How people with vision loss are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is a very difficult and challenging time for those with vision loss, says CNIB.

Pamela Gow-Boyd, CNIB executive director for Nova Scotia and P.E.I., said while vision loss can be isolating in itself, it is made all the more difficult with physical distancing and self-isolation measures.

“Established routines have been disrupted, connections and support from family members, friends are not always available, and certainly all of a sudden all of the community programs that people had access to are not always available,” she said.

Gow-Boyd said CNIB has moved very quickly to adapt their programs and services to a delivery model that works in these times where technology is being relied on more and more. 

“Our staff and our volunteers are now connecting with clients through Facebook, through teleconference and video conferencing platforms like Zoom and we’ve extended or expanded all of our virtual program offerings for people with sight loss,” she said.

“There’s no cost for participants and we have a pretty incredible lineup of programs, really something for everyone.”

CNIB’s online activities include trivia and games, book clubs, youth programs, peer support programs, technology training, employment workshops and coffee chats.

Guide dogs ‘don’t understand the new rules’

Gow-Boyd said CNIB is also asking people to be compassionate and understanding toward the unique challenges someone using a guide dog may be experiencing during the days of physical distancing.

When people with sight loss have to walk with a sighted guide out in the community, the physical distancing isn’t possible.— Pamela Gow-Boyd, CNIB

“Guide dogs are very specially trained but they certainly don’t understand the new rules of physical distancing,” she said. 

“Guide dogs are trained to take people to the door of a store, so they don’t understand why people might be lined up outside of that store two metres apart.”

She said they’ve also heard some concern from those unhappy to see sighted guides walking so close to those they are guiding.

“When people with sight loss have to walk with a sighted guide out in the community, the physical distancing isn’t possible,” Gow-Boyd said.

“The person with vision loss would hold the arm of the sighted person.”

She said sighted guides are both a safe and comfortable way for those with vision loss to run their essential errands, like getting groceries or going to the pharmacy.

More from CBC P.E.I. 

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