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LEADING disability charities are challenging the Government over significant concerns about the accessibility of public health information in relation to coronavirus, and the risk this poses to disabled people and the nation.

They claim ‘shielding’ letters have been distributed to thousands of people that are not in accessible formats and lack signposting to where alternative formats, such as large print or braille, can be found.

They also highlight Government updates on coronavirus still don’t include the provision of a BSL interpreter at all its live press conferences.

Richard Kramer, chief executive at Sense, said: “The Government has a responsibility to produce guidance that is accessible, and we should be under no doubts that their failure to do so is putting disabled people’s lives in danger.

“Throughout this pandemic, disabled people will make important decisions regarding isolating safely, purchasing food and accessing health and community services. If vital guidance from the government isn’t in an accessible format, is confusing or unclear, then these decisions become challenging.

“Either nothing has been learnt by the Government over the last nine months, or they are indifferent to meeting the needs of disabled people.”

Mark Atkinson, chief Executive at RNID, said: “Not accessible is not acceptable. It feels like déjà vu. We raised our concerns about the inaccessibility of Government communications ahead of the first lockdown but the same mistakes have been made again.

“Letters have been issued that are entirely inaccessible and we still don’t have a BSL interpreter for all public health broadcasts, despite other countries around the world being able to manage this.

“Deaf people should not be expected to wait until after lockdown has begun or to search far and wide to get the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe. It’s simply not good enough.”

Sarah Lambert, RNIB Head of Social Change, added: “Time and again, making sure that crucial health information is in a format that blind and partially sighted people can access – whether that’s large print, braille or audio – has been treated as an afterthought at best.

“For example, letters with guidance on what to do if you had been shielding went out to millions of people. For those in this group who are blind or partially sighted, these letters contain vital information but are inaccessible.

“Alternative formats are now being produced, but it is not clear how people will know where to find these alternatives. Nor is it right that blind and partially sighted people who have been shielding should only be able to access this information after the new lockdown has started. It is important that accessibility is built into all government communications from the beginning.”

  • There are more than 6 million people who are missing out on vital public health information at this critical time, including those with hearing and sight loss, and those with learning disabilities.
  • These people are also likely to be over-represented in the part of the population at risk of becoming severely ill as a result of coronavirus.
  • More than 70% of people aged over 70 years old have hearing loss, while one in five people aged 75 and over has sight loss. Many people in these groups have comorbidities.
  • While this issue brings significant risk to disabled people themselves, it also impacts their communities and the NHS and has potential to undermine national efforts to delay the spread of the virus.

Charities involved in the campaign are:

Sense 

RNID 

RNIB 

SeeAbility 

Learning Disability England  

Royal Association for Deaf People 

Thomas Pocklington Trust 

Macular Society 

Guide Dogs

Sign Health