Blind Paralympian Libby Clegg MBE joins Guide Dogs in new podcast series

Blind Paralympian Libby Clegg MBE joins Guide Dogs in new podcast series

Blind Paralympic champion, Libby Clegg MBE, is just one of the guests in Guide Dogs’ new podcast series I See What You’re Saying. It is a humorous and insightful four-part series that delves deeper into what life is really like for people with sight loss. 

In each episode, guests with varying degrees of vision discuss one of life’s everyday aspects: love, friendship, family and parenting. The charity has created this podcast series as part of it’s By My Side campaign, which aims to build empathy and understanding of the realities of people living with sight loss.

Our writer, Emma Purcell, who is registered blind, tells us more about the charity and the podcast series, and gathers thoughts from Libby Clegg and some of the other inspirational guests on the show. Click on the names of the podcasts to visit them and listen. 

About Guide Dogs charity 

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association began in 1931 when four dogs were trained as the first guides for blind people. Since then, the charity has grown to have several training centres across the UK and a breeding programme that can produce around 1,500 puppies a year. It has also gained media coverage by collaborating with Blue Peter and This Morning.

With the support of staff, volunteers and donations, Guide Dogs has helped 200,000 people with sight loss achieve life-changing independence.

Guide Dog for blind woman Verity on This Morning sofa with Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford

What is the By My Side campaign?

As well as providing assistive canines, the charity also wants to provide other life-changing services. It’s By My Side campaign aims to grow the charity to help 5,000,000 people by 2023 through the following services:

  • sighted guides;
  • children and young people’s programmes;
  • business training and technology support.

I See What You’re Saying podcast series

To kick-start the charity’s new campaign, Guide Dogs has released a new podcast series called I See What You’re Saying. In the show, celebrity hosts discuss everyday challenges for people with sight loss face with inspirational blind and partially sighted guests.

Episode 1, Love, hosted by Adrian Chiles

Guests – Blind actor Ryan Kelly from BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, who married his childhood sweetheart.

Joining them is Dave Kent, who has a condition called Congenital Cataracts and has no vision at all. He is an old friend of Adrian’s and self-confessed rascal.

Visually impaired Dave Kent

They each share dating successes and hilarious mishaps, as well as discuss the differences and similarities of looking for love with and without sight loss.

I spoke to Dave and asked for his thoughts on what he hopes the show will achieve: “I hope that the podcast will encourage people to open their minds and look beyond a disability. We’re all striving for the same goals in life – we just achieve them in different ways.”

“Most of all, I hope that it gives people the opportunity to learn and laugh about what might otherwise seem an all too serious matter.”

Episode 2, Friendship, hosted by Jeff Brazier

Guests – Nathan Edge and Alex Pepper, who both lost their sight completely as teenagers.  They are joined by Nathan’s friend Pete Jones-Hall, who he met through Guide Dogs’ My Guide service.

Topics of discussion include football, coming to terms with sight loss, how it can make or break friendships and what similarities, differences and challenges there are in making friends when you are blind.

Nathan Edge’s eye condition, Uveitis, left him with 20% vision from the age of six. However, due to retinal detachments, at the age of 19, he was left completely blind with no light perception. He tells me how he got involved in the podcast:

“I was contacted by Guide Dogs to be a part of the friendship podcast following many years of involvement with the charity alongside Pete, who was originally partnered with me through the Guide Dogs My Guide service. From there, we went on to build a good friendship. They thought that our journey was a great story to share within the friendship category.”

Alex Pepper was diagnosed at 14 months old with Retinoblastoma, which are cancerous tumours in the back of the eye. The years that followed saw a number of issues arise, such as a detached retina, cataract and secondary glaucoma. He now has no sight other than a tiny bit of light perception.

He was approached to be the face of the By My Side campaign and played the dad in the advert (see image at the top of the page). From there, he was asked to take part in the podcast too. He says: “I hope the podcast will raise the general public awareness of the issues and barriers blind and partially sighted people face. I also hope that it will make others living with sight loss feel that they aren’t alone.”

Episode 3, Families, hosted by Sophie Thompson

Guests – Paul and 3-year-old Nell Sutton, who both have a generative eye condition, and Paul’s wife Rachel. They talk with Roger Whalley, whose 5-year-old daughter Josie suffered a stroke at birth causing visual impairment.

Both families discuss how being a parent of a child with sight loss impacts family dynamics, bonding, learning and development. Blind Nell Sutton with Sophie Thompson

Josie loves to bake and Nell loves art. Both girls are inspirational characters who do not let their sight loss hold them back in life and neither do their families.

Rachel told us: “Nell’s eye condition is Congenital Glaucoma. She is registered blind. She can see some colours and shapes, but not any details. Paul also has Congenital Glaucoma. He too is registered blind and only sees light and dark.”

When offered a chance to take part in the show, the Sutton’s said: “We jumped at it as we want to create as much awareness as possible. We also want Nell to be able to look back when she is older and see all the positive things she has done to help other people.”

They added: “We hope the podcast will create a lot of awareness and help any families that may be struggling. We feel that it is a breath of fresh air! It highlights the ups and downs of navigating a child with a visual impairment through life!”

Episode 4, Parenting, hosted by Alex Jones

Guests – Mum and blind Paralympic champion, Libby Clegg MBE. Alongside Libby is Hetal Bapodra, a blind mum of two sighted children, who shatters assumptions, misconceptions and shares the prejudices her and her husband have had to face as vision impaired parents. 

Libby is a Paralympic sprinter in the T11 and T12 100m and 200m sprints. She represented Great Britain in 2008, 2012 and 2016 summer Paralympic Games.

Paralympian Libby Clegg with her newborn baby

Her eye condition is Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, which affects her central vision. She tells us how she got involved in the podcast and what she hopes the series can achieve: “I was asked to be a part of the podcast as I was heavily pregnant at the time and, being a first-time parent, it gave me the opportunity to chat about the challenges I may face being a parent with sight loss and hear about others’ experiences.”

Regardless of having a sight impairment, embarking on an adventure such as parenthood has its challenges. However, having sight loss means that you have to do things a bit differently. But there are always ways to solve any problem. It’s also good to highlight some of the funny experiences with the public as it shows we’re just like everyone else!”

Since then, Libby has given birth to a baby boy called Edward. I asked Libby to tell us how she feels parenting is going so far: “I feel really bad and guilty, but it’s going really well! He sleeps really well and feeds well – he’s a very content baby, so I’m really really happy, to be honest. The only thing I’ve been worried about is the nappy changing and making sure all the poo is off! If I am ever in doubt, I just stick him in the bath.”

I also asked Libby if she was considering competing in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo following the birth of her son: “Definitely,” she said. “I got back into training three weeks ago. I just wanted to get straight back into it. I felt that if I didn’t do anything or if I left it too long, it would probably take me a bit more time to get back into it. But I do bring my son to the track which is quite nice and he can get used to the noises and everything.”

I See What You’re Saying is available to listen to on all podcast services.

By Emma Purcell

To view more of Emma’s work, visit her blog Rock For Disability.

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