Wow … it’s been a hot minute since I last wrote anything. Writer’s block and procrastination are my worst enemies.
So … what with the new social distancing rules currently in place across the UK how does someone with a visual impairment navigate the 2-meter distance issue?
Well, it’s different for everybody. Obviously, we are allowed to go out with people in our own household. Thus some people may choose to be sighted-guided by a sighted member of their household, even if they are a guide dog user or are confident using a cane. For any sighted readers, sighted-guiding is when someone who has a useful amount of vision guides someone who has limited to no vision. The individual who needs guiding will take an elbow (either linking their arm through that of the guider or holding onto the outside bend of the guiders elbow, depending on how they prefer to be guided or how comfortable they are with the person guiding them).
My residual vision can be a bit hit and miss depending on how tired I am, how well I know an area, how sunny or generally bright the day is yet I have acted as a sighted guide on numerous occasions with varying levels of success (I am pleased to say that I haven’t yet tripped up or walked anyone into a pole when guiding). Thus I can only tell you about my personal experiences surrounding the difficulties of social distancing. No two people with a visual impairment have the same degree of vision loss. No two people with vision loss use exactly the same ways or techniques to get around. We are not robots. We are living breathing people who all have personal preferences in regards to independent mobility. Also, no two days will be the same. There have been many times when I have linked my arm with my mum when out and about together, even though I have enough residual vision to get about by myself sometimes it’s just nice to have that extra reassurance, especially when in a busy place.
So, for the most part, I have been taking my once allowed daily dose of exercise and that’s been absolutely fine. In my home town, I don’t usually … ok, I would be lying if I said I ever used a cane. I have previously felt like I didn’t need to because I know my home town so well.
However, during the past week and a half, I have been using my cane every time I leave the house. I have two different types of cane, the traditional lone which is the one with a golf club style black handle. This cane is used by people who have very limited sight. If the cane has a roller tip the cane will not leave the ground and the user will roll the cane across the ground in front of them. When their right foot steps forward the user will sweep the cane to the left to make sure there are no obstacles to the left thus they can take a step forward with their left foot and repeat the process. However, some long cane users will have a pencil or static metal tip on their cane. The process is exactly the same as when using a roller tip but instead of rolling the cane on the ground constantly, you tap the cane.
Some people who are registered visually impaired but have quite a lot of useful vision don’t necessarily need or feel like a long cane or guide cane would be useful and would be more detrimental than helpful. Thus a symbol cane may be the most appropriate cane for them. A symbol cane is a lot shorter than a guide or long cane and is held in the dominant hand with the cane crossing the torso. A symbol cane is not used as a mobility aid, for one thing, it’s too short for another it’s way too flimsy. The purpose of a symbol cane is just to let members of the public know that you have a visual impairment, to give your invisible disability a cloak of sight rather than invisability. I hope any Harry Potter fans got that little fan geekyness.
Now to the third type of cane, is a guide cane. This cane is shorter than a long cane but longer and more sturdy than a symbol cane. However, it doesn’t have the golf club style grip of a long cane. Guide canes can have a pencil or static tip on them, they can also have a roller tip. My guide cane has a roller tip on the end.
Guide canes are perfect in-between canes for people like me who don’t need the full mobility aspect of a long cane but need more than just the visual aspect of a symbol cane.
Many people who use guide canes may hold their cane differently and no two people will use it exactly the same either. I hold my cane out in front of me like you would when using a long cane. However, my guide cane isn’t constantly touching the floor. I’m not swinging it back and forth to detect objects either.
I use my guide cane to help detect steps, curbs, bollards, explore if I’m unsure about a particular pavement or manhole that might be sticking up. I have enough sight to navigate without needing a long cane to detect every potential obstacle or orientate myself etc. However, because of my poor depth/distance perception as well as my photophobia (extreme sensitivity to bright light), I need the guide cane to give my eyes a bit more accurate feedback about how far away something is or to stop me from running face-first into a bollard or lampost, bin, idiot driver who thought it would be a good idea to block the pavement by parking their inappropriately large car on designated walking areas.
I still have a long cane, however, this has been demoted to occasional use when I’m in a new place and need a little bit more input about my surroundings until I feel comfortable enough to get my guide cane back out. Again I would be much more likely to use my long cane if I’m walking when it’s dark or gonna be sunny for a long period of time.
Within the past week and a half, I have had to shut my pride away and now whenever I go out, even if it’s just to the local shop at the top of my road I have my trusty guide cane in hand. This is to let people know that I’m not being a dick by ignoring social distancing regulations but because of my sight, I won’t be able to adhere to the two-meter ruling as well as sighted people.
I have noticed that whenever I go for a walk many people are very accommodating and will go out of their way to create that social distance themselves thus I don’t have to worry about it.
However, there have been at least two occasions when I have run into situations that are rather annoying. The first was when I went to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. I take just over a gram of drugs every day. Unfortunately, these drugs are to keep my brain in control rather than have a good time. I joke of course I have never taken illegal drugs in my life. No, my drugs are for social anxiety/depression and generalised epilepsy.
Anyway, I digress. So I went to the pharmacy and obviously couldn’t read the signs on the door about only allowing two people in at a time to maintain social distancing and thus anyone else must wait outside. So I walk in and this woman who must have been in her late 60’s early 70’s turns around and says to me ‘you have to wait outside’. She wasn’t rude but quite brusque. She obviously hadn’t clocked my cane thus I reply, ‘sorry I’m visually impaired, didn’t know there were two people already in here and didn’t know I had to wait outside’. I didn’t know because I couldn’t read the signs on the door. Anyway, I turn around and walk out to wait. When the woman comes out she says, ‘ok dear you can go in now,’ her tone was a lot more pleasant which I was grateful for because she had obviously remembered what I had said and had taken time to let me know that I could go in.
The second incident was when I was waiting to go into my local Tesco to pick up some food. The quickest way for me to get into the shop is through the back entrance … and yes for all you dirty-minded sods out there my brain suddenly realised what I said and went there too. However, there was a member of staff who luckily saw me coming and told me about the fact that I had to go round to the high street entrance. Fair enough that’s fine by me.
So I go round to the front entrance … and yes that pun was intended … gosh the lesbian in me is having a field day with these inuendos.
Anyway, I walk to the door not realising that they had put yellow and black masking tape on the floor outside the shop to indicate people have to queue outside. Thus the shop can limit the number of people in the shop to help maintain social distancing. So I walk past the queue only to be stopped by a member of staff manning the doors (let me remind you I have my cane out indicating that I have a visual impairment). I get told that I have to go to the end of the queue. THE END OF THE QUEUE? Where the fucks that? so anyway I find the end of the queue and wait my turn. When I get to the front of the queue I see the doors opening and I can tell that the member of staff is there, I’m still patiently waiting, then I hear the member of staff say it’s your turn. What I hadn’t realised was that the utter mindless idiot thought it was appropriate to wave his hand in a come hither motion to indicate it was ok for me to enter the shop.
Some people are so fucking retarded that they don’t realise that people with a visual impairment don’t always rely on body language to receive information. As I went in I heard him say that he’d been waving at me for about 20 seconds. Well … well done mate did you not think to take notice of my cane and verbalise to me what you were doing? I know staff at places such as supermarkets are suppose to have disability awareness training but this dumb shit obviously hadn’t paid attention because he thought it appropriate to wave at a person with a visual impairment rather than using verbal instructions.
So a few days after being told that I had to queue up and figure out where the queue for Tesco started I went back and as per usual queued up. When it was my turn to enter the shop there was a different member of staff manning the doors and she was brilliant because she told me when I could enter, asked if I needed any assistance (excellent customer service for you right there people) and told me that because of my disability I didn’t actually have to queue. She was brilliant and lovely and so welcoming and did everything right in terms of accessibility.
It just goes to show that there are people who do go above and beyond even in these chaotic unpredictable times. It’s the small things sometimes such as people creating that social distance when I’m walking with my cane so that I don’t have to worry about it, or when people’s attitudes change and they recognise that even a simple, ‘yes I’m out of the shop it’s ok for you to go in,’ to people giving more accurate accessibility support.
There are always gonna be people who just don’t understand what it means to help someone with a disability but in times such as these, it’s the small things that I appreciate. It shows that whilst many people may still misunderstand the spectrum of sight loss and get all flustered or offer fucking stupid support or no support at all, there are people who have more than two brain cells to rub together and take the time to offer at least a few words of actual, accessible, useful help.
Thus, over the past week and a bit, I have learned that I can and will continue to put my pride to one side and constantly use a cane even in my home town and to be thankful for the people who help even in the smallest of ways. Also, I need to invest in flame throwers for my cane to keep people even further away and make myself look even cooler whilst adorning the top of my cane with the skulls of anyone who crossed me. Just for the shits and giggles right?
Peace out everyone. Keep safe, but if we all do get Coronavirus shall we all go storm the White House just to shit on Donald Trump’s parade? 😛