Guest comment: Vision without sight

Told by his parents to get a job that was pensionable, President of BESTrustees Alan Pickering has worked at the interface of pensions, business and politics for more than 40 years. He was born with an inherited and progressive sight condition and lost the majority of his sight by the age of 30. Never one to let his sight or the attitudes of others towards it become a barrier to success, Alan has become one of the biggest influencers in the world of pensions.

Here he shares his views on living with sight loss in London today and his thoughts on the Vision Foundation’s ambitions for the future.

London must be one of the best places for someone with a visual impairment to live. We have multi-modal 24/7 public transport. What’s more, we have a welcoming multi-cultural community which has sufficient self-confidence to approach someone who would benefit from a helping hand or, in my case, an elbow on which I can hang.

Never a day goes by that I don’t enjoy the help of someone who’ll walk with me from the train station to my destination. Some of my helpers are regulars while others are complete strangers about whom I learn a great deal during our short walk. Their secrets are safe with me.

However there’s still work to be done to make London accessible to everyone with sight loss, to reduce preventable blindness and to encourage and persuade employers to make London a great place to work for blind and partially sighted people.

This means a willingness to put in place the necessary support for visually impaired staff and an openness to recognising that there’s huge well of hard working and skilled people waiting to be given an opportunity to show what they can do.

When businesses do this the results can be astounding. This is why I’m pleased to support the work of the Vision Foundation, which has very recently changed its name from the Greater London Fund of the Blind after almost a century.

The Vision Foundation is working to open up London’s cultural, social and economic opportunities to all blind and partially sighted people and celebrate and champion London’s visually impaired talent.

Like me, they understand how much potential there is in in this great city to eliminate avoidable sight loss and to provide fulfilment for those where such a loss cannot be avoided.

Many people who lose their sight do so needlessly. If society made different choices, many individuals could lead even more fulfilling lives and, at the same time, make an even bigger contribution to the community in which they live.

My own sight loss was unavoidable since it was both inherited and progressive. However, by making choices, I was able to compensate for this. One particularly important choice was to abandon my beloved Yorkshire for London.

My parents made choices too. They weren’t going to feel sorry for me and wouldn’t tolerate any negativity on my part.

They realised the importance of education and sent me to a special school 200 miles away from home. This was the foundation upon which the rest of my life has been based.

Lifelong learning can lead to lifelong earning which itself can be most liberating.

Education and employment can provide a firm foundation. Sport, as a fanatic and as a participant, can complete the road to social inclusion.

Thanks to the help of many friends, I’ve been able to take part in sports as diverse as running, skiing, cycling and sailing. There’s always something to talk about when propping up the bar in the evening.

Twin goals have acted as my beacon. These are the desire to be independent and the ambition of achievement.

Initially, the first of these objectives can become an end in itself. However, if you are to fulfil your potential, you cannot do it without the help of others.

If I’d known at 25, what I know now, would I have done anything different?

Yes, I would have dialled down the blinkered pursuit of independence. This would have made me a better person and increased the chance of fulfilling my potential.

I should have owned up to the deterioration in my eyesight, thereby helping actual and potential friends come to terms with the changing circumstances.

This would have been good for me and good for them. Life for me would have been much safer and the worry level of those around me would have reduced dramatically.

Education, employment and sport have been the three pillars on which my life has been built. Without the help of others, even these three pillars would have been rather shaky.

I am delighted to add my voice to the Vision Foundation’s. I wish the charity every success in all it does to make London an even better place for those who cannot enjoy the stunning vista of our capital city, but can certainly appreciate the rest.

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