- May 21, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names may have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.

David is a 47-year-old man who recently became visually impaired due to glaucoma. He lives in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. As of the 18th of May, Ontario has had 22,957 COVID-19 cases and 1,904 deaths. The first identified case occurred in this province on January 22 but was announced publicly three days later.

It was only  on March 17, that the Government of Ontario declared a state of emergency, ordering the closure of most premises. Bars and restaurants however were allowed to remain open, but only for those that offer takeout. David owns a restaurant and continued working. However, he had to reduce staff. “Most of them are young people with flatmates, partners and friends, it is simply not safe anymore”, he says. He admits that he has become increasingly worried about contracting COVID-19.

One of the main challenges David has experienced during the outbreak has been going grocery shopping and navigating in supermarkets, as “it has never been more difficult to do so for blind and partially sighted persons. Most people are unaware of the barriers when we go to the supermarkets”, he says. He usually goes to the same one, which is part of a big chain. “I was almost kicked out for not following social distancing because I walked down a one way lane, in the wrong direction. No one ever told me that there are stickers on the floor and new rules”, he explains. David regrets there is a lack of awareness and education on the needs of persons with disabilities. “I did not know or see they had installed plastic see-threw shields at cash registers. I put my hand through one and almost broke it”, he explains. These situations have caused him to feel embarrassed. He was told by staff and customers to “smart up”, and to bring somebody with him next time. David says he should be able to go to the supermarket on his own, but even if he wanted to go accompanied, the supermarket only allows people to enter individually.

On top of that, David encounters many obstacles in the supermarkets, as often products are placed in open spaces or in the middle of aisles. “It makes it very challenging to navigate around the stores. When I ask for assistance no one wants to help or get near me. They won’t show me where something is, they will simply point at it”, he says. He explains that his disability is not so visible nor easily spotted by other people. David highlights the importance of raising awareness and the involvement of persons with disabilities, as well as establishing the same rules in all supermarkets, to avoid encountering different problems at every supermarket. On a positive note, there are now loudspeaker announcements in the supermarket that provide information on the rules to follow and general instructions.

David explains that the government has a responsibility to “educate us on how to move around in today’s environment (under COVID-19)”. So far, there has been no recommendations nor guidelines for persons with disability in the province. This has made him not want to leave the house on his own nor use public transport. “I’m scared to sit in the wrong seats (as some must be left empty). No one is giving us any information”, he says. David has recently become visually impaired and is still getting familiar with using a white cane to move around independently. A few times per month, a representative of a local organisation for visually impaired persons was teaching him how to use a cane in everyday life. This includes using the subway. Due to COVID-19, he has stopped received such support and feels he hasn’t been able to make progress. Since he can no longer drive, and as public transport is not running frequently, he has to rely on other people to drive him to places. He feels he has lost his independence.

Moreover, David shares he has become increasingly fearful and apprehensive due to COVID-19. He has cancelled doctors’ appointments as he is scared he will get infected with the virus at the hospital. However, this could have serious implications for his health. As he has many children, he also worries about their wellbeing. “I feel anxiety and lose track of time. Not being able to socialize with other has really affected me”, he says. He has tried to help his children with homework and home schooling, however, most of the tasks require the use of devices and programs which are often inaccessible to him. “I tried but gave up after 30 minutes, it is very frustrating”, he says.

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