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WorldUpsideDown: How RNIB is calling for tailored guiding advice

Measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus turned the "World Upside Down" for blind and partially sighted people. New layouts to streets and shops have been implemented at the same time as restrictions affecting how close you can get to other people.

Image: Close up of person walking on the street using a cane

World Upside Down campaign

Coronavirus measures have created general uncertainty around how blind and partially sighted people can be guided. Over the past few months, we’ve been calling for the Government to create and distribute tailored guidance for blind and partially sighted people on social distancing with clear rules around guiding.

Working with the Scottish Government, RNIB Scotland has secured confirmation that it is possible for a blind or a partially sighted person to be guided by someone from outside their household, with the Government emphasizing the importance of limiting the time spent at less than two metres from each other and of wearing a face covering and maintaining good hand hygiene.  

However, blind and partially sighted people in England, Wales and NI also need clarity as soon as possible. 

How lack of guidance is affecting blind and partially sighted people

The need for guidance has become even more important as lockdown eases and some people are able to get back to a more normal routine. It’s essential that blind and partially sighted people can access the same opportunities as everyone else. But, while social distancing measures remain at “one metre plus”, it’s still really unclear who outside of your household can act as a guide and for how long.

This uncertainty has been a main factor leading to people feeling less independent, as blind and partially sighted people have been confused about where and when they can expect assistance and what steps they should take to keep everyone safe. 

Because I live alone the isolation has been very difficult. I would usually go for walks with friends or family. However, they are so fearful of being fined as they live outside of my household .... I felt like I had been making so much progress before lockdown and now it’s as though I have taken 10 steps backwards..

Our research found that around a quarter of blind and partially sighted people don’t have someone in their household who can act as a guide, and we called on the Government to allow people to “combine” households so that those who rely on friends or family to act as a guide could use them. The support bubble initiative goes some way to addressing this, but it doesn’t work for everyone. 

What RNIB has been doing

We have been working with politicians and civil servants to clarify this issue since the beginning of April. We have written formally to Public Health England and sent over to them draft suggested guidance at the beginning of June. We brought it up with Disability Minister Justin Tomlinson, and have briefed MPs in Parliament. 

In response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Shadow Disability Minister Vicky Foxcroft MP about this issue, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care Helen Whately MP, said one of the steps they were taking to support blind and partially sighted people was “Provision of guidance and advice, including in relation to guiding ”.

Although we’re in conversations with civil servants about this, we haven’t seen the guidance referred to in this answer, so Vicky Foxcroft MP has tabled a follow-up question in Parliament asking for a copy of this guidance and how the Government is communicating it to blind and partially sighted people.