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Not accessible, not acceptable!

Leading charities renew calls for better accessibility of public health information about coronavirus.

Two people discuss a document at a table

RNIB has teamed up with a group of leading disability charities, including RNID and Sense, to challenge Downing Street directly about significant concerns over the accessibility of coronavirus public health information, and the risk it poses.

Inaccessible shielding letters have been distributed to millions of people, and still, government live press conferences updating on coronavirus don’t always include the provision of a BSL interpreter, meaning deaf people are unable to access the latest and most critical public health information in real-time.

As a result, more than 4.5 million people are missing out on vital public health information at this critical time, including those with moderate to profound hearing loss, and those with moderate and severe sight loss, as well as an estimated 1.5 million people with learning disabilities in the UK.

Many of these people are also likely to most at risk of becoming severely ill as a result of coronavirus. More than 70% of people aged over 70 years old have hearing loss, while one in five people aged 75 and over has sight loss. Many people in these groups have comorbidities.

Sarah Lambert, RNIB Head of Social Change, said:

"Time and again, making sure that crucial health information is in a format that blind and partially sighted people can access - whether that’s large print, braille or audio - has been treated as an afterthought at best. For example, just last week, letters, with guidance on what to do if you had been shielding, went out to millions of people. For those in this group who are blind or partially sighted, these letters contain vital information but are inaccessible. Alternative formats are now being produced, but it is not right that blind and partially sighted people who have been shielding should only be able to access this information after the new lockdown has started. It is important that accessibility is built into all government communications from the beginning."

If you are from the shielding group and would like to order the most recent letter in audio, braille or large print, contact the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999. You can also find an electronic version of the letter on the Gov.UK website.

While this issue brings significant risk to disabled people themselves, it also impacts their communities and the NHS and has the potential to undermine national efforts to delay the spread of the virus.

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive at RNID, said:

"Not accessible is not acceptable. It feels like déjà vu. We raised our concerns about the inaccessibility of Government communications ahead of the first lockdown but the same mistakes have been made again. Letters have been issued that are entirely inaccessible and we still don’t have a BSL interpreter for all public health broadcasts, despite other countries around the world being able to manage this. Deaf people should not be expected to wait until after lockdown has begun or to search far and wide to get the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe. It’s simply not good enough."

Sense Chief Executive, Richard Kramer, said: “The Government has a responsibility to produce guidance that is accessible, and we should be under no doubts that their failure to do so is putting disabled people’s lives in danger.

Throughout this pandemic, disabled people will make important decisions regarding isolating safely, purchasing food and accessing health and community services. If vital guidance from the government isn’t in an accessible format, is confusing or unclear, then these decisions become challenging.

Either nothing has been learnt by the Government over the last nine months, or they are indifferent to meeting the needs of disabled people.”