White cane and technology help Norma get back on track

28 March 2018

Diagnosed with glaucoma more than 30 years ago, it wasn't until much more recently that Norma Wesslink truly felt the impact of the condition. 

Norma's original diagnosis was made in 1984, but her vision didn't begin to seriously deteriorate until around 2012.
"About five years ago I had glaucoma shunts put in my eyes and I had cataract surgery as well and after that is when my vision really started to deteriorate," Norma said. 

"My right eye in particular deteriorated really quickly. I've lost about 95% of the vision in that eye and about 10% of the vision in my left eye," she says. 

Following the deterioration of her vision Norma, then living on Queensland's Gold Coast, Norma began to encounter some of the challenges that can come with living with vision loss and decided she needed to seek support.
"I was living in a town house around the time that my vision really began to get worse. I happened to have a couple of falls and that sort of thing and I thought there had to be somebody who could help me," she says.
"I rang a friend of mine and straight away she suggested Vision Australia."

Over the years Norma has made use of a number of different Vision Australia support services to help her maintain an independent life, however she said the initial period as her vision deteriorated was a challenging one. 

"Before I had the surgery I was driving everywhere. If I wanted to go anywhere I'd jump in the car and be off. Then suddenly I had to get a cab or public transport if I wanted to get anywhere or rely on other people," she says. 

"There was a period over the last couple of years where I wasn't getting out of the house much at all and I ended needing some help to deal with depression and that sort of thing."

One of the support services Norma has made use of is Vision Australia's Orientation & Mobility Specialists, which she says has had a significant impact in her life.
"Learning to use the white cane has really made a difference. I was reluctant about learning to use it at first because it made me feel a little vulnerable, but now I'm completely comfortable with it," she says. 

"I'm just so much more confident in being out and about these days and the cane is also great because it lets people know I have low vision. When people see it they're a bit more considerate and that sort of thing and I like to explain to people how I use it and that sort of thing."

Though her cane is never far from hand when she's heading out, Norma also has another piece of equipment that she takes wherever she goes. 

"Learning how to use magnifiers has really helped me as well. I've got small handheld one I take everywhere with me.
"If I'm going shopping I use it to identify different products or if I'm catching the bus I'll use it to read the timetable. It also means I can read the menu if I'm at a café or something, If I don't have it with me these days I feel naked."

While Vision Australia has helped Norma be more active out of the house, she also said support from the not-for-profit had helped here at home. The use of tactile features and other advice from Vision Australia Occupational Therapy staff has helped her to remain safe at home. 

Unfortunately for Norma, her vision loss did result in her losing her last job. While she's keen to find work, she has filled some of her time by becoming a Vision Australia volunteer. 

"I was a bit of an admin freak, I really just loved it. I struggle to see at night and my last job involved working nightshifts and unfortunately that didn't work out.
"Volunteering has been something I've really enjoyed though, I really wanted to be able to give back to an organisation that's given me so much. It's been great to be able to help out other people, but it's a great social outlet for me too."

For more information about Vision Australia and the specialist blindness and low vision services available, phone 1300 84 74 66 or email info@visionaustralia.org