the points that report raised I’ve been talking with the society’s chief executive, Anita Plant. 

 

First, I wanted to know, could this reasonably be called a relaunch?

 

Plant

I think the conference has been a relaunch, it’s the first conference that we’ve done under my watch and I was actually thrilled with the response to the conference.  So yes, I would say it’s a relaunch.

 

White

Tell me a bit about what you actually do because I know clearly there is publicity, there is the idea of getting ideas across about partial sight but what services are you offering that perhaps people aren’t getting from other organisations?

 

Plant

One of the things that we’re really passionate about is helping people make the best use of their remaining vision and the trustees were very passionate about having a fully professional low vision service which incorporates a sight test facility.  When the society relocated to Doncaster they really were in quite dire financial situation and then out of the blue a legacy arrived which then enabled them to put in place the services that the trustees had dreamed of doing all alone. 

 

White

So that is a service.  What does it actually offer and how can people access it?

 

Plant

In our resource centre in Bennetthorpe we were quite fortunate we were able with the legacy to be able to buy the premises we’re in and then set up a low vision assessment facility.  So that includes a sight test facility with a professional optometrist and a low vision assessment service.  So, anybody from anywhere who can get to us can access that service.  And basically what that means is if somebody comes in through the door and they say I’d like to buy a magnifier we say well let’s make an appointment first with me and I’ll sit down and I’ll spend the minimum of 90 minutes with somebody just going through what is it exactly you want to do, what’s been going on with your vision, what other issues do you have.  Perhaps if I can see that they haven’t had a sight test for a while or we want to revisit the whole sight test I’ll recommend that they come back and see our optometrist.

 

White

And are you saying this is a service that they wouldn’t get necessarily from their local optometrist, from an ophthalmologist, from the local hospital, when if they’re concerned about their sight and go for a consultation?

 

Plant

Yes.

 

White

They don’t?

 

Plant

They don’t but I would say that it’s probably too much of an expensive service for a regular optometrist to provide.  Then looking at prescribing a low vision aid.  It’s probably not cost effective because it’s very people centred and it’s all about the person.

 

White

And you said, significantly, if you can get there, well there are two elements there – it’s in Doncaster, nothing wrong with that at all, except that it’s probably not the most central part of Britain – and also there’s the issue of are they going to know you’re there offering this?

 

Plant

I know, well thank you for bringing me on the programme because this is one way of telling people we are there.  I do appreciate that Doncaster is not the easiest place to get to.  I am purchasing a vehicle so we can start going out and doing some outreach clinics.

 

White

You said significantly thank you for asking you on but we haven’t been hearing as much from you as we used to hear – and I’m going back 20, 15 years – it does seem to be that you haven’t been telling us what you’re doing.

 

Plant

I took over as CEO in 2013 and at the time we were just a small team of three people.  I mean now we’re only four people.  Everybody does lots of different things in the society, so as well as being the CEO and managing the organisation I do all the low vision assessments and all the outreach work and so on, so we took on a development – employed a development coordinator and now she’s been tasked with come on get us out there, and she’s been very good at that.

 

White

What struck me again listening to what was happening at your conference there, there were people there who clearly because they lived in the area could get to you and were feeling that they got quite a lot from it, they met people, they could look at equipment and so forth, are you able to do this elsewhere in the country?

 

Plant

I would love to, I really would but it’s a matter of resources and staffing and so on like that, so with the outreach service that we’re trying to bring in, in the coming year, that’s one way of trying to sort of take the service out to the people.  But also, with purchasing a vehicle it means that we can then perhaps utilise a volunteer driver to bring people to us who can’t get to us because I do understand that transport is an issue.

 

White

But that must be frustrating that there obviously is a need out there which is only satisfied at the moment if you can get to your headquarters.

 

Plant

We are a national organisation, so nationally we have a mail order service, we also have a telephone help service, so anybody from anywhere in the country can phone us and we would talk through and try advise them.  The reason we are the Partially Sighted Society is because we’re not exclusive – anybody, doesn’t matter what eye condition you have, what age you are, whether you’re registered or not, we are there to provide you with help that you may need.

 

White

So, are we going to see you being more visible in the future?

 

Plant

I’m certainly going to give it a good try.

 

White

Anita Plant of the Partially Sighted Society.

 

Well one of the subjects Anita undoubtedly raises in those assessments she was talking about is lighting and the effect it can have on making the best use of the sight you have left.  It got a quick mention on last week’s programme but we thought it needed far more detail.  It also seemed to make sense for producer, Cheryl Gabriel, to swap seats with me for this one and take over as interviewer.  Cheryl has quite a bit of useful vision still, I don’t.  She asked optometrist Louise Gaw to explain just how much difference the right lighting in your home can make.

 

Gaw

Contrast is really important to someone who has low vision and lighting is a key element to enhancing contrast.  So, if you use lighting correctly then you can improve the ability to see things that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to manage.

 

Gabriel

Where would somebody go then to get some advice about how to use the light properly?

 

Gaw

It’s important that you get professional support to get the right lighting, to get the right set-up in your home.  Rehabilitation workers are the most obvious port of call…

 

Gabriel

They’re quite rare though aren’t they.

 

Gaw

They are rare.  Some areas are wonderful, some areas the service is much more patchy and fragmented.  Local societies are a fabulous source of support as well.  And resource centres that are dotted around the country can also be a good source of information.

 

Gabriel

Okay well assuming you have found somebody who can actually help you, can you give us some practical examples of how lighting could improve your vision or the vision that you have?

 

Gaw

The temptation is to have one big light in the middle of the room and just to make that brighter and brighter.  What that does is it creates a cone of light in the centre of the room, which is actually a dazzle point.  If you evenly space lighting across the room then you don’t get the dazzle but you get the enhanced contrast from it.  And if you augment that with extra task lighting on specific things like reading a book or on a shaving mirror then you get the best of both worlds – you get good contrast, high contrast where you need it and you get a nice even lighting everywhere else, without the shadows and without the dazzle points.

 

Gabriel

Okay, and how does a different eye condition react to different types of lighting?

 

Gaw

That’s a really important point.  Every eye condition is different, every person is different and it’s really important that lighting is tailored to the person.  And that’s why you need the professional support to get it right for you in the first instance.  Some eye conditions are particularly prone to dazzle, so having light that you can control in those sorts of eye conditions is really important.  Some eye conditions you need a little bit more light and are prone to having poor contrast, so for instance a cataract can cause glare but it can also wash out contrast, so getting the balance of the light right for that person is completely different to someone who has Macular Degeneration.

 

Gabriel

So that might explain then when I go to my mum’s flat and my mum has cataracts and glaucoma and I have Macular Degeneration, I can hardly see a thing when I go into her flat and I put all the lights up to maximum brightness.

 

Gaw

Yes, so her choice of lighting will be completely different to your requirements for lighting.  But there are some generic rules.  So, evenly spaced lighting is good for everyone, as long as you’ve got a dimmer switch that you can make it brighter or lower according to your particular requirements.  Having the same light level in each room, so once you’ve got it right for one room you then will get it right for the other rooms, so if you keep it at the same level for each room.  A lot of eye conditions will cause difficulty in adaptation from bright to dark, so that’s why you don’t want shadows and you don’t want one room that’s dark and one room that’s bright.  And that’s really important to remember that if you’ve got it right for one room that’s the light level you probably need elsewhere in the house as well.

 

Gabriel

Okay, now Louise I want to just ask you one thing, I’ve got this magnifier here, which is actually really, really bright and it’s white light, now I ordered this first of all and it came and I looked at it and I thought this is hopeless I can’t see a thing, the lighting just seemed to really dim and it was – I think it was yellow, I’d got a yellow bulb.  Now what’s the difference between yellow and white or blue light?

 

Gaw

Yeah, that’s a really good question.  There are lots of different light colours, you’ll see it listed as a colour temperature and it’s measured in kelvins, so you’ll see on perhaps a magnifier or a lightbulb 2,700 kelvin, that will come out as a yellowy light.  You could see it listed as 6,000 kelvin then that will come out as a bright blue light.  So, depending on the kelvin value is the colour that the bulb is come out.  Now some people love the yellowy lights, the calmer lights, probably your mum will prefer that yellowy light, some people prefer the bright blue light that gives the maximum intensity of light from the device.

 

Gabriel

Okay, so we’ve talked all about what sort of light’s available but what about the kinds of lighting?  So, if you’ve got an eye for interior design or you want your place to look quite groovy…

 

Gaw

Yeah, it’s home isn’t it, you want it to look the way you want it to look.

 

Gabriel

And how can you achieve that by still having sort of loads of different types of strength lighting everywhere?

 

Gaw

So, I think the most important thing is when you’ve got your professional support to get the lighting right you can then go out and choose whatever light shade you want that fits the advice that you’ve been given.  So, if you’ve been advised to get a nice even lighting in your living room you won’t want one big central pendant light, you might have a pretty light that’s got three prongs from it, three different lights pointing the light in different directions.  So, good lighting doesn’t have to look like hospital lighting, it can look pretty too.  So, as long as you follow the guidelines, as long as you follow the general rules, if you go into a lighting shop or a resource centre then they can show you the different styles and designs that you can get.  As long as you’ve got the right bulb in it and as long as you’ve got the light diffused then it’s going to do the same job.

 

White

That was Louise Gaw talking with Cheryl Gabriel.

 

And finally, today, if you think complaining to the BBC won’t really get you anywhere think again.  The programme which sometimes follows ours – All in the Mind – which deals with mental health issues has recently been conducting a major survey, which ran into trouble with several visually impaired listeners who wanted to take part.  Present Claudia Hammond takes up the story.

 

Hammond

The survey’s called the BBC Loneliness Experiment and what we want to do is to find out as much as we can about what people think about loneliness, what the different causes of loneliness might be, whether there are different peaks at different ages – people often think about older people being lonely but actually we know from other research that there are peaks amongst younger people too.  We want to know especially what are the things that seem to get people out of loneliness.  And already nearly 25,000 people have completed the whole thing, and it does take a while, so we’re amazed that so many people have filled it in.  And many, many thousands more are underway.  And so already it is the world’s largest ever survey that’s been done on loneliness, which is amazing.

 

White

But, you got some flak from blind and partially sighted people who were keen to take part that said they were finding difficulty, what was the problem?

 

Hammond

Yeah, so problem is that of course we didn’t know who was going to take part and we had been surprised by actually the number of people who were blind or partially sighted who did want to.  And the problem is that to make it look beautiful and nice and to encourage as many people as possible to do it we did things like we had sliders for the answers where you decide whether you strongly agree or strongly disagree with something.  And there were a few other visual elements as well.  And so what we’ve done, after the emails we had from people, one of the researchers has spent the last couple of weeks creating an alternative version of it where we’ve got radio buttons instead of sliders that work of course much better with screen readers, we’ve also sometimes changed things for word based versions instead, so, for example, there’s a question asking people – rather than ask people’s salary to try to get a sense of people’s socioeconomic status because often people don’t like talking about salary, a thing that’s often used in research is to have a picture of a ladder and to ask people where they’d put themselves on this ladder.  Obviously, that doesn’t work with screen readers.  So, we have changed it to make that work, so that when people go into the survey now they can choose whether to do a version with screen readers or the standard version that was already there.  So, we’re really hoping this means that now lots more people who are blind and partially sighted who want to tell us what they think about loneliness will be able to take part.

 

White

But would you accept that its inaccessibility for blind and partially sighted people was really perhaps something you should have thought of beforehand?

 

Hammond

Oh yes, I wish – oh I wish we’d done this from the start and believe me it would have been so much easier if we had done this from the start.  And it’s definitely something we will take into account next time, if we get to do a big survey like this again.

 

White

And just to be clear, the new version is now available for people to try to fill in?

 

Hammond

Yes, the very first thing that happens is that it asks whether they’re using a screen reader or not and there’s a yes/no for that and if people say they’re using a screen reader then it will take them to that version.  I think it’s still not perfect but people are saying it’s much more accessible now and that’s what we really want because we really do want people to take part.

 

White

Claudia Hammond from All in the Mind. 

 

There’ll be a link on our website, which will take you directly to the lonelinessexperiment.com, alternatively for more general information about this and all the other items on the programme call our actionline 0800 044 044 for 24 hours after the programme.

 

That’s it, from me Peter White, producer Cheryl Gabriel and the team, goodbye.

 

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