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One in five people with sight loss rationed food during lockdown as loss of independence begins to impact says RNIB

New research from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) shows that three quarters of blind and partially sighted people have struggled to access food during lockdown, with one in five people with sight loss (21 per cent) saying they had to ration food.

David Clarke, RNIB Director of Services 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.

“As lockdown eases but social distancing continues to be enforced, the visual nature of restrictions risks a disproportionate impact on blind and partially sighted people, restricting their ability to access services and transport.

“We have received hundreds of calls to our Helpline during lockdown from blind and partially sighted people about challenges accessing supermarkets, and we are concerned this is just the tip of the iceberg. As shops and services begin to open up, visual cues simply don’t work for blind and partially sighted people, so it’s essential businesses know how to enforce social distancing accessibly.”

RNIB is calling on the Government to take four key actions to prevent this significant backward step:

  1. Provide specific guidance for the two million blind and partially sighted people on social distancing so people feel confident in going out and about. Many people rely on being guided when they go out, so clear rules would help them understand their options and reassure them that they are not breaking the rules.
  2. Provide clear guidance for businesses and employers on how to make social distancing measures accessible, for example advising them to explain any new rules to blind and partially sighted customers verbally.
  3. 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.
  4. Ensure all updates about coronavirus are easily available in formats that blind and partially sighted people can read, and apps and testing are accessible. A quarter (26%) of respondents said that they had struggled to get written information in a format that they could read and one in six (17%) said that they had struggled to access online information.

David added: “Social distancing is near-impossible for many blind and partially sighted people which makes it difficult to go out and get food or other essentials, with two-thirds of people surveyed saying lockdown has made them feel less independent. Social distancing has made it hard to exercise or attend medical appointments, while isolation is impacting people psychologically as well as practically, adding to stress.

“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.”

The survey also revealed:

  • Three quarters of those surveyed (74 per cent) are concerned about getting access to food.
  • Two-thirds (66 per cent) of blind and partially sighted respondents feel less independent now compared to before lockdown.
  • Many blind and partially people depend on a guide to go out, but one in four (25 per cent) have said that they don’t have someone in the same household who can guide them.
  • Pre-lockdown, 28 per cent of respondents said that they got their shopping by navigating around shops themselves. Now, 14 per cent of respondents go to the shops themselves.
  • Pre-lockdown, 18 per cent of respondents got their shopping by someone going to the shops for them. Now, 49 per cent of respondents get their shopping this way.

About the research

  • This survey ran from Tuesday 28 April to Monday 11 May
  • In total there were 471 responses. 313 respondents were from England, 15 from NI, 68 from Scotland and 74 from Wales Eight focus groups, including 60 blind and partially sighted people.
  • A variety of people responded covering different levels of sight impairment, different mobility aid users and a range of ages. 59% of respondents were severely sight impaired, 29% were sight impaired and 12% have a sight condition but are not registered.

Notes to editors

About Sight Loss in the UK

  • Every day 250 people start to lose their sight
  • At least half of all sight loss is avoidable
  • More than two million people have sight loss
  • 350,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted

All media enquiries to the RNIB PR team at [email protected]  or 020 7391 2223. For urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit