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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
12 February 2008

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Factsheet

PHYSICAL AND VERBAL ABUSE

The programme ask how serious the abuse of visually impaired people is.

A recent report from Action for Blind People suggested it is significantly more prevalent than when compared to the rest of the population.

Peter is joined by Kirsten Hearn, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority's Diversity and Equal Opportunities Panel, and Ian Macrae, Editor of Disability Now.

Mani Djazmi also reported from a disability hate crime conference, organised by DITO (Disability Information Training Opportunity) held in London last week, where he spoke to Frances Lane.

CONTACTS

DISABILITY NOW
http://www.disabilitynow.org.uk/
The magazine is currently running a campaign against hate crime.


DITO
Resource Centre
40-50 Southern Grove
London E3 4PX
Tel 020 7364 6564
Fax 020 8981 7162
TextPhone 020 7364 6986
E-Mail info@ditoth.org
http://www.ditoth.org/
The Disability Information Training Opportunity (dito) is a project offering Information services, informal IT learning and ideas about work for disabled people in Tower Hamlets.
dito is a community project made up of and for disabled people in Tower Hamlets.


ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
London
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Web: www.afbp.org
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.



EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DISABILITY HELPLINE (England)
FREEPOST MID02164
Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.
Enquiry: englandhelpline2@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com


EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE WALES
Freepost RRLR-UEYB-UYZL
1st Floor
3 Callaghan Square
Cardiff
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: waleshelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com




EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE SCOTLAND
Freepost RRLL-GYLB-UJTA
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
Glasgow
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: scotlandhelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com


GENERAL CONTACTS

RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0845 766 9999
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
Web: www.rnib.org.uk
The RNIB provides information, support and advice for anyone with a serious sight problem. They not only provide Braille, Talking Books and computer training, but imaginative and practical solutions to everyday challenges. The RNIB campaigns to change society's attitudes, actions and assumptions, so that people with sight problems can enjoy the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities as fully sighted people. They also fund pioneering research into preventing and treating eye disease and promote eye health by running public health awareness campaigns.


HENSHAWS SOCIETY FOR BLIND PEOPLE (HSBP)
John Derby House
88-92 Talbot Road
Old Trafford
Manchester
M16 0GS
Tel: 0161 872 1234
Email: info@hsbp.co.uk
Web: www.henshaws.org.uk
Henshaws provides a wide range of services for people who have sight difficulties. They aim to enable visually impaired people of all ages to maximise their independence and enjoy a high quality of life. They have centres in: Harrogate, Knaresborough, Liverpool, Llandudno, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Salford, Southport and Trafford.


THE GUIDE DOGS FOR THE BLIND ASSOCIATION (GDBA)
Burghfield Common
Reading
RG7 3YG
Tel: 0118 983 5555
Email: guidedogs@guidedogs.org.uk
Web: www.guidedogs.org.uk
The GDBA’s mission is to provide guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services that meet the needs of blind and partially sighted people.


ACTION FOR BLIND PEOPLE
14-16 Verney Road
London
SE16 3DZ
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Web: www.afbp.org
Registered charity with national cover that provides practical support in the areas of housing, holidays, information, employment and training, cash grants and welfare rights for blind and partially-sighted people. Leaflets and booklets are available.


NATIONAL LEAGUE OF THE BLIND AND DISABLED
Central Office
Swinton House
324 Grays Inn Road
London
WC1X 8DD
Tel: 020 7837 6103
Textphone: 020 7837 6103
National League of the Blind and Disabled is a registered trade union and is involved in all issues regarding the employment of blind and disabled people in the UK.


NATIONAL LIBRARY FOR THE BLIND (NLB)
RNIB Customer Services on 0845 762 6843
Email: cservices@rnib.org.uk
Web: www.nlb-online.org
The NLB is a registered charity which helps visually impaired people throughout the country continue to enjoy the same access to the world of reading as people who are fully sighted.

Trustees from the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and the National Library for the Blind (NLB) have agreed to merge the library services of both charities as of 1 January 2007, creating the new RNIB National Library Service.


EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION DISABILITY HELPLINE (England)
FREEPOST MID02164
Stratford upon Avon
CV37 9BR
Tel: 08457 622 633
Textphone: 08457 622 644
Fax: 08457 778 878
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 8:00 am-8:00 pm.
Enquiry: englandhelpline2@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com

EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE WALES
Freepost RRLR-UEYB-UYZL
1st Floor
3 Callaghan Square
Cardiff
CF10 5BT
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: waleshelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com




EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE SCOTLAND
Freepost RRLL-GYLB-UJTA
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
Glasgow
G2 8DU
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax

9:00 am-5:00 pm, Monday to Friday (an out-of-hours service will start running soon)

Enquiry: scotlandhelpline@equalityhumanrights.com
www.equalityhumanrights.com


DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
London
W9 2HU
Tel: 0845 130 9177
Web: www.dlf.org.uk
The Disabled Living Foundation provide information and advice on disability equipment.

The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
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Transcript

White
Good evening. Just how serious is the prevalence of physical and verbal attacks on visually impaired people? Clearly, violence against anyone, verbal or physical, is to be discouraged; but whether we like it or not, it's a routine part of the society we live in, carried out and depicted in our media every day. But is it, as the recent report by Action for Blind People suggested, substantially more prevalent against disabled people and specifically visually-impaired people? Just to remind you, those figures suggested 20,000 visually-impaired people physically assaulted every day, 180,000 verbally and physically assaulted every week. Action for Blind People, who commissioned the report, acknowledged they themselves were amazed, sent the figures back but had them confirmed. Well here are just some of your reactions to that broadcast and to the issue of abuse and violence against visually-impaired people.

Vox pops
Check out the Bernard Manning video when he says: "If you want a good laugh why not creep up on a blind man when he's crossing the road and go beep, beep, beep?" Or the Rolling Stones album cover that suggests: "If you haven't got enough money to pay for this album rob a blind man." It suggests to me that one reason we are targets may be that bullies perceive they are more likely to get away with it.

I feel the survey was badly conducted and overstated the figures. Do you think you will suffer physical or verbal abuse in the future? Definitely, potentially or no. If you can find anyone who can answer let me know as they can fill out my next lottery ticket.

Clearly Peter is fortunate to live in a nice affluent and safe area. I thought the Action for Blind People's report clearly highlighted the great ignorance which I myself, as a severely partially sighted person, have encountered. Most young people or anyone under the age of 40 don't seem to know or care what a cane represents. They tend not to make way, to rush past me from behind or have little patience or respect. I've encountered abuse when I've bumped into people and I've even encountered youngsters sniggering about me and this is in a so-called nice area such as Rye in East Sussex.

I've been blind for more than 40 years and have never been attacked but have, of course, exchanged strong views from time to time with strangers. I think it's called life. I can't help wondering if we're not becoming a bit too softened by modern society.

White
Those comments from David Tregelles, Christine Ward, John Mason and John Savage.

Well of course what's not in doubt is that this does happen. This is Denise Jarrett's story of what happened to her on the estate where she lives in Birmingham.

Jarrett
It moved from eggs to the window to stones being thrown at me and then bricks being thrown at me. The last straw was a football kicked in my face and that's when I knew I was really being targeted because of my partial sight because I heard one of the youths deliberately say to the other one: "Kick the ball in that blind bat's face", simply because I'm low vision and they know that I can't identify them. It only happens when I'm alone. The first time I phoned the police they actually turned up three days later and when I explained what was happening they said: "Oh well can you identify them?" I said: "Well, no because I'm low vision." "Oh well if you can't identify them, don't waste our time."

White
So, how typical is this; does it require specific action from the law and the police, and on a more personal level, how can it be combated? Joining me to discuss this is Kirsten Hearn, who chairs the Equality Opportunities and Diversity Board of the Metropolitan Police Authority and the editor of Disability Now, Ian Macrae. The magazine is currently running a campaign against hate crime.

First of all, can we get this whole issue of what you think about these figures and its prevalence, Ian, first of all?

Macrae
I think it's a bit sad, I think Action for Blind People actually missed a trick by allowing people to get rather hung up on the methodology and that was because they produced this astonishing figure. And I think for someone like you, Pete, who's basically on side to be able to say well in a fortnight that means everybody - every blind person in Britain would have been beaten up or something shows that perhaps they were a bit in error to concentrate so heavily on the figures. After all they had spectacularly strong examples, including Denise, of where this had happened and I think that's what they should have sold it on, not the 20,000.

White
Kirsten, prevalence - clearly as Denise's case illustrates it does happen and we were not denying that, but do you think it is common on a kind of drip, drip level?

Hearn
I think it is common a drip, drip level, the issue is that a lot of people aren't reporting it. I don't know the figures are as high as Action for Blind People say and I don't think we should kind of like worry about that so much. The fact of the matter any hate crime against any individual disabled people is wrong and we should oppose it and we should encourage people to report it. And bringing this to the open in the way that the programme did, the way Ian has done and the way Action for Blind People have done as well is only to be commended.

White
So why does it happen Ian and does that matter, surely we need to find out why it happens if we're going to combat it?

Macrae
Well I think one of the respondents to the previous programme made a point there about Bernard Manning's off taste gags and the Rolling Stones line on the album cover and stuff, I think it signifies the way in which society or some elements of society simply view disabled people. If you look at the most recent case, which didn't involve, it has to be said, a visually impaired person but Brent Martins the young lad in Sunderland who was chased kind of halfway across the town by these three guys who repeatedly beat him until he was dead, they did that - Well why did they do it? - they did that because of their attitude towards him as a disabled person.

White
Brent had a learning disability?

Macrae
Indeed.

White
Yeah. Kirsten, the one important issue here that perhaps we ought to discuss right at the beginning and that is this business of the police's attitude, we heard Denise talking about the fact that the police said you can't identify and therefore what can we do, was almost the implication, there's no point in us turning up.

Hearn
Yeah, that's very common as well because of course we also find that assailants actually will taunt blind people with you can't identify me but the fact of the matter is actually that with careful questioning of victims you can actually ascertain quite a lot about a person if they can't see - about their smell, their voice, the circumstances they were in - all kinds of things like that. It's true that people think that blind people are not good witnesses but there are now rewrites of what the police call standard operating procedures which govern the way they deal with these things which are beginning to ask officers to examine the wider issues around what else did you notice about this person given that you couldn't see them. I think it's also true that the message hasn't got fully out and still many police officers might also think that a blind person can't identify their assailant.

Macrae
I raised this matter with two people from the West Midlands police who police the area where Denise lives and they said they put their hands completely and said this is simply not good enough, to say you couldn't see them so there's nothing we can do. I mean they made the point, for example, that there was probably a technological solution to that, there probably are close circuit cameras on the vicinity of where this was happening to Denise and assailants could be identified in that way.

White
One thing which is becoming clear is that this is being taken increasingly seriously, a lot of conferences around - I think I know of four happening in the next few months. Last week a conference took place in East London, run by DITO, that's the Disability Information Training Opportunity. The conference was aimed at disabled people in general, Mani Djazmi went along for us and he met Frances Lane, who is visually impaired, and Frances has converted her angst about this whole issue into verse.

Lane
It's called The White Stick Blues

I don't see too well so I've got a white stick
To help me cope with all the traffic
But sometimes it really makes me sick
And it gives me the white stick blues

Most people I meet are very kind
But some think it's fun to be half blind
And absence of sight equals absence of mind
And it gives me the white stick blues

I'm sick and tired of trying to explain
It's my eyes that's weak it's not my brain
But that's the opposite of those who cause me pain
And give me the white stick blues

I wish I had the power of hocus pocus
I'd cast a spell on all these jokers
Make them live in a world that's out of focus
And give them the white stick blues

All you people with perfect vision
Imagine yourself in my position
To be the object of a fool's derision
Would give you the white stick blues

I'm not asking for your sympathy
I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me
Just grant me a little dignity
Don't give me the white stick blues

Djazmi
It's a very powerful poem, just give us an insight into the kind of things which have inspired you to write it.

Lane
Well there was - you get these idiots on the street and they think you're deaf as well and they make these comments behind your back - oh look she's got a cripple stick - and if I look in a shop window I've got to get really close to the shop window to see what's in there and they make hilarious comments about I'm looking like Quasimodo or I shouldn't be out without a keeper, not a carer a keeper. And one guy on a bus actually asked me: "What's it like being blind?" And I said: "Oh it's okay, what's it like being stupid?" But he didn't get the point, which proves my point. Because people think because you've got a sensory impairment you've got no feelings, you can't be hurt, you can't be insulted, you can't be offended, you're not a fully paid up member of the human race and I - as you can tell - I get really, really wound up about that. And I'm - I'm going to get a smack one day because I don't hold back, if I feel I'm being slighted I will challenge people. And they're mostly bigger than me and I'm going to get into trouble one day but that's not going to stop me because the only way these people are going to learn that what they're doing isn't acceptable is by being challenged. Because we make ourselves doormats they're going to walk over us, we've got to start fighting back, in small ways - picking someone up on something, challenging them on something. And it's going to be hard because nobody's done this before, it was the same with racism, sexism, ageism - we've got to start small.

Djazmi
But is taking things into your own hands and fighting fire with fire necessarily the wisest thing to do?

Lane
Maybe I'm being a bit sneaky because I'm a disabled woman with a white stick they'd look really bad if they hit me, so maybe I'm getting a sneaky advantage on that. But they get away with it because they're allowed to get away with it. Maybe they'll find their own couple of brain cells and start thinking.

White
Frances Lane talking and reading her verse to Mani Djazmi.

Kirsten Hearn, this goes to the nub of the matter in a way because Frances is writing about that kind of low level abuse that goes on, is that though the same thing as the sort of physical abuse that perhaps some people will have thought that we were talking about?

Hearn
Well it begins with the low level insults - name calling leads to attacks and abuse. And you have to stamp out that low level as well, we should be saying it is intolerable to taunt people the way disabled people are being taunted by non-disabled people on the streets.

White
Because you see, Ian, a lot of people may argue, particularly perhaps the people who've written to us and e-mailed us and said you know that's life isn't it, you know people are subjected to name calling and so forth, is there a danger of confusing that with the kind of abuse, say, that Denise encountered, which was physical abuse?

Macrae
Okay. I ask my children not to do that kind of thing in the schoolyard, so you know let's just talk about moving the schoolyard, if that's the way - if that's life I don't accept that, I think it is unacceptable. The fact is the press get hold of the notion of hate crime because of incidents like the one involving Brent Martins. Racially motivated hate crime came to people's attention because Stephen Lawrence was horribly murdered. Homophobic hate crime came to people's attention when somebody nail bombed a pub in Soho. But you know gay people, black and Asian people are being beaten up on a daily basis, abused and insulted on a daily basis and so are disabled people. It shouldn't take a case like the Brent Martins' one for this to be on people's radar, really, as Kirsten says, if it's happening at that kind of low level - and believe me it is, it happened to my mother - my mother ended up having to move house simply because she was taunted, harassed, abused on a daily basis and she ended up having to move house because she was blind.

Hearn
I was abused by some children on a sort of a regular basis and then one day, around about fireworks day, they started to throw fireworks at me and it led from one thing to another - from being generally abused and shouts of blindy, blind and that stuff to actually being physically threatened by having fireworks thrown at me. And I believe that they were both, same kids, connected.

White
So you're saying that what you have to have is this kind of zero tolerance level, that had that been picked up then the worse kind of abuse ...

Hearn
Yes.

White
Can we talk about combating it, let's forget for a moment, can the people who do it, but how do you combat it and are there good ways to combat it, I mean are there psychological ways, perhaps particularly as you get older and may be know a bit more about the people you're dealing with? Kirsten first.

Hearn
Yeah you know I think one of the things that happens is we need to engage much more generally with kids on the streets actually before they get abusive because often it starts with a curious - Are you blind then? - or - Why have you got that stick? - and we respond bugger off or whatever that's really not going to help very much, if we respond by saying well yes I am, I need to go to the bus stop now, nothing aggressive but non-committal but not unfriendly, it's possible actually we can get into an engagement with young people where they see us humans. But if we stomp past them snarling mind your own business or something like that to their innocent or not so innocent inquiries then I think we develop a relationship that can be difficult.

White
And does that work, I mean if you talk to someone like Denise, you know, who's been subjected to this she might say these kids are kind of beyond that, these are roaming gangs?

Hearn
Yes indeed and they are beyond that but for quite a few people it starts somewhere, it always starts somewhere, it's how do you address where it begins?

White
Ian.

Macrae
In general physical retaliation is a bad idea. For two reasons: One, you're likely to come off worst. Two, it's the whole - you know that famous Laurel and Hardy movie where they - they and their neighbours end up sort of doing worse and worse things to each other just to get back at each other. So retaliation - physical retaliation - I would say is a very, very bad idea. In terms of the low level abuse I think that's got to be tackled in a more systemic way, people's attitudes towards us have got to be changed, either by us or by other people who are responsible for the education system and so forth.

White
Can I just ...

Macrae
Or parents.

White
Can I pick up one issue with you? It's always raised - are some people more vulnerable than others, do some people portray themselves as more vulnerable and if so is there anything you can do about that?

Macrae
I'm sorry to say I take a really hard line on this. I think to say that is the equivalent of saying - if a woman walks down that particular street at that particular time of night she's asking to be raped. And it's just not - that's not acceptable. I don't think the concept of vulnerability in that context is at all helpful. What - Brent Martins wasn't vulnerable because of who he was, he was vulnerable because a bunch of guys decided they were going to beat him to death. For me it's just not acceptable to say you have to walk straight and proud and in that way nobody's going to jump on you.

Hearn
And if society keeps getting the message that we are lesser then they're going to continue to treat us as though we are lesser so we have to attack that attitude at the very bottom.

White
So one perhaps final point really, I think issuing from what really Ian said about the fact that these things start small and go on, should we be seeking special laws which talk, for example, about hate crime or should we simply be asking for fair administration of the ones that exist against the perpetrators of violence, let's face it there are plenty of laws about people not attacking people?

Hearn
The hate crime against disabled people is actually covered in - I can't remember which act it is actually ...

Macrae
2003.

Hearn
Thank you very much, already covered. The issue is actually about - it's two things really. One is actually raising the profile of the issues and asking people not to put up with it anymore, to say to somebody this has happened to me, even if they think it's low level. And the second thing is to make sure that the police respond properly and appropriately.

White
Yeah because that won't make any difference if it isn't pursued energetically will it.

Hearn
Absolutely and I think that you know we need to be making sure that things like bureaucratic standard operating procedures are written in such a way to say to police officers this is how you must respond and that is the work in fact we're doing at the MPS.

Macrae
Our magazine is asking for four things for our campaign. One is we're asking disabled people to report this when it happens or as Kirsten said to get someone else to report it for you, if you're unable to make your own representation. The second is for the police then to take those reports seriously and to say did this happen because of what this person is, in the same way that they ask that sort of question of crimes against black people etc. The third thing is for the CPS - the Crown Prosecution Service - then to prosecute those crimes as hate crimes and not use the idea that people are less than credible witnesses as a means of not prosecuting them. And the fourth thing is that the judges in the criminal justice system, at the kind of the top of the food chain if you like, that they invoke what are called the aggravating provisions which mean that they can give stiffer sentences to people where it can be shown that the crime was committed against a person because of what they are.

White
So that's what you're asking for. We will be watching the progress of that and indeed we'd like very much to hear from other people. We'd always like to hear your reactions, you can call our action line on 0800 044 044, you can contact our website and you can download a podcast of tonight's programme from tomorrow. From me, Peter White, my producer Cheryl Gabriel, warm thanks to Ian Macrae and Kirsten Hearn but we'll leave the final word on this to Frances Lane.

Lane
I'm a member of Mensa so I'm not slow
But unfortunately that doesn't show
People see the stick, that's all they know
And they give me the white stick blues

It's hard enough to live like this
Without brain dead morons taking the piss
So don't make it any worse than it is
Don't give me the white stick blues
Please don't give me the white stick blues


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