On Thursday 15 October, Sir David Amess spoke in the Disability Inclusive Covid-19 Response Debate in Westminster Hall. Amongst other things, Sir David called for more support for those who are blind and partially sighted, students at special schools and those with Endometriosis.
Sir David said “Last Friday, I was delighted to see the inspirational Music Man Project, which I have mentioned in the House on a number of occasions. That project is for people with learning difficulties and, through the power of music, their lives have been transformed. As many hon. Members will know, they have performed at the London Palladium. They performed last year at the Royal Albert Hall. And they were going to Broadway, but unfortunately, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that has been delayed a little. I thank the Leigh Salvation Army for giving that organisation the opportunity to perform. It has been absolutely wonderful, and I know, from talking to the families of the people with learning difficulties, that it has transformed their lives.
Access Anyone is a wonderful local company in my constituency that specialises in supplying transport for adults and children with disabilities; it allows them to go to school. It is looking for better Government guidance on the way in which such companies can safely provide transport to those who are disabled or have special educational needs.
In Southend West, we have a number of wonderful special schools. I was contacted by Julie Archer, headteacher of Estuary High School, who had difficulty in getting Covid tests for her residential students. I have also been contacted by Louise Robinson, headteacher of Kingsdown School, who has serious issues with the social distancing guidelines announced on 28 August. She is very worried about how they are being interpreted.
In Southend, there are 1,135 people registered as blind and partially sighted and an estimated 6,500 people living with sight loss. Their difficulties have been raised with me on many occasions by a lady called Jill Allen-King, who is a staunch fighter on their behalf. They are very concerned about the new measures to protect the public and enforce social distancing and the increased use of pavement tables outside restaurants, which mean that blind people are finding it more and more difficult to navigate independently. I was horrified to read that two thirds of blind and partially sighted people had told the Royal National Institute of Blind People that they felt less independent during the lockdown. Much more needs to be done to promote the RNIB’s “Please give me space” logo.
Blind and partially sighted people often struggle with the use of smartphones and computers. The Government’s track and trace scheme relies almost entirely on the use of smartphones, particularly with the new app. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister what provision is being made by the Government to ensure that blind and partially sighted people are not put in greater danger or at greater risk.
The increased wearing of face masks is causing difficulties for those with hearing loss, which has been mentioned already, who rely on communication through facial expressions and lip reading. My local YMCA, led by the wonderful Syrie Cox, launched the Find Your Voice initiative, which was a competition to design a face mask. A child called Lily was the winner. She created a mask with a clear window in it so that people who are deaf can lip-read through the mask.
A number of constituents have expressed to me their concerns that some disabled people are being refused services because they are not wearing a face covering, despite being exempt. Although many charities and organisations, such as Mencap, have produced their own exemption cards, more clarity is needed.
In addition, I hope that people suffering from endometriosis whose operations have been delayed are not overlooked”.