Blind and partially sighted people ‘forgotten’ as COVID vaccine rolled out in Wales
Leading sight loss charity RNIB Cymru is warning that the needs of blind and partially sighted people are being forgotten as the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out across the nation.
The charity has been campaigning for an accessible vaccination process since January 2021 but says that little progress has been made, meaning people with sight loss have to rely on others to enable them to get their vital jab.
At the beginning of the year, RNIB Cymru asked the Welsh Government COVID Vaccine Board and all health boards to ensure:
- That all information about vaccinations, including appointment letters are communicated in an accessible format (such as large print, audio, braille or digital) for people that need them.
- That blind and partially sighted people are proactively offered a choice of venue for their vaccination appointment.
However, people with sight loss across Wales are concerned that crucial information about the vaccine is not available in a format that best suits them. Others have reported that appointments are being scheduled at vaccination hubs that are miles away from home, making attendance an extremely difficult and stressful process.
Megan Price, 29, from Aberdare, has aniridia and glaucoma. She was invited to a COVID vaccination centre in Cardiff in March.
Megan said: “Although my overall experience with staff at the centre was very positive, I was frustrated at the lack of accessible information about the vaccine. The receptionist offered me a leaflet, but then looked at my white cane and correctly guessed that I wouldn’t be able to read it. But when I asked if she had any available in different formats, she said there weren’t any.
“I’m still annoyed about it. If there had been an electronic version available, I would have read it. It’s the principle. Lots of people will be really worried about their vaccine and they should be able to read all the information about it. I’m so used to not having accessible information now so things like this often pass me by but that shouldn’t be the case. You don’t really think about it until you put your foot down and say you’ve had enough.”
The All Wales Standards for Accessible Information and Communication for People with Sensory Loss, which have been in place since 2013, state that information on people’s preferred formats for communication should be held by their local health board and they should be routinely communicated with in a way that works for them.
RNIB Cymru has identified issues regarding the formatting of vaccination letters, making them inaccessible for screen readers. The charity also asked for large print instructions to be added to the top of all appointment letters so that partially sighted people have access to information on how to request an alternative format.
Navigating unfamiliar environments and travelling to new places can be very challenging for people with sight loss, making it much harder to attend a mass vaccination centre. This is especially problematic for people living in more isolated rural communities with fewer public transport options.
The charity has highlighted to the Welsh Government and health boards that known local venues like GP surgeries are likely to be the preference for most blind and partially sighted people.
RNIB Cymru Policy and Public Affairs Manager Nathan Owen said: “We are very troubled by the stories we are hearing from the blind and partially sighted community in Wales.
“It is unacceptable that in 2021 people must still rely on other people to access basic information and crucial health services. People with sight loss should receive information in a format that works for them, by right and without fight.
“Public organisations have legal duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, so that they experience the same levels of independence and privacy expected by