By Sarah Stephenson-Hunter
Returning safely back to work after lockdown will be a challenge for Sarah Stephenson-Hunter, who started losing her sight aged seven, and is now completely blind after more than 50 eye operations. The half-marathon runner says friends received verbal abuse for not social distancing, despite their white cane or guide dog. This is her story.
I have lived with a visual impairment all of my life and lost all my remaining vision in 2011. Being visually impaired had a major impact on my childhood, including disrupting my education and making it more difficult to do the things after school that my sighted friends would.
The pandemic has highlighted to me just how little awareness there is in society of what it is really like to live with a visual impairment and I’m more committed than ever to try to change this.
I find the daily task of traveling to and from work stressful and often emotionally exhausting.
But over the years I have successfully used public transport to commute between Nottingham and Birmingham, and more recently around Oxford.
‘I can tell you that getting around Oxford as a totally blind person using a white cane is no mean feat.’
I can tell you that getting around Oxford as a totally blind person using a white cane is no mean feat.
It may well be a beautiful historic city but it is a nightmare to get around with its often-narrow cobbled streets, randomly abandoned bicycles and swarms of tourists. More often than not I would arrive at work feeling emotionally drained, and in need of a lie down.
Life under lockdown has been tough for everyone, but I think the specific needs of blind and partially-sighted people have been ignored.
Working from home for the past few months has most certainly had its upside, and I’m in no hurry to return to the old “normal.” The switch to permanent working from home was therefore quite an easy one.
I have a laptop fitted with a screen reader, which lets me access all of the things I need to do, and aside from having had my ergonomic chair and keyboard at home, I have not really needed any other specific equipment or adaptations.
The switch to video meetings has also proved relatively straightforward.
Platforms such as Microsoft Teams /zigman2/quotes/207732364/composite MSFT -0.30% and Zoom /zigman2/quotes/211319643/composite ZM +2.36% have good levels of accessibility, so I’ve been able to use these in much the same way as my sighted colleagues. Although I do have to check on occasions that I’m looking into the camera and not facing the opposite wall!