A Track & Trace card featuring a QR code on a table at Inversnecky in Aberdeen

Since the summer of 2020, governments around the world were frantically trying to work out how best to bring their respective countries out of lockdown. As this worldwide Pandemic has caused situations and circumstances that have not been felt in living memory for much of the world, many of the world’s powers were having to think up creative solutions to the problem of trying to juggle giving folks’ their freedom back, and hopefully restart their economies with trying to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Scotland, along with the rest of the UK have brought in a whole raft of ideas and solutions in an attempt to try and help people out of their homes and back into their work and social lives, and of course spend money and restart the economy. These ideas have ranged from the extortionate and ludicrus failed Track & Trace system in England, to Scotland’s ‘Spaces for People’ initiatives. That along with the constant message of frequent hand-washing and mask wearing has meant that we have been able progress to being able to have more freedoms.

This has come with a price however as there are a few things that I can honestly say have been made harder for people with disabilities.

Firstly, when the Pandemic started and we were in full lockdown, some supermarkets were trying to enforce a rule where you could only touch items that you were going to purchase. In supermarkets where this was the case, blind and partially sighted people alike have found it extremely difficult to shop if they are unable to look closely at an item to determine if it’s what they are looking for. Even if you were lucky enough not to have your local supermarket enforce this rule, the chances are such that you would probably have had try and follow a one way system up and down the aisles denoted quite clearly on the floor – that is unless you again are blind and partially sighted. It is most likely that you might need to have someone help you around the supermarket, say, a guide? Great, but what if said guide does not live in your house? Well, before we were allowed to form ‘social bubbles’ with one other household, you would have been breaking the law to be within a two-metre distance of someone outwith your household!

Luckily, the supermarkets in Aberdeen, while they have one-way systems implemented, have been helpful. I’ve not had any run-ins with staff for picking up items to look at them, or if I’ve inadvertantly drifted out of the one-way system. Customers have also appeared to be understanding.

Now in order to access the supermarket, you may have to cross a road. Fine if it has a pelican crossing, you would just press the button and wait for the green light, simple enough? Well, actually no. I did see an image purporting to be from somewhere in England. What I can only assume was that particular area’s council had put cardboard over the box at the pelican crossing and suggested that pedestrians merely wait for the green man. Fine enough, but unless the light has been reprogrammed to allow more opportunities for pedestrians to cross, you can be waiting a long time to be able to cross a road. Something that is not known about pelican crossings in the UK is that they have a small turning knob underneath the unit that will rotate when it is safe to cross the road. A lot of people will need to touch that in order to ascertain whether they can cross, a fact that is made more plain by the fact that some pelican crossings use the turning knob as the sole none-visual cue that it is safe to cross a road.

Luckily, supermarkets are returning to more of a state of normality as we open up. and, again, I have not seen any signs that I should be discouraged from pressing the button to cross a road in Aberdeen, but as towns and cities started to open up, the Scottish Government issued funding to councils to make ‘spaces for people’ in their areas to be able to walk safely in town while socially distancing. Unfortunately it is my beleif that Aberdeen City Council well and truly dropped the ball with this.

Anyone in Aberdeen who follows the City Council will know that they’ve wanted to pedestrianise Union Street, which is Aberdeen’s main shopping street (sic) for a while. When the ‘spaces for people’ initiative started, Aberdeen City Council were able to very quickly pedestrianise Union Street, from Market Street to Bridge Street, a distance of 0.4 miles. They also imposed a one-way system in the Rosemount area of the city, with cars parking in the middle of the road for some reason, and put in cycle lanes on the beach promenade, and turning it into a one way street for cars.

This has caused a lot of issues for folk everywhere. Union Street has become very difficult for people who maybe can’t walk far, and the buses have been redirected so it is difficult to know where you’re stopping, especially as they don’t have audio announcements. To top this off, the taxi rank has been moved.

A lot of poeple have been looking forward to going out to eat. For this, the government have made ‘Track & Trace’ mandatory for venues such as restaurants. Firstly, you have to scan a QR code using your phone’s camera which will take you to a web-site where you can ‘check in’ to the venue. QR codes are used on a lot of products nowadays (and I’ve used them myself on certain things that I’ve helped people with), but they’re not the most accessible. Even an iPhone with VoiceOver enabled isn’t going to tell you even if a QR code is in frame (SeeingAI might), let alone tell you where the QR code physically is. Luckily restaurant staff will often offer to check folks in on pen and paper, so this is more of a non-issue. Nethertheless, it was this issue that motivated me to write this blog post on my thoughts about accessibility issues during the Pandemic.

I have not, nore do I wish to, open the can of worms that is the issue of face masks. I am not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t wear one. What I will say though is I’ve found that it can make people difficult to hear, and people who are deaf will often lip-read, so the wearing of opaque face mask can cause issues. Luckily, clear masks did become available quite quickly for those who converse with deaf people.

So what do I think to what’s going on? Eighteen months ago I was telling anyone who would listen that lockdown would cause a rise in mental health issues, and I still feel that this will be the case. I was also appalled at how quickly people lost support when lockdown was imposed in March 2020. I was very lucky as I had a friend spend lockdown with me, and I was still able to recieve my support who did shopping on my behalf, so I was at least okay. I did often wonder how people whoi were ‘shielding’ (essentially being told not to leave your home) coped. Luckily some supermarkets were delivering boxes of food to those that were shielding, but this was often odd combinations and odd-sized portions of food. That said, those boxes would have been a lifeline for a lot of people.

There’s a lot I could talk from the last eighteen months, but I feel this blog post has already gone on too long. The only thing I can say is follow the current guidelines in your area, consider having the vaccine, and isolate if you have COVID-19 symptoms.

People living in Scotland can click here for information on COVID-19
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People living in England can click here for information on COVID-19
People living in Northern Ireland can click here for information on COVID-19