“I’ve been with UCAN for over 10 years now, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not been a part of it.”

Megan John is 24 from Cardiff and was born with Cataracts, Nystagmus, and Aniridia. She joined UCAN as a founding member and came to realise that performing arts could change her life.

Starting out from founders Bernie and Jane Latham’s kitchen, UCAN was established in 2005 running drama workshops in partnership with RNIB Cymru at the Sherman Theatre Cardiff. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength; delivering workshops across Wales and into Europe, and launching the UCAN Go app which supports visually-impaired people to confidently navigate a growing number of theatres.

Today they’re based in Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Visual Sciences where members are delivering confidence-building theatre workshops to visually impaired young people on the National Lottery-funded Future Insight project, and thanks to Cardiff University, teaching 300 of the next generation of junior doctors about living with a visual-impairment each year.

“My parents tried to make me living with a visual impairment as normal as possible and allowed me to try to do things that any other person does. I must’ve been about 13 when I first joined UCAN and for me it came at a great point in my life because drama had never been a massive thing for me and it built my confidence in a very short space of time, and I realised how much I loved it and how beneficial it could be.

“The junior doctor training came from Cardiff University School of Optometry who asked us to come in and talk about the physical and emotional aspects of living with a visual impairment and that’s kind of developed over time. From that then we kind of learned there was a gap in the market for training that involves people with sight-loss talking about their own experience with full-sighted people, and that’s what was missing.

“In UCAN we’re all about a user-led approach, and having the experts talk about what they need and what they know because there’s no point getting someone with a hearing impairment going in and talking about what it’s like to have sight-loss, it’s just as simple as that. I would never want to speak on behalf of anyone else with a disability because I couldn’t possibly imagine what it’s like because I’ve never lived that experience.

“We mainly deliver workshops in Wales but last year we were part of an Erasmus Plus project and we worked internationally; we’ve worked in Sicily, Bulgaria, Italy and Luxembourg, and the culmination of that project was a week-long series of workshops with around 90-100 people from the different countries in three or four languages. It would be running a workshop in English, then Italian, then Bulgarian, and so on, it was an incredible experience.

“I’ve been with UCAN for over 10 years now, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not been a part of it. It came as such a crucial part of my life where I was making some major decisions, that it influenced those decisions. – I don’t know what I would’ve chosen to do, I don’t know what I would’ve wanted to do with my life apart from that. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today, I can say that, I don’t think I’d be as confident as I am.

UCAN Productions in Cardiff are in partnership with the Royal National Institute for the Blind Cymru who received a National Lottery grant of £999,450 for their Future InSight project which supports blind and partially-sighted young people to become able and independent individuals with the skills and confidence to make a smooth and successful transition into adulthood.

This week (September 18th – 24th) is National Eye Health Week which comes as the RNIB and Specsavers reveal that 250 people in the UK a day start to lose their sight, 1 in 5 will live with sight loss in their lifetime, and 31% of 18-24 year olds do not have their eyes tested every two years. [For the full report, click here]

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