Trustees’ Week is an annual celebration of the vital role trustees play in governing charities and voluntary organisations. To celebrate this year’s Trustees’ Week (1-5 November), Arlene Croall, Chairman of the Board at Visibility Scotland, has written a blog post sharing her experience of living with a visual impairment and how this led to her becoming a trustee.
I have been on Visibility Scotland’s Board of Trustees since 2013, and I have been the Chairman of the Board since 2015. I am registered blind and began to lose my sight in my 30’s. I have no vision in my left eye due to a detached retina and have reduced vision in my right eye, as I have uveitis and glaucoma. I am light-sensitive, and my vision changes on a day to day basis, meaning no day is the same.
I am a mum of three, now adult, children, and I lost my sight when I was expecting my third child.
Time of change and loss
At the time I lost my sight, almost 38 years ago, I was shocked at the support that I received. Not only was I experiencing a significant life change, but I also felt like I was losing my identity. All of a sudden it was a disability that was defining me. In my mind, it was everyone else that was losing their sight, as they were unable to see that I had not changed.
The first professional home visit I received in response to my vision loss came from social work. Until that point, I had no previous experience of social work services and, if I’m honest, I was nervous that their role was to judge my ability to look after my children.
Of course, I said I was fine and that I could do everything myself. The social worker left informing me that they would bring me some string on their next visit. “String?” I questioned. “Yes, you will now knit dishcloths as it’s very therapeutic”, was the reply!
I’m not sure what was more devastating; the consultant ophthalmologist telling me that there was no more that could be done for my vision or being told that at the age of 30 my future lay in knitting dishcloths!
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it”, Helen Keller
I then began my crusade, to make a difference for people experiencing the loss of their identity due to a lack of services and equal opportunities.
You don’t need sight to have vision
I discovered an ad from Glasgow West of Scotland Society for the Blind (GWSSB), now known as Visibility Scotland, seeking volunteers to support people living with a visual impairment in the rural area of Dumfries and Galloway. The volunteer role involved reducing isolation by providing one to one home visits. This is where I began my campaign to evoke positive change, socially, politically and locally.
My volunteer role grew from providing service user support to organisational guidance, advice and strategic stewardship.
“As my knowledge of things grew I felt more and more delight of the world I was in”, Helen Keller
Being a charity trustee is a great opportunity to put your lived experiences and/or professional knowledge into charitable use. As a trustee, you provide leadership to the whole organisation by shaping the organisational strategy, service delivery, and providing legal governance in equal measure. The Board of Trustees supports the Chief Executive Officer in leading the organisation.
In 1995 I was part of the creation of the sister charity of GWSSB; Dumfries and Galloway Association for the Blind (DGAB). I was on the Board of Trustees of DGAB and held the role as Chairman. This was a lifeline service for many people with sight loss in the region.
The ‘can-do’ attitude
In 2011, DGAB merged back into Visibility Scotland. The Board of Trustees and employees decided that this was the best approach, as we wanted to deliver the right service at the right time. There is always strength in working collaboratively together.
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light’’, Helen Keller
The role of a trustee gives you the chance to shape opportunities, possibilities and diversity within society. This role requires dedication and the desire to evoke positive change.
Being a trustee is one of the most positive and rewarding things I have ever done, and I am proud to be at the helm of Visibility Scotland. In my opinion, Visibility Scotland is innovative, agile and is a trailblazer within the sight loss sector, but, more importantly, we provide services to people at a time of change and need.
I recently heard an inspiring quote from a visually impaired child on the Marvel Hero Project: “I can’t see anything, and that includes limits for myself.”
Throughout my blog I have used various quotes mostly by Helen Keller, as I find her quotes empowering.
Helen Adams Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Helen lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness at the age of nineteen months.
Posted on the: November 5, 2021