Andrea Begley, a former winner of BBC show The Voice, has taken on a new role to break down barriers for blind and partially sighted people in the Province.
The 32-year-old, who has been registered blind since she was nine, is the chair of RNIB’s Network Committee – a group whose aim it is to empower people with sight loss.
She said: “I know first-hand the challenges and problems you can experience. I also believe that we should talk about all of the good things that are happening and celebrate the achievements of blind and partially sighted people, of which there are many.”
Andrea, the eldest of three sisters, has recently been on tour with her aunt – country singer Philomena Begley.
She said: “In the early days we’d have gone as a family to see Aunt Philly in shows. From a very early age I was very aware of how important she is in the local music scene.
“It did get me interested in singing. Every time there was a family gathering she’d have sang a song, everyone would have done their party piece.”
Discussing the dynamics of being on stage she said: “I suppose not being able to see the audience takes away some nerves. They say, ‘imagine your audience with no clothes on’ – at least I don’t have to do that.
“But not being able to see the audience has it’s own drawbacks, you can’t read their reactions, see which songs are going down well. The good thing is in performances I try to interact with audiences and get them to shout out as much as possible.”
Andrea developed a condition called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of three which in turn gave rise to glaucoma.
She said: “I’ve gradually lost my vision since childhood. I was registered blind for the first time at nine. I have very, very limited residual vision left. I can really just see outlines and blurriness, nothing in any detail. I think I’ve racked up 23 operations over the years trying to do their best to save what they could of my sight, unfortunately with glaucoma once your vision is gone there isn’t any way of getting it back.”
Of the biggest challenges she faces, Andrea said: “A big one is getting around, the environment can be difficult for example if people leave things in the street. Access to information is another big one, things are still published and printed in a format that people like myself can’t read.”
Andrea, who has been involved with RNIB for 13 years, said: “Barriers need to be broken down for people with sight loss and awareness needs to be raised in society. In delivering this, we can bring about change and this is crucial.”
Andrea, a civil service employee who divides her time between Belfast and Pomeroy, won The Voice six years ago. She recently released a cover of Daniel O’Donnell’s ‘Beyond the Rainbow’s End’.