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Benchmarking Report.

Visual Impairment Benchmarking Study Summary Report.

Visual Impairment - an Introduction to the Service and Related Issues.

The majority of us take sight for granted. 90% of the information we receive about our surroundings and environment is visual. People without sight or with partial sight are therefore at an immediate and significant disadvantage in living their everyday lives and fulfilling their individual potential. The effects can be particularly acute when someone loses some or all of their sight suddenly at some stage of their lives.

Some 20,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted in Wales, although it is estimated that there are at least 60,000 more with serious visual impairment but who are not registered.l

Society as a whole needs to make significant adjustments to both the physical environment and methods of inter-personal interaction so that visual impairment ceases to be an obstacle to an independent and fulfilling life. Appropriate levels of support need to be provided for people with visual impairment, to help them learn new skills to cope with life's regular tasks, and to ensure access to services which will help them maintain their dignity and independence.

Our shared aim as strategists and practitioners across sectors in this field must be to support people with visual impairment to live independently and in the manner in which they would if they were fully sighted. People with visual impairment are members of society with particular roles and interests — parents, professionals, homeowners, political activists and service users. They want to be involved in their communities in the same way as sighted people. This means giving them full access to services that emphasise empowerment and focus on the needs of the individual. Some of these will be specific for people with visual impairment — for example, rehabilitation services. Some will be generic services requiring modification or adaptation so that people with visual impairment can use them effectively. We must be able to provide and monitor those services to see that they are of reliable and consistent quality across Wales so that we can refer people with confidence along the client pathway.

We must not ignore the eventual cost to the services of not promoting independent living effectively. We know that general levels of physical and mental health are lower for people who are blind and partially sighted compared with the general population; we know that the incidence of accidents is higher; we know that the need for support services is greater and that typically, entry to residential care is earlier than among the general population.

It has long been a matter of concern that, while service developments and improvements have been implemented effectively in relation to other groups of service users in health and social care, this has not happened in the case of visually impaired people. This has been due in no small part to a significant shortage of data about this service and the needs of service users in comparison with other groups. Recent years have seen significant strides in the development of policy and service delivery for people with disabilities, which have brought a number of benefits to service users, including people with visual impairment.
Recent legislation and the rights agenda have triggered considerable progress in this area.
However, there is still much to be accomplished in the provision of services to meet the specific needs of visually impaired people. The anticipated Strategy for Visual Impairment in Health and Social Care will set the standards which we all acknowledge as much needed.

This is why in 2001 Wales Council for the Blind approached the WLGA with a view to establishing a project to benchmark the service for visually impaired people, concentrating on social services. The project has benefited immensely from the support and direct involvement from the outset of the Welsh Assembly Government, SSiW, ADSS, all 22 Welsh councils and voluntary organisations including RNIB Cymru and local societies for the blind.

We believe that this report represents a watershed in the development of services for people with visual impairment in Wales, providing a comprehensive baseline on the quality and levels of services for people with visual impairment, and clearly presenting the opportunities and challenges councils and their partners face in developing these services in the future. Whilst good practice in this area can be identified across Wales, it is clear that levels and quality of service vary across the country. Whilst this is understandable, we need now to work together, sharing and learning from each other, to achieve consistently high standards across Wales. The Good Practice Guides, drawn up by specialist working groups concentrating on four key aspects of service, provide an invaluable framework for driving this collective progress and improvement.

We look forward to seeing the fruits of this work over the coming months and years, in the shape of even better, more coordinated and responsive services for people with visual impairment.


We recommend that:

1. Welsh Health Survey 1998. ^

[Next: Visual Impairment and its Services in Wales.]