The Cost of Blindness – Helen Freris

Listen to the audio recording here.

Have you ever thought about the additional expenses associated with life as a person who is blind? This issue periodically arises in discussions among us, about the costs of assistive technology, taxi travel, the coverage and our eligibility for support packages whether they be with NDIS or My Aged Care.

BCA researched this issue some years ago. The study, entitled “The Non-Optional Costs of Blindness” revealed that participants were incurring costs in areas specifically related to maintaining independence and participating in family and community life.  Apart from assistive technology and taxi fares, costs included higher accommodation costs due to living close to public transport or essential services as well as gifts for family and friends who provided support with tasks such as home maintenance or community participation.

The funding landscape has changed quite a bit since this study was conducted in 2002.  NDIS participants are now able to claim for some blindness related costs such as payment of support workers and purchase of assistive devices and technology, but not everyone is eligible for NDIS, nor is financial support for these items by NDIS guaranteed or consistent.  Participants in My Aged Care are required to make co-payments for any services or items this scheme funds, and again, support is inconsistent.  Of course, we have access to the Disability Support Pension Blind, whose purpose is to supplement blindness related expenses.  For many of us, this pension is additionally our main source of income due to the high unemployment rate of people with vision impairment in Australia, a cost in itself.  Any indication of government-instigated changes to the DSP Blind, or to staple supports such as multi-purpose taxi schemes are justifiably met by us with trepidation.

But what exactly contributes to the costs of blindness and do these relate to possible policy and advocacy initiatives by BCA? A few examples might start the discussion. Let’s take accommodation. Many of us may wish to live in areas well serviced by transport and amenities. Doing so exposes us to higher rental or mortgage costs, as centrally located accommodation is usually more costly than housing located further from essential services.  Alternatively, we might have an affinity with a regional area, or enjoy living close to communities of family or friends.  Doing so might incur particular costs of transport or other services needed to participate fully in the life of the community.

What about the services we might pay for due to needing assistance to complete tasks which most sighted people can undertake themselves?  You might have been charged by a telecommunications company to install a modem because the installation software isn’t accessible, or you are unable to see modem lights or prompts.  You might pay someone to assemble flat-packed furniture because the instructions, even when scanned, are too visual to read.  How many of us are using outdated screen reading or magnification software because we are ineligible for schemes to finance updates? This risks leaving us behind as the digital environment is designed for the latest assistive software.  Perhaps you can think of other costs associated with blindness. Most of these costs result from inaccessible services or infrastructure, and BCA members and staff constantly advocate for the removal of accessibility barriers limiting our choices and costing us financially.

What do you think about additional costs of blindness?  Are they unavoidable?  Are there additional costs, besides the ones mentioned here? How adequately do current funding provisions such as the DSP Blind and NDIS cover these costs? What gaps do these costs highlight in accessibility for us? Are there specific areas of policy BCA could engage in so that costs are mitigated?

I pose the above questions to start a conversation on this subject and to generate ideas for BCA’s ongoing policy and advocacy. Please reach out with your thoughts by contacting BCA by phone or email and lets see where the conversation takes us.

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