“Living Paintings has helped to grow my imagination.”
4th August 2020
Grace, who has grown up with Living Paintings library of Touch to See Books, shares her story.
“My name is Grace, I am 20 years old and was born blind in both eyes. My vision impairment is called Septo-Optic Dysplasia and affects my optic nerves. I have been registered blind as a result of this. In addition I was born with Mosaic Turner Syndrome and Hypo-Pituitiarism. I have also experienced sensory issues such as texture aversions and can exhibit obsessive traits.
I live with my mother Clair, her partner Neal, my brother Archie, and our dog Ava. Ava is a buddy dog, which means she is half guide dog and half pet. She has guide dog training, but if she wants attention when on duty she is allowed this. Ava has been trained to work with blind or visually impaired young people who might be more inclined to touch her, even as she works. Ava came into our family when I was 16 and she has a very calm temperament and loves to have her belly rubbed!
When I was 2 my father left the family as he felt unable to cope with my health issues. My mother raised me alone for 9 years, with support from my grandparents. When I was a baby she tried her best so that I could have a Perkins Braille machine, but received very little support from a blind organisation, as they did not feel that this would be necessary for me. Mum was told that because I was blind I would not have an imagination and would not enjoy books. Determined to prove this prediction wrong she contacted Living Paintings, an organisation that has been a great source of help to our us when very few, or no others, would step up. I have been a member since 2001 and I think the organisation is amazing for always selflessly seizing the initiative to help, no matter what other organisations might do.
My vision impairment means that I have to form closer, more dependent, relationships with family and friends, as I have to rely on them to guide me and help me with everyday tasks. I have always been extremely close to my mother and the one activity that we would frequently do together was reading. We would ensure that there was no technology involved, and sit together to simply read a book. Living Paintings was instrumental in our ability to do this together, as I could read the Braille in the books and explore the tactile images or feely pictures. Their accessible books allowed us to interact and discuss them. We would receive packs to test for Living Paintings, with tactile images, printed scripts and audio CDs. An example of one such pack was Exploring Music and it contained tactile images of various instruments. These provided the perfect activity for us to engage with together. I would explore the illustrations as my mother read the scripts to me, or we listened to the CDs. I have also found myself able to share the books with my brother. Recently I have been sent an Inspirational Women book to test. It has come with the added element of a USB stick which will be very interesting to try.
As well as helping to open up reading as an activity to help me engage in with others, Living Paintings has helped to grow my imagination significantly. I can recall the shape of the tactile picture of the car in the book ‘Mrs Armitage, Queen of the Road’, and the illustrations in ‘Harry and the Robots’ which included Harry’s grandmother holding a walking stick. As a child I would play an imaginative game with the tactile images, where I would turn them over and pretend that they were maps of houses, with each corner of the illustration as a different room. I would play a similar game in our garden with a toy pushchair, pretending that each turn in the grass represented a turn onto a different road in an area. The child who was predicted to have no imagination has always loved reading, writing, and play. I have always loved writing stories and would accurately describe the games I played with the Living Paintings tactile images.
The lockdown that Covid-19 brought to this country was an uncertain and scary time for many. Once again there was only one organisation that stepped up to help. On 29 April I had my first Relaxed Chat with Alison. Our conversations were opened up with a password based on an interest that was very special to me, and were extremely rewarding for both of us. My Relaxed Chats carried on with Sue and the calls continued to become even more rewarding. I feel that I have been able to give as much back to Sue as she has given to me. I was given the opportunity to teach both Alison and Sue about my passion for Grime music, and in return learned about Sue’s passion for painting and the fantastic work that she does for your organisation. The calls provided both the opportunity to engage with two very kind women. Thank you so much, Living Paintings, for the amazing work that you do, and the fantastic services that you provide for your members.”