Edinburgh’s Sensory Mela

photo1Last week I spoke at the Edinburgh Sensory Mela, an event highlighting sensory impairment issues among ethnic minority communities.

The Mela (Sanskrit for gathering) was organised by the Edinburgh and Lothian Joint Sensory Partnership, a joint initiative from the RNIB and Deaf Action.

The event brought individuals from the region’s many ethnic minority communities together with a range of organisations providing support for people with sensory impairment.

There are two distinct aspects to sensory impairment among ethnic minority communities – prevalence and access to support.

There is an emerging body of evidence demonstrating that the prevalence of sensory impairment varies according to ethnicity.  For example people of South Asian descent are six times more likely to develop diabetes (and accompanying eye problems) compared to the white population, while black populations are at greatest risk of glaucoma.

The greater prevalence of sensory impairment among ethnic minorities means that we need services that are suitably targeted and understood. Unfortunately, there are significant barriers that prevent people from ethnic minority communities from accessing services.

Research undertaken by the RNIB with ethnic minority communities in Glasgow recorded a range of concerns from participants.  A primary concern is that information about disease management and about the range of help that is available does not seem to be communicated effectively in accessible formats.

When individuals do go for help, they often run into language barriers that prevent them from explaining their concerns and from understanding what they are told by practitioners.  Some are sceptical about free eye tests – rather than viewing them as eye health checks that can detect serious problems they see them as a sales pitch for glasses.

To combat this, the Joint Sensory Partnership operates in three distinct areas to highlight and signpost support for people living with sensory loss – a family support service, an ethnic minority project and work to identify hidden sensory loss.

The family support service works with other agencies to improve access to services for families and children affected by sensory loss.  The discovery of sight or hearing loss can be a difficult time for families with a range of health professionals involved in care.  The family support service is there to provide comprehensive support and information.

The ethnic minorities project was set up in recognition of the fact that these communities have been identified as hard to reach.  I met the project’s development officer, Tariq Mahmood, who told me about the work he has been doing with Edinburgh’s Polish, Urdu, Cantonese, African and Pakistani communities. The project is working closely with ethnic minority groups across the region to support greater awareness of support that could help them.

The hidden sensory loss project aims to work with adults living with complex needs including those with learning disabilities, dementia and stroke.  In many cases, sensory loss can be hard to identify among these groups as the behaviours associated with hearing and sight impairment may wrongly be assumed to be part of wider needs.  The inability to communicate sensory loss can then lead to serious impacts on quality of life.

The overall work of the project is helping to improve the quality of life of those with sensory loss and this week’s event was a useful showcase of the support that is available. I would like to wish them every success to take the project forward and expand into outreach work.