Stay safe in public during COVID-19

23 April 2020

As many people who are blind or have low vision use touch to access information or navigate public spaces, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on their ability to be active and independent.

Vision Australia orientation and mobility expert Bashir Ebrahim OAM recently spoke to Vision Australia Radio about some techniques people who are blind or have low vision can use to stay safe.

Check out some of Bashir’s top tips below!

Minimise contact with shared surfaces

While some shared surfaces, like braille signs, need to be accessed by hand, people can minimise using their hands on other common shared surfaces or items.

Handrails, buttons and door handles are among those that people may be able to identify and use without their hands.

 “Studies from the School of Tropical Health and Medicine in Townsville show that handrails and elevator or escalator rails have a lot of communicable bugs,” Bashir said.  

“It’s the same with handrails on public transport.  These environments are high risk. They always have been.”

Bashir suggests people use their elbow or the end of their mobility cane to identify things such as doors, rails, buttons and escalators.

Wear gloves

When it’s not possible to avoid touching shared surfaces with your hands, Bashir recommends people consider wearing gloves.

“Sometimes people use cotton re-usable gloves. They have been worn by people with allergies for many years,” he said.

“These have to be used carefully so you’ve got to wash them and make sure they’re cleaned and stored appropriately. You can use disposable rubber gloves if you have access to them.”

Maintain good hand hygiene.

Even with wearing gloves and minimising contact with shared surfaces, Bashir said it’s important to maintain good hand hygiene.

“It’s always good to know where the handwashing locations are, especially in hospitals and so on where there are stations at the entry and exit of most ward areas.

“Look for those hand sanitising or washing facilities in supermarkets, airports, all those places that you regularly travel to,” he said.

People should be in the habit of regularly washing their hands, even at home.

“Get into the habit of washing your hands before you have a meal. Then have your meal and wash your hands afterwards as well. It’s about getting into another routine of good habits. ”

People should was their hands with soap and water and Bashir recommends carrying hand sanitiser when in public.

Use an ID cane or badge

Bashir said that an ID can or low vision badge could be an important piece of equipmenrt during the COVID-19 pandemic

“Consider having an ID cane in your bag or an ‘I am blind’ or ‘I have low vision’ badge. Particularly if you’re in public areas like a bus, or a transit centre or a hospital. The identification that those devices can provide is great for other people to offer you assistance in an emergency.

“It’s a way of helping you help other people help you. Think of it as a positive thing in those situations where it may be good to have that assistance from a member of the public or staff in an emergency situation.”

Using sighted guide

While using a sighted guide under social distancing guideline might seem difficult, Bashir said it’s still possible.

“There are lots of different ways that people can guide or be guided. It does vary according to how comfortable you are. Some people can hold their guide’s shoulder as long as the guide is comfortable with that.

“People are encouraged to cough into their elbow rather than into their hands. This is a good way to stop the spray of particles. You might want to ask the person that’s guiding you which elbow they cough into.

“Someone with low vision may have enough confidence to follow their guide and keep their distance without being too far away. If you’re using a long cane you could use it folded in half and hold the handle while a guide holds the other end.”

Listen to the rest of Bashir's advice

You can listen to the rest of Bashir's advice here or on the player below:

Interested in learning more about these orientation and mobility techniques? Find out how you can have a telehealth appointment with Vision Australia. You can also call us on 1300 84 74 66 or email info@visionaustralia.org.