Practicing Social Distancing With Vision Loss

September 1, 2020

By Carol Moog, Diane Formoso, Jeff Ambury & Wojciech Jacobi for AbleNews

Social distancing and other guidelines related to COVID-19 present unique challenges and possible safety hazards for people who are blind or have vision loss.

For example, signage or markers in supermarkets and pharmacies designed to help people maintain social distancing may not be readable or detectable to people with low vision. There are some tips that can help during these challenging times.

Speak Up
When in public spaces and if they think someone may be coming near them, people who are blind or have vision loss can speak up by announcing their presence to indicate that they are approaching. Verbal cues, such as “Please let me know when I can move up in the line;” or “My dog is not trained for social distancing, so please direct me and I’ll direct him;” or “My apologies for coming so close, it’s very difficult to tell how far apart to be, so if you can move farther away, that would be great.”

Shop Safely
Using delivery services whenever possible or shopping during off-peak hours can be helpful. The recommended six feet social distancing is about the length of two full-size shopping carts. Ask a store employee for directions on where to stand at the check-out counter. Stores and other businesses may not be aware that their COVID-19 signage is not readable by people with low vision.

They should be encouraged to have large print, high contrast and color-coded signage.

Embrace Technology
Applications such as Aira and Be My Eyes, and using phone cameras for magnification can help with maintaining social distancing and navigating in public areas. People can stay on track with their health by using telemedicine or telemental health services if they are not able to visit their healthcare professional’s office.

Use the White Cane
People who are blind or have low vision should use the cane for identification to heighten the awareness of others that they have a visual impairment. Using a cane in the current environment may help avoid confrontation and also provide the means for getting additional assistance.

Adjust Your Mask
Masks should be put on and adjusted before leaving home. If a person has low vision and wears glasses, they should try to make sure the mask is not causing their glasses to fog up before they leave the house. It is important not to touch the mask after leaving home.

Stay Connected And Active
Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Now may be a good time for people to reconnect with old friends via phone or text. They can consider joining a tele-support group to chat with others in a group setting via phone. Religious establishments, schools and cultural organizations in the area may be offering accessible virtual services and e-learning.

People can also consider learning a new skill, through classes currently being offered via phone or online. Other ideas include, listening to books they have been hoping to catch up on or completing a project around the house can be helpful.

For more tips, visit Lighthouse Guild’s COVID-19 Programs and Services and Tele-Support programs or call 800-284-4422; MOPD (Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities) or the National Association of Mental Illness.

Carol Moog, Diane Formoso, Jeff Ambury and Wojciech Jacob are mobility instructors at Lighthouse Guild.

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