As part of his role as VIEW’s ambassador Amar Latif, kindly offered to share his story with young people with vision impairment from across the UK. VIEW Member, Joanne Jones, Lead Teacher for Vision Impairment, Oldham reports.
On 26th June 2019, Oldham Council’s Sensory and Physical Support Service was fortunate to host VIEW’s first regional presentation delivered by Amar Latif, VIEW’s ambassador. Amar delivered two presentations which were attended by 88 children, young people, parents and professionals from ten different local authorities including Oldham, Manchester, Stockport and Trafford.
Amar told his own personal story of sight loss, beginning with his family learning of his diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa when he was four years old, through to the realisation that he could no longer view faces at all when he was around 18, to his current vision level of minimal light perception only. Amar made the audience feel at ease and shared entertaining stories of inspiration and challenge. The audience laughed with tales of his exploits, including the moment he realised his cycling career was over…when he somersaulted off his bike directly into a skip, and more importantly shared in his messages about continuing to challenge preconceptions of blindness, which Amar himself is now trying to do within his various media projects including in his most recent BBC programme ‘Travelling Blind’.
Amar elaborated on his time at university, including how he devised his own access strategies to overcome the difficulties he faced to ensure he could access his lecture notes. Amar’s confidence was continuing to develop around this time and he chose to spend a year in Canada as part of his degree following his philosophy that “if you step outside your comfort zone, your world becomes bigger.” After leaving university Amar’s peers all managed to secure fantastic job offers whilst he was struggling; despite having graduated with a 2:1 grade. He faced many rejection letters as employers didn’t feel he was capable of carrying out a role with his level of vision loss. Amar then decided to try a new strategy of “explaining not complaining” and proactively requested that he be allowed to deliver a presentation to potential employers, at the start of an interview, outlining how he was able to do the job on offer despite his vision loss. Following this change in strategy, he was then offered three jobs from the subsequent three interviews, took up a role with BT and eventually ended up leading a group of sighted accountants!
Amar, having developed the travelling bug whilst in Canada, was keen to travel and experience the world however he struggled with travel companies who were unable to meet the needs of an independent, solo blind traveller. Frustrations at not being able to access such holidays led to Amar setting up his own company, Traveleyes, which now offer holidays for people with a vision impairment where they are paired up with sighted guides to explore the world together. Susan Stewart from ‘The International School of London’ also spoke alongside Amar about her experiences of groups of her students acting as sighted guides for adults with a vision impairment on some of Amar’s holidays. Susan outlined the unexpected benefits to her pupils that came from having to put someone else first and also she noted how it improved both their spoken and descriptive language skills. Susan and Amar are keen to trial holidays where groups of sighted young people guide groups of young people with a vision impairment and hopefully, through their new-found links with colleagues in Oldham, this will soon be a reality…watch this space! The most recent part of Amar’s story related to the work he has been doing on television with shows ranging from ‘Beyond Boundaries’ to ‘Travelling Blind’ where he toured Turkey with the comedian Sarah Pascoe acting as his guide. Amar is continuing to challenge preconceptions of blind people and to inspire a new generation of young people to push their boundaries and aim higher.
Perhaps the most enlightening part of the day was the open question and answer sessions that Amar held. In the first session, the questions covered topics such as the favourite place he had visited through to questions about how Amar felt when he first lost his sight to queries about how Amar travels independently. Amar openly admitted that he struggled coming to terms with his sight loss at first and that he came to a cross roads where he could chose either sadness and depression or a road to positivity and opportunity and that he realised he had only one life and that he must “roll up his sleeves and do what he needed to do.” The second question and answer session gleaned questions ranging from “how did you get past the crocodiles in the jungle?” to “how can I convince my parents to let me travel?” Amar’s answers were engaging and enlightening and he successfully managed to address each of the different groups of people in the room. He encouraged the pupils to create and follow their own dreams by gaining the life skills to fight for themselves, to embrace their canes and to use being vision impaired to their advantage whilst parents were advised to encourage and enable independence from as young an age as possible.
A truly inspirational day and many thanks go to Amar and Susan for delivering the presentation, to colleagues from around the north west for arranging for their children and families to attend and to VIEW for helping to enable the event.