A message for all, those with a vision impairment or not, the world post-lockdown.
For many of us, the last few months have been not just strange - but scary, as COVID-19 has threatened and continues to threaten the globe. Living in a new and acute state of fear, social distancing is the ‘new normal’, representing a major reorientation of how we interact as a society. Still, for the visually impaired, the challenges of social distancing exceed even that.
Good eyesight is a priceless gift — and one that's easy to take for granted.
Imagine for a minute what life would be like if your vision was permanently impaired and could not be amended with eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision surgery. This is the situation many people find themselves in every day, suffering from what's called visual impairment. Living with a vision impairment can present a new set of skills, challenges and experiences, things that some people could only imagine. Social distancing isn’t easy but adding a vision impairment or another disability into the combination can make things just that much harder.
As you’re reading this, whether you’re visually impaired or not, you may be feeling unhappy, content, annoyed, frustrated or on top of the world, whatever it is you’re feeling or going through, it’s ok, we all have these feelings and emotions, whether we have a disability or not.
Some people may be fully comfortable with their disability whilst others may not be, and some may be on the journey to acceptance, we all need a few words of encouragement every once in a while. So, what I’m going to say in this blog isn’t revolutionary, but if it enlightens or benefits someone out there then that’s all that matters.
Here at VIP World Services, we aim to have a community for all the visually impaired people to access knowledge, learn and practice IT skills, gain confidence, make friendships, and live with a smile on the face, we like to call our Visually Impaired People (VIPs) because they are just that, very important people. We aim to bring services that bring people together, to learn and enlighten.
The Situation and ‘Normality’ of Post-Lockdown
As the government begins to ease restrictions, our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end and life is returning to our shops, streets and homes, a new, but cautious, optimism is palpable, but for the visually impaired community, there is danger of losing its independence and mannerism of being one of the most active disability groups on the planet.
The requirements of social distancing run in complete contradiction of the various practices that enable people living with significant visual impairment to function in mainstream society. Senses such as touch, guidance and human interaction help those with visual impairment to engage safely with the world outside, and in current times, this is in itself a new challenge.
Even with vision, sticking to social-distancing rules is incredibly difficult. Most if not all of the tools used to maintain social distancing are visual such as markings on the floor, outdoor queuing protocols and one in, one out systems. Many of those with severe sight have no choice but to not go out at all and those who do find themselves exceptionally anxious and are sometimes demeaned on a simple trip out for walks of fresh air.
Living with vision impairments, permits you to discover and focus on the positive aspects, like what being a VIP enables you to do and the skills you’ve developed because of it, and this is a challenge which will also be overcome through time, however as this unsettling time persists, remember that if you live with vision impairment, it isn’t an inconvenience, you aren’t the only person that needs adapting or that needs some extra support, there are so many people that are willing to help so never feel you are alone.
A Socially Distanced World
Struggles for the visually impaired began from the get-go of lockdown, where many were going without food, even to the point of rationing after being missed off the coronavirus vulnerable list, shopping and grocery stores proving to be particularly complex surroundings for blind people during the lockdown, as this video shared on social media by RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) demonstrates. Many charities such as RNIB have taken public stances supporting VIPs in recent weeks and after a vociferous response from readers, public bodies and campaigns, delivery slots for the visually impaired have since been available.
In the aim of getting commuters and public transport users to socially distance, selected seats are now blocked off with visual signage, once again VIPs are likely to be wholly reliant on guided assistance, which further leads to concerns over willingness to help amidst social distancing.
Be Aware and Let People Know
VIPs, don’t be put off letting people know that you have a visual impairment, Sometimes it is kept hidden and you don’t want others to know, well now it’s time for a change, let it out of the bag. If you are blessed to have sight, now more than ever, be aware of surroundings and be mindful of others. It can be all too easy to fall into one of two extremes when seeing a VIP, either complete ignorance or grabbing of the arm in an attempt at assistance. In such situations, a calm and collected manner will provide useful guidance.
When it comes to guidance, the most comfortable and correct position for a visually impaired is taking the guide’s arm just above the elbow, amongst coronavirus, it will be expected to want reduced contact and an increased cautiousness of reducing spread. Guidelines suggesting sneezing into the crook of the elbow for prevention of fluids spreading, will again, add hesitance to receiving and giving aid. A company based in Scotland has developed a simple aid to allow for some degree of distance for blind people receiving guided assistance. The Ramble Tag is a looped harness linking a blind person to their sighted guide, a finalist in the RNIB Innovation Awards 2019.
Those with serious visual impairments, sometimes use the support of a guide dog to help increase mobility and independence, although with the cost of breeding, raising, and training the dog (and their eventual user) approaching £63,000, it’s not an option available to the most. Despite being highly trained to support in navigating any mobility challenges, they have been trained in the ways of the pre-pandemic world and so this means steering their owners through any passable space, regardless of whether or not it complies with the 2m.
Increased levels of self-identification when out in public has been something that has been debated in the VIP community. Some have only somewhat joked about wearing the Covid equivalent of the Star of David, in an attempt to let those who are quick to judge know that they are blind and cannot socially distance.
To the VIPs, if you’ve got a cane, use it! Keep it in view at all times, I know not everyone knows what a white cane is, but most do. It makes you noticeable, that’s why it’s known as a symbol cane, to let others know - if you’ve not learned the skills you need, use the cane as a symbol cane, as in this video.
At VIP World
During the lockdown, members of the blind community have been reflecting on what they might be able to do for themselves to counter the colossal challenges ahead. Team VIP World have hosted weekly Zoom calls as part of our Covid-19 Counter Attack Sessions, the objective being to share the experience with everyone and encouraging the world to acknowledge the accessibility needs of visually impaired people.
Introducing Travel Hands
Travel Hands is a technology platform in development by VIP World, an app where a traveller/ registered volunteer in London can walk together in the same direction as a VIP in an exchange for points which can then be redeemed to get goodies, discounts, and freebies. For the individual, this approach means that the service he receives will be designed to be mutually beneficial for both parties as well as increasing their level of independence rather than relying on cabs and cars for the smallest of journeys.
Travel Hands is a story of a person with sight and a person without. Help us create this wonderful story.
We have launched a crowdfunder to help support this venture. This crowdfunder will run for another four weeks and the rewards are limited. If you can jump in and support the project that would be fantastic. We are also very aware that we’re in difficult times so if you can’t financially support at this time, maybe you could share the crowdfunder on your social platforms? Travel Hands - Crowdfunder