Hello! My name is Graham Hawkes, I am 58 years old and have congenita Glaucoma. I was diagnosed shortly after starting infants school, as I couldn’t see the blackboard properly and I kept tripping over the chairs in the classroom. The school called my parents in and suggested that they take me to an optician for an eye test, I was diagnosed with Glaucoma.
Following several visits to the optician and the local eye clinic, I spent three weeks inhospital having operations on both eyes. These operations, plus eye drops three times a day, seemed to stabilise things and I managed to finish my education in main stream school. This was mainly thanks to my parents, who battled hard with the local education authorities that were insisting I should go to a special school forblind children. The price I had to pay was that I was not allowed to take part in metal work, woodwork or have a hands-on role in science. Following school, I started work and like every other teenager I discovered the twin pleasures of girls and pubs.
At that age you think you are invincible and my strict regime of taking my eye drops started to decline.
Then, another major event in my life happened. I thought that I would be like the rest of my friends and get a motor bike. I loved it with all the freedom that came with it, until one day on my way home from work, I didn’t see a car coming out in front of me. Bang!!! Four weeks in hospital with multiple injuries. During this period, I was made to go to the ophthalmologist, who gave me the news. My visual fields were not good enough to ever be able to drive again because of my Glaucoma.
I guess, due to this diagnosis, I went through a period of feeling depressed and to my eternal shame I ditched the eye drops altogether. My reasoning was that they quite clearly weren’t helping me at all. The thing is with Glaucoma, it is known as the silent thief of sight, as it causes a build-up of pressure in the eyes which damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma is a slow painless condition that gradually damages your sight. Unfortunately because it is optic nerve damage, once the damage is done there is no cure for this.
Moving forward twenty years, I was working for a company where I had been working since the accident. By this time my sight had got so bad that I could no longer read printed text or operate a computer but because of the amount of time I had been with the company (and thanks to some amazing colleagues) I was able to carry on working.
I was constantly worried that the managers would realise the full extent of my sight loss, and for this reason for the last few years I was convinced that I would be sacked. I was married with a teenage son, by now, and a mortgage. I finally returned to the opticians in 2008, where I was swiftly sent back to the hospital and registered as Severely Sight Impaired. I kept quiet until 2014, when the firm I worked for closed our site down. Then followed three years of the indignity of being unemployed. The experience of the job centre was a real eye opener (excuse the pun) and there appeared to be very little in the way of help or re-training available.
I was eventually sign posted to Support 4 Sight and haven’t looked back since. Firstly, I went over to their resource centre and was shown some amazing pieces ofequipment, that until then I had no idea existed. I then signed up to become a volunteer.
Speaking in front of crowds, running a coffee morning and arranging social trips are just a few of the things I have been encouraged and supported to do. Things that I had been trying hard to avoid for the last fifteen years. The other big thing they did for me, was sign post me to a computer course for visually impaired people. It was amazing to use a PC again after all these years. Then in 2014, I applied for a job with the charity.
Something I would have thought impossible a couple of years ago. I was applying for a job, that was based around thirty miles from my home, with only public transport to rely on. Also, I only had one-year (two hours a week) computer training behind me and, of course, the sight loss that makes it very hard to recognise people’s faces. In addition, I had been working in the manufacturing industry for the past thirty-eight years with absolutely no experience of an admin role or even working in an office environment. But I really wanted to give it a go! I left the security of the benefits system and did it. This experience has changed me and my life for the better.
I am working with a great team of people, who support me whenever I need it, such as supporting me to get a support worker through the access to work scheme. Best of all, I no longer live a lie! I don’t have to try and hide in the background and be anonymous any longer (although those habits a hard to break sometimes), now I can just be myself.
Support 4 Sight Services Co-ordinator