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Blind and partially sighted people “forgotten’”as COVID vaccine rolled out in Wales

At the beginning of the year, we asked the Welsh Government COVID Vaccine Board and all health boards to consider two things when rolling out the coronavirus vaccination programme in Wales:

  1. That all information about vaccinations, including appointment letters are communicated in an accessible format (such as large print, audio, braille or digital) for people that need them.
  2. That blind and partially sighted people are proactively offered a choice of venue for their vaccination appointment.

We’ve continued campaigning for an accessible vaccination process since then. Sadly, little progress has been made. This means that people with sight loss across Wales have to rely on others to enable them to get their vital jab. Their needs have been forgotten.

We’ve been contacted by people with sight loss who are concerned that crucial information about the vaccine is not available in a format that best suits them. Others in rural areas have reported that appointments are being scheduled at vaccination hubs that are miles away from home, making attendance an extremely difficult and stressful process.

Megan Price, from Aberdare, has aniridia and glaucoma. She was invited to a COVID vaccination centre in Cardiff in March.

Megan said: “Although my overall experience with staff at the centre was very positive, I was frustrated at the lack of accessible information about the vaccine. The receptionist offered me a leaflet, but then looked at my white cane and correctly guessed that I wouldn’t be able to read it. But when I asked if she had any available in different formats, she said there weren’t any.

“I’m still annoyed. If there had been an electronic version available, I would have read it. It’s the principle. Lots of people will be really worried about their vaccine and they should be able to read all the information about it. I’m so used to not having accessible information now so things like this often pass me by but that shouldn’t be the case. I’ve had enough.”

The All Wales Standards for Accessible Information and Communication for People with Sensory Loss, which have been in place since 2013, state that information on people’s preferred formats for communication should be held by their local health board and they should be routinely communicated with in a way that works for them.

Navigating unfamiliar environments and travelling to new places can be very challenging for people with sight loss, making it much harder to attend a mass vaccination centre. This is especially problematic for people living in more isolated rural communities with fewer public transport options.

We told the Welsh Government and health boards that known local venues like GP surgeries are likely to be the preference for most blind and partially sighted people.

Alison Hamilton, from Lampeter, is registered blind. She and her husband Jeremy, who also has a disability, were forced to make a 60-mile round trip to a COVID vaccination centre in Cardigan.

Alison said: “I received a letter about my vaccination before my husband and had no idea how I was going to attend a centre so far away. Buses are infrequent and I wouldn’t have been able to find my way from the bus stop to the centre on my own. I knew my husband would have to come with me, but he didn’t want to drive that far.

“I called the vaccination centre, my GP, and the Health Board multiple times and was told there was nothing they could do. They said I couldn’t have the vaccine at home because I’m not housebound. After more calls I finally managed to arrange a vaccination on the same day as my husband. We spent £30 on a country car to take us to the centre and will have to do the same for our second dose.

“The whole experience was such a hassle and very frustrating. I worry about blind and partially sighted people who are more vulnerable than me, who might just give up and not get their vaccination because of these issues.”

We are very troubled by these stories. It is unacceptable that in 2021 people must still rely on other people to access basic information and crucial health services. People with sight loss should receive information in a format that works for them, by right and without fight.