Shoppers Need To Be A 'little More Understanding' Of People With Guide Dogs During Coronavirus Crisis

  • 27/04/2020

People are being urged to be show extra consideration and understanding to guide dogs and their owners when out shopping for essential supplies during the coronavirus lockdown.

The call comes from Guide Dogs charity, which has a branch in Leicester, amid reports of some shoppers failing to appreciate the particular set of difficulties facing many blind and partially-sighted people amid the UK's emergency social distancing measures.

A guide dog trainer, who is not named, raised the issue on the Spotted Measham Facebook page after a recent visit to their local supermarket.

It read: "Guide dogs haven't been trained in social distancing and queuing to get in a shop. If you see a guide dog heading straight for the shop door and not joining the queue, that is what they have been trained to do.

"They're not being rude or intentionally queue jumping.

"Also, if you see them walking down the street, remember, they haven't been trained to social distance, so it is up to us, the sighted people, to give them the space."

In response to issues raised by guide dog owners, the charity is launching a national information line to provide extra support as the crisis continues.

More than 22,000 people have also signed a petition, organised by Guide Dogs, asking the government to work with supermarkets to ensure people with sight loss have access to vital supplies.

Heather McGivern, who has been partially-sighted since birth due to a rare condition called retina coloboma, is observing the lockdown at her home in Queniborough, together with guide dog Elsa, her husband Matthew, 34, and their five-year-old daughter Eveleen.

The 31-year-old, who moved from her native Los Angeles to build a life in Leicestershire, is backing the charity's move.

"The struggles of blind and partially-sighted people are much the same as everyone else during the lockdown, only a little more magnified," she said.

"But this is especially so if they don't have family to support them.

"I saw that Facebook post by a guide dog trainer and I'm lucky to have my husband to help out with shopping. But if things were different I would feel worried. People do need to be patient and understanding.

"My guide dog is a great worker but doesn't understand social distancing - how would she? So there's a little bit of anxiety there as to how I'd be perceived if we headed straight to the supermarket entrance and, once inside, were unable to observe the two metre rule for example.

"In normal times, and if it was necessary, then a supermarket employee could help by taking you by the arm but obviously that isn't the case at the moment. "

She added: "That's why I support the calls from Guide Dogs for people with guide dogs to be allowed a set aside time to go shopping, like healthcare staff, carers and some vulnerable groups have.

"The helpline is also very welcome. The isolation felt by many blind and partially-sighted people will be made worse in these times and it's important to have someone there to call.

"Guide Dogs have been brilliant with me, for example, in suggesting ways to keep Elsa stimulated and healthy when she's not getting the kind of exercise she's used to."

The charity has handed the petition in and is currently awaiting a response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A spokeswoman for Guide Dogs said: "Social distancing with sight loss, access to food, increased isolation and guide dog health are among our key concerns.

"The Covid-19 Sight Loss Information Line will offer practical support in response to an influx of concerns raised by people with sight loss, their friends and their families."

She added: "Some of the most common concerns being raised have highlighted how difficult it is to stay safe during the pandemic and practise social distancing without being able to see."

They include: food shopping, social isolation and care for guide dogs.

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