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“People with sight loss need priority access to online shopping”, says campaigner

Rachel Jones

A blind campaigner is supporting RNIB Cymru in calling for supermarkets and Welsh Government to recognise that people with sight loss need priority access to online shopping.

Rachel Jones, 35, from Powys, says she has found it impossible to book a delivery slot in April and worries that people living with sight loss across Wales will struggle to keep their cupboards full during lockdown.

Rachel said: “I live in mid Wales so am quite isolated anyway, but now I am suddenly not able to go to the supermarket at all. The nearest Sainsburys is 30 miles away. I can’t use public transport, my husband is working round the clock in food manufacturing, and my elderly parents are having to self-isolate. My support network has disappeared.

“There is a local Co-Op but the shelves are always empty. My husband tries to bring back food when he can but there’s rarely anything to buy. Even if I could get to the supermarket, it would be dangerous as I wouldn’t be able to socially distance myself properly. I can’t see the markings on the floor or how far away people are, and if I was to trip over people would have to help me up. It just isn’t worth the risk. Online shopping is my only option.”

Priority online shopping slots are currently given to people classed as ‘vulnerable’. But the list being used to define this group is based on vulnerability to coronavirus and doesn’t yet take other barriers to shopping or accessing services into account.

Rachel continued: “I haven’t been able to get a food delivery for weeks and can’t register myself for priority deliveries. I am having to ration the food in my cupboards just in case I can’t get another shop for weeks. I feel like my independence has gone and I worry for other people in my situation who have less support than I do. It is frustrating and supermarkets need to realise that blind and partially sighted people need extra support, too.”

Sight loss charity RNIB Cymru has received a high volume of calls to its helpline from people worried about how they can do their shopping. In response, the charity has written to Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, urging her to include blind and partially sighted people among thepriority group able to access online shopping.

In her letter, Director Ansley Workman said: “As the challenges of food shopping have increased amid the uncertainty around Covid-19, several UK supermarkets are offering additional services to those considered “extremely vulnerable” under the new shielding measures.

“However, this ‘extremely vulnerable’ category is restricted to people who were identified as being at severe risk of medical illness from Covid-19, and does not account for people with sight loss, who have been facing severe issues accessing food.

“Blind and partially sighted people often rely on a combination of touch and guiding from another person to navigate. But the current unprecedented demand on supermarkets make this much more challenging. Moreover, for the visually impaired who can shop, the social distancing markers on floors and the introduction of one-way routes around supermarkets cannot easily be navigated by either long cane or guide-dog users. The additional touching of goods in supermarkets increases the possibilities of transmitting Covid-19.”

Online shopping is the best available alternative for them, emphasised Ms Workman.

“However, many blind and partially sighted people have contacted us to tell us that the supermarket delivery slots they relied on before the pandemic are booked up for weeks, resulting in them being unable to access essentials,” she said.

“We are asking the Welsh Government to urgently work with supermarkets to ensure that people with sight loss are considered a priority group able to access online shopping.”

RNIB is working with sight loss sector charities to ensure people with sight loss are considered through this difficult time.