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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:03 GMT
'I rely on touch to diagnose my patients'
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online Health Staff

Vicki Sheen
Vicki does not let her lack of sight hold her back
Touch is important to all health professionals, but for physiotherapist Vicki Sheen it is one of the most important tools of her trade.

For Vicki is blind and uses her extra sensitive touch to diagnose her patient's problems.

"Touch is one of the key skills that a physio has, it is looking for changes in the tissues and feeling for alterations in the leg and muscles.

"Obviously I function in a tactile way generally and I get a lot of my information that way anyway."


Vicki, 41, from Devon, was born with retinitis pigmentosa, although born with some sight she is now registered blind.

But she is so skilful at her job that few of the patients she treats even realise she has no sight.

"The majority of my patients do not realise that I have a sight problem.

Sighted people's expectations of me and the reality of what I know I am capable of are so different
Vicki Sheen

"Sight is not an issue as a physio it is all about movement and how you are moving.

"I can do a certain amount of "looking" at someone's gait by listening to the way they are moving."

"Anything where I am a little concerned I will call in my colleagues, but this is not because I am blind. They will call me in if they need a second opinion too."

She said that because she is blind she knows how easy it is to put unnecessary limitations on people's skills.


She said that the restrictions on blind people like herself are mainly those put on them by sighted people..

"Sighted people's expectations of me and the reality of what I know I am capable of are so different.

"I just do things and don't let the fact that I have a sight problem stand in the way.

"For example I used to ski and took part in competitive ski races.

Vicki Sheen
Vicki uses touch to diagnose her patients

"If people around you feel it is a big thing then you can begin to doubt."

Vicki also sails competitively and said taking a boat out in the open seas is often less daunting than trying to negotiate life on dry land.

"For me it is easier to step on a boat than to walk through a front door.

"The thing is that on a boat there is a set lay-out and there are no steps."


Although she does not regularly sail alone Vicki said she had done it and that with the help of a two-way radio it was perfectly possible for her to navigate without endangering either herself or others.

Usually she sails as part of a team, including two visually impaired crew and two sighted crew.

She got a bronze in the World Championships in Miami.

And she said that her lack of sight had not marred her sailing experiences.

"85% of blind people are partially sighted so that are still getting the scenery and the pleasure of being out on the sea.

"And although I cannot see I know when I am coming to an inlet, people can still tell me that the place is quaint. Even though I don't get a visual image there are other people on the boat who can tell me what it is like.

"I love the feel of the boat. It is lovely especially on the helm because you can feel the boat power up and go through the speeds."


She said that the only problems she had while learning to sail was acquiring the skills technical skills.

Because learning often relies on watching and then learning, impossible for people without sight.

But as Vicki explained once the skills are learnt the blind can adapt as quickly as the sighted.



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