Tag Archives: guiding a blind person

How to Assist a Blind Person During Social Distancing

I received this message from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA), the charity which trains guide dogs in the UK, and thought it would be of value to my readers as it offers useful tips on how to assist a visually impaired person during this time of social distancing:

“Did you know that only one fifth of the public ‘completely comfortable’ offering to help someone with sight loss while social distancing is in place?*

“Today Guide Dogs has launched a new campaign called ‘Be There’ to give the public ways of supporting people with sight loss during social distancing.

“Social distancing is the most challenging aspect for me in the whole Covid-19 situation… it would really help if people have an awareness of how they can play their part.” Jonathan, guide dog owner

Jon is not alone in this, we’ve heard similar stories many times over the past few months. That’s why we’ve come up with 3 simple tips for the wider public to help them support people with sight loss:

1. Keep your distance, but don’t disappear – People with sight loss may find it challenging to social distance, so if you see someone with a Guide Dog or a long cane then you can help them by making sure you keep 2m away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also offer your help.

2. Say hello and offer your help – Simply by letting someone with sight loss know you are nearby; you are giving them the opportunity to ask for any help if they need it. People often feel unsure about their ability to help someone with sight loss, but their request could be a simple as finding out where a shopping queue starts, or if there is a safer place to cross a road.

3. Describe the scene – We’ve all had to adapt to unusual sights during lockdown – people standing apart in long lines outside of supermarkets for example. But those with sight loss haven’t always witnessed this to the same extent, which can be isolating and confusing. By describing what you can see to someone with sight loss, you can help them to understand the environment and navigate accordingly”.

As a visually impaired person and a guide dog owner, I have, I think been lucky as I’ve continued to find the public helpful during the current COVID-19 situation. Just last evening I was walking home after having spent a couple of hours with a friend in Crystal Palace park, when I became aware that the pavement was blocked by workmen carrying out pavement works. Without me asking, one of the workmen offered me his arm and guided me passed the obstruction. Again, a few weeks back, a gentleman helped me navigate fallen branches in my local woodland by allowing me to take his arm.

(You can find out more about the work of Guide Dogs here, https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/).

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).

Kevin