Jess Gallagher talks about World Sight Day, making vision count and how the ability for people who are blind or vision impaired to participate in society has changed for the better thanks to technology.
The theme for World Sight Day this year is Make Vision Count. What does this mean to you?
To me personally it represents an acknowledgement and understanding of what a precious gift sight is. As a society, I think we undervalue sight. We probably undervalue all our senses.
Having lost most of my sight, I find I take so much joy in what I can see, in the little things. It might be the beauty of a flower, a photograph of someone special. These things mean so much.
It is true in many areas of life I think, but it isn’t until you lose something that you really recognise its value and how important it is.
There is so much that comes with the ability to see that we take for granted, for instance, the ability to drive and the independence that brings, the ease of getting around.
I hope that this World Sight Day people take a moment to appreciate their sight.
Do you think that as a nation we make vision count here in Australia?
With the National Eye Health Survey showing that 90 per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable if diagnosed early, and more than 50% of participants in the survey with an eye condition not being aware that they had one before taking part, I don’t think we do make it count.
I also think the fact that the majority of eye conditions have no symptoms or pain in the early stages means that for many people it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
I was the perfect example of this when I began to lose my sight. From recurring headaches, not being able to see properly at school or playing sport, there were plenty of clues. I remember my mum yelling at me for not slowing down far enough in advance at traffic lights when she was teaching me to drive, but I was slowing down as soon as I saw them!
The simplest thing people can do to make vision count is have regular eye tests.
The message we need to get out there is that eye tests aren’t just for people who need or wear glasses or contact lens. Eye tests should be part of everybody’s regular health routine. They are the only way to ensure early detection and treatment for many eye conditions, and the main way that we can prevent avoidable blindness and vision loss.
Is it getting easier for people who are blind or vision impaired to be independent and participate fully in society?
Yes, definitely. There is still a long way to go, but the rapid development of technology over the last 10 to 20 years has revolutionised the ability for people who are blind or vision impaired to participate fully in society.
The most obvious example of this is the development of the smart phone, tablets and even large format computer screens. Smart phones have really changed my life.
Whether it is being able to scale up and down the text size on emails and documents, using GPS to find my way to meetings and events or using the camera function to read menus, I’m able to be far more independent than ever before with this technology.
Think back ten years. I can remember going to junior sport and my mum having to pull over by the side of the road to check the Melways (map). And when I first moved out of home I always had to ask people directions, rely far more on other people. It has changed so rapidly.
Then there is technology in the work place. At university, my biggest issue was taking notes, and when I started out as an Osteopath dealing with written patient records. Now these are fully online, and with adaptive technology on my laptop, that is another barrier that has been completely removed.
So I guess if this was a school report I was writing, the conclusion would be doing well, could do better. We can always do better!