With local elections taking place on 5th May, James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, reflects on the priorities for the third sector.

RNIB Scotland is calling for a new post-covid deal for blind and partially sighted people following the May 5th local authority elections.

The recent crisis has given everyone at least 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.

And local authorities are key to this as they provide a vital function in the delivery of public services, from our children’s education, social services, economic development, to specialist services for people with disabilities, our road and street infrastructure, as well as keeping the cultural and social lives of our communities in good health.

In our ‘Local Vision’ manifesto (this link will take you away from our website) we highlight many ideas that would support people with sight loss across Scotland.

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 key 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 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.

Local authorities are also a key stakeholder within the NHS, having representation on health boards and a key role to play in influencing how services are provided, and to whom.

For people with sight loss, their local council is perhaps that part of government which has the biggest impact on their day to day lives.

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 now about a society in which more of our population will have needs connected with their vision. To plan for 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.

At RNIB Scotland, we will not shy away from being a critical friend of local government, holding decisions to account, and being constructively engaged as a partner when needed. The third sector and local government have fantastic potential to work together to ensure ever better services. But it is crucial that, as part of this, the third sector should have a strong campaigning voice.

 

James Adams is director of RNIB Scotland and a trustee of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations.

 

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