Blind and partially sighted people in Scotland can be guided by someone living outwith their household if necessary, the Minister for Older People and Equalities Christina McKelvie MSP has confirmed.
The ruling has been welcomed by RNIB Scotland. It points to a survey last month in which 25 per cent of respondents said they did not have someone in the same household who could guide them.
In a response to a parliamentary question from South of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth, Ms McKelvie reaffirmed it is permissible to help anyone at risk who needs support, including guiding for people with sight loss.
“The Scottish Government has used 'at risk', rather than 'vulnerable' to reflect that a lot of people do not consider themselves vulnerable but may, due to a range of circumstances which may or may not be medical, find themselves at greater risk than the wider population," Ms McKelvie said.
"This may include those who require a guide from another household.”
The Scottish Government, however, is emphasising 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.
RNIB Scotland director James Adams said: “This is very welcome news for blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are older and may live alone. We know some felt very isolated and unsure about going out by themselves.
"This can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to do things that the rest of us take for granted such as navigating shops, taking part in daily exercise, and being confident that you are socially distanced from others when out and about.
"Being able to be guided by someone outside your household if necessary will help reassure many people who felt their ability to leave their house has been eroded since lockdown.”
To highlight the difficulties with social distancing generally, RNIB is today launching its 'World Upside Down' campaign across the UK, asking people to think about the challenges those with sight loss face. Its launch will see Europe’s biggest advertising display in London's Piccadilly Circus running upturned images every hour, including those of Amazon, Kellogg’s, Barclays, LEGO and British Gas.
Amanda Foster from Aberdeen is registered blind and feels social distancing restrictions are placing a disproportionate strain on people with sight loss. "People who feel safer going out a walk or run whilst being guided should be able to do those things without fear of reprisals," she said.
"Exercise helps with mental health, which is vital if we are going to be able to get through this. In normal circumstances blind people can find it difficult to exercise but in these difficult times, it’s virtually impossible. Physical distancing is having a terrible effect on my mental health and I’m sure it’s having the same effect on others."
In a survey the charity has commissioned alongside the campaign, 35 per cent of respondents in Scotland said they had broken social distancing rules in the past seven days. However, 83 per cent also thought the onus was more on a sighted person to maintain their distance from a person with sight loss than vice versa, and 93 per cent said they would be happy to help a blind or partially sighted person to socially distance in public.