A Different View
By Sarah Brownhill
I’m legally blind from an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition that causes the rod cells in the retina to progressively die. Rod cells are what provide us with peripheral and night vision, so effectively I am tunnel blind and night blind.
Many people don’t realise I have a vision impairment as my eyes look normal. I can read and write and for the most part, recognise faces provided the lighting is good. I am just one of many Massage Therapists in Australia who have a vision impairment.
Having a vision impairment can make finding employment challenging. Employers don’t always understand what our needs are and adding a guide dog into the mix adds a whole new dimension to finding suitable employment. And some employers are hesitant to hire a person with a vision impairment.
I’ve worked in a variety of roles in the massage industry and each has had particular challenges. One role was in a paper-based clinic that moved extremely fast with many on-the-day referrals and working at sporting events, like triathlons. As a person with a vision impairment, the fast-paced environments could be challenging. I needed more time to orientate myself to my table and the client to ensure that I wouldn’t injure myself or anyone else.
When looking for a workplace, I need to consider whether the clinic is on a public transport route, has space for my guide dog, that software systems are accessible and that I have time to orientate myself to the treatment room and other spaces within the clinic.
Meeting new clients who don’t know I’m vision impaired is always interesting. I often can’t see if they are waiting for a handshake so there can be some awkwardness but being candid about my vision impairment helps gloss over that awkwardness.
Having a guide dog in the treatment room can be a great icebreaker and is therapeutic for many clients. It’s rare that I have clients who don’t like, or are scared of, dogs – I have a safe space set aside in the office for her to ensure my client will be at their ease.
Given I can only see a small portion of the client at a time, I do most of my postural assessments during treatment. Gait assessments are not something I can easily do.
It took a lot of practice when I first started massaging to learn where I can safely place my hands during treatment to ensure I wasn’t placing them in an inappropriate place!
Most of the other clinics I’ve worked at have had digital booking and client record systems. While good, this is also a challenge as it generally takes me longer to familiarise myself with software programs than a fully sighted person, particularly when the clinic uses computers as opposed to tablets. I find tablets have much better accessibility features than computers in terms of zooming text and pictures etc. When I use the computer at the clinic I currently work at, I constantly lose the mouse pointer on the screen.
Other challenges I’ve faced include changing light conditions. Given I’m night blind, I prefer to have good lighting and a dimmer switch so I can control the level of light in the room. I can’t see clocks on walls or desks very well so I massage with an Apple Watch on my left wrist and have learnt to work around the watch so it doesn’t touch my clients.
It’s not all challenges though, many clients comment on my ability to pinpoint the location of their pain or discomfort easily and the sensitivity to pressure and tissue response that I have compared to fully sighted therapists they have seen. This seems to be a common theme among the community of vision impaired therapists and it makes sense that our sense of touch is somewhat heightened as we are often more in tune with what is going on within our own bodies than the average person.
The Final Word
Finding a supportive team environment to work in is crucial for career success for any individual, perhaps even more so when one has barriers to employment.
While there are challenges to being a Massage Therapist with a vision impairment, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I get great satisfaction from my work and I enjoy helping others, whether it’s easing pain or discomfort, or helping a person relax. I am a former Social Worker. Remedial Massage is my second career and I’ve never had a single day of regret since changing careers.
Are you a vision impaired massage therapist? What has been your experience? What has been most helpful in your workplace?
About the Author
Sarah Brownhill is a Massage Therapist based in Perth. She has been a Massage Therapist for 9 years and is legally blind.