Praise for Mark ‘the miracle worker’ who has helped people come to terms with sight loss for 20 years
Patients and colleagues have been queuing up to congratulate a caring father who has supported people with sight loss in Luton and Bedfordshire for 20 years.
Mark Chapman, from Luton, works for Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) as an Eye Care Liaison Officer at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital. It means he supports people who have just been diagnosed with sight loss at the hospital’s eye clinic at what can be an extremely emotional and difficult time.
His help involves anything from guiding people how to make a cup of tea using a smart fill indicator to operating helpful smartphone apps; using a white cane or applying for a Certificate of Visual Impairment.
Mark had worked in record shops for 15 years, but after his friend took her own life he turned to caring professions, initially becoming a Samaritan.
Mark said: “That moment changed my life. I was already beginning to think that my job was not that fulfilling. It took me a long time to realise that I was driven to help people with loss. Not just sight loss, but the many types of loss.
“For example, supporting parents when a child has lost their sight is one of the things that’s most challenging. It’s often a massive change for them and an emotional loss that not many people talk about where all the expectations that were there for their child’s life have changed.”
Mark joined Sight Concern Bedfordshire (SCB) in September 2003 as a Community Support Worker, then in 2015 he became a Visual Impairment Advisor and in 2017 started a new role as a community-based ECLO. In 2019 he joined RNIB as part of a joint project with SCB.
He said: “I started off at Sight Care Bedfordshire visiting elderly people, in their homes and at social clubs and assessing their support needs. Our job was not to fix people’s lives, but to try to help people make their lives a bit sweeter and more interesting. We’ve built up that type of role over the years.
He added: “I would have been very different 20 years ago though and much less relaxed! I probably would have had to have a list in front of me of things I wanted to talk about!”
As well as his work roles, Mark has spent much of his spare time working with the sight loss community. Years ago he set up a group for younger adults with sight loss in Bedfordshire – now called the VIP group - and still thriving today. He’s taken groups of people with sight loss off-road driving and shooting using special colour detectors on the targets, and on bat walks and dawn walks around Whipsnade Zoo to hear the dawn chorus of the animals waking up.
One 61-year-old patient sang Mark’s praises recently after he helped arrange for her to try out accessible bikes which she is now riding every week. She said: “You are a miracle worker. How did you find them? This was soooo much fun! I am so glad we could do this and am grateful for the volunteers keeping us safe”.
Parents of a child with sight loss who have received support from Mark, said: “Knowing that the service is always there if needed, it feels like nothing is ever too much for them. We felt very positive after we had contact with them and feel like we know that they will support us with anything that we may need for our son”.
Mark remembers many patients who had a big impact on him, like a mum of three who had been diagnosed with cancer and had sight loss whom Mark helped with online shopping for her family.
He recalls a family who came along to his family group and found the local sight loss services so helpful they actually moved to the area! Mark was able to arrange to pick up a piano from Hemel Hempstead so their child with sight loss could play it.
In fact Mark has developed such good links with the sight loss community that he’s surprised if he sees someone with a white cane or guide dog who he doesn’t know!
He said: “It’s such a privilege this job. To have someone who listens and hears how you feel is so important. I’ve had lots of tears. There’s often a process of grief that people go through.
“Our support totally depends on the level of people’s vision. Here I often see people in the very early stages of sight loss so they might just need help using a magnifier but at the other end of the scale I can show people how they can use their iPhone to read text.
“In 20 years I’ve only seen one referral where someone formally asked for emotional support, but that’s often what we often end up giving.
“The biggest change in 20 years is probably in the development of technology. It’s one of the great hopes for people in terms of what smart phones can do and things like Alexa and Talking Books. Twenty years ago if you wanted to wear different colour clothing you had to have different shaped buttons to attach to your different coloured clothes. Now you can get an app on your phone that can tells you what colour they are.
“I think we’re at the stage now where it’s about other people’s perceptions. It’s about getting rid of that ‘otherness’. Getting rid of that idea that someone might not want to use a cane because of how people might react to it.
“It would also be nice to think that support for people with sight loss is available everywhere, rather than being much better in some areas than others.”
RNIB’s ECLO service Manager Helen Rowe, who is Mark’s manager, said: “Mark is an outstanding ECLO who has supported a huge number of patients with empathy and kindness. He has built an amazing service that is very well utilised and is a highly respected member of both the clinical and RNIB teams.”
Notes to editors
The ECLO Service
Eye Care Laison Officers (ECLOs also known as Eye Clinic Liaison Officers) have lots of knowledge on eye conditions and on helpful local and national services. By offering dedicated individual care, ECLOs can talk to those who have been diagnosed with sight loss, or are waiting for an appointment, about their worries and give them advice on how to lessen the impact their eye condition on their daily lives. RNIB now supports more than 100 ECLOs at locations across the UK.
We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.