Ireland

Coronavirus: Blind people ask for considered help – not a grab of the elbow

Social distancing ‘virtually impossible’ without reading signs for queuing and sanitising

The NCBI says practicing or engaging in physical or social distancing is virtually impossible for people who are blind. Photograph: Getty Images

The NCBI says practicing or engaging in physical or social distancing is virtually impossible for people who are blind. Photograph: Getty Images

Blind and visually impaired people have highlighted how social distancing can be especially difficult for more than 5,000 people who do not have good sight.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland said seemingly simple things like reading signs on floors and walls and taking up positions two metres apart from others in queues is “virtually impossible” for blind people.

Challenges facing those who are blind and vision-impaired also include often being unaware of the existence of a queuing system, or where a queue begins or ends.

Other difficulties include being unable to locate or read signage indicating the presence of hand sanitisers or outlining hygiene practices to be followed.

A further difficulty for blind people is that guide dogs are not trained to socially distance.

NCBI service user Marian Maloney said “Covid-19 and its associated restrictions have been really tough for everyone, but as the majority of people are beginning to feel a sense of relief due to the lessening of restrictions, I’m afraid of what is to come, as social distancing is so very daunting and overwhelming.”

She said: “I want to get back to as close to normal as possible, but I will only be able to do that if the general public respect my space and provide assistance in a respectful way.”

NCBI head of advocacy Kevin Kelly said “practicing or engaging in physical or social distancing is virtually impossible for people who are blind or vision-impaired and as our streets and shops become busier with the easing of government restrictions it is a huge source of stress and frustration for people”.

He said it was “essential the public have a greater understanding of the challenges faced and how they can help overcome them.”

The NCBI has now appealed for help, asking people to:

* Always afford a blind or vision-impaired person the required two meters’ distance in all circumstances.

* Make their presence known before offering assistance, which many blind and vision-impaired people will welcome.

* Offer verbal instructions which may be very helpful to the blind or vision-impaired person in certain circumstances – the key here is to always ask first.

* Never just grab someone who is blind or vision-impaired in an attempt to be helpful.

* Be careful not to block the path of someone who is blind or vision-impaired, when queuing outside shops.

The National Council of the Blind of Ireland is a not-for-profit charity, which offers support and services to people of all ages who are experiencing difficulties with their eyesight. It provide a service to more than 8,000 people every year. 2,000 of whom are seeking the organisations help for the first time. See ncbi.ie

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