Getting out and about is very challenging for people who are visually impaired even in normal circumstances. As we all know, things have changed a lot over the last few months, and going out has become even more of a challenge.
Some visually impaired people will struggle more than others depending on what useful vision they have. Some people do not have good central vision, whereas others do not have good peripheral vision. Even two people with the same eye condition may have a very different level of sight. It also depends on how confident the person is when they are out. Some are more confident than others which makes a huge difference. Some people may be more confident at doing certain parts of the journey, not necessarily the whole thing.
I have not had the opportunity to get out far myself yet, but I have been to my local shop occasionally and to a few parks. Luckily I have had my Mum or Dad with me when I have been going to these places otherwise I would find it extremely difficult. Even though I have not been to many places myself, I have heard about the changes that have been made in most places. I have also been told how difficult some of these changes are to understand and cope with. Based on my experiences and things I have heard, so far I have been really quite frustrated about how inaccessible places have become for people who are visually impaired.
Many places have signs up that can be hard to see, never mind read. There are also floor markings which are hard to follow. My local shop has introduced a one way system around the store which I do understand the purpose of, but I can’t always tell which way the arrows are pointing, so how am I supposed to know which way to go? I have also been told that some places have foot print markings instead of arrows, I imagine that I would struggle with that even more. Queue areas also have two metre markings so that people do not stand too close to each other. It is often hard to tell who is queueing and who is shopping because of the large spaces between people. Plus if I am stood two metres away from the customer who is being served, I can’t always tell when they have gone, depending on the layout of the checkout area. I haven’t had to deal with these situations on my own, because I just won’t go on my own while all these changes are in place. I find it difficult at the best of times, but impossible with all of these changes. Having to rely on others so much is not a nice feeling. It is really important to me and other visually impaired people to be as independent as we possibly can be, however much this is. In the current circumstances I don’t feel able to be independent at all. The time I feel the most independent is when I am volunteering at SRSB. I do still need help sometimes, but I can walk around a busy building without feeling rushed or worrying about walking into something. Everybody understands, even staff and volunteers who are not visually impaired understand. We all give each other plenty of time and space when we are walking around the building. This is the only building of that size where I can do this. I haven’t been able to go in while all this has been going on and I really miss it.
I saw a video online yesterday which actually made me think. I did already know this, but it did help to jog my memory. The video was about a lady who has a guide dog and how the guide dog is not trained for social distancing. Obviously I was aware of this, but it did get me thinking. Guide dogs are trained to help people travel and go out more easily, safely and independently. As most of them were trained years ago, they have no idea of what social distancing is. The lady on the video said that her dog was trained to take her to the door of a shop, not queue up outside a shop. So when her dog has taken her to the door of the shop and not the back of the queue, somebody in the queue rudely shouted at her. Guide dogs are also not trained to keep a two metre distance from people. I do not have a guide dog myself, but I do know that they are very stuck in their ways and stick to what they have been trained to do. I sometimes have a guide dog laid under my desk when I am volunteering at SRSB. She lays there because that is where her owner sits, he wasn’t in the room at the time but didn’t need to take her with him. In the past people have tried to move her to give me more space and she was very reluctant to move. This is because that is where her owner sits when he is using a computer, so she was trying to make sure that he got his usual seat, which would make things easier for him. Just to point out, I didn’t steal his seat, he was out of the office for quite a while and we are usually in on different days. It is also my usual seat. I don’t mind her being there though because I don’t want to unsettle her, so we just leave her now and she keeps me company.
One of the things that I really don’t like about social distancing is that people are not allowed to get close enough to help. My friends are not allowed to help me if I see them because I don’t live with them. And I can’t see them without needing some kind of physical help or guidance. So I just haven’t suggested meeting up. One of the things that I am so desperate for is for the rules on this to change, so that we can have physical contact with our loved ones again and give them a huge hug. The time that we need a hug the most has turned out to be the time when we are not allowed. And it’s horrible. I don’t mind not being able to go to restaurants or have my hair done, I just want a cuddle with my boyfriend and to hug my best friends.