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MPs debate how to ensure disabled people are not excluded as the Government deals with coronavirus

MPs discussed issues faced by blind and partially sighted people during the coronavirus pandemic in a debate in Westminster Hall last week, including accessible information, access to food, the inaccessibility of social distancing, and how to improve public understanding.

RNIB briefed MPs ahead of the debate on key issues, such as difficulties with social distancing, access to groceries and inaccessible communications from the Government. 

In her opening remarks, Dr Lisa Cameron, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Health Group, called for the Government to ensure that all Government guidance, communications and announcements about restrictions are accessible for those with disabilities.  The call for accessible communications across Governmental departments was echoed by other MPs, including Maria Millar and Bambos Charalambous. We have produced guidance on accessible communications for businesses, government and other organisations. 

Jim Shannon MP talked about the difficulties faced by blind and partially sighted people with social distancing – and mentioned the guidance RNIB has produced for businesses to help keep social distancing accessible:

RNIB has made various suggestions, of which I hope the Minister has been made aware and that he can work on them. The suggestions do not mean breaking social distance rules, but being kind and compassionate, and taking time to speak to someone who looks as if they might be struggling to navigate through the shops.

Sir David Amess MP said:

“I was horrified to read that two thirds of blind and partially sighted people had told the Royal National Institute of Blind People that they felt less independent during the lockdown. Much more needs to be done to promote…RNIB’s “Please give me space” logo.”

The Please Give Me Space logo was designed by RNIB, has been backed by the Cabinet Office, and can be worn to indicate that the wearer finds it difficult to socially distance.

He also told MPs that the new measures to enforce social distancing and the increased use of tables outside restaurants were making it harder for disabled people to navigate independently. 

In his response, the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, mentioned RNIB’s work:

“The Royal National Institute of Blind People was one of the many charities that we were able to link up with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [on supermarkets] and that sped up the process of improving the situation.

The DEFRA Minister was then able to share that exchange as best practice with other Ministers and tell them to look at Disability Unit as a helpful resource, because we can signpost people to experts, who speed up policy development and make sure that it is right first time.

The Minister also referred to RNIB’s proactive work helping the Government to examine its communications and put information into Easyread and braille formats, before concluding:

“We are absolutely determined that there will be an inclusive recovery. Disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and stakeholders will always be at the heart of our policy development... Covid has given us unprecedented challenges, but we will not be diminished in our ambition to improve the lives of disabled people.”

We will continue to feed into key debates and brief MPs to ensure that issues faced by blind and partially sighted people are raised in parliament. If you want our support to contact your local MP, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Regional Campaigns Officer for your local area.

You can read the full text of the debate on the Parliament website.