What’s it like for those people who are blind or visually impaired to navigate through a pandemic?
A few weeks ago, NBC 6 brought one woman’s perspective from the deaf community on how people who cannot hear are navigating during this time. Now, NBC 6 anchor Sheli Muñiz spoke to the Lighthouse of Broward about the challenges for those with visual impairments ahead of White Cane Awareness Day (Oct. 15), a campaign to highlight their needs.
SHELI: What are the biggest challenges facing people who are visually impaired or blind during COVID?
ELLYN DROTZER, president of the Lighthouse of Broward: In this new world of social distancing and the requirements to stand six feet apart and to wear masks can be extremely challenging for those who are visually impaired. For the visually impaired, their hands are their sight. Because of the six-foot separation, no longer can blind people rely on the kindness of grocery store and pharmacy clerks to help guide them to where they need to be. They rely on their groceries to be delivered through services that may or may not come timely because of demand. In terms of transportation, buses, taxis and ride shares, they are unable to see the driver to ensure that folks are wearing masks and ensure folks are sitting six feet apart and so they are terrified to go out into the world.
SHELI: We are all dealing with some sort of isolation. How are they coping with that feeling?
DROTZER: This has been very difficult for our population. We have seen skyrocketing rates of anxiety, isolation, depression, suicidal ideation, and so our staff is trying to dig in deep. We try connect with folks on a regular basis, we have group sessions online, virtually that they can attend.
SHELI: Thursday is White Cane Awareness Day, talk to us about that.
DROTZER: It’s an opportunity for us to spotlight the plight of blind and visually impaired people by focusing on the very tool that they use on the very tool that they use to navigate their world. It enables folks to move freely and safely from place to place. It essentially becomes an extension of their arm to be able to move quickly, confidently, and independently. Like White Cane Day, Lighthouse of Broward also inspires independence by offering free training and rehabilitation services so it’s also an opportunity for us to get the word out about the services we provide in the community.
In Broward County alone, the Lighthouse of Broward says there are 25,000 people who are blind or significantly visually impaired.