After 18 trying months, blind Nova Scotians say their pandemic needs haven't been met

·3 min read
Many blind or visually impaired people are choosing to stay home rather than negotiate the confusing and sometimes scary world of COVID-19. (istockphoto.com - image credit)
Many blind or visually impaired people are choosing to stay home rather than negotiate the confusing and sometimes scary world of COVID-19. (istockphoto.com - image credit)

Constantly changing pandemic restrictions and requirements have proven to be an increasing source of frustration for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Physical distancing instructions and directional signs are of little use to people who can't see them, and calls for clearer online guidance from individual businesses don't always get a response.

Louise Gillis, president of the Canadian Council of the Blind, said people who are blind often have to give up their independence to arrange for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

"Quite often somebody else has to assist with making the appointments for the person because all the websites and those types of things are not necessarily accessible for somebody with screen readers or need extra assistance in some way of navigating it," Gillis said.

The situation is made worse, she said, by uncertainty about how to get to a screening or vaccination site, knowing if it is accessible and how to navigate the space once there.

Submitted by Louise Gillis
Submitted by Louise Gillis

She said some communities have worked to provide better accommodations for their blind or low-vision residents but that isn't always the case. Some are left behind.

Public transport has also become more of an obstacle as buses no longer have restricted capacity. It is often impossible to know if there is a seat available or if that seat is in a safe location.

As a consequence, Gillis said, a lot of people are choosing to stay in their homes because it is too dangerous to go out, not knowing if others are distancing or wearing a mask.

According to Gillis, sighted people also need to provide more helpful descriptions when trying to guide people with blind or low vision.

It's a sentiment echoed by Jennie Bovard, communications director for Blind Sports Nova Scotia.

"People are not always very friendly when you maybe are not going in the right direction by accident or you're trying to get into a door, that's an exit only door and you didn't realize that, " Bovard said.

Jennie Bovard
Jennie Bovard

Bovard said, as someone with low vision, she often needs to touch objects and bring them closer to her face in order to identify them. She said even though some stores discourage touching things it is a necessity for her and she does it anyhow.

As for the looks she gets from other shoppers, Bovard said that's fine with her as half the time she doesn't see them anyway.

While some businesses have been good about posting restrictions and distancing rules online so people can prepare before getting there, Bovard said not every business has been doing it.

Some choose to stay close to home

Like Gillis, Bovard said she has also become more reluctant to leave the house during the fourth wave of COVID-19.

She said she has been working from home and while she used to look forward to going out to the grocery store or running errands, she now lets her husband go instead.

"If I can't walk there, then I have to take the bus and I'm not comfortable doing that yet because I spend time with people who can't get vaccinated because they're either too young or for health reasons," she said.

For any given scenario, Bovard said, there is an added consideration for someone who is blind or visually impaired.

For her part, Gillis remains hopeful that things will improve with an increasing number of people getting vaccinated.

"It's just a whole new way of life and we're all looking and hoping that things will change, that we can get back to our normal things and we do like our activities out with the rest of our own community."

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