Tips on Social Distancing for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The pandemic COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, and more people get infected with the virus each day. While everyone is waiting for the out-of-the-ballpark vaccine, there isn’t so much we can do but keep our selves clean and practice social distancing measures.
Social distancing has been easy for the majority, but for the blind and visually impaired, practicing it is a huge challenge.
If you or someone you know is blind or have a visual impairment, then this guide is for you. This blog post will talk about tips on social distancing for people with vision impairment.
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What is Social Distancing?
The COVID-19 spreads from person to person, usually after close contact with a person infected by the virus, for example, in a workplace, health care center, or household.
The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through respiratory droplets from respiratory symptoms like sneezing or coughing.
Social distancing means keeping space between yourself and other people. Health experts advise everyone to stay at least two arms’ length (six feet; two meters) from other people. It also means not gathering in groups or staying in crowded places.
Maintaining a safe distance from anyone who is sneezing or coughing can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, aside from other preventative measures, like washing of hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, and staying at home.
Social distancing is important because people can spread the virus before they even know they are sick. Hence, it is essential to stay away from others when possible, even if you (or they) have no symptoms.
Social Distancing Is A Challenge for People with Visual Impairment
We’ve all been inside supermarkets and see stickers on the floor that mark a six-feet distance, as well as tapes designating one-way aisles. We have also seen social distancing circles at Dolores Park in San Francisco to remind people to stay away from each other.
Now, what if you have a visual impairment? How do you manage to roam around public places and practice social distancing measures?
People with visual impairments may find it hard to keep a 2-meter distance from other people. They may find it difficult to see the floor markings or signages, as well.
A study conducted by the Royal National Institute of Blind People found that:
- Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about food accessibility, and 21 percent said they have had to ration food.
- Sixty-six percent of blind and partially sighted respondents feel less independent now compared to before lockdown.
- Before lockdown, 28 percent of respondents said they got their shopping by going around shops themselves. Now, only 14 percent of respondents go to the shops by themselves.
Visual cues have been a massive help to many people, but they don’t work effectively for blind and partially sighted people.
Low-visioned individuals find it difficult to keep two meters away from other people because of blank patches in their visions or not being able to see how far away other people are.
Some visually impaired people were unable to keep their distance, have been shouted at, or have been confronted by passers-by. Others became so nervous about breaking social distancing rules that they have lost confidence and are unwilling to leave the house—even when they have to.
How COVID-19 Affected the Independence of Blind People
It is also worth mentioning that most people registered as visually impaired still have some vision. They can often read packet descriptions and price labels with the help of high-powered glasses or magnifiers.
Others use barcode scanners to identify prices and products, or smartphone apps to read printed text aloud. Brailled readers, on the other hand, need to touch items to read labels.
Most people in the blind community maintain their independence in normal times by using these techniques. However, the spread of the coronavirus has gotten many visually impaired to be worried about touching multiple items, spending longer in crowded places, and moving items closer to their eyes.
Several supermarkets nowadays allow a staff member to help a visually impaired around the shop. Yet, this would mean spending more time with a potentially asymptomatic person.
We can only imagine things are surely harder for people who have bad eyesight and impaired hearing.
Tips on Social Distancing for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Social distancing for blind and visually impaired individuals, including other people with disabilities, has unique challenges. But the good news is that there are a number of measures a low-visioned person can practice.
The challenges for the partially sighted depend on the level of their sight loss. People who are totally blind rely on their caning and auditory skills to navigate around.
On the other hand, people who have low vision can rely on their visual cues to sense shapes and assist them.
Many people in the blind community use longer canes and walk slower to anticipate what is in front of them.
Just remember, always clean your cane. Wipe it with a disinfectant, especially the handle, when you get home.
Commuting also poses a set of challenges for the visually impaired, particularly those who are completely blind. The Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center suggests taking public transportation during periods of the day when there are fewer pedestrians and less traffic, i.e. early morning or evening hours.
Instead of using your hands, use your arm, elbow, or knuckle to push a door open or hit the stop button sign.
Wear gloves (preferably, disposable gloves) to find door handles or hold railings with your hands. Do not forget to dispose of your gloves.
Touching plays an important role in the visually impaired, but it brings a huge risk during the coronavirus pandemic. It is highly suggested that partially sighted individuals wear long sleeves to minimize skin contact on surfaces, protective glasses, gloves, as well as face masks.
Sighted people can also benefit from doing these preventative measures. Summer is coming, yes, and it could be 90 degrees outside, but they can go a long way.
The World Health Organization strongly advises everyone to avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth. Viruses can live for several days on surfaces — from door handles to desktops — and they can be easily transferred into our bodies through these entry points.
Blind and visually impaired people rely on their hands to guide them in specific situations, such as when feeling the texture of clothing, looking closely at products to read the label, or touching items in the supermarket.
If fresh gloves are not available, visually impaired can use their covered forearms and elbows to help guide them.
If you have a visitor, ask them to wash their hands as they arrive and use paper towels for drying.
Use disinfectant wipes to clean your phone or laptop just in case your visitor touches them.
You may find it difficult to purchase disinfectant wipes. If so, you may use a hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol with 3% hydrogen peroxide.
Guide Dogs — They May Not Be As Helpful
If you see a blind or visually impaired person with a guide dog, you might think that everything will be alright for that person and that he must be able to practice social distancing. Flash news: no, it’s still won’t be that easy.
Social distancing for the blind with guide dogs still creates a set of challenges. You see, guide dogs are trained to lead their owners into an open and safe pathway.
The truth is, social distancing is complicated for the guide dogs as they are, in general, not been taught to factor social distancing rules.
“Guide dogs are trained to avoid people as a general rule and as part of their core function, but they don’t understand social distancing,” says John Miller, the President of Guide Dog Foundation.
Guide dogs are trained to travel straight lines and go around obstacles from point A to point B, so they naturally go around people but don’t understand the six-feet distance.
If you see a visually impaired person with a guide dog, it would be a great help if you initiate distancing yourself. Also, avoid petting or touching the guide dog. The best thing to do is to keep your hands on yourself and give them the space we all need.
Online Grocery for the Blind
Social distancing does a great job of reducing the spread of the virus. However, it’s also worth noting that it is safer to stay at home because some people may still be carrying the virus even if they appear not to have symptoms.
For the blind community, staying at home is urged. The blind or visually impaired that live independently could always use a hand. If you know someone with low-vision, offer your help by doing their grocery shopping.
They can also take advantage of services that offer grocery delivery. Online grocery shopping is widely available. The American Foundation for the Blind provides the list of grocery delivery services.
If there isn’t a grocery store near you that offers home delivery services, contact a friend or relative via videoconferencing apps or phone and do not hesitate to ask for help.
Home Activities for the Blind and Visually Impaired
While stuck at home, what activities could the blind and visually impaired do? We’ve collected fun and exciting home activities that low-visioned individuals can take part in.
Take online classes from Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Not only is it free but it also covers a wide range of courses from Braille Readiness, Excel, Entrepreneurship, to Accounting.
Play jigsaw puzzles online.
TheJigsawPuzzles provides a growing collection of free online jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles are playable in fullscreen. It enhances critical thinking, improves memory, lower stress levels, and improves mood. Yes, a great game to get you through isolation.
Connect with others
Join Facebook groups, discussion groups, or forums where you can connect with other people going through the same road.
Support groups can help you feel less isolated and lonely, reduce stress and anxiety, improve your skills to cope with challenges, and keep you stay motivated.
Learn musical instruments by ear
WikiHow houses a comprehensive list of how-tos. There’s a lot you can learn from this website, one of which is learning how to play musical instruments by ear.
[Related: Top 10 Piano Apps For IPhone And IPad]
Play crossword puzzles or word search
Keep your minds busy by playing crossword puzzles or word search. You can play them in large print online or in print.
Watch descriptive videos and movies
There are thousands of descriptive videos you can watch while stuck at home. You can find most of them on Amazon.com and purchase, rent, or stream them. You can also watch movies on Netflix with audio description.
Social distancing for the blind and people with low vision is complicated and a big challenge, but sighted people shouldn’t have problems applying the 2-meter distance rule.
We believe that if sighted people see differently, we should be able to help the visually impaired. It goes a long way if we are more considerate and helpful towards them. Offer a hand and distance yourself.
Who is most at risk for the COVID-19?
The virus can infect everyone, but older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma appear to be more vulnerable to the virus.
Can the COVID-19 be transmitted person to person?
Yes, usually after close contact with a carrier. The carrier may be symptomatic or asymptomatic.
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