Carers Week: Blind Halifax man caring for wife who suffered breakdown

A blind Halifax man has spoken about his struggles after becoming the primary carer for wife who suffered a breakdown.

Thursday, 11th June 2020, 10:05 am
Updated Thursday, 11th June 2020, 11:04 am
Carers Week: Blind Halifax man caring for wife who suffered breakdown

Kevin Whitley, 59, from Halifax, has been the primary carer for his wife, Janine, 51, since last year when she suffered a breakdown.

He’s been registered blind since 1997 as a result of the genetic, degenerative condition retinitis pigmentosa and has less than 10% vision.

Though fairly tech-savvy, Mr Whitley struggled to find a phone that would take into account his visual impairment, which would help both him and his wife.

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He said: “If you’re using an iPhone, for example, you have to double-tap all the time and, while Siri is useful, you don’t always get the answers you want – as evidenced by the time I texted a friend and asked if they were coming over to kidnap me.”

"Connectivity is vitally important for all of us during lockdown but even more so for those with additional needs."

The Halifax Society for the Blind lent Kevin a Synapptic phone, designed for the visually impaired.

However, the cost to buy his own phone was upwards of £350 so Mr Whitley’s support worker at Calderdale Mental Health Carer Support successfully contacted Calderdale Council to secure funding.

Now his new phone talks him through basic instructions for navigating his way around it, it has a magnifying glass app, access to talking books and a location finder that will tell him what street he’s on.

One of real highlights for Mr Whitley is the Be My Eyes app, which connects visually impaired people with visual assistance volunteers through a live video call.

He said: “I knew of a man who was trying to navigate Heathrow, and someone in Northern Ireland was able to talk him through where the right steps were.

"It’s really incredible.”

In order to make sure all of its carers remained connected during Carers Week (8-14 June) and beyond, Calderdale Community Resilience Fund awarded Calderdale Mental Health Carer Support £3,000 to buy 15 tablets and SIM cards to be lent to isolated carers, along with training in how to use them.

This means that carers will be able to do things like join online peer support groups, access online shopping as well as keep in touch better with friends and family.

For someone in Mr Whitley’s position, technology can make a huge difference.

He said: “It can be a bit daunting for some but for me it’s been a complete lifesaver.”

Carers Week takes place nationwide from 8-14 June and during the week Calderdale Mental Health Carer Support is offering a programme of online virtual social activities and support while face-to-face sessions are on hold.

Among the events are a Zoom afternoon tea, wellbeing packs for carers (featuring a ‘pocket hug’) and pamper packs. There’s even a special Zoom quiz for those who want to exercise their brain power.

Calderdale Mental Health Carer Support, which is operated by national adult health & social care charity Making Space, has extended its opening hours during lockdown and can be contacted between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday and 10pm and 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.