Monday, 21 September 2009

Understanding Disability - Visual Impairment

There are many misconceptions about people with visual impairment.

Misconception: Visually impaired people see nothing.
Truth: The majority of Visually impaired people have SOME useful vision - distinguishing between light and dark and only about 18 per cent of visually impaired people are totally without useful vision.

Misconception: Visually impaired people have special gifts and a “sixth” sense.
Truth: There are no special gifts or “sixth” sense and many visually impaired people have a poorer sense of hearing or touch than sighted people particularly as they grow older. It is just having the appropriate support and training together with good old fashioned common sense and practice that makes all the difference.

Misconception: All Visually impaired people feel other people’s faces.
Truth: A very small number of visually impaired people use touch to identify people. 77% of visually impaired people retain enough sight to recognise family and friends close up.

Misconception: All Visually impaired people can read Braille.
Truth: It is estimated that approximately only 13,000 Visually impaired people can read Braille fluently. Far larger numbers rely on large print and audio instead of Braille.

Misconception: All Visually impaired people own guide dogs.
Truth: There are approximately 4,800 guide dog users in the UK. This is a tiny percentage of the estimated two million Visually impaired people in the UK.

Misconception: Visually impaired people cannot work.
Truth: Due to the advances in new technology, such as speaking computers etc, there are very few jobs that a visually impaired person cannot do.

There are many things society can do to increase access for Visually impaired people. These include:-

* The use of large print and font size – best practice recommends Ariel 14
* Colour contrasting and tactile markings
* Use of audio

These are only a few general examples and you should NEVER assume. ALWAYS ask about access requirements – i.e. those things needed to enable us to take part in something.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Understanding Disability

As highlighted in my earlier blog, it is concerning to note that 53% of society view disabled people in a negative way. From my own personal experiences and through my work, it is clear that many people have misconceptions about disabled people and particular conditions. These misconceptions are usually formed from ignorance, fear, the traditional medical model and, most importantly, the media (at times they have a lot to answer for).

I truly believe that highlighting the positives of disability and re-educating people can, and will, make a huge difference to the lives of disabled people.

Over the next few blogs, I will take a look at several areas of disability and highlight the myths and misconceptions generally held within society. My hope is that this will help readers to understand these areas more and take a new look at their own misjudgements.

Often, when thinking of disabled people, society thinks firstly of those with a physical disability i.e. a wheelchair user but many fail to realise the broad context of disabled people and the conditions that they live their lives with. It is imperative that we first understand what the definition of “disability” is. This word that we hear so much about and which society bases judgements on seems to mean different things to different people.

So how do we define a disabled person?

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

However, defining a person by a condition/impairment is based on the Medical Model of Disability. Although this is the traditional way of defining disability, it is not very helpful and does not answer what we need to know i.e. how do we assist the person. The definition that I use is based on the Social Model of Disability which states that it is a person who has the loss of opportunity due to the barriers put up by society. There is a slight difference between the two definitions in that the former focuses on the individual’s inability to do things as opposed to the later which focuses on the barriers that are put in the way.

Arguably there is a need to group various disabled people together and the general groups would be people with physical impairments (including wheelchair users), people with visual impairments, people with hearing impairments, people with Learning Difficulties and people with mental health issues. It is useful to know the general access requirements for people within a group i.e. offering large print, Braille or audio tape etc to people with visual impairments. However, I must stress that these are only basic guidance and in all cases you should establish the access requirements of the individuals within their group.

I hope over the coming blogs that you will gain a better insight in to the various areas of disability and those access requirements that society needs to adopt.

Monday, 14 September 2009

London Fire Safety Week

The London Fire Brigade kicked off its first ever Fire Safety Week which will run from 12th to 18th September 2009. It is hoped that this initiative will raise fire safety awareness within the London area.

One area that the London Fire Brigade is hoping to highlight is the fire safety for high risk groups i.e. older people and disabled people.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “Our first Fire Safety Week will provide us with an excellent opportunity to get our safety messages across to those who are most at risk from fire. Our research and experience tell us that certain behaviours and social circumstances make some Londoners more vulnerable than others and we want to target those people so that we get to them now – before they have a fire”.

During the course of last year, the London Fire Brigade were called out to over 130,000 incidents in which 39 people lost their lives - 60% of those people were within the high risk groups. Even one death is too many!

From a business perspective, many business owners are not aware of the current fire legislations. In October 2006, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force and with it came the largest change to fire safety legislation for over 35 years.

One of the main changes was that the RRO places a responsibility on management to ensure the fire safety, including the safe evacuation, of all users of premises and there is a duty to carry out a Risk Assessment for all non- domestic premises and common parts i.e. within blocks of flats etc.

It is important to note that the RRO moves the responsibility for evacuation away from the fire service to the employer/service provider.

All procedures should ensure the safe evacuation of disabled people, with assistance where required but many do not know what procedures should be in place. For example, there may be the need to ensure that Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS) are in place. In addition, equipment such as evac-chairs or life-sliders may also be required especially in environments such as railway stations etc.

For many, when thinking about fire safety, their thoughts go no further than that of a smoke alarm but it is imperative that all businesses carry out risk assessments to ensure the safe evacuation of all – be it staff or visitors.

Is your organisation doing enough?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Scope Research

Research by Scope, published in June 2009, has thrown up some disturbing statistics with regard to the perception of disability and with over 2000 people taking part, the views cannot be ignored.

From their research, they have ascertained that:-

* 53% of society view disabled people in a negative way;


* 38% believe that disabled people are a drain on resources

Worrying to say the least and it is clear to me that these figures are borne from ignorance and stereo-typing of disabled people.

On a positive, we must take note that their research also found strong support for tackling disability with accessible transport, access to public buildings and tougher action for Blue Badge abuse being cited as areas for improvement.

I believe that the attitudes of society can be changed and we may all be surprised with the speed these changes could happen if only the right resources were available. Unfortunately, disabled issues always seem to be in the background and we all need to start pushing them through to the foreground.