Some Islanders with low vision having trouble navigating COVID-19 barriers
Physical distancing isn't easy for visually impaired Islanders
Robert Mercer was born with low vision and likes to get out of his Charlottetown home often — but COVID-19 has complicated things.
Mercer says he follows pandemic rules like wearing a mask and frequent handwashing to the best of his ability — but sometimes because of his low vision he misses things and doesn't always keep the proper two-metre distance.
"I don't see the signs on the floor, the directional signs, the one-way indicators," he said.
"That's quite normal for me, but people aren't very patient about that. They don't necessarily realize that you don't see very well."
Mercer said he doesn't mind someone telling him politely he may be in the wrong area — but oftentimes people are too blunt — and he feels like he is accosted every time he leaves the house.
"People are a little bit caustic sometimes like, 'Can't you read? Can't you see that sign is turning to the left? You're supposed to be over there — not here.' That kind of thing and it kind of strikes you," he said.
"You want to say first to someone, 'Mind your own business,' but I try to be more polite than that."
Mercer said the pandemic physical distancing and mask-wearing rules are very important, but he wishes people wouldn't jump to conclusions if they see someone who isn't following those rules.
"I was very pleased a while ago to hear Dr. Morrison talking about people not wearing a mask because some of them cannot wear a mask. And she wanted people to be aware of that," he said. "Some people cannot wear a mask, some people cannot see well enough."
Sometimes he finds himself stuck in guiding ropes — or he'll accidentally punch Plexiglas trying to set something on a counter. Mercer said store staff are usually good to help him out anywhere he goes but other patrons typically don't offer the same courtesy.
"We shouldn't think first of accosting someone rather than maybe being helpful," he said. "Nobody is out there to deliberately break the rules and if they are then I think they should be reported. But let's not assume people are doing these kind of things without due regard for the rules around COVID."
The message we're always saying to people, and I'm not trying to be flippant, but really mind your own business.— Marcia Carroll, P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities
Mercer isn't alone. Marcia Carroll, executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities, said she has been hearing from other people with low vision having issues due to pandemic protocols.
"Certainly people with visual impairments are struggling seeing the signs on the floors."
People with low vision are also "tactile" — they like to touch stuff, pick stuff up and have a close look, Carroll said.
"Certainly they are getting derogatory feedback when they do those types of thing," she said. "It makes me feel sad honestly. And it makes me wonder why people feel they have the licence to insinuate themselves into someone else's life."
Pre-COVID that never would have happened, Carroll said.
"The message we're always saying to people, and I'm not trying to be flippant, but really mind your own business. Make sure you are following the rules and the rest will fall into place," she said.
There are some people who can't adhere strictly to the pandemic protocols — and it's not because they don't believe in COVID or don't think it's a risk, Carroll said.
"It's because they have to navigate their world in a different way than someone who doesn't have any challenges."
The council speaks often and works closely with the province and said all concerns have been taken seriously, Carroll said.
CBC contacted the Chief Public Health Office concerning those with low vision navigating COVID-19 but did not hear back.