Social distancing can be challenging for all of us, but it’s especially difficult for people who are blind or visually impaired. There are things everyone can do to help out.
As a guide dog, Melissa Allman's Lab/Golden cross Luna is trained to do a lot. "She is the best dog in the world. She navigates me safely down sidewalks, around obstacles, across streets, across strange or differing levels of terrain,” Allman says.
But there's one thing Luna can't be trained to do: socially distance. That makes keeping 6-feet apart a challenge for Allman. “It’s very difficult, because unless someone speaks to you or unless you hear some other audible cue coming from them, you don’t know how far away they are from you necessarily,” Allman says.
Glenn Hoagland is president and CEO of The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the country. It breeds and trains hundreds of dogs every year. He says, “It’s really the sighted person who could really be helpful by communicating their distance from the blind person with their dog and letting them know that I’m here.”
Allman says when you recognize a guide dog and its owner, it's up to you to distance yourself. “If I’m not social distancing from you, I’m not trying to be disrespectful or discourteous. I simply don’t have the visual cues that you have,” Allman says. “We appreciate and thank you ahead of time for taking the steps on your own to walk to the other side of the street or walk a few steps down.”
Also, don't try to pet or interact with a guide dog. Experts say even something as simple as making eye contact with a guide dog can be distracting, and always communicate with the owner first before approaching.