A leading organisation for the blind has produced guidance for taxi and private hire drivers on how they can assist visually impaired passengers during COVID-19 distancing measures.
In the UK, if the passenger is a guide dog owner, it is a criminal offence for cabbies and private hire drivers to refuse carrying their dog, or to charge extra for doing so. The only exception that stands to that rule is if the driver has a medical exemption certificate from the licensing authority due to a genuine medical condition that is aggravated by exposure to dogs.
Assisting vulnerable and disabled passengers during the COVID-19 period has meant a higher risk of exposure to the virus for both the cab driver and passenger due to the varying levels of assistance required.
Guide Dogs, an association for the blind, has recently published guidance for drivers looking to best assist the blind and maintain safe and vital access for the visually impaired as lockdown eases.
A spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, said: “Taxis and minicabs and the door to door service they provide are essential for people with disabilities. They are a key mode of transport for people who are blind and partially sighted, who are unable to drive and often face barriers when using public transport.
“During the pandemic, it remains the case that service providers, including transport providers, have a duty under equality legislation to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. And of course, providing such support also represents good customer service.
“This information has been designed to ensure that drivers and other staff working to support taxi and minicab travel can feel confident when helping passengers with sight loss, whilst maintaining social distancing and other measures that are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.“
In the guidance provided, the association states:
Not everyone with vision impairment is totally blind and many retain some useful sight. Some will use a guide dog or a cane, but the majority travel without a mobility aid and so it may not always be apparent that they have sight loss.
Just like anyone else, people with sight loss will have personal preferences in how they receive support. Probably the most important tip is to always ask the person to tell you how they would like to be helped. It should be possible to assist someone safely but still enable them to retain their dignity.
If assisting a guide dog owner, do not interfere with the dog and only give instructions to its owner.
As many people with sight loss have some useful vision, wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard may be helpful for many customers with sight loss as it could make it easier for them to differentiate you from others.
The organisation also recommended drivers use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when assisting someone with sight loss, as it may be necessary to be closer to them than the recommended two metres.