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Priority supermarket deliveries announced for blind shoppers amid social distancing concerns


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LIND and partially sighted people across England who have struggled to buy food since the lockdown are now able to


access priority online shopping slots following campaigning by sight loss charities. Changes to supermarket layouts, social


distancing and limitations on online delivery slots have made it nearly impossible for blind and partially sighted people to shop without support. As a result, just half of blind and partially sighted people who shopped independently before lockdown are still doing so, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Because of this, one in five (21 per cent) are also being forced to ration food. Following months of campaigning by the Royal


National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary – including the submission of a petition with over 22,000 signatures – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have recognised the specific challenges faced by people with sight loss. As a result, Defra has secured online shopping slots aimed at people who cannot safely leave their home and have no social network to support them from a number of major supermarkets. David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, said:


“Blind and partially sighted people have been facing specific and unique challenges that have had an enormous impact on everyday independence. Our helpline has received thousands of calls from people worried about access to food and many are having to rely on the goodwill of strangers to get the essentials they needed. These new slots represent a first step in what, for many blind and partially sighted people, will be a long road to regaining their full independence, enabling them to buy what they want, when they want without support from others.” The priority shopping slots are now available


through referral via RNIB’s Helpline and are intended for blind and partial sighted people who are unable to access food and have no local family or friends who can help them shop. Elizabeth Manuel, a former district judge from


Portsmouth, was forced to ration a week's worth of food over several weeks after she was unable to


get a supermarket slot online. Ms Manuel, who is partially sighted after suffering a brain haemorrhage when she was 47, self-isolated for 12 weeks from the start of lockdown and is still forced to rely on her neighbour to shop for her. She said: “For weeks after lockdown, I went online every day trying to get a shopping slot. I wrote to the main supermarkets and my MP to ask for help from the Council but that didn’t result in any food or support either. My anxiety levels were very high, particularly when I got home having been hospitalised with Covid and still had no delivery slot. I began to ration food as I didn’t want to overburden my amazing neighbour who has been in helping me throughout and put them at further risk from the virus. "This is 2020 and the fact that disabled people


have been worried about having the most basic necessity is shocking! RNIB have provided support throughout and with their help at last the real difficulties faced by blind and partially sighted people have been properly recognised by the Government. This is a real relief for me and for others with sight loss.”


Blanche Shackleton, Head of Public Affairs, Campaigns and Influencing at Guide Dogs, said: “People with sight loss faced a double whammy of being unable to observe social distancing in supermarkets, while also being excluded from priority online delivery slots. Many were telling us they were really worried about how they were going to buy food at all. This is why we worked alongside people with sight loss, our partner organisations and members of the public to achieve this vitally important result.”


As well as work with DEFRA, RNIB has been working closely with supermarkets across the country, providing guidance to help them support blind and partially sighted customers in the current environment. RNIB has also worked with wholesalers, Brakes, to set up an accessible ordering system of their goods in areas close to their delivery depots. The programme is currently trialling in Hertfordshire and Essex and was rolled out across all Brakes’ delivery areas in England from 22 June.


For more information about the support available, including the new priority online shopping slots for people with sight loss visit rnib.org.uk. People who are eligible can access this new support via RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, from 8am-8pm on weekdays and 9am-5pm on Saturdays.


34 26 Ability Needs Magazine


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