3:12pm Friday 1st May 2009
By Sally Churchward
SHE teaches tap dance, goes for a couple of five-mile walks each week, debates on Internet forums, is a regular at her local gym, is having computer lessons, has her own website, reads voraciously – the list goes on.
Impressive enough for a woman of 73 but quite remarkable when you realise that Susan Buckingham is registered blind.
Susan lost all but the peripheral sight in her right eye when she was 47 as a result of unusual blood clotting. Then she developed problems in her left eye eventually losing all sight in that eye ten years ago.
Such an experience would have left many struggling to adapt – but not Susan.
“When the left eye went I had a bad couple of days,” says the retired teacher from New Milton.
“It’s a big shock so you fall apart at the seams at first but then I thought ‘I’ve got my left eye, what am I worried about?’ By the time I lost the left eye I’d answered all the questions that needed to be answered and you deal with it. It took me a few days not to weep at the drop of a hat but I wasn’t going to let it get me down. I just had to get over the initial shock of it. Then common sense said ‘you sort yourself out and you get on with it’.
Susan desperately missed being able to read but, her willingness to learn new skills offered the answer – Braille.
“Braille takes a lot of practice to start with but if you’ve never learnt it before, you can’t get worse, can you?” she says with her trademark practical optimism.
“Now when I’m reading it goes into my head without me having to go through a system of working out what it says.
“I do use audio books, I’m a member of an audio book club at the local library, but I prefer Braille as it’s active.”
Susan also has a Braille machine and corresponds with a blind pen friend.
She looks as physically fit as someone half her age as she bounces round, demonstrating tap moves and skipping for the Echo photographer.
“I have a small cane I use when I’m walking so I can signal to other people that I really can’t see where I’m going. I charge around because I’ve practiced. I got to know all the pavements and dips and bumps. I tripped over a few kerbs and fell down to begin with and very quickly learnt to pick my feet up!
“I travel to other places on the train. I could take a companion with me but I like to do things on my own.”
Susan has attended a tap dancing group for eight years and began running it six years ago.
“I had the music and the keys to the studio and I remember all the steps,” she says.
She recently discovered Southampton City Art Gallery’s tours for blind and partially sighted people, is developing her own website and is currently teaching herself how to front crawl properly.
Perhaps one of the reasons for Susan’s impressively positive attitude is that she survived breast cancer some 23 years ago – “every day is a bonus,” she says.
“I have always been positive.
I’m lucky that I’m a bounce back person.
“If I had my sight I’d be driving round and visiting new places but it’s no good wishing for things I can’t do. Sight loss is no joke but there are compensations – you have to look for things you can do.”
Susan’s grandchildren are proud of her and tell her she’s not like other grannies.
“I belong to a category of people who like to have a go at things.”
This, Susan says, is the key to adapting to both getting older and dealing with problems such as sight loss.
“I would say to people to try things. They don’t always work out, but give it a go.”
Visit Susan's website at s-buckingham.supanet.com
For more information about Braille visit rnib.org.uk/braille
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