The cost of living is often higher for blind people and those with visual impairments. Not only do you have to cope with all the usual costs such as accommodation, food, utilities and transport, but you may also have to pay out for adjustments to make everyday life more accessible. The same often goes for those employers with blind or visually impaired employees who may need to invest in additional equipment or specialist software to make their workers comfortable and to help them fulfil their tasks.
If these challenges sound familiar, you might be pleased to learn that there is support available. In this guide, we cover some of the key resources available to UK blind or visually impaired people and their employers.
There are nearly 2 million people living with sight loss across the UK, and around 360,000 of those people are officially registered as blind or partially sighted. These are staggering numbers, but sight loss is something you might not have thought about unless you or a loved one are affected.
Whilst our focus is mainly on financial matters, awareness and understanding are the first steps towards support. With this in mind, it’s important for people to understand how visual impairments affect people, who is actually classed as blind, and what registration actually means.
For more information about blindness and vision loss, visit the NHS guide to the subject at www.nhs.uk/conditions/vision-loss.
More information about registering as sight impaired can be found at the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s website at www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health/registering-your-sight-loss. Here you can find out more about what it means to be on your local social service’s register of people with sight impairments.
Your health is important, and you shouldn’t have to worry about costs when you’re trying to look after yourself. To find out whether you qualify for free NHS eye tests and optical vouchers, visit the NHS health costs page here.
If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you won’t have to pay for prescriptions regardless of your age or circumstances.
In England, prescriptions are only free if one of the following criteria applies to you:
Unfortunately, being registered as blind or sight impaired does not mean that you are automatically entitled to free prescriptions, however you should be if you meet any of the above criteria.
For more information about free prescriptions, visit the NHS website. You can also call the NHS Help with Health Costs helpline on 0300 330 1343.
Finally, many blind and visually impaired people find the assistance of a guide dog to be invaluable. For information about guide dogs, or to get support, visit the UK’s authority on the matter at www.guidedogs.org.uk. You can also call 0118 983 5555 to get through to the Guide Dogs team.
Living with sight loss or any other visual impairment can be tough. Fortunately, there are financial resources available to ensure that people living with such conditions can afford the assistive technology and home or workplace modifications they need to thrive.
To find a grant that suits your individual circumstances or those of a family member or employee, use the Turn2us grants search at grants-search.turn2us.org.uk.
Tax is a certainty for most of us, but there are specific allowances in place for those who are registered as blind. The blind person’s personal tax allowance is a government tax policy that grants people an extra amount of tax-free allowance If they are registered blind. The government website hosts a page on the topic at www.gov.uk/blind-persons-allowance, whilst the RNIB provide a free tax advice service available at the following link.
The blind person’s personal tax allowance is subject to yearly change, but you can find a useful explanation of the entitlement on the Entitled To site, found at the following link.
Even more information can be found in the tax guide for students, which sets out who is eligible for the allowance, along with how it works. A complete guide to tax and benefits for blind and partially sighted people can be found on the Henshaws website at www.henshaws.org.uk/benefits.
Whilst blind and partially sighted people are not totally exempt from most forms of taxes, there are provisions in place to make sure that they can afford specialist equipment if and when they need it.
VAT relief is available to help with the purchase of items that are specifically designed or adapted for the personal use of an individual who is blind or partially sighted. For more information, visit the Sight Advice FAQ website, or read the government’s own guide to the topic here.
It’s also possible for people with certain conditions (including some sight related conditions) to qualify for the disability reduction scheme which provides for a reduction in Council Tax. To qualify, your home will need to contain either an additional bathroom or kitchen for the use of a disabled person, or another room that has the same purpose.
To access this subsidy, you’ll need to contact your local council for more information. You can find out who to contact by using the following local council finder tool.
Life with a visual impairment can be difficult, and it can be frustrating to perform everyday tasks that you might once have taken for granted. Recognising this situation, there are many benefits and discounts available across the UK to people with impaired sight.
If you are registered blind, you are probably entitled to a concession on the cost of your TV license. Known as the ‘blind concession TV license’, this scheme grants 50% off the cost of a T V license to those with severe sight impairments.
Sadly, this concession is not available to those who are registered as partially sighted, but it does cover anybody who lives with a person who is registered blind provided that the license is in their name. More information can be found on the government website at www.gov.uk/free-discount-tv-licence, or on the TV licensing website found at the following link.
You can still enjoy the silver screen even if you are partially sighted or blind. Whilst you might not be able to get your own ticket for free, it is possible to get a free ticket for somebody accompanying you.
If you’re blind or partially sighted or have close-up vision with spectacles of N12 or less, you may be entitled to use the Royal Mail’s ‘Articles for the Blind’ scheme. The scheme allows certain organisations to send items of post for free, provided that they are specially produced or adapted for people who are blind or partially sighted.
To find out more, visit the Royal Mail website at the following link.
Getting around is likely to be more difficult if you are blind or partially sighted, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With various schemes and discounts in place, you could travel throughout the UK for less.
If you’ve got sight loss, you could benefit from the Motability scheme which provides an easy way for people with disabilities to exchange their Motability allowance for car, scooter, or powered wheelchair leasing. Under this scheme, people who are blind or have sight loss can elect for two other people to drive on their behalf.
In addition to the vehicle, the scheme covers the cost of insurance, breakdown cover and vehicle tax. For more information, go to www.motability.co.uk.
If you’re registered as blind, you might qualify for the blue badge scheme which allows drivers to park in spaces that are reserved for people with disabilities. These specially marked spaces are usually closer to buildings, facilities, and town centres, making it easier to get around when your sight is impaired.
Even though blind and partially sighted people are unlikely to be driving themselves, the badge can be used in any vehicle they travel in. To find out more, visit the following websites depending on where you live:
England: www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge, or call 0343 100 1000
Scotland: www.bluebadgescotland.org, or call 0303 100 1001
Wales: www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge, or call 0343 100 1008
There are numerous schemes relating to the various modes of public transport, making it cheaper for those with sight impairments to get around.
For one thing, the Disabled Person’s Railcard gives a minimum of one third off the price of many rail tickets. This applies not only to the railcard holder but also to any adult accompanying them on their journey across England, Wales, and Scotland.
For more information, visit the Disabled Person’s Railcard website, or call 0845 605 0525.
What many people don’t know is that the Disabled Person’s Railcard also comes with a number of other discounts, and an up-to-date list of these can be found at the following link.
It’s also possible to get a free bus pass in many locations, however to do so you will likely have to contact your local council or bus operator. To find out more, visit: www.gov.uk/apply-for-disabled-bus-pass.
If your visual impairment makes it difficult to read or use a telephone directory, it’s worth knowing that free help is available from the 195 Service. Once you have signed up to the service, all you need to do is dial 195 to speak with an operator who will help you to find the number you require.
To sign up for the 195 service, request an application form by calling freephone 0800 587 0195.
Whether you’re registered blind or partially sighted, you could get your hands on a specially adapted radio, tape or CD player from British Wireless for the Blind. You’ll need to be in receipt of a means-tested benefit, but this equipment could help you to connect with the outside world through audio. For more information, call 01622 754 757.
Staying safe is a priority for all people, but even more so for those with visual impairments. A significant number of local fire services provide free home fire safety checks, helping citizens to make their homes safer and even to fit smoke alarms.
If you’re visually impaired and would like to arrange for a free fire safety check to be carried out at your home, visit the National Fire Chiefs Council directory to locate your nearest service.
The Macular Society have a wealth of knowledge about the various adaptations that can be made to technology to ensure that it can be used easily even if you are blind or partially sighted. For more information about these adaptations, call their team on 0300 3030 111 or visit the guides linked below:
There are also lots of apps that can help people with visual impairments to live and work independently. The Macular Society has prepared a guide on the topic at this link, and you can also find a rundown of the top 25 apps for the visually impaired on the Everyday Sight website available here.
Being blind or visually impaired doesn’t mean you can’t engage in employment or education, and there are numerous subsidies and support schemes available for those who find themselves in need of help with their condition.
The UK government offers Disabled Students’ Allowances to cover some of the additional costs related to student life as a blind or visually impaired person. How much you get will depend on your circumstances, and you can find out more at www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas.
There’s also lots of support out there for people who are blind or partially sighted yet wish to start or continue working. Around 84,000 people of working age are registered as blind or sight impaired in the UK. For more information about blind people in work across the UK, visit the RNIB’s research page at the following link.
For help getting into employment, or for more information, contact the Action For Blind People employment line by emailing email@example.com or by calling 0800 440 2255.
The UK government also runs an access to work scheme for those who have a health condition that are looking to get into work. You can find more information about the scheme at www.gov.uk/access-to-work.
Further support is available from Blind in Business, a company set up by several friends who found it hard to get into employment due to misconceptions about visual impairments. With help for students, employers and those looking for work, you could get help by visiting www.blindinbusiness.org.uk.
If you’re an employer, it’s your obligation to make reasonable adjustments for a blind or partially sighted member of staff under the Equality Act 2010 and UK employment law. Beyond this, failing to employ or retain an individual on account of their visual impairment could see your business losing out on a real asset to the team – and nobody wants that.
There are lots of ways you can help people with sight loss to overcome the challenges caused by their condition, helping them to thrive in the workplace. For more information on how, visit the RNIB guide, or look over the Blind in Business website. There is also a ‘Skillmakers’ guide covering tips when employing someone with sight loss available here.
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also provide help and guidance to employers that are making changes to accommodate staff with visual impairments, and their guide to the topic can be found at the following link. Similar materials are also available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
You’ll see above that we outlined some of the best technology adaptations that can be made to help blind and visually impaired people to continue working with digital devices. One of the most helpful things that you can do might be to install a screen reader on the device of a blind or visually impaired employee. This is an assistive software programme that helps you to work on a computer when you can’t see it perfectly. For information about the 10 best screen readers, visit the Everyday Sight guide here. What’s even better is that some of these options are free!
We hope that this resource guide proves helpful to people living with blindness and visual impairments across the UK. Visual impairments are a serious matter, but they don’t have to stop you from getting on with your life or seeking out employment.
Let us know if any of the links above no longer work, if there are new resources to include, or if you or your company offers support to people with visual impairments anywhere in the UK.