RNIB and Guide Dogs launch guidance on social distancing for NI

Post date: 
Friday, 28 August 2020
A woman with a white cane, wearing a face mask, in a grocery store

RNIB NI and Guide Dogs NI have developed guidance on social distancing for blind and partially sighted people in Northern Ireland. 

As well as Guide Dogs NI, the guidelines have been delivered in conjunction with colleagues in the Public Health Agency, Health and Social Care Board and Health Trust Sensory Support Teams. They are underpinned by current public health advice and Government guidance on coronavirus and relevant infection prevention measures. 

Two documents have been prepared. The first addresses the needs of blind and partially sighted people specifically. It covers a range of issues including guiding and mask wearing, and can be dowloaded below as a PDF or Word document:

The second is aimed at raising awareness among the wider public and service providers and offers tips on how to support blind and partially sighted people, to resume their everyday activities, as society begins to emerge from lockdown:

Heather Owens from Belfast, who is blind, has had some difficult experiences as she’s tried to navigate the new socially distanced world and very much welcomes the creation of this guidance. She said:

We need to help sighted people to better understand how difficult it is to socially distance when you can’t read the signage or see the tape. People must have patience and understanding as we’re doing our best under very difficult circumstances. My hope is that the release of this guidance will mean people will show greater awareness and kindness to people with sight loss and that my previous experience won’t be repeated.”

Country Director of RNIB in Northern Ireland, Dr Jacqueline Witherow, said: “RNIB NI was delighted to work with colleagues in Guide Dogs NI, the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency, to deliver this vital guidance. Social distancing has proved to be a tremendous challenge for people with sight loss. Our research shows that since lockdown, two thirds of blind and partially sighted people say they feel less independent. We hope that this guidance will help rebuild the independence they’ve lost and provide confidence in navigating a changed world. Just as important, we want the wider public to better understand the difficulties our community faces and the support they can provide to those with sight loss.”

Policy and Campaigns Manager at Guide Dogs Northern Ireland, Andrew Murdock, commented: “Our service users have told us of their anxiety and apprehension around getting out and about because of social distancing. These documents offer guidance that will enable the wider community and service providers to better understand the challenges and to provide the practical support necessary, to enable people living with sight loss to go about their day-to-day life with confidence.”

Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, Dr Jackie McCall, said: “We’re pleased to have worked closely with colleagues in the community sector to produce much needed information and advice. These guidelines are underpinned by current public health advice and Government guidance on Covid-19 and relevant infection prevention measures.”