The challenges of Covid-19 for the visually impaired


By Sarah Tran

Covid-19 has been difficult for everyone, but for people with vision impairments it has changed the world in ways they can’t see, making their everyday tasks harder.

More than 575,000 people are blind or vision impaired in Australia.

Brisbane local Brian Haupt, started going blind at 26 and has since created his own Facebook community with his page Tips from a Blind Man.

It’s a place where he provides some insight on what it’s like being blind, especially during a pandemic.

He says the new signs showing how to socially distance are inaccessible.

“When I’m at a shopping centre or something like that, there’s crosses on the floor [indicating where] to stand with the ‘150 centimetres apart’ or ‘Keep your distance’ and things like that, well I can’t actually see them; and we won’t actually feel them with our stick either.”

The undetectable floor markings make maintaining a safe distance quite difficult for blind and visually impaired people; something that has elicited discomfort and hostility from some members of the public.

Social distancing markers on the floor at Woolworths.

Social distancing markers on the floor at Woolworths. Credit: Sarah Tran

Mr Haupt recounts a particular interaction he had with a stranger when he was standing outside an Apple Store:

Along with social distancing markers, Mr Haupt says perspex barriers in most shops are disorienting and frustrating for blind people.

He says sound is something blind people rely on greatly for their understanding of where people and obstructions are around them.

“The voice from the person on the other side of the counter [is] very muffled unless they can project their voice, but also if they can project their voice, it comes from above or below the perspex barrier.”

Perspex barriers used to minimise the spread of Covid-19 by separating customers from workers at the Nespresso store.

Perspex barriers used to minimise the spread of Covid-19 by separating customers from workers at the Nespresso store. Credit: Sarah Tran

Mr Haupt says for some visually impaired people, Covid-inspired changes could present real challenges but there is always support available.

“I’m able to ask for support, there’s no worries there – if I wanted support in doing my shopping or going to any of the stores that I regularly go to – but I am one of those silly independent type people.”

Vision Australia has created COVID-19 Packs, which include accurate up-to-date information and safety resources in accessible formats for people with vision impairments.

On an international level, The Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK has launched the World Upside Down campaign, which is aimed to create more understanding and support for the visually impaired community.