Friday, 18 March 2011

Revolution In The Air


Whatever your political views, you might to some extent, agree with me that times are tough for less able people. Some of our blind mates too, are losing their jobs, having their benefit cut and noticing their local services diminish. Yes, so is everyone else or rather others who can’t defend themselves and their way of life. We still hear that decisions about us are being made by wealthy people who can’t possibly know what it is like to struggle financially, socially or physically. So all this begins to raise questions about what, if anything, we can do about it.
In North Africa and the Arab world, we have witnessed an outpouring of expressive anger. People are thinking they could manage quite well without their greedy, wealthy despotic rulers who have done so little to better the living standards of their citizens. In the day of the internet, no one now believes in the divine right to rule and our brothers in the Arab world have shown great bravery in standing up and putting their very lives at risk.
So how does all this affect blind and other disadvantaged UK citizens when things don’t seem to be fairly going our way. Can we strike like a trade union? Can we fill a major London square for days? Can we refuse to cooperate with local or central government totally and not pay our dues or have our forms filled in? Can we rely on and trust those who claim to speak on behalf of us? Should RNIB, GDAB and Action For Blind People indeed speak for us? And what about the wealth issue? If my mate is now on £60 per week after a lifetime of work, should the people who claim to speak on his behalf receive salaries from £25,000 right up to over £100,000 when they don’t really seem to be making so much difference to his life?
With these thoughts in my mind, I read recently that the cost of blindness in the UK is a massive £20 something Billion each year. I have no idea how this is calculated but I am sure that a huge chunk of this represents the salaries of the many professionals who do good things on our behalf. The cost of blindness that does not and never can appear in the accounts is represented by the unpaid efforts of our families and friends. In the Big Society and the Smaller State, there is little reason to suppose that human unpaid-for support will diminish. Allowing for human nature, a good deal of the whinging and squealing from professional bodies might jus be at least partially motivated by the threat to their own jobs and status in society. But there is an even more interesting aspect arising out of the current challenging situation. Maybe now is the time for blind people to relearn to stand on their own feet, make their own stories and successes. Here are just a few examples: Instead of relying on Incapacity Benefit and no work, why not supplement the new and lower benefits by doing a little paid work but not telling the world about it. Instead of waiting to be taken to places, why not actually finding and asking a travel buddy to show you the way once or twice and then being brave enough to travel alone. Instead of of joining the general moan about UK transport not announcing stops and stations, why not make the effort to speak up and say, once or twice, ‘where are we’ or ‘Please could you tell me when we get to my stop’. And lastly and much more controversially, why not speak up and say as blind individuals what we ourselves really want. Do we want millions each year to go to large national charities or would we prefer the balance to shift to local provision and services? Do we want our big charities to involve with technology or would we prefer any public money that is going be spent encouraging small private companies to develop what we need? Of course, the argument can work the other way. Would we prefer to shut down some local dominos clubs and better spend the money on nationally significant projects.
Back then to the stirrings in the Arab world and North Africa. For my part, I have seen no evidence of such stirring spreading to the blind world so maybe we just need a mechanism to make our voices heard. This coming weekend, I am playing a part in a weekend which will teach ten young blind people how to make their own websites to get their young voices heard. A very small step, I agree; but we don’t have to sit silent and be told what to do by seeing wealthy people unless we choose to or can’t be bothered to change things. I will report on the kids weekend in another blog.

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