In April, there was a change in the legislation covering Disability Living Allowance (DLA), as it related to visually impaired people. DLA is a benefit which is paid to cover the extra costs incurred as a result of living with a disability. It has two components, the Care Component, which has three levels, and the Mobility Component, which has two. The levels relate to different levels of need, and people may get one or both components. Despite what the media seem to think, DLA is not means tested, and it is not an out of work benefit. It is paid to cover the extra costs which come with a disability.

Until recently, people with a visual impairment were only entitled to the lower rate Mobility Component. In April, the law changed; now people with the most severe visual impairments may be entitled to the higher rate. This is important, as one can choose to use higher rate mobility to access a Motability car. I know, some of you are thinking “But you’re registered blind!!”. This is true, and letting me drive *would* be pretty dangerous :-P. However, the car can be driven by your carer, as long as it is for your use.

The regulations governing who can get the higher level are complex, and don’t just equate to those registered blind, like myself. The criteria are much more stringent and only apply to those with the most severe sight loss.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) undertook an exercise to contact those who may be entitled and ask if they’d like to apply. I was 99% sure that I didn’t meet the criteria, but was advised I had nothing to lose. And transport is one of my biggest areas of difficulty, so I decided to see what happened. I sent off my documentation, aware that if that was not enough, they might contact the specialist who last saw me at the hospital. (I was discharged aged 18, there is absolutely nothing they can do for me and no point wasting everyone’s time).

For months I heard nothing, then last week, I received a letter from a company called ASE Corporate Eyecare Limited. They are a company specialising in “providing outsourced eyecare” to employees of large organisations. The letter stated that they were acting on behalf of the DWP, and I had an appointment with a high street optician that they had arranged, to have my sight tested. I had no idea this was even a possiblity, no one had mentioned this. I have no problem going to a test, but frankly, the idea makes me extremely anxious, due to many bad childhood experiences with NHS Hospital departments regarding my sight.

The appointment was in the middle of the day, in 11 days’ time. The letter stated that I could rearrange the appointment if it was inconvenient, but only for an earlier date! It also gave no instructions as to how to do this, and only the address, not the telephone number, of the appointed optician. I feel I am perfectly capable of arranging my own appointments, and feel that less than two weeks’ notice is quite telling. Clearly, I have no life, or job, and have nothing better to do than to wait around to attend appointments. I frankly find this slightly offensive. I have a full time job, and need more notice than this to take time off work. Since I got the letter when I got home from work on a Friday, it gave me 6 working days before the appointment.

The two pages addressed to me are in nice large print, however, there is a form for you to give to the optician, detailing the tests to be performed. It is minute!! I think it’s damned rude to give me information about me, DELIBERATELY in a size they know I cannot read! The page details the tests to be undertook and it might be nice to have some idea what to expect before I go. Furthermore, this page has my details on it, in tiny print. WHICH ARE WRONG.

So at the first available opportunity, I phoned AES Eyecare and spoke to Brenda, who is dealing with the DWP assessments. The conversation went like this: 

Me: Hi, I’m hoping you can help me. I’ve received a letter from you with an appointment on behalf of the DWP. I need to rearrange it, as it’s not enough notice for me to take time off work, and I’m on holiday that week unfortunately.

Brenda: *sigh* when can you do?

Me: *names date in 3 weeks’ time* (the first clear day in my work diary)

Brenda: It’ll have to be sooner than that!!! WHEN are you back from holiday???

Me: *names date* but I’m an NHS clinician, and I have patients booked in until the date I just gave you.

Brenda: Well! It’s not ideal, but I suppose it’ll have to do! *sigh*

Me: Also, you have my National Insurance number wrong…

Brenda: What number do we have?

Me: Well, that brings me to my next point, that page is far too small for me to read…

Brenda: YOU don’t need to read it, it’s not for YOU, it’s for the optician!!

Me: Well, clearly I do need to read it, because that’s where you’ve got my NI number wrong! I’ll get my carer to read it *carer starts reading wrong NI number*

Brenda: *interrupts* What’s the reference number at the top of the form?

Me: *gives reference number*

Brenda: And what’s the NI number??

*carer again reads wrong NI number*

Brenda: OK, I’ve changed it

Me: Sorry, don’t you need my correct NI number?

Brenda: You JUST gave it to me, I’ve got it!

Me: no, that was the wrong NI number, that you asked for…

Brenda: *sigh* so what’s the right NI number??!

She then explains that she will call the optician and see if she can rearrange the appointment. She makes it sound like she is doing me a huge favour. Because I am not capable of arranging or rearranging my own appointments, you see.

She’s since phoned back, with a rearranged time and date, and was a lot more friendly. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Perhaps I’m oversensitive, I’ve been having a bad week and a lot of that has been lack of access stuff, so she pretty much got on my last nerve. I don’t know.

But *I* thought the whole thing was pretty rude. What do you think?