“We knew that we needed to change”

CEO of The Vision Foundation, Olivia Curno (pictured), discusses its rebrand, survey findings and strategy to create equal opportunities for people living with sight loss

Olivia Curno

Why was the decision taken to rebrand?

The Greater London Fund for the Blind has had the same name for 98 years. As we were on the brink of launching our new strategy, we felt it was time to review our look and our name to ensure that we were in the best place to inspire and engage people, and ultimately deliver on our plan.

What feedback did you receive during consultation?

We consulted widely in the development of our strategy and rebrand. We reached out to blind and partially sighted people, our partner charities, our staff and donors. The feedback was consistent across all of those audiences. People told us that we sounded old fashioned, unfriendly and bureaucratic.

We knew that we needed to change. The phrase ‘the blind’ is not acceptable to people anymore, for example. Language is important and it is easy to disenfranchise and disempower people by using clumsy language that is catch-all. There was a feeling that our work should be with and by blind people not for them. The Vision Foundation has blind and partially sighted people on its board, in its staff teams and in its network of professional advisers; we are an organisation of blind and partially-sighted people, so we want to deliver our work with those individuals, not for them.

It was an easy decision to change the name. We developed and shared a longlist, tested it again and slowly narrowed it down. The Vision Foundation was seen as optimistic and authoritative. It was popular with blind and partially sighted people, young and old.

People told us that we sounded old fashioned, unfriendly and bureaucratic

 

What’s the purpose of the five-year strategy?

The strategy aims to change the unacceptable sight loss stats that we see today. The Vision Foundation operates in London and we want London to be a shining example of a sight-aware city.

We want blind and partially sighted people to be equal citizens. It is not ok that more than 75% of blind and partially sighted people of working age are not employed, that around half live in poverty and that there’s a high level of crime some of which is targeted. Through our new strategy, we plan to get more people into employment, improve public understanding and behaviour, change childhoods and champion talent. We’re broadening our focus to address the health inequalities around sight loss. For example, if you are black, Asian and minority ethnic or living in poverty, you are more likely to needlessly go blind.

What actions will you take?

The Vision Foundation has a long history of investing our donors’ money into projects that make the biggest difference. We work with a network of around 25 organisations in London. We want to capitalise on the fact that we are unique as a cause and place-specific funder in order to build capacity for those organisations. We have grant programmes that we run throughout the year and are launching a new programme on 1 November. It is designed to fund innovative projects that are changing lives in our communities.

How did you react to the survey findings?

The statistics and the commentary that people shared with us made for hard reading. There were a lot of uplifting stories about thriving careers and the highs and lows of visually impaired parenthood, but then also some really stark and difficult truths. It is depressing to hear these statistics, but it isn’t very surprising. I think that blind and partially people are right to feel that way. I don’t know how someone can feel like an equal citizen if they are three times more likely to be living in poverty and seven times more likely to be unemployed. It has to change and that is at the core of our plans. If a society systematically fails some of us, it systematically fails all of us. We need to unite in the face of that inequality and be a lot noisier about creating change.

In our survey, we found that 80% had experienced some mental health problems as a result of sight loss. A quarter had experienced severe depression or anxiety, with one in 10 experiencing suicidal thoughts. It is clear that we need to provide targeted mental health support and look at the circumstances that are causing those mental health outcomes.

There were a lot of uplifting stories about thriving careers and the highs and lows of visually impaired parenthood, but then also some really stark and difficult truths

 

What are the main challenges for people living with sight loss in London?

The number one thing that people wanted to change was public attitudes and understanding. In response to the question, ‘Do you think the public understand sight loss and the experience of people who are blind and partially sighted?’, nearly 80% said ‘No.’ this statistic presents an opportunity. Public attitudes can change, so we need extraordinary role models and advocates to take that mantle on and be part of the solution. In our survey of 2000 members of the public, nearly half said they did want to learn more. Our hope is that the Vision Foundation can be the bridge to support that change.

What are the steps that need to be taken to ensure equal opportunities?

The Vision Foundation is calling for conversations at all levels: for policy makers to prioritise sight loss and equal opportunities; employers to put sight loss on the board room agenda; and at the dinner table because it is only when the public starts to become interested in this issue that we will start to see change.

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