April 17, 2017 : James Adams

Visual impairment and local elections

In the fifth of our local election blog series, RNIB discuss visual impairment.

Local authorities are key to improving life for the 170,000 people in Scotland living with sight loss. People with a visual impairment are more likely to depend on local public services – but, too often, there are barriers that still prevent this, with people with sight loss living every day challenges.

Local authorities will be at the forefront of this. That’s why our local council manifesto ‘Looking Local’ emphasises on taking the steps to make Scotland a better place to live.

Our ageing population, and the increase in vision-impairing conditions such as diabetes, means that the number of people with sight loss in Scotland will, inevitably, increase. So we need to start thinking now about a society in which significantly more of our population will have needs connected with their vision.

One area of focus is that of the integration of health and social care and how this represents a real opportunity to improve services for blind and partially sighted people. We would like to work alongside Integration Authorities and Localities to develop an action plan to manage eye health and community services coherently, ensuring better care and prevention strategies.

Just under half of blind and partially sighted people in touch with their council are assessed for rehabilitation support. This means the council doesn’t have accurate knowledge of their needs, and some people miss out on the support they require. By maintaining an up-to-date register of people who are blind or partially sighted, this will ensure that people are better supported in their local area.

Alongside our health and social care service, there are ongoing concerns about accessibility. 95 per cent of people surveyed by RNIB said that they had collided with an obstacle in the street. We would like to see a thorough review of regulations and bylaws governing street obstacles, such as advertising boards, that can be a daily hazard for people with sight loss.

Too often, services are ‘digital by default’, that is primarily available online. But this can be a real barrier when so many websites are incompatible with aids such as screen-readers and braille-readers. Less than ten per cent of public and commercial sites are accessible. Council communications should be made available in formats such as audio, braille and large-print, or posted on accessible websites.

Having enough specialist teachers is vital, as is making sure classroom materials available in alternative formats. But education means more than just formal learning. Extra-curricular activities are just as important for young people with a visual impairment in boosting confidence, gaining skills and aiding the transition into adulthood.

We also work to encourage bus operators to sign up to a Bus Charter which improves accessibility for blind and partially sighted passengers, and close relationships with Local Authorities are part of this.

There is also strength in collaboration and we are keen to continue to work closely with the visual impairment and sensory sector, offering new opportunities to help blind and partially sighted people live more inclusively, independently and safely.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by James Adams