Gareth King, a Rehabilitation and Mobility Officer with Sight Scotland, is set to become one of the first graduates of the Graduate Low Vision Rehabilitation Course at Glasgow Caledonian University.

The Graduate Low Vision Rehabilitation Course was reinstated for 2023 after the Scottish Visual Services Steering Group, which includes the Scottish Sensory Hub, Visibility Scotland, Sight Scotland, RNIB Scotland and the Rehabilitation Workers’ Professional Network (RWPN), joined forces to try and come up with a solution for the impending crisis in provision of rehabilitation services across Scotland.

An ageing workforce and lack of qualification pathway combined to pose a threat to future provision and delivery of Rehabilitation Services in Scotland, both now and in the immediate future. The reinstatement of the graduate qualification for 2023 provided students from the third sector and Health and Social Care Partnerships the opportunity to gain a formal rehabilitation qualification.

Gareth explains: “Rehabilitation is vital to the independence and confidence of blind and partially sighted people. I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to study on the course and further my skills with an official qualification.

“I joined Sight Scotland as a Rehabilitation and Mobility Officer back in April 2021 to form part of the newly developed Community Services Team. At the time we were still going through the midst of a pandemic and working from home, so it was certainly a different way to start a new job when your first day was over a video call! We got there though, it’s been nearly three years in post and I’m still enjoying every day. 

“I heard about the course during my first year at Sight Scotland following discussions with our Community Services Manager, Colin Hilditch, and from working alongside already qualified team members. At the time, the course had only been accessible through Birmingham University which felt like it was out of reach for me to achieve. I’d been wanting a place on the course to help support Sight Scotland further in my role and to develop my skills and knowledge in this field. Also in Scotland, there is a shortage of qualified Rehabilitation Workers to support people who are visually impaired, so I was keen to get involved and help reduce this demand on our services and get out there to support people in the community.

“Colin and Laura Walker (CEO of Visibility) had been working alongside external services to reintroduce the course into Scotland and bring it to Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). It took some time, but all their hard work and efforts paid off and the course was finally confirmed in Scotland for 2023!

The Graduate Diploma in Low Vision Rehabilitation was delivered at GCU by Simon Labbett from the Rehabilitation Workers Professional Network (RWPN) and Nadia Northway, Senior Lecturer at GCU. The course has taught us about many aspects of Low Vision Rehabilitation through a blend of classroom learning, practical lessons, and a work-based placement which was supported by a qualified mentor from our team at Sight Scotland, Gemma Bromley.

“Initially, we learned about the anatomy of the eye, types of eye conditions, and how low vision can affect people’s lives. As the course progressed, we began to focus more on the practical aspects of the role by learning techniques like pre-cane skills and sighted guiding throughout the University. Our lessons were usually done under sleep shades, or by wearing simulation specs which are never 100% accurate as to what someone may see, but they can highlight to us some challenges people can experience when carrying out daily living tasks or navigating their surroundings.

“A few months in and were outdoors and learning orientation and mobility techniques throughout Glasgow, which was a great experience. We’ve learned how to create and teach safe routes for people using a long cane and how they can use different types of landmarks and sounds along the way to help guide them to their destinations. The course has also trained us on teaching people how to effectively use public transport, escalators, stairs, elevators, and various types of pedestrian crossings. 

“As well as orientation and mobility, we’ve learned how to complete low vision assessments and gained a more in-depth understanding of low vision aids. It’s shown us more about assistive technology and how changes can be made to people’s devices that can enhance their useability. We’ve spent time in the kitchen, learning techniques on safe meal preparation, and how to adapt people’s working environments with better lighting and colour contrasting to try and make daily tasks more accessible for them.

“We’ve covered a lot, but it’s all been a great experience. I’m looking forward to being able to use the skills and knowledge I’ve learned to get back out there and support people in the community. 

“The qualification has provided me with the transferable skills to teach individuals who require orientation and mobility support. Although I have supported members in their homes now for nearly three years, achieving this qualification will allow me to provide a more inclusive service to the people we support, which will be great to do.

“I feel it’s important that the course continues to be provided in Scotland as it allows professionals and school leavers the opportunity to get into this sector and build a career working in Low Vision Rehabilitation. It’s a brilliant career, and by allowing more accessible routes for people to gain this qualification, it helps support the future of Low Vision Rehabilitation and continues to give people access to the support they may need.”

Gareth adds: “Sight Scotland is a great place to work, and I am extremely passionate about the work that I do. We have a brilliant team in community services, along with our other colleagues throughout Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans who do an amazing job in supporting people with visual impairments and their families. I feel supported doing what I enjoy, and it’s great to be working alongside people who share the same work ethic and values as I do. Each day can bring something different to our role and we are always supported in our development and encouraged to learn new skills and grow within the organisation. I look forward to coming to work and getting out there to help people be more independent.

“If you know of any adults with a visual impairment who are having difficulties at home or outdoors in their community, please get in touch with our team or let them know about Rehabilitation services, we are always here and happy to help.”

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