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Hopes for the next Senedd term – RNIB

May 4th 2021

The RNIB hopes that by the end of the next term, the days of inaccessibility and exclusion for disabled people will be well and truly behind us

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels

The task ahead of this Senedd will be to build Wales back from the unprecedented events that preceded it. As we look to the future, the key question for the next Welsh Parliament will be: How can we create a new normal that works for everybody? In our manifesto, ‘A Wales Without Barriers’, RNIB Cymru set out the key steps needed to make Wales a more inclusive society for blind and partially sighted people. A society that enables people to live independently, that is designed with them in mind, and which values their voices in decision making processes. A recurring theme in our manifesto is ‘accessibility’. A word that means many things to many people. It could be audio announcements on a local bus service, unobstructed streets with pedestrian controlled crossings or a website that works perfectly with a screen reader. In essence, what we want is a Wales in which accessibility is the norm, not the exception. At the most basic level we believe that blind and partially sighted people should routinely receive important information from their public services in a format that they are able to access. Braille and large print are just some of the ways people can access information. Audio and new assistive technologies enable people to take control of their lives and retain their independence.

But Covid-19 has shone light on the fact that current systems aren’t fit for purpose. Early in the pandemic, the 130,000 people most at risk of serious illness were sent a shielding letter with instructions about what to do to keep themselves and their families safe. But despite a legal duty for public bodies to provide information in accessible formats for those that need them, these letters were sent out in a single, standard print format. This meant that many blind and partially sighted people had to rely on others to find out if they should be shielding. At a time of unprecedented restrictions on face to face contact, this was a source of extreme anxiety. Now, it could be argued that accessibility had to be deprioritised in favour of expediency, given the constraints of having to react to a completely new and unknown virus in an incredibly tight timeframe. But this experience was by no means a one off for people with sight loss. Before and during the pandemic, people regularly receive important information like hospital appointment letters, test results and communications from their local council in formats that they were not able to read.

Our research found that one in four blind and partially sighted people struggled to access written information about Covid-19 during the first lockdown. Less than half of blind voters were able to read any information about the 2019 General Election sent to them by their local council. More recently, as Wales rolls out its vaccination programme, people are still not receiving their letters in their preferred format forcing them to find their own work arounds in order to make their appointments. Our service users report asking for alternative versions of leaflets at vaccination centres, only to be told these are not available. In terms of accessible information, the actions needed to address this are relatively straightforward and practical, the costs relatively modest, but the gains for society would be far-reaching and profound.

Covid-19 is not a great leveller. Socio-economic factors such as discrimination, poor housing, poverty, employment status, and the inaccessibility of public services significantly increase the likelihood of ill-health and death. Recent data showed that just under seven in every ten deaths (68%) from Covid-19 were among disabled people in Wales. The pandemic has demonstrated the imperative need for a renewed focus on tackling health inequalities. We hope that by the end of the next term, the days of inaccessibility and exclusion for disabled people are well and truly behind us.

Nathan Owen is Policy and Public Affairs Manager for RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People)

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