Visually-challenged Society

When you cannot touch to navigate

Mahender Vaishnav   | Photo Credit: By special arrangement

A few days ago Mahender Vaishnav, a visually-challenged cricketer from Hyderabad, took his 10-year-old daughter to a supermarket to help him buy things. When his daughter could not find the soap he wanted, he went to the counter and then reached out to other customers present there. “My daughter told me that they were scared to come close,” he recalls.

It has been a fortnight since Unlock 3.0 eased restrictions, with safety protocols in place. While we get used to this new normal, the social distancing guideline remains a challenge for the visually-impaired. Mahender, a Deputy Manager with State Bank of India, observes that lockdown relaxations make no difference to him. “Earlier, I could step out with ease and ask for help. Now people are apprehensive to come closer in the fear of contacting the virus. I can only take my family members when I go out. It is like house arrest,” he shares, adding the corporate centre of the bank has given him exemptions to stay at home.

Of mobility and livelihood

New-Delhi based Score Foundation has been providing services to the visually impaired since 2002. Its founder George Abraham calls the current scenario an ‘existentialist threat’ as mobility, travel, livelihood and education have been adversely affected for the community. “Even if you are trained for mobility, there are stages when you depend on strangers but people are hesitating to help. Travelling by public transport will be a challenge. If a visually impaired couple has to go to a hospital, their challenges are far greater than a sighted person. When using an auto, a completely blind person cannot always figure out where the auto’s entrance is; normally the auto driver would be happy to help, but now he has to maintain distance,” he explains.

Depending on one’s level of vision loss, maintaining physical distance (not knowing where to stand) or unknowingly coming closer to another person makes navigation difficult in public spaces. Office-goers too find it tough to follow rules. “A visually-impaired person tends to be tactile in nature and touches surfaces like the staircase banister, elevators, walls, etc. In the current scenario, touching things makes him/ her vulnerable to the virus,” adds George.

Chennai-based Karna Vidya Foundation uses technology and provides courses to empower the visually challenged. K Raghuraman, a visually-impaired teacher shares a few measures to go forward: “Whenever the lockdown ends completely, the Government should take the lead to ensure sanitation in boarding schools where visually challenged pursue education and ensure these institutions are well-connected with hospitals so that doctors may visit. NGOs should take the responsibility of providing the clinical support.”

He adds, “I would prefer exemptions for the visually-impaired in jobs be extended for a few more weeks so that the offices get more sanitised. The trading community is in a bad shape and not in a position to commute; the disability department can initiate new schemes and provide financial support to them.”

Mental health issues due to COVID-19 have been extensively spoken about, but the tele-therapy helplines, psychologists and mental health professionals are not available for the visually-challenged. Hyderabad-based Devnar School for the Blind, has 15 students in its hostel. Founder Dr Saibaba Goud says, “The school has declared a holiday but these hostellers are orphans and our support staff has been providing them food. The students have my phone number and my wife’s number as helplines. The Government has not created any helpline for them.”

George adds, “We run a helpline but we do not have the skill or competence to deal with mental health. If a caller is stressed out, we refer them to a mental health professional.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 3:38:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/how-the-pandemic-has-brought-in-fresh-challenges-to-the-visually-challenged/article32494881.ece

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