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BBC Radio 4
The programme talked to author and teacher Simon Hayhoe about attitudes to blindness.
Title: God, Money and politics: English attitudes to Blindness and touch, from the enlightenment to Integration
Author: Simon Hayhoe
Publisher: Information Age Publishing (15 Jun 2008)
Vocaleyes, a company specialising in audio description, is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
Judy Dixey, Executive Director of Vocaleyes, discussed how they will mark the occasion.
Tel: 020 7375 1043.
AULD ENEMIES CUP
Next week England play Scotland in an international blind golf event at Saltash in Cornwall.
The programme talked to Tony Shearman, co-ordinator of the event, and England's non-playing captain.
The event runs from Monday 1st September until Thursday 4th.
For further information go to English Blind Golf Association’s website at:
105 Judd Street
Helpline: 0845 766 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
Tel: 0207 388 1266 (switchboard/overseas callers)
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
Tel: 0161 872 1234
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)
Tel: 0118 983 5555
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
Tel: 0800 915 4666 (info & advice)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
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
324 Grays Inn Road
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)
Far Cromwell Road
Tel: 0161 406 2525
Textphone: 0161 355 2043
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 HELPLINE (England)
0845 604 6610 - England main number
0845 604 6620 - England textphone
0845 604 6630 - England fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)
EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (Wales)
3 Callaghan Square
0845 604 8810 - Wales main number
0845 604 8820 - Wales textphone
0845 604 8830 - Wales fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)
EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION HELPLINE (Scotland)
The Optima Building
58 Robertson Street
0845 604 5510 - Scotland Main
0845 604 5520 - Scotland Textphone
0845 604 5530 - Scotland – Fax
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 9:00 am-5:00 pm; Wed 9:00 am-8:00 pm (last call taken at 7:45pm)
DISABLED LIVING FOUNDATION
380-384 Harrow Road
Tel: 0845 130 9177
The Disabled Living Foundation provides information and advice on disability equipment.
The Geoffrey Udall Centre
Reading RG7 2AT
Tel: 0118 9885688
Thrive is a national charity, founded in 1978, whose aim is to research, educate and promote the use and advantages of gardening for those with a disability. Thrive’s vision is that the benefits of gardening are known to, and can be accessed by, anyone with a disability.
Thrive has been supporting blind gardeners for over 30 years, and established the Blind Gardeners’ Club with RNIB in 2006 to help gardeners share information and techniques. Membership of the club costs £9 a year and includes:
The BBC is not responsible for external websites
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TX: 26.08.08 2040-2100
PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
PRODUCER: KATHLEEN GRIFFIN
Good Evening. Tonight: what's driving the policies which have profoundly influenced the lives of blind and partially sighted people? I'll be talking to the author who believes they go back a very long way indeed, and that they owe more to considerations of God, money and politics than to serving our best interests. And, on a slightly less exalted plain we'll be discovering how a French classic will be used to celebrate 10 years of audio description.
Now it's a commonplace on this programme to hear people say that attitudes to blindness are far more often the problem, than the blindness itself: attitudes such as a patronising air, and a consistent under-estimation of what we can do. But where do those attitudes come from, and what effect have they had on public policy towards blind and partially sighted people, in terms of social care, education, and work? Well author and teacher Simon Hayhoe thinks they go back to some of our deepest beliefs, and in his book God, Money and Politics: English Attitudes to Blindness and Touch, from the Enlightenment to Integration he tries to sort them out.
Simon Hayhoe, you make a distinction between the lived reality of blindness and the study of blindness, have they been separate throughout history?
Oh absolutely. There is a major difference between our understanding of blindness as a sighted community and also the lived reality of blindness or the lived reality of blind people who actually have been educated in the first place. I mean for example, our ideas about blindness have come from people like John Locke who was at the birth of the enlightenment discussing the background to not being able to see. So it's been assumed immediately, in the medical model, that blind people immediately cannot see or have no light perception whatsoever. And so all the debates that have gone on from that, in philosophy and biology, have actually addressed a situation in which people have no sight and therefore their morality is different because they have no sight or their needs are different because they have no sight.
And half the problem seems to be that word vision, doesn't it, because it's the kind of connection between vision meaning sight, quite simply, and vision in its much more spiritual sense.
This idea that a lack of light allows you or disallows you to actually understand God and actually how we understand religion in itself, the theology itself.
And presumably in a religious age if you couldn't understand God you couldn't understand anything at all very much.
Absolutely. Again education has its roots within religion and the religious background and what I've found, particularly with the early asylums and the first institutions for the blind, was their ideas of morality actually engaged the curriculum and actually meant that people had to actually learn God through hard work because it was assumed that they couldn't achieve God through, for example, art or literature.
And there are also, as you make clear, there's this problem of being seen, as it were, almost as a lump - we seem to be saying, as with all other drivers and conclusions about blindness and what we should do about it, we're all lumped together as the blind.
The major thing that's come out of my experience as a teacher is that students actually have individual needs and individual backgrounds that actually affect the way they learn. And there are no two students that are the same. Now our understanding of blindness of course comes from a medical need to actually group together classifications of illness, to actually treat those illnesses but unfortunately at the same time, because of that, our theories have been guided by this almost homogenic attitude towards blindness that it is a total lack of vision, there's no light perception. And also that blind people have never had light perception. I mean, for example, there's a large proportion of blind people themselves who are actually late blind, probably the largest group of blind people, but those aren't catered for in the educational theories and the psychological theories.
Indeed. I often feel I have to apologise for the fact that I'm one of those people who has been totally blind from birth because we are relatively rare.
Almost an aristocracy of the blind.
So when Simon in England do we first see people trying to - if I can put it this way - do something about the blind?
Well in the 1790s the first schools were actually conceived of in Liverpool and in Bristol. There was one in Edinburgh that came along in 1791. But in England my particular focus are the two main ones from Bristol and Liverpool in the 1790s, early 1790s. Now the reason that they were set up was that it was found that there were many blind beggars on the streets of these cities and there's no coincidence these were port cities as well and lots of people flocked to those cities because they knew they could actually get money from begging. And also there was a lot of sexually transmitted diseases that were around at that time and those were a major factor in the cause of blindness.
And that all contributed to this idea that we were a problem, because in some sense, although we - presumably it was your parents who had the disease you somehow got the blame for it.
And this again comes in the idea of God because the readings that I've found from, for example, poetry and also from the divisional logs from the schools for the blind, actually found that blind people were seen as actually inheriting a problem and actually having the disease was the problem and ungodly in itself, not the actual being a person.
So what they did about it was they herded us into these institutions and put us to work.
Absolutely. And the main form of curriculum in those days or the main curriculum was hand vocational work and actually producing money. And the first part of a production of money was actually to get people standing on their own two feet and actually get them into work after they left the asylums and not beg - that was the big thing. But also the schools were self sustaining, so they needed to actually have money themselves to actually keep going.
I mean I have to say I went to the one at Bristol, which you cite in your book as one of the very early ones, and I went in in 1952 as a five year old when it was still called the Royal School of Industry for the Blind. And more or less as I walked through the door kind of it felt like I was handed a basket and a stave.
And they've actually had the factory for the blind until the 1990s.
You quote a poem that was written in Bristol at this time which was kind of trying to portray what the charities were trying to do. I'll quote you a couplet:
Their aim is blessings on the blind to pour
Make useful that which useless was before
Makes you feel really good doesn't it. When did it strike anyone that maybe we could do a bit more? Because there's another element in this which is the other end of the scale, almost that blindness is kind of almost makes you a seer and a prophet, but when did it occur to someone that we might actually do academic things?
Well there are two sources for this. I mean in Europe at the time there was actually academic education going on, for example, in France blind people, as you said, were almost exalted, they were seen as Greek oracles almost. And Diderot actually wrote about blindness in his famous Letter to the Blind and the prospect of education. And he actually felt that morally some blind people, particularly women, were morally purer than sighted people because they couldn't see immorality, he particularly thought blind girls were less sexually active because of that. So as a result their education formed on literacy and so even though we invented a touch language in England before the French they actually took on the mantle almost of touch literacy and actually came up with the ideas, of course, of Braille and actually formed the touch language that now forms Braille.
And then you get a school, don't you, at the end of the 19th Century, which is another one I went to I'm afraid, which was the one in Worcester which is - almost went the other way didn't it - was academic rather than anything manual.
Well then you see a class division in blindness of course because that was actually set up as a very wealthy public school, from the King's School in Worcester that was formed by King Henry VIII in the 1500s. And the point about Worcester College or what is now called New College is that it was actually formed as a way of almost providing an alternative way of educating middle class blind children who otherwise would have had to have gone to asylum schools or were integrated into mainstream education but found it more difficult.
Now things have, on the face of it anyway, changed radically in the later part of the 20th Century and integration or inclusion is the buzz words which drive policy, so problem solved?
Oh absolutely not. I mean what we find in the 1980s of course is with the introduction of the 1981 Education Act it was done more for political and financial reasons than reasons of education and actually integrating people with disabilities into a mainstream curriculum or integrating people into a school where they could actually work better. For example, I've found, particularly in my own interview research but also through research of documents at the time, that there was a great financial crisis in the 1970s when the Warnock Committee was actually formed and so of course the easiest way to save money in education would be to close down expensive special schools. And of course later we come up with the 1981 Education Act which was actually introduced in the Year of the Disabled and because it was rushed through no one considered issues that were brought up by Warnock, such as training for teachers, and so in a way we just descaled or down scaled schools.
I can remember absolutely vividly Sir Keith Joseph, when I went - was going to interview him - and saying to him but you know where's the money for this and he said - Oh well we didn't promise anybody any money, we were told you wanted to do this but you know there isn't necessarily any money for it.
Well the most interesting part about that is I interviewed Mary Warnock through a letter interview and she actually said that it was stipulated in the original brief for the Warnock Committee that they weren't to question financial motives for the actual report that would come out in the end.
Of course a lot of policy now is driven by new concepts of self determination, if you like, of how we define ourselves, in other words by blind thinkers and policy makers, have they been any better at avoiding generalisations?
I think we're working forwards certainly but there's still a long way to go. I mean in a way we're actually creating new classification systems, we've gone away from this idea of blindness as a homogenous system but certainly in the special educational needs system we break ourselves into five categories and all we're doing is reclassifying ourselves according to the strength of the disability rather than the type of a disability. And in a way that's a retrograde step, even though it's moving forward generally, it's a retrograde step in certain ways because we're not addressing individual issues that people with individual disabilities actually have, for example, obviously Braille - reading and Braille literacy is very important for a blind person, it wouldn't be so much for someone who is deaf, for example,
And that seems to be at the heart of your book really, you're saying that we've never found ways of looking at blind people as individuals.
And this is it, we have to get away from the medical model or the biological model or even the psychological model, which came along in the 20th Century, in which we understand blind people as whole groups of people, as a whole classification of people, rather than individuals who have their own individual needs. And, for example, how do you judge a person who is completely colour blind, as I've worked with before, against a person who has no sight whatsoever? Completely different needs. How do you justify the needs of a person who's never seen against the person - the needs of a person who has seen and maybe even has a bit of residual vision but actually has completely different needs again?
The book raises a lot of fascinating issues and we may well come back to some of them. Simon Hayhoe thank you very much indeed. Plans about making this very interesting book accessible are still fluid at the moment, we'll give you as many details as we can on our action line and our website.
Of course a classic example of what inclusion has led to is audio description - the idea that in an age of very visual media: film, theatre, TV, we should be enabled to enjoy what's going on by having the action described to us. And one of the companies foremost in the field, Vocaleyes, is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary and it intends to do it with a bang. Judy Dixey, Vocaleyes executive director, told me what they had in mind.
It's very exciting. On the 11th October we're going to be audio describing the matinee performance of Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London. It's a Vocaleyes Les Mis day.
Now you've audio described all sorts of things in the last 10 years, not just shows but buildings, events, all that kind of thing, so why have you chosen Les Miserables for this anniversary?
Well Les Mis, Cameron Mackintosh, have been great supporters of us and they ask us to describe all their shows. It just seemed a wonderful fit.
And this isn't just going to be a sit and listen and watch for those with a bit of sight, is it, this is definitely a taking part event.
This is a taking part event. We're hoping to create a world record of the most number of visually impaired people attending an audio described performance.
Do we know what that record is by the way?
Well we're creating it, there is no record, we're actually creating it but Cameron Mackintosh have made over 300 tickets available. Now that will be for a visually impaired person plus companion. And we know that over 200 have sold already.
And tell me some of the - just one or two of the other things you can do when you go along.
On the day: a family workshop, which is the opportunity to even build your own barricade ...
And can you execute people?
I don't - I don't think that happens in Les Mis does it?
No it doesn't but you know it was happening quite a lot in the French Revolution, some people might want to do that.
Very true. All the family will be able to participate in that, so that's going to be great, so if somebody comes with a sibling, a young sibling or an older parent, they can participate. And as far as I know there are seven touch tours already planned. Now that gives you the chance to go on the stage, have a sense of the area and even go round on the revolve.
An exciting opportunity. Just one final thing, I mean it's 10 years since the start of audio description for you, the start of Vocaleyes, the principle of describing things that happen, how do you think it's developed, what would you see is the big difference between then and now?
I think we have become much more professional, I think we're much more attuned to what visually impaired people would like us to describe. We've worked with - in conjunction with visually impaired people all the way through. Every new aspect of the arts that we describe we are prompted by the requests of visually impaired people saying please give us access to dance or architecture or outdoor live events.
And how do you see it developing - what about the next 10 years?
I think people are going to become much more aware of audio description so that visually impaired people will be able to participate in the arts much more, which is very exciting.
And what about things like broadcasting, I mean at the moment it's still only a fraction of what happens, do you think that that will become more like subtitling, almost a thing to be taken for granted?
I would hope so.
Judy Dixey of Vocaleyes.
And there are more echoes of Simon Hayhoe's book as we come to your feedback, too. The idea that work is good for us, and much better than just doling out benefits, seemed to be implicit in disability minister Anne Maguire's explanation last week of why the government had not agreed to give blind people the higher mobility rate of Disability Living Allowance. They'd decided, she told us, to spend the money on the "access to work" allowance instead.
Andrew Walker from Scunthorpe emailed us to say:
Andrew Walker's e-mail
The arguments given regarding access to work are complete nonsense. As one of the lucky ones who work I receive help through access to work and have received support under the fares to work scheme. Fair enough but I do no receive any support with my mobility needs when actually at work. Compared to a person in a wheelchair, for instance, who works, receives higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance and support through access to work visually impaired people are substantially disadvantaged. The situation for visually impaired people out of work is even worse. Blind people are yet again subject to discrimination and substantially disadvantaged in comparison to other groups and I find the arguments of the minister insulting. We seem to be being criticised for using up the access to work budget for maintaining ourselves in employment. The very thing the government says it wants to promote. I fail to see the connection between DLA and support through access to work, they are separate things and to run them together as the same thing is dishonest. At very best this is just not joined up thinking and I wonder if the minister realises just how silly she sounded in trying to defend the utterly ridiculous.
And in similar vein this came from Ian Rae:
Ian Rae's e-mail
Where to start. I'm 52 years old and have tried to get back to work. I've had several employment advisers at my local jobless centre. The first said my age was more of a problem than being totally blind. The second said I was unemployable, even though I have spent a year at vocational college retraining. And the last said that unless I was prepared to take on further training there was nothing they could do for me. It's fair to say that I've given up on ever working again.
Thanks for all your comments and incidentally Disability TUC is also concerned about some aspects of access to work, it'll be raising them at the Trade Union Congress conference in a couple of weeks time, we'll be keeping an eye on that too.
That's it for today. Next week we'll be featuring China's first-ever Paralympic gold medal winner; although it's far more than just a sporting story, as you'll find out. If you have any queries about tonight, call our action line on 0800 044 044 or e-mail In Touch via our website. And there'll be a podcast of today's programme as from tomorrow. From me, Peter White, tonight's producer Kathleen Griffin, and the team, goodbye.
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