The University of Glasgow needs to find a way to make lateral flow tests more accessible to its students.
I have always been fond of checking my mailbox to see if I got a new postcard, letter or new stamp to add to my collection. I have been doing this since I was 16 years old. That feeling when you glide your finger over the edges of the stamp to see if its edges have a circular pattern (oh a new postcard from the US) or a rectangular one (ah nope, it’s from Germany).
Since the start of the pandemic, my excitement has lessened as I am on most occasions greeted by the thin NHS box that encloses seven lateral flow tests (LFTs). As much as I do not mind taking these tests as I want to not only keep myself but everyone else safe, I am filled with dread every time I see them.
As I am visually impaired, I have struggled a lot to use these LFT and it is not only me. Most of the blind, visually impaired and sight loss communities have trouble with LFT even with the use of apps to lend support such as Be My Eyes, an app that connects VI, blind and people with sight loss to sighted volunteers who can help and support when help is needed.
We have passed the two-year mark with Covid-19 so shouldn’t these tests be more accessible by now? Well, unfortunately not. While able-bodied people do these tests in the span of seconds we need to take hours to stick a swab up our noise without worrying it will go in the wrong hole. Of course it will! I cannot see so accidents are prone to happen.
"While able-bodied people do these tests in the span of seconds we need to take hours to stick a swab up our noise without worrying it will go in the wrong hole."
“Although some measures have been put in place to support people with a visual impairment, such as being able to use the NHS Test and Trace via the free Be My Eyes app, this is simply not enough,” said Natasha Johnston, Project Lead at Visibility Scotland.My friends and family know this – LFTs are not accessible for persons with any kind of disability,especially visual disabilities. Imagine the situation from my perspective.. There are no accessible features. The only thing that helps is our touch senses, which I am blessed for as it helps me feel my way around the test. There is no brail, no buttons to press for active communication such as audio commands, or any way to read results. On top of that, being colour blind does not help my case. For example, the liquid we need to use to dip the swab into is the same color as the container it is in. It is as if I am looking through a mirror! I cannot differentiate between the container or the liquid which at times is spilt either on my desk or my living room carpet (woops!).
Another inaccessible part of the test is the space where we need to add the drops to get our results. It is white, just like the rest of the test. So, where do I need to put the drops? It can get awkward to ask a friend to help do the test for me unless our friendship is a close one. Can you imagine someone you don’t know much doing the test for you? It’s incredibly awkward.
However, the most inaccessible part of the test is reading the results. My heart beat rises not only because of anticipation of the result but because of the stress it gives me when looking at the test itself. I always have to ask someone what it says, and by doing so I am risking them getting infected if the result is a positive one.
"However, the most inaccessible part of the test is reading the results."
This could all be avoided if the University of Glasgow had a designated testing site with trained staff to help not only visually impaired, blind or people of loss of sight but also able-bodied students who have never taken a LFT before or need assistance. Someone to be there to actually do the test for us who is trained to assist PWDs would make a large difference in our access to these necessary tests. Johnston said it perfectly: “Such an important Covid safety measure should have been designed to be accessible to as many people as possible from day one.”
In January, Paul Hopkins recorded a podcast where he took an LFT live on air and shared tips on how to do these if you were visually impaired. In December of last year, the topic of LFTs being accessible was raised by Jeremy Balfour MSP during the First Minister’s Questions. There are many different non-profit organisations that are working tirelessly such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) around the UK with the government to find ways to make LFTs and PCRs more accessible.
With the added accessibility measures taken, many students with disabilities will be able to take these LFTs easily and with less stress. I do hope the University of Glasgow can do the same for its students with or without disabilities as it will make our university experience safer through such turbulent times.
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