Social distancing prevents blind & partially sighted people from accessing essential services: CNIB


The Canadian National Institute for the Blind Quebec Foundation (CNIB) is warning that Quebecers with sight loss face heightened discrimination amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're worried that the laws and fines put in place are discriminatory against someone who's blind, with regard to their mobility and security," said CNIB Executive Director David Demers.

He said visually impaired Quebecers who rely on a sighted guide to travel safely and access essential services are being refused entry to businesses adhering to strict social distancing protocols.

"There are stores that only allow one person at a time to enter, so that can be an issue for a person who's blind to access that store with a sighted guide," said Demers.

"We're asking for the public and the authorities to be tolerant. If a blind person is with a sighted guide, it's because they really need one. Sometimes they have no choice," he said.

Even if people are not turned away for being accompanied by a sighted guide, Demers said grocery shopping remains particularly difficult during the pandemic.

"We want to try to limit the amount of touching we do with items. Some blind people might use a smart phone application that takes a picture of a product and reads out loud what it is. There are different techniques, but many times assistance from a store clerk is needed. That's where people are getting refused," said Demers. "Clerks are supposed to respect social and physical distancing, but in the case of helping a visually impaired person with their groceries it may be essential."

Demers said the CNIB is offering training to help those with sight loss navigate online grocery delivery services and volunteer-run programs, but those options often take time and don't work for everyone.

Instead, he said more awareness of how pandemic protocols disproportionately affect disabled people is needed if communities are going to get through the crisis together.


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