Day 2. Sight loss
Behind door number two is first hand accounts of what Christmas is like for those with sight loss.
While over two million people in the UK currently suffer from sight loss, this figure is expected to double to 4 million by 2050. Christmas is described as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, but for many of us this is down to the Christmas lights, the festive colours, the sight of snow falling down, the expressions of joy on of loved ones faces on Christmas day. To put it simply, Christmas is the most visual time of the year. So for those with sight loss, is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?
Every day, 250 people in the U.K. start to lose their sight. What would you do if you were one of them?
Henshaws, a charity who work with people of all ages that are living with sight loss, provided the following video which offers a valuable insight into what Christmas can be like for children living with sight loss:
We had the privilege of speaking with Hayley, who provided us with her lived experience of losing her sight, and what Christmas has been like since.
“Almost 21 years ago, I became totally blind. I made the decision to have a life changing operation in late December 2002 in order to relieve symptoms of a particularly excruciating form of glaucoma. So Christmas for me is a bitter-sweet season. I was partially sighted prior to the operation, so I have also been able to experience Christmas with impaired vision.”
Hayley told us about the things she is no longer able to visually experience at Christmas time:
Real Christmas Trees
“I have a nine year old Guide Dog and so real Christmas Trees are, for me, impractical. I really do miss the aroma of the fresh pine fronds.”
“The pretty, mesmerising, Christmas lights adorning houses, gardens and trees on the Stray: However, my family are brilliant at describing colours to me and I can relate to colours, so if they say there are fuchsia pink, electric blue and silver white lights adorning a tree then I can imagine those colours in my mind’s eye!”
“We have a vast array of Christmas baubles, all different shapes, sizes and textures. We choose them so I can feel them and evoke different memories, for example, a Christmas tree bauble in the shape of a wreath with the New York skyline embossed on it.”
“Real candles are a no-no in our house, very hazardous indeed!”
“My enjoyment of conventional Christmas cards is limited because I can’t see the festive scenes. A much better alternative is a 3D card. However, these Christmas cards aren’t good for the environment and in any case, I’d much prefer a five-minute phone call.”
“I love to give gifts – however, this can be tricky because I am unable to independently choose individual’s gifts. So I ask the staff at particular stores to assist me or I ask my very good friend to accompany me. Another alternative is internet shopping but I find this rather uninspiring. I find gift exchanging rather a sad experience as I am not able to see the delight or utter displeasure on my loved-one’s faces.”
“Gifts I really appreciate are gifts for my four remaining senses… Touch: clothing with texture – velvet, silk, satin, sequins and faux fur; Smell: perfumes, and shower and bath products; Hearing: CDs and audio books; Taste: chocolate and wine.”
“I use gift bags, or brown paper (glue stick for adhesive). I think traditional brown paper feels classy and is good for the environment. Plus, I don’t have to line-up the pattern on the printed paper or find the end of the sticky tape.”
“We are not traditional Christmas dinner eaters – my daughter and I are vegetarian and my husband is a meat eater. I think that people can eat whatever they want at Christmas. Too much emphasis is placed on the PERFECT dinner. Be an individual: cook what you feel comfortable and safe cooking and put the emphasis on enjoyment, not what the menu comprises.”
Church and Carol Services
“These tend to be inaccessible as the order of service is usually only available in a printed format. Although I read Braille, it isn’t easy to get a Braille version of the documents produced in time for the service.”
“I attend the Christmas pantomime – so long as there is an audio-described performance. This means I sit with a headset on, and a person is telling me what the cast is doing, live, as the performance is in action. Prior to the performance, I can often go onto the stage and feel a select number of costumes, props etc. Occasionally I get to meet the actors. If the performance is not audio-described, then I frankly do not enjoy it, as I cannot join in with audience participation.”
“A large selection of TV programmes are now audio described. This is an option on I player (why don’t you try it?) The audio describer verbalises the characters and what they are doing. Last Christmas, the King’s Speech was audio described. This year, Strictly Come Dancing is audio described, which gives a good appreciation for the fancy costumes and energetic routines.”
A ‘White Christmas’
“Many people dream of a White Christmas, but not me!!! For me, it means imprisonment!!! I have a nine year old Guide Dog and we are not able to work outside as she cannot detect pavement curbs and other hazards if they are covered in snow. Plus, it’s rather slippery and I don’t relish a trip to A&E. I have been ice skating with my family and I really enjoyed it – we attended the quiet hour and yes, I did at time use a balance aid (penguin)”
“I love a party, but I love the party to be at my home!!! When out on a jolly jape at Christmas, I find it difficult to feel comfortable, as places are very packed with revellers and I am unable to lip read so the noise levels make communication rather tricky. Parlour games are a family favourite; with a bit of thought adaptations can be made – a photo quiz isn’t much fun, but smelling and tasting games put everybody on a level playing field.”
“Travelling at Christmas is hard, because I don’t drive, perish the thought! My husband has to take the wheel and he works 5-days-a-week so it does not lend itself to travel long distances. The trains are too chaotic for people like me. However, Zoom and other online platforms can help with “seeing” relatives.” “I love spending Christmas with my family and friends and I am so lucky to be surrounded by great people who are kind, caring and have a sense or humour – as do I!”
How to Help
Hopefully the accounts provided by Henshaws and Hayley have provided some insight into both partial and full sight loss experiences of Christmas, but beyond this, what can those of us who aren’t suffering with sight loss do to help this Christmas?
Firstly, be considerate, and accommodating. Ask how you can enhance the experience of those with sight loss who you may be interacting with this festive season. Christmas may be the most visual time of the year, but there are other aspects too that make it so special – focus on smells, crafts, touch, music and other sounds and experiences that aren’t about visuals.
Secondly, make adjustments. Maybe you are hosting an event, sending out cards or organising the family day. Can all your friends read their cards? Are there any hazards for someone who may not be able to see, who is attending your event? Does this years panto have descriptive audio options? Make life as easy as you can for those around you with simple adjustments, that mean no one has to go out of their way to access the same things those with full sight are able to.
Thirdly, you can donate. Henshaws is just one of many charities who are working tirelessly to raise money for those suffering from sight loss. Change your usual festive event to a charity one, such as the Carols by Candlelight carol concert. Replace unnecessary gifting (such as secret Santa gifts) with a donation to a sight loss charity. Or if you can’t afford it, simply give your time. The difference volunteers make in changing lives is immeasurable, and kindness costs nothing – just one hour of your time this December can bring joy to someone’s Christmas.
So, what are you waiting for? Get Involved today to be the change in someone’s Christmas this year.
Come back tomorrow for door number 3!