Last blog from Sharon Schaffer, time to reflect

3 Years Forward

As the Vision Strategies move into their next stage I shall be taking a step back from directly facilitating each group, and immersing myself more into addressing and influencing the gaps in services that the Strategies have highlighted across London.

With this pan London, rather than east London, perspective this will, therefore, be my last blog for ELVis (!!), so I thought I’d get a wee bit reflective….

It’s been 3 years since I first began work on the Vision Strategies across the 7 east London boroughs and 2 years since the Action Plans were agreed and activated by their respective groups.

So… what have the Vision Strategies done for us?

Well, I am pleased to say that

  • Each borough now has a tangible record of Eye Health and Sight Loss, and related issues, in its borough – something that many had no idea of before the Vision Strategies were produced
  • The Vision Strategy Group in each borough has good, cross sector representation, enabling networking and link-up opportunities across the whole breadth of the Sight Loss Pathway
  • In partnership with Social Services, the Register of Visual Impairment has been updated, in 6 of the 7 boroughs…. and we are working hard on the 7th!
  • There are, or commitments are in place, to include Vision in all 7 boroughs’ Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (thereby ensuring that commissioning for VI services remains on the agenda).
  • 25 events and activities were held in the ELVis region as part of National Eye Health Week 2015
  • The Chairs of each borough’s Vision Strategy Groups are now meeting regularly to share best practice and look at regional possibilities.
  • One of the Chairs said, “The status and credence which (chairing the Vision Strategy Group) brings has given me the opportunity to make the reality of my sight loss an issue which can’t be dismissed, can’t be ignored, and can’t remain unseen by the local decision makers”.

Furthermore, through the mapping of current service provision detailed in each of the Vision Strategies, ELVis has been able to identify and fill some of the most needed gaps. This has resulted in

  • The ELVis Vision Awareness Training Programme: which was launched at the end of 2014 and has delivered awareness training to Leisure Centre staff, Library staff, Health professionals, Thomas Pocklington Trust staff, and even primary school pupils! Plans are now underway to train up a group of vision impaired people from each borough to deliver further training, thereby reaching more frontline staff, as well as providing new skills and income to the trainers.
  • Technology Advice: In October 2015, ELVis appointed a Technology Advisor, Graham Page. He has already advised around 60 people in how to set up and use computers, tablets, smartphones and email
  • Volunteer Coordinator: who will be developing a pool of volunteers to help provide assistance with transport, shopping needs, appointments, outings, etc, as well as sight support in eye clinics.
  • Outings and Activities: ELVis plays a key role in helping its members take part in outings and activities that they may not have been able to do alone.  One of our members said, after a summer boat cruise down the Thames, “It was very exciting being on the boat and the weather was lovely. Thanks for a great experience.” After a trip in Southend another said, “It was such a great day…I really enjoyed being with this group, as well as being able to do my own thing.” It’s this opportunity to meet new people and to build relationships that has really been the strength of our local societies. In this way, not only have we extended the range of things people can do, but also the number of friends they’ve been able to make.

It is with these achievements and models in mind that I shall be looking at provision across London and seeking to learn from and influence best practice and optimum services.

See you on the campaign trail!


National Organisation of Spanish Blind People!

Whilst away recently on holiday in Spain (don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to be a gloat about my getaway to sunnier climes), I was interested to investigate a little into the treatment of VIPs in the country. Through this, I discovered ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, or the National Organisation of Spanish Blind People), which is an organisation which predominantly employs VIPs to sell lottery tickets. In most cities, I saw kiosks selling ONCE lottery tickets as well as several VI people in the middle of high streets or walking from restaurant to restaurant selling tickets to locals. Furthermore, whenever I told sighted Spanish people that I work for an organisation that supports VIPs, they would always say “Oh, we have an organisation like that here in Spain: ONCE.” Clearly, then, ONCE is a very well-known organisation that a good proportion of the Spanish population, both VI and sighted, is aware of.

Upon doing a little further investigating, I managed to discover just how well-known ONCE is. The entire organisation currently employs 23,000 VIPs and other people with disabilities to sell their lottery tickets. From 1989 to 2003, ONCE sponsored one of Spain’s leading cycling teams, and has even received support from the Spanish royal family, with Princess Letizia presenting awards at an awareness-raising event. The organisation itself covers several different aims outside of the provision of employment, including providing an online support network and helping to eliminate communication barriers for VIPs.

Clearly, this is fantastic service which provides not only support but a likely avenue of employment for VIPs across the country. However, this raises interesting issues, particularly when looked at in contrast with the UK. In Spain, of the VIPs who are in employment, 80% of them are involved in the selling of lottery tickets for ONCE. It is believed that these ‘reserved occupations’ are beneficial to VIPs as they provide a relatively sure channel of employment. In contrast, in the UK, it is believed that VIPs should be integrated into wider society and as such there is nothing comparable to the employment channel that ONCE provides. However, as we are all aware, finding employment in the UK for VIPs is rarely easy, and it will probably come as no surprise to hear that the unemployment level of Spanish VIPs is lower than that of VIPs in the UK. However, does this method of keeping specific jobs predominantly for the VI community pigeon-hole VIPs? Does it mean that they are less likely, or less encouraged, to find employment elsewhere, in other fields which may interest them more? Or is the fact that VIPs in Spain find it easier to get any work at all more important than this? Does it mean that, ultimately, VIPs are less integrated into the wider community, or is the opposite the case and are VIPs actually more visible in Spain owing to ONCE’s success? These are tricky issues that I don’t have any answers for, but I certainly think it’s always worth looking at the different ways of doing things in other countries, and to learn any lessons that we can. And next time you’re in Spain, look out for ONCE, and maybe buy a ticket. You never know when you’re about to strike it lucky!