Largs 'News' columnist John Hutchinson reveals that life as a 'Radio Ham' opens up a world of opportunity in this week's 'Access for All' column.

John, 88, who is 97% blind, recently spoke to the 'News' about how his vision had been restored by amazing state-of-the-art spectacles, which he had on trial for three weeks from Oxford University, and now hopes to fly a plane around Britain for Guide Dogs UK.

John, who was in the British Army for 18 years in airborne divisions, lost his sight after tropical parasites got into his bloodstream and attacked the retina. In this week's column, John talks about life as a blind radio ham...

On 29 January 1915, The Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Care Committee was founded, and was later renamed St Dunstan's and now known as Blind Veterans UK. It was for soldiers blinded by gas attack or trauma during the First World War. Its goal, radical for the times, was to provide vocational training rather than charity for invalided servicemen, and thus to enable them to carry out independent and productive lives

"The first meeting of the St Dunstan's Amateur Radio Society took place in March 1976. Eight qualified amateurs and six wave listeners attended the meeting which also included an informative and enlightening talk about the technique of dealing with aerials. The equipment used was the Swan S200 Transceiver which was lent to the charity by the Radio Shack Ltd.

"I started amateur radio and the RAIBC (radio amateurs of invalid blind club) donated me the equipment - they set up little radio networks and give you a call sign and frequency to get in touch. It is a great asset for people who are blind, or partially sighted like myself. I am regularly in touch with the worldwide organisation for Christian blind people.

"In the past week alone, I have been speaking to people from Denmark and Ireland, and it is good to stay in touch with people on a regular basis.

"I have my own little radio studio hut outside in my garden which was built for me by blind veterans, and includes two big receivers and transmitters. It has to be legal with Ofcom as you have to be careful that you are not interfering when broadcasting, with the likes of aircraft or police. There are very strict rules, and it is very hard to acquire a licence - there is quite a bit of study and memory work, but it is very rewarding. You get a special call sign and with that you can make contact with anywhere in the world, and you can chat away with anyone you want to, although there are some important rules. You are not allowed to talk about politics or religion, and you are to watch your language!

"It is particularly good for retired folk or anyone with a disability."

"Anyone can join in the conversation and sometimes you find yourself talking to a dozen or so people across the ends of the Earth from San Francisco to Russia or even Australia - you have to work out your timescales and what time is best. It is very well organised, with strict rules, and a certain procedure. I can speak French and Italian, so often converse in these languages, depending on which countries I am speaking to. A lot of international people want to improve their English though, so quite often I find myself using my mother tongue.

"It is really good if you are housebound or can't get out, and can help break the monotony. Imagine chatting to people from Russia, Japan and China, just like they are in the same room with you - it really is amazing.

"The blind veterans organisation even got my radio studio shed built for me - it is done really well and is quite fascinating. It is a good hobby for getting in touch with various people all over the world, and I have built up good friends and contacts, and it is ideal for people who are lonely, as it is a great way to talk."

John's call sign is MM6 JHH if any radio ham wants to contact. If anyone is interesting with a disability or vision problem is interested in becoming a radio ham, contact John on 676303.