The Recent Canadian Council of the Blind Study Reveals the Stark Reality of COVID-19’s Disturbing Impact on Those Canadians Who are Blind, Deaf-Blind or Partially-Sighted
BY KEITH D. GORDON PH.D. AND MICHAEL BAILLARGEON
It goes without saying that at this time of crisis for the world, we are all feeling more stress than usual. Now imagine how much more stress you might be feeling if you were facing the dreaded COVID-19 with the additional challenges associated with those living with blindness or vision loss. We, at the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) became aware very early on in the pandemic (late February to early March) that many Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted were being heavily impacted by COVID-19. At the same time it was acutely apparent to the CCB that the many government initiatives and programs being announced in response to pandemic-related challenges were, for the most part, not taking into account what we see as the fundamental needs of not only our community, but all people with disabilities. We perceived the need for all levels of government to provide support and solutions to help those living with disabilities and by extension vision loss, get through these stressful times.
We saw it as being necessary to provide the factual support required by governments to act. Working in cooperation with Louise Gillis, CCB National President, we determined that our best course of action would be to survey the vision loss community and report our findings. The survey was designed to specifically identify what impact COVID-19 was having on those living with blindness or vision loss. We wanted to know their current circumstance and daily experiences due to the pandemic, and what their specific concerns and needs were.
The survey, conducted electronically during the week of April 7th to April 14th, attained a robust sample of 572 responses with respondents representing all provinces. We promised to let their voices be heard so that they would not be left behind, or forgotten. Our goal, then and now, was to make sure that the members of the vision loss community would be provided with the support needed, both socially and economically, to weather the COVID-19 pandemic. The results are a call to action and paint a disturbing picture of the experiences Canada’s vision loss community are confronted with, on a daily basis, during this COVID-19 crisis.
Key results of the study showed high levels of stress in the vision loss community. Respondents are very concerned about social distancing – they’re unable to see how far they are from others and are concerned that others don’t realize that they have vision loss and tend to come too close. Respondents feel unsafe when going out.
Those living with vision loss are particularly concerned that the effect of the added stress from the pandemic on their mental health may cause them to become overwhelmed.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada
Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall © OSGG-BSGG, 2017
This was re-enforced Thursday May 7, during a virtual conversation live streamed on YouTube, between Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada and Dr. Mona Nemer. Canada’s Chief Science Officer, discussing the importance of research and science in the times of global pandemic. When the conversation turned to a discussion on our vulnerable population and people with disabilities, the Governor General remarked as to having received a communication from the Canadian Council of the Blind; “that was alert particularly to the fact that people who are vision impaired are quite anxious in the time of the pandemic and that it was affecting them in many different ways.”
Survey respondents are stressed about their inability to access a doctor or health care practitioner and to meet their financial obligations, and about their ability to maintain their present standard of living. They’re further stressed due to their already-fragile economic status.
Respondents also expressed concern about having transportation and finding someone to accompany them should they have to go to the doctor or hospital.
Shopping is a concern as plexiglass shields make it difficult to negotiate payment and those with seeing disabilities are uncomfortable interacting with staff. About half of the respondents indicated that they had a personal care worker entering their home, about half of whom weren’t wearing proper personal protective equipment.
Respondents are concerned that when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, they’ll discover that their job no longer exists. Many who were asked to work from home have discovered that they don’t have the proper accessible devices and technology necessary to do their jobs from home, and that their employers have refused to provide or fund them.
The survey succeeded at identifying the challenges confronting those living with vision loss during the COVID-19 crisis. As Respondent 211 commented, “What’s affecting my mental health is this prolonged and extreme isolation. As a blind person, I already live a fairly limited life when referring to freedom of movement and independence and now even that small wedge of my active life has been completely eradicated.”
It’s clear that the vision loss community is being heavily impacted by the pandemic. It’s further evident that there’s a need for immediate action from all levels of government to provide support and solutions to help those living with vision loss get through these stressful times. The CCB’s resulting report includes detailed recommendations for all levels of government to consider.
In open-ended questions we discovered that there were a number of respondents who were concerned about their ability to see their eye doctor and that they might lose vision as a result. They also expressed a concern about not having an accompanying person with them when they went for their eye appointment and concern over maintaining social distancing in the doctor’s waiting room. The following are typical responses we received:
Respondent No.444: “I’m worried how long the pandemic and restrictions will last, and the impact on my appointments with doctor and optometrist.”
Respondent No. 441: “I am not able to get my monthly shots in my eyes, vision is going down.”
Respondent No. 547: “Can’t see my eye doctor. I need a new prescription and would like glasses instead of contacts.”
Respondent No. 465: “…my fear is having to do things like my eye appointment by myself when I am used to having my daughter with me to guide me and point out hazards in my way.”
Respondent No. 462: “Concerned about maintaining social distance in eye doctor’s waiting room.”
The Survey Report on the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadians Who Are Blind, Deaf-Blind, and Partially-Sighted is fully accessible and available on the link above and on the CCB website at http://www.ccbnational.net.
Editor’s Note: Both Keith D. Gordon, Senior Research Officer and Michael Baillargeon, Senior Advisor Government Affairs and Special Projects are colleagues at the Canadian Council of the Blind, advocating on a daily basis, for Canadians who are living with blindness or vision loss.