“My funny eyes” by John Sanders, Chair of Sight Life

22 January 2020

“Can you tell me when the next bus is due? I can’t see the electronic display”, said a lady to me. I can’t always read the display either but this Monday morning, the light was just right for my funny eyes. I have Nystagmus.

So I was happy to tell the woman at the bus stop that a number 57 was due in two minutes. In fact, it drove around the corner as we were speaking and she bustled on board. Sadly that robbed me of the chance to strike up a conversation about neither of us being able to see very well.

How many of us are vision impaired was very much on my mind that January morning. I was on my way to the Sight Life office in Jones Court, a stone’s throw from Cardiff Castle. I’d just taken over as Chair of trustees and this would be my first time trying to make sure we got through the agenda and everyone felt they’d had their say.

I’ve been a Sight Life trustee on and off for 20 years and involved in other charities for even longer. So I knew what to expect. We had to sign off the budget for the year ahead, check that everything was running smoothly and that – as far as we and our very dedicated staff could tell – there were no nasty surprises lurking on the horizon. Fortunately, all seemed well.

We’ve already helped more than 3,000 people in the last nine months, putting us comfortably ahead of our target for the year. “Helping” can come in many different forms. An obvious one is Ruth, our Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) in Cardiff’s Heath Hospital, who supports hundreds of people every year when they get the devastating news that their sight is deteriorating and there’s probably no medical fix.

Helping also includes the social activities we organise, because having less or no vision often leads to loneliness, isolation and even depression. So our Zumba class and darts team in Swansea are vital to what we do. As, of course are all the activities we do in Rhondda Cynon Taf and the drama and photography groups in Cardiff. (I have to mention those because I’m a member of both and I’ll never hear the end of it if I leave them out).

Hopefully, all these activities – and possibly new ones – will continue as long as there is demand for them. With lots of charities fighting for not very much money though, it’s a very challenging time to provide the level of support we want to the number of people that need it. So, if Sight Life has helped you, make sure you tell others about it. The more positive publicity we get and the more people that donate, fundraise or leave a gist in their will, the more chance we have of being around to help people for another 150 years.

Finally, although the trustees’ meeting was over, my experience of being vision impaired wasn’t. On my way to catch the bus home, I popped into M&S to buy some milk and potatoes.  At the check-out, I had to ask the cashier how much I owed. She pointed to the electronic display. It was too small and I couldn’t read it.