The Importance of Community for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Blind and visually impaired persons need to have their independence, they need to be able to cook for themselves and move around on their own, even if it’s just in their own home. Independence is important and one needs to be able to rely on themselves. However, it would be incorrect to assume that the blind and visually impaired can do everything on their own. The truth is, no one can do everything on their own, even sighted persons need a community and support system.

One very clear example of this is the current Covid-19 virus and its impact on the world and society at large. Thousands of persons have had to be quarantined and self-isolated, but social distancing has only enhanced socialising and the presence of community support in ways we never expected. From persons offering assistance to the elderly, to persons donating and giving away essential items on their own accord. These actions show just how much humans rely on each other.

Community support is a very important resource for the blind and visually impaired, even without the presence of a crisis, just in our everyday lives. For instance, from going to the supermarket and getting assistance from an employee to shop, getting rides from friends when we need transportation or even just asking a sighted person to identify the colour of something.

Assistance from sighted persons is often mandatory, that’s why programmes like Be My Eyes exist and they are very useful. Currently, they have 205,180 blind users and 3,646,708 sighted volunteers so you are always guaranteed that someone will answer your call and it’s also completely free to use. A programme like Be My Eyes is also very helpful for a blind or visually impaired person who lives alone, you can call a volunteer and ask for help locating something, identifying the colour of clothing or identifying money.

Support doesn’t need to come from sighted persons alone, the most valuable support can come from other members in the blind and visually impaired community. Who better to offer advice than someone who understands the position you’re in? Someone who has had the same struggles you’ve had, someone who has found the best way to solve the problems you now face.

When I first lost my sight, I was assigned to a social worker who taught me how to use my cane and who taught me how to use a sighted guide. They also encouraged me to learn how to be independent again. One very important thing they did for me was to introduce me to a transition group.

The transition group was created for persons who were losing their sight or who had recently lost their sight. It teaches you how to cook without sight, how to get around the house, etc. My transition group even introduced me to some handy gadgets like a liquid level indicator which beeps to alert you when the liquid is reaching the brim of the cup to prevent liquid from overflowing and spilling when you pour. There was also a gadget that you can put around your plate to prevent food from being pushed over the side of the plate (I think this would also be useful for children).

As a result of the transition group, I was enrolled in computer classes for the blind. One very valuable resource I gained from this group was the people I met and the opportunity to get out of the house. It’s easy to become stuck at home (this was before we were all forced to stay at home), but the class gave me a routine and something to look forward to.

Before I lost my sight there wasn’t one blind or visually impaired person I knew, now some of my closest friends are blind. The emotional support received from these people was second to none. They were and continue to be the best source of motivation and encouragement for me, this was first-hand support and advice from people like me.

I continue to interact with these people and attend social events with them, I even became a source of advice and support to persons in the process of losing their sight or those who have recently lost their sight. This community support can be very helpful to someone who is struggling to adjust or accept their new way of living. The truth is, after losing my sight I lost some friends but I also gained some and this is why community is important because there is more life to live after losing your sight.

Even if you don’t have access to a physical community, the internet is a great source for a virtual community. The Covid-19 pandemic shows us just how social the internet is. The Hadley website not only offers educational resources, but they also have a great online community. They offer discussion groups, online meetings and podcasts on topics that range from gardening, travelling or writing. One recent podcast that I found very interesting was COVID-19 and Vision Loss. It spoke on how the Covid-19 quarantine was impacting the blind. This podcast shows how supportive people can be and how useful technology can be, especially in times like this. (You can listen to the podcast here).

Besides Hadley, there are many Facebook groups that you can join, including mine, to connect with other members of the community.

Human beings are social beings, we keep hearing this and the social distancing proves it because we are all finding creative and innovative ways to connect. It’s important to remember the significant role community can play and how important support is for the members of the blind and visually impaired community. You are not an island and you do not need to do this alone.

Download Be my Eyes Here

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