How I see it … improving my work environment

In my previous blog post asking for assistance was discussed.  This post will explain why anatomical irregularities in my eye exacerbate glare and how this affects my vision. After this, in the hope of helping others, I will describe some of the changes I have made to my work environment to manage glare.

After a cataract removal, I became more sensitive to light and glare. Even though I was aware that glare may be a temporary side effect the extra light exacerbated some existing problems in my eye causing permanent issues with glare and halos around all light sources regardless of the time of day.

Previously, an episode of acute angle closure (glaucoma) that would not respond to medications meant that I needed to have an iridotomy to equalise the pressure between the anterior (front) and posterior (back) chamber of my eye. While the procedure saved my residual vision, it left a permanent hole in my iris. Due to the position of the iridotomy and the shape of my eye, extra light enters through the iridotomy and causes flaring inside my eye (imagine a flare of light in a photograph or movie).

When I look straight ahead, upward or into the distance, the extra light in my eye causes a band of glare that distorts what I see. This usually means that the majority of my visual field is covered with bright patches. Imagine looking through a dirty window with a bright light shining through it directly into your eye with only a small segment at the bottom of your visual field that is clear.

A side effect of the cataract surgery led to the need for a posterior-capsulotomy as my vision had become cloudy. I had previously had a vitrectomy which meant that the capsule could not be entirely detached, what this means is that in the upper left of my vision I see debris floating when I move my eyes or head. If an overhead light source is present, this causes a spinning flare of light which distorts my vision (imagine a disco ball spinning in your eye).

The first changes I made were to my work environment. My colleagues usually like to have a “window seat” or in other words a desk by a window. However, I want to be away from the glare which means being away from windows. I was fortunate to already have an interior office which had kept the light consistent without glare.

When I returned to work after the posterior-capsulotomy, I immediately found that the light above my desk caused a swirling flare of light each time I blinked. The flashes of light distracted me from my work, and I found that it took more time and concentration to achieve tasks. I worked for several weeks feeling more and more fatigued because of the extra effort to concentrate and ended up wearing a baseball cap in my office. While this cut the glare from the overhead light, it wasn’t the optimal solution as it made my visual field smaller.

One day I was asked by a colleague why I was wearing a hat inside, and he said, “why don’t you just get the light moved away from your desk?” I was lost for words (which is very unusual) as I had not even considered this as a possibility and it seemed like a far better solution than the baseball cap.  At my workplace, moving one light that is mounted in a ceiling panel is straightforward and was completed quickly.  This one change to the environment made a considerable difference. I was less fatigued, able to concentrate, work faster and achieve more.

I realised that subconsciously I had been trying to change myself in an attempt to keep the attention away from the difficulty I was having seeing my work.

On reflection, the reason I was changing myself rather than my environment was that I did not meet the criteria to be considered legally blind. However, I was having difficulty seeing with many of the side effects and problems that those who are legally blind have.  I needed to come to terms with the fact that my vision had deteriorated enough to impact my job.  However, Internally I felt like a fraud because I was having a light moved and engaging with other assistance provided by the blind foundation yet I was not considered legally blind.

Changing the position of the light in my office meant that colleagues began to ask why the light was moved, and I needed to come to start talking about vision impairment with colleagues.

Discussing my vision was difficult, and even today there are only a handful of colleagues that I discuss this with.  The critical breakthrough I made was to begin to describe the variability of my vision from day to day or room to room as well as the impact the environment has.  Furthermore, people started to respond more positively when I discussed the strategies I use.  For example, always walking on the right of another person, sitting with my back to windows and more.

I hope that the experiences that I have shared in this post assist others in similar situations.  The next post I will talk about finding the right pair of sunglasses (and yes there is sport wrap-around prescription sunglasses.



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