“Julie now has her independence”
Jill Sell, 63 from Surrey, tells how SeeAbility supports people with sight loss and multiple disabilities
Watching her sister Julie, 52, pour a cup of tea is an amazing thing for Jill Sell, and something she never thought she would witness. “While it may seem like a small task, for Julie it’s a huge step,” says Jill. “Julie was born with almost no sight and very little hearing, as well as learning disabilities. For most of her life she has been unable to do everyday tasks for herself.”
Julie was born with multiple disabilities after her mother contracted rubella (German measles) during the first three months of her pregnancy. “Her disabilities were quite obvious from a young age, although she wasn’t given hearing tests or an official diagnosis until after she was two. Her learning disabilities were then diagnosed around the age of
five, although by then we all understood she wasn’t progressing as she should,” recalls Jill.
Julie only has slight vision in one eye and limited hearing. Her disabilities also mean she is unable to form words. “She can only communicate by touch and by taking your hand to lead you to what she wants.”
Despite this, Julie attended a local special needs school, although this wasn’t always a positive experience. “She didn’t have a one-to-one carer and they couldn’t let her out into the playground because she couldn’t see where she was going. She didn’t really benefit from her time there because it wasn’t specialised enough,” explains Jill.
It was after Jill’s mum passed away that Jill and her siblings started to consider an alternative home for
Julie. “My father was in his 80s so couldn’t look after Julie, who was in her 40s, once my mother passed away,” says Jill. “It was difficult deciding what would happen next – we looked at individual care homes but none of them seemed suitable. As I work in SeeAbility’s fundraising team, I started looking into their accommodation and it seemed perfect for Julie as they are able to support people with multiple disabilities.” In 2006, Jill applied for a place for Julie at the SeeAbility accommodation nearby, and was delighted to find out she had been accepted.
“We did a few afternoon and overnight visits and gradually eased Julie into staying there full time,” says Jill. “She is now living in a house with eight residents. They have beautiful en-suite rooms and share a lounge and kitchen dining room, which is brand new. Carers are on hand 24/7.”
When Julie first arrived she wanted everything done for her, like at home, but the SeeAbility rehabilitation team worked hard to increase her independence. “It took six months to teach Julie to put her cup into the sink. She can now also feed herself, walk up and down the stairs to her room, and has worked with Speech and Language Therapists to develop objects of reference to help her understand what’s going to happen next. For instance, when we give her one of Dad’s old coats to touch, she knows she’s about to go and visit him.”
As well as learning new skills, Julie has been given the opportunity to enjoy new places and activities. “We always struggled to go on family holidays as we had to make sure everywhere was suitable for Julie, but thanks to SeeAbility Julie has just come back from an amazing visit to Disneyland Paris.
“It’s been so lovely for us to see Julie gain her independence and for her to be mixing with
people, when she used to spend a lot of time just lying on the sofa. Now she goes for walks in the evening and she hardly ever uses her wheelchair. Her whole world has opened up and it’s amazing to see.”
- SeeAbility has a long heritage dating back to when the charity was founded in 1799 as The Royal School for the Blind.
- People with a learning disability are ten times more likely to have a serious sight condition.
- SeeAbility believes in seeing the person not the disability. Its mission is to enrich the lives of people with sight loss and multiple disabilities across the UK.
- It supports 222 people in residential and supported living accommodation.
- Over 240 volunteers help individuals do the things they enjoy, from reading to riding tandem or going to Disneyland.
BIG GIVE UPDATE
SeeAbility will use the £44,875 raised in The Candis Big Give to fund 1,600 hours of one-to-one specialist support and therapies for blind and visually impaired people with multiple disabilities. A team of specialists will teach skills to overcome everyday challenges.