- June 2, 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.

Susan is a deafblind woman in her early 30s living in Massachusetts, northeastern United States where it is estimated that the virus has already infected about 13 percent of the state’s 6.9 million residents. Massachusetts ranks behind only three other states — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut,— where the virus has infected a larger percent of their state population[1].

Susan is working as a teacher and since the outbreak, has continued teaching remotely. “If it  wasn’t for technology I wouldn’t be where I am now. Assistive technology made my life easier and made me feel useful”, she says. Susan regrets not being able to attend events for deaf blind individuals in her area. “COVID-19 has practically taken away everything involving communication face-to-face”, she says, which makes her feel furthermore isolated and irritable.

Susan’s life has changed drastically with the lack of access to interpreters and sighted guides, as well as paratransit services, all of which disrupted to ensure social distancing. “If I’m in an unfamiliar area I am in need of a sighted guide. Also, Sign language interpreters are inaccessible and scarce at the moment”, she says. She lives with her mother, who doesn’t know sign language and communication can be difficult. Susan explains that her disability has made her become a hermit, specially during COVID-19. “I’m avoiding people because if I can’t hear someone well enough it appears as I’m ignoring them”, she says. Susan explains that unfortunately, she is used to the lack of access and encountering barriers in her daily life. As she puts it “I’ve already been restricted to many things even before the virus”.

Susan tells us how nervous she is about getting COVID-19 or having to go to the hospital. “I cannot go see my doctors because of the virus being in the hospitals. Whatever issues I have will just have to wait until I absolutely can’t wait anymore”, she says. She has not gone grocery shopping or used public transport for this same reason, fear of contracting COVID-19. She is community member of a deafblind association nearby which regularly contacts her via email to make sure she has access to information. They also offer counselling services, which she values. Overall, she accesses online information using her screen reader but she often encounters inaccessible PDFs.

Susan says that persons with disabilities are often left behind and are the afterthought during a crisis. She believes in self-advocacy, the importance of speaking up and articulating one’s needs during COVID-19. “The Government should acknowledge persons with disabilities in the same time as they include others. They will go right past us, and leave us out if we don’t speak out”, she says. 

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