When I was told that I would be required to submit a Blog once every 6 weeks, I thought that was ok, not too much of a task. Well, it's surprising how quickly that 6 weeks has come round, or is that just an age thing!!
Talking of age, a number of meetings, events and conferences that I've recently attended have made me think about the various challenges we face in engaging with different sections of the population and how these have changed over time.
Vision Impaired young people are now generally educated in an "integrated", "mainstream" setting with their sighted peers, rather than a "segregated" setting with other blind and partially sighted children. As long as this structure is resourced correctly, this has to be the right option, but it isn't the cheap solution that it is often envisaged it will be. It can also bring other difficulties, such as involving the young Vision Impaired person fully in sport and physical activity and also inspiring them to achieve higher education, employment and an independent life. Unfortunately, lack of knowledge amongst parents and teachers often means that the young people aren't stretched and encouraged, leading to, in some cases, a life of reliance on others and living off of benefits becomes the pinnacle of an individual's ambition.
The statistics relating to the employment of vision Impaired people are pretty horrendous and do not seem to be changing significantly. The best guess is that only around 25-30% of Vision Impaired people of working age are in employment and I know of one East London borough where this has been measured and the figure is actually 19%. Or, in other words, 81% of Vision Impaired people in that borough are not in work. Technology does create more access to information and should make finding and retaining a job easier, but progress also means that a number of opportunities that were available, say 30 years ago, no longer are. These include: audio typing, telephony and, whatever you think of them, the sheltered workshops. Unfortunately, we, within the Vision Impaired sector, often don't help the situation as we develop programmes that don't actually result in putting people into work and the success of other schemes, such as the Government's Access To Work, often depend on who it is you speak to and whether you are determined enough to overcome, what appear to be, numerous barriers.
Finally, there is the section of the population classified as "older people", whatever the definition of that may be. Although many medical advances have been made, such as Cataract operations, sight loss is still significantly more prevalent within this group and, with an ageing population, will only increase. So we must ensure that those people who are losing their sight are advised at the point of diagnosis about what they "can", rather than what they "can't" do. They should also receive the required support in terms of adapting and be informed that there are recreational, leisure and volunteering opportunities available.
So, what can we, as service providers within the sight loss sector, do to improve matters for all these groups. In my view, for too long, organisations providing services have been operating as competitors and not in unison. We must create effective and productive partnerships, allowing us all to contribute our specialist expertise, but always focusing on the individual and a genuine person centred approach. Difficult? You wouldn't think so would you, but it clearly has been up until now. So that's my challenge, as much to ourselves as anyone else, let's make sure that, in 10 years time, we can look back, admit that we realised what could be improved, but be proud that we tackled the matters that existed and that we really do have joined up services that provide real benefit and life changing solutions.
Here is what the rest of the team have been up to in the last week:
• Attended the Marion Richardson 'cluster' of schools' Paralympic sports event in Tower Hamlet.
• Met with Infosound to discuss social media
• Delivered Vision Impairment awareness training to Greenwich Leisure Ltd (Better) staff in Hackney.
• Met with Thomas Pocklington Trust to refine the monthly scorecard.
• Chaired ActivEyes Redbridge members meeting
• Delivered two Vision Impairment Awareness Training sessions to GLL
• Attended meeting with Motivate East
• Produced and circulated fortnightly LVIF Bulletin
• Attended the quarterly meeting of the Tower Hamlets Vision Strategy Group.
• Attended the quarterly meeting of the London Visual Impairment Forum (LVIF).
• Tower Hamlets quarterly Vision Strategy Group meeting took place on 24th June - the findings of the Service User Consultation were discussed; this included a call to make GP practices more accessible to VI people, increased awareness training for frontline staff, increased communication between health, social care and voluntary sector, and greater awareness of the services available to VI people. These are already part of the Action Plan and will be prioritised for immediate action.
• LVIF quarterly full forum meeting took place on June 26th, which included presentations on the London Eye Health Network, the NHS Accessibility Standard, amongst many others (agendas and minutes of these meetings can be found on the LVIF website: http://lvi