Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme launches wearable aids for social distancing

Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme, the organisation behind the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme, has launched a new range of wearable items that it hopes will help people who struggle to social distance.

The products, which include face coverings, badges, snoods and lanyards saying “Please give me space”, were created by Hidden Disabilities in collaboration with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Cabinet Office.

Research by RNIB found that nearly three quarters (70 per cent) of disabled people felt that it is difficult to social distance, and a small number even reported being confronted by other members of the public for being unable to keep a distance. The majority (more than 80 per cent) felt that a social distance indicator was a good idea and that it would help others understand that they needed space and provide them with more confidence when in public areas.

Chantal Boyle, Please give me space, at Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme, said: “The Hidden Disability Sunflower Scheme raises awareness and recognition of hidden disabilities across the UK and is gaining momentum abroad. We provide awareness training for businesses to improve customer experience and understanding in the workplace.

“Our collaboration with RNIB, a leading sight loss charity and campaigner, has allowed us to maximise our expertise. Together we have developed ‘Please give me space’ in response to COVID-19 and the need to social distance. Its purpose is to alert others that they need help to maintain social distance when they see someone wearing it.

“We are inviting charities and businesses to adopt Please give me space and use our free staff training and campaign assets to increase recognition and understanding of the scheme.”

Marc Powell, Strategic Accessibility Lead at RNIB, said: “Social distancing has completely turned the world upside down for blind and partially sighted people. In fact, two thirds of people with vision impairment told us in a survey that they felt less independent since lockdown started back in March. This is largely due to challenges and anxieties around social distancing.

“For those who want to use it, the ‘Please give me space’ products will provide an option to indicate to passers-by that social distancing is either difficult or particularly important. In turn, this will help improve our confidence and allow us to participate in daily life, such as shopping and exercise, in the same way as everyone else.”

The ‘Please give me space’ emblem has been designed inclusively for any person who feels anxious about social distancing, by giving them a way to signal to others that they need to be given space. Businesses are also making the symbol more recognisable by joining the initiative and spreading awareness through staff training and customer awareness.

Initial testing of the products has been successful. Jonathan Attenborough from Perth has been using the lanyard and face masks and said: “The difference with social distancing when you are blind is that you can’t judge the distance between yourself and other people if you can’t see them, which itself presents a number of problems when you’re being told to keep a certain distance from other people for safety reasons.

“The restrictions that have been put in place in shops and supermarkets are all either visual signs telling you where to stand or arrows showing you where the one-way system is that you need to follow. None of these have been made accessible for blind and partially sighted people, so prove challenging if you can’t see them.

“I was pleased to find that people did keep further away from me whilst I was wearing the lanyard and face covering, and even more encouragingly, people seemed to engage and be interested in the wearables and what they mean.

“I do feel more confident going out whilst wearing them, and feel it could be extremely useful not only for people with sight loss, but for anyone who feels anxious about going out during this time.

“I think the products created by RNIB are fantastic, and hope that others with sight loss find them beneficial over the coming months.”

To find out more about the Please give me space initiative or purchase the social distancing products, please visit pleasegivemespace.uk.

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