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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 05:58 GMT


Taking the trauma out of blindness

Many blind people do not get professional help

Education Secretary David Blunkett will launch a video designed to help blind people come to terms with their disability on Wednesday.

The National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom (NFB), which produced the video, hopes the launch will also draw attention to the poor services on offer to the 20,000 people who go blind every year in the UK.

NFB public relations officer Jill Allen-King said that once people are registered as blind they are entitled to an assessment by social services.

However, she said that assessment might be delayed for up to two years, and even when it has been carried out there is no guarantee that many blind people will receive the services they require.

"In many areas there are just not sufficient staff to visit people and to teach them how to live as a blind person," she said.

"We hear from all over the country of people being registered and just not knowing where to go for help.

"The vast majority of blind people are elderly, housebound and not able to get out and about, but the lack of rehabilitation and mobility officers is appalling."

Traumatic experience

[ image: David Blunkett will launch the video]
David Blunkett will launch the video
Mrs Allen-King, who went blind 35 years ago, said the experience was very traumatic.

She said even the most basic aspects of life such as making a cup of tea and getting washed and dressed in the mornings had to be re-learned.

After she went blind, she spent seven years housebound, and her self-confidence dropped alarmingly.

One of the first mistakes she remembers making was mixing up her toothpaste with her husband's hair cream because they were in the same sized tubes.

The NFB video provides tips on how to use the other senses to minimise the disability, as well as information on services available from organisations such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

In total, there are 1.6 million blind and partially sighted people in the UK.

The figure is set to rise as more people live longer. One in four people over the age of 80 are registerable blind.

Many cases of blindess are due to cataracts which can be reversed by surgery.

However, hospital waiting lists for this operation are among the longest in the country.

The 20-minute video, Eye Spy Help, is available from the NFB on 01924 291313.

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