Please note that as of October 2020, we now operate as Sight Scotland Veterans. Our former name, Scottish War Blinded will appear in content, such as reports, produced before that date.
Veterans with sight loss are keeping connected during lockdown thanks to “godsend” digital devices featuring specialist vision impairment software.
Tech-savvy National Service veteran, David Weir, 86, of Bathgate, has been using his Synapptic smartphone and tablet to keep in touch with family and friends, sort out groceries and find entertainment while staying at home.
David has eye condition macular degeneration and struggles to use standard screens and keypads due to his low vision. The “life-changing” devices with Synapptic software feature in-built audio and magnification properties, enabling him to send texts, emails and browse the internet.
David was one of the first veterans to receive a Synapptic smartphone from sight loss charity Scottish War Blinded in 2017. He was introduced to Synapptic technology at the charity’s Linburn Centre in West Lothian, which is currently closed in line with the Scottish Government’s coronavirus guidance.
David said: “Having this digital knowledge has made a tremendous difference at this difficult time. The lockdown certainly would be lonelier without these devices.
“Thanks to my Synapptic smartphone I’m able to text my family when I’m in need of groceries. I can write down my shopping list on the notepad feature on my tablet and I’ve been emailing it to my family. It can also read messages out loud to me and I can dictate replies.
“With being home 24/7, I’m using these devices constantly to download talking books. My vision means I cannot see to read. I can also use my tablet as a diary or for entertainment from YouTube.”
David says digital skills can help to fend off feelings of loneliness – something many Scottish War Blinded veterans with sight loss say they have experienced prior to lockdown due to the impact of a visual impairment.
David said: “Without the introduction I had to all this technology at the Linburn Centre before the lockdown I wouldn’t be doing all this. I think without my phone and tablet and the support of Scottish War Blinded things could feel quite isolating.”
Scottish War Blinded provide tailored digital training and Synapptic devices to individuals wishing to learn new digital skills as part of their free support for veterans with sight loss across Scotland. In 2019, the youngest veteran to receive a Synapptic device from the charity was 21 years old. The oldest was 99.
Royal Air Force veteran Jim Archibald, 89, of Pathhead, also has age-related sight condition macular degeneration. He began digital training with the Linburn Centre’s IT instructor when he first started receiving Scottish War Blinded’s free support three years ago.
The charity provided him with a Synapptic tablet free of charge which he says is “an essential piece of equipment” for him – now even more so during lockdown.
Jim said: “The tablet’s been a godsend to me at this time. Any questions I have, I can just go to the web. It’s been very helpful. I’ve been sending an awful lot of emails and sharing pictures over email too as we’ve just had a new addition to the family.
“It helps me to feel much more connected, without a doubt.”
Scottish War Blinded staff are currently supporting all its veterans across Scotland remotely – they are in touch with each individual regularly via telephone and email to ensure help is in place and to keep spirits high throughout the coronavirus crisis.
David said: “I’m getting a phone call twice a week for a general conversation from one of the Linburn Centre Officers, which means a lot when you are restricted to staying at home. If any Scottish War Blinded members across the country are in need of help they can give the charity a call.”
And David and Jim, who had both also been tutoring their fellow members in the IT suite at the Linburn Centre prior to lockdown, say they are looking forward to attending the activity hub again when restrictions are lifted and this difficult time is over.
David said: “I miss the other veterans’ company and conversation at the Linburn Centre. I also miss taking part in activities I can’t do at home, as well as the outings. I’m certain most of the other veterans feel the same. I’m keeping in touch with some of the other Scottish War Blinded veterans on the phone, it’s nice to speak to them and see how they are.”
Jim said: “I do miss the centre. I had been helping some of the other veterans to pass their Synapptic tablet assessments. I’m quite proud of myself that I can help do this, and I’m looking forward to getting back to tutoring them when we can go back.”
Rebecca Barr, Director of Services, Scottish War Blinded, said: “Specialist digital equipment and digital training we have provided to Scottish War Blinded veterans with sight loss prior to this pandemic is proving to be all the more beneficial for those individuals during this extremely difficult time.
“Our veterans need us now more than ever. Our centre staff, outreach workers and rehabilitation team are in touch with each and every person we support via telephone and email, working hard remotely to make sure they know they are not alone and are getting the help they need. ”