When Fiona Kelly’s husband lost his vision as result of diabetic retinopathy, she admits there was a fair bit of “bumbling” as her family came to terms with a significant change in their circumstances.
Geoff, Fiona’s husband, was diagnosed with the condition more than two decades ago and gradually lost his vision until he became blind around nine years ago. While blindness didn’t catch the Kelly’s off guard, Fiona says it still came with its challenges.
“It was something that was challenging for us and sometimes still is. When Geoff first lost his vision it took a little while to come to terms with the fact that there were things he might not be able to do anymore or that would have to be done in a different manner,” Fiona says.
“One of the biggest things was getting used to the idea that we had to do some more forward thinking about how we did things, whether it be around the house or if we were going out. Once we got used to that it made a huge difference,” she says.
After Geoff lost his vision, the Kelly’s were referred to Vision Australia and made use of a number of different services the not-for-profit provides, including Orientation & Mobility and Occupational Therapy services.
“The orientation and OT support we’ve received has been terrific and it’s definitely made a huge difference. We’ve got tactile buttons on things around home and all those sorts of things that have made everyday things so much easier,” Fiona says.
“Even just the advice we’ve got has helped a lot, like making sure things go back in the cupboard or fridge in the same place every time so Geoff can find them easily. Those sorts of things that seem obvious but you don’t think about before you have to.”
While the support from Vision Australia removed some of the challenges Geoffrey faced with everyday tasks, Fiona said being able to connect with other people who have a family member who is blind or has low vision would’ve been beneficial.
“At the start I was just bumbling along really and making things up as we went along.
“I would have loved to have connected with someone who had been through something similar and hear their experiences.”
For Fiona that feeling drove her to join the Vision Australia Individual Peer Support Program, which matches people with similar lived experiences relating to vision loss. Once matched with somebody, Fiona act as a support network and outlet for the other person.
“It was a big change for our family and until you go through something like that I don’t think you can fully understand it, but I wanted to try and help others as much as I could.
“I think if you can give people a bit of an idea of what to expect and let them know what support is out there for them, then you can really help.
“We didn’t know anybody who had gone through something like this so that was a bit isolating. By speaking to others who have gone through a similar experiences you get to realise you’re not alone and it’s a great way to even share a few strategies about how to cope with different sorts of things as well.”