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World Upside Down: Making sure coronavirus updates, testing and contact tracing are accessible

One of the ways coronavirus has turned the World Upside Down is the sheer number of new announcements and instructions the Government has issued to keep us all safe. We’ve been working hard to make sure this information is accessible to blind and partially sighted people.

#InfoForAll and accessible updates

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak a large amount of information was issued in inaccessible formats: both in letters – like the one sent from the Prime Minister to every household about the lockdown – and online, where screenshots of images were used to convey information, and videos were shared without audio. 

A quarter of people who took part in our social distancing survey said they’d struggled to get written information in a format that they could read. A fifth said that they had struggled to access online information. 

I am a very independent person but feel disempowered by the lack of accessible information that has been sent out regarding COVID-19. It feels like people with sight loss are being left out. I feel like we've been treated as if we don't exist. It's almost expected that everyone has access to the internet which not everyone does.

Our #InfoForAll campaign highlighted inaccessible updates and - together with other charities - we wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to appoint a senior national lead on accessibility. Following this, the Director of National Resilience Communications has been appointed to carry out this role. It’s been helpful to have this contact at the heart of government to raise issues as they happen. 

RNIB worked with NHS England and NHS Improvement to make sure our Helpline number was included on the top of the most recent letter to the shielding population. As a result we issued well over 200 versions of the letter in alternative formats to blind and partially sighted people who needed them and would otherwise have missed this information. However, since then, a further letter has been sent to shielding residents in Leicester, which did not include the RNIB Helpline number. 

So progress on this issue has been inconsistent and slow, but we believe the provision of information in formats everyone can read and understand is essential to ensuring blind and partially sighted people can get back to life as normal. We will continue to campaign on this.

Making sure coronavirus testing is accessible

Coronavirus testing must be accessible to blind and partially sighted people, and we had concerns about the initial iterations of the testing process. Although we provided guidance with tips on communicating with blind and partially sighted people for staff at test centres, getting to the centres is still difficult for many blind and partially sighted people.

We are currently working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care to improve the accessibility of coronavirus home testing kits. As part of a user experience trial, blind and partially sighted volunteers have been telling the testing team what does and doesn’t work within the current testing process. We’ll update you on insights and outcomes from the trial next week.

Working to support the development of contact tracing apps

We were collaborating with the team behind the original version of the NHS contact tracing app to make sure it was accessible to blind and partially sighted people.

Since that project has been restarted, we have spoken to the head of the new tracing app team at NHSX and suggested that RNIB and blind and partially sighted people be involved in accessibility and user testing for the app. This was met with a positive response and we hope to take this forward with NHSX in the coming weeks.

The national lead for accessibility has also committed to work with us on the accessibility of the new app too and it is on the agenda for the Communications Working Group meeting within the Cabinet Office next week.

Find out more about our World Upside Down campaign