RNIB Northern Ireland has published its community engagement report, which gathers the views of blind and partially sighted people and sets out priorities for change.
There are approximately 53,500 blind and partially sighted people in Northern Ireland. This number is set to rise.
Statistics in Northern Ireland, similar to the rest of the UK, reveal an increasingly ageing population. Sight loss affects people of all ages, but as we get older, we are increasingly likely to experience loss of sight.
The increasing prevalence of sight loss reinforces the importance of working alongside the blind and partially sighted community, key partners and stakeholders in raising awareness and placing related issues at the centre of public policy planning. We believe that by working together, we can bring about unprecedented societal change.
The first stage of this engagement work began in 2018 when we sought to connect at a grassroots level. We consulted with our community contacts across Connect, Campaigners’ Active Network (CAN) and participants of social activities. We explored how best to engage with the wider community (i.e. in focus group sessions, Facebook, Twitter and email) and developed a series of questions. This information was captured in a co-produced action plan.
This led to a series of independently facilitated focus group events across six areas in Northern Ireland: Armagh, Belfast, Cookstown, Derry/Londonderry, Downpatrick and Enniskillen.
We followed this up with three ‘Big Connect’ events. At these events we provided the community with feedback on the central themes coming out of our initial engagement and discussed together how we could address these issues moving forward.
There was also an opportunity for people to provide their views through our social media channels, where we asked a series of key questions via short online videos. This resulted in 2,400 people engaging in discussion and debate.
Embarking on this collaborative approach will ensure:
• the voices of blind and partially sighted people are strengthened
• blind and partially sighted people are better equipped to bring about social change
• more effective relationships and partnerships are developed.
We heard a wide range of issues as well as positive experiences and constructive recommendations from blind and partially sighted people. All of this evidence was analysed and detailed within an in-depth research report.
The following key themes were identified:
• access to technology, equipment and training
• emotional support and life skills training
• accessible information from public services
• social care and support for children and young people, families and carers.
• development support for sight loss groups.
• enhancing public transport services and expanding access to rural transport
• involvement of the sight loss community in planning the design of outdoor spaces and buildings
• employment support for blind and partially sighted people
• greater public awareness of sight loss and its impact.
• prevention of sight loss and addressing waiting lists.
• ensuring government/public bodies work with blind and partially sighted people in the design of policies and services.
Our engagement revealed that while some people living with sight loss are living relatively independently, many others still face barriers in key areas such as: transport, accessible health information, receiving timely healthcare, community connection, employment, and general equality of access to services.
Lots of good work is already going on at a local and regional level to ensure that blind and partially sighted people are partners in the social change process. However, it is clear that much more still needs to be done by all, across many levels, if people living with sight loss are to fully participate in society.
To ensure government policy and planning fully reflects the needs of the sight loss community, more extensive and coordinated collaboration is required.
Throughout this engagement process participants shared many excellent and innovative recommendations. These ideas will assist in future engagement with all sectors and in agreeing actions to address the issues raised.
The next stage of this work will involve bringing together blind and partially sighted people, our partners and key decision makers to examine how we can collectively create a society where there are no barriers to people with sight loss.