Accessibility and sight loss

Earlier this week OT  visited a pop-up corner shop with a difference to gain an insight into what it’s like to go shopping when you are blind or partially sighted

shopping cart

Reports highlighting that sight is the sense that people would miss the most regularly ping into my inbox. As eye care professionals, you understand more than most the importance of your vision.

The NHS reports that in the UK, there are almost two million people living with sight loss. Despite this accounting for around 3% of the overall population, there are still many day-to-day tasks that blind and partially sighted people may struggle with due to accessibility issues.

What may seem like a trivial task to some, such as the weekly shop, can pose difficulties for those with sight impairment because, for example, the packaging remains inaccessible to them.

Research recently carried out by the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) found that nine in 10 blind or partially sighted people find it either difficult or impossible to read packaging on products. Yet, information on packaging is important for a number of reasons, including allergens, safety and diet.

In a bid to highlight this inaccessibility and drive change, this week the RNIB opened its own pop-up corner shop in Hammersmith, London.

OT went along to the shop to find out more about the issue.

Surrounded by shelves lined with products containing either vague or blank packaging, OT spoke to strategic accessibility lead at the RNIB, Marc Powell.

Powell explained: “We live in a visual world and there are certain things out there that blind and partially sighted people struggle with in terms of design. When we talk about design, the needs of someone who is blind or partially sighted may not have been considered. We take a holistic view on design and highlight that there are small things that you can do to make sure that it’s for everybody; to make sure that everyone’s included.”

“In order for us to live in an inclusive society, raising awareness of these issues is key,” Powell emphasised.

The RNIB’s pop-up shop brings to life the struggles that people who are blind and partially sighted can face when it comes to shopping. However, it is just one of many obstacles that they must overcome every day.

This week, coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games has dominated my morning breakfast television viewing. Each day there is news detailing the medals that Team GB athletes are winning, and I’ve been inspired by many stories of the athletes’ journeys to competing. From Judo competitor Elliot Stewart, who was diagnosed with keratoconus after he noticed a deterioration in his vision at the age of 28, to rowing’s Ellen Buttrick, who was told she had Stargardt’s disease at 19.

The Games continues until 5 September so be sure to tune in to see if Team GB’s Dame Sarah Storey adds to her already impressive medal haul to be named Britain’s most successful Paralympian of all time.