Color & Control:

CNIB says COVID-19 measures don’t account for sighted guides

By Daniella Ponticelli

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is asking people, businesses and the government to be mindful of accessibility needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CNIB is particularly concerned with the unintended consequences physical distancing recommendations may have on some people who rely on sighted guides.

“It’s almost impossible to properly and effectively guide someone while being two metres apart,” said Ashley Nemeth, a community and engagement program lead for CNIB. “They need to be touching, they need to be interacting in order for the person who is blind or partially sighted to get the necessities they need.”

The CNIB noted not everyone in the blind community relies on a sighted guide, and some may use the service occasionally. According to the organization, some clients have faced discrimination and questions while out in public with sighted guides.

“‘You can’t be that close to someone’ or ‘you need to be social distancing and only one person can come in’, those types of things,” said Nemeth, adding it’s disappointing to hear of these instances. “I think it just comes from peoples’ anxiety and fear. So we just need people to understand that in some instances, social distancing for some people isn’t a possibility.”

The CNIB stated in cases where a sighted guide is not a member of the client’s household, both wear masks and gloves. Nemeth said people who use white canes or guide dogs, like herself, rely on touch when shopping alone. That’s why some have turned to sighted guides during the pandemic.

“If I was to try and go grocery shopping right now, I would take a sighted guide for that reason, So I wouldn’t have to be touching everything,” she said. Outside of shopping, sighted guides are also relied on for safe travel, going to the pharmacy, the doctor’s office, a bank and back home.

“We never know what somebody else is going through or what their situation is,” Nemeth said. “They’re doing the best they can possibly do to live their life to its fullest during these times.”

She said while many in the blind community use grocery delivery, they have noticed some limitations on service as demand increases from the general public. Nemeth added that expecting blind or partially-sighted people to rely on family or friends for shopping needs further isolates the community.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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