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Welcoming Blind and partially sighted customers under social distancing measures

Posted: 9th July 2020

As lockdown eases many of us will be looking to take advantage of fewer restrictions on our ability to shop, socialise and dine out. In order to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission, businesses across Scotland have been preparing social distancing measures to help keep people safe whilst out and about. Whilst we have all had to adjust to the new way of doing things, it has been particularly difficult – or in some cases impossible – for blind and partially sighted people to do the same.

RNIB Scotland has been offering practical tips to businesses in order to ensure people with sight loss can navigate their premises with confidence, and purchase safely the things that they’ve been waiting to buy for three months, like anyone else.

Blind and partially sighted people have told us that it is incredibly challenging to socially distance with sight loss. It is difficult to tell when you are getting too close to someone if you can’t see them, measures put in place to keep people apart tend to be visual – such as signage and floor markings, and we have had reports of people facing abuse when they can’t adhere to restrictions. This has deterred people from going out on their own as much as they did before lockdown, with 66 per cent of people surveyed by RNIB saying that they feel less independent. Businesses can help create a welcoming environment for people with sight loss whilst maintaining social distancing using the tips below.

Be aware

Not all sight loss is visible. Whilst some customers with a visual impairment will have a long cane or a guide dog, many won’t. If you see someone who is struggling to conform to social distancing measures, consider that they may have a hidden disability and need some support.

Introduce yourself

If someone looks like they need support, introduce yourself and offer help. This can go a long way to making the environment feel more welcoming and relaxed.

Changes to the environment

Make any changes as accessible as possible. For example write signage in a clear font at least 14pt, use tactile markings on the floor if possible to indicate where to stand, and make sure staff are aware that some customers will need to be told verbally about the changes to the store environment in order to navigate it.

Hygiene

Inform blind and partially sighted customers about the hygiene measures that are in place, such as where they can sterilise their hands and their baskets if appropriate.

Social distancing

Make staff aware that not all customers will know that they are approaching in order to move a safe distance away.

Guiding

The Scottish Government has said that blind and partially sighted people who need guiding support can be guided by someone from outside their household. It is important that the time spent guiding is kept to a short a time as possible and that government guidance on face coverings is adhered to. If a customer with sight loss is finding it difficult to conform to social distancing measures, you could consider offering to guide them around the shop or to pick up their items for them.

We want to ensure that blind and partially sighted customers can frequent their favourite businesses as easily and safely as their sighted peers as lockdown eases. Whilst this has been, and is going to be, a strange time for everyone, these steps will help ensure that everyone can access businesses with confidence as life starts to become more normal.

James Adams, Director of RNIB Scotland

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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