By Jonathan Craig
Last year, when I introduced myself to you, I listed some topics I’d like to hear more about. In brief, these were travel, dating and relationships, mental health, cooking and food, and multiple disabilities. Since then, we’ve covered three of these in some detail, and we’ll be addressing the other two soon. If there’s one thing we all do well, it’s speaking our minds. And I’ve been listening carefully for those moments of harmony, or repeating motifs, in the often chaotic music of our conversation.
Now I think is a great time to challenge you again, to raise your voice and lead us in song. These topics, of course, are only ideas. But I believe that what I publish must reflect what we’re all talking about, and I’ve noticed these things have come up again and again. So let’s see what fires these sparks can light.
This issue’s feature is the first chapter of Professor Ron McCallum’s new memoir, Born at the Right Time. Ron is unusually insightful about the way his parents responded to having a child who was blind. I think this is a very tough topic, but maybe talking about it can help some of us. I’m also fascinated by the practical and social challenges of parenthood for people who are blind or vision impaired. By the time I have children, I hope to have read some great advice on how to be the father they deserve.
BCA will be tackling this issue head on over the next year, with a project designed to positively promote people who are blind or vision impaired to potential employers. We’re prioritising this so highly because we believe one of the biggest barriers to our employment is awareness. In the UK, 50 per cent of the general population believe a person who is blind couldn’t hold down a job. If that statistic holds true here, that’s a lot of employers who will reject us out of hand.
And as we’ve discussed in Ross Miller’s essay in the last edition, and our panel on the Future of Work at Convention, the labour market is changing rapidly. Many of the jobs we now rely on are quickly disappearing. Only 24 per cent of us are working full-time, and though the rise of casual work is beneficial to some, it presents new challenges for us. For example, in a gig economy, what will motivate employers to commit to a worker who has accessibility requirements?
More than most people, we need informed experts to help us approach these challenges, but many of us feel our employment consultants are overly reliant on old habits. It’s vital that we address all these problems now, before they become a crisis. Talking about them is a start.
Like many other people who are blind, I’ve felt judged by my peers because I use support workers in the community. I have brittle bones, and use a wheelchair outside the home, so I often have little choice. For those who have no mobility issues, the equation seems more complex. A friend of mine fears that relying too much on support workers could erode her independence. But she also admits that getting to and from some appointments on her own is sometimes so exhausting that she can’t do much else with that day. Is that really independence?
We had some great conversations about this at our Convention, but I feel like there’s more to be said. Partly, I hope that talking about how our own approaches suit our unique needs and preferences will teach us to be less judgmental. But more importantly, I hope it will inspire us to ask ourselves questions about how freely and easily we can fulfill our commitments and enjoy our lives.
I’m also interested in the intersection between technology and independence. Though technology is making our lives easier in countless ways, it comes with its own unique risks. Apps like AIRA and Seeing AI allow us to access our documents easily, but what are their implications for our privacy? And what happens when the tech we’ve come to rely on suddenly lets us down?
As part of BCA’s recent leadership training, a group of us helped run a come-and-try day for Achilles Melbourne, an organisation which connects people who are blind or vision impaired with sighted guides for regular walking or running sessions. I was impressed by their thorough and innovative approach, and struck by how popular they are everywhere they set up. But I also realised how many barriers there are to overcome in some of the outdoor leisure activities many of us frequently enjoy thoughtlessly.
I know of blind or vision impaired runners, tandem bikers, swimmers, sailors, rock-climbers, skiers, and more. I also have friends who desperately want to get out of the house, and away from the technology that surrounds them constantly. Often, they’re fearful of failure and humiliation, or overwhelmed by the prospect of having to convince people that a commonplace activity is even possible for them. I feel those people could be really encouraged by some of the many success stories I know are out there.
Which Australians are we the united voice of again? Statistically, vision impaired writers have been underrepresented in these pages during my editorship, and I’m worried about that. I’ve asked some of you directly what you’re struggling with. “My issues aren’t as bad as yours,” you tell me. “I can get by.” Please, don’t marginalise yourselves, or minimise your own experiences. You have stories too, and I want to hear them.
Don’t forget, you can also submit tips and tricks to our regular Life Hacks column. When sighted people are flummoxed by an everyday task, they just Google it. For us, that knowledge isn’t always as easy to reach. We hope, overtime, to build a resource we can all draw on when we’re wrestling with those small daily challenges that can leave us feeling very frustrated.
Submissions for our next issue close on Friday, 1 November. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and perspectives on all the subjects I’ve raised, and doubtless many more. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the issue ahead of you.