Man walking with guide dog in public space

Social distancing challenges for people with a visual impairment

Social distancing is a difficult thing for everyone to get used to, but for those with visual impairments this difficulty is amplified. So, as we’re finding our ‘new normal’ we thought we’d share some of the challenges that people with sight loss face and will continue to experience during the current social distancing requirements. Please be aware that someone around you might have a visual impairment and don’t make assumptions on what people can and cannot see. 

Keeping 2 metres apart

In shops, restaurants and many other communal spaces, 2 metre indicators are displayed on the floor to help customers adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Many people who are experiencing sight loss will not be able to see these markers and may not be able to judge 2 metres as a distance. Many visual impairments are not visible to others and this often causes misunderstandings.

Standing behind lines on the floor

Many checkout and ordering systems now require customers to stand behind an indicated line on the floor. Although this is a very useful tool for sighted people, again, those who have sight loss are unable to see these indicators and in many cases are completely unaware of their presence. As a result, people with visual impairments may step over the line or get closer than advised, leading to misunderstandings with staff members and other members of the public.

Queuing to enter shops

The capacity restrictions on shops and venues has resulted in queuing outside of these premises prior to entering. Guide dogs are trained to take their owners directly to the entrance of a shop and so have been continuing to do so during these unprecedented times. There have been a number of instances where people with visual impairments have entered a shop without knowing that there has been a queuing system due to following the lead of their guide dog. 

Not being able to enter with a carer

If you have sight loss you are often in need of support from a carer, both to shop and to find your way around. There are a number of shops who only allow one person from each household to enter at a time, therefore resulting in the refused entry of a carer. This puts those with visual impairments in the impossible position of having to do the task alone, whilst not being able to see both where they are going or what is on the shelf in front of them.

One way systems

Similar to that of floor markings, one way systems have been introduced in most shops and public places. Although a useful tool for sighted people, those with visual impairments are unable to see the directions being displayed or if there are no entry areas. The marking of the direction paths can also be a hazard with people walking into heavy signage.

This is a difficult time for everyone, and it will take a lot for us all to get used to. As you’re out shopping, keep in mind that people around you might have a visual impairment and lend a ‘socially distanced’ hand where you can.

As a charity that supports people affected by sight loss in the local community, our vital work is only possible through fundraising. As our fundraising events have been cancelled due to COVID-19, we are asking anyone who would like to offer their support to please donate via the East Cheshire Eye Society Local Giving page:

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