Blind World Magazine

Needs of the blind are not being met.

November 03, 2005.
The Montreal Gazette, Canada.

The barriers faced by blind and visually impaired Canadians 30 years ago are essentially the same ones they face today - unemployment, poverty, and exclusion from everyday life - according to a new national study.

The report, An Unequal Playing Field, also stressed that many highly qualified blind and visually impaired people are living in poverty because they cannot find jobs, and that although the number of seniors with permanent vision loss is soaring, access to public transportation remains limited.

Prepared for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the report, released yesterday, updates a landmark 1976 study that examined the needs of the blind.

"The report's message is we've come a long way in 30 years - and yet we haven't," CNIB president Jim Sanders told a news conference. "This report tells us barriers such as access to transportation, access to specialized technology and low-vision devices, and the training to use them, prevent highly competent and capable individuals from doing so."

Almost half of the 352 adults with vision loss who took part in the study reported annual incomes of $20,000 or less, regardless of marital or family status.

The report also said only 25 per cent of those age 21 to 64 participating in the study reported they are employed.

"That is a national disgrace," said Canadians with Disabilities national co-ordinator Laurie Beachell. "And it is a waste of so much talent that our economy needs."

For the blind, negative employer attitudes are a major impediment to finding a job, the study concluded.

"Across many consultations, people stated the need for public education to change attitudes about blindness, so that potential employers understand that a person who is blind requires an opportunity, some accommodation, in order to work," it said.

Several parents and teachers involved in the study stressed: "skills of children who are blind must be developed so that they are working from a young age toward the world of work."

Dawn Clelland of Kitchener, Ont., co-chairperson of a support group for blind and visually impaired children, said the report "tells not only how our children need adaptation for numeracy and literacy. But children who are blind or visually impaired also must have at the school level socialization, independent living, recreation, leisure, life management and self-determination skills.

"These needs are not options. Yet they are not being provided for our young people," added Clelland, whose daughter Alyssa, 7, was born blind, and her son Ryan, 7, is sighted.

"How do I as a mom feel about that? Challenged. I believe that the biggest challenges for our children are the needs that are not met. If we meet these challenges with strength and determination our little people deserve, I am certain that when they are adults they will not feel so challenged. After all, all they can't do is see."

The report's major recommendations include establishing a nationwide program for assistive devices, including special computers; integrating vision rehab services into the overall vision health system; and increasing financing and understanding of service requirements for those with vision loss.

The report said 37 per cent of participants experienced feelings of isolation, while 44 per cent cited the "reduced capacity" to do the things they wanted to do.

Joe Macintyre, 80, who leads an Ottawa CNIB support group for seniors, said many seniors need emotional help to deal with the loneliness and loss of independence caused by vision loss.

"They feel the whole world is a tuxedo and they're a pair of brown shoes," he said. It's a grieving process, marked by frustration, anger, sorrow and despair.

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