Shop RNIB Donate now

Our Future is Now in Our Hands

Children and young people with sight loss in Northern Ireland are celebrating as today marks the launch of an exciting new project that will empower them to shape their own future.

RNIB and partner charity Guide Dogs NI have been awarded £332,848 through the National Lottery Community Fund’s Empowering Young People programme for the "Our Futures" project, which over the next four years will support young people with sight loss aged eight to 25 through key transition stages of their lives and empower them to advocate for improvements in local services.

The project idea came about after children and young people with sight loss in Northern Ireland told the charities that there is a lack of specialist support for them, particularly around key life changes such as moving to higher education and moving out; and barriers that they need support to overcome such as using technology, finding a job and getting out and about independently.

Nathan Hood from Banbridge is 18 and currently in his first year of university. Nathan has nystagmus and when asked about the biggest barriers or issues young people with sight loss face, he said:

I think confidence, in addition to the obvious problems of travel and in some cases independence. A lot of young people feel as though they are limited or won't achieve the same as others and they need support, encouragement and understanding to develop the confidence they need, particularly as there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. It often feels we have to raise awareness ourselves of what it’s really like to live with sight loss and what we are really capable of.

Worryingly, young people with sight loss also expressed that they struggle to participate in mainstream community activities, yet there are few opportunities for them to self-advocate for service improvements.

Freya Coyle aged 10, from Derry/Londonderry, is severely sight impaired due to oculocutaneous albinism and would love to learn how to dance. Freya admits that she struggles with her sight at times: “It’s hard for me to see things in the distance. Sometimes I’m nervous letting the teacher know that I’m not able to see things. It makes me feel frustrated and tired.

I’d like to have some confidence speaking for myself. So I think it’s important to be part of this project. I think it’s important to be able to do things for myself like tying laces, being able to cook and cut things with a sharp knife, and making coffee with my liquid level indicator.”

Freya said she hopes to learn other new skills, such as using the computer and learning to dance. But says it isn’t easy joining groups outside of school because it is very fast moving: “I used to dance but the tutor was going too fast and I couldn’t see what they were doing.”

Rosaleen Dempsey, Assistant Lead for RNIB’s Children, Young People and Families team and Education Service said:

“Participation of children with disabilities in informal education and activities in the community is now well established in policy and practice. However, evidence shows that the quality of provision is patchy, that learning materials are not consistently made available in alternative formats and that a drift towards generic services is depriving blind and partially sighted children and young people of specialist support.

“The Our Futures project was designed and developed by and for young people with vision impairments. It’s an exciting opportunity for young people to shape the way in which they are included in services in our community to achieve what they want in life.”

Supported by RNIB and Guide dogs, through the Our Futures project young people will learn and develop new skills to help them meet their potential and create positive change. We would like to thank the National Lottery Community Fund and National Lottery players for making the project possible.”

Martin Walls, Guide Dogs NI’s SISS (Skills, Information and Support Services) Operations Manager said:

“The Our Futures Project is a great example of partnership working and taking account of the transitional parts of the journey experienced by young people with sight loss.  Guide Dogs NI are looking forward to collaborating with RNIB in Northern Ireland to generate peer, practical and social support for young people in this innovative project.

“Having spent two years co-designing the proposal with young people, parents and RNIB NI we expect outcomes to be positive for all involved and to add to our insight regarding young people’s views and contribution in this important area of development.”

For more information or to express interest in getting involved with the Our Future project, please contact RNIB’s Children, youth and Families team at [email protected] or call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.

Notes to Editors

All media enquiries can be directed to Kirsty Campbell at RNIB via email: [email protected], or phone 07702 856686.

If calling on a Wednesday/Thursday please direct queries to: [email protected] 07763 579 141 or [email protected] 07849 079597

Sight loss statistics - UK and Northern Ireland

  • The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically.
  • It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to over four million: RNIB (2019) Eye health and sight loss stats and facts.
  • In Northern Ireland, there are 55,600 people living with sight loss.
  • There are currently approximately 1,250 children and young people aged 0-25 years old with sight loss in Northern Ireland: RNIB Sight Loss Data Tool.

More about the Our Futures project

"Our Futures" will provide one to one and peer support in young people’s lives at the point at which they are most in need; perhaps in coping with their sight loss, reducing feelings of isolation, and when facing difficult decisions regarding their future.

This will include help with assistive technology, education and finding employment, as well as mobility and independent living skills such as travelling, cooking, managing money and self-care.

Making changes and raising awareness

Shape and Share events will bring children, young people and their families together to take part in activities and information sharing.  The activities will be decided, delivered and managed by the young people themselves and will be a mixture of fun and learning activities.

An advocacy group will also be created which will help the young people to develop skills to help them and their peers self-advocate and learn other skills through creating an online magazine, utilizing twitter and creating a Facebook page to raise awareness of key issues and barriers they face, and to provide an avenue for peer support.

Another key element of this awareness raising will be delivering visual awareness training, advice and guidance to youth workers and other relevant community staff in their area.

About RNIB

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. We want society, communities and individuals to see differently about sight loss. RNIB's focus is on creating a world where there are no barriers to people with sight loss.

  • Every day 250 people start to lose their sight.
  • At least half of all sight loss is avoidable.
  • More than two million people in the UK have sight loss.

About Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs is here to help the two million people living with sight loss live the life they choose. Children and adults. Friends and family. Our expert staff, volunteers and life-changing dogs are here to help people affected by sight loss live actively, independently and well. Founded in 1934, following our first partnerships in 1931, we are a charity that is almost entirely dependent on donations.