Ignoring our ambitions

Visually impaired people should be provided
with the opportunities that others take for granted, says Phil

The status of visually impaired people is
poor. We are a group of people that society uses to focus its
sympathy, pushed around for the benefit of the rest, forced to live
the prescribed life that visually impaired people are supposed to
live – a totally dependent group. How else can it be explained why
visually impaired people accept using a dog, when direct payments
can be used to employ a person who can read and guide, and provide
the means to independence through work?

Our expectations are the same as everyone
else’s – solid education, careers, stimulating relationships,
children, holidays, contentment in retirement. Why should we want
anything different? So what prevents us from having these

First, a definition: visual impairment is a
condition that cannot be corrected by ordinary spectacles and
includes the very small percentage of people that have no
perception of light or are blind. Something like 95 per cent of
people in this category have some useful sight. Am I na‹ve in
thinking that if our communication needs were fully met, in most
cases visual impairment would not prevent the ambitions outlined
above being realised? Sadly, there are vested interests that ensure
that the traditional ways of doing things always prevail.

There is a massive visual impairment industry:
educational psychologists, paediatricians, teachers with “special”
training, overstaffed “special” colleges, rehabilitation officers,
mobility officers, social workers, opticians, optometrists. Yet if
visually impaired people had the same opportunities as anyone else,
this enormous machinery would not be needed. It is not just in the
statutory sector where the problem lies – the major charities let
us down too. Ninety-three per cent of visually impaired people are
either unemployed or in some sort of sheltered employment. The
charities have failed to persuade mainstream employers to change
their traditional employment practices.

Visually impaired people do not have a
politically active national organisation. Even in local areas there
are few groups run for and by visually impaired people. Here in
Shropshire, there is the Insight Group, and our experience only
serves to underline the utter contempt that the power brokers have
for us as citizens. The group was formed under a social services
initiative to provide user input into the joint working planning
process. But we decided to leave after 10 years of non-achievement.
In all that time, Insight was unable to change a thing. Other
agencies are also reluctant to accept the idea of campaigning
visually impaired people. The Royal National Institute for the
Blind offers no support, not even when Insight wanted to organise a
conference to advise visually impaired people on benefits
entitlements, suggesting instead that they send a speaker to talk
to statutory officers who would then advise clients.

All of this is common experience for those who
are visually impaired. If it ever happens to you, you’ll find out
what I mean.

Phil Brough is a visually impaired
service user.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.