Saturday, February 23, 2008

Woman suffers abuse because she is visually impaired

BRICKS through the windows, a football kicked into her face, stones thrown in the street - this was the constant barrage of abuse suffered by mum-of-two Denise Jarrett in her Erdington home.
And the only reason for the invective directed at her was Denise's disability because the 43-year-old is virtually blind.

Subject to taunts from youths, she faced years of harassment before being helped to get away from her abusers and has now happily moved to the south of the city.

Denise has faced discrimination since losing her sight seven years ago after a blow to the head. And she is not alone - research shows that nearly one third of visually impaired people have suffered abuse and nearly one third are unable to find work.

"I was always very shortsighted and wore glasses," recalls Denise. "But I went totally blind in one eye and can see things only if I am very close to them in the other.

"It's at its worst when I am out in the road. If I am trying to find somewhere I have to go across the road to see the sign. And if cars are coming quite fast on the road when I am crossing, it scares me. It happens if I step out and someone shouts at me 'are you blind?' and they don't know what to say when I answer 'yes'."

Denise admits she has a stick for such circumstances but she is unwilling to use it.

"I get about all right the rest of the time," she says.

"You just learn to manage. I can do most things."

Which is why it was such a surprise when Denise found herself at the receiving end of a campaign of harassment.

"I moved to a house in Erdington about three years ago," she remembers. "On the first morning I had eggs thrown at the window. I didn't think it was anything to do with me as I had only just moved there with my son Aubrey. I didn't really pay any attention because it could have been to do with the people from before.

"But then there were bricks thrown at the house and stones at me. I finally realised why when one day when they kicked a football right in my face, breaking my glasses, and I heard them saying to kick the ball in my face because I couldn't see.

"The problem was that being short-sighted I didn't know who had done it. All I could see were people in hoods, I think they were just youths.

"I did report it to the police. But because I wasn't able to identify anyone, there was nothing they could do."

Denise, who separated from the father of her two children, Aubrey, now 18 and Flavia, 24, was also facing frustrations with her attempts to give up being a full-time mum and looking for a job.

"I would phone up for an application form and would ask for it in large print and then there would be a pause before they said they didn't do forms in large print and if I couldn't see properly they didn't think I would be able to do the job," she says. "I would say that I could do things as long as they were in large print, but I never got anywhere.

"Even the Job Centre didn't have forms in large print. They offered me Braille but I am not blind and I don't know Braille. But the Job Centre did tell me about someone who could help me, a group called Action for Blind People, and they gave me their details."

Here Denise finally found some practical help.

She explains: "I went to see my case worker Zalika Shand and she was brilliant. She asked me what job I would like to do and I talked about how I loved music and she said, 'what about radio?'."
Denise signed up for a college course but was then told she was the only student on the course so it would not run. But undeterred, Zalika found another option for her.

"She had seen an advert in the Birmingham Mail for Switch Radio in Castle Vale.

"Because all of the training there would be hands-on, it wouldn't matter about needing large print.
"I was a bit worried as a lot of people were going for the job but a few days later they called to say they could offer me a place."

Delighted at finally being given a chance, Denise is now on her course and hoping to continue her studies and gain voluntary work in radio.

"I am really excited about it. I couldn't believe it when they called me," she says.

"Once I have my certificates I can work on any radio station which would be excellent. What I would really like to do is world music."

And Action for Blind People were also able to help with Denise's housing difficulties.

"I was given another case worker, Angela Demetriou, and she put me in touch with Victim Support. They suggested a house swap and gave me some advice about that. Three different people got in touch and I was offered a swap to a house which seemed perfect."

Denise, who moved a couple of weeks ago and is happy in her new home, is only too grateful for the help she has received.

"I don't know what I would have done without Action for Blind People," she says.

"The problem is that there isn't much understanding of visual impairment. You just fall in the middle. All it takes is to print forms in large print but people just don't think of that. They offer you Braille but don't think about people who can see a bit. But by not having information in large print they are discriminating against people like me."


* There are nearly 2 million visually impaired people in the UK, of these 32,000 are in the West Midlands.

* One third of visually impaired people of working age in the UK are unemployed.

* Nearly one third have experienced verbal or physical abuse at some point in their lives.


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