How My Sighted Guide changes lives

Jacqui and Sue

Jacqui came to Guide Dogs two years ago to apply for a guide dog after having lost most of her vision due to a retinal vein occlusion. During her training, Jacqui's vision suddenly deteriorated and Jacqui was left with no sight at all.

This came as somewhat of a shock to Jacqui and she had to stop training with her guide dog, as orientation and mobility suddenly became virtually impossible for her.

To get Jacqui back on track, Guide Dogs offered Jacqui the opportunity to be matched with a My Sighted Guide volunteer to help her gain a little more confidence as well as enabling her some time away from home to spend walking and shopping.

Due to Jacqui having lost her sight so quickly, she had not had the chance to adapt to life without sight or to develop coping strategies of her own. Without a My Sighted Guide volunteer, Jacqui was reliant upon her family to assist her in getting out and about and coping with everyday tasks.

Jacqui says, "my family are very busy and I feel as if I have to commandeer them to take me places or assist me with things and I always feel under a time pressure. Without anyone to take me out I just ended up sitting on the sofa. I found it can be a very long and lonely day".

Since being matched with her My Sighted Guide volunteer, Sue, Jacqui has made great progress with her confidence. Jacqui and Sue get on as if they had been friends for years and so far, have been on walks to local garden centres and out shopping.

Jacqui can’t praise the scheme enough: "I think it’s a brilliant scheme. For me, the first time I went out with Sue was the first time I have felt normal since I lost my sight. Sue doesn't make me feel like an old 'dotty auntie' that she's 'looking after'. I am not even consciously aware that I am blind and being assisted".

This is a testimony to the My Sighted Guide training scheme that Jacqui's guide Sue underwent, together with the careful matching of service user with volunteer to ensure that Jacqui and Sue would be a compatible partnership.

Brian and Harry

Brian is 81 years old and a retired civil servant from Bangor, who now lives in Northern Ireland. Brian developed glaucoma late in life which resulted in nearly complete sight loss, so his mobility and independence went downhill very rapidly.

Previously, Brian was a very active man who loved playing bowls at his local club so it was a difficult experience for Brian to be stuck at home. Before he was referred to Guide Dogs in 2010, Brian had resigned himself to the fact that his mobility would be restricted, never considering the benefits that training might bring him.

Brian says, “because of my sight loss I was retreating into myself and I was also retreating into the house – the My Sighted Guide service came along at just the right moment for me”. He explains that he had begun to spend his days in his favourite chair, feeling that the outside world was slipping away from him.

However, under the guidance of Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor, Millicent, Brian has blossomed. Millicent introduced him to the My Sighted Guide service and Brian was paired with a volunteer called Harry. He and Brian immediately bonded with a shared love of football and the same dry sense of humour. Their weekly outings quickly became something that Brian looked forward to.

Brian says, “socially it got me out of the house at a time when I was withdrawing both into myself and into my home. My home was safe and secure and I needed this service to really bring me out of myself and out of the home. I knew with Harry I was safe in crossing roads and going where I needed to go.

“I never cease to be amazed at the kindness of volunteers, here are people giving up their time, a morning or an afternoon to take someone out socially. I have enormous gratitude to Harry, it’s really beyond words how kind he is. He came at a stage when I was really at the cusp of turning absolutely inward and he helped to stop that.”

Jennifer and Edwina

Jennifer is a young, successful entrepreneur from Falkirk whose life changed completely when fluid in her brain severely affected her eyesight. Her condition left her lacking the confidence to venture out and get back to her normal life.

This was until she was introduced to the My Sighted Guide scheme. Having just finished her partnership with Edwina, Jennifer has a new sense of confidence and freedom which has enabled her to return to work and get her life back on track.

Jennifer remembers “I was having the time of my life, travelling all over and then so suddenly I lost everything, it was devastating. I couldn’t go out at all, even with family. I didn’t have the confidence and would go entire months without venturing outside.

“Then at Christmas last year, I was introduced to the My Sighted Guide service being run by Forth Valley Sensory Centre and Guide Dogs. I was partnered with Edwina. She was so lovely and very chatty, we bonded instantly and I felt safe with her because she was a trained guide.

“I found myself going from never leaving the house, to going out with Edwina every week! She has been a massive support and the work we have done together means I now have the confidence and means to continue my journey on the road to independence.”

Edwina, 47, discovered the My Sighted Guide service when she approached the Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Falkirk looking to volunteer. She said: “The training was brilliant, I learnt all about eye diseases, client confidentiality, ethics and of course the practical side of sighted guiding.”

Edwina was paired with Jennifer and said: “We instantly clicked, I love the work that she does with doll houses and we had many common interests. I began regularly guiding Jennifer on trips out to lunch or the local shops. I’ve watched Jennifer grow in confidence over the months and it’s been wonderful to know I was making such a difference.”

Now that the partnership is over Edwina enthused “We still regularly go for lunch. I am excited to see who I will next be paired with as the last six months were truly fulfilling.”