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RNIB feeds into Select Committee report on the coronavirus pandemic

A key group of MPs has endorsed RNIB’s concerns over the way disabled people have been disadvantaged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Houses of Parliament, Westminster, seen from the south bank of the River Thames.

RNIB submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on Unequal impact: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact on people with protected characteristics, earlier this year.

The report picked up on RNIB’s concerns about inaccessible communications. In our submission, RNIB told the committee that “despite our early highlighting of this issue, progress has been slow and inconsistent”. We pointed out that the letter sent at the end of March to those identified as “extremely vulnerable” was not in accessible formats.

The report noted that “the Government has been far too slow to address concerns about inaccessible communications during the pandemic” and that “Accessibility should have been baked in from the start.” The report also highlighted our concern that communications about COVID-19 were “not going through the usual processes and accessibility checks” and argued that “the Accessible Information Standard should be extended to cover public health messages from government departments.”

On shopping, the committee agreed with RNIB’s long-standing argument that “Disabled people faced increased barriers to physical shopping, because of difficulties complying with social distancing measures and changes to the physical layout of shops.” In our submission, RNIB raised issues around access to food, especially in terms of limited online shopping slots, which were previously “an effective alternative to shopping at supermarkets for those who are digitally enabled”.

The report noted that “Prioritising people on the CEV list for a limited number of delivery slots meant that many disabled people who were not on the list but needed slots… could not access them”. RNIB has already successfully worked with DEFRA earlier in the year to secure priority slots for blind and partially sighted people during lockdown, but we are pleased to see the report’s further recommendations around access to food.

It proposed:

"We further recommend the Government consider, with disabled people, as part of its consultation on the proposed National Strategy for Disabled People, the steps needed to more effectively adopt a social model of disability in relation to maintaining disabled people’s access to food for the remainder of this pandemic and in future crises. "

RNIB welcomes the Committee’s call for a separate independent Inquiry into how Government decisions and policies caused these problems for disabled people and looks forward to submitting evidence.