Dr Robert Jones, a blind person himself, warns we could be well into the process of losing blind physiotherapy from the profession completely
Concepts and reality of equity, diversity and inclusion are gradually becoming more widely accepted in society, but there is still a long way to go. Ideology is a means to an end, not an end in itself and if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got!
The new CSP equity, diversity and belonging strategy sets out a positive path for change, strongly promoting inclusivity but is this enough to ensure the continuing contribution of physiotherapy by blind people; will this group of practitioners still belong?
Following the 2019 dual centenary celebrations of the Association of Visually Impaired Chartered Physiotherapists’ foundation and the association being integrated as the first ever specific interest group to be incorporated into the CSP, I undertook in-depth research to publish a comprehensive history of blind and partially sighted physiotherapy and its many significant contributions to patient care and the profession as a whole.
The extended paper is a chronological, descriptive, narrative review of the history of blind and partially sighted physiotherapy from the 1880s to the present day including training and education, developments in specialist equipment and adaptations and the contribution of blinded ex-servicemen returning from World War I.
First man to join the CSP
When the CSP was granted its Royal Charter in 1920 there were already strong links between the two organisations, for example, the first man to be admitted to membership of the CSP in 1920 was totally blind, immediately becoming a council member. Sir Arthur Pearson, then chairman of the RNIB, also a blind man, became the Society’s financial advisor and many CSP meetings took place in RNIB HQ.
Blind practitioners have made great contributions to the development of physiotherapy over the years; for example, two of the three founder members of the MACP were blind, others have written critically acclaimed books, been recognised through national honours, led and held office in CSP branches and boards, been part of the leadership of national clinical organisations and fulfilled leadership positions in the CSP, regulator and other allied organisations, as well as holding senior management and leadership posts in physiotherapy and allied health. They have practiced in all clinical specialities and settings in the NHS, private practice and more widely.
Of the more than 1,000 blind and partially sighted graduates over the years, physiotherapists from at least 16 countries have qualified in the UK and returned and practiced in their home countries.
Since 2005 no totally blind people have graduated as physiotherapists in the UK and there has been a steadily decreasing number of visually impaired graduates.
Supporting equity, diversity and belonging for people with protected characteristics is laudable but this is not enough. There is a danger that this group of practitioners will be lost to the profession. Therefore, the pressing challenge and important question is how can we ensure the opportunity, of appropriate and supported physiotherapy education based on competence and ability, continues to be available to blind and partially sighted people resulting in their admission to the profession.
About the author
Dr Robert Jones PhD. M.Phil. BA. FCSP. Grad.Dip.Phys. CIHM. MMACP is a former chair and vice-president of the CSP
Dr Robert Jones was the first physiotherapist to represent physiotherapy nationally on the Health and Care Professions Council board, as well as representing UK physiotherapy on several Department of Health working groups and holding a wide range of physiotherapy posts.
He has published seven books as an author and editor and more than 30 papers and articles.
He is currently working in a voluntary capacity as lead governor at Moorfields Eye Hospital Trust and is also a trustee and director of Moorfields Eye Charity.
Blind and partially sighted physiotherapy in the United Kingdom. A century of development, success and challenge. Will it still belong? In Physiotherapy Theory and Practice 2021, vol:37, no 3, pp 401-419. Taylor and Francis
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