Covid-19 restrictions are having a major impact on the physical and mental health of blind and visually impaired people, the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) has warned.
According to the charity, restrictions introduced to suppress the spread of the virus have impacted those with vision loss disproportionately.
It carried out a survey of some of its service users recently and this revealed that 75% of blind and visually impaired people were unable to meet national recommended guidelines on physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 90% said their physical activity had been severely limited.
One in five had not left their homes since March, while 50% said that the pandemic had a serious detrimental impact on their mental health.
"For some blind and vision impaired people who live alone, the ability to get out and walk, run or cycle is just not possible because of the need for a guide or pilot. With the physical distancing requirements, physical activity is just not possible for many, and these findings suggest, it's really taking its toll on our members," commented the NCBI's deputy chief services officer, Aaron Mullaniff.
He emphasised that regular physical activity is vital to reduce the severity of chronic conditions and to support mental health.
"Consequently, with well known links between exercise and mental health, it was not surprising that almost one in two respondents stated that COVID-19 physical and social restrictions had a serious negative impact on their mental health," Mr Mullaniff noted.
In an attempt to tackle this issue, the Vision Sports Ireland team has investigated alternative ways of supporting socially-distant exercise.
Vision Sports Ireland is the body dedicated to the promotion of sports and leisure activities for those who are blind or vision impaired. It formally merged with the NCBI in March.
Supported by volunteer guides recruited from the Parkrun community, the collaboration is facilitating walking, jogging and running utilising a long cane or extended tether to maintain the required distance.
Traditionally the long cane has been used for navigation by people who are blind or vision impaired, however this solution sees the cane being held either end by the guide and participant, making it possible for the pair to effectively navigate and exercise in outdoor areas and parks while communicating around hazards.
This programme has been trialled across locations in Dublin and Kildare, with positive feedback received from all guides and participants.
"For some blind and vision impaired participants, this was the first time they had left their homes to exercise since the restrictions began in March, which is very alarming. It is vital people who are blind and vision impaired are given a way to return to their sport of choice, just like their sighted peers," commented NCBI head of advocacy, Kevin Kelly.
For more information on how to get involved with this programme, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Pictured is a guide safely navigating St Anne's Park in Dublin with a participant using a long cane approach
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