RNIB - See differently

World Upside Down – Social distancing with sight loss

Blind and partially sighted people are used to navigating a complicated world. But coronavirus has turned the world upside down. 

Social distancing relies on being able to see where others are, something that’s impossible for many people with sight loss, and this has impacted on people’s independence and confidence. It has become difficult, if not impossible, for many to go out for every-day essentials like food, exercise and medical appointments. 

We want more and more people to understand the challenges blind and partially sighted people are facing and, if they can, learn how to help. Take our quiz to find out more about the challenges faced by people with sight loss and how you can help.

Question 1

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Correct. Actually, all three answers are correct, but many people don’t realise that you can’t always tell whether someone is blind or partially sighted. Not everyone with sight loss uses a visual aid such as a cane, or a guide dog. Sight loss is a spectrum, from no sight at all to blank or fuzzy patches in your vision, which means the reality of sight loss varies for each individual. Sight loss can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

Question 2

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Correct. Yes, a long white cane is used to avoid obstacles and navigate using kerbs and tactile paving if you have restricted or no vision. And did you know that there are three more types of canes, each meaning something different? A symbol cane: to say you have low but useful vision; a guide cane to find obstacles before they find you (!); and a red and white banded cane, to show to others you have low hearing and vision.

Incorrect Sadly, a long cane would be of little use to find treasure, but it is a great way to avoid obstacles and navigate using kerbs and tactile paving if you have restricted or no vision. And did you know that there are three more types of canes, each meaning something different? A symbol cane: to say you have low but useful vision; a guide cane to find obstacles before they find you(!); and a red and white banded cane, to show to others you have low hearing and vision.

Incorrect The long cane is used to avoid obstacles if you have restricted or no vision and navigate using kerbs and tactile paving. You were thinking of a symbol cane which is shorter and shows others you have low but useful vision. In addition to the long and symbol cane there is also the guide cane, which helps to find obstacles before they find you(!) and the red and white banded cane, which shows you have low hearing and vision.

Question 3

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Incorrect.  66 per cent - that’s two thirds! - of blind and partially sighted people told RNIB they feel less independent now compared to before lockdown. If you see someone struggling to keep their distance, please make sure you give them space. If you are concerned about them introduce yourself and ask if you can help.

Correct.  66 per cent - that’s two thirds! - of blind and partially sighted people told RNIB they feel less independent now compared to before lockdown. If you see someone struggling to keep their distance, please make sure you give them space. If you are concerned about them introduce yourself and ask if you can help.

Question 4

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Correct. Yes, please do make sure you give them the space they need. Social distancing is near impossible if you are blind or partially sighted so giving space is really appreciated. It helps keep everyone safe.

Incorrect. If you shout over to a person who might not know you’re there, you could startle or shock them. Why not just make sure you give them the space they need? Social distancing is near impossible if you are blind or partially sighted and we know a lot of people with sight loss are nervous about being able to keep their distance.

Incorrect. Please don’t run! We aren’t that scary. Why not just make sure you give the person the space they need? Social distancing is near impossible if you are blind or partially sighted and we know a lot of people with sight loss are nervous about being able to keep their distance.

Question 5

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Correct. Consider if they have a hidden disability. Sight loss is a spectrum and many people will have some sight and prefer not to use a visual aid such as a cane or a guide dog. So, give them the benefit of the doubt if someone appears to be struggling to keep their distance.

Incorrect. Rather than assume a person doesn’t understand the rules, perhaps consider that they might have a hidden disability. Sight loss is a spectrum and many people will have some sight and prefer not to use a visual aid such as a cane or a guide dog. So, give them the benefit of the doubt if someone appears to be struggling to keep their distance.

Incorrect. They might appear to not care about other’s safety but perhaps they have a hidden disability that makes keeping a distance in a queue more difficult. Sight loss is a spectrum and many people will have some sight and prefer not to use a visual aid such as a cane or a guide dog. So, give them the benefit of the doubt if someone appears to be struggling to keep their distance.

Question 6

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Incorrect. Walking the other way is always an option – and certainly better than grabbing someone’s arm without warning – and might be the best thing to do if the person is confidently navigating the store. But, if you are concerned about the person, why not introduce yourself and ask if you can help? It will feel better than worrying about what happened after you left.

Incorrect. It’s great that you’re keen to help, but how would you feel if someone sprayed you with sanitizer and then took your arm without asking you first? Remember not to be awkward around blind and partially sighted people; if you’re concerned about someone just introduce yourself and ask if you can help.

Correct. By introducing yourself and asking if you can help, you are letting the person know you are there and willing to offer assistance, which they can choose to accept if they need.

Question 7

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Incorrect. Unfortunately, just 14 per cent of blind and partially sighted people told us they were still going shopping in-store independently during lockdown. That’s half as many as before social distancing measures were introduced, showing the real impact this is having on many people’s independence.

Correct. Unfortunately, just 14 per cent of blind and partially sighted people told us they were still going shopping in-store independently during lockdown. That’s half as many as before social distancing measures were introduced, showing the real impact this is having on many people’s independence.

Question 8

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Correct. Describe their surroundings and the route they need to take. You could also ask the person if they are able to see at all as many people with sight loss still have some useful vision.

Incorrect. We’re used to using phrases like “over there” and pointing when directing people anywhere, to a seat at a table, a restroom or to the tube, and it can actually be quite a tough habit to break. But if you can’t see, this won’t be any help! Try describing the surroundings and the route they need to take. Remember to say “left” or “right”. Describe the landmarks or obstacles they might come across on the way.

Incorrect. You could tell them to ask a police officer but finding one might be difficult! Try describing the surroundings and the route they need to take. We’re used to using phrases like “over there” and pointing when directing people anywhere, to a seat at a table, a restroom or to the tube. This can actually be quite a tough habit to break. But if you can’t see, these phrases won’t be any help! Try describing the surroundings and the route they need to take. Remember to use left and right directions and use landmarks or obstacles they might come across on the way.

Question 9

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Incorrect. Some blind and partially sighted people have been “helped” across a road that they didn’t want to cross by well-meaning passers-by! You would also risk breaking social distancing rules by getting too close. To make sure you’re needed ask if you can help and don’t take someone’s arm without asking first.

Incorrect. Many people avoid a person using a cane, or with a guide dog, because they are unsure how to help. If you think someone is struggling, rather than avoid them, why not simply ask if you can help and let the person tell you what would be useful!

Correct. Ask if you can help if you’re concerned someone is struggling, whether or not they are disabled. You might be able to make their day a bit easier.

Question 10

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Correct! In fact, all of these measures could be difficult for blind and partially sighted people. Transparent Perspex screens can be difficult to see if you have a visual impairment and one-way systems are usually enforced using signage on the floor which many blind or partially sighted people won’t be able to see. We have even heard of blind and partially sighted people, accompanied by another person acting as their guide, being turned away from shops because shops haven’t known not to rigorously enforce the “one adult” rule when someone needs a guide. Social distancing relies on being able to see how far away other people are, which is why it’s been so difficult for many blind and partially sighted people.

Now you understand a bit more about the challenges we are experiencing while social distancing, and why our world has been turned upside down.

Now find out more about the work we do and sign up to our enews or visit our campaigns page.

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