How lockdown is affecting people who are blind and partially sighted

Royal National Institute of Blind People's James Adams explains how the charity has adapted to ensure Scots who struggle with their sight are not alone

Everyone’s life has been turned upside down by the coronavirus. Our contact with family and friends, our jobs and incomes, our access to even the most basic things we took for granted just weeks ago. It dominates the news and political agendas and haunts everyday thoughts and conversation.

But imagine how much harder this is for many of those who are blind or partially sighted. For people more dependent on others for support, who can’t always tell whether they are socially distancing, and who are starting to feel whatever gains they have achieved to date have been re-set to zero overnight.

How much harder? The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has just done the first nationwide survey of how those with sight loss are coping. Some of its findings are alarming.

We’re pressing for blind and partially sighted people to be included on the priority list for online shopping slots

Three in four respondents reported being concerned about getting access to food, one in five have even had to ration it, while 67 per cent have experienced difficulty finding a supermarket delivery slot. 78 per cent also said they had less contact with ‘the people who matter to me’.

To help meet their concerns, RNIB has made perhaps the biggest transition in its history. Most of our staff shifted to home-working in under a fortnight and continue to offer lifeline support.

We’re pressing for blind and partially sighted people to be included on the priority list for online shopping slots. We’ve pushed public bodies to make sure all of their communications, often containing vital health information, are available in formats like audio and braille. And, when lockdown eases, we want to be sure continuing social distancing doesn’t confine those with sight loss to the home.

If the current situation has exposed and exacerbated some of the problems blind and partially sighted people face, it’s highlighted, too, some of the best and most generous instincts of our society.

Friends and neighbours are looking out for those struggling to cope. Local businesses are going that extra mile to help. And charities and volunteers are responding to the extraordinary demands being placed on them.

And among people with sight loss in Scotland the sense of community is stronger than ever. The social and leisure interest groups set up by RNIB Scotland prior to lockdown are now thriving like never before over the phone and social media. We’re holding conference calls seven days a week for general chat and raising of spirits, sharing personal stories, swapping recipes and ideas for meals, and holding virtual quizzes, local book groups, a football focus, an audio-described film club, even an online choir.

Like all charities, we’ve yet to assess the full scale of the impact this will have on us. But we want everyone with sight loss in Scotland to know they are not alone. Even with social distancing, we are all still together.

James Adams is director of RNIB Scotland. The RNIB Helpline is available on 0303 123 9999