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Coming out of lockdown, together

RNIB’s work on the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown.

A woman's face is in partial view wearing the PGMS face mask.

Since the first coronavirus lockdown, we’ve all been adjusting as much as possible to the daily challenges of the pandemic, including restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus.

But social distancing can be near impossible if you cannot see to keep your distance from others or take account of visual cues like signs or markers. This can make it very difficult to take essential journeys or exercise and has had a big impact on the independence and confidence of many blind and partially sighted people.

As lockdown eases and it becomes easier to get out and about, it’s essential that measures to enforce social distancing don’t inadvertently restrict blind and partially sighted people’s independence.

We’re calling on members of the public, businesses and the Government to be aware of the challenges facing blind and partially sighted people, and to make social distancing measures accessible. We’ve produced guidance to help companies do this and have fed into the Government’s advice for businesses. We’ll continue to provide information, advice and support to blind and partially sighted people through our Sight Loss Advice Service. We also continue to make sure that all Government policy on coronavirus – from social distancing to accessing a test to getting a vaccine works for blind and partially sighted people.

How the public can help

Our social distancing quiz and Top Tips film explain the challenges a blind or partially sighted person might have with social distancing and, importantly, how members of the public can help.

Remember to:

  • maintain space
  • be patient
  • be helpful

How businesses can help

We’ve created best practice guidance to help businesses understand how to support blind and partially sighted customers, with different guidance for retail, leisure, hospitality and public transport. As businesses begin to reopen, it’s important their safety measures follow the Equality Act, still allowing blind and partially sighted customers to access their services.

The Government has a key role to play and it has recently updated its guidance on how businesses can work safely as coronavirus restrictions ease. We’ve made it clear businesses need to consider accessibility in every step of planning and providing services.

How the Government can help

Since the outbreak of the pandemic we’ve been working to make sure that information on coronavirus and Government measures to reduce the spread work for blind and partially sighted people.

We’ve had a number of successes, including our work on improving the accessibility of the coronavirus test and on sighted guiding, but there’s more to do.

Public health information on coronavirus

We’ve been calling on the Government to ensure all public health communications are accessible. Alternative formats should be routinely and automatically sent to those who need them, using communications preferences recorded by GPs. But a year since the first lockdown, alternative formats have only been available to people who seek them out.

We’re delighted the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has recently agreed to make sure accessible formats are consistently recorded and acted on, after a blind person brought a legal case on failures with coronavirus shielding letters. We were pleased to be involved in this case, and we look forward to the Government delivering on its agreed changes.

Access to coronavirus vaccination

After ongoing campaigning, the Vaccines Minister told us his team is looking at how people can routinely get vaccine appointment booking information in their preferred formats. We don’t yet have any timelines for this change, so we will continue to raise this issue with the Government to ensure action is taken.

We also have emphasised the need for vaccine appointments to be available at accessible local venues, with support provided by trained sighted guiders when needed. We’ll be monitoring this as the vaccine roll-out continues.

RNIB information and support

Sighted guiding

We’ve continued updating our guidance on sighted guiding support as coronavirus restrictions have changed, after campaigning successfully for clarity from the Government that if the right mitigations were in place, sighted guiding could go ahead. Our guidance explains how sighted guiding can be provided during social distancing, while taking steps to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection.

Priority supermarket delivery

Blind or partially sighted people finding it difficult to access essential shopping can contact the RNIB helpline for advice and support on 0303 123 9999.

Eye health and attending eye clinics

Anyone with questions or concerns about their sight or eye condition during coronavirus, or anyone concerned about safely attending their eye clinic appointment can call the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 999.

Mental health and wellbeing

Lots of us are finding this time challenging and so it's vital to continue to look after our mental health. Whether you’re struggling with feelings of isolation and need to speak to someone, or if you just want some tips on how to maintain your mental health, you can speak to the RNIB Sight Loss Advice Service by calling 0303 123 9999.

Making connections

We have many ways of keeping people connected online and through different communities. For example, our Facebook groups are a welcoming and supportive space for people affected by sight loss, and our Connect Voices network offers the chance to get involved with RNIB’s work, and to share experiences.