Last month, RNIB Scotland launched its manifesto for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
In it we called on all political parties to build on the greater social cohesiveness that the coronavirus crisis has engendered. The next Scottish Parliament will convene in a changed world. A world forced to re-evaluate many things we’ve previously taken for granted, and in which we’ve all been made more aware of how dependent we are on each other.
Our manifesto, ‘A Vision for the 2020s’ (this link will take you away from our website), sets out simple but far-reaching steps that can create a more inclusive Scotland for blind and partially sighted people. Over 178,000 people in Scotland currently live with significant sight loss. But this could potentially double if steps aren’t taken to contain it, because we are an ageing society and the incidence of sight-threatening conditions such as diabetes is rising.
So, firstly, we are calling on the next Scottish Government to launch a new, nationwide public health campaign to emphasise the importance of everyone going for regular eye examinations. These are free in Scotland and can help to detect the first symptoms of a sight condition early enough to arrest or even reverse damage.
The current crisis highlighted the need for information – including essential health information – to always be made available in accessible formats such as braille, large-print and audio. We are also calling for alternative voting methods to ensure people can vote at elections independently and in secret.
Over 4,000 children and young people are living in Scotland with sight loss. Our manifesto wants Ministers to report annually on the attainment figures for blind and partially sighted school pupils, and for more specialist teachers to be trained as a matter of urgency.
We highlight that only one in four blind and partially sighted adults are currently in paid employment. So, we need skills training attuned to their needs and support, where needed, to make workplaces more inclusive.
The current crisis has prompted local authorities to embrace ‘active travel’ as a way of easing congestion on roads and reducing numbers using public transport now that social distancing restrictions are in place. But this might have unintended consequences for people with sight loss and other disabilities. Our streets must be open and accessible to everyone. So ‘shared spaces’ schemes – where pedestrians and vehicles occupy the same level area – should be scrapped and a nationwide ban on pavement parking and advertising boards implemented. And we remain concerned about moves to introduce rented e-scooters.
We think people with sight loss claiming the new disability benefits devolved to Scotland should not have to undergo periodic reassessments if there is no realistic prospect of their condition improving. And any benefits awarded should cover the, often significant, additional costs of living with a visual impairment.
In summary, then, we want a health service that prevents avoidable sight loss and helps people come to terms with it when it isn’t. Education that helps every child reach their full potential, and employers who better understand what people with sight loss are capable of. Information that’s always available in alternative formats and public transport that’s always accessible. And we want our streets and thoroughfares to allow pedestrians to walk safely and without obstacles.
Today’s coronavirus crisis has exacerbated many of the problems blind and partially sighted people face. But it’s brought to the fore, too, some of the best instincts of our society. That generosity of spirit can be the spur for a new deal for people with sight loss and other disabilities.
Let’s make that one lasting legacy of the parliamentary term ahead.