People often ask me what the worst thing about being blind is. My response to them is that you'd be forgiven for thinking that it is not being able to see. But actually there is an untold story when it comes to the dark reality of sight loss, particularly childhood sight loss.
I am the chief executive of a charity called The Royal London Society for Blind People and we work with blind young people every day. They tell us that it is not the lack of full sight that is the problem, but the lack of confidence, resilience, friends and hope for the future.
If one was to talk to blind young people, you will find that by the age of six they are already beginning to limit their horizons. By the time they are 19 they are telling us that they are lonely, their parents do too much for them, they don't know how to be cool, and that they are extremely worried about their future.
The stats speak for themselves: 40% of blind and partially sighted young people don't have any local friends to play with, and 80% say that they have little hope for what life holds. We believe a quarter of blind children under the age of 12 are depressed.
One young teen called Lee* spoke to us about his experiences. Lee was the only visually impaired person at his high school and for a long time he was lonely and depressed because he couldn't go out and do the same things as his sighted friends.
Since joining one of RLSB's Social & Peer Groups, Lee is much happier and more confident about what he can achieve. And in his own words: "I don't feel so alone".
Lee was lucky to get the help and support he needed. But what happens if blind young people do not get the right support? We need to look at how their adult counter-parts are fairing:
- 66% of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in employment
- Two thirds live on the poverty line
- More than 30% will live with clinical depression and a further 30% will live with severe anxiety
It's time to face up to the fact that this is the real problem that faces blind young people today. Despite the continued investment that has gone into supporting blind and partially sighted young people and their families, very little has changed in terms of their life chances despite our best efforts.
It's deplorable that this is still the case in 21st century Britain, which is why we have launched The Untold Story awareness campaign. The campaign is asking the public to reconsider what they think the challenges around childhood sight loss are. Adverts on the London Underground and played out on Classic FM tell what we know to be the real story about a blind young person's experience of growing up.
We are asking the public for their support in helping us to tell the untold story. All they need to do is copy and paste #ICanSeeLee and I'm sharing his story: www.rlsb.org.uk/lee to their Facebook status and Twitter feed.
By sharing the message we hope that the issue will be bought to the attention of tens of thousands of people who in turn can support RLSB and help us bring about real change through life changing interventions, such as our peer groups.
This campaign is about telling the country that as a society we are failing young blind and partially sighted people and it's time to change the record. That it's a time for a life without limits for blind young people.
*Name has been changed
Follow Tom Pey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RLSBcharity