Cane, mask, gloves

Coronavirus and Blindness: How to Prepare and Take Care

By Hannah Fairbairn

At 75, I am in the “at risk” category for coronavirus (COVID-19). I am also legally blind. Are there times where blindness or visual impairment makes me and others with vision loss more vulnerable? Are there aspects of vision loss that make us safer?

We have to be prepared and proactive because many of us can’t see what is about to happen. We have to speak up outside and inside our homes so other people don’t put us at risk. This takes a positive attitude and a bit of courage.

Outside Your Home  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that we practice “social distancing” by standing at least six feet away from another person. Yet, most blind and visually impaired people can’t see how far away the person they are talking to is standing. Try saying something like this:

“Maybe we should do social distancing – 6 feet apart.” Take a step back if you can.

This can also work well if someone offers to shake hands and hug or kiss, including little kids. Take a step back and say something like:

“Let’s try the elbow bump, so we protect ourselves.”

It may turn out to be more of an arm-bump, but that’s fine. Stand facing your friend or grandkid, and bump your elbows or arms together. To make it more fun, try the double-bump, swinging round to bump with the other arm too.

A white cane often keeps other people at the recommended social distance. Normally, we don’t want this, but if you have been hesitating about using your cane outdoors, now is a good time to start. Wipe your white cane, especially the handle, with a disinfectant wipe when you get home.

Use your knuckle, arm, or elbow to hit the button on a stop sign or to push a door open. Consider wearing gloves so you don’t need to hold railings or find the door handles with your bare hands. Wash and dry the gloves thoroughly and often, or use disposable gloves. This will also help you avoid touching your face.

Inside Your Home

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds as soon as you get home. This is everyone’s best preventive measure. People with visual impairments typically use their hands more than others.

Have your visitors wash their hands as they arrive and have them use paper towels for drying. Ask visitors to put their plates and mugs straight into hot soapy water or the dishwasher – you can’t see what they’ve been touching. Visitors could also use paper plates and cups.

If a visitor handles your phone or laptop, wipe it carefully afterwards using alcohol or disinfectant and paper towels, as well as the toilet flusher, faucets, door knobs, and the dishwasher latch.

Have household members use individual towels – no sharing.

Disinfectant wipes are getting hard to find in stores, and finding hand sanitizer is impossible. Rubbing alcohol and 3% hydrogen peroxide are also disinfectants. Label them with bright-colored tape or braille so you can find them. Bleach is a disinfectant, but as we all know, it can ruin your good shirt with one splash.

You have to think about your mental health. Self-care is very important during these times of social isolation. Many seniors and people with vision loss are already socially isolated. Events and visits have been canceled, so arrange extra phone calls and video chats with friends and family. If you don’t already, consider having groceries and pharmacy items delivered. It’s important to keep exercising too, either at home or on an outdoor route you know, with that darned white cane keeping you safe!

Read more about keeping seniors safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

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