A matter of fact

OT  talks with the RNIB’s senior manager for policy and research, Catherine Dennison, about the importance of an evidence-based approach

Catherine Dennison

Why is research and development important for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)?

Our major aim as an organisation is creating a society where blind and partially sighted people are fully included. Our research supports this. It spans right across the journey from eye clinics to understanding how people experience employment, use transport and access technology.

Our My Voice 2015 survey updated previous research that was done 10 years ago. More than 1000 people who were registered as blind or partially sighted participated. That was a significant piece of work that gave us a clear update on the experiences of blind and partially sighted people and what the challenges they are facing are. We absolutely need to know where people are at, what are the main issues for them, whether things have improved or whether they have got worse. The sad thing about the My Voice survey was that employment rates 10 years ago were a third and now they are just a quarter. This research tells us that our reasons for being here and for campaigning on these issues is greater than ever.

"Our major aim as an organisation is creating a society where blind and partially sighted people are fully included"

Can you give any examples of innovative research projects the RNIB is involved in at present?

We are involved in supporting the UK National Eye Health Survey. The aim is to provide reliable information on the prevalence of eye conditions. With a new prevalence survey there is real potential to transform the NHS to make sure there is equal access to eye care and raise awareness of how to prevent sight loss. The project is progressing and we are excited to be part of that.

What are the areas where more research is needed from an RNIB point of view?

RNIB customers tell us they have challenges in urban environments where pedestrians are expected to share the same street environment as cyclists and cars. We need to understand more about the specific challenges and potential solutions to inform our campaigning in this area. 

We are also thinking about the future. There is so much potential for blind and partially sighted people to take advantage of developing new technologies. For example, autonomous cars could enable blind and partially sighted people to get around independently but only if developers commit to taking account of their particular needs. Research allows people to inform design and development. This is key for future proofing accessibility and independence.