A friend of mine told me that I was too independent. I didn’t say so, but bunkham.

So, I got to thinking about the concept of independence. What is independence and does it mean the same thing to everyone or do we all have a different take on what it means to live independently?

You can’t even look it up in the dictionary and get the definitive answer. It’s the condition of a nation as free from being governed by others. It’s not being influenced or controlled by others. All recognisable stuff.

Personal independence means the exercise of free will within the normal constraints of any society. It’s highly prized principle. It’s no different for a blind person and it goes to the heart of what it means to live on equal terms with our sighted peers. achieving it is another matter altogether.

For a group of people that are less likely to be employed and less likely to have the earning potential of our sighted counterparts, being able to cover the additional costs of daily living let alone the costs of exercising independence, that being blind involves, is a biggie.

However good the guide dog you are attached to, it wont’ lean over it’s shoulder and bark “empty crisp packet, trip alert.” The long cane can tell you a lot, but not the difference between a puddle and an overflowing drain. You may never know about the overhanging bramble until you are tangled up in it. We all accept a degree of risk as we move about in the world.

There may be some journeys where the choice is stark if you can’t see. Who would navigate a fast moving road with no pavement if they can’t see? Stay at home or take a taxi.

It’s not the act of walking along the road on ones own that creates independence. PIP is an acknowledgement that for many disabled people, independence has a price tag.

Parliament recognises this principle of personal independence and that’s why the Personal Independence Payment or “PIP” benefit that anyone with a severe sight impairment, of working age, is entitled to claim, is so important. It’s designed to enable blind people to be able to move about safely and to exercise personal choice about how they achieve this.

It’s become a fiasco that blind people find it so hard to access the PIP benefit. So, says a recent parliamentary report. From the moment of application there are blocks from unreadable forms to deadlines that don’t account for how long you might have to wait to get someone to help with the form filling. The report says that trust has broken down between disabled people and an assessment process that is riddled with inaccuracies.

A woman I know was declined PIP because she was thought to be faking it. The assessor reported that she made “good eye contact”. She was just exercising good manners and trying to look in the direction of the voice she was talking to. She couldn’t see the person doing the talking let alone his face. The assessor, who had no expertise on the subject, ignored the reams of medical evidence that set out details of her life long journey towards blindness and concluded she wasn’t blind at all. She won on appeal.

Blind people are not getting the support they have an absolute right in law to expect. The system needs fixing if the government wants to walk the talk and ensure that disabled people live independently. It needs to deal with the continual flouting of guidance in assessing the needs of disabled people and stop running up unnecessary costs in defending the indefensible. Parliament thinks so too.

Follow the link to see what they had to say.