Deafblind UK gives Roy the gift of Time

Roy, in his mid 60’s, is totally blind and can hear loud noises with the help of a hearing aid in his left ear. He has been sight and hearing impaired to this degree for about 15 years. He looks forward each day to a visit from his support worker for a 3 or 4 hour period, but for the other 20 or 21 hours Roy is quite alone even though he lives in Supported Housing. And like any of us, he likes to be able to tell the time. But therein lies the difficulty…

Support Worker, Sister Chris tells us: “Roy isn’t computer literate nor is he a Braille reader, so reading the time on a Braille computer is not an option for him. He asked if I could find him a watch or clock that he could rely on. First of all, I went to the RNIB and picked up a tactile watch with a glass cover that could be flipped open. Roy doesn’t like a leather strap, so I had to call in at a watch repairer to get an expanding bracelet put on to the watch. After a couple of days, Roy said he wasn’t getting on with the watch. The glass front was hard to open. I quite agreed. I had to dig my fingernail between the watch and cover and then prise it open. I took the watch back to the watch repairer to get the cover loosened and this alteration was semi-successful. But a week later, one of the hands had broken and was hanging limp. Roy confessed that he had tried to alter the time by moving the hands because he thought the time was wrong. I took the watch back to the RNIB.

“The staff recommended that we try a vibrating watch. I looked at one on the internet and decided it would need a higher certificate qualification for Roy to remember what each vibration represented. We then decided to go for a clock, but the only Braille clocks seemed to be obtainable from a company in Germany. The clock arrived and Roy was delighted. But two days later, both hands had parted company with the clock and were lying on the floor. Roy said the clock had slowed down and he tried to move the hands to put it right. When I was shopping in East London close to where Roy lives, I saw a clock without a clear plastic cover and with tactile numbers. I bought it and presented the clock to a very delighted Roy. However, when I went back the following day, one of the hands was hanging limp and the clock was broken. I took it back to the shop I’d bought it from and got Roy’s money back. But I have to say, I have since been banned from that shop. They are refusing to serve me!

“I wondered if a radio-controlled clock would be the answer, because Roy’s problem seemed to be that he thought the time was wrong and he tried to change it. The small radio-controlled clock I bought next could not be parted from its transparent plastic cover, and so it couldn’t be made tactile. But I learned from a clock shop owner that if Roy had moved the hands on a clock of this kind, the mechanism would break and the clock would be useless. He also said that clocks and watches were not made to be touched. The hands were put lightly in place so that they moved round easily. I looked on the internet at what was available for a totally blind person with limited hearing. Tactile watches, on average lasted two months especially if the person was slightly heavy-handed. The transparent covers were usually difficult to release. So what could I get for Roy that would work?

“A Bradley watch, costing about £260, seemed to be the only answer. It uses two ball bearings: one travelling round the outside of the watch shows the hours, and one travelling round the inside shows the minutes. Because it was so different from the classic watch and also so expensive, I made a facsimile for Roy to try. He wasn’t too happy with it, but we both felt it was the only option. Roy could not dislodge the magnetic ball bearings. If he inadvertently pushed them out of place, they simply travelled round the circular channel and then found their way back again. After about three weeks and a lot of perseverance on Roy’s part, he is beginning to get the hang of his new watch.”

This highlights just how difficult it is to find a timepiece for a person who is severely sight and hearing impaired and doesn’t use computers. There are thousands of people like Roy who simply cannot tell whether it is night or day let alone what the time is.