Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans outline their response to the pandemic and touch on the impact on human rights during COVID-19.
Together, Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans form Scotland’s largest third sector organisation working to support blind and partially sighted people. Sight Scotland provides specialist residential care for children and young adults with visual impairment and complex needs; learning at the Royal Blind School and education outreach services; afterschool and holiday support for children; community services including adult rehabilitation and family support; and supported employment as a producer of accessible documents at the Scottish Braille Press. Sight Scotland Veterans provides free support to armed forces veterans affected by sight loss in Scotland, regardless of the cause.
During the pandemic we had to adapt our support for blind and partially sighted people comprehensively and speedily. As a provider of residential care services for visually impaired people with complex needs, we had to be innovative to ensure the people we provide care for could stay in touch with family members. We received donations and funding for iPads which we supported people to use to stay in touch with loved ones during the pandemic. Later in the pandemic, as restrictions eased, we were able to offer visits in our café space with bifold doors fully open so that three residents, who do not like being confined to a small space, were able to meet parents and still be able to be mobile.
While the restrictions have been in place it has been necessary for us to use digital communication increasingly as many on-site services have temporarily closed. For example, the Royal Blind School has provided virtual lessons and advice to parents. Sight Scotland Veterans activity hubs had to close so the charity used zoom and on-line calls to keep in touch with people, including establishing an online Charles Bonnet Syndrome support group. Our Rehabilitation Team carried out assessments over the phone to give information, advice and supply low vision aids. In in one week alone the Sight Scotland Veterans Outreach Team made 900 calls to veterans with sight loss and family members, checking everyone was safe and well and had everything they needed. We also launched our Family Support service during lockdown which has been able to take calls from people affected by sight loss to provide them with advice and information.
While we were able to continue to support blind and partially sighted people during lockdown, there is no doubt that this has been a particularly challenging time for them, and for families who were not able to visit physically while restrictions were in place. We know from our own research that the seventy percent of the people we support believed their sight loss had made lockdown a worse experience. However, we are pleased that we have been able to stay in touch and support so many people remotely during the pandemic. As a result of this we have developed online resources which will continue to be helpful in providing people with information on sight loss and developed remote support services which have the potential to play an important role in the future, from delivering online learning to supporting people in remote and rural communities.
This has been a particularly challenging time for third sector organisations, placing great pressure on services at a time when it has been even more difficult to fundraise. This needs to be recognised by the Scottish Government and local authorities in providing sustainable funding for the sector over this parliament. It should be acknowledged that third sector support has continued or stepped in at times when statutory agencies have reduced services as a result of the pandemic.
Research by Amnesty International UK and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland has found that the human rights of disabled people were not properly considered during the pandemic. Social distancing restrictions were not introduced in such a way so that they did not create significant new barriers to inclusion for blind and partially sighted people, and there were further human rights impacts for other aspects of their lives. We believe it is essential lessons are learned so that all these rights are now restored and there is a clear strategy for their protection in a future pandemic.
Read more about the work of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans on their website (this link will take you away from our website).