First, because I was a reporter and presenter on the programme for years, it’s where I started my BBC career, and even now I still do the occasional piece for them. And second, a 50-year continuous run for any radio show is very good news.
To mark the occasion there’ll be two bites at the In Touch cherry this week. An hour-long anniversary programme will be broadcast on Friday 7th October at midday on Radio 4, the spot usually occupied by the You & Yours magazine; actually it’ll be pre-recorded before a live audience (I don’t know why we always say that, as if anybody ever did a recording before a dead audience…) It’ll include all sorts of famous blind and partially-sighted people, including musicians, writers, actors and singers. Quite a party.
The usual In Touch spot, Radio 4, Tuesday evening at 8.40 p.m. will be doing a bit of reminiscing. I’m being interviewed as part of it by long-time presenter Peter White, and we’ll be looking at some of the differences that 50 years have made to life for visually impaired people – VIPS, as we call ourselves. (Well, it’s quicker than a mouthful like “blind and partially-sighted people”, isn’t it?)
One very obvious difference for everyone, but especially for us, is personal computers. They’re brilliant for VIPs. Someone who can’t read print, or (like me) is a slow reader who needs specs that magnify 14 times, can read and write using a computer. You can have software that “talks” what’s on the screen, and, if you like, echoes the keys as you type them in. Or you can whack up the images on the screen to many times their normal size. Or you can hitch the PC to a braille display, and let your fingers read the screen contents.
So not being able to see the screen is no excuse for not producing 100% accurate documents, whether Christmas letters or company reports, all spelt and laid out to perfection, entirely independently. (Well that’s the theory…in fact, we’re only human, and having just finished proof-reading my latest novel, I can vouch for the fact that we get typos and odd spellings just like people with 20-20 vision…no more nor less!) Then of course there’s sending and reading emails; the world wide web…all possible without help from anyone with sight. I used to teach computing to VIPs so I know what I’m talking about.
Another obvious change between 1961 and 2011 concerns people’s attitude to blindness, which has on the whole improved. Not that anyone was ever unkind, but they expected too little of VIPs. We still get discriminated against, but nothing like as much as we used to. (I can remember the days when a university could refuse to accept you merely because you had a sight problem, regardless of whether you measured up academically.)
And then…well, listen on Tuesday. And on Friday too for the midday party. It’s good to have something to celebrate, isn’t it?