Update: In January 2017, RLSB merged with the Royal Society for Blind Children. Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following blog.
Billy Hamilton-Stent is father to two-year-old Olive, one of our nursery tots. He will be running the London Marathon for the second time this April raising money for RLSB after his success last year. Here he writes about his daughter’s sight condition and what inspired him to take on the challenge again.
A lot of other times, Olive kinda looks elsewhere. Not ignoring you, but looking about you and around you. Slightly not at you. It’s like she’s trying to decode a puzzle. Day to day, you hardly notice it. From what friends and family tell me, they don’t seem to pay it much attention either.
But that slight absence must register somewhere because when she does ‘lock on’ to you, it’s transcendent. Eye contact is a very powerful thing.
We take it for granted. And when we can’t establish eye contact, it influences how we perceive people. We need to know that we are known to folks. It’s an ego thing. It’s maybe why we ridicule squints. We feel uncertain when people don’t look at us quite right.
Hang out with a blind person for the first time and check-in with yourself over what’s going on. You spend a few minutes scrabbling around for clues and cues. Someone is talking to you, but not necessarily looking at you. The rules of a game you’ve been playing without thinking since you were born have changed…and you have to learn, quick!
I want you to consider what if feels like to experience a world of visual impairment.
Consider the impact it has on young people when they are forming bonds and relationships with their family. When they build friendships at school. When they take their first steps into employment.
Whilst the logistics of life is one of the practical barriers that blind people have to overcome, it’s not the only one. Navigating people is way more complex than navigating pavements.
Being defined or judged by ‘how we look’ takes on another meaning for visually impaired kids. It’s tough enough to be measured by appearances, but when the whole notion of appearance is skewed by seeing differently too, you have a two-way mirror to contend with.
Visually impaired children take gigantic steps every day just to keep up with everyone else. And in doing so, they stride out in front of us. But they only do that with the support of organisations like the Royal London Society for Blind People.
I am running the London Marathon to help raise money for the RLSB, the charity that supports Olive with its wonderful nursery. They do plenty more besides for all ages of young, partially sighted and blind people.
I am also running to raise awareness of that fuzziness between seeing normally and seeing differently.
In the past year Olive has made huge improvements in how she uses the sight she has. The RLSB nursery has played a critical role in helping her to achieve this. Without their services, Olive, and our family would be in a different place – less confident, less optimistic.
The RLSB website is full of great resources and information that will give you a really clear idea of how donations to the charity are put to good use. It’s not a big organisation. It’s a regional charity providing very specialised support to a group of very important and deserving children.