By Joe Kenny
The phrase ‘Cost of Living crisis’ has started to take on a strange sense of the mundane. I’d say some of us don’t even look up now when we hear it in conversation. More bad news to add to the other bad news.
According to the sight loss charity RNIB: “Even before prices began to rise, one in five blind and partially-sighted people said they had some, or great, difficulty in making ends meet. The Cost of Living crisis has made this situation worse.
People with sight loss are also more reliant on benefits than the general population as only one in four registered blind and partially-sighted people of working age are in employment.”
I want to try and refocus the Cost of Living conversation in terms of what I know. My lived experience as a blind dad, husband and consumer. I’m blind. As blind as it gets. I can’t see a thing. I live in Belfast with my wife and kids. We both work and for that I’m grateful daily. Are we comfortable? Many would say we are, but I don’t feel that comfortable at the end of each month.
There’s no disputing that life costs more if you live with a disability.
I suppose where I’ve felt it the most is the endless shelling out on taxi fares. Some might say that taxis are a luxury and if you don’t like the prices then get out of the car. But that’s to totally dismiss those of us for whom taxis are essential transport. It’s easy to be blasé about taxis when you’ve got two cars parked in the driveway but for me, and many like me, jumping in a taxi two or three times a day to do the school runs, go to work, and everywhere else – those fares mount up.
Or maybe it’s the increasing costs of assistive technology which blind or partially-sighted people need to live independently. Can we all now agree that decent, reliable internet connection isn’t a could have, it’s a must have? It’s essential to living independently when you’re blind.
Buying stuff online is sometimes the only way people with little or no eyesight can get hold of certain goods or services. I’ve found that reductions or limited special offers are often presented in a way that most blind people completely miss.
What I am saying though is that once again, as with the Covid pandemic and many times before, when there’s a crisis that befalls us all, the voices and concerns of people with disabilities are scarcely heard within the mainstream media maelstrom’
This is either due to websites that are inaccessible or if you are in an actual shop, special offers are in small print, or in a separate area of the shop that I don’t know about because I can’t see it.
We live in a sighted world for sighted people. The Cost of Living crisis public conversation is dominated by those who shout the loudest but if I have to sit and listen to yet another debate featuring a group of vehicle owners collectively lamenting the soaring cost of fuel at the pumps, I’ll scream.
Our new addition to the family, little Eunan, was born in September last year so I’m really conscious of the amount of gas we’re burning for heating now. With a newborn in the house, sticking a jumper on and keeping the doors closed just won’t cut it. As both my wife and I are visually impaired, we often ask Oisin, our six-year-old, to read the display on our pre-paid gas meter. I like to think it helps with his reading too. Well, recently his reading has come on leaps and bounds due to the number of times we’re needing him to ‘go out and check the gas’.
In the face of this Cost of Living crisis, I’m not saying that blind people have it harder than everyone else or that blind people need more money than anyone else. What I am saying though is that once again, as with the Covid pandemic and many times before, when there’s a crisis that befalls us all, the voices and concerns of people with disabilities are scarcely heard within the mainstream media maelstrom.
We’re all affected by this financial plague right now, but it’s time society listened to our shouts as well.