I lost my sight as a teenager, now I help others
WHEN Scott Wood lost his sight in a road accident in the 1970s he was devastated.
As a teenager he should have been becoming more independent but instead had to rely upon others to do many of the things he had previously taken for granted.
But as computers began to come into the mainstream in the 1980s he realised there was an opportunity to carve out a career for himself and grow more independent.
As technology has improved he has found it possible to do more and more things for himself – including accessing his bank account online and now Scott helps other blind and partially-sighted people learn how to use computer software so that they can also lead more independent lives as senior technology officer at Action For Blind People.
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The charity has a training centre to support people with sight loss to use computers.
To offer people access to the very latest technology at the Karten Centre an appeal has been launched to raise £87,000.
Deputy lord lieutenant of Bristol, Aroona Smith helped launch the fundraising campaign at the Bedminster centre last night and was given the chance to find out what it is like to lose your sight.
Scott, 55, said: "When I lost my sight initially it was just about coping, emotionally and practically.
"It was something I could not get a handle on at the time. There was no emotional support that I was aware of back then in the 70s and at that time I didn't know how to cope with it.
"The crushing thing for me was that at the age of 17 I was suddenly dependent on everybody. I had gone from being free to having to be looked after by my family and I felt totally smothered by that.
"When I first lost my sight my father had to read my mail for me."
Scott went on to have rehabilitation at the Royal National Institute of Blind People's (RNIB) former centre in Torquay, found work as a Braille transcriber and then in the mid-80s went to the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford to study as a computer programmer.
Using speech software and electronic Braille displays Scott found he had access to the written word independently for the first time since he had lost his sight in 1974.
When he was made redundant Scott felt it was the perfect time to give something back so decided to help others with sight loss.
"The centre is such a great facility for blind and partially-sighted people in Bristol. We can make it easier and simple and show people how to use this stuff.
"Having this access to computers and the internet enables people to do things independently. You can look at a bank account online and don't have to ask your family to do it for you.
"The whole technology revolution for blind and partially-sighted people has been very important."
Scott said the introduction of smart phones and tablets had made a huge difference to blind people, giving them the chance to receive text messages and have the phone read out to them.
The focus of the iCan Appeal will be to update the computer equipment at the centre so that people can learn to use the very latest technology to help them be more independent and get into work.
The current computers are about ten years old.
It is also hoped that the people who use the service will be able to meet other blind and partially-sighted people while they are at the centre using the internet and honing their skills.
The people who use the services of the centre will also be supported in their homes to help ensure they are getting the most of computers and other technology.
Scott said: "It is so important that people get access to this learning because the ability to use technology is so important for blind and partially-sighted people. We really need to keep going because there are people struggling to get into employment."
Action for Blind People's operations manager in Bristol, Ann Marshall, said that the equipment purchased through the appeal would not only help people get into work but also to use social networking sites.
She said: "Our Bedminster computer centre is the only one of its kind in the Bristol area, but the equipment is now showing its age.
"Much of it is no longer relevant to the modern world of smart phones and tablet devices.
"New gadgets and gizmos are urgently needed.
"Action for Blind People and our partner, RNIB, want to end the isolation that many visually impaired people endure. We're really grateful to the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Bristol for her support. To achieve our vision, we must boost the number of blind and partially sighted residents in Bristol who are confident in using computer and mobile technologies. This will help create an inclusive society, where sight loss is no longer a barrier to employment and getting out-and-about."
To support Action for Blind People's £87,000 iCan fundraising appeal, contact Sharon Woodhams on 953 7770, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk/ican.