Judy Smith: My Experience of the MK Reader Service

My husband, Alan, and I moved to Olney in February 2014. We are both registered blind; Alan has some useful sight for getting around, but not for reading and I am totally blind. We had lived in the same house in London for over 30 years and had built up a strong network of friends and neighbours. We could rely on one friend to help us read complex documents and fill in lengthy forms. When I retired, I had considerable difficulty in finding people to read to me on a regular basis as there was no dedicated service. I thought that advertising for help would be too risky because the reading matter would include personal financial and medical information. By chance, we met a couple on holiday who told us about the MK Reader service. I ‘phoned the office directly we got home and Karen was very encouraging. She advised us to get in touch when we moved to Olney.

We duly telephoned Karen soon after we moved and, within days, she came to visit us. Karen gave us details about the Service which had been set up by visually impaired people over twenty years ago. We learned that volunteers were able to assist with other activities besides reading, such as shopping or attending theatres or cinemas. Karen then went into details about our particular needs. I explained that I would need help in reading personal correspondence and filling in forms. I would like help in looking through brochures for theatre and opera performance and general leaflets. I had worked as a social worker in Child Psychiatry, so I would like help in reading journals which include quite a lot of technical terms. I also told Karen that I enjoy opera and that I didn’t know how I was going to be able to pursue my interest; I had always gone to performances with friends when I was in London. Karen said that she would look out for volunteers who would be interested.

We were astounded when Karen got back to us after 2/3 weeks to say that she had found some possible volunteers for us and could she bring them over to meet us. We set up separate times for the two volunteers. Karen introduced me to Linda and we had the opportunity to learn a little about each other’s backgrounds and interests. Karen went over the conditions of the service, stressing the need for confidentiality and agreeing that Linda would be able to commit to an hour a week to read to me. Linda was able to start straight away and has been extremely helpful – even coping with the psychiatric jargon! Karen kept in touch with us both independently to check whether we felt happy with the arrangement.

When I learned that a MK cinema had a live-screening of an opera from the Royal Opera House, I contacted Karen who found a volunteer who was interested to come with me. Karen provided the relevant contact details and I was delighted to be able to go to the performance. Since then, Karen has introduced me to several volunteers who were able to accompany me to cinema and theatre performances. However, over the year Linda and I have developed a friendship and discovered that we have several interests in common, so now we often go to the cinema or theatre together.

I don’t know how I would have coped with our move to Olney without the help of the Reader service. I believe that it is unique and I feel very lucky to have moved into the Milton Keynes area. The service has also enabled me to meet other visually impaired people and their volunteers through attending the coffee mornings which Karen organises.