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Town centre trip is no fun with tunnel vision

PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 February 2017

Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble

Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble

Archant

Gazette reporter Matt Smart found out what it’s like to have Retinis Pigmentosa, a visual impairment that can cause tunnel vision.

Nearly everyone has done it. You might be in a rush to get to work, or that next shop, or to meet a friend, and there’s someone walking slowly in front of you. You walk past them without a second thought.

But what if they had no choice but to move a lot slower than you?

I met up with Julie Adnams Hatch and Fremington parish councillor David Chalmers to find out what it might be like to live with retinis pigmentosa (RP), a visual impairment that can give the sufferer tunnel vision.

David and I were both given a pair of glasses simulating the effects of RP, and while I was expecting a difference, the effects were startling.

With nothing but two pinholes to see through, all of my peripheral vision was gone. I was left with two options, look at the ground or look ahead.

Walking a simple route from Queen’s Street to Gammon Walk, through the Pannier Market and the High Street became something much more daunting.

The worry of passing traffic, other pedestrians, signposts, planters, uneven ground and kerbs all became added stresses, and meant what is usually a routine walk took much, much longer to complete.

“The other thing is, we know this town,” said David.

“We know Barnstaple, but I would not be confident going anywhere else.

“You can only see what’s in front of you, so there might be lots of people around you, but you have to look for them, and you always have to be really careful not to bump into anyone next to you.”

Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble

With Julie guiding us, and our big black glasses offering some clue to passers-by, I’m in no doubt that the experience would be much more difficult if I was living with the condition on my own.

On one occasion I was almost knocked over as another pedestrian walked in front of me, while negotiating the pannier market required an unbelievable amount of concentration as I tried to weave past the visitors.

RP affects around 25,000 people in the UK, with tunnel vision one of the first symptoms, as the cells that make up the retina start to deteriorate. It can ultimately lead to blindness.

Julie was able to give us extra insight into just what challenges are faced by someone who has both a visual impairment and use of a wheelchair.

She said: “I have to expect to not to be able to have some facilities available to me. Before I go anywhere I need to do my homework and find out about anywhere I haven’t been or haven’t visited for a long time.

Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble Gazette reporter Matt Smart and local councillor David Chalmers joined Julie Adnams Hatch in Barnstaple town centre to learn more about issues faced by the visually impaired. Picture: Andy Keeble

“We are not a different species. We have the same fears and same aspirations as anyone else, and we still have to get out to the shops like everyone else.”

After an hour of walking, I was able to take the glasses off, with 
the extra vision almost overwhelming.

There’s no cure for RP, but charities such as RP Fighting Blindless are working hard to unearth the causes and potential treatments.

For everyone else, a little more awareness and understanding can go a long way.

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