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Group of leading charities call on the government for better accessibility

22 April 2020

National Charity Action on Hearing Loss has teamed up with a group of other leading disability charities to directly challenge the Prime Minister and his team about significant concerns over the accessibility of public health information in relation to COVID-19 and the significant risk this poses to disabled people and the nation as a whole.

The charities [1], who champion the rights of people with sight and hearing loss, autistic people and people with complex disabilities, have written directly to the Prime Minister and his team as the community they represent are not receiving vital public health information in a way that they can access or understand. As individual charities and as a collective group, they have engaged with a number of officials on this issue though haven’t yet seen the improvements in accessibility needed to prevent risk to disabled people and the wider population.

Including only those with moderate to profound hearing loss and those with moderate and severe sight loss, there is a population of over 4.5 million people who are missing out on vital public health information at this critical time. Significantly, these groups are also likely to be over represented in those who are at risk of becoming severely ill as a result of COVID-19. Over 70% of people aged over 70 years old have hearing loss, one in five people aged 75 and over have sight loss and many in these groups have comorbidities.

The charities are also concerned that many of the 700,000 autistic people living across the UK, who struggle with communication and processing information, are not able to fully understand or engage with really vital public health information. This is leading to heightened anxiety and uncertainty for many people during an already difficult time – communication must be as clear and direct as possible.

This brings significant risk to disabled people themselves but also to their communities and the NHS, with the potential to undermine national efforts to delay the spread of the virus.

Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive, Action on Hearing Loss said; “We appreciate that in such a highly-pressured, fast-moving situation, crucial information must be communicated to the public extremely quickly. It is vital, however, that despite these pressures, accessible standards are upheld, to ensure information reaches those who need it the most.”

He added; “In England, the NHS should be following the Accessible Information Standard, providing information in people’s preferred format. The Equality Act also requires all service providers to make “reasonable adjustments” to support disabled people, including providing information “in an accessible format”.

This consort of charities is calling for personal leadership from the Prime Ministers team on this, including the identification of national senior lead to help tackle this issue.

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Notes to editors

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) is the national charity helping people living with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss to live the life they choose. Action on Hearing Loss enables them to take control of their lives and remove the barriers in their way, giving people support and care, developing technology and treatments, and campaigning for equality.

[1] Charities involved: