It got me thinking this week, when I saw the headline on an article in my inbox, saying that a blind man was being turned down for disability benefits, because he had been judged fit for work under the new Work Capability Assessment. I didn't read the full article, but the tone clearly suggested that it was wrong to find somebody able to work when they were blind.
Without exploring individual cases, I can't help thinking that this sort of blanket judgement about impairments and the possibility of working is very unhelpful, both for individuals seeking to fulfil their potential and for the cause of disability rights in general.
Many people who are blind have jobs. The fact that you can't see certainly makes life more challenging, but it doesn't prevent you from working, per se. Towards the end of last year, a survey found that 66% of blind and partially sighted adults were unemployed, despite often being as well qualified as the population in general. The RNIB launched a campaign to encourage employers and recruitment agencies to think more positively about people with impaired vision, and to focus on ways in which the job and workplace could be adapted to enable them to work, rather than hindering them.
Surely, our collective efforts should be turned towards helping individuals to achieve, rather than dismissing all their capabilities in the light of one disability? And therefore, it follows that the benefits system should not be set up in such a way that someone is found unfit for work just because they have an impairment, when a little thought on the part of an employer could allow them to hold down a job. Something which we should actually be able to take for granted, under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor legislation, the DDA.
I understand the fear experienced by an individual who has perhaps automatically received benefits for a number of years, and suddenly faces the possibility of losing them. It would also be wrong to leave people high and dry, without support to help them find employment after an extended period without work. But condemning to a life of dependency, people who could not only make a useful contribution, but equally importantly, achieve the personal satisfaction of working, must be worse.
Last week we marked Dignity Awareness Day, a time to think about every individual's worth and right to respect. Few things can do as much for your self-respect and confidence as having a job and earning money: perhaps not making knee-jerk assumptions about what somebody can achieve based on their condition or impairment, would be a big step forward in according them the dignity they merit.