Challenges faced by the visually impaired during the Covid-19 pandemic. – Guest column by T V Aishwarya
Aishwarya lost her vision due to brain fever when she was pursuing her graduation and received rehabilitation care at L V Prasad Eye Institute’s Institute for Vision Rehabilitation. Later in 2013, she joined the institute as ‘Rehabilitation Counsellor’. Her work includes running a helpline for persons with vision loss through which they disseminate information concerning rehabilitation and independent living. This includes tele-counselling as well.
The wave of Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed lifestyles of people across the world. It has particularly worsened the situation furthermore for those with vision loss. From mobility to employment, from experience of touch to taking assistance from sighted guides, from availing health services to education, from financial stability to psychological state, all of them have taken a toll on them given the prevailing situation.
Some of the safety measures such as social distancing may not be all conducive for them as most times they rely on assistance from sighted guides for moving around. N Pavani, a Rehabilitation Counsellor with vision loss at Institute for Vision Rehabilitation, L V Prasad Eye Institute, shares that it has been difficult when it comes to taking assistance from others due to the social distancing.
Difficulties of social distancing
“Earlier when I used to go out, many would willingly come forward to help me without any hesitation. But it is not the same now”. Also, expressing her anguish over not being able to avail emergency dental services, she says “I needed to see a dentist as I had a severe tooth pain, but I just couldn’t go as there was no one who could take me. Moreover, when I booked cab services, the drivers refused to give me a ride as they were afraid that the social distance would not be maintained as they will be expected to help me out”.
In addition to the social distancing, the restriction on touching things in public places and transport has limited their mobility and confined them to their homes. Failing to do so, they are at a greater risk of exposing themselves to the virus. “I don’t step out at all now unless it’s very essential. Public transport is out of the question. Obviously we tend to touch our surroundings when we move around – walls, doors, seats, railings, etc. The fear of being infected with the virus has restricted me to stay at home most times”, says Yousuf Baba, a Web Accessibility Tester who has been working from home since the time the pandemic began.
In view of the current circumstances, many educational institutions have commenced online classes for their pupils. But unfortunately, these platforms are not all inclusive for those with vision loss as it limits their participation. Talking about her experience attending Intermediate classes online, S Pallavi says “It was a lot different when I used to physically attend a class. I could interact with my teachers and peers, clarify doubts immediately, learn through tactile cues, etc. but it’s not the same through online classes. Moreover, the screen reader software I use is not completely accessible with the online tools we use, so it makes it difficult for me to access the required information”.
Missing out on recreation
Besides academics, many students with vision loss also have been missing out on sports and recreational activities while at home which is a cause of concern for many parents. Sunitha Choraria, mother of seven-year-old Tejal expresses her worry and says “As long as my daughter was going to school every day, there was some kind of physical activity through sports. But now she is not really motivated to do anything and sometimes as parents it is difficult for us to encourage and continue home-based exercises as the interest level may not be same compared to while they are at school”.
Furthermore, given the prevailing times, where sustaining and finding suitable employment opportunities for many has been a challenge, the same has been a daunting task for persons with vision loss as it’s not just difficult in doing so, but almost makes it impossible adding to the existing problem of not being able to find employers who willingly hire them.
“I have been looking for a job opportunity before the pandemic began. Although challenging, I had hopes that I will be placed somewhere soon. But now, I hear sighted persons themselves are finding it difficult to attain a suitable employment. So, I think people like me who have vision loss find it even more tough in times like this”, shares Shridevi Varghese, a job seeker from Hyderabad.
The lack of job opportunity coupled with unemployment has pushed many to financial crisis especially in lower income group families whose livelihood is dependent upon daily wages. “I am the sole bread winner of my family. Our livelihood was dependent upon the daily wages that I used to get ironing clothes. But unfortunately from the time the lockdown was imposed, I was compelled to discontinue my work. I didn’t know how to take care of my family. If it was not for the support I received from few generous people out there, I don’t know how we would have got through this tough time”, says P. Durgaprasad, a father of two children with disabilities.
Put together, the implications of these challenges have been affecting them psychologically, amplifying the existing problems of dealing with their disability. However, the ruthless reign of the pandemic has bolstered the will power of many like Mohan Kumar, an IT instructor with vision loss who now has a different perspective on life. He says “I think nothing should deter us now. We learnt our lesson and people are more aware about the pandemic. The government officials, police and health-care professionals are together working to make our country Covid-free. I think each individual should be responsible and comply with the safety measures, thus advocating the well-being of everyone”.
The end to this pandemic is apparently uncertain at this point, but persons with vision loss are joining hands to fight against Covid-19 and waiting for it to long gone.
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