As week one of England’s lockdown comes to an end, ten disability charities have called on the UK Government to improve the accessibility of coronavirus information.
It is believed that an estimated 4.5 million people are missing out on vital public health information at this critical time, including those with moderate or profound hearing loss, moderate or profound sight loss, alongside the estimated 1.5 million people with learning disabilities.
Sense, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and further organisations have teamed up to challenge Downing Street about the significant concerns over accessibility of public health information, and the risk this lack of information affects disabled people.
“Not accessible is not acceptable. It feels like déjà vu,” emphasises Mark Atkinson, chief executive at RNID.
“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.”
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.
As well as this, government updates on coronavirus still don’t include the provision of a BSL interpreter at all its live press conferences; deaf people are unable to access the latest and most critical public health information in real time.
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.”
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.
“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,” adds Sarah Lambert, RNIB head of social change.
“It is important that accessibility is built into all government communications from the beginning.”