Q&A: Robin Spinks

RNIB senior technology and innovation relationships manager at the RNIB, Robin Spinks (pictured), talks to OT  about a sunflower lanyard and changing lives through tech

Robin Spinks

Can you tell me about what your role at Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) involves?

I work as senior innovation and technology relationships manager. This essentially involves working with the tech industry and innovators to create examples of inclusive products of all kinds, be they physical products, hardware, software or services. It’s everything from apps and websites, through to showers, ATMs, public kiosks and smart TVs. We are keen to be involved in any product or service where there is an opportunity to influence inclusive product design and development.

We want accessibility to become an integral and essential part of the design process so that every manufacturer is thinking about inclusive design when they are thinking about design and not imagining it as a separate or distinct discipline.

Can you tell OT about the sunflower lanyard initiative?

Broadly, this is a straightforward initiative that allows a person to wear a sunflower lanyard and the intention is that it can be recognised in multiple locations, signalling that someone might need a little bit more support.

It could be helpful for any eye condition. If it opens up a conversation where someone asks, ‘I see you’re wearing a lanyard, can you tell me what support would be most helpful?’ that is fantastic. For someone who is relatively newly diagnosed, they may still be struggling with that kind of conversation. They may feel self-conscious or not have accepted their sight loss. The lanyard is something that can initiate that conversation in a friendly way.

We know of individuals who have worn the lanyard and it has enabled a good experience and a good level of support. We are aware that it has had a positive impact.

The sunflower lanyard

The Welcome app allows you to do something similar if you are a smartphone user without having to wear a lanyard. It is a more discrete solution. If you have it on your phone and you have given it permission to share data, it will make a service provider aware of your needs. If you go to Edinburgh Airport, for example, when you arrive staff will be aware that you need a particular type of support.

How important is choice when considering tools that are helpful for those with sight loss?

We are about choice and enabling people to consider all of the options they have available to them. I am a massive fan of technology and it has made an incredible difference in my life, but I am very aware of the fact that for many older visually impaired people that may not be the case. I will always seek to see that there is a spectrum of support that is available and that we are not making the assumption that everybody is digital.

Image credit: RNIB