New research from Guide Dogs NSW has revealed that despite young Australians wanting to help improve inclusion and accessibility, they identify themselves as a major barrier to the blind and low vision community.
This echoes findings from the Disability Royal Commission around a lack of social connection, integration and education in the community.
The study of 400 Australians aged 18-35 found they are aware of their knowledge gaps and three in four are motivated to help improve inclusion, but don’t know how.
With the Royal Commission identifying a need for a more active presence of diverse people with disability across schooling, employment and communities, the new research revealed that only one in three young Australians have had contact with someone with blindness or low vision.
The study informed Guide Dogs NSW’s public awareness campaign “For a Boundless World”, which encourages the community to “learn more to change more” addressing the most common questions and breaking stigmas through the voices of young blind and low vision Australians.
Stereotypes, misconceptions and social barriers
Sydney based Guide Dogs client Ms Ingrid Barnes, 30, has been paired with her guide dog Banner since 2019, after being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 2018.
“There is such a frustrating stereotype for people living with blindness and low vision and I like to live in spite of that. Starting with my love for fashion and makeup, people always think I can’t be blind because I’ve done my own makeup and chosen a nice outfit – we can absolutely be disabled and dress well. It’s these kinds of misconceptions that are difficult social barriers to continue to face,” she said.
“In terms of physical barriers, just accessing the world in a confident way is an ongoing challenge I face daily. From shopping in inaccessible stores with overwhelming colours and displays to experiencing regular taxi refusals, it’s really frustrating because when I am with Banner I don’t feel as if I have a disability which is amazing, but bad interactions such as a restaurant refusal remind me the world isn’t inclusive.”
“Ultimately, the world hasn’t been designed for those of us living with low vision and blindness, but it could be.”
More than one million Australians are expected to live with blindness or low vision by 2030, with Indigenous Australians three times more likely to be affected. While more than 60% of people with low vision or blindness are over the age of 65, three in 10 are aged 19-64 and one in 10 are under the age of 18.
Most young Australians admitted they don’t know how people with blindness and low vision date, socialise in groups, work, travel and parent:
• More than half think people with low vision or blindness find it difficult to date and form relationships (56%), socialise in a group situation (54%) or work (57%)
• 70% believe it would be difficult to manage parenting
• 67% believe it would be difficult to travel or go on a holiday
Despite their positive intentions, the study revealed many young Australians don’t have the confidence to engage with people with blindness and low vision. This lack of understanding is said to have led to fear and stigmatisation of vision loss which has inadvertently created more barriers that isolate the blind and low vision community.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT CEO Mr Dale Cleaver said that as 75% of people with low vision and blindness experience barriers in their daily life, the Boundless campaign was launched to increase awareness and empower young Australians to foster inclusivity.
“What has also been significantly demonstrated throughout this research is an extremely limited understanding among young Australians on the lived experience of the 575,000 Australians currently living with low vision and blindness.”
“Through our ‘For a Boundless World’ campaign we will bring to light the realities of living with blindness or low vision, debunking myths around parenting, socialising and dating to give people the confidence to engage with the community.”
He adds: “We are now at a time where two thirds of young Australians agree the topic of living with low vision and blindness isn’t being discussed enough within society, we are bringing the conversation front and centre helping to close this knowledge gap and create a more inclusive world designed for those living with low vision and blindness.”