Fear of crime in Redbridge ‘preventing blind and partially sighted from leaving their homes’

Owais Niaz in Ilford town centre.

Owais Niaz in Ilford town centre. - Credit: Archant

A fear of crime is making it difficult for blind and partially sighted people to step outside their homes.

That’s one message from Owais Niaz from Newbury Park registered as blind as a result of the rare genetic disorder bardet biedl syndrome.

Life-long Redbridge resident, Owais said: “There’s a lot of bad stuff happening. I’ve heard about a lot of knife crime and drug dealing. There are strangers out there.”

The 28-year-old was speaking about what people with sight loss can sometimes feel living in the borough explaining that when he goes out there are plenty of people who offer help and support but some attitudes needed to change.

“If you’re by yourself it can be a struggle. There are some good people out there but some aren’t always very helpful. Some can be a bit rude. They’re always in a rush. They feel you are in the way because you need a bit more time,” Owais said.

Asked what’s best helpwise, Owais said: “Be understanding and take a minute or two to think about what it would be like if they were in the same situation. How would they cope?”

Cricket-mad Owais’s sightloss makes getting about unaided difficult, but that doesn’t stop him visiting favoured spots in the borough including The Exchange Ilford and Redbridge Central Library which he said were really accessible for people like him.

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The Essex supporter has even travelled to Jamaica to play cricket as part of a Cricket for Change trip run with youth charity, The Change Foundation.

One other message Owais is keen to share is that just because someone has a visual impairment doesn’t mean they can’t do something, including work.

Owais, whose ambition is to coach cricket, said the blind and visually impaired can find it difficult to get jobs often because of the adaptions businesses need to take in order to accommodate their needs.

“The majority of organisations are very understanding, but it has been really hard to find work,” Owais said.

It’s an issue facing many blind and partially sighted people.

RNIB’s policy and campaigns manager, Chrissie Pepper, said: “At all ages and all levels of education, people who are blind and partially sighted are less likely than the rest of the working age population to be in employment.”

In the last decade there has been a significant decrease in the proportion of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age in any kind of employment – with just one in every four having a job, compared to eight in every ten people without a disability.

Ms Pepper said blind and partially sighted people face challenges including inaccessible job descriptions or interview formats through to a lack of employer flexibility and inaccessible office environments.

“Although there are schemes to help employers make adaptations in the work place and grants available for assistive technology, awareness of this support is low.

“Because of these issues, a broad range of skills and talent possessed by blind and partially sighted people is not being used in the workplace,” Ms Pepper said.

In 2005, another RNIB survey found that one in three blind and partially sighted people of working age were in employment.

But ten years later that number had decreased with only around one in four saying they were in employment.

The research showed, of the one in four blind and partially sighted people who said they were unemployed, each one was looking for paid employment.

According to Masuma Ali from the sightloss charity London Vision, where Owais volunteers, the quality of support people get in the community can be a lottery because of variations in funding, demand and capacity between boroughs across the capital.

The charity wants to change that so every blind or partially sighted person has fair and equal access to a range of opportunities.

Contact London Vision on 020 3697 6464 or email info@londonvision.org for more information.

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