People with visual impairments struggling to access essentials during coronavirus restrictions

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People with visual impairments struggle to access essentials amid COVID-19 restrictions
WATCH: In New Brunswick, the CNIB says many of the 10,000 people with visual impairments in the province are struggling to access basic needs like groceries amid the pandemic. Shelley Steeves reports – May 1, 2020

According to the CNIB Foundation of New Brunswick, residents with visual impairments are struggling to navigate their communities amid coronavirus restrictions.

Christine Kennedy-Babineau, the program and resource development manager for CNIB New Brunswick, said some of the changes that have been made at grocery stores are presenting a challenge for people with vision loss.

“Now we have lines where you are supposed to go to line up and arrows directing traffic flow through stores and someone with sight loss who is blind or partially sighted isn’t able to see them,” Kennedy-Babineau said.

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Jens Naumann of Moncton has a visual impairment and said strangers would normally be more than happy to help him if he lost his way. But since the pandemic hit, people now tend to run in the other direction.

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“The two-metre distancing has turned this kind of into a dilemma because there are people who are afraid of me and they get out of my way instead of trying to help me,” he said.

Naumann said people are now afraid to grab his arm to help him for fear they will be fined for failing to maintain physical distancing.

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He said picking up essentials at the grocery store has become particularly challenging.

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“I have been trying to avoid that, which is not good, of course, because it interferes with my independence,” he said.

That’s why the CNIB is calling on the province to exempt sighted guides and people with visual impairments from the mandatory two-metre physical-distancing protocols

“With all the changes happening in the stores, having an individual who can verbally guide is so much more important right now,” said Kennedy-Babineau.

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She says New Brunswickers with sight loss should not be fined or penalized for relying on a guide to pick up essential items.

“Right now with the restrictions in place we really need there to be some grace given to people that they may need someone from outside of their household that would not qualify under the current restriction to be available to guide them,” she said.

On Friday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said sighted guides are considered essential workers and are exempt from the physical-distancing protocols.

She said people and their guides can shop together without fear of being fined, although she strongly recommended they “wear a community mask.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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