Navy veteran thanks Blind Veterans UK for support after 'world turned upside down' by blindness
19 March 2014 16:55
A Navy veteran who tackled sight loss to become the UK’s first blind chartered tax consultant has thanked Blind Veterans UK for helping him follow his dreams.
43-year old Nottingham resident Jamie Weller suffers from cone rod dystrophy and lost his sight when he was only in his twenties. Now supported by Blind Veterans UK, Jamie says that he refuses to let his blindness hold him back.
A lifelong military aircraft enthusiast, Jamie grew up dreaming of serving in the military. He says: "As a boy, I'd always wanted to work with fighter planes, so I set myself the goal of joining the RAF.
"When it came to actually joining though, I realised that the Royal Navy was a more interesting idea; I still wanted to work with aircraft, but I decided to work towards ending up on a fleet aircraft carrier working on fast jets such as the Sea Harrier."
Jamie then trained at HMS Daedalus and HMS Raleigh, where he won the prestigious Raleigh Medal for highest-performing cadet in the Navy's initial training. In 1989 he then won the award for the best performing trainee of the year in the Navy's engineering school. From there, he transferred to 899 Naval Air Squadron, where he worked as a Sea Harrier engineer on the weapons and electrical systems of the jet.
"It just seemed like the perfect combination - travelling and seeing the world, while following my interest in jets and aviation. I'd had such a great start to my career and working on the Sea Harriers was a dream job for me."
However, that dream was to shortly be stolen from Jamie by sight loss. Three years into his service, Jamie started to notice his vision was starting to deteriorate. He was exposed to excessive strong sunlight as a result of serving in the Royal Navy and this caused both of his retinas to die.
This left Jamie with a large central blind spot in both eyes. Due to the severity of his condition, Jamie was discharged from the Royal Navy and registered as blind.
He says: "Losing my sight felt like my world had just been turned upside down; I was in a dark place and felt like my dream career had been snatched away from me. I had to figure out how to get back on my feet and retrain to move my life forwards again.
"I wanted to manage my blindness and not let this horrible disability beat me."
Jamie has been supported with free and comprehensive support by Blind Veterans UK, a charity he credits with helping him live independently with sight loss since he lost his sight 1992.
"I remember first coming down to Blind Veterans and talking to some of the other veterans supported by the charity. It quickly became very obvious how many people had trod down the same path - military service followed by sight loss.
"What was really amazing was realising that Blind Veterans UK would not only be there for me for the rest of my life, but also that their support was open to all vision impaired veterans - whether or not their sight loss was due to their time in the Forces.
"I knew then that I wasn't going to let my blindness manage me - I was going to manage my blindness."
With support from Blind Veterans UK, Jamie learnt how to communicate again and deal with the everyday tasks that sighted people take for granted. He trained to use a computer without sight and learnt how to live independently again. With the skills he learnt from Blind Veterans UK, Jamie took his A Levels at the Royal National College for the Blind and earned a degree from Warwick University in Mathematics.
From there, he joined Deloitte and worked in their tax department, taking the professional tax exams and became the first registered blind qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. In 2012, he represented Deloitte as a London Olympic torch-bearer.
Jamie says: "Being a torch-bearer was absolutely amazing. I felt like I was on a Hollywood film set - when we hit the crowds, the atmosphere just completely changed, people were taking photos and treating us like film stars.
"It was a very proud moment for me and I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to be part of London 2012. It was a memory I will never forget.
"I've always said that my blindness is just an inconvenience, and one that I've managed to work around with help from Blind Veterans UK.
"I have a 'can do' attitude. I never say, 'I can't do that'. I come across many hurdles in daily living and work, think about them, solve them and get on with it."
In October 2012 Blind Veterans UK launched its No One Alone campaign - the charity estimates that there are 68,000 plus blind veterans who, like Jamie, are eligible for the charity's services but are not currently aware of this. If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and are now battling severe sight problems, Blind Veterans UK may be able to provide them and their family with a lifetime's practical and emotional support for free. Call freephone - 0800 389 7979 or go to www.noonealone.org.uk.