The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every American, but the way local governments have responded has adversely impacted blind and visually impaired people.
“The textures of my world have gone away,” said Dorianne Pollack. “What the ground feels like underneath me, what’s underneath my hands, all of that texture, hugging people, all of that’s sort of gone away.”
Dorianne Pollack is a Disability Resource Specialist at Northern Arizona University and a member of the alumni board for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She wrote an op-ed to the Huffington Post detailing the blind community’s struggles with new social distancing markers.
“There are now directional arrows, signage and taped-off measurements to ensure distancing ― but you need to be able to see them to know they’re there,” wrote Pollack in the Huffington Post. “Our guide dogs don’t understand them, and our white canes can’t feel them.”
Social distancing signs and markers are often difficult to read and find for the visually impaired, and most are not noticed by guide dogs. Pollack said she’s heard of people lashing out at blind or visually impaired people who are not aware of social distancing markers and aren’t aware of their surroundings when it comes to social distancing.
“Social distancing in the blind and visually impaired world is, we don’t have a six feet visual cue,” said Marc Ashton, CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children (FBC).
Ashton and the FBC say there are easy steps that businesses and the community can do to help blind people better follow the social distance markers.
For business owners, the Foundation for Blind Children says businesses can make their floor signs textured so seeing-eye dogs can recognize the bump in the ground. This can be done by simply putting a piece of string underneath the ground stickers. Putting a piece of string under the markings for the 6-foot distance in a line to allow a tactile feel. Signs should also be in high contrast with large print signage.
For the general public, FBC said to simply be kind whenever around a person with a guide dog or using a cane. Always ask somebody if he or she needs assistance before grabbing their arm or hand and when helping by trying to use descriptive language.
“And to think before you act. Rather than saying, ‘Hey you’re not socially distancing,’ ‘you’re too close to me!’ Or something like that,” said Pollack.