Sally McEllistrim talks with Robbie Dowdall on adjusting to life after sight loss.
Robbie Dowdall is a fighter. He has had to be as his life was thrown into turmoil when he lost his sight at just 18 following an horrific car crash.
The 46 year old Tallaght man readily admits that he was full of the hubris of youth when the accident happened and this in itself was the key to his survival, and his eventual adaptation to his vastly changed new life.
“I believe that life is what you make it, you can go under or you can fight. I chose to fight and I challenged myself every single day. I knew my sight was gone but I was here and I intended to make the best out of the cards I was dealt”.
Fast forward several years and it is fair to say that Robbie rose to the ‘challenge’ and trained in various disciplines including Physical Therapy, Acupuncture and Yoga.
He also trained in wood carving and believes he may be the only person who is blind in Ireland who does this.
“I believe that where there is a will, there is a way and you need to believe in yourself, be your own cheerleader”.
Robbie has also written a book, ‘Beyond the Darkness’ which charts his own journey.
Of course no matter how strong and determined a person is, no life is always lived in the sunshine and Robbie is honest when he talks about his brush with serious depression, with hit him around five years ago.
“I was on holidays in Madagascar and I got a bad bug. I couldn’t sleep and as we all know ,when you’re lying awake and everybody else is asleep, things become tricky and we go into our own minds. I got badly depressed and I attempted suicide as I just couldn’t cope with this .Maybe I had been too strong for too long and something had to give. I don’t know, no point in getting into analysis paralysis but it was horrendous. I would go so far as to say that on a scale of 1 to 10, for me, blindness was a 3 whereas the depression was a 10”.
Thankfully Robbie’s innate grit and resilience saw him through, and he is happy today as he has a busy working life and he throws himself into giving the best he can to the many clients who come to him.
He believes that the high unemployment rate amongst people with sight loss is “a shocking shame”.
He says it has knock on effects which are much more than just the money that people with sight loss can earn and can lead to all sorts of problems for people.
“Look, depression taught me that work is so vital for our mental and physical health, not to mention our financial health. It gives a sense of purpose, achievement and belonging and we need to be demanding more for people with sight loss who want to and are well able to work”.
“If only potential employers knew what they are missing. We can do so much and just need to be given a chance to show this. We’re well capable and employers are missing out on a valuable cohort of possible employees. There’s grants available to employers for making technology accessible to people with sight loss, there’s training , help, support and information available from NCBI, there’s no excuse for employers to disregard people with sight loss any more”.
Denis Daly, Employment Advisor with NCBI says there are lots of supports available for potential employers.
“NCBI is the natural point of contact for employers who want to hire people with visual impairments. We offer a full range of services including advice on available grants, assistive technology and disability training and awareness. We assist people with varying levels of sight loss to retain their existing employment or retrain for new opportunities. We work with training institutions and Government services and liaise with HR, line managers and supervisors. Our Library and Media Centre converts written material and text books into Braille and audio formats so there is a whole depth to the help and support NCBI provides. It is often a surprise to employers that people with visual impairments can be so employable and with the advent of, and huge strides in assistive technology, their employability can only improve”.