Focus on disability rights with the Royal Blind Rights Pledge

Posted: 18/09/2019 |

The political chaos over Brexit which has unfolded in Westminster in recent weeks may be dominating conversations at family mealtimes and in pubs across the country.  However, the lack of clarity about what Brexit will entail for a huge range of areas of our lives is a very real concern for disabled people, and has the potential to impact significantly on key areas of life for people with sight loss.

As Scotland’s largest vision impairment organisation, Royal Blind is determined that the voices of disabled people must be heard in the Brexit debate and that politicians must recognise the impact of their decisions on people living with sight loss.

These are rights we now often take for granted, and many will continue as they have been established in domestic UK and Scottish legislation. However, significant questions arise from the proposed removal of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from UK law as well as over how disabled people in the UK, including those with sight loss, will continue to share the same rights of disabled people in the rest of Europe in the event of our leaving the EU.

Graphic for the Royal Blind Rights Pledge to protect the rights of disabled people

Whether you are a supporter of membership of the European Union or not, it is simply a statement of fact that the rights of disabled people in the UK and throughout Europe have advanced significantly over the period we have been within the EU. A host of European treaties have created rights for disabled people to be protected from discrimination, and rights have also been established under the European Convention of Human Rights and through the European Social Charter. The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination on the ground of disability and recognises the right of people with disabilities to benefit from measures to ensure their independence and participation in the life of the community. EU law has led to changes in UK law which protect equality for disabled people, including improved protections at work and Braille labelling for medicine.

It is also the case that we have no room for complacency over the rights of disabled people in our country. This was made very clear in the recently published Scottish Household Survey for 2018. The survey reported a number of concerning findings for disabled people. 11% of those participants in the survey who had experienced discrimination and 10% of those who experienced harassment cited a health problem or disability as the reason. Adults with no qualifications had the highest proportion who were permanently sick or disabled compared to the other qualification levels. Almost a third of adults aged 16-64 with a limiting long-term physical or mental health condition or illness were permanently sick or disabled and under a quarter were in full-time employment.  This chimes with the experience of people with sight loss, with two thirds of working-age people who are registered as blind and partially sighted in Scotland not in paid employment.

These are huge issues which need to be addressed but are drowned out in the current debates in Westminster, and we fear a General Election which focusses solely on people’s views on Brexit will ignore these issues.  That is why Royal Blind will call on politicians and parliamentary candidates to back Royal Blind’s Rights Pledge. Whatever happens with Brexit, it is vital our political leaders guarantee the rights of patients to access sight loss medicines; promote better rights to work for people with sight loss; ensure health and social care services can recruit the specialist staff they need; and protect the human rights of people with sight loss in the UK which have been established in EU Law. 

There has been much progress for the rights of disabled people in Scotland and the UK over these past decades.  As the constitutional debate rages, it is vital to recognise we still have much to do so that people with sight loss can be fully included in our society, free from stigma and discrimination.  Whatever happens at the end of the Brexit debate, none of us should lose sight of that vital goal.