My name is Rachel Jones, and I’m an RNIB Cymru volunteer from mid Wales.
I was born with retinitis pigmentosa, which was diagnosed when I was seven. Though I spent my childhood with a visual impairment, I had no intervention or real, practical help from anyone. Through a combination of living in a very rural area and not really accepting my eye condition as fact, I was in a very isolated place.
In my mid 20s I started to have some complications with my vision. I lost more sight and began to live an even more insular life.
Then, when I was 33, I was registered Severely Sight Impaired.
This event absolutely changed my life. I always did my best to pretend that my sight loss wasn’t happening, or that it wasn’t affecting me. I dreaded talking about it. The fact that I was now SSI meant that I had to talk about and confront it, and I credit both my Eye Clinic Liaison (ECLO) and my Rehabilitation Officer (ROVI) for helping me, beyond words, to accept, adapt and start living a much better life.
I am so thankful to have had a wonderful ROVI, Laura Edwards. She is caring, compassionate, dedicated, level-headed, knowledgeable. Exactly the sort of person who should be doing the job.
We worked on Daily Living Skills – how to cope around the house – before moving onto Mobility Training with a long cane. She also helped me with my financial situation as I had to stop working, to understand where to go for benefits and welfare advice, and helped me to get a grant which enabled Care and Repair to adapt my home. Because of Laura I got involved with many social and volunteering opportunities. I joined a Braille club and a Visually Impaired arts and crafts group, and became an RNIB volunteer.
So many of my limitations were more mental than physical, but Laura kept challenging me to do things I found difficult. She knew the right approach to take, and with her by my side, I found things weren’t that difficult.
If I could sum up in one word what Laura gave me, it was confidence. The confidence to go out by myself, to do things and enjoy life. This confidence in turn gave me independence. Working with Laura completely changed my perspective, and I am a different person now – I have the most confidence, self-assurance and independence that I’ve ever had.
After having such a positive experience, it concerns me to hear that others aren’t so lucky. There seems to be a postcode lottery with rehabilitation services in Wales. The number of people training is declining as retirement looms for established ROVIs, and there are no ROVI training courses available in Wales.
It is easy to see services like rehabilitation as statistics or numbers on a spreadsheet, or pound signs in a budget. But the work that Rehabilitation Officers do has a profound and lasting effect on those they help. They help people to become functioning members of society, which is invaluable.