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COVID-19: Risks and Challenges for the Visually Impaired

Posted May 12, 2020  Uncategorized

The health and well-being of our athletes is a top priority at USABA and we’d like to share with our members some informative articles about the current COVID-19 pandemic and the risks and challenges that are specific to the visually impaired community.

There is much information to be found online about the virus. USABA has selected a few articles below that we feel are informative, beneficial and from trusted sources.

(Source: World Health Organization) 

The additional challenges of the blind and visually impaired population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired are not at greater risk to contract COVID-19 because of their visual impairment, however, the visually impaired population potentially expose themselves to increased risk due to lifestyle requirements from being blind or visually impaired.     

  1. Difficulties with barriers to implementing good hygiene measures such as inability to locate or see the hand sanitizer stations that are prevalent in stores (upon entering).
  2. Need to be guided by holding someone’s elbow (elbows now used for sneezing and coughing).
  3. Need to frequently touch things for orientation and to identify things. 
  4. Co-morbidity with Diabetes and other conditions.
  5. Need to use public transportation (crowded, difficult to socially distance) and /or ride-sharing such as Uber and Lyft (sanitary practices of each driver unknown and inconsistent).

(Source: World Services for the Blind)

Blindness and vision impairment aren’t on the list officially of at-risk factors when it comes to COVID-19. But as individuals with disabilities, we should be prepared, proactive, and act as they are on the list considering how much we use our sense of touch. If you aren’t disabled, we also have plenty of ways you can help the blind and visually impaired during these uncertain times.

If you are Visually Impaired/Blind

COVID-19 and Blindness: As low vision and blindness individuals, we use touch much more than the average person.  Whether it’s using a sighted guide, carrying a cane/using a guide dog, or touching tactile signs and braille, we rely on activities that aren’t exactly conducive to social distancing. What can we do during the pandemic to make sure we are staying safe and healthy?

Wipe down your cane/guide dog harness

If you are still leaving the house and use your cane or a guide dog, make sure you wipe down your cane or guide dog harness with a Clorox wipe or some good old fashion soap and water. Be extra cautious and wash your hands directly after if you need to use braille while out now.

Use Delivery Services

The best thing we can do right now is to stay home, especially if you’re in the blind or high-risk community. But what about groceries? Medications? The blind and visually impaired community are no stranger to grocery delivery but this just gives you another reason to use them! Instacart is a great option as well as Whole Foods delivery on Amazon.  CVS also offers delivery on medications.

Limit riding Public Transportation, Uber/Lyft, Paratransit If you can

The CDC recommends you limit your time in crowded areas such as public transportation, if possible. With so many people riding public transportation, it can be a huge risk to ride it when it comes to COVID-19, especially considering the touch factor. If you can, walk where you need to go or have a trusted person (who you might be social distancing with) take you where you need to go.  

 In the same vein, using shared-ride services can be just as dangerous when it comes to being in contact with someone who might be infected. During this time, it’s best to avoid rideshare apps to be on the safe side.

Follow the CDC Guidelines

The CDC has a handful of great guidelines but a few general guidelines that can help you keep you safe are the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.

(Source: Deborah Kendrick, American Foundation for the Blind)

Blind people are facing additional challenges during this pandemic that must be addressed.

The Disproportionate Impact


Many bus systems have moved to weekend schedules, and therefore are not running as frequently. Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have become harder to hail as drivers have, understandably, decided they do not want to risk driving sick people around in their personal vehicles.

Medical Treatment

Many cities have opted for drive-through coronavirus testing facilities, but where does that leave people who do not drive or have a driver readily available? Would rideshare drivers be willing to take a blind person who thinks they may have the highly contagious coronavirus to testing sites? Blind and disabled people continue to face discrimination from medical providers.


Information about the coronavirus spread is frequently depicted as graphics. These charts and graphs are rarely available in alternative formats accessible to blind people.

Groceries and Supplies

Gathering food and household supplies is becoming more challenging for everyone as people continue to needlessly hoard grocery store items. Blind people are now having difficulty obtaining in-store shopping assistance because employees are busy dealing with restocking and crowd control. Grocery delivery services like Instacart are booked days in advance and often requested items cannot be found in the store. Blind people don’t have the luxury of driving to multiple stores in search of a particular item, and those on fixed incomes may not be able to buy items in bulk.

School Materials

Blind students and blind parents face uncertainty about the types of electronic materials they will be expected to use for the remainder of the academic year. Blind students find they must use a hodgepodge of platforms and programs to keep up with classes, and blind parents are unable to assist their children with homework if the materials are inaccessible.

Risk Considerations

While blindness alone does not make a person more susceptible to the coronavirus, other immunity compromising conditions that cause blindness, such as diabetes and aging, are more frequent within the blind population. Blind people are less able to practice social distancing when using public transportation, exploring items tactilely, and requesting assistance from others.

(Source: International Paralympic Committee)

Potential impact of COVID-19 on Para Athletes (drafted 18 March, reviewed 30 April)

At the IPC the health and well-being of Para athletes is our top priority and we are working hard to gather as much information as possible on the potential impact of COVID-19 to provide appropriate advice. 

Concern has been raised that Para athletes may be at more risk of severe disease from COVID-19, in the same way as has been stated for elderly people and for people with certain underlying health conditions. 

However, the Paralympic athlete population is not a homogeneous group. Para athletes are all individuals with very different underlying conditions and health needs, so the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 is not appropriate or representative of an individual athlete’s risk.

Nevertheless, because of the severity of the impairment or any associated immune deficit or chronic condition, some athletes could be more vulnerable. There are no current studies on the potential impacts of coronavirus on Para athletes. The honest answer is that we don’t know because this is a new strain of coronavirus and there are very little data available.

Consultation with the IPC Medical Committee and International Federation medical experts, as well as information provided by the WHO, indicates that there has been no evidence that an athlete with disability in general have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Para athletes are also more experienced than is the general population to following hand hygiene, coughing etiquette and general infection avoidance procedures as part of illness prevention education – this has been a principle of Para athlete education for some time. However, at this time we all should be even more vigilant in this regard.

The IPC will continue to seek advice from the WHO, but ultimately athletes are the best judge of their own body and their medical needs. 

Our advice for Para athletes is that they should follow the current medical guidance from the WHO and their national guidelines on prevention and seek advice from medical professionals. We would urge any athlete displaying the symptoms to report to their local medical authorities without delay.

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