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Blunkett: blindness means I couldn't be Prime Minister

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Vaughan | 16:06 UK time, Monday, 16 February 2009


Saturday's edition of The Guardian featured a very detailed and extremely enlightening interview with former government minister - and possibly the UK's most famous blind person - David Blunkett. He talked about his forthcoming marriage to 50-year-old GP Margaret Williams, the scandals that saw him leave the political stage in controversial circumstances not just once but twice, and how those events affected his life. The interview also touched upon the current rumours in Westminster that Mr Blunkett might be about to make his third return to a high profile government role in some way, though needless to say he gave a typically non-committal politician's answer to that one.

However, Blunkett was surprisingly candid about himself and his disability when he was asked if he ever considered going for the biggest political job of Prime Minister:

I said in 2001 or 2002, I wasn't entirely sure that someone who couldn't see and therefore couldn't speed-read could actually deal with the prime minister's job in the modern era. It would have been dead easy up until about 20 years ago: you had the space and time. Now it's not just global communication and the internet and the immediacy of everything, it's also the expectation of everything you've got to be engaged in. And that's quite a big challenge if you can't see.

Reading that admission, it's perhaps useful to remember that Mr Blunkett - unlike many blind people - is not much of a computer user. When he was in the Government, his ministerial box was bigger than other ministers so that the all the Brailled documents he needed could fit in it, and he had armies of staff reading other material onto cassette for him.

Reading Braille and listening to cassette is reportedly quite a laborious and slow process. It surely would have been much faster had he gone digital: reading and writing material using a computer equipped with all the necessary access technology. It's certainly not difficult to imagine that his rather old-fashioned way of working would prove extremely difficult in the even more pressured role of Prime Minister.

But what about for a more computer-savvy blind person? With technology becoming more powerful all the time, is it possible that a blind MP could take the top job of running the country? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


  • Comment number 1.

    He makes a good point and I'm glad that it has been interperated rightfully as a techical problem rather than a discriminatory one.

    However it is more likely to be his chequered personal issues that would prevent him getting the job than any physical ailment in this case.

  • Comment number 2.

    I think his political incompetence makes him unfit to be Prime Minister, not his blindness. There's no excuse for him not to learn how to use technology to his advantage.

  • Comment number 3.

    Political considerations aside... this item highlights the needs for socio-technical perspectives on people's roles, responsibilities and the potential application of technology. If you Google Hodges' model there is a tool that can help with holistic assurance. The interpersonal knowledge domain includes accessibility resources. Inclusion of a political domain makes the model a key tool in this field - within and without of health and social care.


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