June Newsletter 291

The re-opening barriers facing visually impaired people

Matthew Cock (CE, VocalEyes) and a group of VocalEyes trustees and user panel members look at some of the barriers that visually-impaired people face in trying to access museums, galleries, theatres and other public spaces.



Covid-19: Henshaws survey with blind and partially sighted people

Key findings include:

The overwhelming majority of respondents had not been contacted by their local authority sensory team during the early stages of the pandemic.

41% of respondents had not received any of the public health messaging about Covid-19 in a format which is accessible to them.

One quarter of respondents had been informed they are at very high risk from Covid-19 (extremely vulnerable and should be shielding).

There is considerable variation across Greater Manchester with regard to the support people with sight loss received during this time.

Full report: https://www.henshaws.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Covid-19-Henshaws-survey-with-blind-partially-sighted-people-Final-report-15-June-2020.pdf

News release (and link to accessible plain text version): https://www.henshaws.org.uk/news/blind-and-partially-sighted-covid19-survey-report-published/

Challenges for VIPs in the Covid-19 pandemic

This article is written from my own experiences and many other individuals, some of whom are totally blind like myself while others have useful vision – Cathy Todd (From EyeEye No. 65):

Once the lockdown measures were introduced in March this immediately threw up its own issues.  It does not need much imagination to understand that many, particularly those in the high risk groups, or those living alone, felt lonely and isolated.  One of my friends whom I know very well has frequently been depressed and angry throughout this period and I know there are many, many more.  Just a phone call has been able to assist and relieve some of these good people.  I have wonderful neighbours who have offered their assistance and kindness in doing what they can but I know some people have struggled.

I know from my own experience that shopping slots are few and far between and deliveries are now tailored to when the shops have slot availability rather than to an individual’s wishes.  I have sometimes telephoned a local shop giving my list of what I need and then gone to collect it.  This is because social distancing does not allow a blind person to be taken around a store in the normal way they would be helped and assisted.  These factors mean that while the dear staff do their very best, at times substitutions or items required have either been inappropriate or not available.  A blind person cannot just jump in a car to go searching different outlets.

As a blind person many of us, including myself, require assistance with daily living tasks be it in the house or garden.  Many people have nobody to read their post or fill in forms.  A couple of blind people have told me that they have struggled putting duvet covers on, one person I know took an hour trying to do so, normally they would ask the person assisting them in the house.  Another blind friend had to ask somebody if they would be kind enough to do some weeding for them as they were beginning to find it hard picking up after their guide dog.  Social Distancing brings countless challenges.  One person was abused for going out with her guide dog by a member of the public who said that the guide dog owner could not possibly adhere to social distancing so should stay at home with their dog.  This caused upset.  Unfortunately not everybody is considerate and do not keep to the social distance rules.  Some members of the public are not observant of a blind or partially sighted person whether they have a guide dog or white cane.  A totally blind person cannot see how close somebody is whereas a partially sighted person will misjudge the distance, and their problem further compounded by not being able to see the whole picture.  The vision may be gone on one side of each eye, the person may have tunnel vision or peripheral vision and these all give very unclear and misleading information to the person.

When travelling on public transport such as buses or trains a VIP will not know what seats are taken, how far away anybody is and so have difficulty knowing where to sit themselves.  Many of the buses while they ought to have, do not have the buses talking.  This causes problems if the VIP is on a long journey or doing a journey with which they are not very familiar.  There is nobody to ask.  The drivers at a distance will not always hear the request from the VIP and this makes for a stressful journey plus uncertainty.

Due to social distancing queueing is now in place both inside and outside all premises, shops, surgeries, and so on.  A partially sighted person will not see the whole picture and often misjudges, and has difficulty, in working out exactly who is and who is not in the queue.  A totally blind person will have no idea if there is a queue, how long it is etc.  Those with a guide dog, like myself, will find themselves unceremoniously taken to the front of the queue by the guide dog.  Suddenly the silent voices pipe up “There’s a queue here!”  Oh fancy, you didn’t say anything before when I asked about the queuing situation did you?”  That is my wicked thought anyway!

I was once in the Co-op and wearing a face mask.  A kind member of staff took my list and asked me and my guide dog to wait at a safe distance from other people.  I was standing where I had been told to stand when a lady decided that it was imperative she speak to my guide dog.  She came closer and closer and I had nowhere to back away.  I asked politely that she move and so she proceeded to tut and blow!

One of my friends who lives alone, recently had her guide dog poisoned and the dog became very ill and has had to be taken away to, hopefully recover.  Her cleaner does not go in the house anymore and her friends are unable to help her outside when she is walking.  As a result she uses her cane to go out for walks but this causes her stress rather than enjoyment.  It can be hard for blind people to get the exercise they require or long for.