My name is Brian and I was born blind, with familial nystagmus and cone dystrophy. Whilst certified blind I did have some useful sight and my parents wanted me to go to mainstream schools. Back then that was unusual, and my parents had to fight for that right to choose. I think that instilled in me, from an early age, the instinct to speak up for what you need and be prepared to get involved with the issues that matter most to you.
I began work as a Saturday boy in Marks & Spenser (M&S) and over the years worked my way up to store manager. During my career at M&S, I took on the management of the Business Involvement Group, which represented the management teams across M&S and the views of the entire workforce. I had a passion for putting wrongs right!
Working collaboratively was a big part of my working life, so when I took early retirement, due to a brain tumour, I knew I wanted to continue to use my skills and remain an active community member. I looked at a few websites for volunteer roles and came across the key campaigner role at RNIB. I contacted the regional campaign officer in my area, Terri Dowty, and it all started from there really. The process was easy and talking to Terri about the role and how I would be supported to develop it was helpful. Like a new job, it takes time to settle in but once you do there are so many ways to campaign for change and so many issues affecting the lives of blind and partially sighted people.
The first thing I did as a key campaigner, was to speak with local people about the issues that mattered most to them and transport was a recurring theme, particularly the lack of audio announcements. I started a conversation with Stagecoach and we ran three ‘swap with me’ events, where drivers ae blindfolded and become the passengers and blind people become the drivers!
These events are a great way for drivers to get a sense of how a blind or partially sighted person experiences traveling on a bus and how important it is for the driver to be communicative and understand how they can help, for example, shouting out the names of the stops so a person knows where they are on the route. Because of this work, local charities now have a direct line to the depot manager and can call him about any issues reported by blind or partially sighted people.
Another key concern was street clutter and how difficult things like advertisement boards make it for a blind or partially sighted person to walk down the street safely. We invited Worthing Borough Council and traders to an awareness event, where people could wear simspecs and get an understanding of the range of sight conditions that affect people’s vision and how street clutter gets in the way.
Street traders really got the message and agreed to remove the Advertising boards but unfortunately the council didn’t follow through. I have now written to the leaders of both the local and county councils using the equality act as leverage to hold them to account for the safety of all their residents.
Get involved in the issues that matter most to you!
Speaking on your own behalf is empowering and a powerful tool for change. It is so much more impactful when you can say, in a meeting with people you are asking to do something differently, that you are blind and experience these issues personally. Or to bring along some simspecs and be able to say, ‘that’s how I see’, and know that I am helping others gain some insight into what it is like to live with sight loss.
There are so many ways in which the lives of blind and partially sighted people have been affected by the work of volunteers over the years and I am thrilled to contribute to that legacy. So, if you feel you want to contribute too, find your local society or contact RNIB to find out how.
I was just elected as the chair of RNIB’s Network South East committee, which covers an area of 8 counties. I am looking forward to the challenge and will hold a series of ‘listening’ groups to really engage local blind and partially sighted people and work together to identify the priorities and continue to campaign for change.