Activist named one of UK’s most influential disabled people

Hazel mcfarlane (1)

Dr Hazel McFarlane’s proposals for a vision support service have helped countless people adjust to sight loss.

14th October 2019 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

A researcher and activist from Troon who is registered blind has been named as one of the UK’s 100 most influential disabled people.

Dr Hazel McFarlane, 53, has rejected the barriers placed in front of people with sensory impairments since she was a child.

Aged five, she refused to attend a school for blind children, instead joining her twin sister at their local primary school in Glasgow. At university, she set up Student Vision Scotland, an organisation of vision impaired students which challenged attitudes and lobbied for equal access to education.

During her career, Dr McFarlane has trained healthcare professionals, influenced service provision for disabled people, and co-authored publications with academics from around the world. She has also worked with the Scottish Government to inform legislation affecting those with a sensory impairment.

Dr McFarlane has now been named alongside 99 of her contemporaries on the Shaw Trust’s Disability Power List for 2019.

She said: “I feel very honoured to be included in the Power List 2019 of the 100 most influential disabled people in the UK. The Power List contains some incredible talent and diversity, but the one common factor is that all those included are contributing to and want nothing less than to change the world. Where disabled people can participate fully in an accessible, equitable and barrier-free society.

“I accepted the nomination because I was told that young disabled people read it. I want to encourage young people to set their aspirations high, be ambitious, chase their dreams and challenge barriers.”

Dr McFarlane experienced total sight loss in 2007, and said she was shocked at the time to discover the lack of support services. Meanwhile, her own research found that suicide rates were high for many older people faced with losing their vision. 

This led to her writing a proposal for a Vision Support Service, which won the support of RNIB Scotland. As a result, the Ayrshire Eye Clinic Support Service was launched in 2010, funded by the charity, the three Ayrshire local authorities and NHS Ayrshire & Arran health board.

The model was adopted by RNIB and rolled out throughout the UK, helping countless people adjusting to sight loss.

An avid runner in her spare time, Dr McFarlane has inspired members of her running club, the Troon Tortoises, to become guide runners. She has competed in numerous marathons and ultra-marathons, raising over £9,000 for Blind Sports UK.

She said: “If you believe in yourself, then you can do and achieve absolutely anything.”