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Blind woman launches legal action over PM’s coronavirus letter

PUBLISHED: 08:19 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:42 11 May 2020

Blind campaigner Rachael Andrews from Norwich who has begun legal action over government coronavirus communications being inaccessible. Picture: RNIB

Blind campaigner Rachael Andrews from Norwich who has begun legal action over government coronavirus communications being inaccessible. Picture: RNIB

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A severely sight impaired woman is seeking to take legal proceedings against the government over what she says is a failure to provide accessible advice about coronavirus.

Coronavirus lockdown letter from prime minister Boris Johnson that was sent to every household in England. Picture: PA ImagesCoronavirus lockdown letter from prime minister Boris Johnson that was sent to every household in England. Picture: PA Images

Rachael Andrews, 47, who has myopic macular degeneration and is registered blind, claims critical Covid-19 public health information contained in No 10 correspondence was sent to her in an inaccessible format.

Prime minister Boris Johnson sent a letter to every household in England about Covid-19. However, Mrs Andrews, who is from Norwich, says she didn’t know she had received one until her carer told her about it and read it to her.

She said: “I cannot read standard print so I use screen reading software, which converts text to speech, to access text in electronic documents and online.

“However, a significant amount of the Government’s communication about Covid-19 has been inaccessible to me.”

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The PM’s letter is available as a PDF online but there are no instructions in the hard copy letter about the location of an accessible version, or the accompanying leaflet.

Other Covid-19 public health advice is presented online through infographics which do not have text descriptions, rendering them useless to people who use a screen reader, said Mrs Andrews.

She argues pandemic advice and information being inaccessible to her is unlawful and places her and others with sight impairments at unnecessary risk.

On her behalf, solicitors Leigh Day have sent a Letter Before Action to the Government saying that its communications fail to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Matt Stringer, CEO of the RNIB, who has written to the prime minister to see assurances that coronavirus advice is acessible to blid and partially sighted people. Picture: RNIBMatt Stringer, CEO of the RNIB, who has written to the prime minister to see assurances that coronavirus advice is acessible to blid and partially sighted people. Picture: RNIB

It asks the Government to ensure that all future communications regarding Covid-19 are in a format accessible to blind and sight impaired people.

If it does not provide an adequate response, Mrs Andrews, who was recently named RNIB Campaigner of the Year after the High Court ruled in favour of her bid to improve voting access for sight impaired people, intends to commence urgent judicial review proceedings.

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The RNIB has written to the Prime Minister’s Office and contacted the Disability Unit at the Cabinet Office after being alerted that coronavirus communication from some government departments was not fully accessible, particularly for screen reader users.

The Cabinet Office has since reassured the RNIB that they are working across government departments to make sure updates are accessible, said chief executive Matt Stringer.

He said: “The coronavirus guidelines are the most important pieces of information for our generation. It is critical that all communication around how to keep safe during the ongoing pandemic are accessible in order to ensure that people with sight loss and other disabilities know how to keep themselves, and their communities safe.”

The RNIB has also produced a guide for all government departments, business and other organisations on how to communicate coronavirus information to blind and partially sighted people.

Mrs Andrews added: “The onus should not be on me to go asking the Government to provide the information in an accessible form; they should be thinking in advance about how to communicate with sight impaired people.”

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