IT’S something most of us take for granted until we lose it, but any level of vision loss has the potential to change the lives of those affected.
That’s where the support, friendship and education services of volunteer groups like Gippsland VIPac is a guiding light for many vision-impaired people in the Sale district.
Convenor of the group, Sale woman and “RAAF wife” Rosalie O’Neil, founded the Gippsland chapter in 2016 after realising it was difficult for many vision-impaired people to find the social support and resources to help them manage their vision loss, locally.
Rosalie began losing her sight about 20 years ago because of a congenital disease of the retina, and now has limited vision.
But because her eyes appear unaffected, and she only uses a cane when walking in crowds, Rosalie said people are often surprised to discover her vision impairment.
“I call it an invisible disability, because unless you wear dark sunglasses and a big sign, mostly people won’t realise that you have difficulty seeing things,” she said.
“That’s important, because often people with vision loss often need help with getting out and about, and doing some simple things that others do with ease.”
Rosalie said the role of social group VIPac was to offer advocacy for vision-impaired people, support and understanding, and to encourage people who might not otherwise get out into the community to have a social life.
The group gets together regularly for social dinners or meet-ups, and to provide a forum to discuss treatments, research and support.
Rosalie, who is a V/Line Accessibility Reference Group representative, said the group had been so successful, it had expanded to open up membership to people with other disabilities that limited their social and community involvement.
They’ve been on many bold adventures, including train trips to Melbourne, and three members took a P&O cruise recently that Rosalie describes as “very successful”.
“Just to alert other passengers to our vision impairment, we wore headbands with mouse ears and the words ‘three blind mice’,” she said.
“Other people on the cruise knew we were vision-impaired, and the staff were great, so we had a wonderful, fun time and got involved in as much as we wanted to.
“It’s really important for people with any disability to maintain connections to the community.”
The Gippsland VIPac group had some special visitors last week, with Retina Australia’s national chair Leighton Boyd and board member Mary-Anne Carmody joining them for a meal and a visit to Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale.
To find out more, phone Rosalie O’Neil on 0408 950 096, or email Rosalie.ONeil@wdv.org.au.