Leah Jackman, aged 38 from Braintree, has experienced the unimaginable since being diagnosed with diabetes at five years old. As well as being hard of hearing since her early 30’s, in 2009 due to Diabetic Retinopathy Leah blinked one day and suddenly lost sight in her right eye. Then in 2018, she woke up one morning completely blind with no perception of light...

ECL Sensory Team helped Leah to confront her fears and supported her to regain her confidence to walk outside alone

The experience of becoming totally blind understandably shook Leah and dual sensory loss made her daily life difficult to manage. Leah commented: “Once I completely lost my sight, I was too anxious to go outside or open the door, even when collecting the post I’d be a shaking mess. I was assigned to a social worker who put me in touch with the ECL Sensory Service and everything changed.”

ECL assisted Leah with her dual-sensory loss by providing equipment and 1-2-1 support to help her regain her confidence to leave the house independently again. The Sensory Service team arranged for rails to be fitted in Leah’s home to help her navigate safely, as well as portable doorbell receivers so she could always hear the doorbell when someone rings. The team also showed Leah how to use her Penfriend labeller so she can independently identify labelled products.

Leah received 1-2-1 training to help her use a white cane on key routes to and from her home. After losing her vision entirely, Leah undertook cane training to her daughter’s school, and to her GP and pharmacy. Leah practiced these routes over six months with assistance from ECL Sensory Service rehabilitation worker Gill, doing each route little by little until she felt confident enough to walk the whole way by herself. Leah credits her increase in confidence to Gill and the ECL Sensory Services team who understood her needs and enabled her to confront her fears of walking outside alone and in her own time.

Leah said: “I live on a main road and that first step out was absolutely terrifying. There was so much noise from traffic and people, it felt almost claustrophobic to be outside. Having someone with me saying every three paces, 'it’s fine, you’re doing great, a dip in the curb is coming up…’ was what kept me going. She was so kind and spent the first couple of sessions just getting to know me, making it clear I was in the driver’s seat. I never felt rushed to walk anywhere before I was comfortable."

“On that first section of the first route, I was shaking so much I could hardly hold my cane. It nearly fell out of my hand at times. And at first, I felt like I hadn’t done well, like I was a failure. But Gill reassured me, ‘you did so well. How long has it been since you got to that corner?’ She always helped me to see the positive side, and that encouragement kept me going. Now the routes are second nature to me, and that’s all down to ECL and their gentle approach.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for people living with dual-sensory loss.

Leah said she was met with a lot of ignorance whenever she left her house: “It was horrendous, I was terrified to go out. Although I walk with a big white cane, there’s this sentiment that I must have sight because my eyes are open. I’m completely blind so I can’t see any signage for one-way systems in shops or to keep socially distant. People were banging into me and not apologising, and in many cases growling or shouting at me about the two-metre rule.

“I felt so isolated, I didn’t want to go out because people’s attitudes frightened me. But the team at ECL Sensory Service understood, and they contacted me regularly throughout the pandemic to check I was okay and offer to do my food shopping for me. Even to this day, three years after my initial cane refresher training, they still check in with me so I have undertaken further cane training with them. It’s a wonderful service that I’d recommend to anyone.”

Find out how our sensory service supports people who have a sensory impairment to maintain independence and dignity in every aspect of daily life

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