Losing your hearing and sight can leave you in an incredibly dark and lonely place.
But with the use of a hearing aid and guide dog Mandy, 67-year-old Alan Hughes refused to let his disabilities beat him. He is an active volunteer at Galloway’s Society for the Blind and made sure he was a ‘can do guy.’ Here, in his own words, he shares his journey from being shooed out of shops with his guide dog, to fully embracing his situation:
“I live in a bubble of dark and light fuzziness, with a cacophony of almost unintelligible sounds.
“Your senses, sight smell hearing touch and taste are intrinsically just part of your life, you take them for granted, never thinking how you would cope without one or more of these to rely on.
“Well although I’ve worn glasses for as long as I can remember, my eyes have been corrected with glasses to 6/12 (within an acceptable normal range), that was until I had a head injury in 1984 and things changed drastically.
“I’d already had one corneal graft nine years earlier then suddenly, without warning, that graft failed and needed to be redone, another 12 month with stitches in my eye, then within months of that second graft, my other eye’s cornea failed, so I had to wait for a time, to get a third corneal graft, in all I had just under two years of feeling stitches rubbing on the inside of my eyelids.
“In total I’ve now had five corneal grafts, the last one only lasted six weeks before it failed also, so a decision was made, no further operations, I was told to care for what vision I had left, because it would gradually go. It was put to me in such a matter of fact way, I was left stunned.
“In 2000, I started to lose my hearing again as a result of my head injury, first in one ear, then in the other, I didn’t really pay to much attention to it, I just thought that everyone was speaking very softly, this went on until my wife persuaded me to have my first hearing test. Yes I was losing my hearing, it was confirmed by the hospital, in 2001, my sight deteriorated to a point where I went from partially sighted to severely sight impaired (blind). In 2008 I had a routine hearing test again at the hospital, to be told my hearing was deteriorating rapidly and I was now severely hearing impaired (deaf). I am profoundly deaf in one ear and severely deaf in the other.
“So hi! I live in a world of fuzziness both hearing and sight wise, where one eye refuses to talk to my brain and the other eye is almost defunct due to several eye conditions that have combined to give me less than five per cent usable vision.
“That is only half my story, I’m also profoundly deaf in one ear and severely deaf in the other, I wear bi-lateral hearing aids. It would be so easy to sit in a corner and feel sorry for myself, I did that for a short while until some friends decided to take me water skiing on a reservoir near Rochdale.
“I have never been so terrified in all my life. Being towed around a lake on your chest, or backside, because the water skis went one way and I went the other.
“But of the 20 or 30 people there that day 80 per cent of them were totally blind, I quickly made up my mind, that I was going to become a ‘can do guy’.
“While I was there I got talking to a lady called Steph, from Blackpool, she told me that I had two choices in life to give in, and make both my life and those I loved miserable or embrace it and move on with life.
“I opted, there and then, to follow the second option, she had just had a new guide dog, and while she went water skiing she asked me to hold her dog, by the time she got back I was smitten with the dog.
“I asked her what difference she made to her life. She told me that she had two young children, the guide dog enabled her to be a full time mum, joining in with all the joys a family could bring.
“I applied for my first guide dog and I’ve now got my fourth one, they are truly life-changing, they have given me independence, confidence, a sense of well being and a feeling of light in a progressively darkening world.
“I also met up with another blind veteran in my village, who introduced me to the charity Blind Veterans UK.
“They have worked on giving me skills and the strategies as to how to use them, they’ve also given me the knowledge to recognise when my PTSD is looming and the skills to cope with it.
“Galloway’s Society for the Blind has been there for me from day one, giving me the training to use a white cane, before a guide dog came on the scene, it was Galloway’s who organised that water skiing trip to Rochdale.
“Last, but not least, the Royal British Legion, have helped both my wife Gina and I with practical jobs around the home and with a wonderful holiday for both of us at their centre in Southport.
“I also have a wonderful wife, Gina, who, through all the traumas, tantrums tears and anger has stood patiently by my side, given me the will to press on and look forward to the future, rather than back at the past and our two daughters Naomi and Megan, who never gave up on their cranky old dad.
“I am known by those who are open-minded enough to enable me rather than disable me as the ‘can do guy’. I live with Gina in a small bungalow in the village of Coppull near Chorley, if you live nearby, you’ll often hear peels of laughter from our little house as we treat life as it should be treated, with a sense of humour.
“Both of us are actively involved in helping to bring smiles to people’s faces and an enlightened skip in their step.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I became registered as blind, I set out to try to give back to society or at least my local community, at least as much, if not more in my time and energy, this was done by volunteering in many different roles.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been a volunteer with guide dogs, talking about my disabilities in schools, universities and in the community raising awareness and trying to remove the social stigma that surrounds all disabilities.
“I’ve represented tenants on the management board of a local housing association, spent a short time as a local parish councillor, “I’ve campaigned successfully at Government level to get guide dogs and their owners allowed on the Remembrance Day Parade in London and have visited lonely elderly blind veterans in their homes to give them company and their carers a couple of hours respite.
“I’ve worked with teenagers with disabilities to overcome obstacles with respect to further education and career paths.
“I am very much an advocate of enablement rather than the term disablement, I would always say to someone who has been told they cannot do something if you are realistic in your goals, there is no reason why you shouldn’t at least try to reach your goal, you may have to re write the rule book or write some never seen before rules, but ‘go for gold’ anything less you’re selling yourself short.
“So is life all perfect, no unfortunately there are many people, businesses or public services who are paying lip service to the law, some even announce that they don’t care what the law says about equality and equal access, I go just about anywhere with my guide dog Mandy.
“I’ve been refused entry to hospitals, told to tie my dog to a lamppost outside.
“I’ve had taxi drivers refuse to take me because I have a guide dog, I’ve been screamed at to get my dog out of a shop, on one occasion when I refused to leave police were called, they very politely told the shopkeeper that she was breaking the law and asked me if I wanted them to take it further.
“I’ve been refused entry at a football ground and told by several bus passengers to get my dog off the bus. No - I didn’t get off the bus, but they did.
“What is my reaction to all these incidents, well I weigh the bad experiences with the good, which out weigh the bad by a good amount, and put other people’s poor behaviour, down to ignorance or lack of understanding.
“That is why I do the voluntary work I do, because the more people I can influence by increasing their knowledge and understanding the easier life will become for everyone who has to deal with life’s challenges
“I have benefited from help when I needed it most, do I still get depressed, oh yes, of course I do.
“Do I get told to look for the sunshine in life ooh yes, all the time. Is life good, it certainly is and having eyesight problems then hearing problems has taught me that it was for a good reason, the arrogant abrasive 40-something year old needed bringing down more than a few pegs.
“I’m happy that the nearly 70-year-old has learnt humility and patience and to respect others, it has all been for the good.”
Galloway’s Society for the Blind’s annual conference takes place at Leyland Civic Centre, on November 28. The theme is Living with Sight Loss.