In this current period of uncertainty and confusion it’s more important than ever that the most vulnerable in our society still have confidence that help and support is there when they need it. So RNIB Scotland has worked hard to ensure that blind and partially sighted people still have access to our services.
Like other charities, in just a few weeks we have had to comprehensively reorganise the panoply of things we provide. This is not only to address the lockdown but the often serious implications this has for blind and partially sighted people in terms of social isolation and need.
Most vital of all is the necessity for clear information. We have campaigned as a matter of urgency to ensure that all communications are accessible for blind and partially sighted people and have produced guides on this. Another key area of concern, especially for those living alone, is access to food and medication. We have urged the Scottish Government to include people with sight loss on the list of vulnerable groups eligible for priority online shopping.
Across the UK, RNIB has joined with other sight loss charities to submit a joint petition with over 20,000 signatures to press government and supermarkets to resolve this as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, we have extended the hours that our telephone helpline (0303 123 9999) is open for, from 8am to 8pm on weekdays and from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays. This can give advice and information and refer people on to other services.
Information, as well as entertainment, continues to be available from our RNIB Connect Radio station, available on Freeview 730 or online (www.rnibconnectradio.org.uk). Our station presenters are all working from home too, sometimes even broadcasting inside cupboards or under duvets to maintain good sound quality!
Our Eye Clinic Liaison Officer service (https://www.rnib.org.uk/sightlosssupportscotland), which offers practical advice and reassurance to people coming to terms with sight loss, remains in place, although this, too, is being done by phone and email. Our ECLOs now also provide a Stay InTouch Service, making weekly appointment-based calls to check in with those who are particularly vulnerable. Our Need to Talk (firstname.lastname@example.org) telephone support is also available for people in areas of western Scotland.
Technology now plays a more vital role than ever, for information, keeping in touch with friends and family, and leisure. Our Technology for Life support service can be accessed via the RNIB Helpline, although our volunteers can’t carry out home visits. Eligible people with sight loss who need equipment to help them through this time can apply for funding through our Technology Grants Programme (www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-benefits-and-concessions-grants/grants-rnib). Meanwhile, our resource centre (https://www.rnib.org.uk/advice/technology-useful-products/stores), selling a wide range of aids and equipment, remains open for orders online.
Social isolation, of course, increases demand for activities and pursuits to occupy lockdown time. Probably everyone in the country is now reading more and RNIB’s Talking Book library (https://www.rnib.org.uk/talking-books-service) can still post or download the thousands of titles we have available in audio.
Social and leisure interest groups in Scotland set up under our Connect initiative are also still happening by phone. We are holding morning conference calls seven days a week with our members for a general chat and raising of sprits, as well as evening calls three times a week. On Mondays we hold a ‘Sharing personal stories’ call; on Wednesdays we swap recipes and ideas for meals; Fridays we have a virtual quiz; Saturdays it’s football focus; and on Sunday morning we have a time to reflect on the previous week and look forward.
Around 170,000 people are living in Scotland with significant sight loss. Although most are over the age of 60, around 3,500 children and young people also have a visual impairment.
We know this is an especially trying time for everyone. RNIB Scotland will be here for blind and partially sighted people and their families and carers. We want people with sight loss to know they are not alone and that help is available.
Ian Brown is the Senior Communications Officer with RNIB Scotland.
* The RNIB Helpline can be contacted on 0303 123 9999.