RNIB Scotland is calling for a new post-covid deal for blind and partially sighted people following the local authority elections.
The recent crisis has given everyone some sense of vulnerability and uncertainty, of what it’s like to depend more on others. Let’s make one positive legacy of this a resolve to re-emerge as a society in which no one is left at the margins. In our manifesto, Local Vision, we say this is the 'new normal' Scotland should aspire to.
Local authorities are key to this. They play a vital role in helping blind and partially sighted people to live as independently and inclusively as possible. People with sight loss are more likely to depend on services such as social care and public transport and to look for support from their council. So it’s essential that councils fully appreciate the challenges they face.
In Local Vision we highlight what these are. The persistent attainment gap between school children with sight loss and their peers; increasing street clutter and obstacles; inaccessible public information; and a national shortage of trained rehabilitation workers are among the issues for those with a visual impairment.
We're calling for those elected to work with us to close the attainment gap for children and young people with a visual impairment. A 2017/18 pupil census found one in five left school without a qualification at National 4 or higher, compared to only one in 50 among their sighted peers. Every child should be helped to reach their full potential and RNIB and others have launched a framework of resources and materials that teachers can draw on.
We want streets and thoroughfares that allow pedestrians to walk safely without obstacles There should be a halt to shared space schemes which level pavements and roads. Instead, kerbs and intermittent dropped kerbs should be maintained, and controlled crossings situated across roads and cycle lanes.
We need services and support, especially for people first diagnosed with sight loss, that help to maximise their independence. Social services urgently need to recruit more rehabilitation officers. Currently there are only around 2,100 occupational therapists and fewer than 40 active rehabilitation officers working in councils across Scotland.
All public communications should be readily available in alternative formats such as audio and braille, and fully accessible online.
Public transport is vital in allowing people with sight loss to maintain independence and mobility. Their needs should also be considered at all stages of journey planning, timetabling and travel.
Our ageing population and the increase in sight-threatening conditions such as diabetes means the number of people with sight loss will, inevitably, grow. We need to start thinking and planning now for a society in which more of our population will have needs connected with their vision. To inform this, we need to standardise the information that councils gather from the registration process on people with sight loss so we have a more accurate picture of what future support should be in place.
James Adams is director of national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland.