Living with Monocular Vision

I wrote this for my employer’s intranet Living With .. series written by disabled workers, and thought I’d share it here too.

What is monocular vision?

I only have sight in my left eye. Some people lose sight in one eye gradually, through illness or disease. My sight loss, though, was rather more sudden and dramatic.

My monocular vision

My right eye was destroyed by a firework in 2005. I was in London Fields with two of my young children when a firework whooshed over from the other side of the park and went straight into my right eye.

I had five hours surgery overnight, followed by a long period of recovery. The right side of my face had to be reconstructed with a titanium plate, and an acrylic false eye made to cover the remnants of my eyeball. I had several operations and procedures over the next couple of years.

The medical care, and the skills and technology deployed, were amazing. From the multinational team that saved my life on the night to the prosthetic artists at Moorfields who made my falsie, the NHS staff were heroes.

Life with one eye 

Sudden loss of sight in one eye takes some getting used to. With two eyes, you perceive depth because each eye looks at the world from a slightly different place. So when you lose an eye, your vision goes ‘flat’ – everything seems like a screen. I had to walk my fingers to a cup to take a drink, as I just couldn’t tell how far away it was.

As well as depth of vision, you also lose breadth – you just can’t see as wide a panorama. I scratched my right cheek on quite a few overhanging branches!

But the human brain is an amazing thing, and over a period of several weeks, it adapts, using other factors (such as movement and relative size) to restore most of your depth perception and moving your head round more to bring back some of the breadth.

Fifteen years on, I am very much used to it, and don’t think about it very often. But I do still bump into things and jump in shock when someone approaches me silently from the right to say hello!

Working with one eye

I had been working for LUL for nearly nine years when this happened, and was a station supervisor on the Piccadilly line.

Obviously, I had to take quite a bit of sick leave, although I did work between treatments. I was immediately issued with a load of restrictions, which I thought were over-the-top and which would have prevented me doing my job. So I asked for an LUOH appointment, and amended restrictions and adjustments were agreed. I’m still a station supervisor, and now work on Night Tube on the Victoria line.

Monocular vision is my impairment: disabilities are the barriers that prevent me participating fully. So I needed to have these barriers removed. If I go on the track, the traction current has to be off and I have to have someone accompany me. And the stairs or steps in lift and escalator machine rooms in stations where I work have to be painted a bright colour. I have to say that I think the step-edge painting should be standard across all our stations, not just the ones that I work at. It would be safer for everyone who has to go into a machine room in the course of their duties, whether they have impaired vision or not.

The TfL Pension Fund pays a sum equal to one year’s salary to any member who loses a limb or an eye in an accident. Funnily enough, I only discovered this when I was reading the Fund’s rules while representing another union member! I have also represented other RMT members who had lost sight in one eye, drawing on my own experiences to put the case that they could carry on working with suitable adjustments.

Further Information

The Royal National Institute of Blind People has useful information about monocular vision. The Trades Union Congress has lots of useful information about disabled workers’ rights, and individual trade unions will help their members.

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