A Glasgow veteran with sight loss has praised the specialist support he receives from charity Sight Scotland Veterans which he says has helped him reclaim his independence in lockdown.
William McKinlay, 69, of Pollok, began losing his sight 12 years ago. Unable to pinpoint the cause of his sight loss, doctors warned the Royal Highland Fusiliers veteran that he could “wake up one morning totally blind”.
As a volunteer who gave tours around Glasgow’s Royal Highland Fusiliers Regimental Museum and led educational World War sessions in primary schools prior to the pandemic, William’s deteriorating sight had started to make reading for his military research extremely difficult.
But thanks to specialist equipment including an ‘Explore 5’ digital magnifier and rehabilitation support from Sight Scotland Veterans, provided during lockdown, Willie has been able to continue his much-loved military research, regain his independence and keep spirits up through this difficult time.
And as Sight Scotland Veterans strives to support even more veterans with sight loss in Scotland, with its first ever TV advert campaign live this month, William is encouraging fellow veterans with sight loss in Glasgow to get in touch with the charity for support.
William, who served in the army for nine years in the 1970s, said: “I hadn’t had any support with my sight loss prior to getting in touch with Sight Scotland Veterans at the end of 2019. I was really needing help to read.
“That’s when one of Sight Scotland Veterans’ Rehabilitation Officers, Katrina Campbell, stepped in. The amount of help the digital magnifier that she provided me with has given me to be able to read independently again is brilliant. It’s definitely kept me busy during lockdown by allowing me to do my military research again and prepare future school sessions.
“The charity’s support has given me that independence back. Katrina also provided me with a talking clock and talking watch, which is very helpful when I’m cooking, and I now have a liquid level indicator for making cups of tea to stop overfilling the cup. The help and equipment that I’ve had has been absolutely fantastic – I’d be struggling without it.”
With social distancing difficult for William due to his sight loss, the veteran had also been struggling to get out for daily exercise. Sight Scotland Veterans Rehabilitation Officer, Katrina Campbell, was also able to provide in-person long cane training with the veteran last year when restrictions allowed.
Lockdown has been a tough experience for William, who also has PTSD, and he says it has been “amazing” to get out for his local daily walks independently and safely now as a result of Katrina’s training.
In addition to his rehabilitation assessments over the phone, William has been receiving regular check in calls from Sight Scotland Veterans staff, who have adapted to continue providing practical and emotional support remotely throughout the pandemic, posting out specialist equipment to home addresses.
William says it can be more difficult for veterans to reach out for support, but he finds a real strength in receiving support for his sight loss from a charity with such a deep understanding of the veterans community.
And he is calling for fellow veterans with sight loss to take the brave step of reaching out for support, with Sight Scotland Veterans continuing to welcome enquiries for support throughout lockdown.
William said: “I’m hoping against all hope that my eyesight is going to last me as I worry it will stop me seeing my grandson grow. But in the forces, you don’t need to worry because somebody is watching your back. We know how to watch each other’s backs, even if we have sight loss.
“It feels like Sight Scotland Veterans is watching our backs with these phone calls and the support, even in lockdown. The camaraderie and friendship is there, and if you’re stuck somebody will help. That’s just the way the community is.”
Clair Bryan, Interim Director of Services, Sight Scotland Veterans, said: “I’m delighted to hear from William about the huge difference Sight Scotland Veterans’ support has made to his life. Despite the current restrictions there is still a lot the charity is able offer veterans with sight loss remotely – whether it’s specialist equipment, expert practical advice to adapt to life with sight loss or a friendly, listening ear through these challenging times.
“We know there are thousands more veterans with sight loss in Scotland, including those who served National Service, who are eligible for our support. The majority of the veterans we support today have sight loss as a result of age-related conditions such as macular degeneration or as a result of an accident or illness. Following much research and consultation, the charity changed its name from Scottish War Blinded to Sight Scotland Veterans in October last year, to support our goal of reaching out to even more veterans with sight loss and this month we have launched our first ever television campaign.
“If you are a veteran with sight loss, or you know a veteran you think we could help, we would love to hear from you. Our dedicated staff continue to provide support to individuals in any way they can as restrictions continue, and we look forward to the day we can recommence our support face-to-face along with our social activities and events across Scotland.”