‘Fear of running into people is real’: Visually impaired people speak of lockdown challenges

A partially blind rugby player talks about challenges the community faced during the pandemic

Legally blind people in the UK have been struggling with mental health issues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

Although the pandemic has created problems for people throughout society, people in the blind community have been quietly facing their unique crises.

Gareth Davies, a blind rugby player, has said that anxiety rates amongst blind people have risen significantly due to the difficulty for blind people to socially distance.

“One thing that was new and still remains is that fear of bumping into somebody or just simply getting too close because you can’t see where they are.”

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Cymru has been an important advocate for blind Welsh people struggling with anxiety and other mental health problems as a result of the pandemic. According to Mr. Davies, RNIB has “upped their counselling service for people who were concerned, and put on an emergency mental health service which is still going on now.”

RNIB has also been running campaigns to raise awareness of the issues that blind people face regarding social distancing, one of which is called ‘Please give me space’.

A partially blind athlete, James Ledger, has said: “Please give me space is a campaign to encourage social distancing, and it’s something that we’ve created wearable products for, particularly for people with a hidden disability.” The products RNIB have created include lanyards and face coverings, and have been a great benefit for visually impaired people like Mr Ledger.

Mr. Ledger said that these products were designed because “at the start of lockdown, a lot of people with disabilities such as sight loss were getting a lot of abuse, and getting shouted at in the streets.”

“The products are designed to make those around them aware that they need to give that person just a little bit more space to safely social distance.”

RNIB Cymru has been seeking support for this campaign across the country, from government officials to transport providers. While the Welsh government does not officially support the campaign, individual members of the Senedd have expressed their support, as have numerous Welsh businesses and universities.

As support grows for ‘Please give me space’, awareness will grow too, meaning more members of the public will realize the issues people with blindness or other hidden disabilities are facing and can do their part to help.

Mr. Ledger said: “This isn’t just for blind and partially sighted people, it’s for anyone – anybody who just wants to promote social distancing whether they have a disability or whether they don’t.

“It was designed with blind people in mind, but it was thought that actually this is for people with all sorts of different disabilities, and then as well it’s actually for anybody you know.”