Making life easier for the hard of hearing and visually impaired
15 December 2017
Edita Pancic is a specialist occupational therapist and chair of the Let me hear/see you group, which campaigns for better understanding of the needs of patients with sight and/or hearing problems. Her own experiences of disability inform her approach to patient care.
What do you do to make life easier for patients with visual impairment? I want to share my experiences as a person who is hard of hearing and registered partially sighted with a progressive eye condition. My disabilities are not obvious so I always have a dilemma when I meet new staff: do I or don’t I explain? Can I be bothered? Here we go again, is it worth me explaining as I may only work with them once and never again? If I don’t explain, then what happens if I bump into a desk corner? What will they think?
I walk onto the wards in the morning and half the lights are off. Well, it’s morning, I think, get them all on. How do you think the patients feels if they can’t really see where they are going or see your face to lipread because the lights are off? It might seem light enough for you but for many of us with visual impairment it is not.
I want to get the lights all switched but then I have another dilemma – I can’t find the light switches – and some of the staff I ask don’t know either. Exasperation – once I know where those light switches are I don’t forget.
I have been here as an outpatient. There is nothing worse than sitting waiting with increased stress because I’m worried about whether I will hear my name called out. Finally my name is called. ‘Oh come this way’, you say. Which way? Not only am I trying to follow you with my vision but also to negotiate the walls, corners, furniture. You point to the door, but all I can see is your face – I have blind spots which mean when I look at your face I can’t see your arm move or that hand pointing to the door. So where is the door? I think. Then finally I am in the room and I don’t see you point to the chair, so I kind of scan and finally there is a chair and I sit down. Made it.
Another time I am in a room full of people sat to eat for lunch. Someone calls me and says ‘so and so is calling you over’. Well, I am standing trying to pinpoint not only the sound but also the person. I am moving my head round like a bat echolocating, except bats have the advantage that they can wiggle their ears and I can’t. Finally the person who wants me stands up and waves their arms. Yes, spotted them.
So what do I do with a patient who has visual impairment and I want them to stand up? Nothing more than make extra effort to fully explain where the chair/table is in relation to the bed, what we are going to do, where the rollator frame is. When we do start moving I speak to him all the way to ensure he is able to move in the right direction. Once he sits down I tell him where the table is with his drink, and take his hand to guide him to where it is on the table.
If I was in his shoes and someone tried to get me to move and didn’t explain things well, and I could see even less than I do, that would stress me out. It’s why I make an extra effort with those with hearing/vision impairment – after all, the ward is bewildering enough as it is without the stress of not fully hearing or seeing around. It’s why I get frustrated when I see others not do the same, but it is also why it has driven me to be an advocate for them and has spurred me to get involved with the Let me hear/see you group. If we improve communication and allow people’s needs to be heard, I strongly believe it will help improve communication across the board.
I had an outpatient’s appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital, where they have just started showing a ten minute video of how staff can guide patients with visual impairment. It made a massive difference as the registrar that came to get me guided me to the clinic area in a way that felt so much easier and far less stressful. At last someone is getting it! Let’s all try to get it.
If you would like to contact Edita to discuss any issues raised in this blog, contact