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Dining Outside: This COVID-19 Trend Poses Challenges to Individuals Living With Visual Impairment

Outdoor dining, an increasingly popular pastime, has created difficulties for navigation that are not always well known, acknowledged or understood. Following are some perspectives on this challenging trend…

…For cane users:

“For members of the sight loss community, the move to outdoor recreation and dining means further obstacles…” This statement the motivation of the National Council of the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) in launching a #ClearOurPaths campaign. Individuals who are navigating with a cane are now often faced with temporary obstacles, such as chairs pulled away from tables, people standing around awaiting a table, and umbrellas sticking out from chairs, to name a few. The campaign seeks to increase public awareness of these barriers to navigation, “educating and challenging people to be more considerate…” and “better understand the impact of their actions on me and the thousands of others who are blind or visually impaired. Writing in the Irish Examiner, cane user David Kortukohun explains problems that have arisen – or grown – during COVID-19, as he endorses the #ClearOurPaths campaign and encourages others to do likewise. Read the full article: Clear Our Paths: Covid-19 has made our streets an obstacle course for visually impaired. Learn about the campaign from NCBI: #Clear Our Paths.

…For guide dog users:

The difficulties to navigation for people who are living with vision impairment have also been addressed for guide dog users. According to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, outdoor dining – and the extra furniture and partitions it often requires – “has forced visually impaired people (to walk) out onto the road.” This poses challenges to safety and can impact confidence and the ability to get around in cities. At the same time, having to walk around diners can make it difficult to maintain adequate distance from others. National Advocacy and Policy Officer for the Irish Guide Dog organization Lean Kennedy (in an interview on Newstalk Breakfast Weekends), suggests that a designated safe route, similar to a bicycle lane, is needed to provide a clear, unobstructed route. Read more about the problem and proposed solution from newstalk in Outdoor dining is making navigation extremely difficult for the visually impaired… Activist and guide dog user Dr. Amy Kavanaugh, who is visually impaired, echoes this sentiment. Dr. Kavanaugh tweeted about the experience of her dog, Ava, and how outdoor dining make her job difficult, when a pedestrian and decorative plant obstructed their path. Read more about her situation Outdoor dining makes guide dog’s job difficult, says visually impaired activist.

Overall, the “open streets” of the pandemic have limited space for people with disabilities, according to accessibility advocates. “Restaurants that claimed sidewalk and street space aren’t leaving room for wheelchair users and others with disabilities…” For more details, check out the article from Bloomberg City Lab: For Disabled Users, the ‘Open Streets’ of the Pandemic Remain Closed.