Dealing With Blindness And The Covid-19 Pandemic: Part Three – Don’t Stand So Close To Me

(Note: This is the third in a three part series. Part one was inspired by our recent podcast, focuses on self-isolation and can be found here. It also contains links to Canadian and American mental health resources. Part two touches upon challenges with technology and is available here.)


I touched on this in our last podisode, but being around people in person is my newest stressor.


After months of being told to stay the hell away from everyone imaginable, it’s a bit jarring to suddenly be told that you can kinda sorta be around them again. I’m not going to get into how badly our provincial government in Ontario has fumbled things: From an ill-advised daycare re-opening plan, a regional approach to bringing businesses online and their confusing social circle allowance, it’s been a bumpy ride (that’s only  a seven day sampling of announcements, by the way.)


The point is that it’s been their call in terms of how people are allowed to interact. With such shaky leadership and illogical rules,  being around others again messes with my head. Beyond the obvious trepidation as local cases spike on and off, just the idea of doing this as a blind person gives me anxiety. I mean, let’s face it… people generally aren’t very patient when it comes to following restrictive rules. That’s not an insult either, it’s human nature.


When disorganization like that comes from the top, it just doesn’t leave me with much confidence.


I Don’t Buy What I Can’t See


Having detailed information and examples for why rules are in place is extremely important.


After 9-11, several extra security measures were adopted and the majority of people weren’t against them. I still had my eyesight at the time and, along with everyone else who could see, the image of that plane slamming into the second tower was etched into my brain. In the wake of such a horrific event though, people had something visceral to help them accept new rules being put into place.


“If we don’t adopt stricter measures to ensure increased security, this is what might happen to the next plane we get on.”


Fear obviously had a lot to do with it, but I imagine people would’ve been less receptive if the rules were being put into place because something like this “might” happen. Taking it further, do you think they would’ve been cool with showing up to the airport an hour early with no explanation why? How about being told that you can’t carry on the same items because “top experts” (who are never actually named) say so.


As the old saying goes, I think it would’ve gone over about as well as a fart in church.


Ball Of Confusion


Now let’s Fast forward to the Covid-19 pandemic.


I’ve compared this to 9-11 because it’s the only other time I can remember most of the world shutting down — even if it was on a smaller scale. The big difference between the two though is that Covid-19, while just as deadly, is a silent killer. There’s no one-time loss of mass humanity to hit us full force. Those who aren’t impacted don’t see the danger first-hand and many treat it with less importance as a result.


This means you have people who didn’t follow any rules from the start, those who still follow them and others who were cool with following them… for a little while anyway. Now that the weather is nicer and people have been going stir crazy for a few months? Well, that’s a bit of a different story.


So you get everyone  congregating in public spaces again. Stores are re-opening because the economy has been decimated and everyone is expected to follow the rules… the same ones that aren’t being policed too strictly (at least not around here.) Add to this that the provincial government is loosening them without saying why and you have a recipe for increased Covid-19 exposure.


Masks are mandatory in some stores with capacity protocols, but other retail locations don’t enforce anything. Our local Wal-Mart feels like an incubation hub for the virus, allowing anyone to walk in without masks or any sort of hand sanitation. Carts aren’t wiped down with disinfectant cloths, People horde spaces in every isle and no one enforces social distancing when checking out even.


Now imagine you’re told that you can go out in this environment… without being able to see anything around you. You don’t know where people are, where they’ve been, if they’re respecting any sort of preventative measures… nothing.


It’s not like you can follow all the rules either. Directional arrows on the ground aren’t accessible obviously. There’s no buzzer that goes off if you get closer than two meters from someone else. I’m not even including pandemic-related barriers to transportation if you’re living alone .


Unfortunately, this is the new reality facing many blind people on a day-to-day basis.


It’s All About The Benjamins


Some are probably wondering why I don’t stay home if I feel so uncomfortable.


While I can, not everyone has that option. This article states that approximately 681,000 Ontarians live with sight-loss. Citing Stats Canada’s 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 22 per cent of Canadians with severe or very severe sight-loss are also low-income. This means they don’t have the option of getting groceries delivered because they can barely make rent and can’t afford the delivery fees, for example.


That’s only one scenario of many as well. Luckily, I’m married to someone who is fully sighted and can go buy groceries. I’m not sure what I’d do if that weren’t the case. It puts a lot of weight on Jan’s shoulders too  and as I’ve previously mentioned, we’re both high risk actually.


As it stands, Jan only goes to places she’s comfortable shopping at. That means Wal-Mart went out the window a long time ago. It isn’t the end of the world on a small level but we miss out on sales and cheaper prices. When you’re already below the poverty line to begin with, every penny counts.


So the vulnerable can stay home, but it often compounds other issues when they do.


Why Can’t We Be Friends?


Beyond those issues, there’s also the pressure that comes as friends start getting together again.


We went to a birthday party a couple of weeks ago. Social distancing measures were still in place, but the risks stayed at the back of my mind. We tried getting there early to avoid more people but once others showed up, I had to leave. It felt shitty but I couldn’t guarantee we were following the rules properly.


Truth be told, I wasn’t comfortable going in the first place. We’ve been visiting my mom every week (and I understand that’s not following protocol.) Jan hasn’t been working since April though and my mom doesn’t go anywhere. I’m not saying that to be cute either — she doesn’t own a car. We’ve driven her to get taxes filed,  picked up her groceries and so have my other siblings.


My point is that she relies on us and we know where she’s been. We don’t get close and she is hyper-vigilant about washing hands and keeping things sanitized. When it comes to gatherings again though, it all goes back to not knowing where people have been, where they are around me and how much I can control the situation. Really, I either rely on Jan or have absolutely no control if someone who isn’t following the rules decides to get close to me.


It’s weird though. I already have friends who are getting together again because the public gathering limit has increased to 10. I’m not ready for it but feel like I’ll be the crazy one for staying back. Even though I know there’s a justifiable reason for it, it still feels like I’d be anti-social for choosing to stay home. (This is entirely on me, by the way. My friends have given no indication that this would be the case.)


Maybe I could have it both ways if I moved around in a bubble. I’d be the life of the party then!


You Can’t Have It All


So what’s my point when it comes to all of these rules and socializing again?


First of all, I’m not saying government policy should cater to the blind or disabled. What it should do however is keep inclusion for them in mind. Jan and I are high risk, so what other people do ends up having real consequences for both of us. It’s the reason she’s off work right now and why I’m so skiddish about how everyone else treats these rules. It’s also why I get angry when the Ontario government seemingly makes them up as they go along: If you make it confusing, no one will follow these safety measures.


The fact is that until we have a vaccine, there is no going back to business as usual. Even when we have one, things will have changed out of necessity. Everyone has to be in this for the long haul because there are no shortcuts or quick fixes. We have to put the time in and makes sure we all survive with our mental and physical health intact. People are getting complacent and that makes me nervous… especially when I can’t see their shifty eyes.


If nothing else, I think it’s important to remember one very important thing though. Being high risk, Jan and I are near the front of the line when a vaccine becomes available. So to all the dumbasses crowding the potato chip isle at Wal-Mart?


That’s called karma… suckers!


Start Up The Chatterbox


Being the third entry in a three part series, this only covers one of many stresses from dealing with blindness during the Covid-19 pandemic. What are you facing and how has coping with these circumstances been? Leave your opinions in a comment below or let us know privately through our contact form.

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