The coronavirus pandemic is a stressful time for us all. But it poses unique issues for blind and partially sighted people across Wales.
We have received a 15 per cent increase in calls to the main RNIB Helpline from people all over the UK who have many questions and concerns about social distancing, delayed appointments and how to access medication.
But most concerning is the number of calls we have received from people worried about how they can do their shopping.
As the challenges of food shopping have increased amid the Covid-19 uncertainty, several UK supermarkets are offering additional services to those considered “extremely vulnerable” under the new shielding measures.
However, this “extremely vulnerable” category is restricted to people who were identified as being at severe risk of medical illness from Covid-19, and does not account for people with sight loss, who have been facing severe issues accessing food.
For the many blind and partially sighted people who rely on a combination of touch and guiding from another person to navigate, simply stepping foot into a supermarket is now a challenge. Moreover, the social distancing markers on floors and the introduction of one-way routes around supermarkets cannot easily be navigated by either long cane or guide dog users.
Online shopping is the best available alternative, but supermarket delivery slots are booked up for weeks. As a result, many people are unable to access the essentials they desperately need.
RNIB Cymru has taken this issue very seriously. We are asking the Welsh Government to urgently work with supermarkets to ensure that people with sight loss are considered a priority group able to access online shopping.
We have written to Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs calling for urgent action for blind and partially sighted people needing online slots for their groceries.
We sent a briefing on the key issues affecting blind and partially sighted people in Wales as a result of coronavirus to AMs Lynne Neagle, Rhun ap Iorwerth and Helen Mary Jones.
We have been supporting a petition by sight loss sector charities across the UK to ensure that this issue is addressed as soon as possible.
And we have been listening and responding to the many questions from the blind and partially sighted community, offering support and advice wherever we can.
We will continue working with sight loss sector charities to ensure people with sight loss are considered through this difficult time. RNIB’s Sight Loss Advice Service is available to anyone concerned on 0303 123 9999 between 8am and 8pm on weekdays, and between 9am and 5pm on Saturdays. Advice is also being updated online on the Sight Advice FAQ website.