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BBC Radio 4 In Touch
10th March 2009

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Factsheet


IN TOUCH FACTSHEET
10/03/2009
WEEK 10


CONTENTS
PROGRAMME ADDRESS.. 1
DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE.. 1
COMPUTER GAMING.. 3
ANDREW LAMONT. 3
GENERAL CONTACTS.. 4


PROGRAMME ADDRESS
IN TOUCH
BBC Radio 4
Room 6084
Broadcasting House
London
W1A 1AA
Email: intouch@bbc.co.uk
Web: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/intouch.shtml


DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE
Guest: Steve Winyard, Head of Policy, RNIB

For the past two and a half years the Royal National Institute of Blind People has been leading the fight for the so-called upper rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

The upper rate of DLA is designed to cover the transport costs of disabled people. At the moment, it is only given to people who have severe physical restrictions on their movement, but the argument is being strongly made that a severe sight impairment has much the same effect, with the added disadvantage that unlike many people with physical restrictions, the visually impaired definitely cannot drive.

So far the government, whilst believed to be sympathetic to the principle, has not given any indication that it will pay the money - an estimated 45 million pounds.

An amendment was put to the Welfare Reform Bill which is about to enter its report stage in Parliament. RNIB's head of policy Steve Winyard told Peter what he thought its chances were.

A DWP spokesperson said:
"We understand the need to look at this important change to the Disability Living Allowance mobility component. We are working with the RNIB and others to look at how we can take this forward. However the Government is operating in an extremely difficult financial climate and this will also need to be taken into account."

CONTACTS

BENEFIT ENQUIRY LINE
Telephone: 0800 88 22 00
Textphone: 0800 24 33 55
Web: www.dwp.gov.uk/lifeevent/benefits
A confidential freephone service for disabled people and carers. You can call the Benefit Enquiry Line and ask them to send you a claim pack. They can send the claim pack in Braille if required.

The Benefit Enquiry Line is open 8.30 am to 6.30 pm Monday to Friday and 9.00 am to 1.00 pm Saturday.

Or visit website below to make a claim online:
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/eservice/


DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE
http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/FinancialSupport/DG_10011731


RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0303 123 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
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.


COMPUTER GAMING
Guests: Denise Leigh (opera singer), and family

Mani Djazmi visited the home of opera-singer Denise Leigh to play computer games with her, her husband, and her three sighted children.

A lot of the current interactive games allow visually-impaired and sighted people to play together.

Mainstream computer games and consoles are available from any major electrical store while the bespoke game for blind people featured in the report was called Mystery of the Ancients.

The game is available at:
http://www.usagamesinteractive.com
however the current version is an early test release of the software, the
finished product is expected to be released between May and June of this year.


ANDREW LAMONT
Guest: Andrew Lamont, Trustee of BlindArt

Andrew Lamont, trustee of BlindArt, the body which encourages blind and partially-sighted people to take an interest in visual art, discusses whether it is more difficult to have some sight than none at all.

CONTACT

BLINDART
PO Box 50113
London
SW1X 9EY
Tel: 020 7245 9977
Fax: 020 7245 1228
Web: www.blindart.net
Email: info@blindart.net
Encourages blind and partially-sighted people to take an interest in visual art.


GENERAL CONTACTS

RNIB
105 Judd Street
London
WC1H 9NE
Helpline: 0303 123 9999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm)
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)
Tel: 020 7635 4800 (central office)
Web: www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk 

The BBC is not responsible for external websites 

General contacts
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Transcript

IN TOUCH

TX: 10.03.09 2040-2100

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE

PRODUCER: CHERYL GABRIEL


White
Good evening. Is it tougher in some circumstances to be partially sighted rather than totally blind? We'll be hearing a very personal view.

And this reaction to Mani Djazmi's latest piece.

Clip
[Coughing and spluttering. Alien voice.]

White
Mani will be taking a very serious look at video games later on.

But first: campaigners who want almost £30 a week extra in benefit for visually impaired people claim they're winning the battle. For the past two and a half years the Royal National Institute of Blind People has been leading the fight which would give the so-called upper rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance - DLA - that is the amount designed to cover the transport costs of disabled people, to those who are blind and partially sighted. At the moment it's only given to people who have severe physical restrictions on their movement but the argument is being strongly made that a severe sight impairment has much the same effect with the added disadvantage that unlike many people with physical restrictions you definitely can't drive. So far, though, the government, whilst believed to be sympathetic to the principle, has not given any indication that it's going to stump up the money, an estimated £45 million.

Well an amendment was put to the Welfare Reform Bill, which is about to enter its report stage in Parliament, RNIB's head of policy, Steve Winyard, told me what he thoughts its chances were.

Winyard
We're at the stage of seeking to amend the Welfare Reform Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment, and a suitable amendment was tabled at second reading in the Commons and it was tabled again last week in committee stage by John Robertson and on each occasion the minister, in the first case James Purnell, more recently Jonathan Shaw, both spoke very positively about the need to make the change, they support it in principle, they understand the argument and they want to do it.

White
But of course that's quite a long way from actually getting it through Parliament because they're clearly going to be faced with the problem of the Treasury saying we think this might be a good idea but we can't afford it.

Winyard
That's exactly right and all of our work now, all of our efforts, are focused on the Treasury and it's great that our early day motion on this issue is now number one out of 900 early day motions in front of Parliament, we have the most support amongst MPs. And we're also lining up a very, very strong support in the House of Lords and I think there's a recognition within government that in the Lords the amendment will be carried, if it's not already carried in the Commons, so that's a great position to be in. And then of course it would be a very difficult place for the government to be - to have a Lords' amendment which says we want blind people to have the higher rate and for the Commons and ministers who've said they support it in principle to fight and to send it back to the Lords. So that's one possible scenario.

White
Just remind us why you regard this as such an unanswerable case.

Winyard
Well because the exclusion of blind people who face some of the greatest barriers to independent mobility is a glaring anomaly, it makes no sense, and no one can justify it. It's the one group amongst different impairments where people with a severe impairment aren't entitled to higher rate. It's an historical anomaly and everyone now recognises it must be addressed.

White
What do you think has made that difference because we were talking about this two years ago, clearly you were making the case very strongly but there was a very ambivalent attitude and the Department of Work and Pensions had an opportunity to incorporate this into its Benefit Reform Bill and it declined to do that?

Winyard
I think centrally that the main reason is that this is an issue that blind and partially sighted people feel so passionately about. We've had two very big lobbies of Parliament, the first of which which was seen by Gordon Brown and at the time he commented something along the lines of - I think this could cost me a lot of money. And more recently, in October of last year, there was another major lobby - these do make a difference. Also MPs' mail bags have been full of letters about the issue, their phones are ringing about the issue. It is a massive injustice, blind people feel very strongly about it and MPs have recognised this.

White
But there is a case of economic reality here isn't there, you say Gordon Brown said it might cost him a lot of money, £45 million is the estimated amount annually and while you may say that's not a very big figure compared with the kind of figures he's dealing with, everyone can argue that, isn't this the absolutely worst time in the world to be trying to get more money from benefits?

Winyard
Yes it is and that's why we need to continue pressing very hard in the next six, eight weeks or so, as the bill goes through Parliament because we're so close, everybody says we're very close and this is something that the government could do and various ex-Department of Work and Pensions ministers have talked about this and talked about finding the money and I think it's a very real prospect. But we've got to keep pushing and all of those letters, all of those phone calls from blind and partially sighted people - they're the things that make the difference.

White
Do you think there may be things that you might have to give up to win this? For example, there are quite a lot of travel concessions on the public transport in terms of taxes in cities like London, are there compromises to be done here?

Winyard
We don't need to complicate it, we don't need to make these trade offs. It's a clear case and is winnable.

White
So what's the next step politically?

Winyard
We've got the report stage next Tuesday, Tuesday 17th, and the amendment will be reintroduced then. We want a lot of MPs to be in the chamber to speak to the amendment and it may be voted on then, it may not be voted on. Either way a very clear message that there is strong support in the Commons, that message will go to the House of Lords and there in the House of Lords we can win, the amendment can be put down, can be won and then it'll come back to the Commons.

White
So what's the timescale, if you were to be successful on this or indeed if you were to be unsuccessful when would we know?

Winyard
We'll know in April or May, that'll be the time that the bill has run its course. But let's say we're successful then it will not be till 2010/11 that the change could be made. I mean a very encouraging piece of news was that the Jonathan Shaw actually gave the figure for what the transitional costs would be, I mean a tremendous amount of detailed work has gone in - in the Department of Work and Pensions - on the change, exactly how they'll do it and it all shows that DWP really, really wants to do this.

White
Steve Winyard.

We asked the Department of Work and Pensions about their current attitude to the bill, this is what they told us:

Statement from the Department of Work and Pensions
We understand the need to look at this important change to the Disability Living Allowance mobility component. We're working with the RNIB and others to look at how we can take this forward. However, the government is operating in an extremely difficult financial climate and this will also need to be taken into account.

And now to gentler pursuits, although not that gentle come to think about it. Last week Mani was given time off for good behaviour and went off to the home of opera singer Denise Leigh, her husband and her three sighted children to play computer games. And what became clear was that quite a lot of the current interactive games could allow visually impaired and sighted people to play together. But is this just ingenuity on the part of visually impaired people or is a real attempt being made to introduce accessible features?

Well as we speak BAFTA is handing out awards to the video games industry but what's the video games industry offering us? Mani has been to find out.

Chesworth
I first realised that I could play computer games at the age of about eight, which would have been 16 years ago when my dad brought home a Saga Megadrive and I just randomly decided to have a go on it.

Djazmi
Scott Chesworth's a totally blind gamer who plays computer games which are made for and by visually impaired people and those which are mainstream. He says that merely describing games as being accessible or inaccessible is too simplistic.

Chesworth
A lot of games are playable to some extent by a visually impaired person. Accessible to me is a different kettle of fish, that means that every feature of a game is usable, is accessible to us, which to be honest in mainstream games you're never going to get - in my experience you're never going to get a hundred percent accessibility. Something like even in a fighting game say that's got cues for pretty much every single sound that you'd want you're still going to have to learn the menus, you're still not going to be able to see scores of points that you let you unlock other characters and little things like that.

Djazmi
But is Scott right to be so pessimistic about the possibility of complete accessibility? And why, when word processing, the internet and e-mails have become totally accessible to blind people, hasn't more been done in the field of gaming?

Houlihan
My name's John Houlihan, my official job title is Games Website Manager, I look after about 10 or 12 different gaming sites but I've been a gaming journalist and broadcaster for around 20 years. Historically video games - the clue is possibly in the title, they've always been seen as a very visual medium. As I mentioned I've been working in the industry for quite some time and before I got your very interesting call I'd never really considered it myself, I think it's just one of those natural assumptions that people make. But there's new methods of interaction offered like consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which is based largely on gesture and touch and also the Nintendo DS, which is also based on touch. So there's perhaps new input methods that are going to make games more accessible. I think also the development of more sophisticated sound could certainly offer a lot of possibilities for blind and visually impaired gamers.

Djazmi
Games like this one from the so-called beat 'em up genre - Mortal Combat.

Actuality from game

Chesworth
For me this is really cool because every single character in this game has got a completely different voice, so you get a really, really clear indication of how this fight is going. You can also play this game in surround sound and in surround sound although you've got like a 3D fighting environment - you can side step and jump and you can move in pretty much any direction - the representation of where you are on screen is really, really accurate. Jumping over [indistinct word] and flip kicks and all that kind of stuff I've tended to avoid them because it's quite hard to judge and in surround sound I'm already finding myself bringing them into pretty much every fight I'm having.

Djazmi
So you know how the fight's going but how can you make sure that you don't lose every time, how do you make sure that you're competitive?

Chesworth
That is where we're on a level with sighted players and that purely comes down to developing skill on the game you know, learning your characters special attacks, learning their combos, learning button sequences for every single character and that's where we can in this game particularly develop skills that are purely based on being competitive, going on the internet, reading up and just geeking out over your favourite character and the more you learn the more control of them you've got.

Actuality from game

Djazmi
But the surround sound of Mortal Combat and the tactility of the Wii only increase accessibility for blind and partially sighted gamers by default. We asked each of the big three games producers - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft - for their views, we had these replies:

Wilson
I'm David Wilson at Sony. Whilst we have had experience of visually impaired gamers, to the best of my knowledge we have never had any approach from people who are fully blind. Because video gaming is such a visual art form we're not sure how we could recreate the experience of non-linear interactive entertainment for a blind gamer. Of course we would never seek to exclude anyone from the joys of video game entertainment and we have worked with people with disabilities to enable them to participate. For example, redesigning a controller for a person with cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. But unless any of your listeners have some valid suggestions we are currently not sure how to adapt such a visual interactive medium without fundamentally redesigning the whole game to the point where it ceases to be the same product or experience.

Nintendo
This from Nintendo. We are continually looking at ways we can bring our games to as broad and diverse range of people as possible. Creating video games that work effectively for blind or partially sighted customers is however a major challenge. While it is relatively simple to add a sound layer for DVD menus, for example adding audio assistance or tutorials, will not work with most existing games which depend on fast moving visuals, such as Mario Cart. Achieving a game such as this that works equally well for sighted and visually impaired users is unfortunately not practically possible. It is possible to create games based purely on sound and Nintendo published one such game in Japan for Game Boy Advance in 2007 called Sound Voyager which involved players using sounds from the left and right speakers to guide a target. These games are currently very rare but with the video game market and technologies evolving all the time this may change.

White
And we're still awaiting a reply from Microsoft.

When visually impaired people get together there are certain topics that are almost bound to come up, apart that is from what's the daftest thing that's been said to you this week. People without sight problems might be surprised to know that one of them concerns whether there are circumstances where it's tougher to have some sight than none at all. It's certainly something which has been exercising the mind of Andrew Lamont. Andrew is a trustee of Blind Art, which is a body which encourages blind and partially sighted people to take an interest in the visual arts. And he's also worked as a gallery curator for many years. This is his take on that long running debate.

Lamont
I will begin by misquoting Shakespeare: To see or not to see, that is the question. I have been partially sighted all of my life, by which I mean I have two thirds of working eyesight. Whether it would have been easier if I had a total loss of sight and been educated in a special blind school I cannot know. I grew up thinking being partially sighted was more fortunate and easier to cope with than if I had been blind. It was only later that I realised it was very hard being a second class citizen in a sighted world.

The challenge I have faced is the fact that people assume I can see because I look normal. It is not until I need to read text, see someone's facial expressions or travel that I am disadvantaged. I feel I have to make excuses for not even being able to perform everyday tasks such as driving or watching football.

Once I was old enough to have girlfriends I started to realise it may be easier to attract a partner if I had a white stick. This thinking culminated in a heated discussion with someone who grew up blind and a referee who finally accepted that the struggle of covering up for not seeing was greater than waiting for the support of white stick elicits. My adversary, Lord Low, is chairman of the RNIB. I have been a Conservative councillor for the last three years. I now have magnifying equipment to assist reading but even with these visual aids I am not able to read back a speech, consequently any presentations are unscripted. If I had been taught to use Braille, as David Blunkett proved, I could rely on touch to aid my communication and thus my sight would not be a barrier to getting my point across.

I believe the end of a famous quote from the Shakespearean play Hamlet is: To sleep perchance to dream. Although my dream may be to see without the use of visual aids it would be good if more people can empathise with the challenges faced by those who have a partial disability. Because it is hidden it does not make it any less difficult to live with a partial impairment. I remember a consultant at Moorfields Eye Hospital once saying that the only disability I had was not being able to drive. I do not feel I am any less as a result of my visual loss but it's impact is far greater than that.

White
Andrew Lamont who chose to read that for us despite the difficulty that it gave him.

And we'd very much like to hear your views on that and indeed ideas that you'd like to offer to us. You can contact us through our action line on 0800 044 044 or e-mail In Touch via the BBC website, that's bbc.co.uk and follow the links. There will, as always, be a podcast of today's programme as from tomorrow.

From me, Peter White, my producer, Cheryl Gabriel and the rest of the team, goodbye.



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