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Blind woman wins government commitment over shielding advice

Blind woman wins government commitment over shielding advice
21st March 2021 Ian Streets

A blind woman who was sent a shielding letter she could not read told the BBC she has won “promising” commitments from the government after a legal challenge.

The BBC reported that Sarah Leadbetter, from Narborough in Leicestershire, is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable yet received government advice on shielding which was not sent in a format she could access.

She argued that this amounted to discrimination and she said the government has now agreed to review its communication with disabled people.

Ms Leadbetter, who is registered blind, said she had repeatedly asked for information about her health to be emailed to her as she cannot use Braille and instead has technology that will read out electronic messages.

She added that her request had always been denied and so when the shielding letter came through, her mother had to read it to her.

Ms Leadbetter said she is part of a social group of 19 people with the same condition as her, Bardet Biedl Syndrome, and only two had received the shielding information in a way they could access.

She said it made her feel less independent, denied her privacy and would not be an option for everyone. She argued her human rights and government standards had been breached and she was granted a judicial review in the High Court.

The BBC reported that Ms Leadbetter was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) made a number of agreements before the case could go to court.

These included reconsidering how it communicates with people who are shielding, investigating how it can keep a better record of preferences and bringing in any changes within four months.

Ms Leadbetter said: “This is a promising step. It shows we are being listened to. Everyone should get important documents sent to them in the format they ask for.”

The Royal National Institute of Blind People said they “regularly” heard of such cases and had been raising their concerns with the government “since the start of the pandemic”.

The DHSC’s response to the BBC said shielding letters were available in a variety of formats to make them accessible, and are sent electronically when someone has an email registered with their GP.

It added: “The government has supported disabled people throughout this pandemic and we continue to assess what further support can be offered, including options for providing accessible shielding information to patients directly.”

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