Information for MSPs 

How to make your constituency services accessible to people with sight loss. 

The incidence of sight loss is increasing, making you more likely than ever to meet a blind or partially sighted constituent. These practical suggestions are intended to help you provide an accessible experience to your constituents with sight loss.  

Key points to remember 

  • If you’re not sure what support a constituent may need, ask them how you can best help 
  • Pictures and printed text don’t work for everyone. Remember to offer alternatives in your communications 
  • In conversation verbalise what you are doing rather than relying on visual cues - for example, do not walk away without saying you are going to do so 
  • Keep accessible versions of key documents on hand 
  • Use image descriptions on your website and social media 

Social media and websites 

Blind and partially sighted people use different tools to read online materials, including screen readers - which read text out loud - and magnification. Screen readers cannot make sense of information in images so avoid sharing any written information as screenshots or images as these are not accessible. 

Hashtags 

Make sure you capitalise the first letter of every word in a hashtag so screen readers can read them out correctly, and magnification users can see it more clearly. For example, the hashtag 'Streets for All' can be most clearly and accessibly expressed as #StreetsForAll. 

Why use image descriptions 

Image descriptions ensure the information from your image reaches everyone. Websites and social media often offer ways to insert a text description, or 'Alt Text', of the image, which can be read out by a screen reader, allowing the viewer to build up a mental picture of the scene. 

How to write an image description 

Describe broadly what your image shows, thinking about which details are most important to the people you're trying to reach. Just pick out a few key details that paint the picture.  

Here is an example: 

[Image description: Woman walking down a busy street with a cane.] 

How to add your image description 

Twitter: Write your tweet and when you add a picture, you’ll notice “Add description” pops up in white writing on the bottom right of your image. Click on the button to insert your description. 

Facebook: Include a description in the text post accompanying your picture. Write any other text first and then include the description afterwards. Type a square bracket, write “Image description:”, describe your image, close the square brackets and then insert your image into the post.  

Instagram: Upload your photo and edit it as required. On the caption page, add your caption and then click on “advanced settings” and then “write alt text” (both are at the bottom of the screens). Insert your image description into the alt text section and in square brackets in your caption. 

Websites: On most content management systems when you upload an image there is an option to add an image description. Please make sure you always complete this. 

In the constituency office and at surgeries 

Make sure you have accessible ways for constituents attending surgeries to fill in enquiry forms, and accessible copies of key information that you often share, for example details of local services. This could be large print, braille or electronic formats - the RNIB can help produce these - see details below. 

Pre-arranged meetings  

If a constituent lets you know they are blind or partially sighted ahead of a meeting: 

Give clear instructions describing where you will be in advance and check whether they will require assistance from you or your team on arrival.  

Check whether they are bringing another person to support them, who might need another chair, or a guide dog who will need a water bowl.  

Ask your constituent what format they will want any documentation or follow up materials in. This will often be a larger print or email, but may be braille or audio, which RNIB can help with - see details below. 

In Conversation 

Always introduce yourself, and if you’d like to shake hands let your constituent know. For example, you could say: ‘Hello it’s Richard, I am just extending my hand to you’. If there are several people in a meeting make sure you introduce each person and if anyone needs to leave the room, tell the group so the constituent is not left talking to an empty space.  

The direction of your voice is important; always face the constituent when speaking. Avoid visual gestures like nodding, using verbal assent instead. Let them know what you’re doing in quiet moments: ‘I am just going to make a few notes, bear with me while I write’. If you’re offering refreshments be clear about where you are placing them, especially drinks. 

Guiding

Your constituent may want to be guided to where your meeting will be held using your bent elbow or by putting their hand on your shoulder. Ask which side is preferred, they will have been guided many times before so will be used to explaining what they need from you. 

Walk at a normal relaxed pace, advising of any hazards, uneven surfaces, and when you are approaching doors or steps. When approaching a door, explain which way it opens, and on moving through let your constituent know when you are passing the door’s weight to them. 

If you reach steps or a ramp explain whether they go up or down and ask how you can help. Long cane or guide dog users may prefer to navigate for themselves. Guide the person’s hand to the handrail and advise when they are at the start and end of a flight. If there are any gaps in the handrail offer your arm again. 

Help your visitor to sit down by guiding them to a chair and placing his or her hand on the back of it. That way the person will be able to find their way to the seat. Remember to tell them if the chair is pushed under a table, if it has arms, and never offer a chair with wheels. 

The current Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for those providing guide support can be seen here. 

How RNIB can help you 

RNIB business services provide written materials accessibly including braille and audio formats. Contact us if you would like any of your materials transcribed. 

RNIB’s legal rights service provide advice to blind and partially sighted people who wish to challenge their benefits decisions. Let us know if you have constituents who come to you about their UC, PIP or ESA decisions and we can put your caseworkers in touch with our in-house specialist solicitors. For more information contact our Legal Rights Service via our Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected]

RNIB can also help with the accessibility of websites, just get in touch with our experts

RNIB Scotland's Manifesto 

Make sure you are acting in the interests of blind and partially sighted people. 'A Vision for the 2020s: Focus on Sight Loss', our manifesto for the upcoming Scottish Parliamentary Election, sets out the key steps to make Scotland more inclusive for blind and partially sighted people. These simple, modest steps could deliver profound change for some of the most vulnerable in our society.