New research indicates encouraging changes to publics perception of blindness as national charity celebrates 100th birthday

Date
1 May 2015 14:00

Exactly 100 years on from its foundation, national charity Blind Veterans UK has praised research findings which demonstrate a “major positive shift” in the public’s perception of blindness over the last century.

• 65% of the general public recognise that going blind does not mean "a person's life is as good as over"
• 60% agree that blind people can lead happy lives
• 81% disagree that blind or vision impaired people could not start or continue training for a new career

Exactly 100 years on from its foundation, national charity Blind Veterans UK has praised research findings which demonstrate a "major positive shift" in the public's perception of blindness over the last century.

65% of the general public have indicated that if they were to lose their sight, it would not mean that their "lives were as good as over". Blind Veterans UK, the charity for blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women, says this shows an "encouraging" contrast to when the charity was founded on 29 January 1915, to provide support and services to blinded World War I veterans to enable them to lead as full and independent lives as possible.

Blind Veterans UK's Attitudes to Blindness survey, conducted by YouGov to mark the charity's centenary year, also found that 60% of the general public do not see blindness as a barrier to being able to lead a happy and active life. It further found 81% of the general public thought that sight loss would not be an obstacle for blind or vision impaired people to start a new job or career.

Blind Veterans UK's Chief Executive, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said: "These results show a major positive shift in the public's perception of blindness over the last 100 years - thanks in part to the life-changing work of organisations and sight loss charities like Blind Veterans UK.

"When Blind Veterans UK was established in 1915, our founder Sir Arthur Pearson saw blinded soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War I to a public that held a widespread negative view that blindness meant a person's life was as good as over . These findings are extremely encouraging, showing that since then, perceptions have improved significantly."

For 100 years, Blind Veterans UK has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to vision impaired veterans to help them go on to lead full, independent lives and in many cases, excel in areas such as work, education and sport.

The Rt Hon David Blunkett, the UK's first blind Cabinet Minister, has also praised the survey's results: "These findings show how the majority of the general public realise that blindness should not be something that stands in the way of an independent life and fulfilling potential.

"I'm pleased that the work of organisations like Blind Veterans UK enables vision impaired people to live full, happy and rewarding lives and wish the charity every success as it enters its second century of service."

With the help of Blind Veterans UK, thousands of ex-Service men and women have gone on to achieve inspirational things despite their sight loss. These include Commander Iain Upton, who has started up his own public speaking business after receiving training and emotional support from the charity, and Alan Lock, who has completed some of the world's toughest endurance and sporting events, including 151-mile long Marathon des Sables, since losing his sight.

However, Blind Veterans UK's Attitudes to Blindness survey also identified areas where there is still room for improvement in the public's views - half (50%) of those surveyed disagree that a blind person would be able to do the same job as well as a sighted person, and just under half (49%) believe that they could no longer participate in sport if they were to lose their sight.

Blind ex-paralympic swimming champion Lord Chris Holmes said: "Sport plays such an important role in the rehabilitation of blind people, helping them to adjust to life with sight loss, and giving many people the confidence to be able to go on and achieve great things in many different areas.

"The amazing stories of blind veterans supported by the charity show that its support can make a life-changing difference and can spur people on to do inspirational things, contrary to any negative views about blindness limiting a person's ability."

As the charity celebrates 100 years of outstanding achievements by the ex-Service men and women it supports in 2015, Blind Veterans UK is also looking forward to continuing and developing its work during its second century of service.

Nick Caplin said: "We're extremely pleased that the public's perception of blindness has improved, but we also know that that there is still more to be done. Blind Veterans UK currently supports over 4,000 blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women, and as we enter our next century of service we want to ensure that every blind veteran in the UK has the support they need to realise their ambitions and discover a life beyond sight loss.

"Our veterans, like Iain and Alan, are just some of the proof that a blind person can do a job, take part in sports and do many more challenges, activities and tasks, just as well as a sighted person - if not better!"

Throughout 2015, Blind Veterans UK is celebrating its 100th birthday with over 100 national and local events throughout the year - for more information, visit www.blindveterans.org.uk.

YouGov carried out online interviews in December 2014 with 2,064 adults (18+) across the UK, 98% of who were fully sighted.