Tackling stigmas and looking after your wellbeing: Life with a visual impairment
There are many of us with disabilities, both hidden and visible, not just at Loughborough but in our local communities and beyond. What impacts us all is so often borne of a lack of understanding, of people not being able to walk a mile in our shoes.
I’d like to explain a little of my experience, both in a work setting and my personal life, so please grab a beverage of your choice and humour me whilst I describe my experiences in the hope that it interests, or at least enlightens you.
I have a visible disability, and I live with my partner and child, both of whom have hidden disabilities. That isn’t unusual in society, but often assumptions are made that a visibly disabled person either doesn’t or dare I say, ‘shouldn’t’ have this close family unit. Some are surprised when I say that I’m a parent and I work full-time. I’ve been asked when commuting to and from work whether I’ve had a nice day out shopping. My response has often been to offer a humorous response whilst pointing out that it would be lovely to have had time to shop during the day, but work commitments and parental duties have not allowed me to indulge in these activities, but I do enjoy meeting friends for coffee when the opportunity arises.
My job is very rewarding, and the biggest bonus for me is working with so many varied people, all of whom bring a new aspect of life to consider. Having a disability can be a lonely experience without having close family, friends, understanding colleagues and a good support network. I have been very fortunate to have great support from employers throughout my career, although there have of course been moments when things didn’t go smoothly. Throughout these experiences I’ve tried to build my resilience and tried to help others who may also be facing difficulties.
The most exhausting part of my disability is my total reliance on my memory, and my many now well-developed coping mechanisms that allow me to function when confronted with new spaces, locations or situations. It’s mentally exhausting trying to function normally in these new situations for many, but especially difficult when you find it impossible to read the room without some assistance. I often find that at the end of a particularly long day, when my memory has reached capacity and I’m feeling totally drained, that I become very accident-prone and clumsy. However, I’ve come to accept my limitations and laugh at myself when these things happen.
When I’m feeling really stressed I immerse myself in music, both listening to and playing it. My moments of calm can also come when I’m out walking, enjoying the sounds of nature and feeling the sun on my face. One of the greatest pleasures used to be marvelling in the amazing colours of nature, which I miss since I’ve lost my sight completely, but I’m grateful to have a fantastic memory for colour tones and shades. I also love photography, and with the aid of assistive technology this pleasure is once again possible, as my camera even tells me when I need to adjust the lens to ensure it’s straight.
My greatest ally is my assistance dog, Pickle. She is extremely bright, willing, capable and fun. One of the real benefits is that she also brings an opportunity for others to de-stress when we’re in the office. She’s always happy to play, offering anyone who comes near the chance to participate and have some fuss and playtime.
Those who know me will recognise my mantra, that disability is always written with a capital A, as it’s our special abilities that make us who and what we are. We should be proud of what we achieve, and not be afraid to speak out when we recognise that there are things that need to change to make life better for everyone.
Alexandra Bowmer, IT Project Manager
Loughborough University’s Disability History Month campaign is running until 16 December. The dedicated microsite has information about the campaign, what activities have been taking place and where to find support.
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