Archive for March, 2012

Low tec answers to surviving if you’re blind.

March 26, 2012

Low tec answers to surviving if you’re blind.
Darn where did I put that dog-gone pesky little crutch?” I sing: “This searching for appliances is getting far too much.
I swear I put it by my side when I went to my bed.
If I don’t find it soon I’m going to have to crawl instead! Do non-disabled people have to look for their legs when they climb out of bed in the morning?
These disappearing aids will be the death of me; oh they should carry a health warning.
One night I went a-drinking with my blind friends to a bar. As is our wont we put the world to rights with every jar.
At length the barman called for time, we rose to stagger out. But could we find our dogs and sticks? They’d gone on walkabout. Do non-disabled people have to look for their legs when they climb out of bed in the morning?
These disappearing aids will be the death of me; oh they should carry a health warning.

It’s a sorry tale you know when things are hard to find.
They disappear so easily especially when you’re blind.
This elephantine memory we’re supposed to have is crap.
Along with talking dogs and sonic sticks, and that’s a fact! Do non-disabled people have to look for their legs when they climb out of bed in the morning?
These disappearing aids will be the death of me; oh they should carry a health warning.
(C) Maxi Token, 1989.

Strumming enthusiastically and slightly randomly on my guitar, I deliver the lyrics robustly in an accent heavily laced with pathos and which has strayed from Nashville to Yeovil, via Tooting!
Maxi’s heartfelt lament was written on the occasion of her having broken her leg. Being blind, she was doubly hampered in managing when she sometimes forgot where she put her walking aid.
I think about my life as a blind person and just how I manage with all this laying hands on things when I need them. I hail from an enthusiastic family of impulsively untidy people. The not so tranquil air of the Hearn house could often be heard to echoe with anguished cries of “where did I put the car keys?”, “who’s taken my bag” and “where have you put my glasses”. Upon the event of my going blind, I soon realised that impulsive untidiness was not a good state for me to occupy if I wanted to keep my sanity and attempt to lead an efficiently ordered life. I battled with nurture over nature and at length by force of rigidly imposed habit, became a neat and tidy person.
Now this only really works if you have control over your domestic or work environment. No matter how methodically I stored vital objects, in the Hearn household and later in other abodes, no sooner had I found the place for the precious item, some blighter would move it. The only thing to do was never to leave anything important in shared space but to squirrel it away in my own room.
So the first blind survival tip is
1 a place for everything and everything in its place.
This can be hard behaviour to keep up when you’ve staggered in out of the rain, exhausted after a hard days’ work or night’s um socialising to remember to put whatever it is in that special place, but it has to be done. Having arrived home, I can’t rest until I have placed by keys in the keyhole, propped my stick up against the shelves next to the door, put my bag on my desk and my mobile on the shelf next to it. I know that if I do this, when I next seek the desired object, it will be there. It massively helps that I live by myself. NO one moves anything. Even my cleaner knows the rules and keeps to them. Visitors coming to my home normally don’t have the impertinence to interfere with my systems, well not if they want to come back again they don’t.
Now this rule is nicely transferrable to other temporary accommodation such as hotel rooms. The key issue if it is a card is a bit of a problem. If the facilities are not activated by shoving the key in a slot, It’s best to tuck it in a pocket or (my favourite storage space) down my bra. I prop the stick up next to the door, put the phone by my bed and the bag on the desk. I am the original storage queen. The day that Swedish household store hit town was one of my happiest. Here at last was a place dedicated to storage in all shapes and sizes. I could get boxes for this, cupboards for that and bags for the other. I was in heaven.
The second Blind survival tip is:
2 Compartmentalise, compartmentalise, compartmentalise -in
other words, “put it away, love”.
Now I come from a household of geographic filers. Things are abandoned everywhere and anywhere no matter how inappropriate a place something has ended up in. It is not unusual to find a screwdriver lying amongst potatoes in a vegetable rack, someone’s tax return propped up between the toothpaste and the toilet duck in the bathroom and the kettle sitting on top of the piano. There’s no rhyme or reason to the system being used. My family is clearly full of people with their minds on higher things and what does it matter if there’s a wellington boot in the fireplace? What indeed! Nothing of course until they can’t find said boot as they stand on the doorstep ready to go out.
My screwdrivers get put back in the tool box – yes of course I have a tool box. The kettle never leaves the kitchen no matter what – in fact it never leaves the tray on which it sits next to Bruce the Australian talking microwave except to visit the tap to be filled. My tax returns are securely stowed away in a tin box full of similar goodies that are solemnly handed at the end of the financial year to the accountant with a pathetic cry of “make it go away, John!”
So I have storage boxes, cupboards and drawers galore. There’s a system for what goes in which – a system determined by type of object and if there are multiples of objects such as tee shirts, yes, by colour. (NB: the colour distinction thang is aided by sewing different shaped buttons on clothing indicating what colour they are.) If I keep to the system (and this also involves folding everything up), finding what I want is a breeze. I’ve only myself to blame if it all goes horribly wrong.
The compartmentalisation tip is particularly of use when camping. I love camping!! . There’s nothing like living on the land close to nature and the wild outdoors. The problem with tents though is the lack of storage. Everything is on the floor and therefore the space in which one has to search, crawling around grumpily on hands and knees is both cluttered and confusing. In the early days, I would take those folding up plastic laundry crates. There’d be one near where I slept in which I put things I might need when in bed such as the radio, audio books, chocolate and the whisky. There’d be another for cooking utensils and yet another for food and so on and so on.
Then I discovered camping furniture! OMG! Now I have a wardrobe (it packs down into such a wee little bag!). I also have a sort of shelf unit thingy and I’ve discovered the glories of the fold up table and chairs. NO more hunkering down on the floor knocking over the tea I’ve struggled to brew on the pesky unstable little camping stove – oh no. I’m now kind to my knees and neat and orderly, because when I camp, I compartmentalise… It’s bliss!
I’m a nature lover. I am a sun worshipper to. There’s nothing like lying under a tree or sunning oneself in the middle of a quiet meadow. This is an unconfined space. Things are liable to disappear if I’m not careful. I arrange my possessions around me making sure they are all nicely set out on the rug I have bought with me and or are tucked away in a bag. Cane, sandals and bag are placed together so that I know where to find them. See, compartmentalisation again.
One more thing on compartmentalisation. I don’t know what it is about stemmed glasses or tall cups with narrow bottoms, but they often seem to lie down, disgorging their contents most incontinently whenever my hand strays towards them. Other than avoiding drinking vessels that fall over at the lightest touch, I use small round trays to compartmentalise the table. I find the tray and know that the cup is in that confined space. Now I love the great outdoors but it is a little challenging on the finding ones way about front. The thing is, I can usually get there but getting back is another thing.
The third Blind Survival Tip is:
3 make sure you know the way back.
Blessed with an excellent sense of space, I might be chatting away whilst trotting alongside someone from concierge as they show me to my hotel room, but part of my mind is calibrating where I am going and how I will get back. This is easy when having to negotiate narrow corridors, doors and fairly confined indoor spaces; it’s a bit of a bugger when what you have to negotiate is a field. I take a ball of string!
When I venture out of my tent at night in search for the toilets, I tie one end of the string to my tent and march purposefully off to the facilities. Getting back is simply a matter of following the string.
When I want to commune with nature, I like to do this alone. Companions have an irritating habit of chatting – I know, it’s human nature, but me, I’d rather talk to a tree!. So I get the sighted bod to deposit me in nature and then to sling their hook. They take one end of the string and attach it to something I will know my way back from. When I want to return to the world, I follow the string. When I’m staying in organised camps where it is necessary to yomp across a field to get to other facilities, guide ropes denoting walk-ways are put up making it possible for me to get around the field without tripping up over straying guy ropes and getting lost. The technology is simple and I always know my way back.
And the fourth blind survival tip is this:
4 keep it simple.
Sometimes the solutions to getting about, finding and identifying things are so simple. Yes there are personal talking Sat Nav devices and handy GPS programmes on some phones and these work great in some environments. And there are great digital labelling gizmos and things you attach to items that might go missing which you can locate with a remote control. And of course there is the wonderful colour-detector, a truly magical item which, although having a slightly interesting relationship to the colour spectrum is however accurate enough to tell you that you are wearing brown socks with black trousers (a sin in my book!). But a system as long as you are in charge of it, a container as long as you know what’s in it and a piece of string as long as its long enough and someone doesn’t remove it whilst it’s in use, will never get its knickers in a twist, stop talking or run out of battery power.
Kirsten Hearn
(Monday March 26, 2012)

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Dusting off the SAD Access Code

March 11, 2012

Dusting off the SAD Access Code
I’ve done a lot of coming out in my life. Coming out is about coming home gladly and gloriously to who I am, warts and all.
I first came out as disabled, after having been blind eight years. Positively acknowledging being disabled was revelatory. Choosing to hang out with other disabled people, sharing our experiences of life showed me that the problems I faced were external. The world in which I lived had put up barriers to disabled people to prevent us being equal. What needed to happen was to remove the barriers and not the people. This is known as the Social Model of Disability.
So when I came out as a dyke, (in 1982) I shared my story with my sisters. I learned that my sexual orientation was not a problem. Heterosexism manifesting in discrimination, touching all parts of our lives, was! The answer was not to retreat into the closet or seek a cure, but to challenge discrimination, fight to change the world and to positively celebrate lesbian lives. I guess this could be called the social model of sexual orientation!
Way back in 1982, I believed for a time that I was the only blind dyke in the world! I tried hanging out with the lesbians. There were a few barriers though. Sighted women read lesbian and feminist magazines, which I could not read as they were not available in audio format. These were the days long before the internet and speech screen readers. Not knowing what was going on meant I was not taking part in things that my sisters were. I was starved of information and it was but a short tap from there, back to isolation.
What was going on usually took place in inaccessible venues, in noisy, smoky, crowded intimidating environments which did not welcome anyone who was different. , Being that solo blind dyke, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Through my disability activism, I found other disabled dykes, equally alienated by how our lesbian community organised. We compared notes, noticed the same patterns of exclusion and decided to organise together as women, and “Sisters Against Disablement” was born (SAD; footnote 1). We talked together about how we were excluded from the women’s liberation movement and the lesbian scene (since most of us were dykes). Disabled women were seen as not proper women, and definitely not sexual, we felt. Events at which women came together to campaign or socialise were totally inaccessible to anyone who couldn’t yomp up a flight of stairs. How the community communicated and shared information excluded those who were visually impaired or Deaf. If we were to participate, at stage one, we firstly needed to know what was going on and more importantly, what the barriers were that we might face in getting involved. Stage two of course was getting the barriers moved – but that was another matter all together. Since 1975, Gemma, (a group for “lesbians of all ages with and without disabilities” had been publishing a regular newsletter. In their events listings, each entry had a brief description of access to the venue. They required answers to the following questions:
* Where can you park?
* How do you get in the building?
* How do you get around the venue?
* How big is the toilet?
SAD took this rough guide and looked at what disabled women with a range of access needs would need to know about to be able to participate. We also identified what would meet those access needs and wrote them down too. The result was the Sisters Against Disablement Access Code, a 20 point list which, if followed properly, would give important information allowing disabled women to choose whether we could attend or not. It also provided a diagnostic guide to help event organisers plan for inclusion from the beginning.
Having invented the tool, SAD set about getting it taken on board. And oh my, what a fuss there was. We were astonished at the resistance. We were also delighted at the positive responses too.
It soon became clear that the majority of events and activities failed to provide access. We began to campaign around stage two of the strategy, what needed putting in place to make the activity inclusive of disabled women. Of course, we came up against the usual resistance, fuelled by the tangible or the fear of the lack of resources, and a level of reluctance to include because we were disabled, which was truly shocking. We harnessed the powers that be, the grant givers, (the GLC and local councils) and got them to begin to support the participation costs at the lesbian community events. There was a subtle cultural shift towards inclusion. Events organised by public money and organisations such as Camden Lesbian Centre Black Lesbian Group, and Lesbian Line, made it their focus to include disabled dykes. Aside from activities organised by Council Lesbian and Gay units, the wider “gay” community however remained unmoved and inaccessible.
Using the principles behind the Sad Access code, Council equality officers began to exert a level of impact upon significant community events and public money started to provide the inclusive (frills” to events such as London Pride. Lesbians and Gays Unite In Disability (LANGUID – footnote 2) and then the newly formed National Organisation of Disabled Lesbians and Gays, (Regard) began tireless campaigns for inclusion in flagship community events such as London Pride March and the loosely associated Park Festivals that were held alongside it.
In the difficult days of the nineties, Regard kept the pressure up. In the early Noughties, with an equality minded Labour administration in CITY Hall, London Pride activities received some public money from the GLA and the Functional bodies (Footnote 3). Essentially this money was a bribe to get Pride to provide a reasonable level of access, because they were resistant. When the Tory’s took over in City Hall, the money dried up and Pride London returned to their old excluding practices, refusing to accept the help Regard offered.
History illustrates that when it comes to action to include LGBT disabled people, women/dykes are more willing to do this. when a community has an understanding of where their oppression comes from and can articulate it clearly, they may find it easier to “read-across” to other discriminated against groups. For many lesbians of the eighties, our lesbianism had a relationship to our desire to challenge patriarchy. Women arriving at a lesbian identity via feminism seemed more willing to engage with the issue of power and who had it.
I have come across some gay men who also understood their sexual orientation within a context of challenging patriarchy and even more rarely, sexism. However, the prevailing belief peddled by the sexual orientation equal rights lobby that somehow our sexual orientation was biologically determined seemed to invite an isolationists view on it only being about who we liked to sleep with.
Negotiating the minefield of emotions surrounding power, oppression and exclusion can be baffling for people who have no consciousness of their relationship to and responsibility for challenging such exclusion. Practical tools are often helpful to aid inclusion. It’s time we dusted off the SAD Access Code and deployed it once more.
Where we are at on access and inclusion for disabled LGBT people right now feels to me to be several ramps down. Kyros is a shining light of inclusivity. BI friends tell me that Bi-con for example makes every effort to be inclusive. I note that in student and Trade Union LGBT organizing (where there is a strong history of having autonomous and separate caucuses for women, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, Black and minority ethnic people and disabled people and often intersections of all these), access and inclusion for LGBT disabled people is high on the agenda. DESPITE the DDA and now the Equality Act, we still have a commercial scene which by and large excludes LGBT disabled people. 30 years ago, disabled LGBT people were invisible. We’re not now. What else do we have to do to beat down that still solidly locked door to our full inclusion as equals within the LGBT community!

Footnote 1: Sisters Against Disablement were so named because we recognised it was society that “disabled” us by its failure to remove the barriers that stopped us being equal.
Footnote 2: LANGUID: Lesbians And Gays Unite In Disability was formed from the Haringey disabled lesbian and gay sub group in order to organise the first ever Disabled lesbian and gay conference. This took place in Manchester in 1988 where 70 disabled lesbians and gay men got together to share experiences and to organise. One of our commitments at the end of the conference was to have a visible presence at the Gay Pride march in 1988 and to pressure the Lesbian and gay Community for inclusion for disabled lesbians and gay men. One of LANGUID’s legacies was the formation of Regard, the national organisation of Disabled Lesbians and gays, formed in 1989.
Footnote 3: GLA functional bodies are the entities which run many of London’s vital services including police, transport, fire and civil defense and which are accountable to the Mayor and the Greater London Authority. Kirsten Hearn
Sunday March 11, 2012 for Kyros LGBT Almanac

Remembering the women

March 8, 2012

Remembering the women – remembering the disabled women.

Standing on one leg in the changing room at the gym this morning, I’m suddenly moved to announce that it’s International Women’s Day. Now this is a very straight kind of gym, but it *is* women only, so that’s my excuse! I’m beginning to wobble; I put my raised foot down. Oh for the day when I can hop like I did when I was a child!
This is no feminist enclave. Women choose to come to a women-only gym for a wide range of reasons. They come from all backgrounds and are united in wanting to give some focus to their fitness.
Someone describes the Italian habit of giving women flowers on this day. Another asks what it is all about.
“It’s to celebrate women’s achievements, highlight their struggles, commemorate those who did not survive.” I say. Warming to my theme, I continue “It’s international because women are united by our experience of sexism and of oppression under the yoke of patriarchy …. ” I’m beginning to rant … I stop. I finish changing and march off to begin my work out. It’s a beautiful day, cold, crisp yet sunny. My muscles exercised, the blood zinging through my veins, I walk down the road to the bus stop. There are so many women who are no longer with us. I think about my beloved dead, Vijayatara Dr Sharon Smith, Rowen Jade and Nasa Begum, all gone in the last 3 years. I remember to, other disabled women like my chosen sister Tina Grigg, whose struggle to live and whose dying changed me forever. It’s not yet been a year since Vijayatara let go of her hold on life. As the cancer rampaged through her body, I sat beside her bed, talking of old times, singing her encouraging songs or simply holding her hand. Outside, the sun shone upon trees tentatively unfurling leaves as the days grew longer, but not for her.
IN her external life, Vijayatara was an academic, a Buddhist, an advocate for equality and diversity. To her lover, her family and friends, she was a solidly compassionate lesbian, with a bellowing laugh and a sharp if irreverent wit. She worked for the emancipation of all women. Through her lived experience as a black mental health survivor and lesbian, she articulated the intersectionality between race, gender, sexual orientation and disability and brought her powerful mind to what all that meant to how we live in the world today.
When I heard of Rowen Jade’s death, I was on a train speeding through the plains of Spain. I locked myself in the toilet and cried.
Rowen was ubiquitous, partly because she looked so different. Small, frail and quiet voiced (on account of not having much lung capacity), Rowen spent her life lying down. From this seemingly passive position, she focussed her phenomenal intellect on changing the world. Whether in the middle of a field surrounded by singing women or lying in front of Gordon Brown or his ministers, Rowen quietly, determinedly, coherently and briefly argued for the liberation of disabled people and the means by which to achieve this. At home, Rowen lived life proudly as a mother and lover, parenting and living in ways which challenged restricted normal patriarchal family practices. A trained councillor, she was deeply aware of the impact disability discrimination had on mental health. She was particularly passionate that young disabled people should be able to grow up with strong self-respect and a cogent ability to express their emotions healthily. Way back in the early nineties, on nights when there was too much information to tame, Nasa Begum and I would sit on the floor in the Disability Unit in Waltham Forest eating pizza. NASA was writing the ground-braking Race and Disability report, outlining the lived experiences of disabled Asian people in Waltham Forest. In this report, Nasa exposed the second-class service being offered Asian Disabled People. Her analytical mind and personal experience of living as a disabled Asian woman helped her hone recommendations that drove fundamental change. NASA went on to write more about Race and disability and to bring her thinking powerfully into reshaping health and social care.
My most vivid more recent memory of NASA is of her rolling onto the stage at Capital Woman to the beats of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. Powerfully articulate, NASA delivered a passionate evocation of the lives and struggles of black disabled women that brought the stunned audience to their feet in an ecstatic ovation usually only in those days reserved for Ken Livingstone!

NASA struggled with mental health issues. There were times when that brilliant mind turned inwards and she hurt herself. Then she would come out of that darkness and do something else brilliant. IN NASA, frailty and resilience moved in and out of ascendance.
When Tina Grigg died more than ten years ago, I was up a mountain in Spain. I went to the trees. I sat on the lap of a hoary whiskery bulbous old crone of an olive tree. Somehow, the tree seemed to know that I was grieving. Her stillness and silence was deeply soothing.
Tina, my chosen sister, a brilliant, funny songbird and wielder of words had taken her own life. Like Vijayatara and NASA, she had danced for many years with mental health issues and would at time submit to treatment and at others, rebel vigorously against the whole system. Tina was happiest when lying on Leon Garfield’s bench in Highgate Woods, staring up at the sky through the branches of the trees and listening to the birds. And there have been so many others, taken by illness or leaving by their own hand, all gone too soon. Behind them we remain, their grieving friends and sisters in struggle.
I know that I am different because they were in my life. Knowing them changed me. Each of them left me a gift, a legacy, an essence of who they are which is mine for ever.
. So I thank you Vijayatara for the gift of focussing on what unites us. You taught me that when we fight over the crumbs, patriarchy and the powers that rule, win.
. And I thank you Rowen for giving me the gift of less is more; and to try always to get to the point!
. Oh thank you too Nasa for the gift of saying it if it needs saying, even if it pisses other people off! It’s better the truth is out. . And dear Tina, thank you for the gift of the peace of the trees. NO matter how frantic my life is, no matter how ubiquitously notorious I am and no matter how many people make demands on me, when I stop and go to the trees, I can recharge my batteries and find energy to fight another day. What have your dear beloved dead sisters in struggle gifted you? Kirsten Hearn
March 8, 2012

Dear PC Rathband

March 4, 2012

Dear PC Rathband
The newsreaders voice is tinged with sadness as he announces your death. As though I’ve just slipped off a step I didn’t know was there, my stomach tightens, then shakes. “Oh” I say to the empty kitchen, “Oh, how sad.” I didn’t know you personally, but I followed your very public journey from sighted traffic cop, to blind man determined to beat the restrictions put upon him by society’s view of disability, with interest and empathy. Interest, because I’ve spent the best part of ten years beating the police into submission about disability; and empathy, because I too have had to deal with sight loss and all the sudden changes that that experience brought to my life.
Your blinding was sudden, brutal and public. In one violent act, your life was changed forever. From then on nothing you did would be private. I lost my sight 40 years ago. Suddenly visible I became public property. Strangers had an opinion on what I should do and what I needed. AS the cop, blinded by Raoul Moat, you were well and truly in the spotlight. Where did you go to privately grieve for what happened to you. What opportunity did you have to practice being a blind man, without others watching your every move?
You chose to talk about it all. In the interviews, I heard the tension laced with anger and behind it, the fear in your voice. Your police training would not allow you to show that fear, that uncertainty you must have felt; police officers often have to do things that scare them, but they are taught never to show their vulnerability.
But you know, fear is something I still wrestle with 40 years on, every time I cross a difficult road, find myself alone somewhere on a train platform, realise I’m being thought of as lesser by someone who has power over me. At the end of the day, I have to make a choice; I can hide away, never doing anything difficult or I can take a big deep breath and step out into the world and get on with my life. What helps me is to remember that, with support, I can live a positive, useful and independent life, where the dance that is giving to others and receiving for myself is balanced. I knew that the police machine would swing in with support for you immediately, they’re good at that. They would help their comrade, especially because you had been wounded in the line of police duty. But I did wonder if, after the immediate emergency, in the months that followed, whether they would be able to provide the ongoing support that would help you return to work, and gain independence to live your life on your own terms as a blind policeman. I hoped that by talking about it, by being out there in the public eye, you would find your way to come to terms with what had happened and would get what you needed to move forward.
The police attitude to disability is still problematic. Many disabled members of staff will testify to the culture of the force being one of the biggest barriers to disabled staff being usefully and appropriately deployed. In such a dare-I-say macho, fit-bloke environment, the organisation regards anyone who isn’t 100% fit as lesser,. In this respect, they simply mirror society’s attitudes
I go about my daily business. People are suddenly being nice to me. Someone asks if I’ve heard about “that poor policeman”. I know they mean you. You took your own life. You made your choice. Your life was in turmoil, not just because you were blind but because of difficulties in your family life. Enough was enough, you no doubt felt.
Years ago, I was refused salary protection insurance because the bank felt that blind people were more likely to be at risk of suicide than sighted people. I’ve no idea if that is statistically true or where they got that notion from. Weirdly, sometime idiots have speculated out lloud in front of me that they’d rather be dead than be blind! Coolly analytical and unemotional (despite wanting to thump them) I always ask them how they know that. Why blindness, why not some other impairment? What would it be like if they find instead that their life is worth living after all? But who can know what the breaking point is for any human? What drives them to choose death over life? I think about my dear blind brother in struggle, Chris Harrison who for reasons known only to himself, took his own life. I remember my chosen sighted sister Tina who did the same. There were other friends, blind and sighted, who tried but survived. I recall my own desperate attempt to escape from the consequences of an unhappy love-affair. The lethal cocktail of vodka and sleeping pills I took did not do the job. My “cry for help” was met with love and compassion. Why did no one hear yours?
At the end of the day, at that moment in time, you could not imagine the future. Had you lived, you might have found your way to living purposefully, gaining self-respect, making a contribution as a blind police officer. I know you could. I know visually impaired police officers who, when allowed to do their job, with the right support, can do it well. Ok, so they might not be able to pound the pavements and chase after crooks, but they could investigate crimes, support victims and witnesses, work to build community cohesion, make a real difference to local people’s lives. Policing isn’t only about being a robo-cop, despite the muscular rhetoric of the government and senior police officers.
In that glare of public scrutiny, you tried to live your life as a blind man. You were appalled at the lack of support being provided for newly blinded people. You hoped your charity, Blue Lamp, would address this gap. The welfare state and the health service are being torn apart by dangerous reforms that will leave more and more people reliant on charities and their families for vital support. I’ve no doubt that this will drive others to make the choice you made.
Your death was the first item on the Radio 4 news. My sadness was mixed with anxiety. Would your suicide confirm the prevailing belief that being blind was intolerable?
I’ve spent so much of my blind life campaigning for our rights. Loudly I declare, it’s the world in which we live that puts up the barriers that stop disabled people being equal. Knowing that it was the barriers that stopped me gaining independence and autonomy over my life took a huge load off my shoulders, it turned my life around. I knew who to aim my anger at and pointed it outwards, away from myself. And from that point I knew that I could and would live to make a difference to other people’s lives. In your brief blind life, you vowed to make a difference. Maybe your death will spur us on to action to push even harder for the removal of barriers that stop disabled people being equal. I hope so. Rest in peace, PC Rathband.
Kirsten Hearn
Sunday March 4, 2012)