The effect of lockdown and social distancing on blind and partially sighted people

 

Graphic showing footprints and the 2 metre suggested distancing

Our research shows how social distancing is near-impossible for many blind and partially sighted people.

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Inaccessible signage and fears about how the public will react are causing additional stress and worry for blind and partially sighted people and that is why we are calling on the Government to:

  • Issue guidance to service providers, businesses and employers to explain how to make social distancing measures accessible;
  • Communicate to the public why people with hidden disabilities such as sight loss find it more difficult to social distance, and reduce the stigma on people unable to do so;
  • Create tailored guidance for blind and partially sighted people on social distancing, including clear rules around guiding;
  • Ensure all updates about coronavirus are easily available in formats blind and partially sighted people can read, and apps and testing are accessible.

Here's some of the key findings

Access to services, businesses and workplaces

Lockdown has affected everyone’s access to services, but the nature of social distancing rules means they have disproportionally affected blind and partially sighted people as the social infrastructure and norms many rely on - such as access to supermarket online delivery slots - have been lost or eroded

74% of respondents were either very or quite concerned about getting access to food while 21% of people reported that they had had to ration food.

It is very hard to know how to keep 2 metres away from people when you can't judge distance… I can't see the markings on the floor, so have been shouted at… I ended up in tears. It's not my fault that I can't see the floor markings.

We are calling on the Government to issue guidance to service providers, businesses and employers to explain how to make social distancing measures accessible.

Public perceptions

The population is concerned about the risk of contracting coronavirus, and the rules about how to social distance have been helpful in reducing the virus’s spread. However, these rules are inherently visual and have been incredibly challenging, if not impossible to follow for many for blind and partially sighted people. Many people with sight loss are unable to keep two metres away from other people and guide dogs are not trained this way. Blind and partially sighted people who haven’t been able to keep their distance have reported being confronted by passers-by, or being so nervous about breaking the rules that they have lost confidence and are concerned about leaving the house. 

I feel I mustn’t go out because I can’t social distance on the street due to my blindness.

We are calling on the Government to communicate to the public why people with hidden disabilities such as sight loss find it more difficult to social distance, and reduce the stigma on people unable to do so.

Effects on independence and mental wellbeing

Two-thirds (66%) of blind and partially sighted respondents feel less independent now compared to before lockdown. Many people depend on a guide to get out and about but one in four (25%) blind and partially sighted people told us they don’t have someone in the same household as them who can guide. The close contact required when guiding means many people have lost this way of leaving the house, leaving people feeling much less independent. 

I live alone and feel isolated and alone for the first time in my life. I am also very acutely aware of my sight impairment in ways I am not usually.

We are calling on Public Health England to create tailored guidance for blind and partially sighted people on social distancing. Clear rules on guiding would help people understand their options and reassure people that they are not breaking the rules. 

Access to information

As the Government, health officials and businesses have been grappling with the spread of coronavirus, vital information about changes in advice or policy has had to be communicated to the public extremely quickly. However, it seems this had led to such communications not going through the usual processes and accessibility checks. A quarter (26%) of respondents said that they had struggled to get written information in a format that they could read and 17% said that they had struggled to access online information. 

I am a very independent person but feel disempowered by the lack of accessible information that has been sent out regarding covid 19. It feels like people with sight loss are being left out. I feel like we've been treated as if we don't exist. It's almost expected that everyone has access to the internet which not everyone does.

It is essential that all updates about coronavirus are easily available in formats blind and partially sighted people can read, and apps and testing are accessible. 

Download the full briefing