With most charities in Scotland having to take the tough decision to limit face to face support during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector is thinking creatively of new ways to engage with the people we support.
At Visibility Scotland we are doing something different to keep our young people going. We support visually impaired children and young people to live independent and fulfilling lives through the provision of mobility training (Habilitation); emotional support; peer groups; advice & information; and peer groups.
Having a visual impairment can have a detrimental effect on a child’s ability to develop the confidence, independence and mobility they need to embrace childhood, school, into further education and employment.
So much of our learning, social interactions and communication is visually based so when vision is limited or absent people with visual impairments are at a disadvantage and can miss out on much of what the world has to offer.
Due to the low incidence of visual impairment in children across Scotland, families are widely spread throughout the country and can feel isolated and alone, without access to the right help and support.
Since schools closed last Friday our children and families team led by Clare Sweeney has been working to ensure that young people are able to stay in touch despite schools being closed. Clare said:
“Our young people already face a range of challenges when it comes to were able to keep in touch with each other and offer support and advice on how they are coping with staying home. They are all being really supportive and are sharing their coping skills and experiences were also having lots of laughs too”
Each week an expert will be brought in to offer advice on a particular area that will ensure young people are keeping motivated to practice and develop their skills in independence, assistive technology, physical movement and healthy eating. This week Sharon Patrick, a Mobility Offer from Glasgow City Council joined the group for a Q&A session.
Last week the young people are held a WhatsApp talent show where they can share skills and talents.
“We want to make sure the young people use this time to learn and develop new and existing skills its important to bring in our own staff and partner organisations to offer them Visual Impairment specific advice on how to do certain things in a way that suits their learning styles and needs but we also want to keep each other smiling and entertained so a talent show will certainly do just that!”
“The WhatsApp group is awesome, it’s enabled me to stay in touch with friends, and it’s a good distraction from everything. It’s also a way to share useful tips and information with each other at this difficult time. It is a great idea!” Zenaib 17
The group for the teenagers and young people was such a success that a parents group was started too. Parents can come together to chat and share their experience and advice to each other.
“The groups are great because they offer like minded parents a chance to come together without having kids involved, we can share our thoughts nad also make sure kids are doing the right things at home like homework” Stephen Quigley parent
“These groups are essential to our young people and their families, it allows them to have a forum to chat, share ideas and voice their frustrations caused by schools being closed and services reduced for their children. The groups also offer the chance for young people and parents to share their lived experience of living with Visual Impairments so others can learn from them” Sharon Patrick, Mobility Officer
We asked our young people what others could do to support them in accessing mainstream and social media:
“Please add image descriptions on any photos you’re posting, you can do this by adding a wee description at the bottom of a status on Facebook or there’s a section on twitter where you can enable image description, it mans we know what’s going on in a post and can share the fun”
“People sometimes don’t speak to us, when were out and about they speak to my dad not me, it can be the same online, People pick up that we are blind and seem to back off, we want to meet andd chat to new people, we’re not scary we are just who we are so come and say hi, ask questions nad get to know were not just our visual Impairment”
”Capitalising hashtags would be great too, I use voice over to read what’s on screen so if all the separate words on a hashtag don’t have capital letters it can sound pretty crazy sometimes”