There are approximately a million visually impaired people in the UK, but preliminary research suggests that their energy advice needs have been entirely overlooked. While some information resources could be requested in accessible formats (such as large print), these options were not produced as standard and only related to a proportion of the full range of material. As a result, a significant subsection of the population may have been missing out on energy efficiency opportunities, reducing the potential impact of programmes.
Key research Question
The research investigated the energy advice needs of visually impaired people receiving information through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme and considered the potential for the findings to contribute to improved training and guidance materials for energy suppliers and advisors.
Summary of activity
The project employed an action research approach. Data were collected via a focus group discussion with visually impaired people in Oldham, and these findings were translated into practical activity by a steering group of stakeholders (drawn from energy suppliers, energy conservation bodies and organisations working with visually impaired people).
Attendees at the focus group highlighted a number of challenges in managing their domestic heating. These included the need for prominent or touch-sensitive controls, the importance of ‘task lights’ for reading and the unsuitability of gas as an energy source. Many relied on support workers, friends and family for checking and adjusting settings, reading meters and bills and would seek advice on energy efficiency from the same sources. Leaflets were usually not suitable because of the print size, which also had an impact on the information provided by advisors. Preferred routes for receiving information included talking newspapers or cassettes, telephone calls or large-print correspondence.
Manufacturers of appliances and controls should ensure their products incorporate features that assist visually impaired people, such as alarms if appliances are left on, automatic cut-offs, large, tactile and accessible controls and easy-to-read instructions. They should consult with visually impaired people during the design phase and take account of good practice.
Energy trainers (delivering courses such as City and Guilds 6176 Energy Awareness or the National Vocational Qualification in Energy Efficiency) should ensure that they incorporate specific information on the needs of visually impaired people into their sessions. This should include areas such as dealing with heating controls, accessible information options and selecting locations for new installations that are appropriate for this group. Training materials should also be used by other organisations supporting visually impaired people (e.g. the Royal National Institute of Blind People).
Relevant advice and guidance on good practice should be disseminated to a wide range of organisations, including installers, energy suppliers and regulators, consumer organisations and appliance manufacturers. For example, fuel companies should improve the accessibility of bills and implement better training for staff on products and services appropriate for visually impaired people.