The barriers of social distancing for users with additional access requirements

While many parts of society try to deal with social distancing, the barriers for people who have additional access requirements have increased. For persons who are blind, have low vision, a cognitive difficulty or are deaf, understanding and staying within the new distancing guidelines can create confusion and have a direct effect on their ability to carry out daily tasks. People who experience anxiety or have panic attacks may also struggle, and feel overwhelmed by the on-going changes in their daily lives.

Clear information as well as using plane English to describe the restrictions is more important than ever before. In order to make all content available, such as providing information in alternative formats, the ability to talk, text or chat via the phone or an online chat client should also be offered. It also goes without saying, that a little understanding from others will go along way. People who are Deaf for example, are not able to lip read while others are using face masks.

As a blind person I can honestly write that I am sure I have not been maintaining the full social distance, not because I didn’t want to but because it’s difficult to guess this while shopping. While I believe myself to be pretty good at spacial awareness, judging the exact distance is difficult when asking for assistance to purchase items, and paying using my card. The Scottish Courier published a recent article, about the experiences of a guide dog owner and the worries he faces. Jonathan explained how it is not possible for Guide Dogs to identify the exact distance, and how his dog will take him to the shop Dorr, not the cue. Check out a guide dog owner’s concerns during coronavirus from the Scottish Courier website.

What are the solutions?

In order to maintain accessibility for everyone if communicating face-to-face, it’s important to politely explain who you are, and offer to direct someone to a safe distance when speaking to someone with no vision. For people who have low vision, its important to have clear markings which are easy to identify and are not visually obstructed. Purchase see-through masks for Deaf people to understand what is being said, as a recent Guardian article indicates that many people are currently struggling with face-to-face communication who are Deaf. Purchase see-through face masks say Charities who support Deaf people via the Guardian website.

In closing this post, I believe the best thing at the moment however, is to assume that most people are trying to social distance, rather than deliberately not. I include this, because a friend of mine was recently shouted at in a shop by another member of the public because she wasn’t social distancing. She could not see the sign which said ‘2 people only’. Thankfully in this scenario the shop owner intervened, however an experience like this could easily led to feelings of anxiety for example. Whatever your doing as we attempt to move in to a post-lockdown society, take care and stay safe.