When Sylvie Wheeler was just 16, her world turned upside down. While reading a book one day, she noticed a ‘cloud’ drifting across her eyes - within a short time she’d been diagnosed with a rare eye condition which has left her partially sighted.
Since then Sylvie has tried to lead as normal a life as possible and now she wants to encourage others facing eyesight problems that life can still be enjoyed - especially with the help of modern technology.
Sylvie (64) admits that when her condition was diagnosed, she wondered how she would cope with everyday life. ‘When I first had sight problems there wasn’t much technology to help. Today, life is very different and there are gadgets to help with lots of things,’ says Sylvie.‘I worked in catering for many years and I had two children; now I have two grandchildren as well. I’ve been married to Fred for 45 years and there’s very little that I can’t do.’
Over the years, Sylvie has had several eye operations and laser treatment and, as she’s got older, her problems have got worse. Despite it all, Sylvie is determined to make the best of things.
‘When someone is first diagnosed with eyesight problems, it’s a massive shock,’ says Sylvie. ‘It can take a long time to adjust to the situation and people often lose their confidence about doing everyday tasks.’
Gadgets that are available through the RNIB charity help partially sighted, and even blind, people keep their independence. It’s five years since Sylvie got her first computer, which she says transformed her life. A special programme enables her to ‘read’ on her computer and also to use emails.
‘My writing is dreadful because I can hardly see, but with a special programme I can send and receive emails,’ she says.
In the kitchen, Sylvie has markers on her microwave and washing machine, to help her use them normally, and is able to cook a meal. As a carer, Fred admits that sometimes he has to stop himself from trying to help Sylvie as she’s fiercely independent and insists on doing things her way.
Probably Sylvie’s favourite gadget is her mobile phone which is loaded with a special programme so she can easily send and receive text messages. The messages are read aloud to her. ‘I have two sisters and I’m in touch with them a lot,’ says Sylvie. ‘I love being able to text and email and I hate asking for help.’
Sylvie aims to try to keep herself active by going to a keep-fit class where she says she exercises her body but also her jaw because she talks so much! ‘My advice to anyone facing eyesight problems at whatever age is to find out as much about their particular problem as they can,’ she says. ‘Join a local support group as it does help to talk to other people in a similar situation.
‘Some days it would be easy for me to stay at home because going out with a white stick, you sometimes feel vulnerable. But if I feel like that, I just make myself go out. Once you give in to feeling sorry for yourself, it’s hard to climb back up again.
‘Sometimes I do think, ‘why me?’ but then I pull myself together and perhaps call a friend. I’m happy as long as I can retain my own independence. That’s vital for me.’
- The RNIB - www.rnib.org.uk or call 0303 123 9999 - has a wide range of products to make life easier for people with sight loss