News - 10th June 2020

How to successfully guide whilst maintaining a two metre distance


A feature of parkruns in recent years has been the increasing number of blind or visually impaired (VI) participants, where the runner or walker is guided side-by-side by a friend or volunteer, using either a short tether or communicating via touch.


However, as many people have embraced walking and running during the pandemic, how can a VI person join them whilst social distancing by two metres?


The Vision Sports Ireland team, now part of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), believe that sharing a long cane, normally used by VI people for navigation, could provide a solution. The cane, which measures approximately two metres in length, could be modified, and held at one end by the guide and the other end by the VI person.


Alan Wills, from Lucan in West Dublin, who recently experienced sight loss and now has low peripheral vision, heard about the idea during a call with his peer group from the NCBI Training Centre. As Alan explained, “parkrun Ambassador Joan Ryan was our Zoom guest, and she invited us to trial the long cane guide system.”


The following weekend 16 VI people from NCBI/Vision Sports Ireland teamed up, socially distanced, with volunteer guides sourced from parkrun communities as varied as St. Anne’s in Raheny to Carton Walk in Maynooth.


Alan joined the trial at St. Catherine’s Park in Lucan where Joan introduced him to his guide, Pascal Derrien. The last time Alan ran was 10 years ago, when he had full vision.


Pascal said, “Alan and I have been out running together several times since we first met at the trial in St. Catherine’s. Our aim now is to run together at my home park of Griffeen when parkrun returns.”


Alan added, “I was apprehensive about the long cane solution to guiding, but I now think it’s a good solution which could be developed beyond the pandemic.”


The long cane solution to support VI runners and walkers in a community setting is promoted by NCBI/Vision Sports Ireland, whose plan it is now to offer the service to as many blind/visually impaired people as they can accommodate.


The initiative aims to break down social isolation amongst visually impaired people, particularly whilst there are requirements for physical distances to be maintained between individuals.


To view a short video of Alan Wills and Pascal Derrien using the long cane guiding solution click here.


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