Sight Scotland, and its sister charity Sight Scotland Veterans, are calling on the new First Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, to improve inclusivity and accessibility for the vision impaired.
An estimated 180,000 people are currently living in Scotland who are blind or partially sighted, with this number expected to double by 2031 to almost 400,000. People living with vision impairment face a multitude of challenges on a daily basis, including loneliness, isolation, and social exclusion. If we add in spiralling waiting times, the cost-of-living crisis, and growing problems with accessibility in our towns and cities, it is clear to see that more needs to be done to support people living with sight loss across the country.
Craig Spalding, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans, comments: “As a former Health Secretary, our new First Minister knows the challenges that are facing healthcare and public health in Scotland. You just have to look at the latest ophthalmology waiting times statistics released by Public Health Scotland to realise that the Scottish Government must do better. On average, 36% of new outpatients had to wait over 16 weeks for eye appointments, a rise of almost 10% in just three months. This number then grows to over 50% in some health boards such as Fife and Lanarkshire. People with deteriorating eye conditions just don’t have the time to wait, and if ophthalmology waiting times are not improved, many face the very real prospect of permanent damage.
“The cost of living crisis is also hitting the vision impaired community hard. The majority of people living with sight loss already face additional expenses, such as transportation costs, technology assistance costs, and support in the home. They are also forced to spend a lot more time in their home due to vision loss, which makes fuel poverty a very real threat due to soaring energy bills. This is forcing many to cut back on essentials such as food, heating, and electricity, which is having a terrible impact on both their physical and mental health.
"The Scottish Government must address the growing problems of accessibility in Scotland. More streets in Scotland are being transformed to give priority to active travel, but unfortunately there are many instances where these new layouts are dangerous for visually impaired people. Issues centring around cycle paths with no kerbs, floating bus stops and staggered zebra crossings, are causing real safety concerns. Meaningful engagement with communities is key to this so that their lived experience can inform plans that meet the needs of everyone.”
Spalding adds: “We are looking forward to working alongside the new Scottish Government to help address many of these issues and to develop further the new See Hear strategy and the National Low Vision service. We welcomed the launch of the new eyes.scot website, and the reestablishment of the Graduate Diploma in Low Vision Rehabilitation course at Strathclyde University which is a step in the right direction to ensuring more people with visual impairment have access to specialist support to lead independent day-to-day lives.
“A new First Minister and Cabinet present a real opportunity to address these challenges. We welcome the chance to work even closer together to ensure the needs of people living with sight loss are at the top of the agenda.”
For more information about the activity groups please visit: https://sightscotland.org.uk