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Blind people face specific issues in post Covid-19 world

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Cornelius Dunne with guide dog 'Yonit'

Cornelius Dunne with guide dog 'Yonit'

Cornelius Dunne with guide dog 'Yonit'

Like many other businesses around the county local NCBI (National Council for the Blind) shops in Wexford have been busy over the last number of weeks preparing to reopen into a post Covid-19 world.

However, while protocols such as social distancing are easy to adhere to for those who are sighted, for people who are vision impaired or blind the reopening of the country following the pandemic means walking out into a world that will present some new challenges that weren't there before.

Cornelius Dunne, from Kilagoley, Enniscorthy, spoke to this newspaper about some of the challenges faced by those who are blind or vision impaired and one of the first things he highlighted was that his trusted guide dog, Yonit, is not trained for social distancing.

'He's trained in a very specific way but obviously he's not trained for social distancing,' said Cornelius.

'It's great having a dog because obviously it makes it much easier when you go out walking but obviously the dog is not trained for social distancing,' he added.

He also pointed out that sighted people know if someone is wearing masks but a person who is visually impaired doesn't know if those around him or her are taking the necessary precautions.

Now that the country is beginning to enter its reopening phase things will improve but during lockdown it was difficult for Cornelius and not getting to see his partner was a particular concern.

'My partner is in a wheelchair so we haven't seen each other for a few weeks which is hard,' said Cornelius.

'It's hard for both of us at the moment.'

Some of the issues faced by people who are blind will be compounded as a result of the regulations imposed as a result of the pandemic.

'I know around my house like the back of my hand, but I always keep my hand out so I know where I am going when I'm in someone else's house or out and about,' said Cornelius.

He said during the lockdown he received help and support while cocooning but highlighted that 'people are still independent'.

'That's the idea behind the NCBI,' he said.

'They want to improve the general public's awareness of people who are blind,' he added.

Cornelius also encouraged people not to be afraid to ask if someone needs help or assistance.

'If you know someone who is blind just ask them if they need help,' he said.

Cornelius also feels that the Government doesn't provide anything close to the correct level of support for people with a disability.

'The Government doesn't care at all about people with disabilities,' he said.

He added that the Government expects those with a disability to live on €200 per week.

'They expect people to survive on that and it costs €1,200 per year for a guide dog and that is without paying for insurance,' he said.

'As guide dog owners we have to pay insurance,' he added.

On a practical level, Cornelius said he has to be careful when out in public because he is conscious of not getting too close to other people but Yonit wonders why he has stopped.

'You are trying to make sure you are not too close to people and at the same time you are looking after your guide dog,' he said.

Cornelius admits getting annoyed sometimes when people ask if they can pet Yonit because they forget that not only is he doing a job but he's also effectively acting as Cornelius' eyes.

'Actually, I can understand children wanting to do it but not their parents,' he said.

Another aspect of life that will prove more difficult now is dining out.

'Even going to a restaurant will be a bit more difficult, than before' said Cornelius.

Travelling on buses can also be challenging and Cornelius said it would be a great help if drivers got out at stops and just said where the bus is going so that people who are blind will know.

'Some people can be quite ignorant towards people with a disability and that is just wrong,' he said.

Mental health is another area that Cornelius feels should be better supported in terms of people with disabilities.

He also feels that some able bodied and sighted people are afraid to ask those who are blind or vision impaired to step back if they are close.

However, he said: 'It's just the eyes that are gone, not anything else.'

'If we are too close just ask "can you step back please" that's all,' he said.

'It won't be a problem but obviously there will be times when we just won't know we are too close.'

Cornelius hopes that work can be done to improve public access for the vision impaired in Enniscorthy.

'There is a crossing at the AIB but there isn't really anything on the other side at the Bus Stop and there is a lot of traffic,' he said.

'It was within the last four years that I lost my sight completely,' he added.

Being blind obviously presents many difficulties but Cornelius is has a very positive outlook: 'It's not easy but I just get on with it.'

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