#BreakingBarriers to accessing eye care

This week is National Eye Health week, a time to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health.

Adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to suffer from serious eye conditions than the general population. This means it is even more important for anyone with a learning disability to have regular eye checks and to take preventative steps to keep eyes healthy.

For anyone with complex medical issues, eye health is often overlooked. Regardless of general health, everyone should and can have access to regular eye checks. Eye checks are used to look at eye sight, and can also be helpful in diagnosing other health issues.

Should I have an eye check?

Yes. Everyone should have an eye test every two years with an optician (eye doctor). Some people with learning disabilities might need eye checks more often.

When booking an appointment with your local optician, let them know of any adjustments needed to support you during your appointment.

If you don’t already have an optician, the helpful link below shows opticians close to where you live, and the support they can offer to someone with a learning disability.

Find your nearest optician here.

What happens during an eye test?

Here is a video that explains what happens during an eye test.

Wearing glasses

After your eye test, you may be told that you need to wear glasses. Glasses will help you to see more clearly.

Here are some top tips for wearing glasses.

If you support someone who has been prescribed glasses, this factsheet gives practical advice on how to give support and detect any potential issues.

Spotting sight issues in others

If you support someone with a learning disability, it might not always be obvious if they are having problems with their sight or eye health. Things to look out for that might signal poor eye sight:

  • Holding objects close to their face
  • Unusual head movements or shaking their head from side to side
  • Dislike of bright light, low light or both
  • Increase in falls, trips or knocks to the body
  • Requiring more support when in new environments
  • Searching for objects with their hands or knocking over items
  • Changes to the eye e.g. redness, swelling or discharge

If you spot any of these signs, it is important to book an appointment with an optician.

I’m an optician. What support can I give patients with learning disabilities?

The most important thing to remember when examining a patient with learning disabilities is to explain what you are going to do in a clear and calm manner, making sure that they are comfortable before going ahead. You may need to use hand gestures or images to support your patient’s understanding.

RNIB have shared their top tips for optometrists treating patients with learning disabilities.

Difficult words explained

When talking about eye health, some difficult words might be used. Here we explain them:

  • Optician – eye doctor
  • Optometrist – another word for eye doctor
  • Vision – how well you can see
  • Cataract – when your eye looks a bit cloudy and your eye sight becomes blurry
  • Glaucoma – a disease that affects how well you can see
  • Long-sighted – when you find it hard to see things close to you
  • Short-sighted – when you find it hard to see things far away from you

#BreakingBarriers to accessing a GP

Two thirds of people with a learning disability felt that their GPs didn’t make reasonable adjustments for them according to a 2018 survey conducted by Dimensions.

For anyone with a learning disability, visiting a GP and accessing essential healthcare has been met with barrier after barrier. A lack of reasonable adjustments and clear communication has (in part) resulted in people with learning disabilities being five times more likely to end up in hospital to be treated for preventable issues that could have been treated by their GP.

(Dimensions 2018)

Our post-lockdown world, with rules and guidelines constantly changing, has created more confusion, fear and ultimately even more barriers for people with learning disabilities who need to access their GP.

We hope by sharing our experiences and knowledge that we can help break down these barriers and support everyone to use their GP service in a way that works for them.

I feel unwell. What should I do?

If you feel unwell, it is important to let someone know.

During the pandemic, we have been asked not to visit our GP surgeries, but to call on the telephone instead.

Keep the telephone number of your GP surgery in a safe place. When you call your GP surgery, the receptionist will schedule a telephone or video appointment for you with the GP.

If the GP would like to see you in person, it is important to wear a face covering (unless exempt) during your appointment. You might like to take someone you trust with you for support.

GPs can provide reasonable adjustments to make your visit more comfortable. These adjustments might include:

  • Giving you documents with large print
  • Giving you Easy Read information
  • Allowing you extra time with the doctor
  • Providing somewhere quiet to wait

If you require any reasonable adjustments during your appointment, let them know before your appointment if it is possible to do so.

Use this helpful form when visiting your GP to make sure you get what you need from your appointment.

What will be different about my appointment?

During the pandemic, there are a number of things that might be a bit different when visiting your GP.

Some things to expect might be:

  • Your appointment might be a phone or video call, instead of in the surgery
  • If you have been asked to attend the GP surgery for your appointment, you will be asked to wear a face covering (unless you are exempt)
  • You may be asked to wait in a different room than you’re used to until the doctor is ready to see you
  • You might have to wait outside the building until your appointment in some cases
  • You will be asked to sanitise your hands regularly
  • Your GP will wear a face covering during your appointment. If you are hard of hearing you can politely ask if the GP is able to remove the face covering or wear a shield instead

Each GP surgery will do things slightly differently. We recommend that you call in advance of your appointment to help you feel confident and comfortable with what to expect when you arrive.

I’ve been given a prescription. What now?

A prescription is a note to let the pharmacist know what medicine to give to you. Once you have your prescription, take it to a pharmacy/chemist. You might have to wait while they get your medicine ready.

If you are unsure about how to take your medicine, the pharmacist can explain this to you.

Wearing a sunflower lanyard is a good way to let the pharmacist that you might need some extra time or support in understanding.

Don’t forget to book your annual health check

If you have a learning disability, you can book free annual health check with your GP. You should do this every year. It’s a great opportunity for the GP to check that you are ok, and for you to speak about any worries you might have.

At your health check the doctor or nurse will check things like:

  • Your weight
  • Your eyes
  • Any medicine you take
  • If you are feeling happy or sad
  • What food you eat

Watch this video to find out more about what to expect at an annual health check

Read this helpful Easy Read guide to annual health checks

It is likely that the GP will want to check your blood pressure during your appointment. This video explains how your blood pressure will be taken.

Difficult words explained

There are lots of difficult words used by GPs, pharmacists and healthcare workers. Here we have explained some for you:

  • Acute – an illness that lasts a short time
  • Antibiotics – a medicine used to treat infections
  • Chronic – an illness that lasts a long time
  • Consultation – a different word for appointment
  • Contagious – if something is contagious it means it can be spread from one person to another
  • Diagnosis – when a doctor tells you what your illness is
  • Locum doctor – a visiting doctor. Sometimes your usual doctor isn’t available and you will have an appointment with a Locum doctor
  • Nutrition or Diet – what you eat
  • Prescription – a note to tell the pharmacist what medicine to give you
  • Vaccination/Immunisation – giving medicine to protect you from an illness using an injection (needle)

There are lots of words that might be difficult to understand. If your GP or pharmacist uses a difficult word, it is important to ask them to explain it in a different way so that you can understand.

I’m not sure if I need a GP. What should I do?

NHS 111

If you are unsure about what help you need, call 111 on the telephone for advice. If you are heard of hearing, you can call 18001 111 on a textphone.

Here is an Easy Read guide to tell you more about NHS 111.

If you prefer to hear a sound clip, click to hear more about NHS 111.


If it’s a real emergency and you are very worried about your own or someone else’s life, call 999 for an ambulance.

You can contact 999 by text message if you are deaf, have impaired hearing or have a speech impediment. Visit the emergencySMS website for more information or to register your phone.

I’m a healthcare professional. How can I best support patients with a learning disability?

It is important to give patients with a learning disability time to understand. This may mean a longer than average appointment is necessary. Speak using clear and straightforward language, avoiding jargon and metaphors.

Consider your body language, particularly when discussing feelings. Communication aids such as sign language or images may help your patient to understand.

This poster gives some good advice on clear  communication. Consider printing it out and sharing with colleagues.