Post date: 
Monday, 4 April 2022
Northern Ireland
Paula and Joe next to a printed sign which reads "see the person, not the sight loss"

Northern Ireland's leading sight loss charity RNIB NI calls for our new MLAs to bring about real change for the 56,400 blind and partially sighted people in the new mandate after the local Assembly elections in May this year.

The call comes as RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) in Northern Ireland launched its #SeeMe #SeeDifferently Manifesto yesterday (31 March) during a visit from RNIB Board of Trustee Chairperson Anna Tylor.

The manifesto highlights the many barriers that blind and partially sighted people face in relation to day-to-day living with regards to equality of access and independent living.

RNIB calls for health and social care services that prevent avoidable sight loss; the right to cast a vote independently and secretly; accessible public transport that’s reliable and affordable; streets that are designed for everyone and allow pedestrians to walk safely; personal health information that is more accessible for anyone with sight loss; equal education for children with a visual impairment and a fully inclusive system that opens doors for more blind and partially sighted people to access paid employment.

Voices Need to be Heard

Paula Beattie, Policy and Campaigns Manager, RNIB NI, said: “Blind and partially sighted citizens in Northern Ireland face barriers to day-to-day living in relation to equal access to services and independent living. 

“It is imperative that our new Assembly members listen to the voices of people living with sight loss and their lived experiences across these areas.”

Anna was joined in her visit to RNIB Northern Ireland’s newly re-branded Belfast office alongside colleagues from members of the RNIB NI Action and Advisory Group, who have lived experience of sight loss.

Joe Kenny, a member of the RNIB NI Action and Advisory Group from Belfast said: 

“I’ve been eligible to vote for over 25 years now and have yet to vote independently or in secret. Every single time I’ve invoked my democratic right to cast a private vote, at least one other person, if not more, has known who I voted for.” 

Margaret Mann from Lisburn said: 

“I am unable to read any information that comes to me regarding my health. I am totally blind. All the information comes to me in print. I have to rely on my daughter to read this private information to me.”  

Doris Cutler from Enniskillen said: 

“It’s hard enough having sight loss, and such a lack of available, cost-efficient public transport makes it so much harder and your life so much more restrictive. 

“Taxi fares have noticeably increased over the past few years too, and for many visually impaired people, particularly those older or unable to get jobs, just can’t afford them, so we just have to stay in. It’s so detrimental for our wellbeing.”

Mark Bridgeland from Finaghy is registered blind due to a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which leads to progressive sight loss. Mark says he has to ‘run the gauntlet’ every day, risking his life going into the road due to cars parked on the pavement, colliding with newly placed street furniture, or poorly laid out construction works.  

He said: “There was one particular time when I was using my guide dog Cookie and we had to go into the road to get round a car parked on the pavement that was obstructing our route, and she didn’t notice a lorry until the very last minute and jumped back, pulling me to safety.  

“The lorry came to a screeching halt and the driver jumped out to make sure we were OK. It was an 18-tonne lorry; if I had been hit, I would have been killed. I don’t use a guide dog at the moment, I use a white cane, and if the same thing happened now, by time I saw that lorry, it would have been too late.” 

Paula adds: “Policy makers must work alongside the blind and partially sighted community and partners and stakeholders, to raise awareness and place related issues at the centre of public policy planning.”

RNIB NI's Manifesto

The charity's '#SeeMe #SeeDifferently’ manifesto is hoping to gain the support of newly appointed MLAs with seven key asks:

  1. Sight loss prevention and early intervention - We need health and social care services that prevent avoidable sight loss.

  2. Accessible health information - We need health information that’s available in alternative formats and the introduction of an Accessible Health Information Standard.

  3. Accessible voting - The right to cast your vote independently and secretly needs to be protected.

  4. Accessible public transport - Public transport that’s accessible, reliable, and affordable, for those living in both urban and rural communities.

  5. A safe public space - Streets and thoroughfares that are designed for everyone and allow pedestrians to walk safely, without obstacles.

  6. Inclusive education - Education that allows every child to reach their full potential.

  7. Inclusive employment - Only one in four blind and partially sighted people of working age are in paid employment. We want to change this.