Rehabilitation services enable blind, and deafblind, people to develop skills to increase independence. They include, for example, training in orientation and mobility, cooking and other household tasks, reading braille, and using specialist equipment and software. They reduce, sometimes eliminate, the need for long term support.
A recent report published by RNIB revealed a worrying drop in the number of visually impaired people receiving rehabilitation services. It also showed that, when such services are provided, they are often restricted to six weeks, which is woefully inadequate to learn the complex skills, and the confidence needed.
Too often, deafblind people say that they are unable to cook, do their laundry, read their emails, enter their PIN when using their debit or credit card, and so on. And, almost always, their justification for this is being blind.
I am blind, too. Not doing the above things myself would never even occur to me. So is blindness really a justification?
No. Blindness is not to blame.
The justification should be that they have never had rehabilitation training to enable them to develop the skills they need. Tasks such as cooking, laundry, using a computer, entering a PIN, getting around and communicating, do require different skills, techniques, and, in some cases, special gadgets.
Without rehabilitation services to give them the opportunity to learn these things, deafblind people remain dependent on support from another person. Plus, negative attitudes about blindness are everywhere. Without rehabilitation, for many people with vision loss, their own negative ideas about blindness are never challenged or changed.
In their minds, the reason they cannot do many activities without support is, indeed, their blindness. They know no different.
This scares me. It makes me ashamed to live in a country where blind and deafblind people are being put at risk, and their quality of life adversely affected, by a failure to provide basic training.
I am fortunate. I grew up blind and went to a specialist school, where there were high expectations of what blind people could achieve and I learned to be independent.
Losing my hearing presented me with new challenges, especially to getting around, and to communicating with people. I was left to work those out for myself.
Now that I use a wheelchair, too, I have even greater challenges in getting around. For quite some time, I have been completely dependent on support from another person to get out. This is a state of affairs that I am deeply dissatisfied with. I want my independence.
I must, once again, work it out for myself. My garden has become an obstacle course, where I experiment and practice with different techniques for combining the use of wheelchair and cane. I haven’t quite solved it yet but I am making progress.
I am determined to work it out. Many people do not have the determination, or the belief that they can do it, so become unnecessarily dependent for the long term.
As a result of not providing adequate rehabilitation services, which by their nature are for a limited period of time, local authorities have to provide ongoing, long term, support. This may be cheaper in the short term – specialist rehabilitation services are not cheap, but over the longer term, is more costly.
Local authority budgets are under severe pressure and will be for many years. Government policy is that local authorities should focus on services to delay or prevent long term care needs developing. The Care Bill will strengthen this focus on preventative services. In this context, local authorities should be expanding and improving rehabilitation services, not cutting them.
Deafblind people may always need some support with some activities; and some will need much more support than others. But, with high quality, specialist rehabilitation training, more deafblind people could be more independent more of the time.
We must stop blaming blindness for dependence. We must start laying the blame where it belongs: on the absence of adequate, high quality, specialist rehabilitation services. We cannot do anything about being blind. We can, and must, do something about inadequate rehabilitation.
Liz Ball is Campaigns Involvement Officer at Sense