Top tips for social distancing if you are blind or visually impaired

We keep hearing about 'social distancing' and how it’s going to become part of who we are and how we live for some time to come. Simple some people say - just be mindful and keep your distance. It’s enforced in shops already, and as more places open up it will be a big part of the plan.
Simon, our Senior Rehab Officer who is visually impaired himself, says "I struggle to walk down the road and not bump into my wife, who I trail to the side as a form of sight guide. How’s this social distancing going to work?" He has put together his top tips on the subject here.

Getting out and about with social distancing

As both a VI Rehab Officer and person with low vision, I thought it would be useful to share what I am going to do to follow social distancing guidelines. It’s not definitive, but it will give you some ideas.

Why do I want to get out and about? I’ve been at home now for seven weeks and I like to keep my independence – so the skills that I’ve learnt and my self-confidence both need building back up.

If you can’t get out, how about practicing your skills at home – get your long cane out and have a go around your home.  Don’t forget that you made need upper and lower body protection if you go in your garden, as things might have grown!

So here are my 11 top tips for social distancing if you are blind or visually impaired.

Image shows a male member of staff smiling at the camera. He is wearing a dark checked shirt.

Tip 1

Don’t be put off letting people know that you have a visual impairment.

Sometimes we keep it quiet and don’t want others to know. Well now it’s time for a change, let it out of the bag! It took me ages to be comfortable letting others know, from admitting it to family all the way to long caning it through Piccadilly Station. The difference it makes when people know is amazing!

Tip 2

If you’ve got a cane, use it! Keep it in view at all times (we tend to fold them away as soon as we can).

I know not everyone knows what a white cane is, but most do.  It makes you noticeable, that’s why a symbol cane is called “symbol”, to let others know.  Even if it’s still in the drawer (you know the one, in the kitchen with all the other stuff in, elastic bands, Sellotape etc.) – get it out!

Obviously if you’ve not learned the skills you need, use the cane as a symbol cane, as in our video.

Tip 3

Take your cane even if you are with someone; hold it to the side and make it obvious you are together and being guided.

You could fold your long cane in half so you don’t get tangled, or kick it up into your face.

Image shows two woemn walking side by side; one woman is holding a long cane.

Tip 4

If you’re using your long cane, make it obvious you are using it!

Keep your starting sweep obvious, make sure your arc is wide enough.  Sometimes we keep it tight as we learn to use a cane more efficiently.

Using a bit of three-point touch keeps it noisy – this is where you add an extra tap to check your shoreline, it will help people hear you coming.

You could increase your arc width as long as you don’t compromise your safety, for example in a shop.

Tip 5

Keep to the inner shoreline, away from the kerb, and let others step out into the road.

Make your path definite and confident – and at least there should be less A-boards blocking the pavements at the moment!

Tip 6

If you think someone is too close, tell them you have a visual impairment and ask them whether they are at the correct distance.

It will also help you to test the distance when you hear them answer. If they are not, it may prompt them to move away.

Tip 7

If you don’t own a symbol cane (the short one) you could buy one from the online RNIB shop.

Alternatively, you could ask your local sensory team if they could supply you with one.

You can see how to use the symbol cane in our video, or get someone to watch and relate it back to you.

Tip 8

There are lots of other ways to make yourself visible, such as a high visibility vest or sash. Some shops and venues use the Sunflower Lanyard to help identify hidden disabilities, you can read more about it on the RNIB’s website.

It depends on what you feel comfortable with.  I often find that people realise I have low vision when my phone starts speaking to me! Or take your magnifier out with you, it may help visually explain to others.

Image shows a man wearing a high visibility vest and dark glasses, being guided by another man.

Tip 9

If you are using public transport, ring and book assistance if possible.

Ring the bus company and ask: “What can I expect on the bus, such as new layout, etc?” I’ll certainly be ringing up to find out the new system and what to expect if I go to any appointments in the future.

Tip 10

One thing I’ll be doing is assuming my hands need washing the minute that I leave the door.

I’ve really tried to get out of the habit of touching my face (that’s easier said than done!) If you can get the correct hand wipes or sanitiser, put it in your pocket.

Tip 11

Disinfect your cane handle, and the end of it too if it’s been on the ground (it could have all the usual things on it you find on a pavement!)

Disinfect what you feel needs it, and when you’ve done wash your hands too.

Image shows a girl using a long cane, with a meber of Henshaws staff next to her.

Further support

We hope you have found these top tips for social distancing useful.

If you need any further guidance or would like to speak with one of our trained advisors, please call us on 0300 222 5555 or drop us an email to

Please remember to keep up to date with current social distancing guidelines, which can be found on the Government website.

Above all, stay safe.

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