Claire Forde MSYP

"My name is Claire Forde and I am a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) representing Haggeye, a campaign group for young blind and partially sighted people in Scotland. 

"As an MSYP, I had a motion passed within the Scottish Youth Parliament calling for greater public awareness of sight loss. For this to be possible, I hope to work with decision makers to ensure that all places of work are given mandatory information about sight loss. 

"I believe that you, as an MSP, are in a position to help change society. I would be grateful if you could watch my video and read the information below on how you can make your constituency services accessible to people with sight loss. You can also help by retweeting and share this page using the #MSPSightLossAwareness."

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

There are around 170,000 people living in Scotland with a significant degree of sight loss. We're an ageing society and the rate of sight-threatening conditions, such as diabetes, is increasing, making it more likely than ever you'll meet a blind or partially sighted constituent.

These practical suggestions are intended to help you provide an accessible service to all 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're doing rather than relying on visual cues, for example, don't walk away without saying you're going to do so

  • Keep accessible versions of key documents on hand

  • Use image descriptions on your website and social media.

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. RNIB can help produce these for you.

Pre-arranged meetings

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

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

  • Check whether they're 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'll 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.

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, use 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're 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'll 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're approaching doors or steps. When approaching a door, explain which way it opens, and on moving through let your constituent know if you're 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 themselves. Guide the person’s hand to the handrail and advise when they're 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 and if it has arms. Never offer a chair with wheels. 

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. So instead of saying #generalelection, use #GeneralElection.

Why use image descriptions

Image descriptions ensure the information from your image reaches all your constituents. Websites and social media often offer ways to insert a text description 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. Example description: [Image description: I'm discussing local issues with constituent Sophie on a bench in a park. I am a woman dressed casually, Sophie is younger and has long brown hair and glasses on. We're both talking enthusiastically].

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.

RNIB can help you provide the best services to your constituents with sight loss

Examples of this include:

  • RNIB provide written materials in accessible formats including braille, large print and audio. Contact us if you would like any of your materials transcribed.

  • We work together with a strong network of blind and partially sighted people and can provide feedback on the impact of current policies. 

  • If a constituent expresses concern regarding the outcome of a benefit assessment for Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment or Employment and Support Allowance decisions, our in-house specialist solicitors can offer advice.

  • RNIB’s team of accessibility consultants can also offer expert advice on how to make your website more accessible for people with sight loss. 

For more information please contact us at: [email protected].