FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
World Sight Day 2008, which has as its theme “Eyes On The Future – Fighting Vision Impairment In Later Life” is focused on the unique needs of elderly blind and partially sighted people. The World Blind Union (WBU), representing over 160 million blind and partially sighted persons worldwide, has noted an increase in the number of older blind persons during the last few years. Currently over 45 million blind and partially sighted persons are over 50 years old. Major diseases contributing to their vision loss are cataract, glaucoma and age related macula degeneration (AMD). These conditions are prevalent both in industrialized and developing countries.
Vision loss creates many problems both for persons who are growing older with reduced vision and for those who have acquired vision loss later in life. Three significant issues which are impacting blind elderly persons are poverty, lack of access to health care services and discrimination. In many countries, but particularly in developing countries, health care systems are often inadequate. Indeed, in many developing countries such as India, cataract which is very common among elderly persons is still the leading cause of blindness despite the fact that effective treatment is available. With respect to discrimination faced by elderly blind persons, that fact is that in many regions around the world, older persons are treated with disrespect and are denied their basic rights.
An important issue for elderly blind and partially sighted persons is a lack of mobility due to inadequate public transportation systems. Given that many elderly people are living alone, perhaps at a distance from their families and that they lose the ability to drive, they can become isolated and less independent.
Another key issue for blind elderly people is a higher risk of injuries due to accidents. For example, stairs will often not be detected if they are not equipped with high contrast edge markings. In addition, the design of new technology can pose significant barriers if access for persons with vision impairment is not considered within the design. For example, the program information for digital television is on-screen with no opportunity for audio output. Another example is the use of totally inaccessible touch screens for service kiosks at airports or government services. These screens could be made useable if accessibility features were built into the design.
As a consequence of these and other issues faced by elderly blind and partially sighted persons, the World Blind Union urges action in the following areas:
- To incorporate universal design features into the design of buildings and public spaces in order to enhance independent travel and reduce the possibility of injury.
- To implement accessibility features into new technology at the design stage.
- To establish efficient and accessible public transportation systems in both urban and rural settings in order to improve mobility and reduce isolation of elderly blind and partially sighted persons.
- To ensure that rehabilitation programs appropriately reflect the particular needs of elderly and partially sighted persons
While access to appropriate health care, rehabilitation services and universal design features are clearly called for in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, attention must be paid to ensure that these are available, accessible and appropriate to the needs of blind and elderly partially sighted persons.
For further information contact:
World Blind Union
Penny Hartin, Chief Executive Officer