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Radios for the Blind 

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

I was recently contacted to take some photos for a radio handover for an organisation called the British Wireless For The Blind Fund. My first thought was who are the British Wireless for the Blind? Well launched in 1928 they have been providing radios to visually impaired people for 90 years. They pride themselves on providing a personal service to each individual who receives a new set.

For people with sight loss, life becomes a challenge; not just the difficulty of getting out and about, but also the everyday tasks that we take for granted - like turning on the radio in the morning to listen to the news.

By providing the equipment on a free loan to those who are unable to afford a specially adapted radio we help improve the daily lives of visually impaired people. They are a small team of 17 staff based at their head office in Maidstone, Kent as well as four regional development managers. They have a fantastic team of over 70 volunteers who work to support team and those in need.

They work alongside a network of local agents, including blind societies and local authority sensory teams to enable us to provide our service all throughout the UK. With more than 48 million people listening to broadcast radio every week, its future is assured and its importance as a source of news and entertainment to the visually impaired community undiminished. Although progress in medical science is resulting in more treatments for a variety of causes of blindness, sadly there are many people whose sight loss cannot be reversed. They want to always be able to say “yes” to those in need and they aim to continue to provide accessible radio and audio to them all.

The venue for the photoshoot was Swail House, in Epsom, Surrey, which is supported living accommodation funded by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB). It's here that we were invited into Ray's home, Ray is a resident at Swail House and lost his sight to Retinitis pigmentosa which is a genetic disorder of the eyes that causes loss of vision.

In the room was the new CEO of Roberts Radios (Robin) who wanted to visit a recipient to get an understanding of how they use the equipment in their daily lives and to also get an understanding of sight loss. Ray was identified Ray as a suitable contact, as he has a recipient for over 50 years having had a number of radio/audio sets and now has a Sonata and a Concerto 2. Ray's best quote was “I have had over a million hours of listening with your BWBF sets over the last 50 years”

He spent over an hour talking to Robin and Mark who is the head of product development. He explained about his sight loss (he has RP) and how much he enjoys listening to the radio it goes on first thing in the morning. He is an avid cricket fan and follows Chelsea too.

He offered suggestions and ideas for the next generation of equipment including more pre-sets, talkback enabled equipment and ideas for internet radio. They invited Ray to be part of the focus group for new equipment and agreed to provide him with a record player as a thank you for the visit. Ray has a love of vinyl.

The conversation was in mid-flow when I arrived but introduced myself to Ray by touching his hand and I quickly explained what I was doing and the sounds he would hear from the camera. I also used my voice to indicate where I was in the room so Ray could look in my general direction. Whilst shooting I was totally intrigued by listening to their conversation and certainly expanded my knowledge and insight into how blind people stay connected and find hours of entertainment through radio and audio.

I thoroughly enjoyed the shoot, meeting with Ray, a really lovely man, along with his partner, Blind.Org Regional Development Manager Simon Parson and the very down to earth guys from Roberts who had a real interest and passion in improving the listening experience for the blind.

Meeting with these people certainly broadened my awareness that so much unsung work goes on in the background from normal life for people who are less able than ourselves, just to do the things we take for granted daily. I didn't even know that there was supported accommodation for the Blind in Epsom, know did I know about Blind.Org or that Roberts Radios made and tested such things?

The one thing that really touched me was that being a photographer my life is surrounded by imagery. I normally would show my client the photos and they would look through and say I love that one or that's not my best side etc.. but on this occasion, Ray will never see the photos I took or see the person who took them but hopefully by writing this blog and showing you the photos I can make more people aware of the fantastic work that goes behind the scenes.

All content copyright © 2017 Jools Hart Photography

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