Covid-19 makes life ‘extra difficult’ for the blind

Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Virus prevention measures were drafted without concern for those with partial vision or blindness, say visually impaired and blind South Africans.

Touching surfaces when walking is a basic skill often used by visually impaired people to ground themselves and locate where they are, but this has become increasingly dangerous to do with the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Touching a contaminated surface or objectand then touching one’s face may lead to contracting Covid-19, and visually impaired and blind community are acutely aware of their increased risk factor.   

The National Department of Health recommends that people practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly with water and soap for at least 20 seconds to help curb the spread of Covid-19 – but this might be a task impossible for those who are living with visual impairment.  

Globally, the most common causes of visual impairment globally are uncorrected refractive errors. Refractive errors include near-sightedness, far-sightedness, presbyopia, and astigmatism, while cataracts are the most common cause of blindness.  

‘I need a helping hand’ 

Some of the visually impaired people who spoke to Health-e News, say that they struggle to follow some of the precautionary measures put in place by the government to help combat the spread of Covid-19. Some problematic measures include social distancing and consistent handwashing. 

Masters student at University of Venda, Moses Sekhobane, says that social distancing is simply not feasible for him. Sekhobane, who was born blind, needs to be accompanied by another person when he goes into public spaces. 

“I know we are supposed to follow all the precautionary measures made by our government, but some of these measures are not doable for those of us who cant see. For example, it is impossible for me to stick to social distancing as I require a helping hand all the times. When I go to public spaces to buy food, I have to go with someone and they have to hold my hand all the times, says Sekhobane. 

One significant chain of virus transmission is when infected people are in close contact with others through respiratory droplets or contact with contaminated objects and surfaces. 

Sekhobane says that he often struggles to practice proper hygiene on his own, which put him on extra risk of contracting Covid-19.  

“You know for some of us it’s a huge task to locate where the soap and water is. If Im alone at homeit becomes extra difficult to practice proper hygiene and the worst part is that I have to touch most surfaces, most of the timeI worry that I might be at more risk of catching coronavirus, he says. 

‘Touching things around us is our weapon’ 

Per World Health Organisation (WHO), at least 2.2billion people across the world have a vision impairment or blindnessOne of these people is Jackson Baloyi, from Chabane village, outside ElimLimpopo. He says that having to protect himself in the time of Covid-19 has proven very difficult. 

Although I am independent, and can do most of the things on my own, I still need assistance from time to time from those who are able to see which means there is no way I can practice social distancing. Life is extra difficult for us as visually impaired people as we are no longer supposed to touch all over. Touching things around us is our weapon which we use to locate things, but now we told that Covid-19 can be transmitted through touching surfaces that have been touched by a person who has the virus. It makes life hard for us,” says Baloyi. 

The father of six, who is also a member of Rivoni School for the Blind’s school governing body says that he has been struggling to practice social distancing as he often requires other people to hold his hand when in public spaces. 

“Most of the time I need other people to help me get things done. It makes it impossible to socially distance. Sometimes when Im at the shops I do need help from strangers to find items, but this might put us both at risk of contracting Covid-19. However, there’s nothing we can do,” adds Baloyi. 

WHO says that reduced or absent eyesight can have major and long-lasting effects on all aspects of life, including daily personal activities, interacting with the community, school and work opportunities and the ability to access public services. According to Statistics South Africa’s 2011 census report, persons with severe disabilities have trouble accessing education and employment opportunities, while households headed by persons with disabilities have less access to basic services compared to households headed by persons without disabilities. 

Practice caution 

SABC news editor, Rhulani Baloyi who is visually impaired says that most of the Covid-19 lockdown precautionary measures were drafted without people who are living with visual impairment in mind 

“Most of the measures do not favor people who are living with visual impairment. It’s like we were never considered when they were drafted. For people who are living with visual impairment, it is difficult to practice some of the measures, such as social distancing, as they require assistance all the times. But to be on the safe side we must be extra cautious and careful ourselves, she says. 

She further says that “to be safe from contracting Covid-19” she’s made it her responsibility to “always sanitise everything [she] touches, more especially when at work as some things are shared. 

Even when I need someone to walk with me, I no longer hold their hands, instead I put my hand on their shoulders to help minimise my chances of being infected with the virus,” she says. 

Baloyi says that even though she can use and remove her cloth face mask, she is unable to use hand gloves to protect herself from contracting Covid-19, as she mostly uses her hands to feel the surfaces around her. – Health-e News. 

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.