THE BLOG

We Must Stop Condemning Blind People to a Life of Isolation

26/11/2014 17:16 GMT | Updated 26/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Many of us would admit to experiencing some sort of emotional reaction when we see someone who has a physical disability, such as a visual impairment.

It is only natural to feel empathy with someone who doesn't have the sight that so many of us take for granted, and silently impressed that actually, they seem to be getting on just fine. It is a reminder to us that in 2014 there is no reason why blind people cannot live full and independent lives, build successful careers, travel the world and start a family.

The truth is, they are the 'lucky' ones, and I don't use that choice of words lightly. Because, for every blind or partially sighted person you see getting on with their lives, there are many more who are trapped inside their own home, afraid to leave the house and reliant on friends, family and carers to carry out the most basic of day-to-day tasks.

With little or no practical and emotional support offered at the time of diagnosis, the UK is condemning people with sight loss to a life of loneliness, dependence and vulnerability.

At RNIB, we hear stories every day of people who leave their eye appointment in complete shock, having just been told they are losing their sight permanently. They are quite literally left to wander back into the waiting room wondering what comes next.

It does not have to be this way. We want every single eye hospital department in the UK to offer properly qualified sight loss advisers by 2019. These specially trained staff not only provide emotional support during this extremely traumatic time but they also offer advice on everything from remaining in employment, to being more independent around the home and ultimately, help people to continue to live their lives.

In 2012, health service commissioners in Northern Ireland committed to providing sight loss advisers in every eye department. No one is given the devastating news that they are going blind and then simply left to 'get on with it' and that's how it should be. This model needs to be replicated across the rest of the UK. The opportunity to live your life independently and without constant fear and anxiety should not be a post code lottery.

We will continue to campaign tirelessly on this issue until people who lose their sight are getting the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Our research shows that sight loss advisers not only make moral sense, they make financial sense too. For every £1 invested in a sight loss adviser, our research demonstrates that the return to health and social care budgets is £10.57.

Even the financial rationale seems to be falling on deaf ears with Clinical Commissioning Groups, who have the power to fund sight loss advisers locally. After all, they are not the ones who have to bear the increased social and welfare costs of someone who requires more assistance, simply because they were not given the right support in the first place.

That is why Jeremy Hunt and the Department of Health must send a clear instruction to CCGs that they cannot ignore this issue any longer.

This is not a small problem and it is most definitely not going to go away on its own. Every day, 100 people in the UK find out they are losing their sight and by 2050, the number of people affected by sight loss is expected to double to an astounding four million.

It is absolutely critical that we address this issue, and make sure that people who lose their sight are not destined to a marginalised and isolated life, fearful of what the future holds. Find out more about the work RNIB is doing at http://www.rnib.org.uk/beingthere