Jill Barkley

Jill lost her sight in 1996, at the age of 19, due to a condition called diabetic retinopathy - an illness that left her completely blind in the space of 2 weeks. Living with sudden sight loss as a teenager posed considerable difficulties for both Jill and her family.  

She says "I felt that the world which was about to become my oyster, suddenly became a tightly closed clam. I thought, "What the hell am I going to do with my life now, and how am I going to go about it?"

At the time, Jill was living in Southern Ireland, and had never met anyone that was visually impaired; let alone heard of any organizations to help someone like her.

"The experience of sight loss left me feeling isolated and that I was a sighted person trapped inside this blind person's body. I hated it and often felt like my life was pointless - I just wanted it to end. My family were amazing, but again, they felt isolated, helpless and frustrated by the lack of information."  

The turning point for Jill came when her 11-year old-brother greeted her at the back door after she returned from hospital and her fourth eye operation.  

"Radio has been a life line for me, in the respect that it has given me back my feeling of self-worth and my self-esteem. Through trying to educate others about living with blindness, I have found out so many things about myself."

"At that age, he thought that when you went into hospital it was to fix something that was broken and he asked me, "Can you see now?" I was heartbroken when I told him that I was never going to see again. He ran across the room, and cuddled me so tightly, but he was silent. It was later that my mum told me that she saw his wee face over my shoulder, twisted in agony - mouth and eyes wide open, and tears pouring down his cheeks - as if in a silent scream. I decided then and there that my life was going to be OK, and that I was going to make my little brother so proud of me. "

Jill started to rebuild her life but was horrified by the reaction of potential employers to her sight loss. She was told that she would never do anything more than weave baskets or answer telephones for the rest of her life. In a bid to learn new skills, she decided to get involved with hospital radio.  

"To me, it made sense that someone with no sight should be working with sound. It took me a further 7 years of study, freelance work with newspapers and battling through job interviews - where it was obvious that I was deemed unemployable - to secure my job with Europe's first radio station for blind and partially sighted people."

At first, Jill wondered whether a radio station for blind and partially sighted people was worthwhile, as blind people can listen to any radio station.  

She says "How wrong was I? RNIB Connect Radio has been a life line for me, in the respect that it has given me back my feeling of self-worth and my self-esteem. Through trying to educate others about living with blindness, I have found out so many things about myself.  

"I truly believe that if there had been a service like this when I was going through the trauma of sight loss, then life would have been so different for me, my family and my friends. For a start, I believe that the fight for information and the amount of red tape that we, as a family, had to battle our way through would have been significantly reduced. It would also have been somewhat comforting to know that there were others like me out there - living with blindness, but getting on with their lives and trying to make a difference."  

"Not only that, it would have been a great source of comfort for my mother in particular, who drove herself into the ground at that time, trying to make things easier for me. She couldn't bear to see her little girl struggle."

Jill gets huge satisfaction from presenting The Daily Lunch, "My prayer is that what we do everyday helps those who are going through sight loss. Even the tiniest little piece of information can make a huge difference to someone's life. If my show can help to do that, then my journey with blindness has not been in vain."

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