The Struggles Faced By Visually Impaired During This Pandemic
During this pandemic, the visually impaired have experienced countless obstacles in addition to those already faced in the past. Diane Wilkinson, a patient who has a degenerative retinal disease, says, "Everybody's feeling kind of shut in right now and out of touch with people, but we already have that isolation. So for us, it just has deepened even more."
One issue has been long lines in stores. Will Butler, who is visually impaired, explains how visually impaired people are more prone to accidentally cutting the line; however, strangers do not lend a hand as much as they would have before. He explains that he has to somehow manage to find his way to the back of the line, while staying socially distanced as well. Therefore, not only is it already hard for the visually impaired to know if someone is 6ft away and/or wearing a mask, but it’s almost impossible to navigate public areas such as stores.
Another issue is public transportation. Visually impaired people rely on Ubers or taxis as their main mode of transportation. However, during these times, such forms of transportation can pose potential health risks. Access and administration of coronavirus tests can be challenging as well. Since the visually impaired can not drive themselves to the testing facilities, they have to take some other method of transportation there. However, those who are financially disadvantaged do not have the money to make that trip. Although mail-order tests are possible, the visually impaired are unable to read the instructions.
Furthermore, masks provide a challenge too. Many visually impaired rely on voices to know where to go and what to do; however, masks can muffle these voices making that difficult. Moreover, for those who still have peripheral vision, their sight is limited due to masks. As a result, they may bump into people who get alarmed and scared, unlike pre-COVID.
A common difficulty among visually impaired students is online classes. Online classes are challenging since the visually impaired can only rely on verbal instructions rather than in-person contact. 14-year-old Owen, who went back to in-person learning, is learning how to cross the streets with the help of his teacher, by listening and using other’s cues. This would have proven to be difficult if taught virtually.
Although there have been many novel issues that have arisen since the pandemic, there have also been new methods and technologies invented to help the visually impaired. Be My Eyes is an app that allows visually impaired people to be assisted by volunteers, who describe what the user is pointing their camera at. It has partnered with a home-delivery pharmacy, allowing users to order medications with braille or have COVID-19 tests read out for them. Moreover, Sunu, an armband that was already invented to guide the visually impaired, now has a setting that alerts users when someone or thing is 6 feet away.
As this pandemic has sweepingly brought many challenges to the visually impaired community, efforts have been and are continuing to be made in order to support them during these struggling times. Of course, this does not dismiss the fact that this community still needs help, and so we must come together in order to support them in whatever way possible.