Using the NHS Test and Trace COVID-19 app if you are blind or visually impaired

The NHS Test and Trace COVID-19 app has been developed to help in the fight against the current coronavirus pandemic.
The main advantage of the app is that it has the ability to automate the Test and Trace function, which is currently being done by people, and increase the accuracy of information.
We asked Richard from our Digital Team to review the app and look at its accessibility for blind and visually impaired people.

Introduction

The new NHS COVID-19 app for Apple and Android devices launched yesterday (24th September 2020). The free app is a vital part of the NHS Test and Trace service in England, and the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service.

The NHS state that the app is “the fastest way to see if you’re at risk from coronavirus. The faster you know, the quicker you can alert and protect your loved ones and community.”  You can read more on their website here.

COVID app

The basics

You can download the app through the following links:

Download on the App Store (for iPhones)

Get in on Google Play (for Android phones)

The NHS have put together a useful guide to help you download the app and ensure it is set up properly (read it here).

When you launch the app for the first time, you will be asked for the first part of your postcode. This is not a means of tracing you as you will share the first part of your postcode with an average of 8000 other people. Any data shared with the app is held on your phone and nobody will know who or where you are. You can delete the app and all data at any time.

The app uses low energy Bluetooth, which should not impact unduly on battery life.

It has six options, all of which are designed to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

Venue Check-in

If you visit a venue that has registered with the NHS Test and Trace, they will have signs prominently displayed with a QR code. If you are unsure, please ask a member of staff at the venue for assistance.

To register your visit, launch the app and select the ‘Venue check-in’ option and scan the QR code.  The visit will be recorded on your phone for 21 days and then auto-deleted. You have the option to delete this data at any time.

Our Digital Team were delivering tech training in Manchester Central Library yesterday, and were able to easily use the app to check-in.

And then purely in the name of research(!), Mark from the Digital Team visited a local chippy for his tea and was again able to use the QR code displayed at the counter.

Well done to both Manchester Central Library and Rusholme Chippy for having the poster in place so swiftly.

The Trace function

The Trace function runs continuously in the background (unless you close the app completely in the app-switcher!) You are assigned a random number that does not have any link to your personal data, and this number is exchanged when you come into contact with someone else who is also running the app. This information stays on your phone and does not get sent anywhere unless you test positive. Only then, will you be asked if you want to alert others.

The Alert function

When you open the app, a message will be displayed telling you what the risk level is in your area. This is based on the postcode area that you entered when you opened the app for the first time.

The alert level is split to five levels, with the first level not likely to be reached until there is a vaccine available.

At the time of writing this blog, all 10 local authorities across Greater Manchester were on the highest alert.

Symptom Checker function

This function gives you a list of possible symptoms associated with COVID-19. The idea is that you select all the symptoms that you are experiencing and the app will give you advice of the course of action that you should take.

As a reminder, you can read all about the symptoms on the NHS website here.

Test function

Selecting the Test option diverts you to a website where you can book a test. If you book a test through this method, the test results will be communicated back through the app.

There are plans in place for all tests to be reported back through the app (if you have the app downloaded), but in the meantime there is also an option to enter your test code if you didn’t book the test through the app.

Isolate function

The Isolate function is a countdown timer for when you have been advised to isolate. When you have been advised to self isolate by the app, this countdown timer will commence and let you know how long you have left to isolate.

As well as the options available for app users, the app is used as a way of contacting tracing and to alert people who may have been exposed to the virus. The app will notify you if you are considered to have been dangerously exposed to the virus and advise on the next course of action that you should take.

Blind man using app

Security

Security has been taken very seriously as the NHS and the government are aware that in order for the app to be accepted by the public, the public have got to trust the app will work properly, that they will not be asked to self-isolate unnecessarily, and that their data will be secure.

For this reason, the following guidelines from the National Cyber Security Centre have been implemented:

  • All data sent from the NHS to users’ apps is signed to ensure authenticity and integrity.
  • External systems mutually authenticate and encrypt traffic to ensure connections can only come from expected systems and data is secure in transit.
  • Defensive programming is important to ensure that the system operates correctly under unforeseen circumstances, including cyber attack.
  • There must be a vulnerability disclosure process to provide a clear path for security researchers to inform us of any discovered bugs.
  • Minimise data collection to what is necessary to support the app’s declared functions.
  • Ensure the system is subject to continuous and robust cyber security monitoring and operational security operations management.

Accessibility

Together with other sight loss sector organisations, the Thomas Pocklington Trust has been involved in ensuring the app is as accessible as possible for blind and partially sighted people.

The app is a native app built for Apple iOS and Android devices, meaning you can use the built-in accessibility settings on your phone (so Voice-Over reads all of the labelled buttons and fields within the app).

For those with some useful vision, the text in the app has been designed to be as clear and simple as possible.

If you need information about the app in an alternative format, such as accessible PDF, large print, easy read, audio recording or Braille, you are able to request this by emailing nhscovid-19accessibilityissue@nhsbsa.nhs.uk

Mark made a video about the app back in May (when it was only being trialled on the Isle of Wight) – although there have been some changes, the video is still a good overview of the app.

Further support

If you need help with this app, or accessing technology in general, and you are living with sight loss, please give us a call on 0300 222 5555 and arrange a free assessment with our Digital Team.

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Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.