A voice for the local community
Lianne McKeon has literally become a voice for blind and partially sighted people in Birmingham.
Not only has she been an active member of the Birmingham Sight Loss Council (SLC) for 18 months she has her own radio programme on the VIP Lounge radio station and volunteers with a number of other organisations, such as the BFAB Streetdance, a dance school for adults and children with disabilities. She helps the dancers, particularly those with autism, learn routines and performs with the troupe at festivals, carnivals and workshops.
With partial vision in her left eye and just light and dark perception in her right, Lianne was registered blind when she was two years old.
Lianne said: “I love helping others. It is hugely rewarding to see how people grow in confidence. And by volunteering, I have found my own confidence has grown massively. I have to talk publicly more, meet new people and go to new places that take me out of comfort zone. But that’s great!”
Birmingham SLC, funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust and led by blind or partially sighted volunteers, advocates the needs, and campaigns on behalf, of the blind and partially sighted people in Birmingham and its surrounding area.
She recently took to Birmingham’s Bull Ring shopping centre, with her guide dog Ralph, as part of the SLC’s Purple Tuesday campaign. She explained: “This campaign is designed to help shops identify where they could make improvements to help disabled shoppers. For example, better lighting when the shops are too dark, advice on uniforms rather than casual clothes to help partially sighted shoppers identify staff and store layout to reduce unnecessary obstacles.
“The stores that I visited were so positive and receptive to our suggestions for improvements.”
Lianne also opened (or rather closed) the eyes of architects from Birmingham City Council who are redeveloping Snow Hill and Colmore Row by taking them out with Sim Specs. These glasses replicate conditions such as retinal degeneration, loss of vision, right side loss of vision and reduced visual acuity to provide insight into what it is like
having a vision impairment and how this can impact on day-to-day life. The purpose was to try to influence the plans for the redevelopment to ensure they considered the needs of blind and partially sighed people.
Another project was to make gyms more aware of the small changes they could make that would massively improve the experience for blind and partially sighted customers. This includes having buttons raised on machines and ensuring the markings on weights were clearer.
Lianne added: “The work that we do comes directly from what is important to the blind and partially sighted community we are here to serve. We regularly consult on what people would like us to address and responded to comments saying that many gyms were inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people.”
Lianne presents The Morning! Show from 9-11am every weekday on the VIP Lounge radio station. The VIP Lounge is a peer to peer support organisation for blind and partially sighted people. She said: “I have the radio equipment so can do my radio programme from home. I play great music and take requests. I’ve been on the committee for three years now and, as well as presenting, have been involved in organising trips for VIP Lounge members.
She added: “It is good to meet new people, help the community and ensure they have a voice. This coming year I want to concentrate on education and visit primary schools to explain more about sight loss and what a white cane means.”
Sight Loss Councils are currently working in Birmingham, Black Country, Bristol, Merseyside and Tyne & Wear. Each Sight Loss Council is made up of around 10-12 blind and partially sighted members who meet monthly to discuss accessibility issues and plan projects in their regions under the six priority themes of education, employment, technology, health and social care, transport, sport and leisure.
Over the next year Thomas Pocklington Trust will be extending its SLCs across the country. To find out more on this or other volunteering opportunities in the sight loss sector contact firstname.lastname@example.org