A BLIND man has spoken of the risk to people’s independence because guide dogs aren’t able to cope with social distancing measures .

Alan Fletcher, from Stratton, echoed the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s warning that methods to allow for restrictions to be lifted are likely to create a double lockdown for the blind, affecting their freedom.

He highlighted that his guide dog, Nutmeg, is not trained to understand the new rules.

“Guide dogs are not trained to socially distance,” said Alan. “So if you go to anywhere like a supermarket, my dog is trained to take you to the door, not put you in a queue.

“That’s one of the biggest problems we have really. When you walk down the road I can’t see that people are coming and, obviously the dog sees the people coming, but she doesn’t realise that she’s got to socially distance.”

Alan, who has been blind for 13 years, said the systems to manage crowds in shops are often unsuitable for those with restricted vision.

“I can’t follow the route, so if I might go the right way or the wrong way, and I can’t see how far I am away from people,” he said.

“It has impacted my independence,” Alan added. “After the first couple of times I don’t go on my own anymore, I always go with my wife now if I want to go somewhere.”

Alan added that wearing a mask in public places is also problematic.

“If I’m with my dog wearing a mask, she can’t hear all my instructions because it’s muffled. So that’s going to be a big problem for people who have a guide dog,” he said.

Alan added that it is unclear if guide dog owners are exempt from using masks.

“Wearing a mask is going to be difficult, not only for me but also my carer. If my wife is with me as my carer, I’m not sure that I could hear her very well is she has a mask on and could easily walk off the pavement and into the road,” he said.

“It does worry me,” Alan added. “How I’m going to be able to cope with the measures, because you’re never quite sure exactly where you are and how close you are to falling off a curb and that sort of thing, especially on a busy road.

“I think basically I will just stop going out, and that will happen more and more really. If you’re finding you’re having difficulty you just won’t go out and that’s not very good really. That’s when our independence will go.”

The RNIB says 215,000 people in the South West live with sight loss.

Eleanor Southwood, chairman of trustees said: “Blind and partially sighted people like me are used to navigating a world not designed with us in mind, but social distancing has really turned our world upside down. A lot of the strategies and tools we use to get around safely – like being guided – are not allowed under current rules, and many have been left stranded.

“We’re concerned that this will have a real impact on people’s quality of life. The new normal risks causing a double lockdown for people with sight loss. This is not fair or acceptable.

“We’re asking the general public to help us safely social distance whilst getting on with life. By being aware of the challenges we might face, and simply asking if assistance is needed, you can help us keep our independence and stay safe. We want the Government and businesses to take action, so that measures designed to protect us are inclusive to everyone, not just to those who can see them.”