Oban support group ‘essential’ for helping those with visibility issues

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Putting on a wash and ensuring the colours do not run is a tough task at the best of times, but doing that without being able to see is unimaginable for most.

This is just one of the everyday challenges Oban-man Alan MacDonald has to overcome since being diagnosed blind 10 years ago.

Cutting his white clothing labels into triangles helps with this particular job, but Alan says technology and an Oban support group have been ‘essential’ in helping him to learn and adapt to life without sight.

Blind Vision – Oban meets every on the first Wednesday on every odd month – January, March,  May, July, September, November – from 10.30am in the Dove Centre in Stevenson Street.

There is also a visibility peer support group meeting that takes place on the first even month from 1.30pm at Glencruitten Church Centre in Oban.

‘I think the group is essential for us,’ Alan told The Oban Times. ‘Even people who have been blind since birth, there is something new to learn.’

Despite being born with normal vision, Alan has had issues with his eyes since he was young. He was diagnosed as partially sighted when he was 24, before being declared blind at 30.

He now acts as a technology coordinator for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and helps people get to grips with tech that can help, such as screen readers.

Alan’s tech-savviness also helped him land a weekly slot on Oban FM. After figuring out how to hook his own screen-reading software up to the studio’s equipment, every Tuesday from 1pm until 3pm he now hosts ‘Macky at lunch’.

While some blind people opt to use guide dogs, Alan says it is not an option for him.

Speaking to Steven Jardine on BBC Radio Scotland, Alan said: ‘You couldn’t make this up. As a blind person, I am actually allergic to dogs.’

This dilemma means Alan has relies on textile pavings and other adaptions to help him navigate the town.

When asked about issues in Oban, he said bins on the street can be tricky as well as a lack of a spinning cone at the traffic lights in Combie Street, making it impossible for visually impaired people to cross the road there.

However, an Argyll and Bute spokesperson said: ‘Work on the Combie Street traffic lights will be part of a wider programme of improvements scheduled for 2020 onwards. In the meantime, we will look to reinstate the “beep” on the crossing.’

Other issues highlighted in his radio interview were getting money out and paying for things.

Alan has memorised the sequence on the bank machines he uses in town. For example, he is aware that the second option down is cash only.

And he always makes sure to hit ‘other amount’ as the layouts on the machines differ. One button for some can be £10, while the same option on another could be £200.

And while he states that the staff in supermarkets are brilliant, he added: ‘The only problem is sometimes its difficult to find the [card] machine and someone behind you is getting a little bit grumpy.

‘You feel very conscious and the one thing that presses my buttons is if someone actually grabs my wrist and puts my hand to the machine – I find that really, really difficult. It is always easier if someone says left a bit, right a bit.’