Blind Man with a Backpack – An introduction

This article was first published in June 2021 introducing the Blind Man with a Backpack. Since then, things have developed somewhat resulting in the business, Axiom Sensory being closed down due to my vision continuing to fade.

As I migrate to my new home, I feel it is still a relevant piece so I hope you enjoy it.

First published: 1 June 2021

I must start this with an apology. I am not technically blind, I am “Sight-Impaired” or partially sighted. But “Partially sighted man with a backpack” or “Cone Dystrophy with a backpack” doesn’t have the same ring to it!

What does this mean? 

It means that I can see more than someone who is blind or “Severely Sight Impaired” but significantly less than someone with “normal” vision. It also means that no amount of glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery will ever correct my vision.

So who am I?

My name is Chris, and I am the founder of Axiom Sensory. This site was set up to provide clear and simple visual support materials for children and young people with additional needs, such as Autism to help with their day-to-day communication. 

What’s that got to do with being partially sighted?

A lot more than you may think. The resources I develop are designed to enable easy communication, this means that they must be easy to use, clear and uncluttered. I’d like to think that my personal circumstances make me well suited to design visuals that are all of these things simply because of my loss of vision.

What is Blind Man with a Backpack?

For background, everyone who knows me, knows that I love cars, both driving them and getting my hands dirty fixing them. I love music in the form of listening to a huge array of artists on my Technics record player and playing badly on my acoustic guitar. I adore cooking, I’ve got Welsh Cakes down to perfection (even if I do say so myself) and my pulled pork is to die for (not my words!). I also enjoy going out walking with the family, whether it’s exploring the local area during lockdown or dragging the kids around London instead of taking the tube.

I am also the dictionary definition of “short sighted” always winning the “who’s got the worst eyesight competition” down the pub! But 5 years ago, my life changed when I had contact lenses implanted, meaning that glasses were a thing of the past. About 3 years ago, during a routine check-up, things didn’t seem as they should be. After further tests, it turned out that I have a condition called Cone Dystrophy that affects the macular at the back of the eye. This condition is degenerative meaning my eyesight will continue to worsen, specifically my central, detail and colour vision. 

At the time, although tough, it didn’t mean much, I could still see my laptop screen, watch football on the tv and drive.

In the past 6 months, things have taken a turn for the worse. In October I was told I no longer met the minimum standard had had to surrender my licence, leading to us selling the last car I will ever own a few months later. Things have continued to worsen and in May this year, I was told that I am officially “sight-impaired”.

My condition now means that I often don’t recognise my closest friends when they walk past me at the bus stop. If somebody is more than a few metres away, I can’t distinguish many of their features and now, more than ever, it’s a lottery that I will choose the gents every time I need to use the loo when I’m out!

This is why I started walking. Firstly with the short trips that we always know we should walk anyway, but it’s just easier to take the car and then beginning to walk further and further, starting with the few miles to the local supermarket, then to the next village to go to an appointment and now I have been known to walk the 8 miles from the swimming pool back home where time allows.

Now at least once a week I will choose a destination (usually one with a train station to get me home) and set out either with my headphones or a friend or two, the Ordnance Survey map on my phone and, of course, my trusty backpack.  I take lots of photos when I’m out and these I publish on my Instagram @blind_man_with_a_backpack

What’s the point?

To me, everything.

One, raising awareness. 

There are so many people with conditions such as mine. Some in much worse circumstances than I am, and others who are much less affected. But all of us must make significant changes to our ways of life as a result. I know of some people who can’t even put on make-up or have a shave without using specialist magnifying screens, some who can no longer leave the house unaided. As for me, I need to stand a few feet from the TV to see what’s on, I can’t read a recipe without using my phone as a magnifier and many of the every-day DIY tasks I delegate to someone else now (so it’s not all bad!). 

So, if this helps to raise some awareness of macular disease, then I’m happy. There are so many great organisations out there who provide support in the form of counselling, using technology and essential research into treatments for people in situations like mine (the Macular Society, Retina UK and RNIB to name but a few) 

Two, therapy

This is my way of saying that even though I’m restricted in what I can do, it doesn’t stop me from doing most of the things I love, it just means I need to make adjustments every now and again. Although I have to use a magnifier to see the recipe book, I can still bake an awesome Gingerbread Cake (it’s a Hairy Biker’s recipe by the way) or smoke a mean brisket (even if I do say so myself, again!), I can still play the guitar badly and I am able to get out and about on my own (I just need to look a few more times when crossing a busy road).

If this helps to encourage a few others to do the same thing, then I’m a happy man.

And three, prosperity

I don’t know how long I will be able to keep doing this for but It’s quite nice to know that I will have a record of my walks and there may be some pictures that I can look back on with fond memories and that others may also enjoy.

Thanks for reading and keep walking😊

Cheers

Chris

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