Penny Melville-Brown from Hampshire (UK) is living proof that many people under-estimate what blind people can do.
Research published today by the Royal National Institute of Blind People found that “half of UK adults think that people with sight loss struggle to find and hold down a job, yet more than a quarter would not feel comfortable with a boss who was blind or partially sighted.”
Penny said, “I was still a serving Royal Navy Commander when I started losing my sight but carried on working in uniform even when I needed my white cane. I went on to start my own businesshelping other disabled people to get back to work – and I think that I’ve been a pretty good boss too. I’ve held Board level Government public appointments and more. There are many other people with sight-loss or other disabilities who have loads of skills and experience who can succeed at work – we just need the chance.”
Her company, Disability Dynamics, provides diversity training and has helped hundreds of disabled people to start their own businesses. She explained, “Our training model emphasises that positive attitudes are the easiest, cheapest and most successful way of making life better for disabled people. Too often, people have been distracted by getting information into Braille, lifts and ramps or writing an equality policy. All of that is useful but, first, start seeing us as people rather than focussing on our health or impairments.”
Winner of the 2017 international Holman prize, Penny used the $25,000 prize towards her Baking Blind adventure aiming to change attitudes. She is publishing over 50 videos, blogs and recipes of her cooking alongside professional chefs and home cooks, sighted or not, in America and Australia, China and Costa Rica, Malawi and the UK. She said, “Some of my co-cooks were obviously nervous about having a blind person in their kitchen but, as soon as they realised that we were just two people with the same enthusiasm, they forgot that I couldn’t see.”
Her use of video and global travels also challenge other common misconceptions revealed by the RNIB research: “31 per cent of people think that people with sight loss can’t enjoy TV and film, whereas almost a fifth of people think that they cannot travel the world. 37 per cent of those surveyed believe people with sight loss cannot play football whilst 28 per cent did not think that blind and partially sighted people can enjoy reading books.” Penny confessed that she couldn’t play football but went on to say, “When I have the time, I read a book every two days and also enjoy flower arranging, designing buildings and metalwork with pewter. I don’t think that I’m very different from many other blind people it is just that others expect so little from us.”
You can follow Penny’s Baking Blind tour on YouTube and at www.bakingblind.com and her training model is in Understanding disability at www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk. The Holman prize is run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation that supports blind and visually impaired people. The prize celebrates James Holman, another officer who was blinded while serving in the Royal Navy but 200 years ago.