Our year in review: campaign successes in 2021
None of our campaign successes would be possible without your continued support, and together we achieved a lot of campaign wins in 2021.
So grab a cuppa and find out more about our campaign successes and how you've helped us make different parts of society accessible for blind and partially sighted people in the UK.
Getting out and about
Making our railway stations safer
After a partially sighted man, Cleveland Gervais, was tragically killed falling from a train platform with no tactile paving, we provided evidence for an inquiry into this incident. The official report concluded that a lack of tactile paving at railway stations was exposing blind and partially sighted people to "significantly higher levels of risk than the general public", with people with sight loss making up nine to 15 per cent of people who fall from station platforms.
We found this unacceptable and with Cleveland’s partner, Sekha Hall, we launched our #RailSafe petition and film calling for urgent action. 15,817 people signed the petition, which we handed in to Network Rail and the Department for Transport in person this July, calling for urgent action to make all stations safe.
To date, we have secured £10m of additional funding for Network Rail to install missing tactile paving on railway platforms but we’re still pressing for the additional £65 million needed to accelerate the rollout.
In the meantime, following a successful local campaign, the company Nexus, who operate the Tyne & Wear Metro service, has almost completed installing tactile across all the stations that it operates. Fantastic news for local campaigners!
Accessing our streets
We all need to use our streets, whether that’s getting to work, going to the shops, taking care of our health or seeing friends and family. But for blind and partially sighted people, lots of things make it harder to get around, from bins or bikes left on the pavement, to bad design making it difficult to cross the road safely.
That’s why we launched our Seeing Streets Differently campaign report to highlight how street design can impact blind and partially sighted people’s journeys. We also created a short guide to help everyone understand the essential accessibility features needed on our streets and provided a handy "Tips" section, with 14 ways you can play your part.
After an unexpected spate of installations of colourful pedestrian crossings across the country, we joined forces with others to highlight how these can pose a safety risk to blind and partially sighted people. In response, the Mayor of London called for a halt on any further installations and both Bath and Middlesbrough city councils committed to stop creating crossings of this type, while Manchester City Council has said it has no current plans given the concerns we raised and would consult with us before any new crossings of this type are installed. And in Northern Ireland, we teamed up with Guide Dogs and wrote to all local councils expressing our concerns about colourful crossings.
Our network of campaign volunteers has also been campaigning hard for safer crossings. This led the local authority in Durham to commit £85k of funding to install a pelican crossing where there is currently no crossing at all. There was similar success in securing a new crossing in Plymstock, Plymouth and in Blandford, Dorset.
Travel and transport
Early in 2021, Ministers rejected the Transport Select Committee’s calls for the “swift legalisation” of e-scooters after representations from RNIB. The Government said that it would not push forward legalisation without proper understanding – “both positive and negative” – about the impact of e-scooters. We have continued to engage with civil servants across the year to ensure the views of blind and partially sighted people are taken account in the evaluation of e-scooter hire schemes, due to be published in spring 2022, which will ultimately inform any decision on legalisation.
We worked with Transport for London and coalition partners to make sure the Turn up and Go service on the Underground was reinstated after it had been withdrawn in the early stages of the pandemic.
We have also been working with Translink in Northern Ireland on the roll out of a fully accessible smartphone travel app for blind and partially sighted people.
At local level, we have had some major successes working with blind and partially sighted residents, including influencing Preston City Council to publish a street charter committing itself to making streets more inclusive for people with sight loss; our work with Keir Construction resulted in all our recommendations around signage, wayfinding and colour contrast being incorporated into the new Exeter bus station; and thanks to our intervention, Everton and Liverpool football grounds have tactile strips to aid with wayfinding; finally, following work with Stagecoach, it installed next stop Audio Visual announcements on 34 new vehicles across a number of routes in Devon.
We are also part of Transport for Wales’ Accessibility and Inclusion Panel and have contributed directly to Transport for Wales’ mission to make their network more accessible. Its rolling stock will have more features to aid blind and partially sighted passengers, and stations will be receiving upgrades to include tactile markings, talking toilets, as well as Passenger Assistance Help Points.
With lockdown easing in the summer, we anticipated there would be concern among many blind and partially sighted people about changes in our workplaces and shops because of the pandemic. Our communications shared useful hints, and we influenced the Government’s Working Safely guidance on making shops, workplaces, and services covid-safe, meaning accessibility is now one of the first things businesses need to consider.
We also gained the support of the Retail Northern Ireland, the Federation of Small Businesses in NI and a range of local shops and businesses to communicate our best practice guidance for retailers, to their members.
Ahead of the devolved nation and local elections in May we developed training materials for electoral administrators, explaining the type of challenges that blind and partially sighted people experience at the polling station and how electoral staff and volunteers could help.
Materials included a film and top tips document which was shared through the Association of Electoral Administrators. RNIB Cymru created the Pocket Guide to Voting in advance of the Senedd elections and worked with volunteers and campaigners to highlight RNIB Cymru’s manifesto as well as holding focus groups with volunteers and Officers from the Electoral Commission. We then briefed new and returning Members of the Senedd on accessible voting.
We successfully made sure the Cabinet Office held an accessible voting trial in Norfolk, giving us valuable insight about how an audio element could potentially improve the voting experience for blind and partially sighted people. Ten out of the 11 participants in Norfolk voting using the audio player and Tactile Voting Device reported that they were satisfied with their overall voting experience this year compared with only 39 per cent of blind and partially sighted respondents across the whole country. In June 34 MPs joined us for one of three online events to hear more about our research on accessible voting.
Since then, the Government has put forward its proposed Elections Bill, and we have been lobbying hard to persuade it not to remove specific protections for blind and partially sighted people. These existing protections ensure a minimum standard of provision in the polling station to enable an accessible vote. More than 580 supporters have written to or visited their MP, and more than 40 MPs have raised the issue directly with the Minister. Following our in-depth work with MPs while the bill was scrutinised in the House of Commons, in 2022 we will continue to campaign hard to maintain the protections put at risk by the new bill.
In Scotland, we gave MSPs, MPs and councillors a chance to find out what it's like trying to vote in secret at the ballot box if you're blind or partially sighted. They attempted to cast their ballot in a mocked-up polling booth wearing special spectacles that simulate different sight loss conditions at an event organised with Forth Valley Sensory Centre.
And in Northern Ireland, we’ve been working with the Electoral Office to explore options for accessible voting in the May 2022 NI Assembly Elections.
Accessible information has been more important than ever during the pandemic, so that blind and partially sighted people can receive essential health information and advice. Sarah Leadbetter, who is blind, was unaware she was meant to be shielding as correspondence informing her of the need to stay indoors had only arrived in standard print, despite RNIB’s raising this issue during 2020. We supported her Judicial Review, which was scheduled to go to trial, but the Government settled in advance of the court date. It made several promises that would help it better meet the requirements of the NHS Accessible Information Standard.
This included reconsidering its practice of sending out hardcopy letters to people on the Shielded Patients List that are not individually tailored to their communication preferences and to commission work to understand how technical systems could be improved to ensure people’s communication preferences are met.
Later in 2021, we saw the impact of this change in practice when vaccines booster communications and information about the end of the shielding scheme were sent in accessible formats to those with their preferences recorded. We continue to investigate how blind and partially sighted people can make sure their communications preferences are recorded so everyone routinely and automatically receives letters in preferred formats.
We also contributed to the development of the vaccine programme, highlighting the need for accessible communications early on, and meeting with the Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. Working with public health authorities across the UK, our tips for supporting blind and partially sighted people reached at least 53,000 healthcare staff working on the vaccines project while another 1,046 staff took our online training.
Public Health England for the first time began producing audio, braille, and large print versions of information about the vaccine which could be ordered online.
We continued work with the Department of Health and Social Care on improving coronavirus home testing and, because of our accessibility testing and recommendations, coronavirus PCR testing is now routinely available using BeMyEyes and ready-put-together boxes are now being supplied, on top of the improvements already achieved to provide instructions in alternative formats. We are still working with the Government to make lateral flow tests more accessible.
Thanks to an intervention made by RNIB via the Vaccines Minister, Patient Information Leaflets were made available on Datapharm, so accessible formats of vaccine information leaflets could be ordered by those who needed them.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Health agreed to circulate our Covid vaccine guidance document to their seven mass vaccination centres, as well as 323 GP surgeries and 350 Community Pharmacies. The team continue to work closely with the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board, the Public Health Agency, and Pharmacy Teams, to make sure the Booster Programme is accessible.
And there was similar work with Public Health Wales to ensure that information and communication around the Vaccine Rollout Programme was accessible. We made sure that patients received information in Welsh in alternative formats and helped Public Health Wales to improve accessibility on their website and social media channels.
During the pandemic, when only solo visits were possible to residents in residential and nursing homes, we worked with the Care Provider Alliance in England to apply the guidelines we had developed for Sighted Guiding to care homes. This enabled blind and partially sighted people to visit their loved ones, while accompanied by a sighted guide.
We have continued to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to keep guidance on guiding up to date. You can read the latest guidance on our website.
We’ve also been keeping up the pressure on Government to keep its promise to “fix” social care.
Adult social care provides vital support for many blind and partially sighted people, including vision rehabilitation, working-age support, home care and care homes. One out of five people over 75 live with sight loss, rising to one in two people over 90; people with sight loss are a significant part of the population receiving adult care services.
We welcomed the increase in local government funding in the Chancellor’s October budget, but we remain concerned that funding for social care will not keep pace with demand, let alone “fix social care” as the Prime Minister promised. The extra money that was announced for local government was not ring-fenced for social care and will need to be stretched thinly across council services, after a decade of under-funding. Much of the new funding will be required to cover the announced wage rises.
Without sustainable funding for social care as a whole, it is unlikely that vision rehabilitation services will see the investment they need to maximise the independence of people with sight loss. We will continue to work with the Care and Support Alliance on this important issue
In Wales, we produced a series of videos throughout the pandemic to inform people about their eye care and let them know where they could turn to for more help. One video was filmed with an Ophthalmologist from a Welsh Health Board talking about the measures taken to make sure eye clinics were safe, which resulted in members of our community telling us they would now be attending their appointments.
Employment and Benefits
Through supporting a legal claim, we won clarity from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) about which Access to Work easements remained in place. Our subsequent communications on this meant that people could then ask for these adjustments to their claim process.
An RNIB audit and volunteer testing helped to improve DWP forms for ‘PIP2’, not just making the structure and design more accessible, but also the language used. These changes will be rolled out to an additional 36 forms.
Meanwhile, throughout the year we have fed into the development of a new digital Access to Work claims portal, which we called for alongside other disability charities.
Education and Young People
After the alarm was raised by our Children and Young People’s team about Qualified Teacher of Children and Young People with Vision Impairment (QTVI) provision in the London Borough of Newham, we challenged the low level of provision for children and young people with sight loss. After six months of meetings, legal engagement, alerting the local MP, Stephen Timms, and analysing freedom of information requests, an experienced QTVI has finally been appointed.
In Wales, we worked with CBeebies show ‘My Petsaurus’ to make sure that their representation of a blind young person with a guide dinosaur was accurate. This is a wonderful contribution to a show that will help shape children’s perceptions of blind and partially sighted people.
We’re also pleased that we were able to re-launch our Haggeye youth forum in Scotland after activities were suspended during lockdown. Haggeye empowers its members to speak out about what it's like to be young and have sight loss to have a say in shaping public policies that affect them. Two members, Kerry Burke and Eilidh Morrison, were also elected as Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament.
We are proud to share that we came second in the disability charity category of the ComRes Public Affairs awards, voted for by MPs, for the quality of our political influencing.
Fleur Anderson MP cited us in Parliament, when she spoke about the value of charities in informing MPs’ work with their expert advice. In total, MPs carried our more than 190 parliamentary actions in support of RNIB’s concerns, such as speaking about the needs of blind and partially sighted people in debates, asking parliamentary questions or writing to a government Minister
We also hosted two well-attended virtual meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Eye Health and Vision Impairment.
We were devastated, however, to hear of the untimely death of one of its founding members, Sir David Amess.
None of our campaign successes would be possible without your continued support. By taking our online e-actions, telling us about your experiences, sharing our social media posts, and adding your voice we have been able to achieve so much.
There is still a long way to go to achieve our goal of full social inclusion for blind and partially sighted people but together we will get there.
To find out what we have planned for 2022 and how you can get involved read more.