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Case study - Visual impairment

The issue:

In 2014 a blind member was elected to a London council. This was the first time this borough had a councillor with sight impairment, and so new approaches across the organisation needed to be implemented from scratch to ensure they were able to fully carry out their duties. For instance: documents needed to be accessible to this councillor; they needed access to specialist IT services; and they needed to be able to navigate the council chamber. An independent specialist review was commissioned to help identify and address needs.

Further issues arose when the councillor became a lead member on the local authority’s scrutiny committee. This meant that the member required access to complex financial information, which might be represented through tables and graphs that were not understandable to her.

The solution:

Local authority officers consulted closely with the member to ascertain what their requirements were, and sought to accommodate them. This led to new guidance and procedures being introduced across the organisation. For instance:

  • All documents relevant to the councillor’s duties are made accessible.
  • Specialist IT services are made available. Recognising the importance of these services for the member, a named person in the IT team is on hand in case assistance is required.
  • A member support officer is given access to the member’s email and diary, so that they are able to orally provide the member with information from these sources when requested.
  • The Council reimburse for a sighted assistant for the councillor’s surgeries and for large council meetings.

To ensure the member can fulfil their duties on Scrutiny Committee, the local authority went further than the translation of documents. A procedure was introduced whereby an officer goes through finance reports in detail with the member before relevant meetings. This ensures that the member is highly informed before the Scrutiny Committee meetings, and able to navigate the financial data alongside her sighted colleagues.

Ongoing feedback from the member ensures that the Council continues to make improvements for them, and that any new issues that arise are dealt with.