Braille Monitor                         January 2021

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COVID-19 Reflections On Our Strange New World

by Maurice Peret

From the Editor: Maurice Peret has the rare distinction of having two articles appear in one issue of the Braille Monitor. One he wrote in his official capacity as a staff member, but this one he wrote simply because he is a Federationist thinking about the virus that is confronting us, our response to it, and the likely changes we should be prepared to discuss and address in the future. Here’s what he has to say:

While it almost seems like it has lasted forever, this strange new COVID-19 era has been with us for eight months; rising daily in intensity like a volcano. Many pundits foretell that we shall not, at least not any time soon, return to what we would recognize as normalcy.

Oh, the coronavirus will, like all have before, pass away until the next global health threat. The lasting effects, though, will be social, financial, economic, and dare I say it? Political. Leaders from the national executive branch to state governors will be judged by how and how quickly and decisively they responded to this global crisis.

If ever there were a desperate cry for mass mobilization, it seems to me, that time is now!
Once again, the members and leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, in our determination to live the lives we want, continue to rise to this unprecedented and uncharted occasion.
Amidst massive shortages of everything from critically important medical devices and protective equipment to toilet paper, our voices can clearly be heard across the land.

As 90 percent of us have been living under some form or another of quarantine, we have had to interrupt our regular business in our local NFB chapters, state and area affiliates, and indeed, in our national organization. But we have not stopped! Because of our collective innovation, creativity, and determination, we have continued to carry out our deliberations through various means such as audio/video conferencing, social media, and other remote and online platforms.
President Mark Riccobono has reached out in enumerable ways to our members, including the unprecedented live recording of the “Presidential Release,” registering more than a thousand participants across the nation.

What concerns me the most is what happens in the wake of this temporary crisis. With the greatest portion of our economy in the service industries, the shuttering of schools, libraries, restaurants, cafes, taverns, hotels, and even state offices have resulted in more than twenty million first-time unemployment applications. Since people with disabilities in this country are grossly and disproportionately unemployed or underemployed, I worry about the lasting effects on our families and individuals. Approximately half the population never recovered from the Great Recession of 2008. A staggeringly increasing number of us are no longer “employees” but “contractors,” exempting them from employee benefits such as health and life insurance coverage, paid vacation and family sick leave, and retirement savings plans. Consequently, one job is not enough. Many working people in this “gig” economy must take on two or three jobs just to make ends meet. How will the blind accommodate ourselves to this new reality?

Because we are, above all, a people’s movement, we have reached out to one another, checking on the well-being of our friends, family members, and colleagues. We have endured tremendous heartbreak as our members have not been untouched by the COVID-19 virus as well as sharing the great joy in new birth, academic and vocational successes, etc. Now more than ever we must look in on one another, pick up the phone, text, message, Facetime, whatever we can to reach out and offer our care and solidarity. In our Maryland affiliate, we have established a COVID-19 emergency fund to assist our members and families adversely affected by its wake. I know that others are doing likewise. Given the financial blow befallen all of us in one way or another, we must consider redoubling our efforts to support our Federation. We are our greatest assets, and all that we have built we did so together with our own hands and our own resources. I hope you will join me, therefore, in stepping up our commitment to support our powerful Federation. If we do not, then no one else will.

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