This post is going to be about the impact of easing COVID-19 on Disabled people. I will also be taking a closer look at what it will be like from a Visually impaired persons perspective.
Over the past few days I have been worrying about what going back to work will look like. What the new normal will look like. Many disabled people are worried about this too. Making very valid points about how we as a community have been forgotten.
Throughout this whole pandemic the Disabled Community has been forgotten. We exist, we have voices and we have a right to exist. According to Scope there are 13.9 million Disabled people living in the UK. As Dan White rightly pointed out on Twitter, where is the Minister for Disabled people being outraged on our behalf with regards to the lack of support we have had during this lockdown period?
According to Scope 19% of working age adults are disabled, which means that more than 3.7 million disabled adults work. According to the RNIB’s website ‘As of 2017, there are around 350,000 people on the registers of blind and partially sighted people in the U.K’.
Mik Scarlet tweeted ‘Well, the fears of disabled people being forgotten as lockdown is lifted appear to be founded. In London @TfL & the rail sector seem to be introducing systems that exclude us. No assistance offered at all, no Turn Up & Go & no car zones. Only solution offered? @The_LCDC.’
I completely agree with Mik as this has also been the case throughout the whole of the lockdown period. As a visually impaired person I am being asked to practice social distancing. How am I to do this when I have poor eye sight?
My guide cane is supposed to aid my navigating in general and now helps me to social distance. However, on a normal day people push past me to get on the train. Step over my guide cane to get to priority seats while saying ‘Oh sorry…’ and not moving at all.
As I write this I am reminded of this exact incident on a train. Another passenger got on, pushing past me as I tried to navigate between the seats. They stepped over my Guide Cane, I pulled it little higher, they stayed exactly where they were, giving no option but to pull my Guide Cane from between their legs and they continued on to sit down in the priority seat. I said in a sarcastic tone ‘Oh sorry…’ to which they replied ‘Its OK’. Thankfully a woman saw this, moved her bags and allowed me to sit in the other priority seat. If you are able to push past someone in that manner then you need to stop being so self centred.
Thinking back to Mikes comments around there being no thought by our government to help disabled people with travel, if there has been, I genuinely haven’t seen it. How are Disabled people supposed to deal with the attitudes we already have to put up with- as my experience above shows, and the new ways in which we are expected to live?
Below I have taken a few Key Points from the Guide Dogs website around assisting visually impaired or blind people when considering social distancing.
1) ‘People with sight loss will often have difficulty finding a seat. During the pandemic, and when it is possible that some seats are blocked off, it will be even harder for them to do so. Please ask the passenger if they need help identifying a vacant seat and that is a safe distance from other passengers.
2) Bus drivers will always prioritise the safety of all their passengers, but it is essential that vision impaired passengers are able to get off the bus at the correct stop. It can be frustrating and disorientating for a vision impaired passenger to miss their bus stop but this could be even more of an issue during the pandemic as changes to normal road and pavement layouts may be brought in to facilitate social distancing. Added to which, people may find it difficult to ask the general public for help when dropped off at an unfamiliar location.
3) Provide clear instructions when describing a route or when you would like the person to change direction e.g. left and right
4) Having identified the appropriate seat, describe its location (e.g. “just coming up on your left left/right, facing towards/ away from you”) and whether it is airline style or has a table. Before leaving, describe the layout of the carriage including the location of toilets in relation to where the passenger is sitting and the layout of any social distancing restrictions in place.’
When considering these points I would like to link back to my experience I wrote about earlier. People do not afford Disabled people the space they require already, never mind with the impact of social distancing. How are we supposed to feel safe in this new way of living? We are relying heavily on others. As I am looking at this from a visually impaired persons perspective I am extremely concerned there is a lot of talk around one way systems, changing road and pavement layouts, moving seating from inside to outside…all of these elements rely on you being able to be visually aware.
It appears as though life outside London does not exist to a lot of people at the moment. Whenever you see the news it’s all London centric, as a lot of the time it is. Now apply those same feelings of being ignored by your government during a pandemic but to all the time. We are constantly forgotten, ignored and then when we are listened to we are given the minimum amount of attention.
It is left to people like myself Mik Scarlet, Dan White, Chloe Tear, Philippa Claire, Dr. Amy Kavenaugh, Luke Sam Sowden, Pippa and so many more to make our voices heard. Then we have all the fabulous charities who pick up the pieces left behind after the government have made sweeping statements and generalised assumptions to say, ‘excuse me, but what about these groups of people?’ Charities like Scope, Guide Dogs and The RNIB. You do have localised parts of government who work exceptionally hard with to support the disabled community. However they are dealing the pressures imposed by recent governments on financial cut backs. A discussion for another time.
The sad part is it is not just done in relation to the Disabled Community. No. Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority groups deal with this too. However this is again an argument for another blog post.
Please do check out the people I have mentioned above, they do some fabulous work and I would love to have a coffee with them and have a good dissuasion in person about what needs to change. But until then I shall follow them on Twitter.
Please please please be kind when you go out and use public transport, do not just look up, see a person with a white cane and ignore us. Do not think the person who has ignored you is rude, they could be Deaf or Hard of Hearing. If you see a wheel chair user do not start to push them, ask if they need help. We are people first. Where our government has failed to help us in this pandemic we rely on the good will of people around us to help. We do not deserve to be forgotten. That is why I am writing this post. I am genuinely worried and upset.
I have text my friends and spoken to my work. They have all said not to worry and that they will be there for me. We will get though this together. Which I fully appreciate and am grateful for. However I deserve to have the respect of everyone around me, of my government, regardless of my Disability. This goes for every person in this country. We deserve to be heard.
Thank you again for listening, if you would like to help with the Guide Dogs Campaign to ensure table operators are supporting the Blind and Visually impaired correctly please click here.
I’m on Twitter: @PhilippaB