2022 Year in Review: Campaign Successes
As 2022 comes to an end, we’d like to reflect and share our campaign success from the year. None of this would have been possible without your support, and by working together we have achieved real change.
Voting and elections
For the first five months of the year a considerable proportion of our work was focused on retaining legal protections for blind and partially sighted people to be supported to vote independently and in secret. The Elections Bill in its original form watered down protections.
In response to this in February, we launched our #BlindVotersCount campaign. Our campaign increased public and decision makers’ awareness of the impact the Elections Bill would have on blind and partially sighted people’s ability to vote independently. More than 7,000 people signed our petition calling on the Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove MP, to retain the guarantee of the ability to vote without assistance for people with sight loss. We handed in our petition to Michael Gove’s constituency office with support from Tom Skelton, our South East Regional Campaigns Officer (RCO), and cricketers from the local Surrey County Visually Impaired Cricket Club.
We were pleased to get cross party support for our campaign, including from members of the House of Lords. As a result, the UK Government backed amendments to the Bill put forward by Lord Holmes which means that the principle of an independent and secret vote was enshrined in legislation. The amendments also imposed new legal duties on the Electoral Commission and Returning Officers to produce guidance to support an independent and secret vote from 2023. This would not have happened without the efforts of RNIB and blind and partially sighted campaigners, sharing their experiences of voting and speaking with decision makers.
However, we remain gravely concerned that experiences at the ballot box may not be significantly improved at local elections in May 2023, unless new guidance for Returning Officers is clear and robust about the obstacles faced by blind and partially sighted people, and unless improved voting aids are obtained country-wide and made available in polling stations.
Audio Description #DescribeIt campaign
We launched our #DescribeIt campaign in April calling on the Government to use existing legislation to compel broadcasters to make more video-on-demand (VOD) services accessible for people with sight loss. Despite the rise in popularity of VOD services, the majority of these services remain inaccessible to blind and partially sighted people living, with many programmes not having audio description readily available. Over 20,000 people signed our joint petition with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) calling for accessible VOD services, which we handed in to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
In December, we met with Minister of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport with RNID who confirmed the Government’s commitment to making VOD services accessible, however, it remains uncertain when these regulations will be enforced.
The NHS Accessible Information Standard (AIS)
In 2021 we had supported blind and partially sighted people to share their experiences of the AIS, working in partnership with other organisations including SignHealth, Sense and Visionary. In February 2022, we presented the report of our findings and recommendations to NHS England, as part of their review into the AIS. We have continued to work closely with NHS England to address the systemic barriers to implementing the AIS, and to shape an updated AIS set to be published in spring 2023.
At a local level, RNIB volunteers in Essex shared their experiences of NHS information at an event for health professionals, and in the North East of England, our Regional Campaigns Officer Lewis Winton has worked with Sunderland and South Tyneside NHS Trust on implementing the AIS.
Cost of living crisis
2022 saw rapid rises in the cost of living which we responded to with a campaign calling on the UK Government for targeted support to help blind and partially sighted people cope with rising costs.
In August, we launched a petition calling on the Department of Work and Pensions to urgently increase benefits in line with inflation and for targeted support to ensure people with sight loss can meet rising energy bills. We also asked blind and partially sighted people to share their experiences of rising living costs. People responded saying they are using less energy to save money, reducing the use of lighting, which can be vital to navigating homes safely, and reducing using assistive technologies, which support everyday life and independent living. We handed in the petition, signed by 2733 people, to the Department of Work and Pensions in September.
In October, we launched an email your MP online action enabling supporters to write to their MP and ask for their support in calling on the Chancellor to urgently increase benefits in line with inflation. Seventy-eight per cent of MPs from across the UK heard our message from constituents and we received cross-party support with MPs writing to the Chancellor and submitting Parliamentary Questions to express their concerns.
After months of campaigning, the Chancellor announced benefits will be increased with inflation in his Autumn Statement. However, this uplift to benefits should never have been in doubt, especially during the cost-of-living crisis. We remain deeply concerned that too many people will struggle to cope with rising bills and the price of essentials, especially as the raise in benefits is only due to take effect from April 2023.
Much more needs to be done to address the disproportionate impact of rising costs on blind and partially sighted people. We’ll continue to campaign for targeted support and will be holding a parliamentary event in February to meet MPs and help them understand the additional costs of sight loss.
Still Left Out of Learning report
In March, we released our Still Left Out of Learning report, on the provision of specialist education services in England for children and young people with vision impairment (VI). This report demonstrated the significant pressure that specialist VI services are under and calls for the Government to tackle the postcode lottery of support. We shared our report and recommendations with the Department for Education and held a fun and interactive parliamentary event with LEGO to showcase Braille Bricks and the holistic support children and young people need. We were pleased that 62 MPs attended or were represented by their staff at the event.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Review
In March, the Government released the SEND Review, outlining plans for special educational needs and disabilities, alternative provision and asks about changes to improve the system.
We called for the Department for Education to endorse a new Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment (VI), provide more funding for local authorities to deliver vital specialist VI services, and more specialists to provide the support children with VI need.
Thanks to your persistent campaigning, Network Rail is speeding up the installation of tactile paving on all railway platforms in Britain.
February 2022 marked two years since the death of Cleveland Gervais, a partially sighted man who fell from a platform without tactile paving. The Rail Accident Investigation Bureau determined that the lack of tactile paving was likely a contributing factor in Cleveland’s death. We worked with Cleveland’s partner Sekha Hall to keep the pressure on Network Rail to make stations safe for blind and partially sighted people. We were originally told by Network Rail that the rollout of tactile paving would not be completed until 2029 unless further funding was provided by the Government.
In March, following our joint letter with Guide Dogs and Disability Rights UK, we received positive news from Network Rail Chief Executive Andrew Haines: “We will certainly deliver [the installation of tactile paving] well before 2029. We are planning to have delivered the vast majority before the end of 2025.”
In the North East of England, we were delighted that Nexus Tyne and Wear Metro completed its work to add tactile paving to platforms at all of its 60 stations, the first network to do so.
We were pleased to have a local campaign win in January, with bus operator Go North East confirming the replacement of their inaccessible express coaches with accessible low-level buses.
2022 was a busy year for local campaigning on accessible streets. We had success in areas such as Dipton in County Durham with the installation of a new pedestrian crossing, the result of a long campaign with residents, and support from the local MP.
Our RCOs and volunteers held guided walks across the country, highlighting inaccessible street design and obstructions to local councillors and other decision-makers. In May, our Chief Executive Officer Matt Stringer joined a guided walk in Bath with the Wera Hobhouse MP and local councillors highlighting challenges such as outdoor dining furniture and cyclists in pedestrian spaces.
We worked to improve the accessibility of the Glade of Light memorial in honour of the victims of the Manchester arena bombing. After speaking to Manchester City Council and sharing our guidance, their design proposals are now more accessible, including tactile elements and the redirection of a cycle lane. Working alongside local partners, we were able to secure a pilot ban on A-boards in Hebden Bridge, and successfully challenged York City Council to ensure their pavement dining policy takes into account the needs of people with sight loss.
Eye Health and social care
In January, we were pleased that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) followed our recommendation on developing guidelines for assessing and managing diabetic retinopathy. NICE’s committee developing the guidelines will now include an Eye Care Liaison Officer.
In March, we met with the clerk of the House of Lords Adult Social Care Select Committee to discuss vision rehabilitation. At a regional level, we campaigned for the improvement of vision rehabilitation and low vision services in areas such as Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire.
These campaign successes would not have happened without your support. By adding your voice to our campaigns, signing our petitions, contacting your MPs, speaking up on social media, and campaigning in your local area, you have made decision-makers rethink choices which would have a negative impact on blind and partially sighted people.
Join us in 2023 as we continue to campaign for targeted support during the cost-of-living crisis, explore how we can change behaviours and attitudes towards people with sight loss, and much more...