Leeds sight loss blogger shares top tips for social distancing amidst second lockdown
Charlotte Bailey, aka 'thatblind.ishmum' from Leeds was diagnosed with Stargardt disease when she was just 17 years old back in 2012. After a routine checkup, her opticians noticed a dramatic change in her prescription and orange flecks in the back of both eyes. Charlotte was then referred to St James Hospital, where doctors told her she had Stargardt disease, which sadly has no current treatments. She was advised to protect her eyes by wearing eye shields as well as encouraged to use a symbol cane.
In March 2020, after Charlotte’s eyesight had deteriorated significantly, she was registered legally blind as she developed an obstruction to her vision causing a blind spot in her right eye. Since then she has enquired about a guide cane to replace her symbol cane but because of delays due to the pandemic she still is waiting on this.
Covid-19 has also impacted people with sight loss in other ways. A recent survey by Fight for Sight found that two in five respondents said they were having difficulty following social distancing rules, while more than half said their access to food and other products has got worse during the pandemic.
With a second national lockdown taking place, we asked Charlotte to share her top tips for social distancing:
1. Wear a mask and take out a personal bottle of hand santiser. When Charlotte goes out, instead of having to locate hand sanitising stations she tells us she carries a small bottle of santiser accessible in her pocket in case she touches anything.
2. Ask for help. When Charlotte leaves her house with her three year old son, Oliver, she says she is constantly talking to him to ask what he can see and that he is always looking out for her. She said he is amazing in his communication and trust and that she is "super proud of how much he takes in and seems to adapt to my sight loss along with me". Charlotte adds "he seems to understand and accept the guidelines and new life more than a lot of adults!".
3. Wear signifiers to let the public know you have sight loss, if you have them and feel comfortable doing so. These include wearing eye shields, using a cane, or Charlotte tells us she wears a personalised jumper with the words ‘Blindish Mama’ written on. If you’d like, you can download a 'Please give me space' social distancing card or badge from GOV.UK.
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However, most of all it is vital that members of the public take responsibility in maintaining the required two-meter distance. Sadly, Charlotte tells us that even when she is taking the precautions above, it’s not always enough. She said: “Sometimes it’s like people can’t understand that I can’t see and unfortunately there have been times when I’ve had to step off the pavement last minute to avoid bumping into pedestrians".
Chief Executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause said: “Local authorities must ensure the needs of people with sight loss are being taken into account on our streets and public spaces in towns and cities. It’s also vital that our high streets do not become no-go areas for blind or partially-sighted people. Business owners have a responsibility to make their premises accessible. Measures such as one-way systems and signs on the floor can be hard to see, so staff must be at hand to assist people who need it".
Meanwhile, Fight for Sight is highlighting the need to continue to fund research for new treatments and cures for Stargardt disease, as well as other eye conditions, in order to take pressure off our already over-stretched NHS. Eye research is now at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the lockdown has jeopardised funding and delayed many projects due to difficulty in accessing labs and resources. Please donate to Fight for Sight to help researchers cover the costs of delays to projects and get eye research back on track to help transform lives of people like Charlotte through sight-saving treatments.
Follow Charlotte aka @thatblind.ishmum on Instagram.