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How “support bubbles” can help with sighted guiding in England

We’ve put together new guidance for sighted guiding in England, following the introduction of “support bubbles” for people living as the sole adult in a household.

Image: A young man guiding a woman holding a white cane

The support bubble arrangements allow someone who needs guidance, who lives alone or as the sole parent with children under 18, to choose another person or family living together to help, without worrying about social distancing regulations.

Whilst we still advise that people should be careful outside the home, support bubbles should greatly increase the opportunity for some blind people to get out and about as lockdown eases, in the same way as everyone else.

These arrangements will cover almost half of blind or partially sighted people. Our research indicates that 45 per cent of blind or partially sighted people live alone.

However, we have also called on Public Health England (PHE) to develop clear guidance for blind and partially sighted people on how guiding in all settings can be carried out safely. We are currently awaiting a response from them, on our suggested guidance on sighted guiding and social distancing, which would cover everyone else who is not extremely clinically vulnerable and shielding, as well as guiding in train stations and supermarkets.

Sarah Lambert, Head of Social Change at RNIB, said: “This issue is one of the main concerns currently raised through our helpline and it is a significant barrier to blind and partially sighted people being able to enjoy the relaxations of coronavirus restrictions equitably.

“Our guidelines have been developed to reflect current Public Health England advice, with the support of blind people who are regularly guided themselves, and RNIB staff who train sighted guides. While they do only cover people who are able to form support bubbles, this will still be good news to the blind and partially sighted people who live as the only adult in their house.

“Public Health England needs to urgently produce guidance on wider sighted guiding for people who are not covered by support bubbles. We need to hear from them what is regarded as safe practice.”

“We hope to be able to share guidance on sighted guiding that applies to the whole of the UK when we’ve received advice on what practice is considered safe from the national Public Health bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Read our guidance on our Policy and Reports pages. More information on getting around during the coronavirus pandemic can be found on our Sight Advice FAQs, and you can speak to our helpline on 0303 123 9999, from 8am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.