Singapore

Singaporeans step forward to help the blind adapt to new normal

Visually impaired say they have received assistance in adjusting to new normal of social distancing measures

With social distancing measures in place, there has been some concern that the blind would struggle greatly to adjust and find it difficult to get around.

But Mrs Sherriza Hareani, 51, was pleasantly surprised to find that strangers have stepped forward in these trying times to help those like her.

She began losing her sight when she was about 28 and took painstaking efforts to memorise routes to places such as the mall near her home.

So when the pandemic hit and the mall limited its entry points, she was afraid that going to get groceries would become an impossible task.

"The mall entrance I usually enter from has closed, and I was afraid to ask for help because I didn't know how people would react with the social distancing measures," she said.

"I also feel embarrassed approaching people at times."

But when she did ask for help, she was surprised but how far strangers went to help her.

"I am supposed to take their elbow so that they can guide me, instead people took the initiative to put their hand on my shoulder or even take my elbow," she said.

"The first time I was out after the circuit breaker, I was waiting at the bus stop for a friend, and a bus driver actually got off the bus and came up to me asking if I needed help."

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Mr Chia Hong Sen, 23, an associate UX designer who was born visually impaired, shared that he, too, had similar experiences.

He said: "I was rather worried that people might ask us to stay away, but when I did approach people for assistance, they were quite willing to guide us."

His guide dog Clare has also had to adjust to the new normal, but not all of it was bad.

"Guide dogs have a routine lifestyle, taking the same routes usually," explained Mr Chia.

"But with the circuit breaker and social distancing, we now take more leisure walks instead, and she gets to be more active, with more chances to go out on new routes."

Both Mrs Sherriza and Mr Chia said while their experiences have been mostly positive so far, they hope more awareness can be raised on how helping those like them is not a breach of social distancing measures.

People are allowed to help the blind by having some physical contact and being in close proximity with them while guiding them in public. It is one of the exceptions that allows for flexibility in social distancing rules.

Guide Dogs Singapore's general manager Vanessa Loh explained that the blind often require physical contact to be guided.

"Correct sighted guiding is supposed to have some physical contact," she said.

"Now that shopping malls are fenced up and entrances and exits keep changing, it is confusing even for sighted people. For a blind person, it is near impossible because they can't navigate so easily."

She added that there were concerns the blind would be less likely to find help from strangers now, resulting in the increased reluctance to go out even for basic necessities such as meals and groceries.

But with the sharing of experiences by those such as Mrs Sherriza and Mr Chia, she feels more at ease.

"I want to thank people who have come forward to offer their help to the blind," she said.

"We really hope that more Singaporeans will be forthcoming in offering help to those who might need it."

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