Unprecedented challenges: the effect of COVID-19 on the visually impaired

Unprecedented challenges: the effect of COVID-19 on the visually impaired
Pacific Training Centre for the Blind / Facebook
A recent survey from the Canadian Council of the Blind reported the visually impaired community is significantly struggling amid the pandemic

While COVID-19 impacts every Canadian, the blind community is especially struggling during this time, and the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) is calling on all levels of government to step up.

Louise Gillis, national president of the CCB, released the findings of the CCB’s recent Survey on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadians Who Are Blind, Deaf-Blind, and Partially-Sighted.

“The results paint a disturbing picture of the experience of Canada’s vision loss community during this crisis,” the CCB said in a release on Wednesday.

Conducted from April 7 to 14, the week-long report was created to provide recommendations to the federal, provincial, and municipal governments in order to create policies to support those living with vision loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey received a robust sample of 572 responses, with those taking part representing all provinces.

Gilles says the government needs to recognize the circumstances of all Canadians with disabilities, especially of the more than 1.5 million Canadians currently living with vision loss.

“The vision loss community was too often marginalized and already socially and economically depressed prior to the arrival of the pandemic,” said Gillis, “The present situation has only served to magnify those barriers and obstacles.”

The study showed high levels of stress in the visually impaired community.

Many who partook in the study said they feel unsafe when leaving their homes. Many are very concerned about social distancing as they are unable to see how far they are from others, but it is not just their actions. The study showed many blind people are worried about the fact that others might not realize they are blind, and tend to come too close.

It is not only about physical concerns, as the CCB says those living with vision loss are particular concerns that the effect of the added stress on their mental health from the pandemic might cause them to feel overwhelmed.

“Survey respondents are stressed about their inability to access a doctor or health care practitioner and to meet their financial obligations, and about their ability to maintain their present standard of living,” said the CCB. “They’re further stressed due to their already-fragile economic status.”

Transportation is another challenge for the visually impaired, and finding someone to accompany them to the doctor or hospital can be difficult.

Although the provincial health officer says plexiglass shields are effective measures to keep cashiers and shoppers safe, they introduce new challenges for those who cannot see. Figuring out the payment and staff interaction has become significantly more difficult for the vulnerable community.

Approximately half of the respondents pointed to the fact that they had a personal care worker entering their home, about half of whom they say were not wearing proper personal protective equipment.

As the unemployment rate spikes to 13 per cent across the nation, members of the blind community also worry that their job might be gone when the pandemic is over.

“Many who were asked to work from home have discovered that they don’t have the proper accessible devices and technology necessary to do their jobs from home, and that their employers have refused to provide or fund them,” said the CCB.

The Canadian Council of the Blind says the survey successfully identified the numerous challenges facing those living with vision loss amid the coronavirus crisis.

One Canadian with vision loss who took part in the survey said one of the hardest parts is the amount of time spent alone.

“What’s affecting my mental health is this prolonged and extreme isolation. As a blind person, I already live a fairly limited life when referring to freedom of movement and independence and now even that small wedge of my active life has been completely eradicated.”

The CCB says it is clear the vision loss community is being heavily impacted by the pandemic and that there is a need for immediate action from all levels of government to provide support and solutions.

The CCB’s resulting report includes detailed recommendations for all levels of government to consider.

“We must ensure that those with disabilities aren’t left behind and that they have the urgent support they need,” said Gillis. “Leadership must come from the top down, and therefore we’re counting on the federal government to take the lead role in providing the guidance and financial support to provinces to make sure that all Canadians with disabilities, and especially those with vision loss, have access to the needed programs and solutions.”

The CCB is the “Voice of the Blind” in Canada. Founded 75 years ago in 1944 by returning blind veterans and schools of the blind, the CCB is a membership-based registered charity that brings together Canadians who are blind, living with vision loss, or deaf-blind through chapters within their own local communities that provide the opportunity to share common interests and social activities.

Rebecca LawrenceRebecca Lawrence

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