Teenager Emma Gaylard has a severe visual and hearing impairment but one of her proudest moments so far was when she drove a car for the very first time.
“A day was organised with Sense and a driving school that does days where people with disabilities can be taught how to drive a car on a track. I didn’t know how well I’d get on with it, and I was really nervous but after I finished the actual driving the instructor said that I was really good. It was brilliant being able to drive – something I never thought I’d do!
“We went to the top floor of St David’s car park in Cardiff, and I because I couldn’t see I got a bit scared and thought I might drive off the edge! I’ve done proper driving, parking between cones, and driving around corners.
“The driving instructors were really helpful for me to tell me how much I needed to turn the wheel, how fast I needed to go – they needed to be clear because I’m multi-sensory impaired and it’s a lot harder for me to do even simple driving. I couldn’t see where I was going! I had so much fun that I did it again on another day in Cribbs Causeway, Bristol!
“I feel like I’m much more like a mainstream person my age who has been able to learn to drive, even though I’m deafblind. Why shouldn’t I be given the opportunity to drive a car? I’ve done it!”
Emma’s condition has been with her for almost her entire life, and has severely impaired her vision and hearing, making it difficult to do even the most everyday activities.
“I was diagnosed with Stickler Syndrome when I was about 10 months old which means I’m totally blind in my right eye, and I can only see a little out of my left eye.
“I wear two hearing aids, I’m totally deaf in my right ear with my hearing aids out, and I’m partially deaf in my left ear. When someone is talking to me with my hearing aids out they have to come to me really closely for me to hear them.
“When I watch TV I have to sit right up close to it, it feels a bit strange but I don’t go to the cinema at all because it’s really difficult to see things, even with big screens.
“If I was in a room with a lot of background noise, or with a lot of people like in the school canteen or out with friends trying to listen to someone that was sitting next to me, it would be much harder for me to hear what they’re saying compared to a person with normal hearing.”
With the grant of £414,687 from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Bright New Futures programme, Sense Cymru are delivering their Being Me project that gives beneficiaries access to peer support, residential programmes, activities, and an information bank that help them to develop new relationships and acquire self-advocacy, decision and fact-finding skills. This allows them to better understand and influence information about their care, helping to improve their resilience, self-confidence and independence during their transition to adulthood.
Thanks to the project, Emma was able to enrol at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford in 2015 where, after 17 years, she feels like she has had the support she needs to make the most of herself.
“The college has really helped me live independently as well, it has had a big impact on me. When I first came here it was my first time living away from home and it really hit me. Now in my second year, I know I’m getting that independence in my life.
“If I’d never been a part of the Being Me project, or if I’d never come to the college I think my life would be a lot more enclosed. I’d stay at home, I wouldn’t go out and make friends, but being on the project has opened more doors for me, and given me more opportunities to make new friends, and to get a good job in life. It is different to standard children’s services, they help you make the transition from childhood to adulthood.”
“I want to encourage more young people to get in touch with Sense, it’s a really fun, enjoyable experience and they will really help you develop yourself. Thanks to them, my deafblindness hasn’t stopped me from doing anything.”