As lockdown eases across the country, blind and partially sighted people face a growing list of social distancing challenges. In response, the Sight Loss Councils have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issues and provide guidance to businesses.
ain Mitchell, Engagement Manager for Greater Manchester and Merseyside Sight Loss Councils, said: “Shops have one-way systems that are difficult to navigate due to floor markings that visually impaired people often cannot see. Guide dogs do not understand social distancing measures and blind and partially sighted people often will simply not see a queue. We’ve had reports of people angrily shouting at visually impaired people due to this misunderstanding, particularly in supermarkets, which has added to the stressful situation.
“We know blind and partially sighted people worry about travelling on public transport and getting the assistance they need under social distancing measures. And this is not a small problem. There are more than two million blind and partially sighted people in the UK and 250 people will start to lose their sight every day.”
Sight Loss Council members have created a suite of best practice guides for transport providers, healthcare settings, retail outlets and other businesses to highlight what measures they could put in place to help blind and partially sighted people social distance.
The guides are available on the SLC website: www.sightlosscouncils.org.uk/resources
Matt Cliff from Merseyside, who is registered blind due to Retinitis pigmentosa, said: “The biggest issues have been around social distancing. It’s our moral responsibility to do this but it is difficult when you cannot see to do things correctly. For example, I cannot judge if someone is one or two metres away.
“I have contributed in creating the guides to help people work with social distancing. These are aimed at both professionals and visually impaired people. My inspiration in helping with these is the fact that blind and partially sighted people are already isolated. Coronavirus has made this even more difficult.”
Matt has shared his experiences of lockdown in a short video on the SLC Youtube channel: The guides are available on the SLC website: www.sightlosscouncils.org.uk/resources
The SLC is also calling on blind and partially sighted people to share their social distancing stories.
Iain explained: “Using the hashtag #DistancingBlind, we want to raise public awareness by sharing short videos, blogs or quotes of visually impaired people’s experiences of social distancing and life in lockdown.”
Research from RNIB** shows how social distancing is near-impossible for many blind and partially sighted people, while inaccessible signage and fears about how the public will react to them are causing additional stress and worry.
While Guide Dogs research* found only 22% of the general public would feel ‘completely comfortable’ offering to help someone with sight loss while social distancing measures were in place. Reasons included not knowing how to help from two metres away (50%) and being concerned about making physical contact (37%).
This week Sight Loss Councils across the UK will be sharing their stories on how social distancing is affecting them. These will be shared on the SLC website www.sightlosscouncils.org.uk/distancingblind and through social media.
The Sight Loss Councils have a dedicated page on their website with information and advice for blind and partially sighted during Covid-19 and what support is available. www.sightlosscouncils.org.uk/coronavirus