The prospect of getting involved in the challenge was first raised by Anthony Lewis at a focus group meeting regarding the disability attended by a number of different charities and other voluntary organisations. Nothing was finalised at the time, but Ant followed up a few days later, and three of us accepted the challenge. Our designated disabilities were drawn out of a hat – mine was macular degeneration, meaning I had very limited eyesight through wearing special glasses.
It was interesting for me to have visual impairment as my allotted condition, as I’ve taken a close interest in the work by local sight impairment charity EYECAN since I became Minister in 2014 and had previously attended an event with the Macular Society.
Kristina, Paul and I agreed that Ant’s Challenge was one we intended to take seriously, which meant that we would adopt our disability from the time we left home in the morning until we got back at the end of the day. For me, this meant the glasses were on by 6.30am for the walk from my home in St Ouen to the bus stop.
The bus journey went fine and I made to the office, although not without incident; buying a coffee as normal, I handed over someone’s business card rather than the loyalty card that I get stamped every time I buy a drink, and finding the right card proved impossible. I walked across Gloucester Street at the junction with Seaton Place, but because I took a slightly diagonal route at the crossing, I ended up walking into railings. Street furniture was something I really noticed: bollards, signs outside shops and other items were regularly in my path as potential hazards.
In the office I wasn’t operating very close to business as usual. I had my iPad set so that it would read out emails, and I could respond using Siri, but everything took far, far longer than it would normally.
Away from the office, I attended meetings in the Hospital and in St Helier and I felt very disorientated and insecure, even though I was being accompanied by Chris and Scott from EYECAN. Each time I returned to the office I was very thankful to be back in a safe and familiar environment. I got home just after 5pm, and was relieved to take off the glasses for the first time.
I was helped by having some very useful equipment – this included a scanner that read out letters and articles that you put it across, and a gadget that helped determine the value of a note – I wished I’d had it during the morning commute, when my son asked me for some money and ended up with a £10 note, which was twice what I’d intended to give him! My favourite piece of kit was the watch that spoke the time at the press of a button. I was told this was something that often helped focus people’s attention towards the end of meetings, as they felt you were hurrying them along; I would like to get one!
I would like to thank Chris and Scott for supporting me throughout the day; I thoroughly enjoyed their company and know that those who need their support will be in very good hands. As for the experience of being visually impaired for just one day, I hated it, but equally I wouldn’t have missed it. I think it has given me a better understanding of how those with disabilities deal with everyday life and I hope therefore that I’m better-placed to help them by making sure everything possible is done in respect of designs that are sympathetic to their needs, whether this is the new Hospital or other projects in St Helier and around the Island.