Covid-19 restrictions disproportionately impacting on blind and visually impaired peoples physical and mental health

Tuesday 16th June 2020, NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) is genuinely concerned about the impact of Covid19 on the physical and mental health of people who are blind and visually impaired. A recent survey from a sample of 2,000 service users found:

  • 75% of blind and visually impaired respondents were unable to meet national recommended guidelines on physical activity during Covid-19 rising to 90% reporting their physical activity had been severely limited due to Covid-19.
  • 1 in 5 have not left their homes since March.
  • 50% of respondents indicating Covid-19 has had a serious negative impact on mental health.

Whilst a Sport Ireland general population survey positively found that Ireland is witnessing record low levels of sedentary behaviour during lockdown at just 11% of the population, a survey by Vision Sports Ireland, now a part of NCBI found a stark difference amongst people who are blind and vision impaired.

Aaron Mullaniff, Deputy Chief Services Officer, NCBI said “for some blind and vision impaired people who live alone, the ability to get out and walk, run or cycle is just not possible because of the need for a guide or pilot. With the physical distancing requirements, physical activity is just not possible for many, and these findings suggest, it’s really taking its toll on our members.

“Regular physical activity and exercise are vital to support mental health and reduce severity of chronic conditions. Consequently, with well known linkages between exercise and mental health, it was not surprising that almost 1 in 2 respondents stated that Covid-19 physical and social restrictions had had a serious negative impact on their mental health”.

In response to the findings and as part of an innovative solution, the Vision Sports Ireland team have investigated alternative ways of supporting socially-distant exercise. Supported by volunteer guides recruited from the parkrun community, the collaboration is facilitating walking, jogging and running utilising a long cane or extended tether to maintain the required distance. Traditionally the long cane has been used for navigation by people who are blind or vision impaired, however this solution sees the cane being held either end by the guide and participant, making it possible for the pair to effectively navigate and exercise in outdoor areas and parks whilst communicating around hazards.

The programme has been trialled across locations in Dublin and Kildare, with positive feedback received from all guides and participants.

Kevin Kelly, NCBI Head of Advocacy and Vision Sports member said  “For some blind and vision impaired participants, this was the first time they had left their homes to exercise since the restrictions began in March which is very alarming.  It is vital people who are blind and vision impaired are given a way to return to their sport of choice just like their sighted peers.”

For more information on how to get involved, please get in touch by emailing