RNIB Scotland actively campaigns on matters of interest or concern to blind and partially sighted people, engaging with MSPs, MPs, Councillors, civil servants, media, and commercial, public and other third sector bodies.
During the current coronavirus situation, we are working actively alongside RNIB colleagues across the UK to ensure the needs of people with sight loss are being met.
We have urged the Scottish Government to include blind and partially sighted people among the priority group able to access online shopping. Many have told us that the supermarket delivery slots they relied on before 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 requirements now make this much more challenging. Moreover, social distancing markers on floors and the introduction of one-way routes around supermarkets cannot easily be navigated by either long-cane or guide-dog users.
Across the UK, RNIB and other sight loss charities - Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary - have liaised with leading supermarkets to ensure people with sight loss are considered through this difficult time.
RNIB's website has information on shopping for people with sight loss.
Receiving regular, updated healthcare information is now more essential than ever. It is vitally important that everyone knows how to keep themselves and the community safe, and what services are available. So we are urging everyone communicating to the public to ensure that their communications are clearly readable, and that alternative versions - such as audio, braille and large-print - are available as well.
For people who use screen-reading software, which reads out text from websites or email attachments, this might not seem a problem. But some graphics can still confuse screen-readers, such as text superimposed on images, photos that don't have alt-tags, text that is justified on both sides, or even just sentences that don't end with a full-stop.
We have produced guides for the Scottish and UK Governments to help them make sure everything they put out is accessible.
The Scottish Government has invited local authorities to take advantage of traffic-free streets to introduce additional cycle-lanes or expand existing ones.
But, while welcoming this in principle, we fear this could exacerbate problems we have been campaigning on for years if too hastily introduced. Blind and partially sighted people may be unable to see or hear cyclists or e-scooters approaching, while people using them will assume any pedestrian will be aware they are there.
Maintaining kerbs will help ensure someone with sight loss doesn't inadvertently stray from the pavement onto a cycle-lane, and controlled crossings would allow them to safely access bus-stops or cross the road. We are also calling for extra space for cycle-lanes to be allocated from roads, not pavements; and for warning signs to alert cyclists when they are approaching a crossing. New cycle-lanes must not be introduced so hurriedly that these provisos are overlooked.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson has asked councils to engage with disability organisations so plans do not "compromise the ability of people who have impaired mobility to cross roads and to use pedestrian crossing facilities".
Meanwhile, we have put together a Coronavirus Courtesy Code that can help to ensure cyclists and others are aware of the needs of pedestrians with sight loss.
As well as our work concerning the Coronavirus situation, we continue to campaign on a range of other issues of concern to people with sight loss.
Our RNIB Street Charter campaign is seeking to persuade local authorities to control the number of obstacles that block streets, such as advertising boards, bollards, bins and cars parked on pavements.
We also remain concerned about plans to introduce 'shared spaces' in town and city centres where pavements are levelled. We are pointing out that guide-dog and white-stick users rely on kerbs to give tactile clues, and that drivers will be unaware pedestrians with sight loss can't see them.
The coronavirus situation has highlighted the urgent need for people with sight loss to receive communications and information from healthcare providers in a format that is accessible to them. But our recent report, ‘Communication Failure? Review of the accessibility of healthcare information for blind and partially sighted', reveals this is still a problem.
We have put together an Accessible Healthcare Toolkit to help people with sight loss get health information in their required format. It includes information on the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act, a guide to requesting accessible information from your GP or hospital and template request letters, and what to do if you continue to receive inaccessible information. Download the Accessible Health Information Toolkit.
A number of disability benefits are being devolved to the Scottish Government. We are pressing to make the new system fairer and better attuned to the needs and circumstances of people with sight loss. We want to ensure those carrying out assessments 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 have been actively campaigning to improve accessibility of public transport for blind and partially sighted passengers, by working with transport providers to deliver disability awareness training to their staff, and by ensuring that information is available in accessible formats. We will be reviewing arrangements once the current lockdown period is relaxed.
Blind and partially sighted school children may not receive the additional support they need because of a shortage of specialist teachers, a problem exacerbated by the closure of schools.
We're calling on local authorities to invest in more Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment (QTVIs) 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.
Our manifesto for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections on May 6th, "A Vision for the 2020s" outlines areas which could significantly improve life for people in Scotland who are blind or partially sighted. We have an ageing population, so sight loss, inevitably, will become a more common feature of our society.
Our proposals - including more emphasis on sight loss prevention, and emotional and practical support for those newly diagnosed - can make Scotland a kinder, safer and more inclusive place. The costs are relatively modest, but the gains could be far-reaching and profound.
Visit our Scotland Elections campaign hub for more information.
RNIB Scotland also 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.
At UK level, we work alongside RNIB's wider campaigns to ensure that public transport services are accessible, ensuring emotional support and counselling is available to people newly diagnosed with sight loss, and pressing for all welfare benefits to be better attuned to the needs and circumstances of people with sight loss.
We also engage with RNIB Scotland’s Connect community in identifying issues we might campaign on.