Coronavirus pandemic pushes visually impaired people into an even darker world
People with vision impairments are especially affected by the coronavirus pandemic. They are dependent on touch and the new norm of social distancing leaves them vulnerable.
Sharif Ibrahim Momin, 49 years old, has not earned a rupee since 20 March when the lockdown was declared. “I have a handicapped PCO which has been closed for over four months now”, says Sharif, who lives in Mumbai. “I am married and live in a joint family with my parents and older brother”. His brother has been providing for the family, which includes a sister who is also visually impaired.
“I am unable to do anything else to make a living as I am totally blind. The person I had rented the PCO to left for his village soon after the lockdown and is not sure when he will return. Given the situation, I am not sure I will be able to get someone to manage it”, says Sharif. He is not getting any disability pension either as he did not register for it. “Getting the documentation for it was so difficult that I did not pursue that”.
Lockdown affects the blind in multiple ways
Distress stories like these from visually impaired people from different parts of India have been flooding NGO Score Foundation’s helpline for blind people since the lockdown was declared. The foundation works closely with various stakeholders to sensitise and educate the larger public about the blind community and empower people with vision impairments.
We are getting calls for rations, food, pensions and travel, from people who have been stranded, about loss of livelihoods, inability to pay rent, need for money due to denial of debit cards/internet banking etc. Most people are unaware of the measures, government helplines are unresponsive or implementation on the ground is indifferent or ignorant. People are also expected to travel very often to collect rations/pension etc. – George Abraham, CEO, Score Foundation
Given their reliance on touch, negotiating the lockdown is especially challenging as well for visually impaired people.
Online education a major barrier for blind people
“Nobody is even willing to help us cross a road now”, says Pooja, a second year BA student living in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. She is worried sick about being able to complete her education. “I don’t know how I will take the exams online”. Unlike Sharif, she gets disability pension but irregularly. “My family does not have the means to support me. They are struggling to meet household expenses as it is. I cannot ask them for help”.
Given the spread of the pandemic and the new norms of social distancing, lifting the lockdown will bring no relief for visually impaired people either.
“Blind people will continue to have a tough time since they depend on touch and often human assistance”, points out Abraham. “Travel would become a challenge. Lack of sight would impede social distancing. They are vulnerable to touching infected surfaces or materials. People would hesitate engaging. In good times hygiene in public spaces has been a challenge. With social distancing etc. public hygiene would be a bigger challenge. Blind persons would find it tough visiting public spaces”.
India is home to a third of the world’s blind population. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that India has over 60 million people who are blind or suffer from low vision. Many of them depend on government welfare or work as daily wagers. Given their presence and the heightened vulnerability of visually impaired people during the pandemic, authorities must step in with specific measures.
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