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Online shopping: VI people need priority access

In the first week of social distancing (which was only about two weeks’ ago, though it feels a lot longer!) London Vision’s Andy Law wrote about his experiences of trying to shop in a time of panic buying. Adding to the stress of struggling to find things on the shelves, Andy was also subject to some of the inconsiderate behaviours brought out by the pandemic. After being rammed with a trolley while trying to shop, he did manage to buy a few things, only to narrowly avoid being mugged for the same items once he left the store. It’s a wonder he’s tried shopping at the supermarket again at all. But at the moment, blind and partially sighted people are left with little choice.

A large proportion of blind and partially sighted people regularly (until now) order their shopping online and have it delivered to their homes. This takes away some of the stress of having to find assistance at or navigate around supermarkets, and takes away the need to travel home carrying heavy bags: often tricky while using a cane or being guided by a guide dog. But, since the Coronavirus pandemic, blind and partially sighted people have found they are no longer able to secure their regular online delivery slots, and under the Government’s ‘vulnerable person’ classification scheme, blind and partially sighted people are not classed a priority, so cannot access the new priority delivery slots.

This classification has been brought in to try and cut down visits to the supermarkets for people who are extremely vulnerable and trying to maintain social distance, but it leaves blind and partially sighted people in a tricky position. As a rule, it’s much harder for visually impaired people to maintain social distance, especially with the new rules in place in supermarkets. They may be unable to see the distance markings on the floor designed to keep people apart, likewise many of the signs with ever changing rules on purchases. Furthermore, guiding blind and partially sighted people requires very close contact. This is something that all people, including supermarket staff are trying to avoid, yet it was formerly a key way in which supermarket staff could assist blind and partially sighted customers.

We spoke to Bushra, a partially sighted person living in east London, who normally shops independently or with her support worker. The support worker system has been mostly suspended during the pandemic, so Bushra’s option of shopping with her support worker’s help has been taken away, but she told us that when she shops on her own, she is able to find the items she needs because she knows the layout of the shop. However, due to panic buying, many shelves are bare where she expects to find items from her list, and assistants are too busy to help.

Now, as social distancing measures are even stricter, it’s also difficult for blind and partially sighted people to maintain correct distance from other members of the public because they cannot see them, and assistants are even less likely to be able, or be allowed to help them to shop. This is why it’s crucial that blind and partially sighted people are also included in the government’s ‘vulnerable’ classification and given priority for online shopping and delivery.

We are supporting Thomas Pocklington Trust, Guide Dogs, RNIB and Visionary’s call to the UK Government to include blind and partially sighted people in the vulnerable classification to ensure that they are able to access home delivery.
You can write to your MP to join us in supporting the campaign – find out how here.

31 March 2020

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