Out of sight but masterfully in mind

Today we launch a slideshow gallery from the charity PhotoVoice, who use the medium of photography to work with disadvantaged and marginalised communities. We are delighted to welcome one of their participants, Tanvir Bush as a contributor to the Care Images blog. Tanvir, who has a degenerative eye disease, has written movingly of her experiences of visual impairment. Her first posting for our blog below, is a superb piece. We hope you enjoy it.

How do I feel to be visually impaired? Like most things it depends on the day, the situation and whether a decent glass of wine is involved. I have photosensitive tunnel vision with complications. Sexy eh? An RP mutant, for the opthalmologically astute out there.

distorted view
Distorted image: seeing the world differently
Nowadays I have strategies and self awareness, much less rage and self pity. It was very different when, at 21, I was told I had five to fifteen years of sight left. Then I was beside myself with fear. Blindness is one of the great taboos of disability; ‘eyes are the windows of the soul’ after all. We are suspicious of people who hide their eyes, shade them in sunglasses or won’t look us in the face. In some cultures eye contact is so powerful it is deemed dangerous and rude to stare at one’s elders or ‘betters’. Most of us feel, understandably, that eye contact is an essential part of communication. And let’s admit it; blindness is associated with vulnerability, and of course, absolute dependency. We ‘weaken the pack’, become a burden and still in many cultures are relegated to the bench of life, no longer expected to play an active part.

Think of all the connotations of blindness in terms of language, mostly negative; blind rage, blind fear, blind ignorance, blind faith. Media reduces us to pathetic innocents, mythical Tireseas-style soothsayers; we are the first to be killed in the movie, and we never get to have sex. When given a diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease, it is not just the fear of losing one’s vision that cripples. It is the fear of losing one’s identity.

It is only now after years of punching walls and writing dreadful poetry, years of coping with the public ignorance of visual impairment, and my own fear of failure and dependence, that I have gradually become aware of the other side of my situation. The challenges it presents me, though often exhausting, are gradually building a more resilient, smarter and compassionate person. And Holy Smoke Batman! Some of this stuff is exceedingly funny.

I’m not saying I’m not frightened. There are times when my encroaching sight loss becomes hard to bear. But I keep breathing and I bloody well adapt. My senses quicken as my appreciation for the beauty around me grows. I am no less able. Just differently abled. And that, feels just fine to me.

Hung, drawn and quarter of a million disadvantaged

At Care Images, we want to engage with people representing all sections of our communities. Aside from the wide and varied list of photographers and models who work on our library, we are also working with aspiring writers for our blog.

And it is with great pleasure that we welcome Maiya Keidan, a young journalism graduate from Canada currently residing in London whose first posting gives a good insight into the effects of the government cuts in the UK.

disabled man and carer at home
The unkindest cuts: Why care might not be in the community
When the latest UK government was installed, we were warned: expect widespread cuts across all sectors. The reason? A £160bn debt needed to be substantially reduced. Well, the government has certainly stayed true to that promise. We’ve seen budgets for housing and child benefit downsized as well as massive hacks to funding of academic disciples like scientific research.

Fears of how cutbacks will affect various sectors are rampant throughout the country and the latest worries have been emphasized by projections compiled by Age UK. The organization examined the ramifications of a proposed four-year initiative to cut care services by 7% and found that 250,000 people would be left without essential support.

Though I wouldn’t dream of criticizing this slash-and-burn style, I do feel comfortable railing against this recent trend to blast the underprivileged. And with Age UK to attest to the hit to seniors, there’s no denying that this is exactly where policy is moving—targeting the disadvantaged.

I’m not the only one who’s worried for the health and safety of this segment of the population. The Local Government Association (LGA) has written to local MPs that councils across the country will be instructed to axe critical resources for patients in care. Senior citizens—those who rely on these services to wake up in the morning, get washed, fed and dressed—face the threat of losing these fundamental home services, they reminded the local government representatives.

Many of these elderly people suffer from Dementia, Parkinson’s or Diabetes and rely on their care workers to maintain their physical and emotional health.

Andrew Harrop, director of policy and public affairs for Age UK, said that in addition to alleviating loneliness, “It is a health and safety service helping them to get up in the morning, making sure they are OK in the evening”.

Is our governing body so heartless that it plans to extract these services from the homes of such needy people? It appears so.

We could be witnessing the beginning of the end of these services, warned the LGA. My question is why must this group of individuals take such a hard hit? They are our Grandmothers and Grandfathers. They were productive members of society all through their lives. Now, they are to be abandoned—cast out like rubbish.

Wheels of misfortune

In these very politically correct times where prisoners in the UK are rightly deemed ‘human-being-enough’ to merit a vote there is very little in the liberal intelligentsia-led media about blatant flagrancies of the mobility rights of disabled people.

Never mind that you have to pay up to £13.50 for a seat in some London cinemas as I did last week to watch the excellent film Carlos

Never mind that I had to sit in a cinema with a screen smaller than my mate Tim’s HD TV – OK these are hard times and cinemas have to make the best use of broom cupboards. But what would happen in the event of a fire or forced evacuation? In the case of the cinema I was at, The Curzon in Mayfair, there is no wheelchair access to the tiny ‘intimate’ as the cinema calls its second screen, so filing down a narrow set of stairs after the film is a problem only for able-bodied people.

Disabled football supporter
The people's game: A disabled fan enjoying the match
But if you think about it, this is actually a big problem and one which, for once, football seems to have done a lot of groundbreaking work. Most grounds now have excellent access and facilities for disabled people and our shoot with a model who is a Chester City fan shows how his disability is no impairment to enjoying a day out watching his team on the road.

The website http://www.visitlondon.com /maps/accessibility/ shows that things may be improving but if you are able bodied, next time you go out for a few hours, have a think if all the things you do in that time would be available to a wheelchair user. From getting on a bus or tube to getting to the bar to order a drink, from trying on clothes in a store to showing them off in a club – how accessible really is the first world to a person sitting in a chair all day and night?