Reviewed by Sally French and John Swain
The RNIB conducted a survey of the opinions of blind and partially sighted people on the expectations they have of service providers and the quality of current provision. The aim was to provide appropriate guidance to enable service providers to meet their responsibilities following the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act.
This was mainly a quantitative survey of clients’ opinions of services concentrating on: health, retailing, transport and mobility, financial services, and utilities. Questions covered: services accessed independently; aspects of services accessed; grading quality of aspects of services; examples of good and bad experiences; the necessity of adjustments by service providers; priority adjustments required; and standards of other services.
The data were collected by telephone survey and focus groups. RNIB's network team based in Darlington carried out interviews with 500 blind and partially sighted people during the summer 1997. These interviews followed a scripted questionnaire and lasted 45 minutes on average. RNIB also established a series of nine focus groups to look at the application of 'reasonableness' from a visually impaired person's view, to a wide range of services. These groups consisted of visually impaired representatives from organisations of blind people plus relevant staff members in each policy area: health, retailing, financial services, utilities, transport and mobility, housing, hotels and tourism, arts and entertainment and sport.
In the light of previous research and changing policy, this research is highly relevant to the development of social work practice. However, there are a number of questions in relation to methodological issues:
- Some key services were not covered, including local authorities, court services and emergency services.
- The report includes no direct quotations from the research participants despite data being collected through focus groups.
- The report does not clearly distinguish between findings arising from the focus groups and from previous research. The evidence base for some recommendations is not given.
- No details are given of the composition of the samples for either the interviews of the focus groups.
In the last two years, 414 respondents had used a health service in the form of visits to GPs, dentists and to hospital (both as in- and out-patients). Of these, 215 had been accompanied in accessing the service, while 199 had used the service independently.
An area of major concern is the supply of information in formats which blind and partially sighted people can access independently. Out of the 199 who use health services independently, 175 regarded the provision of information in alternative formats as poor or worse; 150 specifically mentioned that the provision was very poor.
A large number (47) of participants rated staff awareness as poor or worse.
Just under half respondents stated that they shopped independently. Of these, the vast majority shopped fairly or very frequently. Of those not shopping independently, 70 per cent shopped with someone else, and 30 per cent had their shopping done for them.
A distinction emerged between staff willingness to help and staff awareness. Out of 244 responses, 216 regarded staff willingness to help at a time convenient to the customer as good or better. However, there was a mixed reaction on staff awareness with 108 rating this as good or better and 77 as poor or worse. Signage was a problem with I74 out of 193 respondents regarding it as poor or worse.
Of all the respondents 345 provided an example of their single most important concern on shopping. Of these, 147 mentioned the need for staff assistance or improved awareness, of whom 121 singled out assistance.
Transport and mobility
Nearly 90 per cent of respondents are satisfied with staff assistance at railway and bus stations and many examples were received of helpful staff (especially bus drivers).
The questions that generated the largest response, were those on pedestrian issues. On the question of pavement parking, 233 out of 349 respondents considered the situation as poor or worse with 145 regarding the situation as very poor. On the issue of pavement obstructions, 244 out of 349 respondents viewed the situation as poor or worse. The biggest problem however was cycling on pavements: 268 out of 350 respondents regarded this as a significant problem in their area.
210 respondents (42 per cent) stated that they had dealt with financial matters independently within the last two years. Most the rest had some involvement with financial services but were assisted by others. A handful declared they had no responsibilities since family and friends did everything on their behalf or because they lived in a residential home.
Blind and partially sighted people have particular problems using cash machines. Out of 183 responses, 111 stated that accessibility was very poor. There was popular endorsement of telephone banking.
The majority of those interviewed (305) had assistance from a friend or relative in dealing with utilities (which include gas, electricity, water, and telephone companies). One hundred and sixty-seven respondents dealt with utility companies independently.
130 of the 166 respondents regarded the provision of information in the customer’s preferred format to be poor or worse. 105 thought that the provision of information about cuts was poor or worse. 131 reported difficulties in reading meters and controls. 101 out of 164 respondents viewed the availability of information equipment in accessible formats was poor or worse.
Other Types of Services
Arts, entertainment and religious venues
Radio and television are the most popular leisure pursuits of blind and partially sighted people. Current problems identified by the focus groups include: lack of access to visual information on screen; no voiceovers to accompany subtitles; lack of availability of information supplementing programmes in alternative formats; and low level of television licence concession (which was unchanged for over 25 years).
Addressing issues in relation to accessing entertainment venues, the focus group felt that the service provider should offer staff assistance. The group also felt that advance information should include details of audiodescribed performances, touch tours and specific arrangements for customers who are visually impaired (such as access for guide dogs and concession for accompanying sighted guides).
The focus group considered that audiodescription versions of films should be provided to cinemas. It was thought to be essential that new-built multi-screen cinemas should make arrangements so that audiodescribed films could be viewed (such as points for headphones). The group felt too that theatres should provide audiodescription.
The group felt it was essential that most museums and permanent exhibitions provide a means of ensuring that people with visual impairments get full enjoyment from their visit e.g. by the provision of dedicated tours and steps to assist independent access. It is also felt to be essential that religious establishments provide assistance in moving around the building and desirable that large print version of religious books used in services should be available.
Hotels, catering and tourism
Problems were identified in using current services, including: awareness among temporary staff; managing buffet style meals; refusal of entry; accessibility of room-based information; policies insisting that bookings are confirmed in writing; poor colour contrast; using room keycards.
Sport and leisure
Problems were identified in participation as spectators: lack of advance telephone information about events from spectator sports providers; provision of commentaries varies enormously; ticketing arrangements through requests in writing; and exclusions and restrictions caused by blanket health and safety reasons.
High-priority actions for participating in sport and leisure include: the provision of basic details about courses and facilities in accessible formats; and access to mainstream leisure pursuits.
Education and employment
Problems were identified in accessing non-educational services in education settings including: poor access to student union services and halls of residence; large amounts of information on notice-boards in poor print; and information on welfare issues is usually provided in small print.
Problems in accessing job centres and job clubs include: lack of a clear identifiable central point in the job centre to ask for assistance; identifying available jobs independently; staff awareness; poor co-ordination between job centres and job clubs; and poor facilities for independent access to adverts and other types of information at job clubs.
Social work practice/ policy implications
The implications can be drawn directly for the views of people with visual impairments and framed as recommendations:
- Think about the different types of blind and partially sighted people who do and could use your service.
- Think about the different types of needs and how they could be met.
- Are there alternative means of enabling clients to access the service?
- Seek advice from relevant local and UK-wide organisations on how to implement change.
- Develop contingency plans so that needs can be met swiftly upon request.
- Advances in technology and new outlooks mean that plans should be kept under review.
- Lateral thinking. For instance some changes introduced elsewhere in the organisation may have a detrimental or beneficial effect on people with visual impairments.
- All staff who deal with the public directly or indirectly should be aware of their responsibilities under the DDA.
- A flexible approach to individual clients is the key. Ask the person with a visual impairment how their needs can be met.
- Age, onset and type of visual impairment may have a bearing in needs. Many people with visual impairments have additional disabilities.
- Allow for independent access as far as practically possible.
The best solutions are often the simplest and not necessarily expensive or inconvenient.