Olivia Norman and Elisabeth Payne, COMS
As a blind or visually impaired person during this coronavirus pandemic, it is natural to have concerns surrounding social distancing and its impact on your day to day life. I know I was concerned about how I would get things done while following social distancing recommendations and keeping both myself and others safe. I have collaborated with a couple of friends and O&Ms on this article to help address some common concerns you might have. We hope you find it helpful and informative.
How can I keep people at a safe distance?
A great way to encourage social distancing is to simply wear a mask. A cloth mask is fine if you can’t get a medical grade mask. The purpose of this mask is to be a visual reminder to others that there is a virus and we need to keep our distance. This website has great tips on how to properly wear a mask. Make sure to wash your hands before and after wearing the mask, don’t touch your face while wearing the mask, and then dispose of it or clean it properly.
How can I tell if I am six feet away from someone?
If you are using a cane, the reach of your cane is 4 to 5 feet with your arm extended. Usually a store counter is about 2 feet wide, so you are about 6 feet from the cashier if you have your arm and cane extended. If you are a dog guide user, you might want to carry your cane to help you tell how far you are from a service counter. If you are in an alley type checkout like at the grocery store, it’s not possible to be six feet from the cashier the entire time.
You also could practice localizing sound at home by listening to how things sound as you move away one step at a time. Practice estimating distance with Siri and Ok google by setting your phone on a table and then speaking to it from different places in the house.
What do I do on a narrow sidewalk?
This one is difficult for everyone. You are mostly at the mercy of other people on a narrow sidewalk. You don’t want to lose your orientation, but if you can move onto the grass temporarily you can give yourself a little more room. You could also walk a few feet up an intersecting sidewalk or driveway to give people room to pass.
How am I going to do my shopping?
Online shopping is a great tool right now. However, if you can’t get a delivery spot, you may have to actually go to the store. Call beforehand to make sure there will be a shopping assistant. Some stores are overwhelmed right now and may not be thinking clearly about how to serve all of their customers. The stores should have sanitizing wipes at the entrance near the carts. It’s not a bad idea to bring your own wipes as well. Use the shopping cart to keep distance between yourself and the shopping assistant by staying at different ends of the cart. A six foot distance can be achieved by keeping your arms outstretched as you hold on to the cart. It’s okay to ask the shopping assistant to help you stay 6 feet away from others. We all need occasional reminders because this is a new thing for everyone
What do I do when someone comes up and grabs me or stands too close to me?
Say something like, “Step back, I need to stay six feet away from people.” or “Let go of me, I need to stay six feet away from people.” As soon as they step away, safely move in the opposite direction to increase your distance. Practice saying this or a similar phrase so that you are comfortable with speaking up.
I use human guide all the time, now what do I do?
These are not officially sanctioned Orientation and Mobility Techniques; use the following tips at your own risk. The goal is to place distance between yourself and your guide in accordance with current CDC recommendations.
If you must go somewhere and use human guide, you could use a handheld tether similar to the kind a runner who is blind might use with their running partner. Think of household items like a dowel rod, a short broom handle, a long scarf,or a piece of rope. Try to find something 2 to 3 feet long. A rigid tether will give you more information about when your guide is starting and stopping. If you use something loose like a scarf or rope you need to pay attention to when the line goes slack and your guide will need to give good directions about when to stop and when you are approaching steps and curbs. As always, use your cane in conjunction with human guide to help locate drop offs. Don’t forget to disinfect your guide tool between uses so we can keep everyone safe.
How do I find someone if I need help?
Before you leave the house think about which businesses will probably be open and how to get to them. Grocery and convenience stores will most likely be open, but they have shorter operating hours right now. Be aware and really use your listening and scanning skills to find people. There are going to be less people out and about right now so you might be the only person on the block. If you need to call out for help, use a strong voice so people can hear you. Say something like, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?.” Use a confident tone and know what information you want before you ask. Remember sighted people often give lousy directions, so you may have to ask followup questions to get the information you need.
You could use Facetime with a friend and don’t forget you can ask Siri and Google, “Where am I?” to get an address near your location.
Download an app called Aira before you leave the house and give it a try. They allow short calls for free and have people in a call center who can look through the camera on your smartphone and give you information.
If you are having an emergency call 911.
How do I stay safe going to the doctor’s office or hospital?
Call before you go. Many offices are closed unless you are having an emergency. Your appointment may have been canceled since you last spoke to your doctor’s office. The entrance you use may have changed. Some hospitals have changed to allow one door for entering the building and another door for exiting the building. There will probably be a checkpoint where you have to answer a few questions and you may have your temperature taken. The room where you usually go for treatment may have changed and may change every time you visit during this crisis. When sitting in the waiting room just ask “Where is an empty seat?” and make sure you aren’t next to anyone. You need to sit 3 to 4 seats away from people on each side of you to have a six foot distance.
Elevators are another place where it is difficult to practice social distancing. If possible ride the elevator alone. Just ask if anyone is on the elevator and then say. “I will wait for the next one” if it isn’t empty and then wait for the door to close before you press the button to call another elevator. You may have to wait for a few elevators before you get to board. If someone tries to board your elevator say, “Do you mind waiting for the next elevator? I need to stay 6 feet from other people.” If they get on anyway, you will need to decide if you want to get off on that floor and wait for another empty elevator.
Obviously, the best way to practice social distancing is to stay home. We understand this is not always possible. We hope these suggestions are helpful to you during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.
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