Challenging the barriers to inclusion for people with sensory loss

Written by: Richard Baker, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research, Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans

Published: 16/06/2021

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Richard Baker from Sight Scotland shares his thoughts on the ALLIANCE Annual Conference session Communication, Information and Mobility.

‘Equally Connected’, the theme of this year’s ALLIANCE Annual Conference, was also the goal for people with sensory loss in the excellent discussion at the session ‘Communication, Information and Mobility – A Sensory Perspective’. We were fortunate to have an excellent panel chaired by Jonathan Reid who is the ALLIANCE’s Sensory Coordinator, bringing together people working in sensory loss across Scotland to collaborate in the work of the ALLIANCE’s newly launched Sensory Hub.

At this session, Jonathan was joined by Hazel McFarlane of the Macular Society, Derek Todd of Deafscotland, John Whitfield of Deafblind Scotland. Our panel brought not only professional expertise but also their own personal experience of sensory loss to the discussion, setting out why we need to do far more to challenge the barriers to inclusion for people with all forms of sensory loss.

All the panellists focussed on how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been for people with sensory loss in particular. John talked of the specific barriers to mobility and communication deaflblind people had faced, not having access to guide communicators, to technology in many cases, and the information they needed through the pandemic, and how Deafblind Scotland had responded to these challenges. Hazel highlighted how many visually impaired people did not have access to the technology which became so vital during lockdown, leaving them more excluded, and the rapid increase in referrals to the Macular Society’s counselling service. Derek spoke about the specific communication challenges for deaf people and hard of hearing people, with the requirement for people to wear masks muffling voices and removing the ability for people to lip read.

There was also discussion of what lessons could be learned from the experiences of COVID-19. Jonathan spoke about the advice for health staff which had been produced on communication for sensory loss, and the need to make this advice available for all frontline staff.  Derek talked about the importance of BSL interpreters at Government briefings, and how this progress should be built on and not lost. John spoke about the need for support for transitions and rehabilitation, and Hazel about the need to have a renewed focus on the social model for disability and challenging barriers to inclusion.  There was agreement both on the panel, and also in the comments and questions from those attending the session, that we have to work together across the sensory impairment sector to raise awareness and promote inclusion.

Jonathan closed the session with a quote: “If I extend my hand at a smile, the gesture hovers at the edge of uncertainty until reciprocated by another.” This captured why inclusive communication is vital for people with sensory loss to be equally connected in our communities. It is very appropriate that after this stimulating discussion on what we can all do to make our communities more inclusive, the ALLIANCE’s Sensory Hub will now begin its vital role, bringing people together to work towards a more equally connected Scotland for people with sensory loss.

This session was recorded and the recording will be available for viewing on The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland – YouTube channel (this link will take you away from our website).

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