Sammy is one of the warmest and most welcoming people you’re likely to meet. Within just a few minutes of meeting her, she’ll already have sat you down and found out all about your pets.
When we first met Sammy, we were told she had no vision whatsoever – her eyes were rarely open, and when they were, it didn’t change how she interacted. For over forty years, she was considered blind.
But at SeeAbility, we don’t assume anything. Jenny, one of our vision rehabilitation workers, explains:
"Whenever we meet someone new, we carry out functional vision assessments (FVA). You never know what you’ll discover, but Sammy blew me away."
An FVA involves a series of tests through which our experts can work out how much someone can practically use their sight. As Sammy communicates using Makaton rather than words, it’s especially crucial, as she would otherwise struggle to explain her sight.
"I started the assessment with a flashing ball and instantly she brought it to her eye. Then I drew a smiley face but left out an eye. She brought it up close, and after a moment drew in the missing eye. I said to her ‘You can see!’ and she nodded her head, laughing!"
Through this, Jenny worked out that Sammy does actually have some vision, but that she’d never learnt how to use it. This soon became a real challenge, as when Jenny took Sammy to hospital for a full eye examination, she closed her eyes tightly and wouldn’t participate. Gradually, they worked on different wording and ran role-play scenarios to explain the hospital experience.
For the second trip to hospital, Jenny accompanied Sammy. This time, she understood everything. They found that her eyes caused discomfort when opened, and prescribed her daily drops.
Seeing the future
But supporting Sammy to open her eyes was just the start. Jenny is now working with Sammy to help her understand her vision. Often Sammy is moving too quickly to take in her surroundings, so she’s learning to turn slowly to scan the environment.
"One breakthrough was when we encouraged her to visually locate one of her friends to share a box of biscuits. She slowly scanned the room, and when she got there, they were both so proud.
"We often take for granted what our vision can do. She has possibly spent her whole life feeling isolated, as no one has understood her vision. Finding friends herself is a huge step towards inclusion."