If you think you have a sight problem you should first go to your optometrist/optician or GP. If they feel there is an urgent problem they may send you direct to your local eye hospital. Likewise, i f your GP thinks specialist help is needed, you will be referred for an appointment to the hospital eye clinic. In either case, in an emergency you should go straight to your local accident and emergency department where you will probably be referred to the eye department for further treatment.
It is recommended that everyone should have an eye test every two years, although your optometrist may advise more regular tests if they believe it to be appropriate. Not only does an eye test examine your vision for glasses but they are also an essential health check for your eyes. High Street optometrists/opticians can check for eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. They can also check for glaucoma, which left undetected may take away a lot of vision without you noticing. Eye tests are free for everyone aged over 60.
Your GP or High Street optometrist/optician will be able to help, but there are also many leaflets which you can get quite easily. IRIS stocks most of these, and you can come to the IRIS Centre or we can post them to you if you wish. If you have access to a computer, a great deal of information is available online – for example the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) at www.rnib.org.uk or the Macular Society at www.macularsociety.org.uk. You can also contact the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 999 or the Macular Society helpline on 0300 3030 111.
A person with low vision is someone who has a visual impairment which cannot be fully corrected by conventional spectacles, contact lenses or medical intervention. Typical eye diseases which cause low vision are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, although other conditions such as diabetic retinopathy can cause low vision, and eye impairments can result from other ailments such as strokes.
A low vision service is one which helps people with low vision make the best use of their residual eyesight. It is usually viewed as part of a broader rehabilitative process which helps people learn how to cope with their limited vision by addressing their psychological and emotional needs and their need for general information and advice, as well as assessing their suitability for various items of equipment such as magnifiers and lighting. Some High Street optometrists/opticians can provide low vision assessments, although equipment normally has to be paid for. Free NHS provision is normally available from your local hospital eye clinic, and IRIS also provides a free service, under contract to the NHS, for people living in the Cheshire East / Vale Royal area. See our Low Vision section for more details.
There are now many items of helpful equipment available for visually impaired people, ranging from relatively inexpensive clocks and watches through to talking microwaves or kitchen (or personal) scales, through to more expensive items of new technology, such as CCTVs which magnify books, magazines, letters and bills onto a TV screen to enable you to read them. IRIS stocks many of these items – see our Aids & Equipment section for more details.
There are numerous sources of help and support, ranging from local charitable bodies such as IRIS, Vision Support, a Chester-based charity (www.visionsupport.org.uk – 01244 382222), Macclesfield Eye Society (www.macclesfieldeyesociety.org.uk – 01625 422602), AgeUKCheshire (www.ageconcerncheshire.org.uk – 01606 881660) and AgeUKCheshireEast (www.ageuk.org.uk/cheshireeast.org.uk – 01625 612958). In addition there are the national charities mentioned above and important local public authorities, such as Cheshire Adult Services Department (which used to be called Social Services). This Department may be particularly helpful as they employ social workers who can help assess your needs and work with you to meet them, as well as specialist staff – called Rehabilitation Officers. The aim of the Rehabilitation Officer is to enable visually impaired people to lead independent lives. They can offer:
- Information to visually impaired people to help them adjust to their new situation
- Guidance on where to get advice on rights and benefits
- Teaching in communication skills, such as using large print, understanding Braille or Moon, developing keyboard skills and using telephones and cassette recorders;
- Advice and training on all aspects of independent living, such as using adapted cooker dials, pouring hot drinks etc…and giving you the time and the opportunity to try out some of these new ideas without feeling rushed
- Help with basic or independent mobility
- Advice on safety within the home and can provide equipment to reduce risk
The Adult Services Department is required to keep a register of people with a visual impairment, but registration is entirely voluntary, and help from the Department, including help from Rehabilitation Officers, is not dependent on registration. There are in fact two categories of registration – for those assessed as Severely Sight Impaired / Blind and those who are Sight Impaired / Partially Sighted. The actual assessment, and the process of arranging registration, is undertaken by a Consultant Ophthalmologist (eye specialist) at your local hospital eye clinic. If you are already attending an eye clinic you should ask to be assessed for registration. If you are not attending you should contact your GP, who will refer you to the eye clinic if necessary.
Depending on your assessment by the Consultant Ophthalmologist, registration can help you get the practical support you need because you will be visited by a Rehabilitation Officer. It can also be your ‘passport’ to services, concessions and benefits, and helps councils to plan and provide the best service they can for people with sight problems, by giving them a record of the blind and partially sighted people in their area and what kind of services they need. For details of the services, concessions and benefits which may be available, contact IRIS or any of RNIB or Macular Society helplines referred to above.
There are no State benefits available solely on the basis of you having a visual impairment, but there are various disability benefits available which you should consider claiming – especially Attendance Allowance (for those over the age of 65) or Disability Living Allowance/ Personal Independence Payment (for people under the age of 65), as neither of these benefits are dependent on your current level of income.
The National Talking Book and Magazine Association offer a subscription service to provide audio, large print and braille versions of upto 230 national newspaper and magazine titles. Details are available from http://www.rnib.org.uk/services-we-offer-reading-services/national-talking-newspapers-and-magazines (0303 123 9999). There are also local Talking Newspaper organisations, and details can be found on the http://www.tnf.org.uk website. The local Crewe & Nantwich group offers audio versions of local papers free of charge, and supply the equipment needed at no cost. They can be contacted at http://www.cntn.org.uk or via the IRIS office.
Many people with a visual impairment have found that a magnifier supplied after a low vision assessment has enabled them to read books again without too much difficulty. Others have found that specialist CCTV magnifiers, which magnify print onto a screen, are very helpful – you can try one out at IRIS for free! However, there is plenty of help for those who need books with a bigger type-face or who prefer to listen to audio books. And both are available from private, public or charitable bodies. Cheshire East Council libraries stock a selection of large-print books, but also have many talking books available on audio CDs, as well as Digital eAudio books which can be downloaded. Details are available from any of the Cheshire libraries, or on-line at http://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/libraries The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) has an extensive library of over 25,000 titles, and offers books in braille, large print and audio formats, including audio books which can be downloaded onto a computer or tablet. The service is free subject to registration with the RNIB, and IRIS can help to get you registered. Further details are available from www.rnib.org.uk/books?gclid=CM28wcnW7NICFUo8Gwod0PAPEQ, or by ringing 0303 123 9999. Calibre Audio Library is a registered charity which operates a free lending library of talking books in various digital formats, including CD, MP3 and USB memory stick after payment of a one-off membership fee Details are available from www.calibre.org.uk – 01296 432 339. Audible.Co is an Amazon internet company which offers over 200,000 talking books for sale or, subject to joining as a member, for loan. Details are available from www.audible.co.uk – 0800 496 2455