Charity warns of ‘double lockdown’ for people with sight loss

Post date: 
Tuesday, 7 July 2020

·      As lockdown eases, blind and partially sighted people are increasingly anxious about venturing out says RNIB

·      Visually impaired people rely on others to maintain a safe distance, but nearly half (44 per cent) of public report breaking social distancing rules

·      Now, two thirds (66 per cent) of blind and partially sighted people feel less independent than before lockdown

·      Amazon, Very.co.uk, Kellogg’s, Barclays, P&G, TalkTalk, Financial Times, LEGO and British Gas join campaign

As lockdown eases, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is warning that blind and partially sighted people’s independence is increasingly under threat.

Social distancing, which relies heavily on sight, has made it nearly impossible for people with vision impairment to navigate safely and independently in a world turned ‘upside down’ by measures and rules that are often inaccessible.

In response, RNIB has launched the World Upside Down campaign today (Monday 6 July), calling for people to think about the challenges blind and partially sighted people might face and make small changes to keep everyone safe. Its launch sees Europe’s biggest advertising display, the Piccadilly Lights*, running upturned displays in London every hour as a representation of the World Upside Down that people with sight loss are facing.

Eleanor Southwood, Chair of Trustees at RNIB, said: “Blind and partially sighted people like me are used to navigating a world not designed with us in mind, but social distancing has really turned our world upside down. A lot of the strategies and tools we use to get around safely – like being guided – are not allowed under current rules, and many have been left stranded.

“We’ve heard from many blind and partially sighted people who are incredibly anxious about how to manage the situation, and we’re concerned that this will have a real impact on people’s quality of life. The ‘new normal’ risks causing a double lockdown for people with sight loss. This is not fair or acceptable.

“We’re asking the general public to help us safely social distance whilst getting on with life. By being aware of the challenges we might face, and simply asking if assistance is needed, you can help us keep our independence and stay safe. We also want the Government and businesses to take action, so that measures designed to protect us are inclusive to everyone, not just to those who can see them.”

There are more than two million people with sight loss in the UK, many of whom trust in others to help them social distance effectively by moving away. But, in an RNIB poll of the general public, nearly half (44 per cent) of people admitted to breaking social distancing rules[1].

The charity has also heard from many blind and partially sighted people who say that difficulties with social distancing have negatively impacted their lives. In an RNIB survey of people with sight loss, two thirds (66 per cent) of people said they feel less independent now than before lockdown, and four in five (80 per cent) said the way they shop has changed, with half as many continuing to shop independently[2].

Rachael Pereira, 33, from Nottingham, is registered severely sight impaired. She is completely blind in her left eye due to bilateral congenital cataracts, and tunnel vision in her right eye as a result of glaucoma. She said: “People tell me off for getting too close to them, but I can’t see them there. It’s really upsetting because it makes me feel as though I put people at risk of contracting coronavirus.

“It’s not just people either. I’ve even bumped my head on the clear Perspex screens at supermarket tills because they aren’t clearly marked. It’s little things like this happening every day that make me feel inferior and put me off from going out alone at all.

“If people were more aware of the blind or partially sighted people around them, I feel like they might be more understanding. And I really feel that floor markings for social distancing should be made tactile, so that I can feel them with my cane. It’s little changes like this that could make a big difference.”

As part of its World Upside Down campaign, RNIB is working with organisations across the UK, such as Amazon, Very.co.uk, Kellogg’s, Barclays, P&G, TalkTalk, Financial Times, LEGO and British Gas, to share images of upturned items on social media to highlight the issue. It is also asking people to lend their support by turning their social media profile pictures upside down and testing themselves with the charity’s online social distancing quiz.

Ms Southwood continued: “Ninety percent of people we talked to felt that continuing to social distance is important, and eighty per cent agreed that sighted people should proactively help those who can’t see to social distance effectively. Just being aware of the people around you and offering to help can have a positive impact and help build someone’s confidence, rather than damage it.”

*The Piccadilly Lights artwork was created by The&Partnership and is being hosted by Ocean Outdoor without charge.

The Piccadilly Lights are owned by Landsec and operated by Ocean Outdoor.

Notes to editors

All media enquiries to Emily Peachey on 0203 829 2917 or [email protected].

Or, for urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.

About the research

1.    A survey was run by Opinium in June 2020 to research public attitudes and understanding of current social distancing measures. The survey received results from 2,002 UK adults weighted to be nationally representative. Full results as below:

·      Across the UK almost two thirds (65%) think the rules are clear, however nearly half (44%) admitted to breaking the rules over the last seven days

·      Men were more likely to admit to breaking social distancing rules (49% of men, compared to 38% of women)

·      Younger people are also more likely to admit to breaking the rules compared to older people (61% of 18 to 34-year-olds versus 32% of those aged 55+)

·      With Leicester having been placed back under lockdown last week, those in the East Midlands were the most likely to admit breaking rules (61%) in June

·      Despite many breaking the rules, 90% believe it’s important to continue social distancing

·      When interactions between sighted people and blind or partially sighted people occur in public spaces, four fifths (80%) think it should be up to sighted people to avoid getting close to those who are blind or partially sighted, and the vast majority (91%) said they would be happy to help in some way.

2.    This RNIB survey ran from Tuesday 28 April to Monday 11 May. There were 26 questions in total covering access to food, accessible information and social isolation. In total there were 471 responses across the UK from variety of people covering different levels of sight impairment.

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk



[1] Research for RNIB was carried out by Opinium between 26/06/20 and 29/06/20 using a sample of 2,002 UK adults weighted to be nationally representative.

[2] Research was carried out by RNIB between 28/04/20 and 11/05/20 amongst a sample of 471 blind and partially sighted people in the UK.