Amplifying the voices of those who live with sensory loss - Jonathan Reid

Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone. For people living with a sensory loss such as deafness, sight loss or deafblindness it has brought further barriers and complexity.

The introduction of mandatory face coverings has meant that for those who lipread or use British Sign Language (BSL), communication has been significantly disabled. For those who may use a guide dog to orientate, or a long cane, the two-metre social distancing rules brought unique challenges.

One of the contributors to the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) Humans of Scotland series, Imran who lives with sight loss said: “I try to walk at the side of aisles and be aware of people around me, but some people just walk right next to you.”

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The ALLIANCE has developed an exciting new platform to amplify the voice of people living with sensory loss in Scotland.

The Scottish Sensory Hub is formed of deafScotland and the Scottish Consortium on Visual Impairment (SCOVI) and looks to support engagement across the Third Sector and Scottish Government with the authentic voice of lived experience at its’ heart. The Scottish Sensory Hub looks to gather knowledge and experience from across the sensory landscape to promote an inclusive and accessible Scotland for all.

As the world has moved online many have been left further behind as screen readers and adaptive aids struggled to engage with new technologies.

The Scottish Sensory Hub has worked across third sector partnerships since its launch earlier this year and considers three key human rights; communication, information and mobility.

The human need to communicate, whether through a language such as BSL or English, or a tactile medium such as deafblind manual, is a critical element of feeling connected and maintaining a sense of self-identity, supporting positive mental health. The right to gather information about your health and wellbeing in a person centred and accessible way is important. The ability to orientate and travel safely, whether that be during exercise, to your place of work or across the new ‘spaces for people’ areas which have been introduced, is central to the ‘choice and control’ of the individual, and the health and wellbeing of our nation.

Covid-19 has often been described as ‘the communication virus’. It has impacted upon our natural ability to connect, communicate and be with loved ones. In fact, the whole world now knows something about living through a communication barrier.

The challenges faced by people with sensory loss are not symptomatic of the pandemic alone, they existed long before the virus. Covid-19 has stress-tested our existing services, systems and structures and exposed areas of much needed change.

As we learn to live with Covid-19, and as society develops new strategies and solutions, the voices of people living with sensory loss must be central in the design process. We must aim to develop truly inclusive communication in our public health messaging and beyond. Accessible information that allows people to make informed choice and thoughtful design for our public spaces, buildings and environments which promotes autonomy and wellbeing.

We must now work together to re-build an accessible and inclusive nation, for us all.

Jonathan Reid, Coordinator - Scottish Sensory Hub, the ALLIANCE

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