‘Don’t be afraid to help’
PUBLISHED: 16:00 20 February 2020
Darren Palmer, who is registered blind, had to undergo a number of surgeries to save what little remains of his sight after opticians noticed there was high pressure on his eyes caused by traumatic glaucoma from an accident years prior.
The 44-year-old, who lives with his wife in Weston, has had to adjust to life with his guide dog and has even lost friends as a result of his visual impairment.
At the beginning of this year, Darren gained his confidence back and joined Pure Gym, in Gallagher Retail Park, despite his impairment.
He said: "It started around 2012, there was a big black spot in my eye which kept coming and it got worse over time.
"I have a little bit of vision in my left eye. The doctors did what they could to save my sight. It could have been worse."
Darren said it took a long time for doctors to diagnose his condition and he found it increasingly difficult to go out with friends.
He added: "Before the surgery, I used to walk into people, and it got to a point I couldn't go out with my friends.
"I got put on a pub watch once because they thought I was drunk, I even showed them my card. After that, I got a symbol cane.
"As soon as I had a cane, I felt like a vulnerable person.
"I took me a while to come to terms with losing my sight.
"People assume you are completely blind and you can't do anything."
Exercise is one of the activities which has helped Darren to regain his independence.
He said: "I have equipment at home, but I wanted to join the gym. I had my induction and the manager was more than happy for me to use the gym and for me to have my guide dog with me.
"I've lost friends from it - people don't know how to act or they avoid you. It's quite sad."
Darren is 'physically abled' despite his visual impairment.
He has a guide dog, but this often attracts unwanted attention from members of the public who want to stroke the animal.
This can distract the dog, which could put Darrren in danger.
Small issues which would not usually pose a problem can also be a big challenge to Darren, such as cars parking on pavements.
Darren said: "It's a silly little thing I used to do when I used to drive.
"The guide dogs are trained to walk on the path and on the road.
"They might go around the cars and onto the road, which can be dangerous.
"I had two little kids in McDonald's asking questions about the dog.
"It was lovely because some kids really take an interest, which is nice.
"Some children will point to the dog and say he's a special dog because they've learnt about guide dogs at school.
"I get caught on the school bus sometimes and it can be a challenge when the children try to climb over the dog. I have to remind people not to distract him.
"He can get into small spaces on the bus and trains. I never used to suffer from claustrophobia till I lost my sight, especially on trains. People stand over the dog and crowd him."
Since his diagnosis, Darren has had a great deal of support from Vision North Somerset.
A number of shops and supermarkets also run a lanyard scheme which enables people with hidden disabilities to get help.
For anyone who is struggling with visual impairment or going through the same situation as Darren, he said there is help out there.
He added: "There is help and support. The help I received from Vision North Somerset was priceless. They went above and beyond.
"Places like Tesco have a lanyard scheme, which I think is fantastic - it indicates to the staff you may need help.
"If you see someone struggling, don't be afraid to ask the person to help them. They're probably just afraid to ask for help."