Ian’s story

I was born profoundly deaf, but when I was 15 I was told I had RP Ushers Syndrome Type 2 and that my sight would deteriorate over time. It was devastating to me, but I realise now it was because of my pre-existing ideas about blindness. I spent the subsequent years – most of my life – trying to deny and hide my disability.

I struggled on for years. Until I couldn’t. It all got on top of me. My eyesight got worse. I lost my job when my driver’s license was taken away, life got harder. My mental health took a downturn. I realised I had to make a decision. I had to accept my new reality as a disabled person and ‘come out of the closet’ as blind. That was the game changer.

It meant I could stop enduring difficulty, hiding and fitting into the “able bodied” world. I was going to put my creative talent and my stubbornness to use. Once I did, people took an interest in me. I’m a bit rebellious, so I did get a kick out of bending people’s minds. A blind photographer. It’s quite funny watching people get their head around that.

In reality, my blindness makes me a unique photographer. My eyesight is just 5% remaining, a tiny central circle of tunnel vision, but I still see things others don’t. I rely on other senses and instincts.

Even though I’m disabled myself, I don’t know everything about all disabilities. I have to ask, not assume too.

Communication is how I get the best out of my subjects.

My blindness isn’t obvious. But only 7% of blind people are stereotypically, 100% blind. It’s why I get all the classics. ‘You don’t look blind’ and my favourite, ‘‘have you tried wearing glasses?’ I wish people would understand that no two disabilities are the same and so please don’t make assumptions about mine.

My specific combination of blind and deafness means a dark and loud restaurant is impossible for me to understand what’s going on. I’ve pointed this out but sometimes people don’t listen because my issue doesn’t fit with their idea of what I need. But then, when it comes to guiding me, I’ve had people go way over the top and virtually carry me down a flight of stairs.

Once you’ve made sure that a blind person wants your help to be guided, just ask them “Do you want me to take a shoulder or an arm?”, And do they have a preference to which side. It is as simple as that.

In life, personally and professionally, it’s always me adapting to the able bodied world, working around other people’s ignorance.

This project felt like the commercial world was finally adapting and working with me. I set the bar showing how it can be done and showed it is not that hard. Small considerations make big changes.