Social Distancing - Don’t Stand so Close to Me

(18 August 2020 12:00 am)

With the introduction of social distancing rules WVS has received a lot of calls from members about how best to conform and still remain independent.

Many of the tools used to keep us apart are visual cues such as markings on the floor, inaccessible signage and eye contact with other people.

Callers have expressed concerns about getting close to people, queuing at shops, linking arms and using public transport. Also questions about using a face mask and touching things. Even with some vision, sticking to social distancing rules is incredibly difficult as many WVS members have discovered. Often, we need a helping hand to cross that busy road or find an item in the supermarket.

So, what can be done to stay safe and still get out and about?

Before setting off, check you have hand sanitiser with you, disinfectant wipes and, if taking the bus, using public transport or visiting the shops, a face mask or covering. Oh, and if shopping, have a list ready.

Let the general public know you have a visual impairment. It can be hard to carry a cane, especially for the first time, but now is the time to snap open that folding white cane and have it on display. Most people know what a white cane is, and so will give you extra time, move out the way or talk to you and help. If you have ‘lost’ that symbol cane or it’s seen better days, call the office and request a replacement.

Remember that symbol canes are not designed to put your weight on or for detecting obstacles on the ground such as kerbs and steps. Foldable reflective white symbol canes are lightweight - are used extended and held diagonally across the body. It is important that the symbol cane is always held with the tip facing towards the ground and NOT held pointing outwards as this presents a hazard to others.


When queuing, you may think someone is too close. So just tell them you have a visual impairment and ask if you are the correct distance away from each other - the sound of their voice will help you judge how close you are. In shops with the new layout and/or one-way systems it can be a bit confusing. Just ask for assistance from the shop staff, who are wearing PPE and are ready to help.

Sighted Guiding

Taking someone’s arm as a sighted guide needs a little thought. Some guides may be cautious about linking arms or holding hands or might be unsure what to do. In the BBC In Touch programme broadcast on 19th May 2020, Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist with a public health speciality from Nottingham Trent University, said that people walking next to each other is the safest place to minimise the risk of infection from Coronavirus.

We suggest using sighted guide techniques. That is when the visually impaired person holds the guide’s arm lightly above the elbow and allows the guide to walk one half-step ahead. This makes it easy to follow the guide’s direction.

To begin, the guider should touch the arm of the person being guided with the elbow of the arm they plan to use. You can then take the arm above the elbow, remembering to hold your cane in your spare hand. Offer to wear a disposable glove if touching another person.

Don’t forget, after your journey, wash your hands and disinfect your cane ready for your next trip.

The government’s rules and advice change frequently, so stay alert and listen to the news for the latest information.

Any questions - contact the Rehab Team on 01926 411331

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