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MLAs urged to usher in better future for sight-impaired people in Northern Ireland

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Challenges: Andrea Begley

Challenges: Andrea Begley

Challenges: Andrea Begley

Assembly members are being urged to "kick-start a better era" for those with a sight impairment by a celebrity singer.

An event today at Parliament Buildings in Belfast coincides with the launch of a new report by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), concluding that people living with sight loss here continue to face key barriers across a range of services.

Andrea Begley (33) is chairperson for the RNIB Northern Ireland Committee. The winner of The Voice UK in 2013 has just 10% of her vision left after developing glaucoma aged five.

The Pomeroy woman said people with sight loss face everyday challenges which most others routinely take for granted.

"It sort of goes across a whole range of things, but the physical barriers are things like street furniture, when you've got people leaving bikes on the pavement and things like that," she said.

"I use a white cane as a mobility aid and I tend to stick to very small amounts of areas that I am comfortable with, or go out when I have someone guiding me to get around.

"There are practical barriers also, like if you drop something, trying to find it. Or making sure you can access information, for example if you are sent a letter in the post.

"Luckily we are growing up in an era of great technology. Even things like Alexa or smart phones, which make things much more accessible.

"So while there are lots of solutions, there are still a lot of barriers. It is just trying to make people aware sometimes."

Today's report heard the experiences of Andrea and others who make up the approximately 53,500 blind and partially sighted people in Northern Ireland.

The report claims there are still many challenges for the community to deal with - from enhancing public transport, accessible health information and raising awareness of employment issues.

Andrea said many solutions to these problems are relatively simple and can have wide-ranging benefits beyond the blind and partially sighted community.

"In Northern Ireland where we don't have the world's most advanced public transport, getting from A to B, especially for people in rural areas is very difficult," she said.

"More announcements on buses is a simple example. Not only would it help those who are partially sighted, but also tourists. There are people missing NHS appointments because they can't read letters they receive.

"A lot of these problems have solutions and they are often not even that expensive to do."

Belfast Telegraph