THREE years ago Richard Wheeler’s life changed forever.

Over just a few months his eyesight started to deteriorate until he was eventually diagnosed with a genetic disorder that confirmed his worst fear – he would be left blind.

Now, after coming to terms with his new life, he talks personal protection, getting back into work and raising awareness of his condition to support other people like him.

“Before all this happened I could see perfectly,” the 27-year-old said.

“It happened out of the blue. I thought it was from looking at the sun too much, but it was a genetic condition I didn’t know I had.”

Richard’s disorder, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, affects one in up to 50,000 people in the UK, and is most common in men in their late teens and early twenties.

Vision loss occurs when cells in the optic nerve, which relays information from the eyes to the brain, die.

The Winchester resident said it altered his life in ways he could never have predicted.

He said: “I do get a bit depressed about it. I used to hang out with my friends every week. When I lost my eyesight they didn’t call as much. I feel I have lost friends through it, which is a bit upsetting.

“I lost my job at Brassiere Blanc because I couldn’t do it anymore, and had to move back with my parents – it was quite tricky and difficult.

“I just felt like I had lost a lot through it.”

The former barman was just about to train as a manager when the condition struck, but is determined to get back into work, even topping up his degree in Business Management at the University of Winchester.

“I’m quite intrepid. I did want to start my own business but now my idea of what I want to do has changed.

“I went to RNIB College for seven months. The whole point of the course was to rehabilitate and get back in to the workplace. I learnt how to use the computer with a screen reader and brail level one and two. It helped me work on my CV.”

The course also taught Richard about using a cane, which he admits he was not keen on. “I didn’t like the stigma of it, I thought I didn’t need it. Now my attitude is that it is not just for me, but it is protection. If I bump in to someone and don’t have a cane I have no excuse.

“My eyes look fine so people don’t believe me about my blindness.”

Richard still goes out drinking and says it’s common for people to question his eyesight.

“I can see where they are coming from by the way I don’t necessarily act how people perceive the blind to act. I use my cane to dance with!

“It’s more about education about people’s ignorance. The perception to have glazed eyes, and because mine are normal people don’t get it. It makes me feel rubbish when they say I’m lying, it’s really upsetting.”

After a spate of similar incidents he started to work with Fixers, a charity that gives young people a chance to campaign on an issue they are passionate about.

He made a film called Seeing It through My Eyes, to help people realise that being blind doesn’t mean a person cannot see in other ways.

Now Richard is regaining his independence – he lives alone and says although it can be tricky, it is worth it.

He spends his time writing University assignments, playing Goal Ball – a sport for the blind similar to basketball, and more recently Tango dancing.

It started after a chance encounter with a teacher from Tracies Latin Club in Southampton, and now he visits whenever he can.

“They are used to the lack of eyesight,” he said.

Not afraid of a physical challenge, Richard has signed up for hardcore assault course Tough Mudder with his friends.

It takes place in October and sees challengers put to the ultimate test on a 10-12 mile track complete with underwater, climbing and electrical obstacles.

But nothing seems to have Richard fazed.

“I gave myself the time to mourn my eyesight, but now I have started to get my life back.”

  • To watch Richard’s Fixers film go to or click here.