Charlene Kerr-Spencer, 35, has always been blind in her right eye, but since the progression of Kerataconus in her left eye, she has been finding things more of a struggle.
Charlene, who has worked as a coronary nurse, is now partially sighted. But although there are many things she can no longer do, she has learnt with the help of Focus to discover how to approach things differently.
‘It’s getting easier,’ she said. ‘At first I was keen to go back to nursing, but I can’t drive and you lose your independence. You learn that you have to do things differently, even simple things like doing your hair.’
As a visitor to art galleries, Charlene has observed that it’s not always easy to navigate new environments, and she considers guided tours and outreach work to be hugely important.
“I think sometimes you can get, not so much lost in a gallery, but it’s very difficult. So, having the one-to-one kind of system is nice, because at least then you can ask what you want to ask, and you can get a little bit closer. For myself, being partially sighted, the closer it is the better.”
Art has been a lifeline for Charlene as she copes with all the changes sight loss can bring: ‘Creativity has been so important, as has making things up as you go along. I learnt that here. I thought I wouldn’t be able to paint again, but was shown simple things like how enlarging a picture or using a darker pencil can help.
‘Before, I thought blindness was black and white. You can see, or you’re blind. But it isn’t like that. I have accepted I can’t do what I used to do but Focus gives you the chance to do other things, and do them differently.’
Asif Mehrvan, 38, was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2006, and said: ‘I knew something was wrong as I was getting blurred vision at work, and when I was told it was RP it took some time to get to grips with it, but I took it in my stride. I used to box and do martial arts. I was a sprayer in a body shop.
‘Everything I had wanted to do as a young lad, I couldn’t do anymore – the sport in particular.
‘But although the fitness side of things has decreased, I’m socialising more these days and sharing my experiences with others. I found out about Focus through their desk at the hospital and joined the art class about 18 months ago.
‘It gets me out and about and shows me a different side to creativity that I didn’t think I had. Plus you’re learning something new.’
You can view a film all about our outreach work at Vimeo. The film was produced with funding from West Midlands Museum Development.
If you are a charity, community group or individual who wants to connect with the visual arts, why not get in touch? Guided gallery tours are available, and workshop sessions can be tailored to your needs.