RNIB Scotland actively campaigns on matters of interest or concern to blind and partially sighted people.
The current coronavirus situation has underlined even further the importance of ensuring their voices are heard. We are engaging with MSPs, MPs, Councilors, civil servants, media, and commercial, public and third sector bodies in pursuit of these matters.
We have urged the Scottish Government to include blind and partially sighted people among the priority group able to access online shopping. Many people have told us that the supermarket delivery slots they relied on before the current situation are booked up for weeks, resulting in them being unable to access essentials.
Blind and partially sighted people often rely on a combination of touch and guiding from another person to navigate. But social distancing markers on floors and one-way routes around supermarkets cannot easily be navigated by either long cane or guide-dog users.
More information on shopping for people with sight loss is available on our supermarkets page.
Receiving accessible information is now more essential than ever. It is important that everyone knows what services are available and how to keep themselves and the community safe.
We have produced guides to help make sure everything put out is accessible. We have urged public and private sector bodies to ensure that their print and electronic communications are clearly readable, and that alternative versions - such as audio, braille and large-print - are available as well.
The Scottish Government is providing additional funding so that local authorities can introduce additional cycle-lanes or expand existing ones.
While welcoming this in principle, we fear this could exacerbate problems if too hastily introduced. Blind and partially sighted people might not be able to see or hear cyclists approaching, while cyclists might simply assume any pedestrian will see them coming.
We want raised kerbs to be maintained to help ensure people with sight loss don't inadvertently stray onto a cycle-lane, and controlled crossings to allow safe access to bus-stops or to cross the road. We are also calling for extra space for cycle-lanes to be allocated from roads and not pavements. New cycle-lanes must not be introduced so hurriedly that these provisos are overlooked.
The Scottish Government has asked councils to engage with disability organisations on their plans . Our Coronavirus Courtesy Code has been designed to help ensure cyclists and others are aware of the needs of pedestrians with sight loss.
On the wider issue of street design, we are still working to persuade local authorities to control the number of obstacles that block streets. A third of blind and partially sighted people surveyed by RNIB said they had been injured when walking outside, with advertising boards, bollards and bins among the most common obstacles encountered.
We also remain concerned about plans to introduce 'shared spaces' in town centres where pavements are levelled. We are pointing out that guide-dog and white-stick users rely on kerbs to give tactile clues, while drivers will be unaware pedestrians with sight loss can't see them.
Worryingly, people with sight loss can still receive personal communications and information from healthcare providers in inaccessible formats. We have produced a report on their experiences, "Communication Failure? Review of the accessibility of healthcare information for blind and partially sighted".
We have also put together an Accessible Healthcare Toolkit with information on the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act, a guide to requesting accessible information from your GP or hospital, and template request letters. Download the Accessible Health Information Toolkit.
We believe it is unacceptable that people with sight loss can still leave their polling station unsure whether they've voted for the candidate of their choice or have felt obliged to ask someone else for help.
Amendments we campaigned for in the Scottish Elections (Reform) Bill have now been passed by the Scottish Parliament to make it easier to vote in secret. Electronic voting methods for people with disabilities will be piloted for devolved elections, and the Electoral Commission will be required to report on the assistance given to disabled voters at devolved elections.
We are pressing to ensure that the new disability benefits being devolved to the Scottish Government are attuned to the needs and circumstances of people with sight loss. We also want those carrying out assessments to have a clear understanding of how different types of sight loss impact on what people can and can't do.
We are members of the Scottish Government's Ill Health and Disability Reference Group which informs policy-making on a range of issues, including disability benefits.
We will work to ensure social distancing requirements don't disadvantage people with sight loss using public transport. We have campaigned to improve accessibility of public transport by delivering disability awareness training to transport providers' staff and pressing for information to be available in accessible formats.
Blind and partially sighted school children may not receive the additional support they need because of a shortage of specialist teachers.
We're calling on local authorities to invest in more Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment by providing greater incentives to complete the required training. We're also pressing the Scottish Government to report annually on educational attainment by school pupils with a visual impairment.
This fifth term of the Scottish Parliament (2016-21) coincides with the devolution of greater responsibilities to Holyrood. In our manifesto for the last election we outlined areas which could significantly improve life for people who are blind or partially sighted. We have an ageing population and sight loss will inevitably become a more common feature of our society.
RNIB Scotland acts as the secretariat for the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Visual Impairment. Its membership includes backbench MSPs from all parties, other sight loss organisations and sight loss professionals. The Cross-Party Group continues to meet remotely during the current coronavirus situation.
At UK level, we work alongside RNIB's wider campaigns, such as ensuring emotional support and counselling is available to people newly diagnosed with sight loss. We also engage with RNIB Scotland’s Connect community in identifying issues we might campaign on.
Interested in campaigning with RNIB Scotland? Please get in touch with Cate Vallis at [email protected].