What’s it like to be a young person who’s blind or partly sighted in today’s Scotland? To strive to keep up in the classroom alongside your sighted peers? To try to be part of the highly visual youthful world of social media and computer games? A Scottish youth forum is poised to give them a voice…
Haggeye is the multi award-winning youth forum of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Scotland. It is open to anyone aged 16 to 27 living in Scotland with a vision impairment.
Haggeye first began in 2007. Since its launch, young people from all over the country have met to take part in social activities and campaigns, including accessible transport and the need for more educational material in formats such as braille and audio.
But these activities were suspended during the covid lockdown period. Now, as restrictions ease, the forum will allow the same voice for more young people with sight loss who can often feel isolated and lack confidence and self-esteem.
Kerry Burke (17) from East Kilbride is a Haggeye member. “Growing up in primary and secondary schools with fully sighted peers really affected me socially,” Kerry says. “It was a huge blow to my confidence when everyone else in the room had no problem doing all the tasks while I sat there struggling.
“My sight loss means that I lack detail, have extreme sensitivity to bright lights and glares and need additional time to process visual information. My vision may also become blurry at times and I have reduced depth perception.”
Now in her senior year at high school and a prefect, she can reflect back on the difficulties she has experienced. “I think a surprising thing is how differently you address your disability in the class with teachers, and outside with friends,” she says, “Discovering how to feel comfortable in asking for what you need vision-wise, while also being sociable is a delicate balance.
“I personally think a forum like Haggeye for young people with sight loss is valuable and needed. As a minority, it’s easy for our needs to be overlooked. Haggeye creates a platform where our voices can be heard as a whole community. I hope we will be able to grow as a group of people from around Scotland who are passionate about campaigning for their rights, and can make those changes that help us in our day to day lives.”
Fellow Haggeye member, physics student Eilidh Morrison (20) from Aberdeen agrees. “I think a forum for young people with sight loss is important because a lot of those who are blind and partially sighted might not know others with sight loss,” Eilidh says. “Haggeye allows people to come together and find out they aren’t alone. Its members make friends, share their passions and can talk about their experiences.
“It’s important that we work together to change things. I think a lot of blind and visual impaired people don’t leave school with the grades they want. Education is a massive area to change all at once, but if we break it down and tackle it an issue at a time we can make a difference.”
* To find out more about Haggeye, visit https://www.rnib.org.uk/scotland/youth-engagement