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Saturday, 02 August 2014

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Society’s focus is on helping others

CHECKING food labels, crossing the road or making a cup of tea might seem mundane, but for people with sight problems, they can be major tasks.

Help is at hand from West Cumbria Society for the Blind, which provides essential gadgets and support for people who are partially-sighted or registered blind.

It offers specialist equipment, information leaflets and gadgets and also provides emotional support through various clubs, home visits and a voluntary phone scheme.

Marie Scott, chairman of the society, said: “A lot of people say that if it wasn’t for us they wouldn’t know where to go for help.”

Clubs are held in Whitehaven, Workington, Maryport and Cockermouth, where members take part in activities such as listening to guest speakers, going out for lunch and playing a variety of games. Members of the Whitehaven group have spoken to The News about the support they receive from the society.

Freda Lloyd, 77, is registered as partially blind. She lost the sight in her left eye when she was seven years old after having whooping cough. She is starting to lose the sight in her right eye.

Freda says she has benefited from a variety of practical and valuable aids, including a large powerful lamp and raised-up plastic dots which can be used on a variety of electrical appliances such as television controls, washing machine controls and the cooker.

“It’s so simple but really helpful,” she said. “You can put them on your phone, you put them on the number five in the middle of the phone key pad and work out where the rest of the numbers are from there.”

She has regular home visits from Pat Fitzgerald, from the society.

Martha Dziatkowski, 76, of Cleator Moor, has been registered blind for about 20 years and has been supported by the society for the same amount of time. “I know they are there, you can just pick the phone up and they’re there to help,” she said.

Elsie Donaldson, 81, of Cleator Moor, has age-related macular degeneration and has been going to the society for about a year. She says she has difficulty making meals and cooking, but she is helped by her family.

The three said that among the main problems they face is that people don’t realise that they have sight problems and are intolerant. They say it is difficult to cross the road, go shopping or look for bus numbers.

Freda said: “If you go somewhere, you have to remember what the kerbs are like – whether they are deep or shallow. As I live in Frizington, I have to remember when to avoid the steps along pavements.”

Tasks like reading cooking instructions or food labels are also difficult.

They say they have all received help and support from the society to enable them to complete daily tasks, which would otherwise be impossible.

They praised the work of all the volunteers, and additional thanks go to Marie.

“She is a one-off. She does so much work and has given up so much of her time to help us,” they said.

Couple Phyllis and John Lee, from Cleator Moor, says they have been helped greatly by the society over the years. Phyllis, 68, is registered blind and is cared for by her husband, John. They have bought aids such as talking clocks, watches and talking books through the Society. They regularly attend the Whitehaven club to play dominoes, Scrabble and other games.

Phyllis said: “John is such a great help. I couldn’t cope without him.”

John added: “Having the help from the society makes it easier for us. I still have do everything at home, but the society has helped us so much.”

The centre on Lowther Street stocks a wide range of specialist equipment and gadgets are on display for people to try out and purchase.

Bill Rigg, 83, of Beckermet, has tried out an audio text reader. This is a device which takes photographs of writing and reads it back to the person. It also stores books which you can play back later and a screen can be attached to it.

Bill, who has age-related macular degeneration, said: “I think it’s absolutely brilliant. My eyesight has gone downhill over the years which has been difficult as I’ve always been a big reader.”

He is set to have a fortnight trial with the machine to see whether he wants to purchase it. “I’m really impressed by it,” he said.

Information leaflets on eye conditions and financial benefits are available at the centre along with a large selection of talking books.

A visiting scheme is provided by the society, where staff visit members to have a chat and make sure they have all the equipment they need. There is also a phone service, where volunteers and staff can ring members and have a chat over the phone.

Marie said that although the team is based in Whitehaven, volunteers and staff cover around 750 square miles of Cumbria, from Wigton down to Ravenglass.

The society is able to provide a variety of services, thanks to financial support from the Big Lottery fund, and money from local businesses and organisations.

Pat said: “One of the biggest concerns we have is funding. Our Big Lottery funding runs out in August next year.”

She said the society runs so successfully because of the funding it receives and the work of the volunteers. It has contracts with the pension service and Cumbria and Fire Rescue Service to provide additional help for people with sight problems.

A low-vision clinic is available at Workington Infirmary where people can access the services through the West Cumbria Society for the Blind. Staff say they must have had an opticians appointment in the last six months. People can also be referred to via their optician and hospital consultants.

For more information about West Cumbria Society for the Blind, contact 01946 592474.

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