At just two weeks old, Graham Ross was the youngest baby to have an eye condition and undergo operations at hospital.
The 74-year-old from Sefton was born with glaucoma and after his eye sight deteriorated in adulthood, he broke down in tears in front of his parents.
Graham gradually began to reclaim his confidence and after gaining support from sight loss organisation Galloway’s, he now wants to share his story to highlight the difficulties people with visual impairments face and encourage everyone to support the charity’s Winter Appeal.
Speaking of his early diagnosis, he reveals: “I was born with glaucoma and was in St Paul’s Eye Hospital in Liverpool when I was two weeks old. I was the youngest baby they had with an eye condition. I had two operations – one in Germany and another in this country, which managed to save most of my sight.”
Graham admitted wearing glasses which ‘looked like milk bottles’ as a child, whilst attending mainstream school.
Despite his glaucoma affecting some of his sight, Graham pursued a career in photography, as he worked freelance, taking photos at beauty contests, such as Miss England, working in places like Blackpool, Morecambe, Southport and Brighton.
After a period of working in bars across Europe, he returned to the UK and did a course in light engineering in Letchworth, before moving back to Liverpool.
But Graham’s eye sight was beginning to deteriorate and he started to struggle with the harsh realities of his eye condition.
He adds: “I started to lose my sight in my right eye and my left eye.
“My problem was, I didn’t start putting drops in and the pressure in my eyes started to rise.”
It was at this point, Graham got a job in the Liverpool Workshops for the Blind in Cornwallis Street, which he admits was ‘depressing,’ but after he was subcontracted to another firm to make kits for cars, he began to enjoy his job.
However, his joy turned to despair, as not long after, he lost his vision completely and he broke down in tears.
He remembers: “I came back home from hospital, and thought about having to go back to the blind workshop as a blind person. They had all worked there about 30 or 40 years and were quite institutionalised. I thought I was going to become one of those people.
“The thought of going back to the blind workshop was tough. I was not suicidal but I was depressed. I spent weeks in tears and for a man to cry in front of his mum and dad was a very hard thing.”
But Graham had immense support from his family and his brother stepped in to help him make the car kits so he could continue the job he loved.
It was only in his later years did Graham seek help from sight loss charity Galloway’s, visiting the assistive technology drop in sessions at the centre in Wright Street, Southport.
As those have been put on hold following the pandemic, Graham has still been able to access telephone and online support from Assistive Technology Co-ordinator Andrew Coleman.
With initial guidance from Andrew, Graham is now able to confidently use his iPhone, making use of assistive apps and the voice activated programme Siri. Graham also uses Zoom to keep in touch with his friends at Galloway’s.
Graham says: “I feel 100 per cent supported by Galloway’s. It is a lifeline having Andrew at the end of a phone. It has opened doors for people like me, which would otherwise be shut.
“Andrew has taught me so much about using my iPhone and the apps which can help me. For example, I can use Seeing AI to read my letters and Andrew told me how to download BlindSquare and Soundscape which are all assistance apps I can use when I am out and about. It is also handy being able to read my emails and texts and use Siri to speak rather than use a keypad.
“A lot of people with sight loss, like myself, lack confidence, so we need a lot of encouragement and Galloway’s certainly does that.”
Andrew, Galloway’s Assistive Technology Coordinator at Galloway’s, says: “Lockdown presented new barriers with people thinking we can’t support them with technology, but we have helped so many people similar to Graham.
“One of most important things is that people are connected to Galloway’s for support on a regular basis. We can provide support over the phone and remotely over the internet.
“Even for people who are already ‘techy,’ this has been a new learning curve. But I really encourage people to keep trying. Everybody has the tech ability to do these things with the right assistance.”
Without continued support from the public, Galloway’s would not be able to provide these remote services which are crucial for people with sight loss living in Lancashire and Sefton during lockdown.
As Galloway’s launches its Winter Appeal, any donations will ensure the charity can continue to support people like Graham.
For more information on how you can help, visit https://www.galloways.org.uk/graham-ross