Amit Patel, a medical doctor, lost his vision at the professionally ripe age of 32, but now works to enlighten the public about what life is like when you have a sight impairment. He recently made headlines when the camera he had fitted around his guide dog, Kika, captured shocking footage of uncaring commuters striking his help, often with umbrellas. Reflected in this undeniable physical proof, Amit has brought to light society’s attitude towards having disabilities: “people think I cannot be living a normal life, and dismiss me as ‘just a pitiful blind man.’ They think I’m riding the tube for fun as if my dreams are all gone. But I have a family and a job, and most certainly feelings.” Indeed, Amit’s biggest issue is the confidence he has felt knocked as a result of “belittlement” of his identity. He continued: “when you look down on people with ill health, it has a detrimental psychological effect.” One that is its own additional debilitation. “I’ve had mothers come over to me and say, ‘that’s brave’, when I’m dropping my son to nursery school. Why? Are they getting a medal for showing their faces? Others have commented, ‘where’s his carer?’ when I’m alone with my son in the park. I’m the same as everyone else, I simply live differently.”
Amit is currently a specialist consultant for diversity and inclusion, sitting on panels and doing a variety of motivational speaking. He also raises awareness via media platforms such as Sky News and the BBC, and has lately garnered a Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister and a nomination for the Shaw Trust’s Disability Power List. As well as talking on discrimination, Amit highlights the fact that much can be done to enhance the everyday for blind persons where that information is not readily available. For example: “there’s a little device that can help you detect how far your tea comes in your cup so you don’t burn your fingers when making a hot drink.” The process for being assigned a guide dog is meticulous too: “you will be assessed according to routine such as how fast you walk and where you tend to go and the most suitable dog will be matched to you. There are also confidence-building exercises.” The community leader also personally assists the newly blind, providing advice and positivity and accompanying them through potentially daunting journeys: “I’ll go right to someone’s door to help them and there are some brilliant charities who will do the same such as the RNIB.”
Here, however, Amit commented on how his experience of marginalisation extended to the authorities: “when I first registered as blind, I discovered I’d have to go on a waiting list before receiving any support. I am lucky that I have a loving partner, or else I’d have sat in my home alone for months before learning how to cope. By then, my sense of self would have utterly diminished and the aid wouldn’t be effective. I was especially able to empathise with those facing this because I went from being a doctor, someone who was serving the public, to the person needing medical attention, overnight. I lost a huge part of myself. It was as if a light went out. It took half a year to get over that emotional loss alone. My particular sight-loss also means I only see grey mist with black bubbles that float around. This is distressing enough without being made to feel a nuisance or disposable by the world.”
The solution then appears to be a two-pronged approach, combining improved governmental services and a more sensitive collective consciousness. This would allow those affiliating with Amit to feel more equipped in private allowing them to get on, while also encouraging a wider warmer acceptance by others: individual pain would be acknowledged minus the patronisation. Significantly, refusing to shy away from the demands of visual impairment has been a conscious aspect of Amit’s expressive campaign: “people tend to censor the bad parts of life, for example even with parenting, but you should confront them to thrive. I reiterate: it’s not easy to live with a disability but you carry on despite it. Sometimes I’ll feel pressure to stay smiling because if I don’t it seems to upset others. But as I say, I’m an ordinary person who has their ups and downs – in fact, more so than some. To truly represent, I must be as vulnerable as I am strong.”
Thus, through his incredible personal ethic, Amit as much champions a holistic attitude as he does the blind community: “I am still me,” he finished. “In fact, perhaps even a supercharged version of myself, being busy 24/7. I’ve gone from being a doctor who had to work intensely to a social influencer who aims to guide many. I had fallen into fear and loneliness, and have become active and heard again. Though a daily struggle, it's a beautiful progression.” A powerful story of life expanded, Amit at once demonstrates how living is best done as an open and evolving project.
Were you shocked that people had been so inconsiderate of your condition?
Yes. When I was sighted before, I would always give my seat up for people. I could not imagine the difficulty. I am holding a cane and have a guide dog so it’s unacceptable that people wouldn’t acknowledge me. A lot of the time, these are suited commuters who probably have pets of their own at home too.
What has been particularly difficult?
My parents have always said: “Amit, do whatever you want in life as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” So I became a doctor – it was hard to lose that and it was tempting to be angry, but that never helps. Culturally, being Indian was a challenge in this sense too because I had a lot of people talking of karma and saying if I was good and prayed enough, my sight would come back. But it’s not going to. It’s about accepting that.
My Mandir is very open though, and Kika even has her own bed there for whenever we visit!
What have you gained?
An incredible bond with my wife and a deep emotional richness. My success is a partnership with her – she does so much. And, of course, our son who is a joy. At the end of the day, we are just trying to make the world a better place one step at a time.
Finally, has Kika become your best friend?
I call her the ‘blonde leading the blind’ and she has her own passport so yes! She’s filled the void when I lost my sight. Funnily enough, my wife’s mother’s maiden name is Kika and Kika and I were one of the fastest matches made between guide dog and person so it seemed destined! Additionally, Kika was completely fair when we got her and now she’s sporting brown hairs – I always joke that she’s integrating!
T: @BlindDad_UK / @Kika_GuideDog