World Upside Down: How we’re trying to make businesses’ social distancing measures more accessible

Post date: 
Wednesday, 15 July 2020
Category: 
Campaigning
Other campaigning
A pink circle with two white footprints, under which it reads 'Keep safe and keep your distance'

One of the ways social distancing has turned the World Upside Down for blind and partially sighted people has been changes to familiar environments.

 

New shop layouts, signage and tape on the floor have made navigation more difficult. We’re asking the Government to act.

What we are asking for

The Government has already released guidance called Working Safely During Coronavirus , but the references to disability in the guidance are limited. It refers to the Equality Act and how the need to make reasonable adjustments still applies. We think it’s important this guidance is amended to explain the type of measures that might be inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people, and suggests alternatives.

It is very hard to know how to keep two 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.

Supermarkets

At the beginning of lockdown lots of blind and partially sighted people were reporting difficulties with getting hold of food. Where new Perspex screens, one-way layouts, new signage or markings were introduced on the floor to enforce social distancing, these were rarely accessible for blind and partially sighted people. These changes introduced additional hazards while also creating social pressure for people to stick to rules that weren’t accessible for them.

At the beginning I did go to the shops as I normally would. The staff were very panicked … and didn’t know what to do; I felt embarrassed … this has made me really worried about this I’m going to manage once lockdown is lifted.

We launched a petition with other sight loss charities  which more than 22,000 people signed. This support helped us persuade Defra to allow referrals to priority shopping delivery slots for blind and partially sighted people who need them through the RNIB Helpline . 

RNIB also produced best practice guidance for supermarkets explaining how to make their social distancing measures more accessible. Many supermarkets trained their store staff about how best to support blind and partially sight customers while social distancing  and Tesco sent electric tape to its stores for application on Perspex screens to make them easier to see.

Other businesses

As it became clearer that social distancing was here to stay, we realised that the challenges blind and partially sighted people were experiencing were likely to apply to other business and services as well, not just supermarkets. Although we could contact all the major supermarket chains it just wasn’t possible to do the same with all workplaces, services and businesses.

At the beginning of May, we contacted civil servants at the Department for Business, the Environment, Innovation and Skills (BEIS) asking them to issue guidance to service providers, businesses and employers to explain how to make social distancing measures accessible.

When we released our social distancing research  and shared it with MPs and Lords, a number of them helped raise the profile of the issue  by asking questions about it in Parliament, like this one from Daniel Zeichner MP:

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what guidance he has provided to businesses on how to make social distancing accessible for people with sight loss and other hidden disabilities.

We also discussed the importance of these adjustments with Justin Tomlinson MP, the Minister for Disabled People, who supported our ask and made sure we were in touch with the right people in government who could make it happen. 

We are now working behind the scenes to help make sure the right adjustments are included in the Working Safely with Coronavirus guidance, and we hope to have good news soon.

Find out more about the World Upside Down campaign and how you can help.