Coming Together During COVID-19: Concerns and Connections
As the COVID-19 emergency continues to spread across the country, everyone is experiencing some level of uncertainty and disruption in daily life. Social distancing means many of us are working from home, have canceled plans for larger gatherings, and are preparing to stay in for at least two weeks or longer. We continue to advocate for the rights of blind people and build the Federation during this time as it’s more important than ever to continue our progress. Blind people are facing additional challenges during this pandemic that must be addressed.
The Disproportionate Impact
Many bus systems have moved to weekend schedules, and therefore are not running as frequently. Ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have become harder to hail as drivers have, understandably, decided they do not want to risk driving sick people around in their personal vehicles.
Many cities have opted for drive-through coronavirus testing facilities, but where does that leave people who do not drive or have a driver readily available? Would ride share drivers be willing to take a blind person who thinks they may have the highly contagious coronavirus to testing sites? Blind and disabled people continue to face discrimination from medical providers.
Information about the coronavirus spread is frequently depicted as graphics. These charts and graphs are rarely available in alternative formats accessible to blind people.
Groceries and Supplies
Gathering food and household supplies is becoming more challenging for everyone as people continue to needlessly hoard grocery store items. Blind people are now having difficulty obtaining in-store shopping assistance because employees are busy dealing with restocking and crowd control. Grocery delivery services like Instacart are booked days in advance and often requested items cannot be found in the store. Blind people don’t have the luxury of driving to multiple stores in search of a particular item, and those on fixed incomes may not be able to buy items in bulk.
Blind students and blind parents face uncertainty about the types of electronic materials they will be expected to use for the remainder of the academic year. Blind students find they must use a hodgepodge of platforms and programs to keep up with classes, and blind parents are unable to assist their children with homework if the materials are inaccessible.
While blindness alone does not make a person more susceptible to the coronavirus, other immunity compromising conditions that cause blindness, such as diabetes and aging, are more frequent within the blind population. Blind people are less able to practice social distancing when using public transportation, exploring items tactilely, and requesting assistance from others.
Taking Action Together
These issues and others will persist, and there are not easy answers for all of them. The National Federation of the Blind can help blind people during these difficult times by offering a network of thousands of other blind people across the country who can share their experiences and abilities with others. The Federation continues to monitor and address issues facing the blind at all levels of the organization such as:
- Contacting senators about threats to IDEA rights being waved in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Providing resources and recommendations about schools and accessibility as well as an education technology survey to gather data on education trends. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, Blind Parents Group, and National Association of Blind Students are a wealth of education information for families and students and working together to provide more distance learning during this time.
- NFB-NEWSLINE®, our free electronic information system available to legally blind and print-disabled Americans, now includes a coronavirus Breaking News section. The Breaking News information is available to all states and Puerto Rico, even those without sponsorship, so everyone can stay knowledgeable about new developments.
- Affiliates and divisions are hosting informative workshops over the Zoom platform to teach members anything from using screen readers with Windows to starting new hobbies. Many state affiliates are creating telephone hotlines so people who need assistance can ask for help. Members continue to answer questions with the collective experience of the blind.
- Local chapters are meeting virtually over conference calls, devising ways to help neighbors in need, calling committees to check on older members, asking members who are able to help others by picking up grocery items or collecting food, and compiling lists of resources to share on email lists. Friends have come together for virtual happy hours, crafting calls, and descriptive movie nights to help everyone stay in high spirits while practicing social distancing.
For more information on resources, visit nfb.org/covid19. Let’s encourage all members to give back however they can, in ways that are big and small. This spirit of camaraderie and altruism during times of crisis are what truly make the National Federation of the Blind a family.