As Scotland emerges from pandemic restrictions, and with the May 5 Scotland local council elections fast approaching, it is time for local authorities to prioritise sight loss and take action for visually impaired people in their communities.
The need for action is urgent. Today in Scotland, there are over 180,000 blind and partially sighted people in Scotland, with that number set to increase to over 200,000 by 2030.
From changes in town centre pedestrian layouts, making safe navigation and social distancing extremely challenging, if not impossible for visually impaired people, to lack of accessible information, blind and partially sighted people have been profoundly and disproportionately affected by the impact of coronavirus these last two years.
Local authorities play a key role in working towards the creation of an inclusive Scotland for blind and partially sighted people. As Scotland’s largest third sector sight loss organisation, we at Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans have laid out key action points in our 2022 Scottish Local Authority Election Manifesto.
We’re calling for local authorities to create better chances for blind and partially sighted young people by increasing the number of QTVIs (Qualified Teacher of Children and Young People with Vision Impairment) and other specialist resources available to schools.
The latest Scottish Government pupil census figures, published in March 2022, indicated there are 4,930 pupils with vision impairment in Scotland – an increase of almost 50 per cent in the last decade. With blind and partially sighted pupils facing an attainment gap in education, it is vital that each and every young person with a vision impairment has specialist support to enable them to thrive and reach their full potential. At the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, run by Sight Scotland, we’ve seen great success in partnership working with mainstream schools and we’d like to see all local authorities build upon existing partnerships with specialist provisions to share expertise and knowledge.
Councils also have the opportunity to ensure local transport networks are accessible and affordable for blind and partially sighted people – including our call for a new national rail policy in Scotland for free rail travel for visually impaired people and their companions (find out more about this at sightscotland.org.uk/FairRail).
By prioritising sight loss with the promotion of eye health and establishing links with third sector organistions who can offer specialist support, local authorities can help blind and partially sighted people in Scotland’s communities to live independently and well with sight loss.
Finally, by involving blind and partially sighted people in planning processes, local authorities can ensure community spaces are accessible for disabled people.
With the launch of Sight Scotland’s community services last year, including our freephone Sight Scotland Support Line (0800 024 8973) and Family Wellbeing Service, we’re reaching out even more people impacted by visual impairment. We’re determined that no one faces sight loss alone. The time is now for local authorities to join in that mission; to listen to the voices of blind and partially sighted people and embrace partnership working with sight loss charities to ensure Scotland’s councils meet visually impaired citizens’ needs now, and are fully ready to support those who will be impacted by sight loss in the future.
Visit sightscotland.org.uk/2022-manifesto to read Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans’ 2022 Local Authority Elections Manifesto in full.
Craig Spalding is chief executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans