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Rob Nolan

Photo of Rob out walking on the moors

There’s a saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. If there is any truth in that Robert Nolan will make an excellent new recruit to the Board of Trustees of SRSB/RSS.

Robert, who is both blind and deaf, is the epitome of a busy person. He was already an Ambassador, client and volunteer for the charity, not to mention Chair of Deafblind UK.

His involvement with SRSB/RSS began a few years ago when he retired to the Peak District from Scotland after travelling the world in his long career with Shell Exploration and Production.

“I joined the Sheffield Visually Impaired Walking Group (SVIWG) and that led me to SRSB. I attended meetings for RP and then was asked to get involved. I joined because it is such a good local organisation. It has a real rapport with business and the community as well” he said.

He’s given many talks as an ambassador promoting the work of SRSB/RSS and raising awareness of deafblindness – often using humour to engage with people. With his career background and life experience he is hoping, as a new trustee, to build on that and wants especially to be able to help young deafblind people to find employment.

“I was very lucky, I had a great career and I am excited about helping others find work. I hope I can encourage them as a role model to have the confidence to apply for jobs and for employers to acknowledge their potential and take them on.”

“With deaf blindness we are solving problems everyday and working out ways of getting over hurdles. That ability for problem-solving is massively important for any job.”

Robert was born deaf and was a young adult when finally diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa andType 2 Usher Syndrome, despite his sight being affected in childhood. As it deteriorated in his early 20s, he switched career from accountancy to IT when he joined Shell. “I knew accountancy would not sit well with sight loss.”

He has just 30% of his hearing and he now has less than 3% of his sight remaining. Too little for lip reading anymore. So new problems come along all the time and he has found new ways of solving them.

“I have just switched to voice recognition on my phone – it’s saving me typing a lot of gobbledygook. Fortunately, I hear low frequencies best so I can hear voices and my own speech is relatively unaffected.”

He makes the most of that along with his sense of humour and extrovert personality to go out and raise awareness about the challenges of deaf blindness. One small example is telling as many people as possible that anyone carrying a red and white cane or guide dog harness, has impaired hearing as well as sight loss.

That includes the people he meets when he goes swimming, playing guitar in the local pubs, doing photography, hill walking and cycling or just around and about the Derbyshire village where he now lives. He is also a befriender for deafblind people. He is indeed a very busy person.

During his working life Robert was heavily involved with the Deafblind UK charity and went on to create a separate charity to give deaf blind people in Scotland a voice. As Chairman of the new charity he began fundraising with his wife Louise racking up thousands of miles on a tandem bike with challenges such as pedalling through the Scottish islands, Land’s End to John O’ Groats, touring the Scottish cities and most recently the Three Peaks for which Robert received a Deaf Sports Personality of the Year award in 2018.

Louise is also deaf – the couple met at school and they communicate by lipreading via a wing mirror on the bike. Louise does all the work while his job "is to sit on the back and pedal like fury.”  They have now raised over £70,000 and they also kickstarted the successful campaign to build a National Centre for Deafblind Scotland.

As with many charities, SRSB and RSS found 2020 a very challenging year for both services, and financially, which has led to a lot of changes and adaptations.

But Robert is positive about the future. “Despite the difficulties, I am an optimist. As Trustees our role is about governance and strategy. It is our job to set the tone and direction for the charity. It’s very important that it continues and I am looking forward to doing my bit.”



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