International Persons with Disabilities Day

As today is International Persons with Disabilities Day we have asked Nathan Tree, our Client Advice Officer, for his reflections on living with a disability.

From finding out he was losing his vision, to reaching out for support and now working for OAB, we are sure you will find his story one worth reading.

I was not born with a visual impairment, in fact, there was no real sign of what would go on to happen to my vision until I was in my late teens.

Before then, I was mad on playing roller hockey and spent the majority of my free time with a pair of skates on. The sport was a huge part of my life but with what was coming in my future, it was going to become something difficult to deal with.

At the age of 19 I was studying for an undergraduate degree in Business and Management and had begun to learn to drive. I was in a driving lesson when the instructor asked me to read the registration plate of the car parked in front of me. This was something that normally I could do but, on this day, it was rather blurry. I stopped the lesson there and booked an appointment to see an optician.

The optician became rather frustrated as my eyes didn’t seem to fit into their tests. Sometimes I could see things then other times I could not. After an unsuccessful set of tests and a conversation with a rather accusatory and irate optician I decided, I would need to go and see a doctor.

Soon enough, I was being tested for many conditions and had several appointments to try and work out what was wrong with my eyes. Finally, I was called in to see a consultant to talk about what was happening. I remember very little of this appointment, as I imagine most teenagers do when they are told they will someday be registered blind.

I was diagnosed with Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a degenerative condition which would eventually take away my central vision and make my life very different. Central vision loss affects my ability to recognise faces, read and see anything in the dark. I was told this would be gradual and my vision may change throughout my twenties and there was no treatment for it.

After this diagnosis I told myself to push down any emotions I had, and to finish my degree. This happened and I didn’t even ask for help even though it was getting harder to read. I then found it easier to keep my emotions at bay and try to carry on living life. I worked in many different jobs and travelled the world only making adaptations to text size and some occasional magnification.

However, I couldn’t hide from what was happening to me, and I would go into an occasional bout with depression and withdraw myself from my friends and family. This would often happen as I found things too difficult such as playing roller hockey or mountain walking. It is so hard feeling like you need to give something up because of vision loss.

In 2017 depression and anxiety got too much for me as my vision became more limiting and I withdrew from life for a longer period than ever before. I went to the GP for help, and they prescribed antidepressants, but I was sceptical as I didn’t see medication as a solution to dealing with vision loss. I called OAB to see if they could help and was put in touch with their counsellor, Judith Wood, which was a real turning point in my life.

Being able to meet other visually impaired people and confronting my emotions about vision loss meant that I felt more comfortable with my disability. This new found confidence pushed me in so many directions and I couldn’t be happier, I started to get my life back!

I got a job at OAB, helping people to navigate the world as I have. I have embraced mobility aids, I now have a guide dog, I have learnt to read braille, and now use all my tech with magnification and speech. I felt like I had my life back when my partner discovered that Blind Ice Hockey was a sport. I became the first European to play the sport in North America and since, have set up an organisation in the UK to get people to try playing it.

Looking forward, I plan to continue helping others to take ownership over vision loss and adapt to do the things they love, I will continue participating in blind ice hockey and grow the sport in the UK, and live a fulfilling and happy life, as I know all people regardless of disability can do.

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