The Birmingham Sight Loss Council (BSLC) aim to improve services for people living with sight loss across a number of key policy areas.
In November 2017, the Birmingham Sight Loss Council responded to the Department for Transport’s Draft Action Plan on Accessible Transport. You can read our response by clicking here.
The BSLC are working with the West Midlands Combined Authority and local bus operators to improve bus travel for people with sight loss. Issues we have found include passengers not being picked up, poor placement of card readers, busses moving off before passengers have found a seat, faulty audio stop announcements, poor colour contrast on the interior of the bus, passengers missing stops amongst other issues. Members of the Sight Loss Council attended an RNIB Swap With Me Event where National Express West Midlands signed the Bus Charter, showing their commitment to improved services for people with sight loss. We have also met with staff from National Express West Midlands to express concerns and the issues we mentioned are currently being investigated.
Image of Sight Loss Council Members at an RNIB Swap With Me Event
The Birmingham Sight Loss Council has a very good working relationship with Transport for West Midlands and have been invited to take part in their training videos for new bus drivers across the West Midlands. These videos will demonstrate to new drivers the issues faced by people living with sight loss when using public transport. We have also met with the Midland Metro Alliance who are developing the tram network in Birmingham and the wider area. We put a number of suggestions to them for how they can improve the journey for disabled customers when using the tram, all of which were approved.
Recently, some Members of the BSLC took a representative from Transport for West Midlands on a journey around the City using public transport where he wore Simulation Specs so he could experience first hand what many people living with sight loss face when travelling across Birmingham. He documented his experience in a blog post you can read by clicking here. We feel that events like this will encourage stakeholders and decision makers to consider the needs of blind and partially sighted people when planning changes to public transport.
Image shows George Rogers from Transport for West Midlands being guided through Birmingham whilst wearing a simulation specs and using a white cane
The BSLC have also been heavily involved in the design process of a Web App called MyHealthCare that has been built by local developers Substrakt Health. This is currently available in over 50 GP surgeries in Birmingham and allows the user to book appointments with a range of healthcare professionals – including telephone appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view the accompanying information leaflet online, view test results such as blood test and blood pressure results, access lifestyle advice such as tips for losing weight and stopping smoking and many other services. Our involvement included testing the App for accessibility on a number of different devices and using tools such as Magnification, JAWS Screen Reader, VoiceOver and Colour Contrast.
Chris Smith from Substrakt Health working with BSLC Member Mark to test the MyHealthCare App
The Birmingham Sight Loss Council acts as a critical friend to the Birmingham and Cross City Clinical Commissioning Group and is a member of the West Midlands Local Eye Health Network. As part of this we regularly sit on decision making boards and take part in consultations regarding eye health services locally. Examples of these are proposals for a Minor Eye Conditions Service in Birmingham meaning reduced strain on Accident and Emergency Departments and easier access to eye health care within the community which patients can self-refer to.
The Built Environment
BSLC members currently sit on a number of forums that aim to improve access for disabled people across Birmingham. These include Access Birmingham, New Street Access Forum and Birmingham Hippodrome’s Access Forum. Access Birmingham is consulted by Birmingham City Council when developments are planned to ensure that the needs of disabled people are taken into consideration. Suggestions we have made include a moratorium on new shared space developments until government guidance has been updated, higher visibility on street furniture – keeping as much as possible at eye level and we have offered our support of legislation to restrict pavement parking nationally – amongst other suggestions.
As part of our work with Access Birmingham, the BSLC arranged a trip to the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market so that people with sight loss could enjoy the festivities in a safe, secure and accessible environment.
Image of Sight Loss Council Members supporting visually impaired service users at the Birmingham Christmas Market
In 2017, some members of the Sight Loss Council took part in an oral evidence session as part of the Women and Equalities Select committee report into Disability and the Built Environment to help shape future government policies. We have also invited a local District Engineer from Birmingham City Council to meet with our group and discuss issues. As a result of this meeting, we will be further consulted on issues concerning blind and partially sighted people when developments are being planned.
Employment is an area we are very keen to work in as according to the most recent data from RNIB, there are over 6,000 people of working age living with sight loss in Birmingham. Our aim is to engage with employers to educate them about Access to Work and encourage them to learn more about sight loss. We have recently set up a VI Employment Forum bringing together organisations that offer employment services to people living with sight loss in Birmingham so that we can tackle issues and find solutions together in a collaborative manner.
Part of this will be the development of a Working Age Forum in Birmingham. This will be a group open to people living with sight loss of working age with the aims of providing peers support, advice, information and guidance. Evening gatherings will be held in an informal setting regularly across the year and will feature guest speakers and workshops. If you are interested in joining us please get in touch.
We are also looking to build relationships with local Universities and other education establishments to improve understanding and improve the student journey for blind and partially sighted learners. We have recently connected with Queen Alexandra College in Birmingham and Aston University to find out more about their experiences with students with sight loss and how we can support students through their education.
How Can You Get Involved?
We are keen to hear from anyone who would like to support the Birmingham Sight Loss Council. We are actively looking for more volunteers so please get in touch if you would like to be involved. Alternatively, you can still support the work we do by joining our Facebook group or by following us on Twitter and signing up to our email mailing list using the links below.