Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, Director of Research at the American Foundation for the Blind, joined #eSightTogether to discuss the findings from the Flatten Inaccessibility study, that surveyed the lives of 1,921 adults living with low vision and blindness during COVID-19. The study reveals a lot about the challenges and successes that people living with low vision and blindness, in the United States, have faced during these unprecedented times. In this webinar, Dr. Rosenblum shares the finding in four key areas:
Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, American Foundation
Dr. L. Penny Rosenblum, Director of Research at the American Foundation for the Blind, joined #eSightTogether to discuss the findings from the Flatten Inaccessibility study, that surveyed the lives of 1,921 adults living with low vision and blindness during COVID-19.
Prior to joining AFB, Dr. Rosenblum was a Research Professor in the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies at the University of Arizona, where she had worked since 1999. In addition to her professional expertise, Dr. Rosenblum brings her own experience as a woman who has low vision.
The study reveals a lot about the challenges and successes that people living with low vision and blindness, in the United States, have faced during these unprecedented times. In this webinar, Dr. Rosenblum shares the finding in four key areas: healthcare, transportation, access to goods, and employment
Demographics of the study participants
The Flatten Inaccessibility study surveyed 1,921 adults between the ages of 18 and 75+ from all US states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. 59% of participants reported being congenitally visually impaired, 74% of participants were white, 63% were female, 42% were over the age of 55 and 45% of participants reported having one or more additional disabilities or health concerns.
Getting to a test site: Many participants were concerned about being able to get to a COVID-19 test site. Most test sites in the US were drive-by test sites, which is difficult for those who are visually impaired as most of them don’t drive or have access to a car. One participant explained how they were uncertain if they would be able to get to a test site because they wouldn’t feel comfortable riding public transit or using a ride share service for fear of backlash or contracting and spreading COVID-19.
Accessing medication: With most medical facilities transitioning to online services only, patients were forced to adapt to getting their medication through web services. They would soon discover that these apps and websites were inaccessible to many, making it difficult for them to access the services they needed. Some facilities did offer drive-through pick-ups, but again, this is not an option for people with visual impairments who can neither drive nor have access to a car. Additionally, a lot of people were not aware of the resources and options that were available, such as larger print on their prescription labels, braille labels or audio script prescriptions, so they could not ask for the help that they needed.
Hospitalization: When it comes to visiting the hospital, people with visual impairments struggle when it comes to reading and filling out paperwork. To combat this issue, they would usually bring a personal aid with them, however, with most hospitals putting restrictions on the number of people permitted within their facilities, patients were asked to come alone on their hospital visits. This caused many people to feel anxious, as they were worried about being unable to access information as well as not receiving the necessary support they needed. They felt that society, including the medical industry, places little value on the lives of people with disabilities compared to the lives of those who are able.
“It would be terrible for me to be hospitalized alone, especially because I know people don’t value my life because they think my quality of life is less than theirs. Without someone to assist me and advocate for me, I’d feel like I was fighting the virus and a system that doesn’t want me.“
Many people with low vision or blindness rely on loved ones and volunteers, public transit, rideshare services and taxis, or walking to get around. However, many of these options were less accessible due to COVID-19. Public transportation proved to be rather inaccessible and posed serious safety concerns. Social distancing rules also made it difficult for them to rely on people nearby for guidance when crossing the street or boarding the bus, as they had done in the past.
Safety was also of great concern when using rideshare services or asking friends or family for rides, as they did not want to put themselves or anyone else at risk. A lot of people who had things nearby were lucky enough to be able to access these services by walking. However, those who were not so lucky, expressed that they felt isolated and even neglected.
Access to Goods
Participants explained how they needed to learn to use technology in ways they had never done in the past. However, even after learning how to navigate unfamiliar apps and websites, it was still difficult to get the things that they needed. Finding delivery slots for groceries was a challenge not just for those with disabilities, but for everyone, especially at the beginning of the lockdown. These websites and apps were unequipped to handle the level of requests that they were receiving, which made it challenging for those stuck at home to access certain goods and services.
For those who opted to shop in-store, social distancing rules implemented in public spaces made it difficult for them to rely on store employees to assist them when shopping. This forced some people to resort to methods that they hadn’t used before, such as using a cane. The canes served as an identifier, which allowed them to alert people of their situation so that others would be more understanding if they were to break social distancing rules.
25% of participants were retired, 35% were not working before COVID-19, and approximately 300 participants were working from home when the pandemic hit. However, working from home presented a few challenges: a lack of necessary tools, inaccessible tools and software, as well as low productivity.
Most people with visual impairments have special set-ups at work to accommodate their conditions. However, they were unable to recreate this same set-up at home due to employers either being unwilling or unable to provide the necessary accommodations that these people needed, to work effectively from home.
Additionally, a lot of the tools and software that are used by organizations, while working from home, such as Zoom and Slack, are not very accessible. While there are other options, many reported that these options were either time consuming and inefficient or alienated them from the workplace culture. Lastly, spending an increased amount of time in front of a screen can be very straining for anyone, but especially for those who are visually impaired. This made it difficult to stay focused and remain on task, resulting in low levels of productivity.
Since the survey was conducted, in April, a lot has changed.
Challenges surrounding health, transportation, access to goods, and employment are not new to individuals with visual impairments. COVID-19 shone a light on these long-standing issues and forced our society to confront its shortcomings when it came to people living with disabilities. These issues can no longer be ignored and must be addressed and dealt with accordingly, for our world to be accessible to everyone. There will continue to be many crises in the future and we, as a society, must be prepared to deal with the issues that may arise, especially when it comes to how they will affect those who are living with disabilities.
“We keep thinking we can outwit this thing, and that things will ‘go back to normal.’ Let’s overwrite ‘normal’ and use this opportunity to make it BETTER for us. Lemons to lemonade.“