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Blunkett takes to stage at Talking News event
7:30am Monday 30th September 2013 in News
FORMER Home Secretary David Blunkett visited Swindon to open this year’s Talking News Federation conference.
The federation is for organisations providing talking newspapers for blind and partially sighted people.
One of its members is the Swindon and District Talking Newspaper group (STAN), whose services include an audio version of the Swindon Advertiser.
STAN hosted this year’s conference, which was the ninth, meaning Swindon has now hosted it three times.
At the official opening on Friday, Mr Blunkett, who is blind, spoke to BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Peter White MBE about their shared experiences of visual impairment during successful careers.
Mr White spoke of their different experiences at boarding school, before education became more inclusive.
“David has been described as the most inspirational blind person in Britain,” he said.
“There have been some points where our careers have converged, and we have the same visual impairment. We also both went to blind boarding schools, but very different ones.
“We were at a huge disadvantage to begin with, and to have a school system with opportunities that are enormously different was very hard.”
Mr Blunkett said: “We both had that experience and it was pretty horrendous. When I was Education Secretary I would have loved to go back with a teaching certificate and stuff them.
“Sometimes the fact that we have to develop that tenacity and drive sees you through. It does have its downside because it can make you prickly and often quite unpleasant.
“There is tenacity and drive but also a lot of luck in life. Sometimes you have to grab it when it is passing you.”
Mr Blunkett, who is the Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, served as Home Secretary, Work and Pensions Secretary and Education and Employment Secretary during Tony Blair’s premiership.
He also spoke of the challenges he faced while carrying out his duties as an MP.
“I would encourage every MP to see it as their job to improve the lives of disabled people,” he said. “The difficulty for me was having to handle extreme amounts of material that other people would be able to take in at a glance.
“In 1997 after Labour won the election I was given a folder in preparation for an address, and I could not read a word of the Braille, so I went up and did the statement anyway. I asked them afterwards what had happened, and they admitted they had brought the transcriber from Sweden and had not turned it on.
“The sheer amount of information landing on my desk meant I had to develop a system to find out what was worth reading. I made junior ministers read their reports on to cassettes, and very quickly the amount of material dropped.”
Veronica Laker, chair of STAN, said: “This is the ninth TNF conference, and it is the third time we have hosted it in Swindon. I put that down to the volunteers who have shown a keen commitment to TNF.
“Last year STAN reached its 30th anniversary, and we have nearly reached 1,500 recordings which is a massive achievement.”
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