'Going blind did not stop me stop me," says Doncaster councillor

There was never a time when Doncaster man Ian Pearson expected to be able to see for all his life.
There was never a time when Doncaster man Ian Pearson expected to be able to see for all his life.
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There was never a time when Doncaster man Ian Pearson expected to be able to see for all his life.

His grandmother lost her sight. Then his mother went blind in adulthood. And when Ian was diagnosed as a small child with the rare eye condition of retinitis pigmentosa, his parents knew he would suffer the same problem.

But there has never been any question that it would stop him doing what he wanted.

Any now he is understood to be the first ever blind man or woman to sit as a Doncaster Councillor.

Ian's condition gradually caused him to go blind, with a slow deterioration over the years.

He describes the condition as the back of his eye being destroyed. He says the light has effectively burned holes in the receptors on his retina, so that it no longer forms a picture at the back of his eye.

It is a genetic condition. That is why his grandmother and his mother had suffered the same problem.

Ian, who now represents his home town of Conisbrough on the council, cannot remember a time when he had not suffered some deterioration of his eyes.

But the 61-year-old can remember the day when the last of the lights finally went out for him.

He was living and working in he West Midlands at the time, organising community transport for disabled people.

He said: "I remember the day I lost my last bit of sight. It happened back in 2001. I started walking across a room and when I set off I could still see the other side. But when I got to the other side, I couldn't. I just thought 'wow'".

After that, Ian was taken to an eye hospital in Wolverhampton. He had suffered blockages in his eye ducts and he remembers doctors talking about his eyes 'exploding'.

Drugs took the pressure away to stop that happening, but it did affect his eyes, and he now has plastic pupils in his eyes, to give them an appearance of normality. He said without them, people got frightened by the shape of his eye.

Having had his mother and grandmother going through the same problems as he was suffering was a help growing up. His father knew how to deal with the issues when he needed help because he had dealt with the same problems with his mother.

But it was his grandmother who Ian regarded as an inspiration.

He said: "I just had to get on with life. The hospitals did not really prepare you for dealing with the problem in the wider society in those days.

"Dad helped because he'd had to cope with mum, but gran was a real inspiration.

"She had lost fingers at a sawmill down the road here in Conisbrough. That was when they found out her sight was going.

"Her attitude was that there were two states of mind - either give up, or get on with life> She thought that just because you can't see does not mean that you can't do.

"We tend to have the sort of memory that terrifies people , because you have to remember everything. I learned a lot of life skills thanks to grandma - I was always prepared.

"It doesn't stop me, other the some people thinking that I'm a lesser being for being blind. Some people have no idea how I do things, so they put imaginary barriers in my way.

"But now I am not only the first blind councillor in Doncaster, I also believe I'm the first blind magistrate here.."

Ian believes because he has been through a lot, people feel comfortable talking to him and telling him what they are going through themselves.

He does not have a comfort zone, and says he is happy to step into things that people say will never change.

Ian returned to Doncaster nine years ago, and now runs a business providing training for disability related issues.

He became involved in local politics and was elected to the Conisbrough ward in June.

Things have not all been plain sailing. He says attitudes towards dealing with blindness are mixed, as they are in society general, and some are not sure how to work with him.

Ian does not read braille, because of the size of his hands, which are large, makes it difficult. So he gets most of his information from people reading documents and emails to him, usually his wife.

There are plans to use technology to make things easier for him.

The council is looking to make things more straightforward for him with some technology. There is a plan to bring in electronic devices that would read text automatically, and equipment which would enable him to input text through a machine that would translate speech into text.

"For many men, their fingers are too large to read braille," he said. "Louis Braille had delicate hands. I'm afraid my hands are too big."

He says he hopes his presence at the Civic Buildings helps make it a better place for disabled people.

* Jobs and investment in the roads are on Ian's wishlist for issues he wants to help address in public office.

He reckons his ward will never see heavy industry returns but hopes that it could be a great site for semiskilled jobs.

The Dearne has seen investment over the last 20 years with projects such as the Banbury Bridge which takes the main road over the railway, the regeneration of the former Cadeby Colliery as the Kingswood Centre, and the Dearne Leisure Centre. It is not far from the Manvers industrial estate.

But Ian believes there is a need for improvements to the roads in Conisbrough, which he reckons are too old.

He said: "Part of what I hope we can do is is to encourage development and employment that's local. We have a lot of brown field sites in this area rather than green field sites because of a 200 year industrial heritage, dating back to the rivers and canals being used as transport.

"There are sites in Denaby that I think would be great for manufacturing.

"This area was famous 100 years ago for its tools. They made the shafts here for Stanley and Spear and Jackson. They made sickles and scythes that went all round the world.

"We've got the Crags, the castle, and a great music festival. We need to market these things.

"All it takes is the belief that Doncaster and Conisbrough is the place to be."