British Columbia

COVID-19 measures present unique set of challenges for visually impaired

For people who are visually impaired, being able to touch and feel your way through the world is essential, but physical distancing doesn't make that easy.

For the visually impaired, touching their world is an essential way of moving around

People who are visually impaired may face extra challenges during the pandemic with navigation, isolation, and accessing new assistance. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

A lot of people are finding the physical distancing measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic tough, but for the visually impaired, who often rely on tactile navigation, there are additional challenges. 

Elizabeth Lalonde, the executive director of the Pacific Training Centre for the Blind in Victoria, B.C., says touch is an extremely important sense for the visually impaired to navigate the world, but when there is a directive for people to stay 2 metres apart from everyone, she's asking people to verbalize their presence.

"I had actually had someone email me and say that people are getting into their personal space, you know, when they're walking with their guide dog or when they're walking with their cane," Lalonde said to host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West.

"It's always a challenge when people don't verbalize to us and I know that for some people, that can be hard to remember but  talk to us ... rather than reaching out and touching us."

Creative solutions 

But it's not just navigating the outside world that can be tough.

The school, which teaches independent living skills to blind adults, has had to shut down like many others around the country. 

Instead of the tactile learning they would normally participate in like learning braille and going through skills like navigation, she says the instructors have come up with creative solutions. 

"Instead of cane travel, [which] we can't do with the person, [we'll] do it in theory and say 'how you would get to a certain place?' [and] look it up online," she said. "[Or] go around your house and identify different objects and tell us what you find."

Another challenge is technology. Lalonde says many in the community have come to rely more heavily on screen readers adapted for their computers.

These screen readers can have issues even during normal conditions, but it becomes even more challenging when people run into trouble with essential tasks like ordering groceries online or filling out government benefit forms.

"A blind colleague of mine said they had lost their job, like a lot of people had, and they went on to the form, and they ended up having to get some assistance with that," she said.

Fighting isolation

But most crucially, Lalonde says many in her community are making an extra effort to stay connected and fight isolation made worse by COVID-19 measures.

"With the blind community and the disability community in general, there's a lot of isolation at the best of times," Lalonde said. 

"Whatever we can do to bring people together and feel that they're in a network can help so much."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at

With files from All Points West


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