Tyrone singer Andrea Begley admits to being 'nervous' going out shopping

County Tyrone singer Andrea Begley has thrown her support behind an initiative to ensure blind and partially sighted shoppers and patrons are better protected.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 11:10 am

With the easing of lockdown across the Mid Ulster district this week Retail NI, the Federation of Small Businesses and local shops and businesses have mobilised alongside sight loss charity RNIB

The Pomeroy woman said: “As a blind person, independence is something that has been hard fought for and I don’t want the pandemic to rob me of that.”

While the public isgetting back out to the shops, bars, and hotels again, many of the 56,400 blind and partially sighted people are anxious.

Singer Andrea Begley says independence is everything to a blind person.

Social distancing has proved difficult when shopping and eating out, as has navigating new street and store layouts and an array of new pavement furniture as people dine outside pubs and restaurants.

As we continue to move out of lockdown, people with sight loss are telling RNIB that they are ‘anxious and less confident’. Some are avoiding going out altogether with a sense of loss of independence.

RNIB has welcomed the renewed support of NI’s retail world as a number of prominent retailers have stepped up to the mark to ensure blind and partially sighted people feel more confident when shopping.

Andrea, who is chair of RNIB NI’s Action and Advisory Committee and former winner of the BBC talent show The Voice UK, said while she’s not confident going out alone just yet, she hopes she will regain her confidence and independence soon.

She said: “To be honest, as independent as I use to be, I’m nervous about being out. I have been out and about with other people guiding me, but I definitely wouldn’t be 100 per cent keen on going out completely on my own just yet.”

Charlotte Bennett, a white cane user who lives in Aghyaran, near Killyclogher, said her biggest fear about returning to the shops is being berated by other customers. She explained: “Before lockdown, I would go on the bus by myself to certain shops or to get my hair done at the local college. I would meet up with friends, family and other blind and partially sighted people. I’m glad the shops are opening back up again for the economy, but I don’t know if I would feel confident going into a shop again on my own.”

Andrea, who has glaucoma, agrees: “Things are clearly improving; the pledge of support from NI retailers alongside the issue of RNIB guidance and the vaccine uptake does instil confidence in me.

“I am a shopper; I love shopping. Buying stuff online as a visually impaired person can be difficult as there are accessibility issues, so I really do want to be physically out shopping.

“It’s great to see the RNIB guidance being taken on board and implemented and in general, the people of NI are so friendly and helpful, so I feel people with sight loss here do have an advantage. I still wouldn’t feel comfortable going out on my own just yet, not without a guide.”

Glyn Roberts, chief executive, Retail NI, said: “Last year, we were alerted to the issues that people with sight loss in NI were facing, particularly around social distancing. We shared RNIB’s simple guidance with our 2,000 strong membership and called on all retailers to follow suit.

“The re-opening of the retail world should be for everyone and we want to offer reassurance that our stores and businesses are doing all they can to meet the needs of everybody.”

The Federation of Small Businesses NI Regional Chair, Brendan Kearney agreed saying: “We would encourage business owners, as they re-open their doors once again, to consider how they can support those with sight loss, including providing non-visual guidance and support in their premises.”

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