(Note: This is the second 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. The final entry deals with being around others again and can be found here.)
Although technology often removes barriers, it can sometimes create new ones for those with a disability.
You don’t need to travel far for proof of this: We’ve dedicated entire podisodes to accessibility on the internet, audio descriptions and services like Disney+ to name a few. Still, people of every ability continue to rely on technology more and more as it evolves.
Another aspect of dealing with blindness during the Covid-19 pandemic has been communicating online though. Truth be told, I find it a little bit weird.
Everyone Is So Near
What makes my experience with video chats feel so strange then?
Although they facilitate staying in my underpa- oh wait, you weren’t supposed to know that… I mean, while they’re a great way to stay in touch, there’s just something awkward about them. This wasn’t the case before I went blind, so I think that knowing people are looking directly at me (without being able to see them) has something to do with it.
At least I can hide behind my sunglasses or not focus on it when a group of us are together. It’s not right in my face and making me think that all anyone can see is my big fat head. I also can’t hide my expression without someone noticing too so it just makes me feel like I’m under a microscope. (And yes, I realize that makes me sound like an awful person who is secretly guilty of EVERYTHING.)
Missing visual cues also makes it harder to follow the flow of conversation. I’ll go to talk and someone else talks over me because, with lag time, they’ve already started. I’m never sure how loud to speak and don’t even get me started on when things go silent. All I can think of when that happens is that the other people are probably staring at my big fat head again! It’s honestly torture.
(Why does my big head have to be so fat anyway?!)
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Being blessed with all the good genes, I have a hearing-impairment as well.
This means that, while using Zoom, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime and different video chat services is great for others, it can be an anxiety inducing nightmare for me. Although it’s not bad when talking to one or two people through a single connection, it becomes a lot more stressful when several are in the chat. With lag time on their end, everyone starts talking over one another and it’s just really hard to make out anything. Using hearing aids, there can also be unpleasant feedback with a certain pitch or when it gets too loud so that’s not fun either.
As a result, it’s felt like technology for staying connected has led to more isolation in some cases.
Man Makes A Picture, A Moving Picture
Beyond social hurdles, not all platforms are even accessible for the blind.
Zoom and FaceTime are a breeze, the latter being part of Apple’s always accessible operating systems. Still, the time I tried to use Facebook Messenger was a headache (it actually disabled my screen reading software) and that’s something I don’t want to experience again. Even Skype’s accessibility has been questionable over the years, being broken and fixed repeatedly.
The crappy part is that between Zoom’s security issues and FaceTime’s lack of cross-platform support, neither one is completely foolproof even. It just creates a divide between those who can communicate and those who can’t because of inaccessible software.
It’s something that’s bled beyond the confines of smart phones and computers too. As businesses re-open and look for safe ways to continue, previously developed technologies have fallen by the wayside. Taking the movie industry as an example, drive-in theatres have seen a resurgence in popularity but aren’t required to have audio descriptions for the blind.
Maybe it’s something they should LOOK into? (Sorry, making bad eyesight jokes is my thing.)
Take A Look At Me Now
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve had some great experiences online during the pandemic.
Jan and I have play Yahtzee with her parents over FaceTime and we regularly keep in touch with her family too. This is especially great since her younger brother and his wife live about four hours away from the rest of us. I just know that I’ve distanced myself from group chats with friends because when we were doing them every week, I’d be sitting around with no clue what people were saying. (They were probably talking about my big fat head.)
Whatever the case may be, demand for group chats has dropped off. Whether the novelty has faded or people are social distancing less, catching up this way has seemingly taken a backseat to communicating in other ways. Perhaps it’s time for everyone to stay informed by listening to a certain podcast?
Who knows though? It could also be that everyone’s sick of my Facebook statuses and decided not to invite me anymore… Come to think of it, they’re probably laughing at my big fat head right now.
Start Up The Chatterbox!
Being the second 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.
Click here to continue with the final part of our series.