Everyone has the right to sight

To mark World Sight Day a Senior Learning Disabilities Advisor from the SeeAbility charity encourages people with a learning disability, autism or both and their families and carers to take care of their eyes:

World Sight Day is really important because it is trying to spread the message that everyone deserves access to good eye care.

Did you know that 50% of sight loss in the UK is avoidable, and much of this is just down to people not having the glasses they need?

My job with the charity SeeAbility is to help people with a learning disability get the eye care they need. I travel around the country doing this.

Some of the people I meet with a learning disability worry about eye tests. I explain to them that anyone can have an eye test, you don’t have to be able to read, speak or recognise pictures.

My eyesight is very precious to me. It helps me to do all the things that are important to me – working and earning money, travelling round the country independently, being active and spending quality time with my family.

As a person with a learning disability, I know from my own experience how difficult it can be for people to get the eye care they need. I’m one of the lucky ones who has managed to get good support. Without the right care and support, my life would have turned out very different to what it is today.

I was lucky in that my eye condition, keratoconus, was identified when I was in a special school. At SeeAbility I learnt that children with a learning disability are more likely to have eye problems and to need glasses. The problem is, without an eye test, no one knows if the child can see well or not. This can stop children from learning and getting the most from school.

Keratoconus is a problem with the cornea at the front of the eye. The condition affects lots of people with a learning disability. It makes my vision blurry and distorted and is worse when I am tired.

I’ve had lots of visits to my hospital eye clinic over the years. The doctors know me well there! I’ve had two cornea replacement operations which is major surgery. If you want to see what difference eye surgery can make, just watch our film about Leanne who had a cataract operation.

I can understand why people might be frightened about eye problems. Not everyone can tell someone if they are worried about their eyesight. My eyes really frustrate me sometimes but at least I can talk to people about this. I am sure there are lots of people struggling with their eyesight and this will be affecting their behaviour.

I have to wear a contact lens and take eye drops several times a day. I have learnt how to do this for myself but I worry that other people with a learning disability won’t be able to. It is really important that they can get the help they need from families and supporters. People in this supporting role need to understand about good eye care too.

I believe that people need to have the right information so they can make good choices about their health. SeeAbility has just produced a new easy read factsheet about this called how to be eye care aware. I tell people all about SeeAbility’s easy read information about eye tests, wearing glasses and eye problems. With the right support, people can have a successful eye test.

I am a positive person and I believe that things will get better in the future. I am pleased to be part of an NHS England working group looking at eye tests in special schools. I hope that in future, we will be able to say that every child in a special school can have an eye test and glasses if they need them. And we won’t forget about adults and the children who don’t go to a special school, we know that community services need improving too.

I am one of the lucky ones. As I write, I am getting ready to receive a British Empire Medal in recognition of the work I have done and what I have achieved. Getting the right eye care and support has helped me to achieve things in my life I would never have thought possible.

We need to work together to make sure that all people with a learning disability get the eye care they need so they can achieve their potential. This is the world that I want to live in.

Everyone deserves an equal right to sight.

Scott Watkin

Scott Watkin works for SeeAbility as a Senior Learning Disabilities Advisor and is a visiting lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire working with the learning disability nurses. Since October 2015 Scott has also been co-chair of the Transforming Care Assurance Board to help reduce the number of people with a learning disability staying in hospital.

Scott won the making a difference award at the national learning disabilities awards in 2017 and represents organisations and professionals on the representative body for Learning Disability England.

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  1. Trevor Clower says:

    I find Scott to be passionate and determined in making a difference. He an inspiration to us all.