Pandemic Perspectives: County Durham woman describes isolation faced by many blind and partially sighted people

As part of a three-part series, Pandemic Perspectives sees ITV Tyne Tees Health Correspondent Helen Ford catching up with people we first met earlier in the pandemic to find out how they have been coping.

Helen has been talking to a young woman from County Durham who says she feels 'forgotten'. 

By Helen Ford, Health Correspondent

As we approach the first anniversary of the initial lockdown in England, I was keen to discover how some of the people we have interviewed since then have coped, and how they are viewing the future.

I caught up with Jade King and her guide dog Silk in a park, not far from her home in County Durham. As a young and independent blind person, Jade was used to a busy social life and travelled the country with her voluntary work. All that has changed.

Jade has spent much of the past twelve months in her home, with the park offering a small taste of freedom. She tells me the pandemic has highlighted how much she normally depends on other people - including strangers - when she is out and about, such as shopping.

Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Jade says that for many blind people, the past twelve months have triggered a loss of confidence and sense of purpose, as they have been forced to retreat indoors. As a result, she says many are feeling extremely isolated.

I was introduced to Jade last summer, as the country anticipated the end of lockdown restrictions, first time around. At that point, one of her biggest concerns was the challenge of social distancing as a blind person. That has not changed, and Jade says she will be a 'nervous wreck' when she ventures out properly again.

Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) carried out surveys and held online focus groups early in the pandemic and says, two-thirds of those who responded said they had lost confidence, largely as a result of the need to social distance. 

Almost a year on, and the sight loss charity says many blind and partially sighted people are also reporting mental health issues as well as a loss of mobility skills as their lives have become more sedentary. The organisation is now running sessions - accessed through its website and helpline - to help with confidence building and mental health concerns.

As communities ease out of the latest lockdown, the charity is urging individuals, businesses and the Government to support the blind and partially sighted community. For example, it is asking shops and bars to ensure staff can describe alterations to the layout.

In response, the Department of Health and Social Care pointed us to a document, with advice on how people can get help - safely - with daily activities outside the home during the pandemic. It says the guidance will be updated shortly, as we come out of lockdown. 

The Government also says that key COVID-19 health advice is available in a wide range of languages and formats, including braille.

Jade King, meanwhile, tells me the thought of re-learning the skills she once took for granted is almost overwhelming. 

"I don't want to think about it, to be honest, how to re-learn everything. It's going to be so hard, which is quite sad when I was travelling all over the place on my own prior to all this."

In twelve months, life has changed beyond recognition for Jade. The question is how, in time, she can return to everything she once enjoyed.