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Alicia Lalite

CHARLES KONG SOO

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China that would later be identified as a new virus; a coronavirus (CoV) which would later be called COVID-19.

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

COVID-19 has spread to more than 160 countries and territories, killing over 10,000 people amid near 250,000 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Early data from China where the outbreak started along with research data from Italy, the second most-affected country in the world showed that older people and others with compromised immune systems and chronic health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, pneunomia and high blood pressure were the most vulnerable to the disease.

Now the death age for the coronavirus has reached athletes in their physical prime, young and healthy people in their 20s and unfortunately children and babies who were previously thought to be spared from the ravages of the virus.

There is another group’s members whose reliance on touch to get around leave them vulnerable to infection; the blind and visually impaired.

To compensate for their loss of vision, persons who are sight-challenged are very tactile, relying on their touch such as running their fingers along the raised and Braille characters on elevator buttons.

The T&T Blind Welfare Association (BWA) is making an appeal to the Government to assist in bringing home one of its members who is stranded in St Lucia before his diabetes medication and traveling money run out.

Prakash Jaglalsingh who is blind left Trinidad on March 8 to attend a thanksgiving in St Lucia and was scheduled to return to

Trinidad on March 22 at 4 pm.

On his arrival at the airport in St Lucia on the scheduled day of his departure, he was told by officials that all flights to Trinidad were cancelled.

PHD student

Alicia Lalite, a PhD student at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine who is blind uses one hand on her walking cane and the other outstretched to navigate and feel her way in a world designed for sighted people.

She worries about contracting the coronavirus during her daily commute.

Speaking to Guardian Media, Lalite, who has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic, progressive disease said “It is a very serious situation. The world is on lockdown, everybody is on high alert.

“I am doing less movement because I usually move around Port-of-Spain independently and if I have to go anywhere, all I’m doing is pay essential bills.

“One of the health guidelines is to cough in the bend of your elbow; that is the exact spot on our arm where people lead and guide us.

“If I have to conduct some emergency transaction, I will get someone to go with me, when I go to the stores, a clerk will assist, hold my hand and walk around with you, cross the street, people will assist me, but some may also not want to do so now because they’re scared of the interaction.”

She said she was self-quarantining herself, her main concern was that after a few weeks of self-imposed isolation without mobility, her situational alertness will become impaired.

Lalite said what was unfair was that the top management at the T&T Blind Welfare Association (BWA) had transport provided for them and didn’t have to interact with people but poor blind workers who had to use public transport were at high risk for contracting the virus and that should be taken into consideration.

Poet-Writer

Patricia Nicole Whiteman a poet-writer from Tobago and who is legally blind said since visually impaired and blind persons utilised the sense of touch more than the average person, they were definitely at a higher risk for COVID-19.

She recommended that they take extra precautions and so too the public when treating with them.

Whiteman said a few suggestions were to avoid sneezing and coughing in the hands and elbow because that was where persons usually held visually impaired people to assist them to get around.

She said they used their hands to rub their eyes frequently, which was one of the ports of entry for the virus as that was due to their eyes feeling dry and itchy.

Whiteman said they should not, but that was the reality, blind and visually impaired persons needed to take their personal hygiene and diet for a stronger immune system a notch higher, since they were among the more susceptible to the coronavirus.

Blind Welfare Society

Kenneth Suratt Executive Officer of the T&T Blind Welfare Association (BWA) said blind people were more vulnerable to the virus as they were more tactile or relied more on their sense of touch only if they put their hands in their eyes, nose or their mouth.

He said members were advised to have a small bottle of hand sanitizer in their pocket and use it after touching anything.

Suratt said they may use more hand sanitizer than persons who were sighted because they touched objects more often.

He said besides using their personal sanitizer, he advised washing their hands also if a sink was available.

Suratt said they had to pay special attention to their touch screen cellphones as they used text to speech software.

He said the blind were no different from sighted people, they were more vulnerable only if they didn’t practice good hygiene.

Suratt said blind people requested equal treatment, with this comes equal responsibility, having to go about regular work, grocery shopping, market like everybody else at risk, if they run out of sanitizer, they were resourceful enough to make their own.

He said they can reduce their chances of bringing the coronavirus in their homes by removing their shoes and to not relax their safety awareness as many accidents happened close to home.

Suratt said he asked members to not fold their white canes, leave them open, sanitize then and don’t touch the tip.

He said all members were trained to take care of their children as schools were closed, if a couple was working at the association, one parent would be allowed to stay home to supervise their children at home.

The T&T Blind Welfare Association (BWA) issued two advisories on March 20 for its members on health and safety protocols for COVID-19 and closure of the facility.