People with disabilities are disproportionately at higher risk to COVID-19 and its long term social and economic consequences, yet existing emergency responses to COVID-19 fail to prioritise them. This includes those who are visually impaired.
As we move towards a new normal that’s consistent with social distancing measures, it is crucial the COVID-19 response is disability-inclusive. Social distancing can be hard for many disabled people, including those with sight loss, not least due to the inaccessibility of information (e.g. BSL interpreted announcements) and overall ability to stay up to date.
Small changes put in place to help maintain social distancing, like new queuing systems in shops, rely on visual clues and the ability to judge distance, make it harder for many disabled people to navigate even previously familiar environments. With reports that some disabled people have been confronted in the street by other members of the public who haven’t understood why they haven’t been able to follow social distancing rules, it is vital to raise awareness of the lack of inclusion amongst existing COVID-19 Response measures, particularly, social distancing.
Many blind and partially sighted people have shared feelings of anxiety around being unable to socially distance and how this has directly affected their wellbeing, either because they’re concerned about being at increased risk of catching the virus, or because they’re worried about other people’s reactions to them not being able to keep their distance. It is, therefore, unsurprising that 66% of blind and partially sighted people told RNIB they feel less independent now than before lockdown.
Director of Services, David Clarke said:
The unique challenges of social distancing for blind and partially sighted people have hit hard, with two-thirds reporting feeling less independent since lockdown.
Keeping two metres away from other people is really challenging when you have blank patches in your vision or you can’t see how far away other people are. Some people with sight loss have been confronted by passers-by as they have been unable to keep their distance, while others are so nervous about breaking the rules they’ve lost confidence and are unwilling to leave the house.
However, there are steps we can take within our local communities to be inclusive. First, RNIB asks for members of the public to Be Aware, Be Kind, and Offer help if they can. I highlighted the local efforts of Hannah Kelsall who created inclusive resources within my own community, to the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for a Disability-Inclusive COVID-19 response, which covered a variety of areas, including accessible communication and safety measures.
I am also supporting the RNIB with their most recent campaign ‘World Upside Down’ which has been trying to increase public understanding of the challenges some people are experiencing when trying to social distance, and RNIB have created a quiz, aimed at sighted people, to increase understanding of why social distancing might be difficult.
Please do try it out or share it on your social media channels here.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Disability is a group of Parliamentarians which focuses on the issues that affect all disabled people regardless of their disability, impairment, or health condition. Find out more about their work on their website.