111. Social distancing and shopping, part 1: What does this mean for people with vision impairments?
With lots more shops opening today and lockdown starting to unlock, where does this leave people who live with a vision impairment?
This is a topic that has been rumbling on across various social media platforms throughout lockdown and we have shared some of these on our Facebook and Twitter pages. It is now generating a bit more pace as lockdown eases and the concerns about social distancing rise amongst many including people living with a vision impairment.
Dave: As we’ve covered in our past couple of VIDA Insights, things haven’t changed a great deal for me other than having to work remotely and not getting out on my own mainly due to my fears of not being able to ensure a safe distance from other people. I don’t tend to use public transport that much as I prefer to walk where I can and, when not working remotely, have Vicky as a driver, but for people who rely on using public transport for getting to and from work or to do some essential shopping, it’s a different story.
Using public transport is a regular challenge at the best of times for people with a vision impairment but trying to navigate bus stops, train stations, ticket offices, etc. all whilst maintaining social distancing is almost impossible. Vision impaired people can usually request assistance on the rail network through National Rail’s ‘Passenger Assist’ scheme but currently they are asking that assistance is only booked for essential travel. Transport for London (TFL) have put their assistance for blind and partially sighted travellers on hold due to social distancing and staff safety which is understandable but will no doubt impact on travellers that rely on this excellent service.
Such issues are discussed in the article ‘Will it be worth it? The re-opening barriers facing visually impaired people’ that was recently published on ArtsProfessional.co.uk. Key extracts from the article read:
A “major barrier is getting to a cultural venue in the first place, given that public transport is effectively a no-go for most people with a visual impairment at the moment. Social distancing is too often compromised, and as the rules on this soften, local streets are becoming increasingly crowded. These concerns have a basis in hard statistics. Using measurements from Ordnance Survey, Esri UK has mapped and analysed pavement widths in Great Britain: only 30% are at least 3 metres wide, 36% are between 2 and 3 metres and 34% are less than 2 metres wide.”
The article also said:
“Practical support has been made even more necessary since the start of the pandemic, with a proliferation of visual signage about social distancing (distance markers, capacity restrictions and other changes to normal practices) and temporary changes to routes both on the streets and indoors. For those with some sight, and those able to move around independently, a venue should make any temporary signs or floor markings large, clear, and high contrast. Floor markings should also be tactile for cane users as well.”
But if you have no vision or not enough to see signage; what then? I read a Facebook post this week from my local shopping centre, @redhillbelfry, regarding the changes they’ve put in place for when the shopping centre opens fully today (Monday 15 June). It read:
“For those of you who have not visited the Centre recently, please be assured that we have taken lots of steps to keep all our shoppers safe within the Centre. We ask that social distancing is maintained, you keep to the left throughout the Centre, wear a face covering, wash hands regularly (sanitiser stations available) and of course stay home if you have any symptoms.” The post also included the photo of the escalators as used above.
Again, I understand the need for social distancing and keeping 2m apart from other people but that is really difficult when you can’t see. I also suspect that the rules aren’t consistent in every shop so trying to do the right thing will end in tears! It just means that, for the foreseeable future, it will be safer for me to stay at home.
It’s not just me and my views; these are replicated across the country and likely the world. It is summarised nicely in an article and video published on BBC.co.uk of Louis Moorhouse, an 18 year old guy from Bradford. Louis explains the problems he is experiencing with his guide dog and what sighted people can do to help.
Ultimately, all whilst social distancing is required, getting around or accessing services is going to be really difficult for people with a vision impairment or who have a disability that requires an element of support from someone else. I suspect that, like me, that they will remain at home much more, only venturing out when it is really necessary and just hope that other people understand the problems that we face.
Part 2 of this blog will be out tomorrow – giving Vicky’s thoughts as a sighted person and including ways that you might still be able to assist someone with a vision impairment.
We’re always interested to know about other people’s experiences and thoughts. Please share these by commenting…
Interested to learn more about VIDA Training? Read about our Training and Consultancy packages, specialising in Vision Impairment and Disability Awareness, Communication and Team Building or contact us for further information.
Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.