This week has seen Blind Children UK raising awareness of the lack of "habilitation" services (to help with life skills) for children with Visual Impairment.
Habilitation training covers many aspects of life skills for children with VI, including movement, spatial and sensory awareness, orientation and independent living skills.
There are around 25,700 children and young people with sight loss in England supported by their local authority. Blind Children UK’s Time to Move report revealed that less than a fifth (17%) had received specialist training in the previous six months. In some areas, as little as 2% of children were getting the help they need.
Local authorities also told Blind Children UK that they receive referrals for habilitation through a number of different routes, including from medical professionals and from parents, which makes planning and providing a comprehensive service difficult.
Life Skills - in real life
I know when I read reports, I sometimes find it difficult to relate to the stats and figures and I wonder "what does this mean for me?" When people are talking about habilitation services or life skills, we often think of the bigger picture but often, it is actually the little everyday things our children need help with.
J has recently had short term access to habilitation service. His goal was to make a cup of tea and a piece of toast. The last session came with an invitation for me to visit him at school to have him make tea and toast for me and, of course, after 10 years of doing this for him, I jumped at the chance. He was the perfect host and made an amazing cuppa!
Watching him do this though was a real eye opener. I think we, as many parents will relate to, are so used to his lack of vision, that we forget some of the challenges he will face everyday.
Have you ever tried making a cuppa with your eyes closed? Or buttering a piece of toast? Or even getting a piece of toast out of the toaster without burning yourself?
We actually tried it when we got home and I have videos you can see of us trying to butter some toast, make a sandwich and feed the dog whilst blind folded.
It made for an entertaining evening and it also gave us a whole new level of admiration for J - much to his delight
The need for independent life skills training, along with the hugely important orientation and mobility skills, cannot be under estimated. They are as important, if not more so, than any academic lessons. It's no use giving J an amazing education and 1001 academic achievements if he cannot get to the office or find his way around the staff kitchen when he finds a job. These are vital skills.
Being able to read and write Braille may help him to find a job but he needs much more to get there and actually do the job. Reasonable adjustments only go so far.
My challenge to any LA not providing this service:
If you are a commissioner for a LA and either don't provide this service or you have it at the bottom of your priority list, then I would challenge you to blindfold yourself before you eat your next meal or maybe this evening, try to put your socks and shoes on whilst blindfolded. Maybe choose some music from your iPod and set it on your docking station or perhaps find your way to a neighbours house (without involving crossing roads). Think of the things you do daily and choose the one you really think will be the easiest.
Remember, you also have a frame of reference - i.e. you know what a sock looks like, you know how to use a knife and fork already; many of our children with VI have no reference and need help using everyday objects.
If you are really brave, ask a family member or colleague to video you and share it on social media #blindfoldchallenge
Let me know how you get on, I would really like to hear about it - firstname.lastname@example.org