Lockdown and the Visually Impaired

As a registered blind person, I rely on the assistance of others (often strangers) in unfamiliar situations. My guide dog Trigger does an excellent job of helping to navigate London’s busy streets safely. He can not, however help me to find the platform in a station I rarely (if ever) use. Consequently I rely on sighted assistance in such situations.

The best way to guide a visually impaired person is to allow them to take your arm, and I have been assisted in this manner more times than I’ve enjoyed hot dinners. However, with the Social Distancing introduced as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, this kind of assistance is, apparently becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. Take, for example this email I received in response to my query sent to Transport for London:

“This question has actually been raised and answered already in our FAQs for station staff. Our intention is to carry on assisting Visually Impaired People in every situation. We will continue to provide assistance when asked, escort VIPs to platforms and onto trains, and also radio ahead for assistance at destinations whenever requested.

The two metre distancing rule will indeed mean we have to avoid direct contact and will make it harder to escort customers within stations, so extra time should be allowed for this. Nevertheless we will continue to do it as best we can.”

Just how (applying the 2 metre rule) will a visually impaired person be prevented from falling over obstacles, tripping on escalators etc?

Whilst I do, of course recognise the need for TFL employees to remain free (so far as is humanly possible) of Corona, I can’t help but wonder whether the use of a mask by employees, coupled with the changing of overalls after having conducted the visually impaired person would not be a more practical and sensible solution. Indeed if the visually impaired individual takes a bare arm, then the application of soap or hand sanatiser after the guidance has taken place would, surely be sufficient to prevent the possibility of COVID infection?

If any scientists happen to read this post, I would be interested to know your thoughts. In particular what are the possibilities of COVID being passed from a customer to a member of station staff (or, indeed the other way around) in what is, almost always a transaction of a few minutes?

Whilst walking through the woods yesterday, a gentleman offered his arm and helped me to pass some fallen branches which were blocking the woodland track. This response heartened me and contrasts quite starkly with the beurocratic position adopted by TFL and (doubtless) other service providers.

Of course the gentleman and I where in the good fresh air which does, I understand greatly reduce the possibility of passing the virus, particularly if one is in contact with another person only briefly. However this gentleman showed common decency and I’m grateful to him for his act of kindness.

There have been reports of neighbours and others reporting people for breaking social distancing rules. Perhaps the most famous example of this (although I have no idea who tipped off the press, or whether it was down to investigative journalism or muckraking depending on one’s perspective), was the revelation that Neil Ferguson (the scientist who’s work persuaded the government to introduce the lockdown here in the UK) had, himself been breaking social distancing rules.

The government had advised those in a relationship to either move in together (and not change between their respective homes), or to stop seeing one another during the Corona pandemic. However Professor Ferguson (a proponent of lockdown and social distancing) was found to have been seeing his married lover, (see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8289921/Scientist-advice-led-lockdown-QUITS-breaking-restrictions-meet-married-lover.html).

There was, I believe a public interest in publishing the fact that a leading proponent of lockdown was breaking the rules which he himself was advocating. However would I, personally report a neighbour if I became aware that they where seeing people in their home who did not form part of their household?

The answer to the above question is no. Whilst I am, of course concerned about Corona, I don’t wish to live in a society where (as in the former East Germany/the German Democratic Republic) or Nazi Germany, people inform on their neighbours. To me someone beating their partner (or a child) is a very good reason for calling the police, but that same man (or woman) seeing friends, a partner who doesn’t live with them, or a casual lover is not. To me what goes on behind the closed doors of a person’s home is no concern of mine (apart from the exceptions outlined above).



18 thoughts on “Lockdown and the Visually Impaired

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    Considering how difficult it is to navigate through a train station even under normal circumstances when you can’t see and have someone’s arm, I dread to think how difficult it will be if they’re insisting on this. It makes me incredibly glad I won’t be needing to use the trains any time soon. I fail to see how allowing extra time is going to solve the problem of guiding a visually impaired person safely without physical contact, and think your suggestions much more practical.

    I was glad to hear of how you were assisted by the man. I’m also pleased to report that a conversation I had with my vet regarding bringing the dogs in for their jabs in a few weeks shows they’re considering my needs as well as the need for social distancing. They’re allowing Kelly and me to come in together, despite generally asking people to avoid bringing others with them to the appointments, and have assured me that should he be unable to come for any reason they will be happy to assist me as they normally do whenever I go alone.

    It makes me sad that people are so quick to report their friends and neighbours like they’re doing. Yes, we should maintain social distancing, even as the lockdown is eased. But focus on sticking to the rules and keeping your own family safe and well, and leave others alone. Breeding hate and pointing fingers won’t help anyone, either in the short term or long term. I unfortunately know of people who have broken the rules simply for their desire for contact with certain people, but I have not reported them, nor will I. Social distancing should be observed wherever possible – situations like the above mentioned guiding of a blind person, for example, being exceptions to the rule – but who am I to judge people for the simple need for human contact?

  2. Patty

    Kevin does your guide dog not know how to follow someone?

    That’s all that is required here.

    Not knowing all I know or don’t know about how guides are trained over there I’m not judging but if you’re using a guide dog and that dog is trained to follow someone this two meter rule simply doesn’t pose a problem for you.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      To the best of my knowledge guide dogs are not trained to follow people here in the UK. Certainly I have never had this as part of my guide dog training and I am now working with my 4th assistance dog. In very crowded situations I find it difficult to believe that a guide dog (even the very best of them) could follow another person. People walk in front of me all the time and, on occasions stop dead. Also crowds can close in around one making it impossible for the dog to get through. Whilst A sighted person could, in such a situation come back and help you through the crowd, given the 2 metre distancing rule I can’t see how this work effectively, or at least as effectively as a blind person being guided by a sighted person. So I respectfully disagree with you.

      1. Patty

        Well I’m not going to argue with you. However, in the United States our dogs are taught to follow people. I work this way all the time. At the Seeing Eye where I got my dog, it was a huge part of our training. The reason you find it hard to believe is because you have never done it. So I do not take offense to that. But I can assure you that it is doable. It is sad that you were guide dog organizations are not trained to do this.
        Anyway, I was just asking. Here it is a common practice.

      2. Patty

        One more thing for you to note. I went to New York City with my dog while in training at The Seeing Eye. I both lead out with my instructor walking behind me and followed him through places. In fact, when we rode the subway together I followed him down all the flights of stairs, because I did not like escalators and I do not like putting a dog on an escalator and to the platform. Furthermore, my dog was talk to pattern which means that when I go to places like bus stops, and other places where I visit frequently, he can find them easily by mine simple instructions.
        I realize that all dog guide programs are different and it does sound like yours are much different than ours. Again, you find it hard to believe that these things are doable because you simply have never done them. But I can assure you they are doable. I’d like to invite you to go to The Seeing Eye.org and look at some of their information.

      3. K Morris Poet Post author

        Many thanks for your 2 interesting contributions.

        My guide dogs have all been trained to find familiar places. For example I can say “find Boots” in Victoria mainline station and my current guide dog will do so.

        I can understand your dog following your instructor (my own dog will tend to follow friends because he knows and feels attached to them. Indeed, when I first got him he would follow family which could be problematic as I sometimes needed to not go to the same places as them)! However whilst Trigger still has a tendency to follow friends, family etc, he is, as I said not trained to shadow people as such.

        I did take a look at the website you mention and whilst I found information about training, I couldn’t find anything specific concerning dogs being trained to follow people. If there is a specific link to such information then I would be interested to read it?

        Whilst I can’t contradict your experience (as it is your experience) I do remain sceptical that a dog can operate as effectively as a sighted guide in situations such as extremely busy stations (where the visually impaired person is unfamiliar with the layout).

        There is, of course also the issue of the majority of visually impaired people who do not use guide dogs, but utilise the long cane. If the person has no sight then, obviously an arm is essential to enable them to safely traverse unfamiliar envioronments.


      4. Patty

        No. You misunderstand me. My dog is trained to follow anybody that I wish him to. That is something that Seeing Eye trains their dogs and majority of dog guide schools in the US train their dogs to do.
        And, as far as finding familiar places goes, most of them are very good at that. Patterning is what we call it. For example, when I was walking to and from bus stops to go to work. When I would come home, there was one bus stop that I liked to get off at so that I could give Campbell a bit of exercise before we went home because he had been in the office with me all day. So I will get off at this stop, and I will cross the intersection. Well because I have spatial disorientation issues I would sometimes want to make a wrong turn after weed cross the intersection Campbell knowing that wasn’t the way he would stop, and indicate by tagging me in the direction that we were supposed to go to show me that I was going the wrong way.
        There are of course going to be differences between the way your dogs are trained and the way my dogs are trained and the way the dogs in the United States are trained versus dogs in the UK.
        Fascinating conversation.

      5. K Morris Poet Post author

        I did understand the point that you made, namely that your dog is trained to follow anyone (not just your instructor). The point I was making (perhaps not as clearly as I might have) is that my dog will follow people with whom he is familiar, but its not part of the training for him to follow anyone at my command.

        Fully sighted people sometimes lose sight of friends in a crowd so I’m sure this must happen with dogs (however well trained) from time to time and (unlike we humans) dogs can’t call on a mobile and ask “where are you?”, although it would be wonderful if they could!

        As with your dog, if I’m going in the wrong direction (or Trigger thinks I am) then he will stop and ask (in his own way) “are you sure you wish to go this way?”.

        I am sure that different training schools (from different countries) can learn from one another and this should, of course be encouraged.

        How are you finding the COVID situation as a blind person in the USA? I have, thus far found people to be helpful.


      6. Patty

        Of course, I suppose, someone could get far enough ahead of someone for the dog to lose side of them. However, if the training protocol is followed as prescribed that is as we are taught, it is highly unlikely.

      7. Patty

        If you’d like to have some information where you could pick up some more information on all of this and maybe share with your training school, send me an email. I don’t want to spam your post here.

  3. robbiesinspiration

    I was saddened to read this post, Kevin. We seem to be regressing as a society in so many important ways. I have my doubts about this covid-19 situation and the lockdown and how necessary and effective they are. I agree that soap and water and a face mask is the best response in many circumstances. Stay well, dear friend.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comment, Robbie. Yes, I fear that COVID risks driving a wedge between people, at a time when we should be coming together.

      On a different though related point, is alcohol still banned in South Africa. I know they banned its sale when the lockdown was introduced in SA.

      As you know prohibition led to a thriving blackmarket in liquor in the USA. Has anything like that occurred in South Africa?

      All the best, Kevin

  4. Pingback: I Don’t Support Mandatory Social Distancing or Lockdown as Our Response to Coronavirus – Mind Heart Potato

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