For content relevant to your community in Ontario, Please select your region

An example of the sighted guide technique. Two woman walk down a sidewalk together. A woman holds the guide's arm lightly above the elbow and allows the guide to walk one-half step ahead.

Physical distancing

Main Content

Canadians urged to keep safe distance from guide dog teams

CARLETON PLACE – Apr. 20, 2020 – CNIB Guide Dogs is urging Canadians to keep a safe distance from guide dog teams. Lives may depend on it.

“Physical distancing is practically impossible when you cannot see, so we’re asking Canadians to please stay two metres away if you are approaching a guide dog team,” says Diane Bergeron, president of CNIB Guide Dogs and handler to Carla, a two-year-old golden retriever. “Carla has been trained to keep me safe, to get me from A to B, but she does not understand physical distancing.” 

Guide dogs have important jobs to do - keeping their handlers safe. Unfortunately, guide dogs are often distracted by well-intentioned people who want to pet the dog or just say hello. 

“Many people don't know how to react to a guide dog,” says Bergeron. “Practising proper guide dog etiquette is important year-round, but especially during this pandemic.”

Guide dog etiquette:

  • Harness on means hands off. A guide dog in harness means “I’m working". Petting can take the dog’s focus off its partner and the potential for injury increases. 
  • Contain your excitement. Don't encourage excitable play with a guide dog. Staying calm is part of their job.
  • Say "hello" another time. If you're walking your pet dog and you approach a guide dog, keep your pet dog away to avoid a distraction for the guide dog and possible harm to the partnership. Always keep your pet dog on a leash.
  • Don't feed them. Offering food to the dog can result in disruptive behaviours like begging for food and scavenging off the ground.

“It’s always best to ignore a guide dog in harness,” says Bergeron. “When guide dogs are home, their harnesses come off – that is their time for belly rubs and play.” 


Physical distancing is impractical for many Canadians with sight loss

OTTAWA – Apr. 9, 2020 – In response to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s recommendation that everyone keep a distance of at least two metres from others at all times, the CNIB Foundation is urging people to consider something very important: Canadians who are blind or partially sighted – especially those living alone – may need to rely on a sighted guide (a person who guides someone with sight loss) for urgent needs, including traveling safely to the grocery store, the pharmacy, their doctor’s office, the bank, and back home. 

When Canadians with sight loss urgently need a sighted guide and there's no one available in their household, both the person who is blind or partially sighted and the sighted guide should wear a mask and gloves. On Tuesday, April 7, Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, recommended the use of a mask when grocery shopping or riding transit, when physical distancing is not an option.

“It is nearly impossible to effectively, accurately and safely guide someone who is blind from two metres away,” says Angela Bonfanti, the CNIB Foundation’s senior vice president. “An unintended consequence of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s recommendation is that Canadians with sight loss are being discriminated against, refused entry to businesses, ostracized and potentially placed in a dangerous situation.”

The CNIB Foundation is asking Canadian businesses, government officials and police officers to be mindful of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities during this pandemic – and practice empathy. Together, we'll continue to create accessible, safe and inclusive communities.